Inspired Work

Strategy. Choices. And working on what matters…

we-are-our-choices-300x213

I get asked to help clients with their websites all the time.

Websites, because for some SMEs, that’s the sum total of the marketing they do. Or it’s the bit of their business the market notice. Often it’s heralded to be the answer to their business issues. So the conversation tends to start here.

They want to scale up, to start exporting. After all, a slick website is the perfect lead-generator for a business needing to engage international prospects.

There may be an investment in ongoing Google ads …. but bounce rates are too high … from their poorly constructed website, with its text-heavy, much ignored messages.

A state-of-the-art-service is being marketed, but unfortunately the owner has chosen to develop the website for free. And now the site is not delivering as the business has grown.

They used have a strong foothold in the marketplace, but now the market has become more competitive. Again, the website brings market attention to the fact that they’ve lost touch.

Some business owners articulate the need for a customer or marketing plan, others a refinement of their sales pitch.

Commonly, clients speak of the need for a ‘rebrand’. Branding is a much bandied-about term, I speak about it more here. Some mean visual brand; to be perceived online and on publications as a dynamic, professional and ‘serious contender’ in the market. Other times it’s meant as a more fundamental rebrand, a rethink or re-launch perhaps of their business.

Some cite the very common sentiment of ‘feeling lost’ in the noise of their of day-to-day business. The recession is slowly lifting …. trust and positivity are re-emerging. Businesses want to be poised and ready for the impending upswing. But with it often comes decision-paralysis. This is understandable, now everyone has to be a marketer.  With the perceived low costs of digital media, the potential for a dazzling world stage, the well-intentioned advice from family, friends, not to mention online (aware of the irony!). So it’s no wonder businesses are confused.

Many just don’t have the time, the resources or the space to think about where to start.

For me marketing can never fix poor planning, it’s meant to be a critical part of the business planning process. As Bernadette Jiwa puts it

‘Businesses spend a lot of time trying to be seen and heard, rising above the noise …. by creating more noise. Good marketing is often invisible’.

The Iceberg Effect

I see how easy it is for attention to focus on better communications when addressing business issues. But often what they see in competitive businesses is only the tip of the iceberg, the bit above the surface that everyone sees. ‘How can we fix this business issue, surely better communications is the answer’. Not always. This view can be blinkered and could lead the business down the track of keeping everything else as is, same target market, same product offerings but fresh new communications.

 

iceberg

 

Invariably with most clients, I backtrack into Strategy. It remains one of the most overused words in business. For me the less jargon the better.

‘Strategy for me boils down to choices.’

The choices determine the path. Some roads lead somewhere interesting, lucrative, sustainable. Others are short and sweet, leading nowhere.

The choices a business makes about who it will serve and, crucially, who they will not serve. What it will offer? How their way of doing business is unique to them? How it is sustainable? How is it organised to feed off the passions, resources and skillsets of those within the business? Some business owners who are struggling are driving autopilot, to a place they’ve been many times before. It’s so hard to drive the car and take in the landscape, to see the big picture about what is going on. The concentration can sometimes be too linear, riddled with assumptions.  In start-ups, it’s nearly the flipside, the head is awhirl with tons of new stimulus. The non-driver or mentor can be really useful in helping navigate the woods and trees.

strategy

 

The thing is, businesses who excel in communications spend much longer at the bit everyone doesn’t see, the market intelligence or curiosity, the tracking and iterating, the planning and improving, the bit below the surface.

It doesn’t mean the launch has to be held up. I welcome the move in recent years from overly researching and stalling before launching, to refining and iterating quickly when launched. This lean approach to planning and minimal viable products is refreshing and dynamic and has worked well in the tech start-up scene. But it doesn’t mean you should launch without a clear plan. It just means the attention on this area should be maintained once launched. The curiosity and determination to realise the true potential of the business should be pursued to the nth.

That part, whilst not always expensive, takes time, patience, determined focus …. and it has to be said some amount of discomfort. This ability to live with uncertainty and business vulnerability is a major game-changer for me.  Maybe the business has to change more than the owner thought or maybe there are un-admitted weaknesses in the business skills.  Basically more challenging conversations are needed to get to the solutions than first anticipated.

The ability for a business to start in the right place, to address the challenges fundamentally can be the difference. The business offering that’s based on genuine, up-to-date market insights, sustains the business. It then powers the communications, the revenues, the motivations of personnel. Those businesses naturally create great marketing, create communications and naturally attract business to them. The need to push the message out, verses draw attention in changes there and then.

‘Good products breathe life and clarity into their communication’

So in summary, I guess I’m saying that a web developer, whilst at times critical, won’t solve business woes. Nor can focusing on the ‘shiny distraction’ of social media replace the hard strategic choices. Sometimes they only shine a light on business indecision or lack of planning. Don’t get me wrong, the ad, the website, the video, the social messaging … they are all really effective tools at the right point in time. To a clearly sculpted strategic purpose. Trouble is, most businesses want to jump to communications too soon. The foundations of good communications are clear choices. Those clear choices are based on what a business has observed about a market, what they are passionate about, what they have said ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to.

The duck

duckJust as the duck  furiously paddles underwater and appears calm and effortless in our view, so in business the hard work is done out of public scrutiny.

For messages to be simple and powerful, for communications to cut through in an overstimulated market, more thought and some market interrogation needs to happen first.

Start by moving away from the noise, by removing yourself from the day-to-day. Then maybe ask for honest, impartial appraisal.

Seek expert advice where there’s a gap.

@siodhna

 

I offer Clarity Workshops to clients who are confused about where to start in terms of communications or strategic planning. Contact me here for more information.  

Saying Less. Saying More

“Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much.”

―Robert Greenleaf

 

 

Say More with Less

I recently had an extremely conscientious client who was pitching a quality product to new international markets. Her product was superior to her direct competition and, though the first to market, her foothold was well and truly lost. Her website was bursting with information, features and facts. But her targets had neither the time, the inclination nor the interest to wade through it. As they weren’t prepared to spend the time to understand product categories they were unfamiliar with, they were settling for her competitors and inferior product solutions.

Most businesses I work with really struggle to say less.

 

Their web pages, brochures and leaflets are bursting with words.

With features and lists.

They don’t believe me when I say that they expect way too much from their prospects. In terms of understanding what they do and what they sell.

 

Until I research it and ask their prospects to tell them.

Or they research it beyond their circles of well intentioned friends.

Until they hear it from the horses mouth.

 

Surfers take seconds to decide whether you will be their next forgettable business.

SMEs struggle to strip back their key messages to connect.

Connection is based on stripping back business messages to the bare essence; what they do, why do they do it and who are they for.

The reason?

It’s harder to say less.

More than that.

It’s harder to stand for less.

 

It takes much more time to distil down concepts, messages, products and services.

It’s much easier to say more.

And to say you do more.

To throw everything out there and to see what sticks.

 

It’s harder to be more interesting about a more defined idea.

It’s harder to do the stripped-down thinking and talking.

So keen are SMEs to appeal to more people, they unwittingly blur their message.

Making themselves forgettable or invisible.

Making their prospects take on too much of the brain work.

Saying they do more. And more and more.

Diluting their message.

And reaching fewer persuasively.

The bottom line is that your prospects are time poor, suffer from information-overload and are looking for shortcuts all the time.

 

The way communications works is that if you can clearly show that you are the fit  ….  for someone like them ….. with a problem exactly like theirs …then you are in the consideration set.

Do the hard work and give them the shortcut they crave.

Your prospects need to hear about their exact problems … or particular needs UP FRONT from you, not buried in the sea of information you send out. Put simply, if it’s a website it needs to be on the home page. They need to connect with a business who really sees them. Who understands them. Who talks straight to them.

So there’s saying less. And then there’s saying less to less people. Or having a clearer, bullseye target.

Businesses sometimes view advice on ‘target refinement’ as diminishing their market potential. ‘But that will reduce my addressable market, that would do me out of business!’. That depends on how much business you were realistically going to get from that market and how much you might get if you hone and specialise.

With an ‘essentials’ approach to marketing and key messages so you can use the communications toolkit so much more effectively. So when you communicate on websites, email, leaflets, business cards, ads, videos, tweets, Facebook posts and blogs;

Say less. Mean more.

Say less. Sell more.

Say less.

 

@Siodhna

 

Many attempts

Useful Website Briefing Checklist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Useful Website Briefing Checklist

The below is meant to be a helpful checklist. It’s by no means exhaustive for every website, and for other business start-up sites, it’s more than enough. Judge what’s right for your website.

The most important thing is to be clear about the questions I ask below before you ever approach or decide on a developer. Get what you want down on paper. This will help the web developer or designer to understand and quote for the job properly. It will also ensure both of you are on the same page, avoiding misunderstandings at a later, crucial stage. I find a checklist works well for SMEs who don’t always know the questions they need to be asking either themselves or the developer.

Background Information

Is it a new or replacement site?

  • If replacement;
    • What is the current domain (URL) and passwords:
    • Do you require staging site during build?
    • What’s the motivation for website change?
    • If a rebuild of the current site is required – what do you like /dislike about the current site?

Goals

 

  • Be clear about the desired outcomes of the project?  What do you want the website to do? To generate leads via contact forms?  Make the phone ring? Give extra or back-up information? Get signups to a newsletter?
  • Goals should be SMART if possible: specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic and have a timeframe.

Audience

 

  • Who is the audience? Do you have an ideal customer profile? Be as clear as possible here. The ‘everyone is my target‘ approach only serves to reduce your chance to convert your best prospects, not increase them. You need to design messages, content, products and services that serve this core target best. Appeal to your core target and the revenue will follow.
  • Have you a secondary audience? Is your audience different from your customer? (for example a band might want to appeal to fans as well as to producers, non-profits may target donations and a second audience might be sponsors)
  • Does your business have a male/female bias? Is there a geographic focus; city or country target? Is there an age range?  Are there shared interests or dislikes within this target segment? Get this description down on paper, this will be your target customer and very useful to third parties you may work with. Everyone from logo designers, web developers to external consultants.
  • How will they use the website?
  • How will they hear about your website? (articles/ reviews/ contact details/pricing?) Do you have a marketing plan? The saying ‘Build it and they will come’ does not apply to new websites.

Content

  • What content will be needed for the site? Draw up a plan for each page. At a very basic level you need
    • A ’home’ page, with important key messages.
    • ‘About us’ page; one of the most important, visited and overlooked pages on a website! It’s the history of the ‘When’, the ‘Why’ and the all-important ‘Who’ of the business set-up. It’s important to give some sense to the visitor of who you are and what you are about. Read more about effective business storytelling here.
    • ‘What you do’ – A short succinct summary, with products/services offered. What your business does as well as the problems       you solve.  See suggested P. A. L approach to this below.
    • ‘Contact us’ page. Put in all the details. Have a business-like email address, preferably related to your domain name.  Don’t just have contact form, give emails it might be preferable to some enquirers. Have you a landline as well as a mobile? Looks better and a preferred method of contact for some. Have you an office or at least a virtual office address? This is all part of your business       branding.
  • List the total subject areas you might cover –
    • From most important to least, focus on topics and clusters (which can then become the site map). Have you research on the market? What are people discussing about your business category? What questions are they asking
    • Will site be designed with Search Engine Optimisation (i.e. ease of being found on search engines) in mind? See SEO section below.
  • Is there content available to tell the story (photos, videos, text, diagrams, etc.). What content/images/logo/video already exists and what needs to be developed? Read more about how to use tools and techniques to support your online business storytelling here.
  • Who is going to write the content?
  • Scope – will the site be expanding vastly or piecemeal in the future and is there a vision for this yet by the owner?
  • How is content to be maintained after the launch? Will the developer train the business owner how to make changes to      text/images/page?
  • Are page layout and changes charged by the hour by the developer? If so, what’s the rate?

Communication & Messages

I am splitting this out from content section as it is so important and often overlooked. What should the site communicate?

  • What are the primary objectives for the site? There will be a lot of things that an owner/manager wants to communicate on a  site but what are the key messages or prioritisation of messages?
  • What should visitors of the site come away with?
  • What are your headings? Sections?
  • There are a number of approaches to messaging that I use. The easiest one I use is the P.A.L. approach  (Pain, Aspirin, Legacy). Here is a link to a video which  explains this here. If you want more information on Business  Storytelling online I talk about in more detail here.

Search Engine Optimisation and SEO

 

    • Is SEO or ‘being found easily on the search engines’ required? If not why? There’s no point in having a website if it can’t be found.
    • SEO keyword research is hugely important as it  affects what sections, pages and titles/headings you will have on your  site. There were a lot of SEO tricks in the past – and still used today – where site content was written purely to be found by search  engines like Google. Best not to do this. Write your content for your audience, what problems they have or services they need. Keep SEO       strongly in mind, but don’t let SEO drive your content completely as you will lose the interest and attention of your targets. A key metric in tracking your engagement from Google Analytics is how long visitors are spending on your site and of course how many lead to sign ups/enquiries/sales/downloads. Visits are vanity if they don’t lead to sales.
    • You need to understand how Google searches work, what SEO is all about and how to make it work to generate traffic for you.
    • You need a Gmail account first.
    • Knowing your keywords and how to use Google’s Keyword Planner tool is important.
    • You should be able to see what search terms or keywords that your target market is using to look for services in the regions you are checking. Examples  of keywords used in Google searches are ”web designer Galway” or ”personalised baby gifts” or “hairdresser in Swords”, or  “affordable marketing advice SME” or “emergency plumber Cork”.
    • You should also be able to see how searches are  made on Google using these words and how ‘competitive’ these terms are (i.e.       if many or few businesses are trying to get their websites to rank highly on Google for those exact terms.)
    • NOTE: A decent designer/developer should be able to give you some basic pointers here. If this is not an agreed part to your       brief, you need to educate yourself before you start the job. More detailed SEO work may require an SEO specialist but this isn’t usually required for a modest online website launch. It is also noteworthy that  You Tube contain lots of educational videos ‘how to’ videos on Google Keyword Planner and WordPress SEO if you ever need additional support.
    • Have you considered the SEO implications of your domain name? Eg are you choosing a name for your domain that sounds good    or that will help you get found? There’s no hard and fast rules –  for example I chose www.inspiredthinking.ie but names like webdesigndublin.ie or physio.ie do support overall SEO goals.
    • Do you need a WordPress SEO plug-in? WordPress have reasonably priced ‘All in One SEO plugin’ for approx. under $50 which       should be given serious consideration. This means you can optimise the  site yourself with some basic training from the developer.
    • How is the success of this keyword research and optimisation (SEO) measured after the website build ? Will you as owner be able to track using Google Analytics? Will the designer install this for you? Is there a charge?

 

Features required

 

  • Downloads – do you want to enable documents or slides to be downloaded when someone enters their email address, for example?
  • Is a ‘Contact us’ form required?
  • Do you want to have a blog that feeds new blog postings onto home page?
  • Do you want to collect email addresses in exchange for a presentation download?
  • Do you require Google Analytics to be set up?
  • E-commerce
    • Do you require payment online? Eg Paypal, Visa.
    • Have you investigated the various shopping cart  options, open cart, zen cart and do you know independently the pros and       cons of those you have shortlisted? Do your research at this stage. Losing a customer due to poor shopping cart experience is both common and reckless! It takes so much marketing effort to get them to this point.
    • Other e-commerce capabilities incl. a sub-set of specific features, i.e. having specials, discounts, featured products, customer reviews, etc.).
  • Do you want a blog section? What will you blog about? Again refer to SEO and keyword planning.
  • Is there a members-only content area? (paid or free)
  • Do you want advertisers or sponsors?

 

Call to Action

 

  • What do you want people to do when they get to the site? Buy from the shop / complete enquiry form /call / read lots of articles / sign-up to the newsletter/ RSS/ Go to Facebook and like page?
  • What are the 2 most important calls to action that will be on the home page?

 

Social Media and Sharing

 

  • Where do your target audience(s) spend time online? What social networks?
  • What links do you need for sharing your content (links on the site or blogs to LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • What Social Media presence do you have (or need) – and how is that going to be presented on the site (Will you use Social Media Widgets to show Facebook Like box, Follow us on Twitter, or include the latest updates from your social media streams etc.).

Look and feel/Design Assets

 

  • Logos, colours, style guide, existing marketing materials
  • Is there ‘a look’ or design that the owner is going for? Can other websites be referenced to give the designer an idea?
  • Could the web developer show the owner a selection of the pre-designed WordPress templates that      he/she would recommend so the owner can choose? Some examples of good WordPress templates are here;

 

http://www.tripwiremagazine.com/2013/02/twitter-bootstrap-templates.html#SiteTemplates

 

http://www.thinkthe.me/articles/20-modern-one-page-wordpress-themes/

  • Some of the most unprofessional sites I’ve seen have a mish-mash of font types and colours. With pre-designed templates these days, your website doesn’t need to rely so heavily on the design skills of your designer.
  • Images: Images work so well in breaking up copy and  engaging site visitor. Has your developer the know-how on how to get you free (or royalty free) images or will they recommend ‘better images’ where you must pay a small once off charge (eg €25) that suits and brands your business better. Though free, some of the non-descript, forgettable photos you see on sites (and bank posters!) these days do little but turn people off your site. These images may have a small charge attached but can instantly say something about your business. Will your developer give you feedback on images you have sourced, or go the extra to find a better one? Know limits of their spec upfront.
  • Three to five websites with design ideas that you like (can be from your industry or another)
  • Competitor’s websites (three to five)

Practical Issues

 

  • What’s your budget? Is it realistic for the features and functions you want??
  • In my experience you don’t get much for €300-400 and what might seem like a bargain might be pain in the long run when you want      after service or extra work. Budget at least €700-1200 for a simple starter site with ecommerce site being at least double depending on      features required. They can be cheaper if you upload the products yourself. These are rough benchmark prices, you need to pay more for    enhanced design and features.
  • Is there priority issues highlighted by the developer once briefed, and can parts be staged if the budget doesn’t cover the total wish-list?
  • Timeline – how long and what’s the deadline?
  • How will the site be tested and who will do it? Does it need to be?
  • Who will decide the site is ready to go before launch?

 

 Technology issues

 

  • Domain name account details, hosting, etc. Who does it, how much does it cost and when does it need to be done in order for your web developer to start work on the site.
  • Who registers the domain name address? Who engages with Company’s Registration Office and why would you need to? Here’s a useful link for start-ups.
  • Where will be the site be hosted? Who will host your website? Are you picking this service based purely on price or have you      had a recommendation. I’ve seen many SMEs run into trouble having a poor hosting service provider.

Timings and Project Management

Get an idea of how long the process should take, along with key approval milestones so you can plan development amidst your busy day to day. A common issue I see it the business starting off with great energy, focus and through the process losing the will to finish it properly. Or the process drags on much longer than it should.  Keeping this focus through the project where an independent mentor, confidante or third party business advisor can really add value to the process

@Siodhna

 

 

Hire a Web Designer and a Marketing Consultant? Are you completely mad?

Why would you hire a Marketing Consultant and a Web Designer to create your website?

Squatting 3 Times a Week

 

After all, isn’t adding an additional person to the chain just an additional cost?

On the face of it … yes.  It adds some cost to the project.

But it also adds something else … something essential.

Direction.

A question worth considering before you start creating your website is this … if you are not sure where exactly you are going, does it really matter how quickly or cheaply you get there?

Last year I undertook a project to change some internal walls in my house. I could have tried to source a labourer, plumber and an electrician myself using recommendations, quotes and online sources to inform my decision. For a really complicated change I would have needed an architect but this was relatively straight-forward. At the time I was running my business from home and expecting a baby in a month so I didn’t want any surprises and wanted the job done right. I got a recommended local builder who helped us refine our thinking and gave us a plan for the job. He had experience in the area working on similar houses and budgets. He explained what needed to be done and why. He highlighted key pitfalls with our initial plan, gave us a step-by-step on what was to happen, when and who was involved and finally gave us some rough costs. Once job was agreed he then engaged the necessary subcontractors who understood what exactly what needed to be done as explained by him.  They turned up when they were supposed to and completed the job.

This process is not too dissimilar to that of a business owner embarking in online communications.

For projects outside of your daily business expertise, there’s a need for market understanding and planning. There’s a real benefit to working with a third party who has the overall interests of the business at heart, who has experience of the issues and tasks at hand and in getting results on similar projects. There’s a real benefit to getting this advice or input before any contractors or web developers are engaged in the detail of actually doing the job.

Why is an experienced, strategic, business opinion important before creating or re-designing a website?

  • You need to know this new online investment will grow your business. Getting a website done quickly, in a format that looks good isn’t always enough to deliver results for your business. You need the phone to ring more, enquiries to arrive. Otherwise, it’s just an vanity exercise. An expensive and time consuming one at that.
  • As a business owner or senior manager you don’t always know what gaps you have in your market understanding. You can be too immersed in the busy day-to-day of running your business. External mentors view your business from an experienced, independent standpoint.
  • You need to know your online messages have meaning with their intended target and will spur prospects to action.
  • You want to know you are paying for features and services that will deliver a return for you.
  • You want an independent view on who to work with and what exactly to expect.

After all, online communications is relatively new to you.

I recently wrote a blog on creating an effective website which asks SMEs to consider 10 key things at the outset.

By working with a web designer or developer directly on website creation the job can often seem simpler to manage, quicker and cheaper. In some cases it works very well like this. I’m not saying that by working with a developer only, that your website will always have problems. In fact, this is the approach used by most in the market. It’s just that the online marketplace is becoming increasingly competitive and has recently become saturated with suppliers for all kinds of goods and services. The bar has been raised. Just being online is not enough anymore. You need to be marketing your business effectively online.  You need to stand out and connect with your audience meaningfully and in a way that really connects. Websites can appear slick, but many deliver little value to a business.  They aren’t making the phone ring. They aren’t attracting the enquiries in the numbers the business needs. Or worse, the website is damaging the business’s reputation, turning customers away, coming across unprofessionally, having a confusing layout and messages etc.

If your market doesn’t connect or identify with what you are telling them, then it’s a missed opportunity. There needs to be a moment where they see themselves in what you are saying, as a potential client or customer of yours.

Web developers and business owners range in terms of their market know-how, their copywriting expertise and their willingness to go the extra mile. In my experience here is where the possible friction can lie. I collaborate with a number of experienced web designers and developers in the work I do, and frankly couldn’t do my job without them. I’ve spent a significant amount of time working on online projects and vetting their expertise. Ask yourself, is this something you will get to do?

To aid website planning and your goal of market differentiation, I’ve set out 7 questions that would be worth asking yourself before engaging a developer.  These are based on my experience of mentoring clients of government agencies and advising SMES who have digital and website requirements.

7 key questions you might consider asking yourself before choosing a web developer.

1)    Have you shopped around enough? A good web developer is crucial when creating a new site. It takes a lot of the pain out of the process. Did you get a vetted recommendation or are you using a friend-of-a-friend or a student doing it for almost nothing? Always source 3 quotes from different web developers or designers. Find out what each is good at. What they’ve done before and what they charge. When reviewing quotes ensure you are comparing like with like. To ensure you are doing this write a written website brief using a checklist like this.

2)    Do they require the web content to be 100% finished or ‘ready-to-go’ so they can create the website or will they work with you bit by bit while you develop sections as you go? It’s much better if you are clear on your website content before going to the developer. You can either prepare this content yourself by laying it out on a word document and plan it section by section or engage a third party marketing consultant if you feel you’ve lost your way in terms of business communications. Here’s some thought starters in terms of business storytelling online.

3)    What questions is the web developer asking you up-front about your business? Are they keen to get under the skin of your business? Do they ask you who your audience is, about your key competitors and what the purpose of the site is? Do they ask what you want the key takeout of the site visit should be? (ie enquiries, sign-ups etc) Do they ask you for a written brief for the site? A written brief is something I would highly recommend to ensure there is no misunderstandings or stress at a later stage in the project. This website checklist will help in writing the website brief.

4)    Are you asking your developer to go beyond the call of duty? Be clear about what they understand as the scope of what’s been quoted for. You might be expecting opinion/feedback from your developer that he/she is unable to supply. They might not have the time or expertise to examine your content for sense or value. From my experience most will be happy to chip in and give some opinion based on experience, others will be more focused on getting the job done to an agreed spec as quickly as possible.  If you are relying on their feedback to critique content, are you expecting too much from your developer? Many have technical backgrounds and not business ones. They execute the plan, but you need to be the one who is clear about who is driving it. You need to have a clear plan in order to communicate effectively. Persuasive communications is the responsibility of the business owner or senior management of an organisation, not the web developer.

5)    Getting found on Google/SEO – There’s no point in having a website if it can’t be found on Google. You need to understand how Google searches work, what SEO is all about and how to make it work to generate traffic for you. If you leave this to the web designer, you might find it doesn’t get the focus it deserves. Knowing your keywords, and how to use Google’s Keyword Planner tool is important.

  • Is SEO or ‘being found easily on the search engines’ required? If not why? There’s no point in having a website if it can’t be found.
  • SEO keyword research is hugely important as it affects what sections, pages and titles/headings you will have on your site. There were a lot of SEO tricks in the past – and still used today – where site content was written purely to be found by search engines like Google. Best not to do this. Write your content for your audience, what problems they have or services they need. Keep SEO strongly in mind, but don’t let SEO drive your content completely as you will loose the interest and attention of your targets. A key metric in tracking your engagement from Google Analytics is how long visitors are spending on your site and of course how many lead to sign ups/enquiries/sales/downloads. Visits are vanity if they don’t lead to sales.
  • You need to understand how Google searches work, what SEO is all about and how to make it work to generate traffic for you.
  • You need a Gmail account first.
  • Knowing your keywords and how to use Google’s Keyword Planner tool is important.
  • You should be able to see what search terms or keywords that your target market is using to look for services in the regions you are checking. Examples of keywords used in Google searches are ”web designer Galway” or ”personalised baby gifts”or “hairdresser in Swords”, or “affordable marketing advice SME” or “emergency plumber Cork”.
  • You should also be able to see how searches are made on Google using these words and how ‘competitive’ these terms are (ie if many or few businesses are trying to get their websites to rank highly on Google for those exact terms.)
  • NOTE: A decent designer/developer should be able to give you some basic pointers here. If this is not an agreed part to your brief, you need to educate yourself before you start the job. More detailed SEO work may require an SEO specialist but this isn’t usually required for a modest online website launch. It is also noteworthy that You Tube contain lots of educational videos ‘how to’ videos on Google Keyword Planner and WordPress SEO if you ever need additional support.
  • Have you considered the SEO implications of your domain name? Eg are you choosing a name for your domain that sounds good or that will help you get found? There’s no hard and fast rules – for example I chose www.inspiredthinking.ie  but names like webdesigndublin.ie or physio.ie do support overall SEO goals.
  • Do you need a WordPress SEO plug-in? WordPress have reasonably priced ‘All in One SEO plugin’ for approx. under $50 which should be given serious consideration. This means you can optimise the site yourself with some basic training from the developer.
  • How is the success of this keyword research and optimisation (SEO) measured after the website build ? Will you as owner be able to track using Google Analytics? Will the designer install this for you? Is there a charge?
  • A decent designer/developer should be able to give you some basic pointers here. If this is not an agreed part to your brief, you need to educate yourself before you start the job. SEO keyword research is hugely important as it affects what sections, pages and titles/headings you will have on your site. More detailed SEO work may require an SEO specialist but this isn’t usually required for a modest online website launch.

6)    Content Management System – Open Source or tied to Developer?

  1. A Content Management System is the platform that allows your website content to be published. You need to ask what CMS your developer is planning to use. Are they planning to build the site using a specific coding language? I’ve heard from SMEs and clients who were disillusioned about their ‘after sales’ service. Some of them I know paid too little for their site and were not entitled to much after care. Others just didn’t understand that if they use a certain content management system, or language, they may have trouble in the future getting other developers to work on it. Or may need to pay that specific developer every time they want to make changes to a site. Business owners can enter unwittingly into lockdowns with a particular developer. It has to be said, this is sometimes because a business owner doesn’t always know what he or she wants or may have difficulty explaining it.
  2. SMEs or organisations may not realise that with some content management systems that they need to pay extra to have the site to appear properly on mobiles. Having your site appear well or responsively on mobiles is becoming a basic requirement now that Ireland’s Smartphone penetration is not far off 70%.
  3. To solve all of the above, one of the best ways to ensure any developer can work on your site in the future is to ensure you use an open source publishing platforms, like WordPress.

Benefits of WordPress

  • It’s widely a recognised platform globally, it’s simple to understand and easy to use
  • Either you or any future web developer should be able to make changes to your site.
  • The text and image changes are as easy to make as on a word document, anyone can make them with the password and login details. Changes can even be made from your mobile when you are out an about!
  • You can add in standard plugins for SEO which Google really likes. I’ve seen first-hand how easy they are to use and what results they get.
  • These days you don’t need to pay extra for mobile friendly sites. WordPress has a wide selection of great, responsive website designs all ready to go so all your developer needs to do is add in the content in a way that works with the templates. The shape and presentation of the website content responds to what it’s been viewed on (mobile, tablet or PC). Some nice WordPress templates on the links below;

http://www.tripwiremagazine.com/2012/09/responsive-wordpress-themes.html

http://www.thinkthe.me/articles/20-modern-one-page-wordpress-themes/

7)   Third Eye – Extra Proofing

It’s very hard to create the website content and critique it properly as well. You need a third eye or independent party. This is so important and it won’t matter how many times you read it yourself. You may not realise at the outset but creating your website content will really test your patience and resolve by the end of the process. You will tire of looking at it and miss mistakes that others will see straight away. You may have a friend or 2 who may help with spelling mistakes, grammar or copywriting on your site. But who are you asking to ‘vet’ your message clarity or the overall layout of the site?  Great if the person you ask to give feedback has good judgment, is commercially tuned in and digitally savvy.

Better if they can motivate you to make some difficult choices.

What choices you ask?

Instead of letting you create a bland website that says you are all things to all men, or a website that could easily pass for one of your competitors. You need to be challenged to make a stand, to have a market position. To speak meaningfully and clearly to you targets. Your content should attract and connect with prospects in a way that makes you stand out from all the rest who say they do what you do.

A nice, willing-to-please friend doesn’t work so well here. You need straight-talkers. Preferably seeking some viewpoint from your target market (Goes without saying that your husband shouldn’t be the only reviewer for your baby gifting website!)

If you don’t have a network or mentor with these competencies or feel the work needs a more professional touch … find a consultant.

Create the website or online presence that attracts the sort of customer you need to drive your business. Like the builder I hired, it can reduce the headaches in the long run.

@Siodhna

Marketing Small Businesses in Ireland – is all just a load of Social Media?

Marketing has changed ….

Marketing used be dominated by traditional, communications whereby large companies broadcasted their messages – one way – to the masses through newspapers, radio and TV and hoped that the messages would strike a note and that X% of the market would buy. This marketing method was expensive and inefficient and, for most small businesses, it was beyond their limited budgets. It favoured companies who had the resources to consistently invest in marketing. SMEs didn’t have the tools to compete or market themselves on a national stage. Nowadays, audiences in Ireland spend more time online than watching TV. The digital revolution is here. It means that audiences neither have the time nor the patience for old-fashioned ‘interruption’ type advertising. It also represents an unprecedented marketing opportunity for SMEs worldwide. For the first time ever, they have a loud-speaker, access to the market that doesn’t cost the earth.

New marketing

The internet and it’s accompanying search capabilities have brought with it inbound or content marketing which has utterly changed how SMEs market themselves. So instead of TV or print advertising ‘interrupting’ potential customers when they are relaxing or not in the market for your product or service, marketing is now about earning the attention of prospects by engaging them through creation of content that specifically speaks to them about the problems they are having etc. Because content is searchable it catches them exactly when are actively seeking solutions for problems or needs, ie when they are typing their need into Google’s or a Social Media search box. What could be more efficient and targeted than that? This new form of marketing is inbound or permission-based and is done mainly by being engaging (talking about what interests your targets) and making yourself easily found by having a strong online presence, engaging content, decent SEO etc. Another example of permission marketing is when you sign up to a newsletter, become fan of a business on Facebook, or subscribe to a blog. Each time you are giving a business or brand permission to communicate with you and establish a relationship with you. As with people, businesses need to nurture this relationship by building trust and engagement over time. The overly selly-selly or purely self-promotion approach doesn’t work well here. Why? Because people generally don’t like being pitched to, sold to … it switches them off. Think of cold callers, door to door sellers, leaflets you dump. These days people have become experts at screening quickly to avoid what doesn’t interest them.

Social media explained

Although Social Media appears to be a relevant touchpoint for SMEs, it may not be the ‘silver bullet’ some gurus claim it to be. As a business owner myself I have used Social Media with success to promote my business but I hear far too many business owners flaunt it as the low cost, ‘go to’ communications solution. The value of Social Media is in how it connects a business directly to their current and potential customers. Primarily Social Media is used to generate awareness and buzz about products or services a business offers and it can drive significant traffic to its website.

Social media content can be in the form of video, audio, images, links or just plain text that is published and shared in a social or business environment with a view to getting to your customers.

Social Media is one OF MANY online marketing tools that are available to SMEs, but because of the popularity of Facebook, Twitter and Linked in it receives a disproportionate amount of attention from business owners I meet. To put some numbers on that usage in Ireland;

  • 1 in 2 Irish have a Facebook account.
  • I in 5 have Twitter account •
  • Nearly 1 in 5 are on LinkedIn

I say it’s one of many online marketing tools because a lot of small business owners aren’t aware of the trade-offs or what they could focus on instead. Having a decent website – one that puts across what you do in an engaging way – can get overlooked in favour of Social Media because of cost and effort. I also see SEO & Search – which remains the single best way drive traffic to a website (leading to enquiries/sales etc) getting less focus than Social Media, again because it takes some understanding and patience to master. Same for email marketing whose conversion effectiveness has quadrupled in it’s in recent times. It can take a little planning to do. Don’t get me wrong Social Media Marketing can have a place for your business. But it needs to be part of a bigger plan.

It has an edge over other forms of marketing because of this basic premise; people read, share and generally engage with type of content that is surfaced through friends and people they know and trust.

However, before you jump into using Social Media to market your SME it is very important to have your thinking straight first.

Some questions to answer before getting started with Social Media

1) Why are you using Social Media? Be honest. Followers and ‘likes’ sound good but don’t pay the bills, if there’s no strategy around them. Are you doing Social Media because everyone is talking about it and the barriers to entry seem low cost?

2) Sometimes businesses aren’t clear about the basics; who they are primarily selling to and how they are different from their competitors. This thinking is far more important to get right. If you are fuzzy whether you are primarily targeting mums or businesses, or whether you are trying to get more repeat customers or more new customers, yet post X times a day to drive ‘vanity’ likes from people who will never become customers then something is wrong.

3) Establish your business objective. Is it;

• Customer service?

• Selling on line and getting customer to pay online?

• Encouraging off line sales?

• Creating sales leads via email/phone?

• Building trust/developing relationships

• Rewarding loyal customers?

• Promotional offers communicated digitally

• Networking – partnerships created through people/companies you meet through social media

• Entertaining past customers? (Can you do better than this?)

• Getting more subscribers to your blog, followers on Twitter or fans on Facebook

• PR through your presence on Social Media which in turn may lead to sales

• Recommendations you received that turned into business

4) What content do you plan to share? Have you a plan? Do you really know what interests your market? Have you done enough research or ‘listening’ to competitors and trends on the market? The power of Social Media is that it’s personable, 2-way, engaging communication. If done right it can really hook in your prospects.

5) Have you found your Social Media voice? What’s your tone like? Are you doing updates yourself? Use the tone of voice that is appropriate to your brand and your customer. Friendly, relaxed, irreverent, professional.

6) Decide how much time you are going to spend on this activity and stick to it. Decide on frequency of posting. Social Media needs to be responsive and spontaneous but you can alleviate the daily pressure through content planning. Use a content calendar to plan content in advance.

There’s been so much discussion on the pros and cons of Social Media. For me it’s success depends on 5 basic things

1) The product you are selling. Is it a consumer product or service? Business or technical product? Is it local service? Hubspot Inbound Report 2012 tells us that , in the main, Facebook works better in converts prospects better on business to consumer sales and Linked in business to business. If your product is very visual, Facebook works well in showcasing it in an engaging way. Remember, it’s much easier to advertise a free family day or educational talk on Social Media, or cultural, late night music in a local café to a local crowd than sell an expensive, technical, difficult to understand product that requires a different mode of communication.

2) The market enthusiasm for the subject. Is it a product with an enthused market who seek out updates, who LOVE to share, comment and interact on Social Media? For example certain Mums on certain baby subjects, particular music fans, active locals, digital marketing enthusiasts? Does the market really like (not just kind of like) to keep abreast of the very latest on a subject?

3) The action you expect. Are you looking to generate awareness or sell? Are you expecting people to turn up to a free event or to buy a product?

4) The readiness of the customer to you and your messages. Are they at ‘awareness’ stage or ‘like’ or ‘actively interested’? You need to court them through this trust process. Is Social Media supplementing other marketing you are doing? Have you also a great website? A planned email marketing campaign? Interesting blogs to share? Social Media on its own has a difficult job to do on someone who is completely unaware of your business, product or brand.

5) Special interest sharing? Are you aiming for your content to be shared by someone genuinely interested in it or are you relying on re-tweets from the Twitteratti or serial ‘like and share’ Facebook competition enterers? It’s OK to rely on friends and family at the beginning but this network will soon run dry. Try to find your true fans.

Time is Money

To conclude, although low cost on the face of it, Social Media costs time and for small business owners and it can be very expensive in terms of the time you need to allocate to. This time could be used making business leads elsewhere. Social Media can be shiny, interesting and distracting and it can lead you down the wrong path. But it also could be the perfect connection you need to make with your market. All I recommend is that you ask yourself some of the questions I’ve highlighted.

@Siodhna

Marketing Over Coffee – Some articles, videos and blogs I’ve found interesting

 Strategy

Inspired Thinking

Business Storytelling

Digital

Blogging

Social Media

Start-ups