July 31, 2014

How to verify authorship of your blog with Google and benefit from author rank (SEO)

Edit 2/2/14: It’s now a lot simpler to add your G+ details to a WordPress blog, meaning you can skip the steps that require you to edit code in your WordPress blog’s back end. I use All In One SEO, but there are plenty of plugins that just add your G+ details – just search the plugins section for something to suit you. 

I was at Blog Camp UK yesterday, sitting on a panel of PRs, taking questions from 100 or so bloggers about ways the two disciplines can work productively together.

That was the closing session, but before that, the incredibly smart and knowledgeable Lee Smallwood took to the stage and shared some tips on some of the things we can all do to improve how our blog’s rank on Google.

Author rank

Lee explained that there was a way to tell Google that you own a piece of content, and that doing so could help that content rank a lot more highly in search than ‘unsigned content’. Here’s an article on author rank and why it’s important.

Lee didn’t get a chance to go into how to do this in much detail about author rank as he was mobbed with questions from pretty much everyone there, including me, but I did a bit of digging afterwards and managed to figure out how to link my blog to my G+ profile. (When Lee puts his slides live – I’ll link across so you can see in more detail why this is important)

Here’s how I linked my WordPress self-hosted parenting blog to my G+ profile, so Google knows I wrote all the posts on there.

Taking author ownership of my blog with Google

1) I got a Google+ profile https://plus.google.com/u/0/114730564675993386882/ – actually I already had one, but if you haven’t got one, go to http://plus.google.com and get one set up.

2) Inside the WordPress dashboard, I went to Users, clicked on my profile and made sure the First Name and Last Name fields matched what I had in Google+. Then in the bio section, I added my description, plus a link to my G+ profile. I’m not sure this bit is essential, but the end of my bio looks like this: I’d love you to follow me on <a href=”https://plus.google.com/114730564675993386882/”>my Google Profile+</a>.

3) I went to by ‘About’ Page (http://www.amummytoo.co.uk/about-a-mummy-too/) and added a mention of my Google+ profile page. I linked on the phrase “my Google Profile+” and apparently the + on the end is important. The URL I linked to was https://plus.google.com/114730564675993386882/?rel=author and yours should look exactly the same, including the ?rel=author bit at the end, just change the long number to the long number in your profile address.

NOTE: If you have an email address on your blog domain (e.g. me@myblogdomain.com) you can skip the remaining steps. Just make sure you’re logged in to Google+ and register here.

If not, get ready for some PHP tweaking…

4) BEFORE YOU DO THIS PART, BACK UP FIRST – IF YOU GO WRONG, YOU MAY NEED TO RE-UPLOAD A FILE USING FTP.

Still in the WordPress Dashboard, I went Appearance > Editor and because I’m running Bee Crafty on Genesis, I went into Functions.php and found the function that said:

NOTE: Your code might look a little different, depending on your theme. If you don’t have functions.php, try looking in single.php and search for a phrase like “posted on” or “posted by” (or whatever the author, date credit days at the top of all your posts) – that will give you a clue. If you find the bit of code you need, but aren’t exactly sure how to edit it, feel free to paste it into the comments and I’ll reply asap.

5) I changed it so the code now looked like this:

IE I replaced the post_author_posts_link part with a link to my about page, anchored to my full name.

6) I went to any post on my blog and made sure that my name under the title linked to my ‘About Page’ (http://www.amummytoo.co.uk/about-a-mummy-too/)

 

7) I went back into my Google+ profile and clicked Edit

8) I clicked on the section that says “Contributor to” and created a new entry where the name is “+A Mummy Too” and the link was my about page ie http://www.amummytoo.co.uk/about-a-mummy-too/

9) I  checked it was all working by hopping over to Google’s Rich Snippets Testing Tool and entering the URL of any of my posts.

10) The results showed a snippet of how my post would look in Google search results, followed by a green message saying “Verified: Authorship markup is verified for this page”

 

That’s it, done.

If you try this, let me know if you hit problems and I’ll see if I can help.

Once you’re up and running, make sure you share your lovely posts on Google+ and let me know if it’s having any impact for you. I’ll do the same.

27 stunning visual ads for creative inspiration

I’ve got a weakness for really good visual advertisements – the kind that make you gasp, smile or stare in wonderment. Here are 27 of my favourite pieces of creative inspiration. Click each image to view it full size.

01. Pilot markets its fine-line pen by micro-tattooing a series of LEGO men 02. Zaini promotes it’s smooth milk chocolate with a perfectly fluid kiss 03. Coca Cola erect a ‘living billboard’ that absorbs air pollutants
04. Martor goes gory to comic effect with this billboard ad for razorblades 05. The Economist promises big ideas with a bulb that lights as you pass underneath 06. The University of Aarhus reaches out to science students with a microscopic brochure
07. Audi erects a metallic billboard where part rusts, revealing the ad over time 08. Montana Meth Project releases a striking illustration of the dangers of meth use. 09. PampaVerde uses makeup to great effect to promote the size of its Extra Big Burger
10. Pepsi leaves us in no doubt about just how light its diet soda is 11. Sony goes retro to promote the capacity of its Microvault USB memory stick 12. Beau Rivage Resort & Casino creates an unusually inviting luggage belt
13. GITAM BBDO gets noticed with spicy promotional business cards 14. Sensodyne goes minimalist with a double-take ad for toothpaste 15. A dentist launches a street campaign that’s a bit like pulling teeth
16. A Swedish horror  festival breaks from tradition to pull in the press 17. An environmental consultant puts his stamp on waste with this alternative to the business card 18. The Shoe Hospital treats footwear as patients, if this ad is to be believed
19. Amnesty launches domestic violence ad that responds to being looked at 20. A Romanian ad forces payphone users to face domestic violence 21. Stop’n Grow circulates a shopping bag that puts you right off nailbiting
22. A direct mail campaign against shark finning puts the damage in your hands 23. Alzheimer’s New Zealand creates eraser-like USB sticks to highlight memory loss 24. Superette promotes its ‘short shorts’ with a bench ad that prints right on users legs
25. Nivea makes bold claims about the power of its cellulite cream with this sofa 26. Graco uses flawless photo manipulation to promote its mattresses 27. WWF uses minimalist materials and a familiar cloud to highlight water pollution

Want more? Follow me on Posterous for daily doses of creative inspiration.

Creating conversation-worthy content

I originally posted this one six months ago, but it’s so relevant to recent online discussions around ‘content for content’s sake’, I thought I’d push it back to the fore.

In this age of social media, companies are slowly waking up to the fact that it is no longer enough to ‘broadcast’ a message to an ‘audience’. Today, a successful web presence is all about engaging people in dynamic, multi-way dialogue; driving and contributing to key conversations; influencing, participating and responding to the buzz around emerging trends.

So what makes content ‘sharable’? What turns a site visitor from passive reader to active participant in a conversation around your brand?

Here’s my take on the key requirements for conversation-worthy content.

Offer value

It hardly needs saying that sharing is a big part of social networking. If the average user sees something interesting, controversial, enlightening or funny on Twitter, the chances are they’ll want to re-tweet it, or perhaps Stumble or ‘Like’ it. Even more so if they feel that it’s something their friends/followers will like, too.

Conversation-worthy content is often that which amuses, breaks news, surprises, or sheds light on a known but otherwise complex subject.

What are you doing to ensure your content brings a benefit to your audience, well beyond simply learning more about your brand?

Create investment

We know by now that user generated content isn’t just a way to keep copywriting overheads down – where users have a vested interest in the content on a site, they are more likely to return, more likely to engage, and more likely to share that content with others.

From relatively simple site additions such as guest blog posts or caption competitions, to more technical or time consuming additions such as user forums or content that crowd-sources advice or opinions from customers, the more a user feels they have contributed to content in some way, the more invested they are likely to feel, and therefore the more likely to continue, and indeed share the conversation.

What are you doing to encourage user contributions to your content base?

Track and monitor

When visitors hit your site, where do they come from? And where do they land? Once they’re there, what do they do next? Which types of content are the most ‘sticky’, holding attention for the longest? Which content drives the most ‘shares’ on social media?

Whether you’re part of a large company with the funds to purchase highly detailed analytics software such as Omniture or a small company with access only to a free tools such as Google Analytics, tracking and analysing user response is essential and not to be overlooked.

At any time, you need to be able to confidently answer the questions: What does your customer base respond best to? And what generates the highest level of engagement?

Listen; gather feedback

Of course, key information isn’t only to be gleaned from visitor behaviour. The real action is probably happening far beyond your blog post, news update or shiny new home page; it’s happening on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Again, whether you have deep enough pockets for an all singing all dancing social mention tool such as Radian 6 or Meltwater Buzz, or whether you are sticking firmly with free tools such as SocialMention.com, the big questions here are:

What content is being shared, and how? What are people saying about your brand? What are you learning from the conversation? And what are you doing to drive it forward, positively, by being visible and responsive where appropriate?

Stay relevant

Clearly, social media monitoring has applications far beyond collating mentions for your own brand. By tracking key words and phrases, you can answer a whole raft of questions that will help keep your conversation relevant to your readership.

What is interesting to your target markets right now? What questions, concerns or excitement is growing around your industry?

And, most importantly, what are you doing to track, analyse and predict these emerging trends, so that they can be reflected in your own content?

I’ll leave you with a final point to note. The answers to all of the above questions will rarely remain static for long. It could be weeks, days, hours or even minutes before the conversation shifts, turns or otherwise develops, throwing a whole new light on your content strategy.

The conversation is ongoing, dynamic and exciting. Your content strategy must be, too.

Mixing social media into marketing #CommsChat

If you’re a regular to this blog, or follow me on Twitter/Facebook, you’ll know that I run a weekly Twitter chat for comms professionals on Monday nights (8pm-9pm UK time) with my #CommsChat co-founder Adam Vincenzini.

Last night, we were honoured to have Beth Harte as our guest mod and the topic was “Integrating social media into the marketing mix“. A healthy mix of new faces and #CommsChat stalwarts took part, with 90+ contributors and 500+ tweets.

Here’s a summary of the questions Beth threw out, and a selection of the tweets each one sparked:

Q1: Have you been using social media for product development?

  • @juphilpott: Absolutely. Our product IS our outstanding service to our members/cust and content found on #sm platforms help tremendously.
  • @Jane63C: I see sm as vital to building relationships, communities etc so very much at the heart of a PR strategy.
  • @DamnRedHead: Using SM in prod dev isn’t necessarily “crowdsourcing,” curation/aggregation can also help dev prods.
  • @RachAllen: I don’t think products have to be ‘social’ – interacting with customers should be though surely?
  • @LoisMarketing: Treated SM world as a public focus group — received great feedback, very helpful and supportive participants.

Q2: In regards to social media is it important to give customers the ability to provide their wants and needs? Why (not)?

  • @NotFromBolton: How can you stop them, seriously. Much better to channel it into something useful surely?
  • @MichaelWhite1: Customers are your wants and needs. Therefore it is important to provide for them.
  • @ahhzen: Doesn’t it depend on how responsive you can be? No point asking if you can’t deal with the answers.
  • @jane63c: Social media is by its nature two way communication so you must allow that engagement to build effective relationships.
  • @Dan_Martin: You don’t provide them the “ability” to do it; they will do it on Twitter, Facebook etc anyway! #commschat

Q3: If customers (B2B and B2C) were complaining about price via social media, what would you do with that info?

  • @jane63c: Back to engagement and two way comms complaining via sm is very public can quickly become crisis comms if not handled swiftly would probably add it to the mix of other information I had to help make a more informed pricing decision
  • @RobertPickstone: Would probably add it to the mix of other information I had to help make a more informed pricing decision.
  • @NotFromBolton: Learn from it. But if they come to you on price they will leave you on price. There has to be other differentiators.
  • @MarcSkaf: If they are complaining about price, it is your job to show them that the value is greater than the price.
  • @BethHarte: Social media isn’t always necessarily two-way. As a consumer, I might complain, but never interact with a brand.

Q4: What about “place.” If you hear via social media that you aren’t selling where people want to buy, what next? For example, I loved Putumayo World Music, but they don’t sell on on iTunes, so I don’t buy anymore. Do you have an example?

  • @NotFromBolton: It’s all about trends surely. Trends of topic vs outcome. What comments are made are immaterial unless its impacting the outcome.
  • @ahhzen: Does this become about volume? if enough potential customers SM to request a location then investigate it?
  • @JonClements: Investigate! And tell people you’re doing so.
  • @mazherabidi: Online has to be consideration here? Dunno if I can expect physical stores everywhere, but I expect online store.
  • @TotMac: Is the Beatles on iTunes not a good example of this? Legal wranglings aside, customers wanted it there.

Q5: What companies do you see doing a great job with social media communication?

  • @Jane63c: I think charities/not for profit sector are really getting to grips with SM, also transformed lobbying.
  • @MichaelWhite1: Big fan of @XboxSupport as well (no bias, I don’t run it!).

Hungry for more? Read the full transcript here, and join in with #CommsChat next week!

Why should I be on Twitter? (The Student Perspective series)

This guest post from Lauren Gray is part of The Student Perspective series – a set of posts contributed by future stars of the comms industry.

A few college students and professionals, or at least ones I’ve talked to, have been asking the question:

“Why should I be on Twitter?”

Twitter is an excellent resource for many things. For example: I’ve often asked questions on Twitter about which phone to get, how to get in touch with an organization, what non-profit organizations students have interned with, and many more topics. Twitter is a social network of millions of people and they are here and willing to help you.

Reasons you NEED to be on Twitter:

  • Networking with professionals: Thousands of professionals in your field of study are on Twitter. They can help you with resumes, cover letters, asking general questions about the field, etc.
  • Networking with students: Thousands of students in the same field of study and students that are taking the same classes as you are on Twitter. Other presidents or organizations are on Twitter. You can talk to other students and bounce ideas off each other for your classes, homework, organizations, etc.
  • Research: You can create polls via websites, like WordPress, and broadcast them across Twitter to get information about a subject you are researching or just ideas about a topic you are researching.
  • Twitter chats: Twitter chats are the best way to get involved on Twitter. You talk to other professionals, students, etc. via a chat, like #PRstudchat, for about an hour, answer questions and discuss topics you are interested in.
  • Personal branding: Once you start getting involved on Twitter, you create a following of people who know you and know what you are interested in. People begin to rely on you for information and for discussion.
  • Talking to businesses: I recently had a bad experience at FYE and tweeted about it, the next thing I knew @FYEguy was sending me a $20 gift card in the mail. Brands/businesses want to hear about good and bad experiences. You can always tweet with them.

Make sure you are taking advantage of every opportunity available on Twitter. Be involved and start engaging! Convince your friends to as well!

Further reading:

Lauren Gray is a senior PR student at WCU and PRSSA President.

Changing your Twitter handle: choosing “Brand You”

This is a guest post from Heather Townsend, business consultant and founder of The Efficiency Coach.

On Twitter, Heather holds considerable sway among UK SMEs, so when she announced she was changing her handle on the site, I asked her to write a few words to explain her decision, and how it fits into her plans for her personal / business brand.

Why have I taken the drastic step of changing my Twitter name?

I’ve spent the last eighteen months building up the brand, The Efficiency Coach on social media. This week I took the risky step of changing my name on Twitter to @HeatherTowns rather than @EfficiencyCoach. Like many people you may be thinking, “Why…? Is she throwing the baby away with the bath water? Is everything OK…?”

The Efficiency Coach is going from strength to strength and has been bigger than just me for the last eight months. In fact if I am going to grow the business to its full potential, I need to remove myself from ‘being’ The Efficiency Coach. I’m still the same old me, but my five year vision and plan needed me to have a strong personal brand as ‘The Professional Expert your firm needs to talk to’, rather than piggy-backing on The Efficiency Coach brand. I need to build up a personal brand as writer, speaker, coach and consultant – who happens to run both ‘The Efficiency Coach’ and ‘the executive village’, rather than ‘The Efficiency Coach who is writing a book and co-founded ‘the executive village’. Does that make sense?

I was finding that everyone was introducing me as ‘The Efficiency Coach’, whereas, if I am going to fulfil my personal vision, I needed to brand myself for the job I want, rather than I have.  Still being openly referred to as ‘The Efficiency Coach’ is going to scupper my attempts to build up the brand as the professional services expert.

You look at any of the experts with a household name, such as Ivan Misner, Dan Schawbel, Chris Brogan, Guy Clapperton, Andy Lopata, Brad Burton, they all have a strong personal brand rather than hiding behind their business’s brand.  (It is not a co-incidence that I have spoken to all but one of these people in the last three months, to interview them for ‘The Financial Times Guide To Business Networking’)

Phew, announcement over. I can now blossom fully as myself again and come out from the shadow of ‘The Efficiency Coach’.

Is your personal brand constraining you?

Heather Townsend.

Let’s not forget the importance of honesty in social media

This is a guest post by Mazher Abidi, a marketer and blogger based in Manchester, UK.

Social media (and social networking in the broad sense) could prove to become one of the greatest applications of Internet technology bar none.

As with any community, there are unwritten rules by which its members live by. For example, there are etiquettes related to tweeting and retweeting, recommendations when it comes to selling vs. conversing, conflicting schools of thought when it comes auto vs. personal posting…all of this before anyone has even touched on the thorny subject of sharing Farmville and Mafia Wars stories.

Yet the one common view that appears to transcend all debates is that social media users MUST be honest. This was plainly revealed on August 9th by all the participants in the weekly #commschat on twitter (every Monday 7pm GMT, 8pm BST hosted by @EmilyCagle and @AdamVincenzini from @CommsChat), where the subject under discussion was comms confessions.

Social media users and communicators, both personal and business, appear to need to live by this mantra online or risk being marked out as social media outcasts by their peers, seeing their flaws globally retweeted or (in the ultimate symbol of social media displeasure) being unfollowed and unfriended.

From the discussion, here follows a list of the top 5 reasons why you NEED to be honest on social media:

1. We can see through it

A community of highly intelligent and communications savvy users has formed on social networks, whether as a function of the presence of the tech aware innovators and early adopters or mass uptake. But whoever they are, they all have an opinion; and there are some serious social media influencers out there that have the kind of credibility some offline influencers can only dream of.

They cannot be fooled, nor can they be placated when they feel wronged. There are genuine multi way conversations taking place on social media and ideas are being shared every second.

Spin now has no place in social media and modern communications. Should your message be uncovered as somehow dishonest, a mistruth or a blatant lie, these people will know about it, and the message will spread due to the lack of…

2. Control

The Internet in general and social media especially has spread at a rate that even the word exponential doesn’t quite cover. 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute and in just over 5 years the twitterati have racked up 20 billion tweets.

It stands to reason therefore that once your message is out there in the socialsphere, it ceases to become solely your message. For this reason, it needs to be pitch and content perfect, or you run the risk of serious damage to your…

3. Reputation

Increasingly, social media is being seen by organisations as a key part of their PR strategy. It makes sense considering it is a direct route to consumers, key decision makers and influencers within B2C and B2B markets.

PR, as defined by the Charetered Institute of PR, is “the establishment and maintenance of goodwill between an organisation and its publics”. Such goodwill cannot be maintained without the truth.

Reputations can be shattered through social media; witness the way Apple (for example) was forced to take notice and react to antenna-gate on the iPhone4 thanks to the huge swell of opinion against it on social media.

The best way to avoid this? Be honest.

Of course this does not only count for reputation in the here and now. It is also a concern for…

4. The future

The amount of information held on the web does not even bear an attempt to quantify. The consequence of this is that messages, files, images…anything that appears on the Internet – stays on the Internet. Forever.

Companies AND individuals cannot afford for anything they perceive as negative to be on there, even on page 4 of a Google search. For if it’s out there to be found then it can and will be found, more often than not at the least opportune moment.

The picture from the stag do 4 years ago could resurface in a job interview. The accidentally posted press release that was only online for a day could be found on an archived version of a website.

Making sure what goes online is an honest reflection of you or our business will safeguard you for the future.

5. Why not?

Finally, if there’s nothing to hide, there should be no need to hide it!

Cash for interns – is experience payment enough? (The Student Perspective series)

This guest post from Carly Smith is part of The Student Perspective series – a set of posts contributed by future stars of the comms industry.

There has been an ongoing debate as to whether interns should be paid for their work or not. Being one of these interns I thought it would be interesting to give an insight as to what I thought…

If you speak to anyone within PR or the University you are told that experience is needed when applying for jobs. It is therefore necessary for graduates to have a balance between education and real life experience. However this is easier said than done.

For some students their work experience is not a pleasant experience. They spend the entire time being the office ‘dogsbody’ – making tea, photocopying and washing up. Of course we understand that when we graduate we won’t jump to the top and be shouting orders but what do we gain? Fortunately my experience has been a positive one, I work on specific areas and am given ‘real’ work to do which benefits both myself and the business.

I think it is important to establish with a company, before the internship commences, what you want to get out of the experience. And don’t forget an interview is there to see if you are compatible for each other. I was very conscious when I went to the interview for my placement that the company I approached had probably been approached by many other individuals asking for the same thing. That is why I never even considered getting paid for it because I wouldn’t want to price myself out of the market.

So how much is fair?

Should it be the same as the person whose position you are experiencing? Enough to cover your travel and living costs? Minimum wage? A ‘token’ for your hard work? It sounds clichéd but it depends.

I am of the opinion that you pay to attend University where you learn and in your work placement you are gaining their experience and knowledge. Plus it is only for the short term, this experience you gain will help you get a paid job at a later date, maybe with the same company. It is also important to remember that the employer is taking time out of their working day to supervise you on projects and mentor you along your journey. It is mutually beneficial for both parties.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggested that interns should be paid £2.50 per hour. This is less than minimum wage and would provide a benchmark for employers. It would also make placements increasingly available as a choice to less well off individuals who otherwise might not be able to take part. But would this set amount make the grey area clearer or would internships disappear because employers didn’t want to pick up the costs? It also raises the issue as to whether there would become ‘unofficial interns’ who still wouldn’t be paid.

10 Yetis Public Relations Agency in Gloucester are setting a good example for others by paying their interns. Andy Barr, Managing Director, said:

“As soon as someone has been part of a team for longer than two weeks, they begin contributing towards the bottom line of a business and therefore they deserve to be rewarded and compensated for their efforts. I don’t think anyone should have to work without payment, as it is both degrading and unfair.”

It would be interesting to hear others thoughts on this debate. Are you an employer who takes interns? Do you pay them a wage or not? Are you taking part in an internship? Do you think interns should be paid?

Carly Smith is currently in between her 2nd and 3rd year at the University of Lincoln studying Marketing and Public Relations. She has a work placement at a local PR agency one day a week on an unpaid basis.

Shock tactics in advertising – anything goes? (The Student Perspective series)

This guest post from Carly Smith is part of The Student Perspective series – a set of posts contributed by future stars of the comms industry.

A couple of months back, the Charity Commission updated the guidelines on fundraising and warned charities over the risks to reputation associated with using shock tactics to encourage donations and raise awareness. After reading the article in PR Week, it got me thinking: should shock tactics be allowed? And in such a crowded market place are they effective anymore?

We’ve all seen the adverts featuring the lonely puppy tied up by the side of the road and the children living in a shanty town surrounded by rubbish, but has the time come for charities to find new methods of attracting our attention?

The majority of people know what these charities stand for so don’t need to be reminded every time they see the advert. Some people may find the content of the advert distressing and be so shocked that they disengage with the advert and the charity completely because they associate them in a negative way. There is also the argument that one of the reasons people donate money to charities is because they experience a sense of guilt, these adverts are encouraging this as individuals will look at themselves sat in their comfortable well furnished houses and feel bad. Would it not be better to try and educate donors as to how their money would benefit and show the work they have done already? This is an approach that Cancer Research UK has adopted and I feel it has been successful for them.

However is this all just further evidence of the so called ‘nanny state’ trying to shield people from what goes on in the real world? The advert represents what the charity stands for and illustrates the type of work it does. As my grandparents would say: ‘If people don’t like it then they can just turn it over.’

I do believe that when used effectively shock tactics can be a brilliant addition to a campaign as they break through advertising clutter and are likely to be remembered. In my opinion the THINK car safety campaigns use shock tactics effectively and are memorable. The main message of the advert is always remembered and sometimes I find myself quoting them saying things such as: ‘Don’t be a back seat killer!’ to my friends when they are in the back seats.

Shock tactics should be used with caution and extensive research should be done as to not offend viewers or shock anyone too much. There will always be people who prefer not to see them but that’s their choice. A balance is needed, therefore a campaign should be both informational and attention seeking.

What do you think about adverts relying on shock tactics? Is there a place for shock advertising? Would you be more likely to donate to a charity who didn’t use them or not?

Carly Smith is currently in between her 2nd and 3rd year at the University of Lincoln studying Marketing and Public Relations. She has a work placement at a local PR agency one day a week on an unpaid basis.

Five things your home page can do without

This is a guest post by Tom Albrighton, a professional copywriter and founder/director of ABC Copywriting, based in Norwich.

Planning the home page. So important, and so difficult. Often, our answer is to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. The trouble is, you end up with a lot of stuff that you really don’t need. So in a spirit of ‘less is more’, here are five things you could consider hacking away from your home page.

Welcome message

This is a contentious one. Many marketers and copywriters feel that the ‘welcome’ statement is embarrassingly old hat, and shouldn’t be present on a modern website.

I agree that it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it, or that it’s not effective.

In my view, a ‘welcome’ statement has its place if it talks to the priorities of your visitors and makes them more likely to stay. If it just wastes their time or irritates them, drop it.

For example, a niche online retailer selling speciality coffees is the kind of cosy ‘shop’ you’d like to be welcomed into, while an all-business insurance comparison site would probably do better to lead with an eye-catching offer.

If a welcome message isn’t appropriate, you can use the space to offer ‘doorways’ into other parts of the site, or an orientation statement that tells the visitor where they might like to begin browsing.

Background info

I’m a strong believer in a simple, straightforward positioning statement somewhere on the home page, just so visitors can confirm they’re in the right place. For example:

We are a small, friendly team of accountants serving clients in Carlisle and the surrounding area.

Nothing wrong with that. Every word conveys information that visitors almost certainly need, and it’s almost certainly good for SEO too. But the ‘about us’ chat should end as soon as you get into things you want to say, rather than things the audience wants to hear.

For example, it’s unlikely that anyone needs to know immediately when you were founded, how you developed, how many people you employ or (being brutally honest) anything about your beliefs, values or business ethos. Provide that stuff somewhere by all means, but don’t put it on the home page where it could get in the way of a visitor who wants to get facts or make a purchase.

Generic pitches

Many, many websites fall into the trap of making a generic pitch for the products or services they offer, rather than selling themselves specifically. For example:

If you’re setting up in business, you can give your image a major boost with a professionally designed logo and letterhead.

The visitor already knows that. That’s why they went to Google and typed in ‘logo designer’, ‘business stationery design’ or whatever. They’re already persuaded of the general benefits offered by firms like yours, so don’t fritter away their patience by restating those benefits. You’re not writing an ad for the back of a bus – online, your audience is pre-vetted, proactive and attentive.

Remember, the user has probably got a set of nine similar search results sitting right under the ‘back’ button whenever they want them. So draw them in with some reasons they should stay on your site – in other words, the specific benefits of choosing you over a competitor.

Generic selling does nothing to advance your cause and arguably gives a hand to the competition – there’s a risk that you merely reinforce the visitor’s generalised interest, allowing another site to convert it to a lead or sale later on.

Scattergun content

Looking at some home pages, you get the feeling that the company got a bit bored with their own business. On top of the basic text and the navigation, you’re looking at case studies, client logos, special offers, awards, company news, blog posts, knowledge portals, newsletter signups – everything’s been thrown into the pot.

Making a home page is a bit like making a soup. You can put in ten different vegetables if you want, but your users won’t be able to discern every last taste. Instead, you might want to use just two or three really strong flavours and give them a more focused experience. Adding more can lead to dilution rather than concentration. As I’m often telling clients: the more you write, the less likely people are to read it all.

If you look at your home page for years, it’s inevitable that it starts to look a bit dull or elementary. But your visitors have never seen it before. (OK, they might be returning for a second visit, but it still won’t be familiar.) In fact, it may be that your whole industry is a completely closed book to them. Some basic info and a reassuringly simple layout that they can get their heads round in seconds might be just the ticket.

Irrelevant imagery

If you’re selling a product, it makes sense to show the product – holidays, showers, cars. But what if you’re selling a B2B service such as web hosting or copywriting? What should you show then?

Well, you could try to show one of the tools of your trade – a web server, perhaps, or a fountain pen. Unfortunately, those things aren’t that interesting visually, and they run the risk of making your audience think about computer hardware or stationery rather than website uptime and effective communication.

So you go down the road of metaphorical or figurative illustration – light bulbs (=innovation), fast cars (=high performance), shaking hands (=partnership). That gets you a pretty picture, but again, you’re risking the audience thinking about something irrelevant, like cars. And unless you can sustain the metaphor far enough to make every point you need to make, your text is going to end up being on a different theme from your imagery, which means that the overall message will not be harmonious.

It’s difficult. Believe me, I’ve grappled with this beast many a time. But even though it’s hard, you don’t have to make it harder by choosing a design that obliges you to have a leading or ‘hero’ image. Ask your designer to solve the problem with text and graphics.

Ideally, every image should have a semiotic, rather than purely aesthetic, justification – paying its way in terms of meaning as well as decoration.

Tips for a better home page

It’s so easy to criticise. So here are a few positive pointers to help address the problems I’ve covered in this post.

  • Imagine yourself as a newcomer to your site – one with little or no knowledge of your field. How will it come across?
  • Develop your home page for visitors – not for yourself, or to outdo competitors.
  • Make sure everything on your home page has a reason to be there.
  • Don’t be afraid to use space and simplicity to emphasise key messages (or a single message).
  • Keep in mind what you want the user to do. Include a call to action and don’t be afraid to state it early on. You’re selling products or services, not website content.
  • Think of your home page text as an ‘elevator pitch’, or the words you would choose to say if you were introducing your company. Be memorable, but don’t be afraid to state simple details. Facts are reassuring.
  • Don’t sweat it. Remember the user is actively searching – they want to use you. All you have to do is remove the barriers in their way.