Writing engaging web content

To attract users and search engines to your website, you need to write content that engages and excites. Posting valuable content and updating it regularly will help you earn credibility and trust with your audience, and encourages enquiries and responses from them.

The bottom line is… people will visit your website and purchase your products/services if you have good content. Content is ‘king’, and needs to be:

  • relevant to their needs
  • interesting
  • engaging
  • dynamic or changing regularly
  • easy and fast to read, view and navigate
  • informative and
  • calls them to action.

Yet the majority of websites fail in this regard.  Why?  Because writing good web content is difficult. It’s easy to ramble on about how great you are and to load your website full of jargon that your customers don’t understand, but writing copy that is interesting, engaging and calls people to action is much harder.

Here’s just a few tips for writing good web copy…

Avoid clutter and stay focused
By keeping your design free of clutter, you will make it easier for visitors to know what’s important. Steer clear of excessive advertisements or images that don’t add value. What’s left is the real content, which needs to be focused on communicating the messages you want your visitors to receive. By focusing or a few key topics you have a better chance of maintaining their attention.

Reinvent your writing style – get active
While it’s important to be informative, there’s no need to be boring when conveying information. Don’t simply state the facts, generate interest with active verbs like ‘drive’, ‘soar’, ‘infuse’, ‘create’ and so on. And ditch the passive voice which dulls down your writing and makes it dry. Instead, identify the active voice (‘you’) and write to your audience – i.e. ‘Product x makes it easy for you to…’.

Paint a picture
Help readers experience what you’re saying. You can achieve this by using sensory words and good descriptors that help them feel, taste, touch, hear and see what you’re talking about. By writing this way you can also incorporate keywords and phrases easily into the descriptive text.

Show and tell
Sometimes words aren’t enough and to engage readers, you need to show them. Don’t just tell them about your product features and benefits; show them, with images and video about how to install/use your product. Include testimonials.

Be specific
Don’t be vague – it leads to ambiguity and confusion. Avoid words like ‘it’, ‘that’, ‘we’ etc and replace them with meaningful words instead. By repeating the proper name of the thing you’re talking about (whether it’s your brand or product) you’re reinforcing these names with your audience and helping search engines better understand what your page is about, thus improving your search engine optimisation.

Avoid jargon
Because you know what you mean, you tend to generalise and use jargon when writing about your company, products and/or services. Although it makes sense to you, your content may be lost on someone less familiar with your business.

Brand your interaction
Everything you do is part of your marketing, so the way you write needs to be consistent with and reinforce your brand image and reputation.

Keep in mind that your website is never ‘finished’ and that good writing requires continuous revision. When you think you’re done, set it aside and come back to it in a few days with ‘fresh eyes’. And as always, get someone who’s a complete novice to review your content and point out anything that’s unclear or needs improvement before you publish.

References:
B. Clay and S. Esparza 2011, ‘Write Exciting and Engaging Web Content for Better SEO Results’, viewed 25 April 2011.
Vandelay Design 2008, ‘5 Steps to a More Engaging Website’, viewed 25 April 2011.
M. Dorian 2011, ‘How to Create Engaging Web Content that Captivates your Audience’, viewed 25 April 2011.

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Small businesses benefit most from social media

In recent years, ‘[social media has moved from uncertain strategy to primary tool in the savvy marketer’s toolkit and it seems the self-employed and small business owners are reaping the most benefits]’, according to Michael Stelzner author of the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report.

Of the 3342 marketers surveyed, 47% were either self-employed or small business owners. Here are just some of the areas where they reported greater results from using social media than their peers

  • Almost 90% reported increased exposure in an increasingly noisy marketplace
  • At least 59% developed new partnerships
  • They were twice as likely to find qualified leads
  • 48% saw improved sales as a direct result of their social media effort
  • Almost 60% reported reductions in marketing costs when using social media

But when small business owners have so many demands on their time, just how much time needs to be invested in social media to reap the benefits? Perhaps not as much as you’d think, with 75% of survey respondents reporting increased traffic and twice as many leads generated with as little as 6 hours a week on social media.

According to the report, almost all marketers have four tools in their toolkit; Facebook (92%), Twitter (84%), LinkedIn (71%) and Blogs (68%), with small business owners more likely than others to increase their use of LinkedIn during 2011.

Not all are going it alone, with 34% of small business owners reporting that they outsource at least part of their social media for growth. Tasks being outsourced include: design and development (17%), content creation (10%), analytics (10%) and monitoring (7%). Somewhat surprisingly, only 6% are outsourcing or seeking advice regarding their strategy.

It is also encouraging to see that marketers are integrating their social media efforts with other emarketing and more traditional marketing strategies, with 64% reporting a desire to increase their use of SEO and email marketing, as well as webinars, teleseminars, event marketing and press releases.

As Michael says ‘small business owners are finding great value in social media marketing [and] in many cases, they’re benefiting more than their large company peers]’.

Refer to the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report for more insights into how social media can help businesses of all sizes and levels of experience. And for more helpful hints, tips and resources I also recommend Small Business News: Small Biz Social Media Guide.

References:
Michael Stelzner 2011, ‘2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report’, viewed 25 April 2011.
Phil Mershon 2011, ‘Small Businesses Benefit Most From Social Media – Study Reveals’, viewed 25 April 2011.
Small Business Trends 2011, ‘Small Business News: Small Biz Social Media Guide’, viewed 25 April 2011.

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Common social media mistakes and how to avoid them!

Barry Libert recently said ‘If you want to become a meaningful part of social conversations and interactions, you’ve got to know who your [audience] is , where they spend their time online, and what sort of content is valuable, relevant, and will foster their continued interest and participation. And that’s just for starters’.

Indeed, there is plenty to be considered before jumping into what Barry calls a ‘profile creating, news-tweeting, blog-posting frenzy’. Half the battle though, is to figure out what not to do. So, to make things a little easier, here are some common social media mistakes and how to avoid them.

Too much, too soon
A quality social media presence requires focus and patience.  Before trying to create a presence on every social media site, achieve success on one and then leverage your learnings in additional accounts.

Under investing in social initiatives and abandoning them too soon
Early on, you’ll need to invest a good deal of time, thought and money in attracting fans and followers – and your efforts will need to be sustained. Successful strategies include posting quality content people want to consume, encouraging interaction and responding to criticism. Include customer and employee testimonials and use multiple approaches (blogs, Facebook pages and your web site) to reach more people.

Neglecting to encourage and inspire your followers
It’s not about you; it’s about your audience. Don’t broadcast; listen. Ask questions and incite participation. When you think about it, your fans and followers are essentially giving up their time and energy to interact with you and promote your company – you need to respect that and take their comments on board.

Relying on a ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy
This kind of thinking is flawed from the start – you can’t simply build a social community and expect people to join. You need to offer incentives, develop a strategy and target your audience through multiple channels to ensure they know you want to build a relationship with them.

Underestimating  the power of a social network
Social media and community collaboration can bring many benefits including brand-building, customer loyalty and retention, cost reductions, improved productivity, new product ideas and improvements, product and organisation promotion and revenue growth.

Forgetting your brand
Your social media activities should supplement (not replace) a balanced and integrated marketing and communications strategy that supports overall business strategy and objectives. In that way, your social media activities should reflect, support and enhance your brand. You must maintain your reputation and image while providing value to your audience.

Selecting the ‘wrong’ social media spokesperson
Your social media presence provides the ‘voice’ of the company so it is essential to select an employee with a detailed understanding of your products and brand to manage your social media accounts.

Failure to train employees
You need to provide staff with a baseline of the basic ‘what to’ and ‘what not to’ do’s, as well as set expectations and provide policies for employee participation.

Forgetting to measure metrics
It is important to define the metrics by which you will measure your social media activity, success and campaign results. Some metrics to consider include; number of followers, impressions, clicks, sales and registrations, to name a few.

References:
Barry Libert 2010, ’10 Social Media Mistakes We Bet You’re Making’, viewed 24 April 2011.
My Charity Connects 2009, ‘Top Ten Social Media Mistakes’, viewed 24 April 2011.
Brian Rice 2010, ‘Top 10 Common Social Media Mistakes to Avoid’, viewed 24 April 2011.

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Mazda’s social media zoom

Most automotive websites are essentially big advertising sites focused on one way communication with customers. Mazda, however, have revamped their approach to bring the essence of the zoom zoom brand alive online, both on the website and within social media channels – and many seem to like their new direction.

As noted elsewhere, ‘prior to the development of the site Mazda lacked a social network and community strategy, with no official Mazda Australia presence on Facebook, Flickr or YouTube and a tactical attempt at Twitter’.

Recently launched (with the help of igloo and Sitecore) the Mazda Australia website is now an integrated social media and community portal aimed at user engagement and interaction. In agreement with Alastair Doak, National Marketing Manager at Mazda Australia’s comments, the new site ‘enables new and existing Mazda customers to engage with the brand and connect with other Mazda enthusiasts on a more personal level’.

The Mazda Community’ features heavily at the forefront of the site, and users are encouraged to contribute to photos and galleries online; access news, competitions, event information and ambassador profiles; and ‘ask an expert’ a Mazda question. Live tweets appear – on the community homepage – and there are links to community forums, blogs and reviews. Interestingly, many of the links go outside of Mazda to owners’ club sites, commercial reviews and independent blogs.

And for those of you with a keen eye, you’ll notice that as you navigate around the site, the page background images change to feature photos contributed by Mazda Community members.

With social media integration, an improved technical infrastructure and information architecture overhaul, the site undoubtedly provides a more engaging and informative user experience and fast-tracked calls-to-action, making it easier for users to book a test drive, locate a dealer and request a brochure. Customer service issues and vehicle questions are now being raised and responded to online and through social media channels.

Within two months of launching the new site the spike in user interaction was already noticeable, with a 52% increase in site views, and brochure requests rising by 36% over the same period. Today, Mazda Australia has an official Facebook page with 2351 fans, a Twitter following of 2392 and a dedicated YouTube channel where viewers can access commericals and videos about Mazda vehicles, concepts and designs, events and motorsport, in addition to videos posted by community members.

Mazda have undoubtedly committed significant resources to this emarketing and social media strategy, and will need to continue to do so in an effort to monitor and manage their social media presence while keeping the community interested and engaged in their activity. If they haven’t done so already, they should also consider implementing policies regarding employees posting on blogs and websites on behalf of the company.

With the help of igloo, Mazda Australia appears to have established the foundation and direction of a successful social media strategy. I commend their decision to enlist the assistance of an agency in planning their jump into the social media, and hope to see them continue to move forward in this space.

References:
CIO 2011, ‘Mazda Australia zooms ahead online‘, viewed 16 April 2011.
Australian Creative 2010, ‘Mazda’s new digital offering by igloo‘, viewed 16 April 2011.
David Scott 2010, ‘Mazda Australia social media Zoom Zoom‘, viewed 16 April 2011.
Mazda Australia 2011, viewed 16 April 2011.

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How can associations and their members benefit from e-marketing and social media?

Undoubtedly, there are many organisations that have jumped into the social media space without much consideration regarding whether doing so actually provides value for the organisations itself, and professional associations are no different. Establishing and maintaining a social media presence isn’t for everyone, and I would encourage any business considering emarketing and social media to step back and take the time to examine their goals, objectives, target markets and stakeholders.

Certainly planning is fundamental to ensuring an effective emarketing strategy that forms part of an integrated marketing and communications effort whilst also supporting overall business strategy and objectives. Too many associations treat social media as a one-way broadcasting self-promotional tool – it is social media – the focus should be on building relationships that are interactive and mutually beneficial for the association and its members.

So, what are the potential benefits?

Administration expenses – slashed
The web has revolutionised membership operations. What once took many staff hours to coordinate the complex and labour intensive task of enrolling members and renewing their memberships can now be completely automated using online member management solutions, meaning membership revenue can be redirected to providing member benefits instead of administration.

Email marketing
Cheap, reliable and effective email hits the spot when it comes to timely promotion and information sharing with members. It is measureable, permission based and has significantly reduced the cost of membership communication.

Online directories and portals
Many organisation websites offer a comprehensive directory of members which not only provides a great way of finding members but also assists their search engine optimisation with a highly relevant link to member blogs and websites.

Real-time ongoing focus groups
By setting up ‘listening tools’ and being present and responsive to social media platforms, associations can learn about member needs, get feedback on services and ‘crowd source’ ideas for education and events. In this way, social media can be a listening post and early warning system.

Peer-to-peer networking
Through social media, associations can host peer-to-peer networking, helping members build relationships with other members. Relationships built online can then be further strengthened at conferences and other face-to-face meetings – even online-only relationships can bring value to members.

Extended conference experience
Creating a community not only during a conference but also before and after will help to extend the experience. Conducting webinars and screening session recordings online enables members to experience sessions they may have been physically unable to attend.

Platform for credible information sharing
Professional organisations can be a platform for sharing online news, information and professional development resources – think of associations as curators of relevant information in our information overloaded society.

Interaction
Through social media, professional associations can not only build relationship with members, but also with new and traditional media, policy makers and their staff, industry influencers, prospective members, exhibitors, sponsors, conference speakers and attendees.

I reiterate that social media is not for everyone – although, as outlined above, the possible benefits it may afford are certainly worth consideration when deciding whether or not to enter the social media space.

References:
T. M. 2010, ‘How can associations benefit from social media, viewed 9 April 2011.
Reardon, C. 2010, ‘The best eMarketing techniques for member organisations, viewed 9 April 2011.

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Are professional associations at risk of becoming redundant?

Australia has over 200 industry associations spanning professional areas such as public health, nutrition, sport, nursing, business, accounting, finance, law and marketing, just to name a few – but are these associations at risk of becoming redundant at the hands of the social media boom?

That is certainly the argument being made by online marketer and chief executive of Lead Creation, Toby Marshall in a recent BRW article titled ‘Industry associations lose ground’ and I’d have to agree.

As Toby points out, industry associations were traditionally set up to connect people professionally; facilitate networking; share information and knowledge through conferences and seminars; facilitate professional development; lobby governments and, in many cases, provide accreditation. However, social media sites such as LinkedIn can provide many of these functions for free, leading many professional association members wondering whether their annual fees are still providing value for money.

Social media groups certainly seem to dilute some of the traditional advantages of association membership, but will they eliminate the need for having professional associations all together?

For some industries, being a member of a professional association will continue to be important in terms of endorsing or adding credibility to your qualifications; however, for others the lure of social media’s ability to offer a wider range of information, varied commentary and increased engagement is likely to force many associations to consider integrating social media into their current membership offering or risk a reduction in membership numbers (and therefore revenue).

If professional associations are to survive in this era of social networking, they will undoubtedly have to adapt to better serve the needs of their member cohort. Certainly some appear to recognise this and have developed online newsletters and webinars to enable online professional development; however, many still fall short of their potential to provide online networking and relationship building opportunities.

So how can professional associations use social media to provide members with a place to connect and build relationships at their own convenience?

One solution would be to create a networking section on the association’s website in addition to developing and maintaining a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn, then facilitating engagement by giving members an opportunity to contribute blog posts, start discussions, and post news updates. Associations could also create a Twitter list for members, and through the association’s own twitter account, routinely link to member tweets and posts. Doing so would enable the association to become a valuable social networking channel for members, providing them with a place to network in their own time, on their own terms, and in the comfort of their own home.

Would you consider membership of a professional association that didn’t provide a social media offering to members?

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