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Site Redo Brainstorm for Illinois Main Street Alliance – Part 1

The Illinois Main Street Alliance (IMSA), is one of the organizations I am working with. This is a small business association with chapters across the country representing actual main street or real small businesses. The US Chamber of Commerce being more focused on large corporations (based on who is on the board, and amount of donations and how it lobbies). So as a small organization, it has a limited budget and resources. Most are volunteered with limited technical expertise.

Recently, I was asked for some input as to what would I do to improve the IMSA website. It was a quick effort as part of a growing organization. There was not a lot of planning or design as the future of IMSA was not clear as it was getting started. With that in mind, the time has some to do a site redo or refresh.  Here are some of the questions and ideas that I was able to come up with to improve a website:

  • A website is usually ineffective and becomes a challenge, unless the goals and objectives are clear.
    • What are the objectives of the website?
    • How will those objectives be measured?
    • Who will be responsible for managing those objectives?
  • How much support is available to maintain or develop content on the site?
  • Does this site need to be viable before it will be updated either with more content or a full site refresh?
    • For six months at a time
    • The next year
    • The next three years

    The length of time between site refreshes will affect the design and layout of the site. If the site means to look good for the next three years before the next redesign and content addition, then anything that is “current events,” must be removed. On the other hand, if there is a commitment to create new content on a weekly or monthly basis, then the site can have a much fresher and more relevant look. These need to be determined upfront with executive level commitments to the question.

  • What is a level of sophistication of the person managing the site?
    • If there is somebody who will be able to continually evolve the look and feel of the site, it can be more complicated and interactive.
    • If it will be managed by someone with minimal technical skills, it needs to be easy to update and manage.
    • If it will be managed by someone with a design background, it can be more adventurous in the design structure.
    • If it will be managed by one person but a team will be contributing and editing different pages or sections, there needs to be greater definition of standards. This will require more thought up front.
  • Who is the audience of this site? There may be multiple audiences, but it needs to be clear who the primary, secondary and tertiary audiences are. Here are some suggestions of audiences for the site:
    • The press looking to verify  Illinois Main Street alliance.
    • The existing membership of IMSA
    • The leadership of IMSA
    • Prospective members.
    • Progressive individuals who may be business owners.
    • Business owners who may be progressive.
    • Other community orginizations looking to partner with IMSA
    • Public to be persuaded by the ideas and experiences of the business owners of Illinois Main Street Alliance.

Not knowing the above core questions makes recommendations a challenge. But defining these higher level questions will allow us to set the proper strategy in moving forward. In the next post I will share some of the recommendations I came up with.  These recommendations fall into some different areas:

  • Create more content.
  • Make content easier to re-purpose on other social media sites, and traditional forms (press releases).
  • Make it clear what the next step should be for visitors to the site. Many site owners forget or don’t understand that everyone is following the WIIFM principle- What Is In It For Me? And often what is obvious to an insider is not clear to someone new to the organization. Make it as easy as possible for new visitors to get fully engaged. It is amazing how this often is done poorly online, when people in person can welcome new people so graciously. The challenge I attribute to one of introvert/extrovert mindsets.
  • Allow for interactivity when possible. User Generated Content is the easiest way to share how vibrant a community is. This is so often lost on a static site, where the community is focused on doing rather then reporting like IMSA.
  • Consider a CMS or Content Management System
In the next few posts, I will explore more features to add to the site, more pages to add to the site and additional sections to consider adding to the site.
What are your key questions when starting a site refresh or site redo?
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October 23, 2011 Posted by | Chicago, copywriting, Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Is Google The Only Universe or Just the Center?

I was talking with an SEO expert recently who was commenting on how the whole Internet marketing industry is so Google centered, and the extreme power they have on the industry.

While I agree that the economic engine that Google engenders for anyone marketing on the web is huge, I had to kindly disagree that it was all Google and their relative power was growing.  Pointing out that numbers in DM News about the amount of traffic internal (self generated rather than search engine generated) on Facebook and LinkedIn has become so substantial that it is shifting the PPC (Pay Per Click) price models. This creation of ‘internal’ traffic is a continuing movement toward user generated content (UGC). UGC is a major component of web2.0 or web3.0 (depending on whose definitions you use). But looking at the statistics of how many HOURS people spend on Facebook per day and week clearly shows that the power of people writing what interests them is very impactful on the overall web.  It is no longer just what the professionals write and what Google feels we want.

The retailer Amazon recognized this shift of power from the corporation as well.  Look at their Amazon.com site these days and you will quickly see 3 main sources of content:

  • Publisher provided – title, price, ISBN number and editors review.  The facts are seldom disputed, but the ratings on the editors review show that everyone understands the publishers editor always loves it’s own book.
  • Mined content – pulled from the content of the book – Top phrases in the book, key words in the book, number of pages.  This is content that reflects Amazon’s ability to use computers to infer real information just by counting and running programs against the data of the book.  The actual information and wisdom comes from a visitor to take these snippets of information and see answers that are useful.
  • User Generated Content – even the rating of the editor’s review is user generated. But the other reviews and the ratings of the reviews is where gold mine of content and traffic to Amazon trumps most other retailers.  More and more Amazon becomes the Wikipedia of a card catalog – UGC. It provides more information than professional abstracts and paid professional summaries found in the old dusty paper based card catalogs or their digital equivalents these days. The reviews can be biased, but the ratings and openness of them allow their value to be taken in context.

That last source – UGC is such a gold mine that Amazon went and bought a collection of it for future use – it was all the UGC about movies and TV shows – IMDB.com (Internet Movie Data Base) that was predominantly UGC (what was not was almost, as the staff generating the content were mostly paid low wages for a labor of love according to rumors).

This is all a long way of saying that UGC is one of the forces that has the potential to knock the powerhouse of Google off its throne and leave space for all of us to consider different sources of ‘truth’ and wisdom of crowds. This will affect how we optimize our sites.  More and more it will be the UGC that is key.  UGC are Forces beyond our control, but well within our influence.  One of the many areas I have seen the models change – managing volunteers compared to professional staff.  There are commonalities, but there are differences.

How have you experimented with User Generated Content and what were the results?

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Community, SEM Industry, SEO tools | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FAQ – Get More Traffic by Saving Yourself Time.

Want to save time and get more traffic to your website?  I recommend answering your visitor’s questions as clearly and completely as you can.  This takes the advice written by Michael Gerber, decades before the Internet was even opened up to the public.

If your website is a part of your business, I highly recommend reading Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited.  It is written partly as a parable to describe the entrepreneurial myth of many small businesses. It is part parable, and part information. Gerber uses the story of Sarah, a struggling business woman, to describe the process of the written steps you need to take to improve your business. Whether your business is large or small, the website needs to have an entrepreneurial spirit.  Therefore, I recommend reading and integrating this classic book that has formed the foundation of the businesses I have started, and the hundreds of  business’ I have consulted for.

If you are trying to get more traffic to your site as easily as possible, I recommend creating or extending your FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section on the site. The idea of the FAQ is to collect all the different questions that customers ask on a repeated basis with answers.  Why does a FAQ get you more traffic? Because when properly designed  these pages will be descriptive of the terms that customers use to look for answers on your site.  These terms will probably be repeated just enough without seeming ‘spammy’. So take the time to write out the questions and answers on separate pages to let users understand your site in the context of the questions your visitors are looking at your site.

It has also been suggested that Timothy Ferriss’ The Four Hour Work Week is another great resource that really explores the idea of defining your business on paper in a way that can ge shared with others. There are some great concepts there and clear steps outlined on how to document your business and create FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions pages.  He has made a whole lot of money on implementing effective (both cost and time) ways of making money on the web following his own advice.

Are you a newer business without the traffic and experience of  knowing the questions your visitors will ask? Time to do some market research.  Larger business’ will pay a decent dollar to go out and see what perspective customers are thinking about. If you cannot afford to pay, it is time to get guerrilla in your approach.  Ask friends, set up a kiosk at a flea market, hang at  coffee shop, go to your kids soccer game and ask what questions do you have. Be ready to collect the questions, and test the answers. Stop by the library and read about market surveys and how to create your tests with as little bias as possible.

I would recommend a FAQ page that has all the questions on one page, then link to each question and answer on a separate page.  On the page, I recommend the following:

  • A clear title that states the site name, short version of the question, and contact info (800 number).
  • A clear description of the site and question in the Description META tag.
  • Keywords META tag related to the question and answer keyword phrases.
  • Question summary
  • Long question
  • Short answer with key phrases in them.
  • Longer answer with key phrases and links to other pages as appropriate to the site or off the site.  This is your chance to really explain and give the background appropriate to understand your site and what you are trying to have each visitor walk away from your site with, knowledge wise.
  • Ideally, ‘breadcrumbs’ to how you got to this page from the home page of your site.
  • Ideally, links to the rest of the site navigation system in text and graphical.
  • Ideally, UGC – User Generated Content where visitors are allowed to comment and ask follow up questions and give responses.
  • Ideally, have short poll questions to begin to truly understand how users view your pages (4 questions at most, ideally only 1).

These steps generally will create content that will allow the search engines to ‘understand’ your site and help rank you well on a variety of search terms. The key is to explain your site from the perspective of someone who does not know anything about your site.  Do not assume your users have much background when they come to this page and ask the question, if for no other reason than this is the case for Google. It does not automatically understand anything and it is up to you to ‘explain’ your questions to the search engines.

Understand that unless you have been writing interactive copy for decades (and the Internet has only been public for 15 years), you will need to continue to learn how your visitors interpret your site. That is OK, and the fun of online marketing.  This will require you to continue to tweak and improve your site. Google actually prefers to see sites that continue to evolve rather than act like the US Constitution (and even that we keep considering changing on a regular basis with admendments).  Remember, it is a lot easier to change a website than it is to change our tax code and laws, and ‘they’ change that with great frequency (usually for the worse, unless you have million dollar lobbyists, but I digress).  Sucks that we have 100 Senators, not to mention the hundreds of Representatives, and they have a whole lot of staff just to work on the wording of our laws.  Are you better than 600 legislatures and thousands of staff in your ability to write your website FAQ pages?  If so, please contact me ASAP, we could make millions together! Otherwise, keep reviewing your questions and answers and keep improving your responses based on your feedback of how well you are communicating.

The key is to put in writing on the site all those amazing visions you have for helping others with your site. It really needs to be written down and not just in your head.

June 8, 2009 Posted by | E-Myth, How To, Reference books, Simple | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments