Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Is Your Website Just "Keeping Up Appearances?"

I wrote a small website recently for the owner of a travel-related business. He had an interesting take on what he wanted: he wan't planning on putting up a lot of specific information, or a blog, because "I won't be using this site to generate business or boost income." Uh, okay. When I asked him why we wished to bother with a website at all, he answered that his competitors all had websites. All he really needed, he figured, was to be up there in lights alongside them so prospective customers wouldn't dismiss him out of hand completely.

Well, fair enough, I suppose. Obviously you have to have some kind of professional-looking web presence to keep up appearances if nothing else. You may have built your first company website for the exact same reason; you certainly didn't want to be the only kid on the block without one, and optimizing the thing to capture targeted traffic or facilitate conversions could always come later. But did it come later -- or are you still relying on your first thoughts on the subject?

This client sent me some links to competitors' websites so I get could an idea of what these folks were doing. The first thing I noticed was that the competing sites weren't just occupying cyberspace as digital brochures. For instance, two of them maintained blogs -- a critical feature for refreshing the site content in the eyes of Google and prospective customers alike. But even the one without the blog emphasized its calls to action (log in to our partner program, register for your big discount, contact us today, et cetera). These weren't passive placeholder sites; they were active sales machines.

In the end, I still wrote a pretty basic website for my client. But I made sure the content cranked the excitement factor up to 11, addressed his ideal audience, and pushed readers to make contact and learn more. With the right optimization and marketing strategies, it should help him win new business. But if he really wants to swim with the sharks in his industry, he'll want to keep building on this promising start by adding a blog and promoting his site through ongoing marketing efforts, both online and off-line.

If you're going to spend the time and money to get a company website up and running (and even a do-it-yourself job using a free template is going to sap valuable billable time), then you might as well take the extra steps to make the site work for your business as effectively as possible. Brochures are fine for what they are -- but your web presence can be so much more!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

4 Questions for Prompting Fresh Blog Topics

Writing a blog article can prove challenging enough without having to write hundreds of the stupid things. But once you launch your company blog, that's just what you've put yourself (or your associates) on the hook to do. The generation of topic ideas is as mentally draining as the creation of the articles themselves, if not more so. That's why so many businesses fall down in their attempts to blog regularly -- or never even bother to try, despite the importance of blogging as a means of refreshing their online presence in the eyes of Google and other major search engines.

Fortunately, you can often make the ideation process a little easier simply by providing your brain with the right prompts. Here are four basic questions to ask yourself whenever you're having trouble coming up with that next great idea:

1. "Are there big events impacting my industry right now?"

No matter what line of work you're in, there's bound to be some major event related to it occurring at some point or points during the year. If you're in the healthcare field, for instance, you've pretty much got it made -- there's always a National X Awareness Month or National Y Week designed to raise public consciousness about this or that health condition. Maybe your industry has a national convention coming up, or a professional association has just released a major study affecting users of your products or services. Use these events as springboards for blog articles.

2. "What are my competitors blogging about?"

The last thing you want to do is copycat your competitors' blogs, since the whole point of any marketing effort is to stand out from the crowd. But it never hurts to study the other guys' blogs just to see what issues they've identified as pain points or interest points for their target audience (which presumably is also your target audience). What basic concerns are they addressing? They may well inspire your own unique spin on the subject matter.

3. "What are my competitors not blogging about?"

Here's a golden opportunity to fill an important information gap for your readers, if you can spot it. Do you keep looking for a particular topic that surprises you by its absence? Are you asking yourself, "Why is nobody writing about this issue?" Hey, even the smartest people can overlook the obvious -- or maybe it's only obvious to you, thanks to your special expertise and experience. Either way, once that negative space reveals itself as a potential topic, grab it and fill it with words!

4. "Who have I rescued lately?"

You probably have some great success stories to share, from resolving customers' emergencies to helping a small business grow into a large one. Sure, you could (and probably should) have some of these written up as full-blown white papers and case studies, but there's no reason you can't blog about them as well. You can even write the blog article as a summary or tease of the larger piece, with a link for further reading. On the other hand, if the success story in question doesn't merit the full treatment, maybe a little blog article would make the perfect frame for it.

Don't let the need for a steady stream of blog articles prevent you from performing this essential marketing task. Make the ideation/writing process easier and more efficient by hiring an experienced freelance blog writer. It just so happens that I know a guy....