Thursday, August 18, 2016

Don't Fear the Analytics: What Your Website Can Tell You About Your Small Business

Most of the businesses I work with recognize that to increase their sales (and customer base) they need a consistent marketing/content management effort.

Generally speaking, they understand what needs to be done. And they don't have time to do it.

On the other hand, I've worked with a few business owners who I describe as "going on faith." They have a website and pay monthly management fees because they know they need a website, and they know they don't have time to manage it. They are likely to say, "yeah, we have a website, but it's not doing much for us."

And sometimes, they're right.

What I usually find, however, is that the website is working fine and it's not helping the business much because the site is managed only in accordance with the site provider's schedule.

If your business is at all seasonal or cyclical, that's not good enough. Everything about your business, including your website and content plan, must be managed to make the most of seasonal peaks and other factors that are specific to your business.

The image above illustrates an important point. It's Google Analytics' representation of a website I manage for a client. In this case, the website provider and hosting company handles AdWords, PPC campaigns and keyword management. Those activities are monitored and reported on monthly, and reviews and account changes are handled quarterly - with absolutely NO regard for the local, seasonal, and sales cycle intelligence available at the business location.

Remote website management can be great, folks. But remote management without any connection to the business isn't good enough.

Why an Increase in Returning Visitors is Important

When you have an increase in returning visitors, it can mean a lot of things - you can figure out what by looking at a variety of stats and visitor behavior - but in general, it means your visitors (prospects) are thinking about buying from you. By understanding your business cycle, local factors, and digging just a little deeper into your analytics, you can adjust your content marketing (including social media updates) to quickly close those sales and keep new prospects moving toward a purchase.

Don't Fear the Analytics: How to Adjust Your Marketing Efforts

When you notice a change in visitor traffic/behavior, don't freak out. Too many smart business owners sell themselves short when it comes to managing their websites and online marketing presence. I hear a lot of "I don't know anything about websites; I just know how to run my business!"

What I say to them - emphatically - is this: what you know about your business must inform the way your website is managed. Even if you picked your website provider because you didn't have time to spend on online marketing, don't ignore your website! Don't assume your web hosting company understands your business, and don't fear the analytics. Review those monthly reports and adjust accordingly - it's your business, and you'll get better results if you are involved in the way that site is managed.

If you notice more people visit your money-back guarantee page, remind your sales team to mention that policy every time they talk to a customer. If you find an increase in visits to your service offerings page, highlight some customer testimonials on your social media channels. Or (if you haven't already) add a link to those testimonials and your customer service email or chat contact from the services page. If you're using email marketing (and if you can, you should!) changes in visitor behavior will give you excellent ideas about what you should be sending out to your new prospects and existing customers.

When You Need 38 Hours in a Day

It's a common complaint: many small business owners are frustrated with their websites and online marketing efforts, but not because they don't understand, or don't believe, that their marketing investment is working for them. They just don't have time to give those analytics reports the time they need. If that's your problem, I can help. I love working with small businesses to maximize their online marketing efforts. Got 15 minutes? I offer free consultations that won't keep you from your business very long. Let's talk.
You don't need Big Data to increase sales - small businesses can use what they know about their customers to increase sales, improve customer service.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

When You Don't Need a Blog

Do you think I should have a blog? 
Not unless you'd enjoy writing it. 

Not the sort of advice you'd expect from a blogger, copywriter or content manager?

Do I Need a Blog? 

When a (successful) owner of a jewelry business who has a great website and an active social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest asked me I thought she should have a blog, too, I said no.

Why? In my opinion, she doesn't need a blog, because the online "face" of her business was already attractive enough. And, because she's selling (nice, but inexpensive) jewelry - not home improvement services.

Think About it From the Buyer's Perspective

If you're in the market for a fence to corral your dog and/or kids, or considering buying new windows or siding, you're looking at a significant investment and there are a lot of options. A fence has a much longer buying cycle than a necklace.

That's why Invisible Fence has a blog, and Sterling Jewelers doesn't.

When you're looking to pick up a charm bracelet for a sweet 16 birthday gift, or even a nice pair of earrings for an anniversary present, how long are you going to spend considering your options?

You're going to go to a website (or two), look around, and make a purchase. Ergo, if you're selling jewelry for 16-year-olds, you probably should spend your time on something other than a blog (like rocking your social media posts and maximizing your profiles).

You Probably Need a Blog If...

...your buying cycle is fairly long have a lot of direct competitors have a truly unique or new product or service have something to say about your business on a regular basis

Alternatives to Blogging

To say 'you don't need a blog' flies in the face of a lot of general marketing advice for small and medium-sized businesses. And sometimes your small business will need to publish new content for your prospects and customers - content that doesn't fit in a tweet, or something that needs to last longer than the average Facebook post.

Good news: there are alternatives. Maybe the information belongs on your website's News or About Us page. Maybe it would be appropriate and useful if you created it as a Facebook note. Or a press release, or a brochure. (Which can live online too, you know - it's 2016 after all!) The point is, you don't need a blog just because the marketing content world says you need a blog.

It's your business. Do what works for you (and your customers)! As an article published by Entrepreneur stated so well, you don't want to create content just to have content. You want to create content based on consumer (and prospect) behavior.
If you value common sense marketing advice, and want help with your website, blog, social media accounts or any other business communications, I'm it. Get in touch, and we'll find out what you need, and the best way to make it work for you. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

6 Essay Contests for High School Students to Earn Money for College Scholarships

Who doesn't need money for college, right? Well, write!

Essay contests often get a bad rap - and sometimes, it's deserved. Many contests are more like the lottery, and don't really reward great writing.

Certainly, you should read and choose carefully among the various essay contest "scholarship" contests. (I skipping any that charge a fee to enter.) On a positive note, your odds of winning an essay contest are almost certainly better than winning the lottery.

Below, six essay contests (with cash prizes and scholarship $$) geared for high school/college-bound students. Sharpen your pencils (or stick some fresh batteries in your keyboard) and start writing!

1. Do something! -- not all writing-based, but there is writing involved. I like Do Something! because it encourages taking action to improve life around pick the area of life/society you want to work to improve. Deadlines vary.
2. Read any good Ayn Rand books lately? If objectivism is your bag, this is your site. You'll have to register to get info about contests and deadlines. Primarily for college students.
3. The Williams-Mystic Essay Contest in Honor of Joseph Conrad accepts fiction or non-fiction entries about the ocean or any major body of water. $400 prize. Deadline in October.
4. What's your Superpower? Find it and get your entry in before the end of March. Open to writers ages 13 and up! $250 prizes.
5. Engineers are kind of like superheroes... this contest from Engineer Girl has a February deadline.
6. The John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage essay contest for high school students (grades 9-12) selects a winner from every state. Deadline January 4, 2017.

Want more? Scholarship Mentor has a long, long list of other writing contests to sort through.

Write Smart to Write Your Best College Essay

Scholarship mentor has a helpful checklist - do yourself a favor and read it:

Here's my favorite tip from the Ayn Rand essay contest site: read the winning entries from previous contests! It's like a study guide. Take advantage of it.

And the most basic advice you need to get started: BIC. (Butt in chair.) You can't get it done until you begin.

Good luck and have fun writing! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Your Website, Communication, and Customer Service

Customer service tip: If your website displays incorrect information, it's not your customer's fault. 

Communication and customer service are intricately linked. Here, some real-life examples that I collected in a 36-hour period. 

2 Companies, 2 Cities, 2 Days

I had an appointment in Akron on Monday. The office address was wrong in the footer of (every page of) its website. Fortunately the firm had moved just a few blocks, the receptionist who answered the phone was great, gave me the new address, and I arrived on time. When I met with the Chairman of the organization, he asked, "Did you have any trouble finding the place?"

Great, a chance to bring it up, I thought.

I said, "Well actually, I went to <location> and found out you had moved, but Jill gave me the address, so no worries."

He laughed and said, "We haven't been there for years."      

I said, "Well, I should have confirmed your address when we spoke. But I just took it from your website."

He said, "Really? Where is that address on our website?"

I explained the footer on each page of a website usually contains the same information; it's like a template.

Before proceeding with our meeting, he logged on to his computer and looked for himself. He pointed out that the address was listed correctly on the About Us page. And it sure was -  in the third paragraph on the page describing the organization's past 20 years or so. Unfortunately, that's the only place it was listed correctly.

The site's Contact Us page consisted of a form for email contact, but did not list an address or phone on the body of the page. (Which is fine for companies that don't rely on customer foot traffic, but not so good for businesses expecting real, live visitors to walk in off the street.)

When the organization moved - as described in a lengthy paragraph on the About page - information in the footer wasn't changed to reflect the new address.

So while the Chairman was right, the correct address was listed on the organization's site, it wasn't easy to find. And the footer of each page listed the wrong address. (Note: it has since been updated.) Errors like that can lead to miscommunications, and cost you money.

How to Communicate When You Don't Want New Business Referrals

Last Friday, I met with a Columbus-area business owner who handles sensitive matters for his clients. He asked me to email a document to him, and since his email address wasn't on his business card, I asked, "Should I send it to the email address on your website?"

He said yes.

I sent the document with the message, "please call me when you receive this."

On Tuesday, I called him because I hadn't called me. Our conversation:

Me: Hi, Jack? This is Diane Stresing. I wonder if you got the email I sent last week. I sent it to <email @ company>."

Him: "You have the wrong address. You need to send it to <another email address @ different ISP >."

Me, after silence waiting for the absurdity to occur to him: "Ok. Thanks."

The absurdity apparently hasn't sunk in yet.

How likely would you be to do business with, or recommend, either of these organizations?

3 Tips: Communication,  Customer Service, and Your Website

When mistakes on your site make it difficult to find your business or work with you, customers will find someplace else to shop or someone else to help them. 

1. Don't tell customers that they have the wrong information when they got it from you. 
"I'm sorry, let me give you the correct information," is a much better response.

2. When a customer (or anyone) points out that your website, business card, or other business communication contains incorrect information, or that it is difficult to find something on your website, fix it. If they had trouble finding your phone number, hours, prices, or products, and took the time to tell you about it, that's a gift.
Say "thank you." Then fix it!

3. Do review your website regularly (I recommend on the first of every month) as if you have never seen it before. Review it from a user interface and design standpoint, pretending you are a customer or prospect in the market for what your company offers, and compare your site to others in your industry. Does it work?
It's hard to see your site with fresh eyes. Need help? Ask me about a Website Reality Check

Your website isn't your whole business, but in 2016, it's vital to your business communication. 
Get it right

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Political Word Play

merriam webster logoPolitics is good for the word business. I'd like to believe that the reverse is true, and good communication is also good for politics or - much more than that - good governance. But this is blog about writing, not philosophy, so I'll leave it at that.

Winning Words? 

In the news lately, in case you missed it:  dumpster fires and dog whistles. (And thanks to CJR, now we all know there's no longer a need to capitalize dumpster.) Before you use the term 'dog whistle,' be aware that it may carry some racist baggage.

While numerous folks have suggested that politics doesn't showcase the best of human thought processes, at least we're trying to learn from the rather bumpy ride that the 2016 Presidential campaign trail has taken us on.

As always, I urge you to choose your words carefully, and read with at least one eye open.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Delicious Content: Do You Know it When You See it?

I'm not a fan of fast food, but I am a content carnivore. And in that regard, Taco Bell satisfies me!

Many have recognized the company's excellent marketing content. Although Yum! brands labeled social media as a "side project" in 2007, it's done a helluva job since then. In my opinion, it's excellent because the company -

  • Knows its demographic (audience/market)
  • Knows itself (strengths/weaknesses)  
  • Uses humor to make its case...
  • ...and delivers on what it promises

Don't Over-Indulge in Content

It's fast-food marketing, folks - not rocket science. And either way, there's such a thing as "too much." Taco Bell doesn't blog at length about how its recipes were developed based on extensive anthropologic research or get overly cute by making us guess which Aztec God ate chalupas.

Taco Bell gets the message just right. It's short. It's cute. And it works, on an emotional and a practical level.

Emotional Content: It's in the Bag

While Hallmark (and lately, gum) commercials aim for our tear ducts, Taco Bell's content hits us in the emotional funny bone.  Which works, because we love to laugh almost as much as we love to eat. We especially like to feel like we're "in" on an inside joke. Taco Bell delivers, from pithy puns on sauce packets to its Secret Menu.

What Can Your Small Business Marketing Plan Steal from the Bell? 

While my local taco place serves far better food than Taco Bell, it doesn't have a Yum Brands-size  budget. Here's where social media helps level the playing field:

Twitter feeds are free. Snapchat marketing works. And if your customers love you, they'll Like (and Love, LOL, sticker and Share) along with you on your Facebook Page. Or Instagram feed. Or...whatever tool comes next.

Figure out your business niche, highlight your strengths, deliver them with personality and humor (as appropriate), and one day your customers might blog about you, too. 

Don't Forget about Operations

Taco Bell's marketing campaigns are not the most elaborate or expensive in the fast-food world, and that's OK, because what the company does works. It's clear that what you see/hear/share about the brand is well-communicated inside, to its employees, as well. The company's online survey program is - like its marketing message - interactive and responsive while being short and to the point. 

If the commercials made laugh and the sauce packets said the most adorable things but the in-store experience stunk, the marketing would fall flat. 

I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to customer service and operations. Small companies don't get to be big companies unless they have the training, systems, and operational follow-through to take care of their customers, consistently and well. 

So go on, create great content and share it with your prospects. Just don't expect them to become repeat customers unless you've got what it takes to make them happy. 


Need help making your content a little more palatable? I can help you dish up the right message, and make sure it serves your customers. I'll also test it (and test you) to be sure your message is operationally sound.  Ready?  Get in touch

Monday, July 11, 2016

It's Marketing Content Management, Not Online Wizardry

Some marketing "gurus" like to use clever, proprietary brand names for products and services they offer. Don't get me wrong; I like clever as much as the next guy. Certainly, some of those products/services, particularly ones developed for specific industries or niches, are unique and very helpful.

Others make me say "hmmmm."

I'm into plain language and common sense marketing. While I constantly try new tools and apps and stay on top of SEO best practices, it goes against my nature to jump on a new trend just because it's new or worse, because everyone else is doing it.

Online Marketing is Still Marketing

I read a lot (too much?) about social media and content marketing, and I'm annoyed when a hyped-up headline sucks me in to read about a "new approach to online marketing" that's not really new at all. It's basic marketing.

That said, even after 20+ years of playing in the marketing communications sandbox, I've found excellent advice in some of those articles - often buried in hyperbole, but never the less useful.

Here are three I've been glad I read lately. I hope you find them useful as well.

1. NAP consistency is important

In this case, NAP= Name, Address, Phone. And heavens yes, it's important - you can miss listings, create duplicates that will confuse prospects, and over-spend because you're paying for the wrong (or too many) listings or ads. In the dark ages (pre-internet) we managed such things with a tool we called a Style Guide. You can call it barbaric; I say it's rudimentary.

I truly recommend a style guide, and can usually create 
one for your company in just a few hours that will help 
keep your content marketing efforts on track - no matter 
who handles your social media posts. Want one? 
Get in touch

2. SEO Still Matters, But Site Visitors (Readers) Should Come First 

Newsflash: you don't sell to search engines. You make sales to people, AKA site visitors, AKA readers. So, you need to write copy and design for them first. In this article, Jeff Bullas does a nice (if slightly hype-y) job of highlighting some current SEO trends and how to work with them. I can't help but point out that they're on the common-sense side. The fact is that SEO algorithms are getting smarter and more in tune with human thought (search) processes every day. That's a good thing. 

3. Write Good Headlines 

There are hundreds of ways to write bad headlines - and just as many ways to write good ones. Write good ones. Please. While MOZ does a good and thorough job with the details, I take a more personal approach to headlines. I ask myself, Would I click on it if I were looking for this particular article or product? And, If I clicked on it, would I be disappointed or feel tricked or cheated? If the answer to the first question is yes and the second question is no, it's probably a pretty good headline. Only then do I run it through the keyword check and try to wordsmith it a bit to garner extra (qualified) clicks. 

Old-Fashioned Marketing & Common Sense

Know your product, craft a good message, and get it in front of the right prospects. Yep, once upon a time we called that "marketing." Then the internet came along and we fell in love with the tools, almost forgetting that we're still trying to reach people. Readers. Site visitors. 

Whatever you call 'em, people buy stuff, and they're the ones you need to talk to. If you'd like help crafting a common-sense marketing plan and delivering an on-target message to your best prospects, please contact me