Posts Tagged ‘website development’

Extreme Web Makeover IV: Music & Memory

Monday, November 26th, 2012

If you have any experience with a loved one who struggles with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, you know the great challenges and sense of loss for all involved. But what if there were a medication-free way to help your loved one reawaken to the world?

It turns out there’s a simple and elegant solution: personalized music playlists. Hearing personal favorites on a device like an iPod can tap deep emotional memories and enable many of those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s and other cognitive challenges reconnect socially and feel more energized and upbeat.

I’ve learned all about this amazing process from Music & Memory, a non-profit based in metro New York that trains nursing home professionals how to set up and manage a comprehensive personalized music program for those in their care. For the past three months, I’ve been helping their great team revamp their website and create a professional, easy-to-navigate user interface designed to boost donations and subscriptions to their webinar training series. The new site went live on November 19.

Capitalizing on a Viral Video

Music & Memory’s challenge was an enviable dilemma: Last April, a video clip from a documentary about their work went viral. The clip told the story of Henry, a 94-year-old with dementia, who is non-communicative and doesn’t recognize his daughter. But as soon as he listens to his Cab Calloway favorites on his iPod, he awakens to his surroundings and can express himself quite effectively.

Nearly 7 million people have viewed the video, which has aroused tremendous interest in Music & Memory’s great work. The non-profit has sought and enjoyed extensive media coverage from major news outlets, including the New York Times, NPR and CNN, among others.

Converting from an Organically Grown Website to Strategic Web Content and User-Friendly Design

But Music & Memory’s website was a jumble of information and calls-to-action that did not effectively represent or explain the quality of their program. The site had grown organically, using a free template. Content was written from the organization’s point of view, rather than the user’s. Benefits were not clearly articulated. Navigation was cluttered and confusing. In addition, Music & Memory was in the process of switching over to Salesforce, a sophisticated contact management system that required a better web platform.

Working with the Music & Memory team and web developer Ed Booth of Insight Dezign, I took these steps to upgrade the site:

  • Defined key target audiences and established a hierarchy of calls-to-action, with donations and enrollments in M&M’s webinar training series at the top of the list.
  • Researched keywords that would boost search; salted these keywords throughout the site, in text, title tags, tabs, headlines and subheads, urls, ALT tags, search result descriptions and keyword tags.
  • Revised and wrote new content for the entire site, creating a conversational, unified tone throughout.
  • Reorganized content into a logical site navigation.
  • Selected the StudioPress Streamline theme template as the starting point for the new design; this template includes options for a hierarchy of multiple calls-to-action, essential for the site.
  • Selected images from Music & Memory’s documentary stills for the featured image within each main section of the site.
  • Laid out all page content within the template, unifying styles.
  • Integrated testimonial quotes throughout the site, including a rotating sidebar widget, a main Testimonials page and forms.
  • Using the Premise plug-in, wrote and designed a vertical sales page for the webinar series to expand the inquiry pool for this important revenue stream.
  • Wrote three Resource Guides—how to run an iPod donation drive, a guide for elder care professionals who wish to bring Music & Memory to their facility, and a guide to creating a personalized playlist for a loved one at home—that serve as free lead-generation downloads.
  • Served as project manager of the site build, in coordination with Ed Booth and Music & Memory staff. Oversaw completion of all details for the site visitor interface.

Ed built the site and added in many modifications to the template, enabling Music & Memory to fully realize their vision. Working closely with M&M tech pro Melody Ward, he integrated all forms with Salesforce. As always, he worked his magic on every technical challenge and request for greater functionality that we threw at him. He also patiently fixed whatever broke or jammed, all the inevitable problems that arise in a complex site build and launch.

Promoting the New and Improved Website

Whenever a site goes live, it’s always a thrill to see it in action. We coordinated the site launch with a year-end appeal letter that is scheduled to arrive in people’s homes today, November 26. Next steps for Music & Memory include an emailed site launch announcement tied to the annual appeal and a targeted email campaign to drive elder care professionals to the webinar training landing page. We’ll be following Google Analytics results to see how the site performs and making any needed modifications in the weeks and months to come.

It’s been a wonderful opportunity to help such a great organization strengthen their ability to attract more donors and reach many more people who can benefit from this affordable, uplifting form of personal care.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

Keywords v. Brand: How to Choose Your Business URL for Best Search Results

Monday, June 25th, 2012

One of the first question’s I’m asked by clients who are building their first professional website is this:

Should I use myname.com, or a title for my business that includes relevant keywords (primarycaremd.com), or another title that’s my brand but may not have any keywords in it (coolbrandname.com)?

The answer: It all depends on name recognition and whether your brand is memorable. If you have equity in your name—say, you’re a lawyer or doctor with an established local practice and a great reputation—then it’s valuable to put your name in your website url, because people will search for you that way.

Alternatively, you can choose a title for your practice that’s easy to remember (and spell!), and include your name in your title tag (the phrase that shows up on a search engine result page, or SERP ) as well as a keyword-rich description of what you do.

Here’s a good explanation of how title tags work in search by Jill Whalen, CEO if High Rankings in Boston.

If you’re choosing between a keyword-rich domain and a brand domain that’s easy to recall, it’s a toss-up for search rankings—but a memorable brand in a crowded field of experts on the same topic, instead of a keyword-laden domain, probably works best.

Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam Team, explains in this short video:

A strong, memorable domain name and relevant keywords are critical for good search results. But remember—the most important element of effective search is excellent content in your site. And it’s much easier to figure out the right domain name and keywords after you’ve done the research to identify your target market and created client-centered content that speaks to their needs and concerns.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

Extreme Web Makeover II: The Good People Fund

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

The Good People Fund (GPF) is a wonderful philanthropy that supports small to mid-sized, grassroots non-profits that are finding creative, hands-on ways to help alleviate poverty, hunger, social isolation, homelessness and more in their home communities.

I should know. I’m on their Board of Trustees. I’ve also been helping GPF redo their website, which needed a major overhaul to better represent the organization’s great work. We just went live with the new site last week, which is already starting to generate more traffic and donations.

Here’s the back story:

Founded in 2008 when its predecessor foundation closed doors, GPF has been growing steadily for the past four years, carefully screening, mentoring and supporting non-profits in Israel and the U.S. that meet its criteria of low overhead and highly effective programming. The organization created a website soon after it went into operation in order to have an online presence.

The site served its purpose, providing a basic explanation of the philanthropy’s mission and vision, listing information about leadership and financials, providing links to grantee’s websites, and sharing heart-felt stories about how people benefited from GPF grants through the Tzedakah Diaries, written by Executive Director Naomi Eisenberger. The site had a form for online donations and educational materials for families and Jewish educators.

So far, so good. But as GPF grew, the site needed work. The Board agreed that there were several major issues:

  • Upgrade the website’s amateur design with a friendly, professional image.
  • Update content to better explain GPF’s mission and focus, as well as the value-added of giving to GPF (screening, mentoring, matching donors to grantees).
  • Explain the work of grantees, replacing links to their websites (which drew traffic and potential donations from GPF’s site) with clear and compelling descriptions of their work.
  • Convert the Tzedakah Diaries to a subscription-based blog, distributed via social media as well as email.
  • Create user-friendly navigation and add graphic images and videos to enhance the user experience.
  • Ensure that the Donations call-to-action has a prominent place on the site, on every page.
  • Improve search optimization.

Working with the Board, Naomi, a wonderful designer who prefers to keep his contribution to the project anonymous, and Ed Booth of Insight
Dezign, I directed the site upgrade. I came up with a new tag line, “Small actions, huge impacts,” which our designer incorporated into a beautiful new logo that expresses the global nature of our work as well as GPF’s Jewish roots. He adapted the green and blue color scheme of the original logo and created an upbeat design for the website that alludes to earth and sky, and to the Jewish art form of paper-cutting. The text is set in Verdana, a clean, web-friendly typeface, and titles are in Mrs. Eaves, adding a touch of sophistication.

Naomi and I spent many hours writing and rewriting content for the site. Much of the program description text was adapted from GPF’s Annual Report, revised for the web to make it easy to skim. I wrote all of the key marketing content for the homepage, and revised the Mission, Vision and Overview with input from Naomi and the Board. We reviewed all of the text from the old site, tweaking and tightening for readability. I conducted keyword research that guided my creation of search-optimized, branded urls for each page, as well as site content.

Naomi collected images for many of the grantees, and we added videos that were created by editing and repurposing existing footage, thanks to Eli Katzoff of Stormport Productions.

Ed worked wonders with all of the design direction, executing many rounds of refinements with equanimity and attention to detail. He tied the site into the original back end of the old website, which was a key criteria for the project’s success.

Now we are working with Ross Plotkin, Head of Paid Search for Kahena Digital Marketing, to enhance search with Google AdWords. Thanks to Ross, GPF received a Google Grant for an AdWord campaign that has already begun to generate more donations.

It’s been a huge project that has stretched over many months, but the Board is thrilled with the results, and we look forward to growing our donor base, enabling GPF to help support even more worthy endeavors.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your good work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

 

The Dale Carnegie Guide to Winning Web Content

Monday, January 9th, 2012

In 1936, Dale Carnegie—a successful Midwestern bacon salesman, failed actor and popular lecturer on public speaking—published How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book, based on Carnegie’s experience in sales and adult education, went through 17 printings in its first year and has since sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.

With good reason. Carnegie’s insightful advice goes to the heart of building quality relationships, and holds as true today as it did just over 75 years ago. What fascinates me is how well his guidelines apply to creating excellent web content.

For starters, Carnegie’s writing style is personal, thoughtful and engaging—a great example of content that draws you in with intriguing, easily skimmed headlines and solid advice.

He understood his target audience and never spoke down, but offered practical, time-tested ways to build a following that easily translate to internet marketing.

Here, for example, are Carnegie’s “Six ways to make people like you”:

1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
This is another way of saying love your market. If you don’t love the people you hope to serve and really care to know everything about them, you’re in the wrong business.

2. Smile.
Maintain a positive, engaging tone in your web content. Your goal is to help, explain, teach and encourage your ideal client to solve her problems, and, in the process, demonstrate how you can be of assistance.

3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
Give outstanding, personal service to your clients. All the rest is commentary.

4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
There’s no other way to develop a clear understanding of your ideal clients’ needs and problems than to spend time listening. A sure-fire way to create a website that bombs is to do the opposite—talk all about your great product or service without bothering to find out what your market wants.

5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
This is the essence of solid web content. Write with your ideal client clearly in mind. What is the problem she’s trying to solve? What are her values? What are her favorite pass-times? What keeps her up at night?

6. Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.
If you’re faking it, because you don’t really care or you don’t really respect your customers, they’ll know. This goes back to the first point: pick a market that you genuinely care about. Write from the heart about what you do and how you can help. Be sincere in your work. Your customers will thank you.

If you’ve never read Carnegie, his advice is well worth your time. And if you have, give the book a second look. While it’s easy to get distracted by all of the new and ever-evolving tools for websites and social media, the basics of good communication and relationship building—what Carnegie describes so well—never really change.

 

Is Your Web Content Really Working for You?

Monday, November 7th, 2011

When was the last time you took a good, critical look at your web content and tried to read it through the eyes of a new potential customer?

If it’s been more than 6 months, then it’s time for a review. In this challenging economic period, with so much reliance on the Internet for purchasing research and decisions, it’s critical to be sure that your content is working hard to effectively address the needs and concerns of your target audience.

Especially if you’re building a small business, your messaging will evolve as you get to know your customers better and clarify your value proposition—what makes your product or service stand out from the competition.

Place yourself in the mind of a new visitor to your site and ask yourself these questions:

  • What are you selling or promoting? While it may seem obvious to you, if your site is cluttered with too much information or if the design is confusing, your potential customer may have to work too hard to figure this out and will click away.
  • Is this what I need? Does it solve my pressing problem that brought me to your website? To answer this honestly, you need to have a thorough knowledge of your ideal client, her wants, needs and worries, why she needs your help, and how your product or service can truly solve her problem.
  • Why should I do business with you? Are you someone I can trust and identify with more than the competition? Here’s where you need to evaluate whether your value proposition is clear. What really sets you apart? Do you offer excellent customer service, or just claim to?
  • How do I get started or buy your product? Make sure your call to action is clear and easy to find.

To check yourself, ask someone you know who fits your ideal client profile to review the site for you and get her assessment. If you find your site falling short on any of these answers, take the time to rework your copy or hire a professional to work with you.

Remember, your website is your storefront. You want it to be clean, attractive and easy to navigate. And you want your ideal customer to find exactly what she came for, efficiently, through a great interaction with you, your top salesperson. Just as you’d ensure an outstanding customer experience in your store, you need to do the same online.

You can learn more about how to improve your web content at copyblogger.com.

Has Your Website Grown Into a Dead-End Maze? (And What to Do About It)

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Scenario One:
A visitor is searching for information on your website. She clicks on what she thinks is the right section, finds some interesting stuff, drills down another level . . . but it’s a dead end. She hits the back button, lands two levels up and can’t find the path she was following. So she leaves.

Scenario Two:
There’s a wealth of good content your site, but it’s scattered all over the place. Your visitor picks one path, finds part of what he’s searching for, then realizes that some related info is cross-linked to another section. He follows that route but ends up on a path to nowhere and can’t find his way back. So he leaves.

I’ve been consulting on a number of websites like this recently—well conceived when they were built several years ago. But as the organizations grew, the websites grew, too—organically, without a real plan.

The result: a maze of a site that hides valuable information amidst a lot of other content that you and your stakeholders think is important and essential, but no longer serves the needs of your target audience.

The consequence: a drop in your conversion rate, because visitors won’t stick around long enough to answer your call to action.

Taking Your Site from a Maze to Amazing
If your website has become an unwieldy labyrinth, it’s difficult to wrangle it back into shape. In most cases, the site has probably been up long enough that it’s time to plan the next version.

This doesn’t mean that you have to scrap all of your content and start from scratch. But it does mean taking the time to reevaluate your strategic goals for the site, define your ideal client and evaluate your site content in terms of how it’s meeting those goals and serving your client’s needs.

You need to determine what your client is searching for, how to chunk that information into logical hierarchies and how to arrange the visual display so that it’s easy for your client to find what she’s looking for. Don’t rely on the collective wisdom within your organization, or you’ll end up trapped in a maze of insider politics. You need to survey your target audience, conduct interviews or focus groups, and listen closely.

An Effective Website is a Resource for Problem-Solving
Of course, you’ll need to gain buy-in from your stakeholders—welcoming their input in the planning process while helping them to understand that an effective website is not a showcase for everyone’s work or pet priorities, but a resource for helping your clients solve problems.

Taking your website from a maze to amazing is an investment. It takes time, thought and a willingness to listen hard to your clients and jettison anything that’s not relevant. But it’s also an exciting opportunity to revisit the reasons you got into this work in the first place—and ensure that your website is helping the people you want to reach.

Why It Costs More to Have Your Best Friend’s Neighbor’s Kid Do Your Website

Monday, August 15th, 2011

You’re launching your new business, and you need a website. Your best friend tells you that her neighbor’s daughter, a high school senior, is a whiz at computers and can build it for you.

“Great!” you say, thinking how that will save you a bundle. And, anyway, kids these days know a whole lot more about the Internet and social media than adults, since they grew up with keyboards in their cribs, right?

Sure, you can save some money that way. But unless this kid is also a whiz at strategic content development, graphic design, search engine optimization and Internet marketing, chances are you’ll end up with a site that looks, well, amateur.

Is that how you want to come across to your target audience?

I didn’t think so.

Keys to a Professional Internet Presence
There are four basic elements to a successful website:

  1. Content that is clear, authoritative, easy to skim and speaks to your ideal customer’s needs, capped by a compelling call-to-action that converts visitors to buyers.
  2. Design that is attractive, expresses your business persona, enables the viewer to easily find what she’s looking for and draws her eye to your call-to-action.
  3. Strategically selected keywords that potential customers use to find your kind of business, which are integrated throughout your site, in headlines, sub-heads, text, urls and page tags.
  4. Fresh content that you produce on a steady basis, providing valuable information for your ideal client, which you distribute via media that she uses regularly—whether it’s a blog, Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, traditional media, word of mouth or some combination—to build in-bound links to your site and draw customers to your business.

Invest in a Website for the Long Run
It’s all about establishing yourself as an accessible, trusted authority in your field, making yourself easy to find online, and—once your ideal customer has found you—ensuring that your site will hold her attention for more than just a few seconds and convince her to do business with you.

That kind of website requires an investment of time and thought and, yes, more money than you’d pay your best friend’s neighbor’s whiz kid to build. But the payoff, in the long run, is well worth it.

And you are in business for the long run, right?

How to Get Found in the Consumer-Driven Marketplace

Monday, May 9th, 2011

A few weeks ago, my 32-year-old Maytag washer died. In all those years, it had only needed one repair, to replace a belt. But this time, it refused to spin dry any clothes. Given that no parts are readily available for such an old machine and that we could do better with an energy-efficient washer, we decided it was time to say thanks for all those loads of laundry and replace it.

Unlike my first shopping trip for a washer years ago, when I talked to sales people at a reputable store to get the best deal for the best machine in stock, this time, of course, I went online.

Market Research Starts at Home
First stop, Consumer Reports for buying advice and reviews. Then, once I’d narrowed down my choice—a front-loading, water-conserving, Energy-Star-rated Maytag in our price range—I googled stores in the vicinity that carried that model.

I narrowed my choice further to check two stores that had good reputations for price and customer service, got in the car and went shopping. The first store didn’t have my Maytag, but tried to sell me a Whirlpool that was similar. I checked that machine online to find reviews, and it was not as well-rated as my original choice, even though both are made by the same company.

So I went to the second store and found my machine for an excellent price and bought it. Our new washer is living up to its billing, and if we’re lucky, will last several decades, like its predecessor.

In a Consumer-Driven Marketplace, Anticipate Your Customer’s Needs
My experience is but one small example of how we shop today. Ours is a consumer-driven marketplace. When you decide to make a purchase—especially to invest in a major appliance or other expensive item—chances are you, like I, reach for your computer.

You have a particular purchase in mind that meets your personal specifications. You narrow your choices and then read consumer ratings and customer reviews. You search for the best dealer with the best price. Only then do you buy, either online or in person.

To be Found Online, Solve Your Customer’s Problem
For the seller, it’s crucial to understand the psychology of this marketplace. You need to understand your target consumer, the problem she’s trying to solve and how she gets her information.

And you need to be sure that your website explains how your product or service provides the answer to that problem, that your website can be found via keyword searches relevant to her query, and that you have additional information and reviews that establish your authority as a good business to deal with.

Whether you’re selling washers or widgets, the marketing bottom line is this: It’s not about persuading your customer that your product is great. It’s all about understanding your customer and meeting her needs.

 

 

 

How We Created My Website: The Web Coding Challenge

Friday, April 1st, 2011

From the start of this project, I knew that I wanted a WordPress site, because this platform is favored by Google in searches. I teamed up with Karen Callahan of adventuresonline.com, an experienced WordPress developer based not far from my office. I found her easily on the Internet, so I knew she understood search optimization.

Pushing the WordPress Envelope
With Karen’s ever-patient, good-humored assistance, we converted Ben’s designs into a working website. No design converts precisely from a graphic to web code, but Karen was wonderful to work with, nudging the spacing, adjusting type size, moving this here and that there as I pushed for perfection.

In addition to content, I wrote all of the web page addresses and Internet search descriptions, based on keyword research that I’d done early in the project. Karen coded this information as meta-text, to help with search engine optimization (SEO).

The site went live on March 28, 2011, and I couldn’t be more pleased and grateful to both Ben and Karen for helping me to realize my dream of what this should be.

Adding Fresh Content Via Blogging
So, here I am, telling stories about my work, adding fresh web content via a blog, following the advice I’ve been giving to others for a long time. I plan to share stories about projects I’m working on, challenges I’m facing as a marketing consultant, books I’m reading that contain valuable lessons for marketing, and whatever else seems relevant and interesting to me, and, I hope, to you.

I’d love to hear your feedback about my new site—what works, what doesn’t. And be sure to let me know how you found me!

Credit: Free images from acobox.com
 

How We Created My Website: Designing with Text in Mind

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

For design of my new website, I turned to a good friend who is a very gifted graphic designer. We’ll call him Ben Harmon, because he prefers to remain anonymous and focus on his other artistic pursuits. I told Ben I wanted a light, clean feel to the site, and we agreed that the text was the focal point, but needed a strong design to avoid feeling text-heavy.

I also asked him to come up with some kind of homepage graphic that illustrated the act of listening. And I wanted to use white, black and red—mainly because I like that combination for its crispness, but also because it ties to the cover of my book, Trees at Risk, which we link to from this site.

A New Web Typeface
The result is what you see here—meeting all of those criteria beautifully. To convey attention to detail and an appreciation for surprise, Ben encouraged me to try out a new typeface, Chaparral Pro. We used typekit.com to embed this font, now that websites are no longer limited to the standard defaults of Arial, Tahoma, Verdana and Times Roman.

Highlighting Key Concepts
He used the type to pull out key concepts in the text, both to make it easy to skim and to enhance the design. We played with a cup phone for the homepage illustration of listening, to introduce an element of fun. I directed his photo shoot of my portrait, which I wanted in black-and-white to tie into the color scheme and to use as an unexpected design element. Ben also added some beautiful touches, such as the shaded fields with disappearing questions in the Contact form.

Overall, the design is full of subtle surprises and well-reflects my personal aesthetic, demonstrating how I approach both medium and message. Let me know your reactions to my new site. And please tell me how you found me!

Next: The Web Coding Challenge

Credit: Free images from acobox.com