How To Engage In Content Marketing Like the Big Boys Do

Here’s a terrific opportunity to educate your customers in a big way and at the same time show your expertise. Write an eBook on your specialty. This doesn’t have to be the size of a novel, it just has to be rich enough to cover what’s important for them to know. It gives you the opportunity to put any myths to bed as well. If a customer takes your eBook, you then have their undivided attention. They are actively seeking the information you are providing. Ebooks are great because not only are they typically a quick read, you also have the ability to put live links in place to bring in other resources for them to enjoy. Maybe send them to your website for more information.

If you move into eBooks you are actively participating in content marketing. This type of marketing is hugely influential online right now. Content marketing is massively desirable to the search engines. Ebooks are fresh valuable content. You can use it in so many ways. If you’re trying to grow your list, you can use it as an email harvester. Offer it to customers who give up their email to possess it. You can use it to influence the way people view you. It shows your authenticity. I try at every turn to show customers what I know and how it can help them.

Once you write one eBook, I can assure you, you’ll write more. There’s a large payoff, when people care about what you say. We all have an audience, most of us are unaware. Take the benefit of a doubt and try one small eBook. Email it to all your existing customers. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. It will show your thought leadership. They will appreciate the education. Many I’m betting assume what you do or at the very least under estimate the full extent of your services. Consider an eBook for each service. Develop it into a series.

If you also do public speaking having an eBook, to draw attention to, gives your listening audience a reason to visit your website. Direct them to a landing page where they can get your latest eBook for FREE. On the front end make it look like the cover of a book. The graphic and message should resonate with whom your speaking. If you get enough ebooks together over time, you could put them all together and do a hardcopy book. I call my book of tips – “101 Branding Tips.” I refer to it as my 114 page brochure. (http://www.edroachbrand.com/) it’s unconventional but is always well received. As content marketing suggests, it’s all about valuable information that customers are looking for. It all follows the mantra of give before you get. NEVER use this platform to sell directly. As you write your content, try your best to not write an ad. It’s tempting, but i suggest you resist the urge. Once you first experience the reaction to authoring content, it’s value will be apparent. 

7 Tools For Grading Your Content Marketing Efforts

The term “content marketing” is rather broad because it covers a lot of areas from your blog, to free videos you put up on YouTube, to curation – at least that’s what it means to me. That may be why some of us are confused as to what to do.

Is putting up a blog enough? Should you be blogging a few times a day? Once a day? Several times a day week?

How do you know that you are doing everything you can to maximize the content you put out?

I love grading tools. Not so much because they are accurate. There’s probably not one tool that covers it all and it all depends on what you are measuring. What your goals are. However, they are a pretty good starting to point to ensure you’ve at least got many of the basic stuff covered.

This post on BufferSocial shows us 7 indispensable and free tools to grade your website. Check them out, use it and be sure to act on the reports.

7-content-graders

Screenshots courtesy of Bufferapp

Why Maintaining Font and Style is Important for Branding

A successful brand is all in the details. It’s easy to get caught up in designing that perfect logo or snappy tagline for your business, while ignoring the finer points of your brand strategy. Fonts are often overlooked. Many people take them for granted while dashing off e-mails or memos, but underestimate the importance of typography and risk devaluing all the hard work you’ve poured into your brand.

It’s important to get things right the first time. Choose a font style and color that best represents your business and then stick with it. Consistency is key. Keep these points in mind when developing a font you’ll be happy with for years to come.

Find the Fonts that Work

Search for font styles that best fit within your company’s branding strategy. Think of your business as a person; what kind of personality do you want to convey? Is your company an aggressive sales corporation or a high-end clothing store? Serif fonts typically offer more elegant characters while sans serif fonts are more clean and modern. Also consider whether any style variations would be appropriate, such as italics, light, regular or bold. Your font should always function as an extension of your brand.

Plan Ahead

Make sure your fonts reflect not only what the company is today, but also what it might evolve into 10 or 20 years in the future. Could your business change in any way that would make, for example, an extravagant serif font seem out of place? If you don’t consider this, your business could face a dilemma: abandon the current font and all the brand recognition it has already built up or stick with a design that no longer works for your business.

Determine Your Font’s Function

Where will people be reading your font? Business cards? Billboards? Online? It’s often better to use a sans serif font for websites whereas serif fonts often work well for longer documents. Try using fonts with contrasting characteristics for headlines and body text, which will build visual texture to your document or web page. You can also use all similar fonts for a more streamlined look.

Keep Things Consistent

Companies that are inconsistent in how they use fonts will come across as unprofessional. Carefully chosen fonts can help deliver a strategic message, whereas random diversity mutes your brand’s voice and can portray a lack of structure. This is especially true for websites. Never use one font for the Home page and another font for the Contact Us page, for example. This can confuse readers as they navigate the site and can make information difficult to read. Even print brochures or newsletters can be confusing if fonts are not kept consistent.

Develop a Global Style Sheet

Ensure that everyone who will be updating the website, printing new business cards or tweaking your brochure always consults your company’s style guide. This document is the font bible for your business, outlining which colors and styles can be used for certain materials. It may also contain information on the use of images and positioning of text. Developing a comprehensive style sheet can take some time, but it will pay off by ensuring your brand’s voice doesn’t become muddled by inconsistencies.

8 features of great small business websites (part 2)

In part 1 of this 2-part post I covered 4 features of great small business websites. As a re-cap the 4 features were:

  1. They are easy on the eye
  2. They are designed around a goal that is measured
  3. They are easy to maintain and get support
  4. They engage visitors

In this post I will cover the final 4 features.

Feature 5 – They showcase and prove something unique

In the sea of sub-standard small business websites the great ones stand out. They generally don’t stand out because of their flashy designs or their technical features. They tend to stand out because they do a good job at showcasing what it is about the business that stands out. For simplicity I will refer to this as a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). This is what makes the business unique and the website is a great place to showcase (and prove it).

Great businesses can articulate what makes them unique in a simple short statement and they support it with images, testimonials, guarantees etc so it becomes credible.

Feature 6 – They are personal, social and authentic

Thank goodness those wanky buzzword-filled brochure style sites have had their day. People expect more and people want to work with real, authentic, like-minded people. With the rise of social media this has become even more important because how people engage with your website is becoming a huge influence over it’s success (even in the search engines).

Have a look at this screenshot from Emerson Salon. You will notice:

  1. It’s not a traditional website – it’s a blog, with useful engaging content.
  2. The homepage features headshots of their key staff and it encourages you to ‘meet’ them with a full page dedicated to each one with good quality photos.
  3. You can see posts on the blog from a number of different staff members and you can even follow them individually on Twitter.
  4. Social media icons are at the forefront of the design – the facebook plugin shows almost 2,000 likes.

These are some examples but there are many ways to make a website more personal, social and authentic.

Feature 7 – They make it easy to find important information

The simple fact is you can get everything else right but if you don’t give visitors what they want (and quickly) they will leave – and do so annoyed. Great websites don’t forget about the small things. They understand their customers and potential customers and give them what they want. Some things that generally should be very easy to find are:

  • Contact information,
  • Store locations / opening hours – for retail businesses
  • Prices
  • Clear information on what the business does (yes some sites forget to mention this)
  • Clear calls to action – i.e. “Click here for a free quote” or “Enter your post code for your nearest store” or whatever the call to action is.

Their homepages aren’t cluttered with hundreds of modules about everything, they are able to slim the main design elements down to what the customer is looking for and what the business is trying to showcase.

Feature 8 – They get traffic

We build a lot of small business websites and I can tell you it is very rare for a small business owner to want to talk about traffic before we build them a site. This really is a scary thing – after all what is the point of having a website if you get no traffic?

In my view traffic doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. Search engine optimisation (SEO) does and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) does and both are important components of a traffic plan. However great websites don’t just get traffic from Google. They have a plan for getting traffic from a variety of sources. Here are some examples:

  • Offline methods (print advertising, email signatures, business cards, networking events)
  • Natural Google searches and Google local listings
  • Online directories
  • Search Engine Marketing (like Google Adwords)
  • Natural social media (sharing on Facebook and Twitter)
  • Paid social media advertising (Facebook ads)
  • Forum posting
  • Blog posting and commenting

These are just some examples. The important thing here is great websites have a plan for traffic. Their plan will outline what parts of the traffic generation work will be done by the business itself and what part will be done by external providers because some of this stuff is tricky. But they don’t exist for the sake of it and they don’t get traffic by mistake.

Review your website against the 8 features

Hopefully you got some useful tips from my 2-part post on 8 features of great small business websites. Click on the icon on the left to download a website review checklist which you can print off and use to measure the effectiveness of your own website. I hope you find this useful.

8 features of great small business websites (part 1)

Only a few years ago small business owners with a website were ahead of the pack. If they had a CMS that ran the website they were seriously ‘out there’. Trust me, I’ve been building CMS-based sites for 5 years and in the early days we didn’t even tell people they were able to update their own sites because they didn’t want to know about it.

A lot has changed since those days. Systems like Joomla and WordPress are now mainstream, business owners are pretty tech savvy and most serious business owners know that its easy (and cheap) to have a dynamic CMS-based website. But all websites are not equal and these days you need to do something more than just ‘reserve your place’ online. So what separates an average small business website from a great one?

In my next 2 articles I’ll present 8 features I have discovered over the years that you’ll see on great small business websites. Here are the first 4 features.

Feature 1 – They are easy on the eye

Most people can appreciate good design – something that looks good. And I’m sure you will agree that having something that looks great and is effective at representing your brand consistently and professionally online is important. Bad designs turn people off your business and good designs aren’t that hard to achieve. Great small business websites look good. They start with a clean, professional logo and slick images and from there it’s easy to design a nice looking site. They have consistent colors, lots of white space and a modern and professional style.

Tip – If your logo and images are old and out of date replace them before re-designing your site. Fiverr.com or 99designs.com can be cheap and useful for the logo and professional royalty free stock photos are cheap and plentiful (try sxc.hu, istockphoto.com or dreamstime.com).

Feature 2 – They are designed around a goal that is measured

Steve Jobs knows about design. He said “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”. Every great small business website has a purpose or a goal. This goal goes far beyond the elements of design but it starts with the design.

It’s common these days to fill up a homepage with all sorts of stuff – a banner, a slider, a menu (or 3), some news items, a twitter feed, a welcome message, testimonials etc). But from a design point of view what stands out? Is it clear what you want your customer to do?

The Xero.com site is a great example of designing around a goal.

  • There is a lot of info on the homepage but the most important part up at the top is clean, clear, and has plenty of free space / not much text.
  • The goal is obvious – ‘Try the world’s easiest accounting software for free’ which stands out as the call to action.
  • The goal is supported by images that showcase what it is, some brief text that explains why it’s different and an alternative course of action for people who aren’t quite ready yet (which will ultimately lead back to the goal).
  • In addition there are testimonials from real people (with photos) that re-enforce their message.

And of course having the goal is only the first step. Measuring it is critical and enables great website owners to know whether they are on track. Google Analytics is the tool of choice for small business owners when it comes to measuring website goals.

Feature 3 – They are easy to maintain and get support

Search engines and humans both love new and authentic content. It’s no longer effective to hire a web developer to change the content on your site. Great websites are updated regularly by the owner
and they can be extended and modified easily with 3rd party extensions. But not all content management systems are equal. Great small business websites give the owner freedom and control over:

  1. Adding / editing content
  2. Installing plugins or extensions
  3. Upgrading the system to the latest version when necessary
  4. Choosing support services like hosting and web development

A system like WordPress does all of this. It’s very easy to use, upgrade, maintain and extend. Everyone knows about it, help is easy to find and it’s free. It’s pretty hard to argue with that.

Feature 4 – They engage visitors

At the core of all small business marketing activities is the desire to land a customer. So it’s common for people to talk about ‘conversions’. However generating a customer is generally a long process and only a
small amount of visitors to your site can be converted right away. For this reason, great small business websites don’t just try to convert every customer. They try to get visitors to:

  • Consume and share content by creating compelling resources, text, video, PDF downloads etc.
  • Connect by opting in by signing up for a newsletter, following on Twitter, or ‘liking’ on Facebook.
  • Convert by buying something or sending through an enquiry once their trust has been gained through the first 2 steps.

Put simply they give away great information for free, they encourage people to share it and they build trust during the process while encouraging people to opt-in. This makes them effective at engaging most of their website visitors instead of just the ones that are ready to buy at that particular time.

Conclusion

Having a website is not enough these days but the good news is having a great website is not that hard once you know what to do. Start with a nice design, a purpose (which is tracked), a decent CMS which gives you the control you need and some great content and tools to share / opt-in and you are well on the way.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. In my next post I’ll go through the final 4 features of great small business websites.

Steps to Take Before Ordering a Website

There’s a point when your company needs a website and the way you approach this project defines the outcome. There are certain things you do and certain things you need to know before you even start talking to website design companies. Here’s a short list of the steps to take in order to get great websites:

1. Research. What are your keywords? What do your customers look for? Google AdWords has a great tool to research keywords – enter one keyword and it suggests related keywords with an additional search info. Use this tool to create an extensive list of the most popular searches in your field.

2. Spy. Now that you have your keywords – it’s time to take care of competition. Google these keywords to find out who your main competitors are. What do their websites offer? Identify the leaders in your niche and use Quantcast.com to find out who’s going to make the majority of your visitors.

3. Budget. Building a website doesn’t end at launch. If you’re passionate about it – it doesn’t end at all. But even if you’re not – the basic promotion is a must. Budget for SEO, SMO, AdWords or any other pay-per-click program in advance. Use Spyfu.com to determine the approximate advertising budgets of your competitors.

TIP: Though you can delegate SEO and SMO to professionals, it’s strongly recommended that you get involved in pay-per-click programs yourself. You know your brand, you know your customers and what they want – you are the one who can grab their attention.

4. Write. Write ALL copy BEFORE ordering a website. Great website designs use actual texts during development process to ensure the best user experience. Remember to include as much of your keywords into the texts as you can – it’s good for SEO.

5. Formalize. Now that you have all that information – it’s time to create a technical description. Start with tasks and desired outcomes. Know what the “success” of the project is – it must be quantifiable. You can use something as simple as “an average of 1000 visitors a day” or something more advanced like “increase the sales of the product by 15% in UK”. Write it all down. Avoid words like “beautiful”, “good”, “a lot” or anything that’s not specific when describing a task. You don’t need to be technical, but you need to be precise. Include your keywords, information about competitors and all the graphical and textual information you’ve prepared. Make sure you describe your plans for the future of site and promotions you had in mind.

Once this is done – you have a technical description you can use to communicate with a website development company. You wrote it, you understand it and it suits your needs fully.

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