Communications and Blogs
With over 35 million blogs running on the web, is blogging a viable strategy for your business or interest? Yes I write a blog, but as you can see - I do not have the time to update it regularly.
Blogging is still seen as
THE activity that defines the Internet Age. My work with Hostopia provides partners with a basic package that includes the EasyBlogBuilder - but is it a good use of your time?
A blog is an abbreviation of Web Log - a sort of diary of your thoughts and activities. It has progressed into a means of sharing information that others have created or found. Micro blogging has also increased with services such as Twitter, but the concept is the same.

How to start blogging

It is really easy to start blogging, but if you are doing it for your business, you need to plan what and how you are going to do it.
Think about what you want to communicate and the audience you wish to communicate it to. Also look at how much time you are likely to be able to devote to it. If you Tweet, you may need to do more blogging, but of smaller volume.
Once you have planned what you want to do, you should use the programme you are using to set up the distribution methods for your blog - the most popular being Technorati.
Keep your blog on track, make it interesting and follow up on any questions and information that flows from it. If you are linked to networking sites such as LinkedIn, post the link to your profile - your contacts will then have access to it, and you will expand your reach.

Note of caution

If you do not have the time, inclination or interest to continue a blog, my advice is don't even start. You can follow blogs through RSS links, and by becoming a Twitter follower, but leave it to people with more time than yourself.
This does not mean that you need to remain silent. If all you have time for is an hour or so every month, why not think about an e-newsletter. There are many programmes available - again, at Hostopia we offer Announcer Pro for this.
An e-newsletter has a double benefit in that a copy of the newsletter is stored on the website, as well as being sent to the inboxes of the people in your distribution lists.
Newsletters should not be long affairs, if you have long articles think about a headline introduction, and a link to the main body of the article on your website. This provides your website with traffic that the search engine love.
If you want to set up an online marketing communications policy, whether it is via a blog or e-newsletter, why not contact
Jack Marketing Solutions to help you realise your potential.
Planning for your website
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” – this quote has been attributed to many people over the years. It is true of any activity.
To start your planning, you must first understand your audience – who are they, how to they access information, how do they interact with you, etc. When you understand them, you will understand how to communicate with them and how to encourage them to interact/buy from you.
When you understand your audience, you can start to plan how you intend to interact with them – the tone of voice, the language and imagery you intend to use and how you can make them buy from you.
Start writing your content in the most appropriate way for your audience and the medium. Writing for a website is not the same as writing for a magazine or an email campaign.
Each section or page of your website will attract a different audience – it may not be a radically different audience, but may require modified content or imagery.
Planning your website includes planning the keywords and page description (meta tags) for each page. Meta tag keywords have less importance in modern search engines, but you still need them to organise your visibility online. Keep the keywords or phrases to a minimum – just one or two per page.
Initial planning for a brand new site will also include the overall design of the pages – where the images, the menu and logo, etc, are placed. You should also plan the structure of your site – how you subdivide the content into understandable sections.
If you already have an offline brand, your colours or imagery may not translate well to your website. I am not advocating that you must alter your corporate identity, nor am I suggesting that you run two different identities, but the better you plan your presence, the fewer issues you will encounter.
If you plan to give away information or downloads, make sure that you get customer details, collected securely from an online form or via an email. This relates to the Data Protection Act – keeping the data secure and only collecting what you need. You may also have to register your database with the Information Commissioner.
In terms of legal compliance – if you sell online, make yourself aware of the various sales legislation – the Distance Selling Act, the Sale of Goods and Services Act, etc. Ignorance of the law is no excuse!
Worried? Don’t be. Planning involves learning, so look at the many resources available online to help you. You will succeed if you plan carefully.
Selling Online
In the early days of the Internet everything was free – well I say everything, early e-commerce was driven by the adult-entertainment industry.
Modern e-commerce allows everyone to trade and to make/save money online, but there are a few simple rules to obey.
For the most basic online transactions many small businesses use eBay. They set up a small shop and wait for the customers. It is true that eBay does generate a great deal of traffic, but it would be akin to setting up your stall in the busiest Bazaar in the middle of Istanbul, you can easily be overlooked!
So how about going it alone. This used to be expensive and complicated. I won’t say that it is a walk in the park now, but with the modern e-commerce packages, life has got easier. So how do you go about it?
If you only have one or two products, setting up the store is easy. If you sell, say over 100 products, you need a strategy. I would advise you to take things a step at a time (the old adage about how to eat an elephant… one mouthful at a time!). Pick your top two or three products per product group and then have something with which to launch. Trying to get all 100 or 1,000 products online before you launch will just delay things.
Prepare your legal policies - your terms and conditions; your privacy policy if you intend contacting your customers about the latest deals; and your returns policy. Many businesses launch without the latter, and this comes back to bite them.
So if everything is place, check your online processes. There is a rule of thumb in designing online shops called ‘two-clicks to buy’. If a customer is sent on a long journey through multiple screens before they can checkout, you are likely to lose them. ‘Two-clicks’ means that they confirm that they want the product – “Click”. They then log in or register their details and payment information and confirm – “Click”.
You may have seen Amazon’s “One-click to buy”. If you have the customer’s details and they are already logged in, this is a great way of getting them to impulse buy – but you must have your returns policy in place for these customers.
Make sure that you have the prices right – all necessary taxes, shipping, etc., because nothing annoys customers more that being told that they need to pay extra because you calculated things wrongly.
OK, so you are set up. Now back to eBay, well almost – the payment engine for eBay is PayPal, and this is available to anyone who wants to trade online, not just via eBay. It is easy to set this up as a payment gateway, and they will then take the headache out of collecting credit card details. Other payment gateways are also available – some people feel that PayPal looks to ‘amateur’ because of the eBay link, so we offer a range of options.
So, if you have your products ready, you have your legal policies prepared, and you have traffic coming to your website – you are ready to earn money in what we can only hope will be the next dot.com boom!
Good luck.
SEO Best Practice
Optimising your site
Everyone is talking about Search Engine Optimisation or SEO nowadays. It as become one area in which the modern ‘Snake Oil Salemen’ operate. It is not the easiest thing to do, not because it is particularly difficult, but because it is time consuming and heavily detailed.
So how can you do this yourself? Let us start with things you can do quickly and easily. There are approx. 80 different elements that we think are included in the search engine algorithms. Unfortunately, these algorithms are trade secrets so we can only guess what is included and how they are prioritised. To complicate things, the search engines change them regularly too!
Select a keyword or keyphrase that you think your customers will use to find each particular page. A common error is to try to optimise for too many words or phrases. Ideally your domain name will contain this word or phrase, but failing that, you can use folders and document names to fulfil this.
In the coding of the page – the meta information as it is called, provides a description of the page. This description provides an advert for people searching for the keyword – if your description is good, it will attract visitors. Try to include your keyword or phrase in the description, but as part of natural language, not as a list of keywords or phrases.
You do, however, have an opportunity to list the relevant keywords or phrases within the meta information. It is said that this is no longer important in SEO, but it is good practice to use your keywords tag to list the important words and phrases – you can double check what is happening on your page this way.
The meta information is hidden within the code – only the description can be seen in search engine results. One of the most important factors is your content. If your keywords or phrases are included in your content you will score highly with the search engines. Use emphasis to highlight the keywords you want to stand out to your visitors and the search engines.
Make use of headings – again if your keyword is included, you will benefit from being ‘relevant’.
There are so many other factors that will help you increase your search engine rankings, and you can contact professionals to help you (not all are bad), but by following these techniques, you can do a lot yourself. Remember though, each page is different, and you have different customers for each page, so do not fall into the trap of copying the code of one page into all others – spread your net wider!
Futuristic Marketing
So how do I come up with these topics? I get inspiration from all over. This title comes from a conference I presented at this week - The CIM Tutors Conference. With presenters such as David Meneer, the Marketing Director of the Eden Project, and Graham Flower, the Head of Customer Management at HSBC presenting.

My presentation focused on Mobile Marketing. Originally, I was asked to focus on mobile phone marketing, but when I look at the future trends, I have difficulty seeing the mobile phones we have today. Smartphones and PDA's, wireless laptops, GPS devices, etc are all merging providing a multiude of product options, and delivery methods.

Have you seen the Googlezon movie. This was developed about two years ago as a prediction of the future of the Internet. If you are unmoved by this video, I would suggest that you haven't grasped the magnitude of the potential problem. Take a look yourself - epic.makingithappen.co.uk/new-masterfs1.html This tracks the story of the rise and merger of Google and Amazon as a world-beating news media organisation. In terms of mobile marketing, however, the final section of the movie is important - in this, the future is full of podcasts - people all over the world providing up to the minute, local news - things like reports of traffic accidents, notification of the opening of a new shop, of just that it is a beautiful day - get outside!

This all adds to the noise of communications that people will be bombarded with. As we get older, this increase probably gets intrusive (leading to the notion of Grumpy Old Men/Women!) and a perception that it cannot last. But the kids are growing up in this world, and adapting to this media landscape. Just think - people who are now 18 years old were born in 1988, so ever since they remember, they have had computers, when they got interested in these products, there has been the Internet, Digital TV, etc. I can remember just having 3 TV channels and being envious of my cousins in Liechtenstein because they got TV from Switzerland, Austria and Germany - a total of 10 stations!

We also had a laugh at the conference remembering the early mobile phones. I remember having the 'car-battery' attached to a phone. Stretched arms, bad backs, etc - all a result of wanting to accessible. Today, of course, products such as Blackberry, wireless PDA's and laptops means that we are not only able to speak to people on the move, but can send and receive emails, browse the internet and organise our lives anyway in the world.

Podcasts are a further extension, as I outlined above, are allowing people to listen to 'magazine articles' on the move. Indeed there is also software out there to translate your emails into voice so that you can listen to them in the car or on the train. I showed an example of a car that some Mac enthusiasts have modified. They have installed a Mac Mini computer with a small LCD touch screen on which they display Radio (digital and analogue), TV/DVD, GPS, music player (in this case - iTunes), Bluetooth mobile phone connection and WiFi access from the computer when the car is parked in a hotspot. Some people have also included some form of engine monitoring.

So image the scenario - you synchronise your email's before you leave the house in the morning. On your way into work, you listen to your emails, a podcast and perhaps part of a radio show. Later you go to visit a client. You listen to more emails, chat a while on the phone (hands-free of course), whilst the GPS uides you to the client. As you arrive you find a hotspot (or use your mobile phone) to access the Internet and check a detail or two about the customer. On the way home, you are stuck in a traffic jam - noone is moving. You write a few emails, a perhaps watch the TV news or a DVD until the traffic starts moving, switching the screen off the distraction.

Now think of the marketing opportunities - a WiFi computer coming in range of say McDonald's and you get a message saying "Why don't you come in for a cool drink, bite to eat, and you can use our WiFi network?" You approach a petrol station transmitting it's prices and telling you that the next petrol station is 45 miles away - perhaps also providing a traffic and weather bulletin.

Do you think you could live in such a world? I think I could, and I also think I could make money in such a world. And all this whilst you are not chained to a desk (though the roads may be less safe ...)
Usability & Accessibility
Accessibility raises it's head again. I have been fortunate enough to have talked to business owners over the last few weeks, getting to understand their motivators.

As I have said before, accessibility shouldn't cost you any more (the cost of redesigning a site has a cost in itself, but no-one should be developing illegal sites). In addition to this, we are talking about two additional benefits. Obviously, you are going to comply with the law, but you are also going to have a website that is accessible and useable to all users, including the automated users - namely the search engine spiders and 'bots. If you are struggling to get your site into the front pages of the search engines, you can spend a lot of money with search engine marketing companies, but if your site is inaccessible - you are wasting your money.

When I teach business owners web design, I recommend they use a book. It is not complex, it is not full of technobabble, and it shows you the commonsense approach to design. This book has the fantastic title - Don't Make Me Think - by Steve Krug. (Please follow this link to Amazon if you want to take a look at it/buy this title). This is a book about usability. It won't actually help you get your site to WAI standards, but will help open the site up to all users by being useable. Some features of usable sites:
  • Content flow to move top-left to bottom-right
    People in the West read from left to right - so the most important information should be top left

  • Make use of page titles and descriptions
    People know what they are looking at - especially if you want the page bookmarked

  • Keep content scannable, concise and readable
    For more information, I would point you to Jakob Nielsen's website

  • Make your site consistent
    Ensure your page design, colours and navigation are consistent to help your visitors

This is not the whole list, I don't want to spoil all the fun of learning web design with me!

Add to these elements, full tagging of your images, careful selection of colours and removal of speciality coding such as JavaScript and you will be well on the way to providing an accessible site.

For more information on accessibility, please look at the previous blog, and check out the relevant brand sites - Jack Marketing Solutions and DDA Audit.