sharon tanton portrait

Category Archives: Your website

7 signs your website needs spring cleaning

fifties housewife

If you’re running your business on Valuable Content principles, then your website is the powerhouse. It’s the engine that drives everything, and most of the time – if you keep the content coming – it all runs smoothly, refining your niche and generating leads. 

 
Every once in a while though, you need to stand back, and ask yourself whether it’s working as well as it should. Peer into those neglected corners, scour the pages you usually skim over, and take a hard look at the way it’s arranged.
 We’re calling it our Valuable Content spring clean – and here are the seven signs that show your website needs one. 

1. You can’t update it yourself.

The best sites are really easy to manage – if you can’t make changes, add pages, and post the kind of information your clients are looking for without a phone call, then you need to do something about it. We recommend WordPress sites, but any content managed system that puts you in control will work.

2. You don’t know how many hits it gets, or how long people stick around.

How will you measure the impact of your valuable content if you don’t know who’s reading it? Get your analytics sorted, and use them to market yourself smarter.

3. You’ve still got too much text on the home page or a really long Flash intro.

We know it looked so good a few years ago, but now the world’s moved on. Your customers want information fast. Cut the distractions and get to the good stuff quicker.

4. It doesn’t make the right first impression.

Your content is static or out of date, or perhaps you have a blog but it is hidden out of sight. High performing websites lead with their content. One glance is enough to tell you that business is buzzing, and that these people can help you with your problem.

5. Your users don’t know where to go next.

Websites designed with users in mind work smoothly with the content on one page leading you to another. If the web copy sparks a question, the next step is a natural click away. Is this the way it happens on your website?

6. It’s not obvious how to get in touch.

Put addresses, phone numbers, email and Twitter details somewhere easy to find.

7. No calls to action.

Be bold about it. What do you want people to do once they’ve read your stuff. Sign up for your newsletter? Download your guide? Call you? So say it, clearly.

So, what are you waiting for?  Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.  If you’d like an independent view of the way your website’s working, we’d be happy to help. And if you’d like to know more about Valuable Content’s high performing websites, give us a call.

The really Valuable guide to ‘Things to give up for Lent’

chocolate coated strawberry

Chocolate, wine, and cake – just three of the things that aren’t on Valuable Content’s list of things to give up for Lent.

We hope you’ll find our real selection more useful. Read on for a quick-fire list of the things we’d like to kiss goodbye today.

1. Jargon.
There’s always a better way of saying it. Make your content clear and accessible to all your clients. An independent view on what you’re writing can be handy to make sure you’re not slipping in phrases in that will alienate your readers.
2. Flash websites with no function.
There are still a few about, and we’d like to see them gone. Design your website with your user in mind. We guarantee they’ll want useful information that helps them solve a problem over something gimmicky any day.
3. Spamming people with messages, over and over again.
If you’re not getting results, you need to try something else. Search your content toolkit for a different approach.
4. Websites you can’t update yourself.
Your website should be the hub of your marketing – the living breathing centre of your business – bursting with relevant news, blogs, and information that potential clients will love. If every change demands a phone call to your designer, the chances are you won’t make them. Switch to a blog based site, we’re sure you’ll thank us for it!
5. Tweeting without listening and engaging.
As more and more businesses wise up to the marketing potential of Twitter, the good Tweeters are becoming clearer, and rarer. They’re the ones that talk as well as promote. Good Tweeters retweet others’ links, and say ‘thank you’ when you retweet theirs. Twitter’s not a free listings page, it’s a conversation that can engage and entertain as well as inform. Join in and play nicely, that’s the Valuable Content way.

What’s on your list? We’d love to know. And if we can help you with social media, new websites, or content for your business, please get in touch.

How to write great Twitter headlines

Sun Gotcha headlineFor the busy web reader, headlines are crucial. Faced with an immense sea of information, we scan for the ones that pull us in and anchor us to something relevant. Headlines matter on web pages, and even more so on social media sites like Twitter. How do you get people to click on yours instead of swimming past?

1. Be succinct.

Summarise the point of your article or blog in as few words as possible. Short and snappy is more appealing than convoluted. It’s a good test of your content too – if you can’t sum up the point in a sentence, maybe you haven’t got it quite right yet.

2. Put your reader first.

Think about what they want to know. What will they be searching for? How is your content going to help them? Use the phrase they’ll be searching for as your headline. Home page design – a quick guide, Networking etiquette – what to say first, and Key components of winning press releases are examples of reader focused, straightforward headlines.

3. Ask a question.

Headlines that engage are good news, and conversational questioning style headlines do just that. Are your business cards working? Is your recruitment process up to scratch? Do your clients know how to find you?

4. ‘How to’ headlines.

People are searching for information, and the’ how to’s’ are easy to spot and easy to click. How to design your about us page, How to boost e-commerce sales, How to sell your house in 6 weeks

5. Promise success.

We all want to succeed, and are tempted by people that offer it to us. Spiking your headlines with positive success words can encourage clicks. Win more clients with smart business networking, Successful sales start with three words, Boost profits with smarter working.

6. Raise the spectre of failure.

Fear of failure is as big a drive as the desire for success. Scare people into reading your stuff! Five costly PR mistakes to avoid. How to lose customers and alienate people. Is your web copy costing you sales?

7. Offer some inside knowledge.

Who doesn’t want to know a secret? It’s not hard to pique our curiosity. The secrets of successful bloggers, The trait top novelists share, Which blogger do twenty world leaders follow?

8. Play the numbers game.

Maybe it’s the promise of a quick read, perhaps because it seems to offer something easily graspable and definitive. Whatever the reason, Twitter can’t get enough of the numbers headlines. Five ways to improve your SEO instantly, Seven ways to keep readers on your site. Three writing rules you must break.

9. Get active.

Words like boost, drive, run, leap, soar, make headlines more compelling than passive words. Injecting some energy into your headlines grabs attention. Boost sales with clever marketing, Drive customers to checkout faster.

10. Say something different.

Originality is like a breath of fresh air in the crowded Twitter marketplace. Headlines created from a different lexicon leap off the page. I’m not talking jargon, just unexpected words – nouns or verbs – that shake up the stream of salesy Tweets. I’d put Mick Dickinson’s Silk purse, sow’s ear, crappy photographer, blog post headline into the refreshingly different category.

And if all else fails……

11. Capitalise Everything.

It’s in your face, brash, and hard to avoid. Personally, I don’t like this headline style, but it doesn’t stop me clicking if the content is promising. How To Win More Sales Overnight, Why Your Content Sucks, How To Write Killer Blogs.

So there you have it. Ten headline styles, and one for luck. It’s useful to mix them up, and vary your approach. I’ll often use four of five different headline styles to flag up the same article. Different readers respond to different types, so experiment with what works best for your followers.

Last but definitely not least, have something to say. Content always comes first in my book. The greatest headline in the world will tempt people to click, but you’ll only disappoint and frustrate if your content doesn’t live up to the headline’s promise.

If you need help with content for your website, do get in touch. I’d love to help.

Five ways to make your home page a hit

estate agent board

When you’re trying to sell your home, estate agents recommend clearing out the clutter to show off your best features. I think the same applies to your home page. It’s the first place new visitors land, so you want to make a good impression.

Here are my five tips for a winning home page.

1. Clarity of purpose

Your home page should tell me very clearly and simply how you and your services can help me, so share your mission in a few well chosen words. I’m talking a paragraph at most. About Us will go into more detail about you and your ethos, so you don’t need to say lots here. Keep this page very clear and straightforward.

2. Navigation

I want to know exactly where to go next. Your home page should set the agenda, so your choice of words and destinations is important. Being too clever here can be a mistake. I see an awful lot of websites, and am a fan of the ones with the easiest navigation. The home page isn’t the place to surprise me, or to be oblique. Help me find my way around.

3. Call to action

What do you want me to do now I’m here? Call you? Read more? Look at this? Think about that? Don’t go overboard with your demands, but do try and get me to engage. The right words can pull me further into your site.

4. Evidence of life

Empty houses are harder to sell, and so are empty websites. I’d like to know you’re around, hard at work, helping people like me. Twitter feeds, blogs, video content. Have something on the home page that shows me you’re in business, right now. We’re talking tasters – headlines, logos, boxes – not the whole thing. Use your up-to-date content to lead me deeper into your website, and to reinforce your expertise.

5. Room to breathe

Sometimes I use the home page as a reference point, somewhere to go back to and orientate myself. In a large website, packed with valuable content, it’s good to have somewhere clear and simple to take a breath. (It’s a bit like returning to the blurb on the back of a book you’re reading. That concise reminder of the story that grabbed your attention is useful.) So don’t overload it. Less is more.

If you want Home page help, get in touch.

You are my one and only

love heart sweets

With love in the air it feels like a good time to get a bit Match.com, and to explain what writing love letters got to do with great business copy.

I thought I’d start by sharing a secret with you – who I’m thinking of when I write my blog posts. Because I’m always writing to a person. A real one, that I know in the real world, and I think that’s what makes my writing feel immediate.

I’m usually writing to Sonja, my Valuable Content partner. She’s the one I want to impress. She absolutely knows her content stuff, and I know I can’t get away with anything less than good with her.

Though I’m writing to Sonja, I know that what I have to say will be relevant to more people. And the writing attitude that I take, of talking to a friend who knows as much and more than I do, means I’m writing on a level. Talking either up or down to a reader is a turn off, and I want to keep her switched on.

Of course it’s not always Sonja. Sometimes I write blog posts with a particular client in mind. If I know someone is facing a business challenge that I can help with, I’ll write a blog post and send it to them. (John BD, the newsletters one was for you.) And of course, I know that lots of businesses are facing the same dilemma, so I’ll post it on the website too. The fact that it was written with John BD in mind gives it an immediacy and relevance that makes the copy come alive.

So, here are seven reasons why you should write with that special person in mind.

1. It makes your writing warmer.

2. It makes you think of the best and clearest way of saying something. Friends don’t talk in jargon.

3. It makes you want to impress, make them smile, share something – all good ways to engage.

4. It makes you focus. Cutting out anything unnecessary gives your writing more impact.

5. It gives your writing immediacy. You’ll choose words that connect, rather than distance your reader.

6. It will make your writing pacier. We use active verbs rather than passive ones when we’re talking to friends.

7. It will make your writing more real. Authenticity is valuable, and you’ll achieve it by writing from the heart.

If you liked this, try these too.

The seven deadly word sins

Writing rules you should break

How to make Linkedin love you

Know your audience

cinema audience in 3D glasses

It’s possible to fill your website with a constant stream of content without making more sales. Content alone won’t do your business any good. Untargeted content is just white noise, irritating and easy to ignore.

The valuable kind of content is the type that hits home, that makes people feel you’re talking directly to them. So how do you go about creating that sort?

Understanding why people buy from you is key to creating the right kind of content. You’ve got to know your audience.

Knowing that will help you shape your content. Let’s think of an example.

Greenleaves is an environmental design consultancy. They’ve read a bit about content marketing, they’ve started a blog, and joined Twitter, but haven’t seen any benefit. It’s like nobody’s listening.

And that’s probably because nobody is listening, because they don’t know their audience. They clarify their clients as ‘medium sized companies in the residential, industrial and commercial sector.’ Way too vague. If you try and talk to everybody at once, you end up speaking to no-one.

Understand your USP

Greenleaves’ problem was they didn’t understand what was different about them, so the content they were creating was too generic. There are dozens of environmental design consultancies offering holistic approaches to planning and design so their blogs about planning law and waste management floated unread in the ether.

It was talking to their clients that helped them define their USP. Asking direct questions, ‘why do you enjoy working with us?’ revealed a different answer to the one they had been expecting. It was their connections to other experts that their clients most valued. Working with them was easy and rewarding because they knew the right people. They were a small company that offered a much bigger service through their expert network.

Knowing this gave their content some direction. Writing blog pieces that emphasised their joined up approach was a start. Getting guest blogs from their affiliated experts began to build their site as a hub of environmental design expertise. Understanding their USP gave them a voice and a picture of the kind of person they were talking to.

They discovered their strongest advocates were those in the residential sector; industrial and commercial set ups favoured bigger outfits. More fine tuning of their direction made a difference. Now they could produce content with real readers in mind – the blogs became livelier, more relevant, and gave a clearer picture of their company as the kind who really knew their stuff.

Blair Enns talks about demonstrating knowledge a mile deep and an inch wide. Far better to be an expert in something, than know a little about everything. Knowing your audience means you can specialise and demonstrate expertise.

What does your audience want?

So you’ve specialised. You’re focused on your target. You know who they are, what they look like, what they had for breakfast (okay, maybe not that.) But what do they want to hear from you? How do you make your content relevant for your audience?

You need to see things from your customer’s point of view. Understand their business, and how what you’re offering helps them.

Help is the key here. Making yourself useful is at the heart of the valuable content marketing strategy.

Three ways to get to know your audience better

1. Go to the right places
Networking with your audience, both the real and the virtual kind, is crucial. You need to know the word on the street if you want to be part of it. Learning to speak the right language happens much faster if you immerse yourself in it.

2. Listen
Content marketing is a two way thing. It’s not all about shouting ‘me me me‘, it’s more ‘you, you, you.‘ Take some time to read comments on forums, ask questions at networking events, give people a chance to talk about themselves so that you understand their challenges.

3. Ask your clients for feedback
Put some searching and detailed questions to your existing clients.

Be specific – why did you choose our service? what did we offer that our competitors didn’t? have you learnt anything from us that has changed your way of working?

This kind of feedback is invaluable for businesses. Providing you’re doing a good job, you’ll gather some useful material for your website and marketing materials. If you’re not doing a good job, then you need to know that too so that you can make changes. So ask away.

We can help you define your market and get to grips with you USP, and create the kind of content your audience will love. Call on 07985 015300

Five ways to make me leave your website immediately.

tumble weed

There’s lots of great advice out there about how to make a good first impression with your website, so I thought it would be interesting to look at how to make a really bad one.

Here’s how to turn people off your website instantly.

Turn off 1
Pop up ads

My biggest pet hate. In your face and in the way – pop up ads obscure your message. They’re as subtle as white stilettos and orange fake tan …..like being seduced by Kat Slater in Ann Summers or Peter Stringfellow in Spandex.

However much they’re paying you to put them there, it’s not worth it. They don’t make you look good.

Customer surveys can be offputting too. The experience is akin to being asked round for tea by a new neighbour who opens the door and asks for help unblocking the sink before you’ve even taken off your coat. Obviously I wouldn’t mind helping a friend, but we don’t even know each other yet! It feels wrong to ask for something before a relationship exists.

Turn off 2
Tumbleweed sites

You know the ones. Christmas pics in June. News page last updated 6 month ago.
Your website is often the first and best chance you’ll get to promote your business. If it’s like a ghost town -peopled by ex-employees showcasing lost clients it won’t do you justice.

Keep your website at the heart of your marketing strategy – feed it regularly with valuable content, and people like me will be happy to stay and look around.

Turn off 3
Primark at 5 pm on a Saturday sites

Chaotic websites. Everything’s all over the place, falling off the rails and in heaps on the floor. Lots of offers but you don’t know where to start looking. The sheer amount of it makes you doubt the value, and you can just tell the customer service is going to be bad.

See your website from your customer’s point of view. Is it in order? Can you get around it easily? What exactly are you offering?

Turn off 4
Bedroom websites

Not as exciting as they sound, I mean the kind that have obviously been designed by your neighbour’s son on work experience.

Professionalism shows – in the design, the layout, the use of headlines, the quality of the copy. You can see if it’s not there, without even reading the page.

Turn off 5
Woolly sites

Your home page should tell me how you can help. I shouldn’t have to look hard to find the essence of your offer, and it should be obvious where to look next. Don’t make it hard for me, I don’t want to burrow through fuzzy layers before finding out if you’re what I’m after.

So what do you have to do if you want me to stick around? Clean looking sites appeal. Clarity is important. Demonstrate value, show you’re alive and buzzing, be relevant, engage with me.

First impressions are important. If you want help with getting your website content and copy right, call on 07985 015300.

Writing rules you should break

Business writing can feel like a balancing act. trinians titles cartoon On the one hand you want to get your point over in an engaging way, on the other you want to appear professional. So how do you get it right?

Here’s a quick guide. Three writing rules you should break, (and three you shouldn’t.)

Rule 1.
Write in proper sentences.
Not a straightforward point, and I’m not advocating the death of punctuation. Rather I’m suggesting you treat your sentence structure with a bit of flexibility. I sometimes think of sentences as hand and footholds for the reader, as they climb their way through your writing. Sometimes it’s good to reach an easy one. A very short sentence, coming after a series of longer ones, makes an impact. Like this.

Of course ‘like this’ is not technically a sentence at all, but if it works to make your point, then why not use it? I don’t have a problem with one word ‘sentences’ either. If they contribute to the flow of your writing and help the reader understand what you’re trying to say, then throw a couple into the mix. Simple.

Rule 2.
Metaphors belong in poems.
Poetry is full of fabulously inspiring literary rule breaking and business writers can steal a trick or two. Metaphors are a quick win. Poets seek images that have an emotional resonance to make lasting connections with readers. Connection is your number one aim with a piece of business writing too.

I don’t mean scattering your website with moonlit walks and hosts of golden daffodils. Rather that you think laterally and creatively when you’re writing. If an image comes to mind when you’re trying to describe a process, or an idea, (like my climbing metaphor in the first point) don’t be afraid to use it. Seek them out and give your writing more impact.

A word of caution. Because metaphors and analogies make real connections with readers, it can get confusing if you throw too many in, or keep switching themes. For example, if you’ve set up your writing with driving metaphors – full throttle, stuck in gear, hair pin bend - and then you change to sailing ones -full steam ahead, stormy weather, choppy waters- your reader will become disorientated. Sea sick, even.

Rule 3.
Long words impress readers.
Your English teacher at school probably gave you a big tick when you managed to wiggle some complicated piece of vocabulary into your essays, but you won’t get full marks for it in business. Simple straightforward words are better. Don’t say ‘cascade’ when you mean ‘tell’, don’t say ‘strategize’ when you mean ‘plan’, don’t say ‘empower’ ever. Just don’t.

And an even quicker guide to those you mustn’t break.

Rule 1. Spell it right. Although our language is flexible and evolving, you do need to spell everything correctly.

Rule 2. Punctuate properly. Don’t forget your full stops and capital letters. Your aim is to make your reader understand. Taking away the punctuation is like taking away the road signs – no one knows when to slow down and when to stop.

Rule 3. Don’t get your ‘it’s’ and your ‘its’ mixed up. People get awfully irate about it. (My rule – see whether ‘its’ could be replaced by ‘his’ or ‘her.’ If it can’t be, you need the other one!)

If you need help with shaping up your business writing, give me a call on 07985 015300.

How to write your ‘About Us’ page.

Picture of Kermit the Frog

Chances are the most viewed pages on your website are About Us and your client list. Who are you, and who trusts you with their business ? Two key things that potential clients want to know before getting in touch.

Client lists are self explanatory – names, logos, testimonials, and soundbites all linked to case studies add credibility to your business.

But what about About Us? The section is a chance to let potential clients see the real you, and to show a bit of personality. But what bit of you, and how much personality? There are infinite ways of doing it, and we thought it would be useful to outline an approach we like.

So here it is, some Valuable Content tips to creating a powerful About Us page.

Do see the page from your potential client’s point of view. Your golfing prowess might be awesome, but how does that help them? Write about your approach to the business, not your hobbies.

Do think about the page as part of your business story. Write about how your role fits and contributes to that story. ‘Before joining x I worked as a sales consultant for fifteen years. My understandings of what can make or break a sale help my clients succeed’.

Do share your mission. What do you believe, and why? Define your audience – what kind of people can your business help?

Do interpret your data with your offer clearly in mind. So don’t just say ‘I worked as an accountant for 20 years before starting my payroll business,’ write ’20 years in accountancy showed me how crucial payroll services are to business success.’ Keep asking yourself ‘why is this relevant?’

Don’t write too much. Remember the rules of good web writing. Short and to the point is good. Strong headlines will draw people in, so link to further pages if there’s more to say.

Do make sure the whole page links well to the rest of your site. Relevant About Us copy will make natural links to your clients and services and approach, so embed them in the site. Fire enthusiasm, and lead people seamlessly to the rest of your content.

Do use good professional pictures of you and your team. People like to see who they will be working with.

Don’t be too obscure. You might feel that you’re best represented by a picture of a lovely smooth pebble, or a snap of Kermit the frog, but not everyone will get it. (However if you do want to go down an alternative visual representation route, make sure your explanation is easy to find and written with wit.)

Don’t be boring but…….

Don’tbe ‘wacky’ or ‘zany’ or anything that could be remotely interpreted as something Timmy Mallet might do. Nothing along the ‘you don’t have to be crazy to work here…..’ lines, please.

Do ask for help. An independent view can be really valuable in helping you see what’s most relevant and most compelling for a potential client. If you’d like us to help you create an About Us page that gets your message across, please get in touch.

My five marketing lessons

It’s been a year since I started in business on my own – a good time to reflect on the marketing lessons I’ve learnt in 2010.
I haven’t done any formal networking, or cold calling, and I haven’t even got round to sorting out my business cards. But I have managed to build up a network of clients that keep coming back, and who I really enjoy working with. Here’s how it’s working for me.

1. A good website is crucial.

While I loved the design of my first site (thanks Daniel Penfold), I outgrew it quite quickly. A WordPress site (more thanks DP) gave me something I could update myself with writing that would be useful for potential clients and that could stay up to date and relevant to the kinds of people I want to work with. Redoing the site after only 10 months was a great exercise in redefining my offer. Keeping my website valuable is top of my marketing list.

2. Twitter works.

I’m steadily building up a Twitter network that is both useful and entertaining. You make your own community on social networking sites, and I find Twitter a really friendly and supportive place. I know I sometimes cross the boundaries of personal/professional when I’m Tweeting – but I like Tweets from people that come from real life – being funny, or exasperated, or unsure is okay by me. I accept that this isn’t right for anyone, but Twitter is a great showcase for writers, and creating readable tweets is a fab exercise in making the most of a few words. Be useful, supportive and interesting – that’s my approach.

3. Newsletters raise your game.

Both the discipline of creating something valuable, useful and readable once a month, and the credibility it gives you as an authority on your subject is priceless. I picked up a lovely new client after only 2 newsletters, and expect to find more next year. Demonstrate your knowledge in an accessible and useful way.

4. Collaborate.

Working with Sonja to develop Valuable Content has been incredibly good fun, and professionally useful. We’ve pushed each other to achieve things, shared ideas, been each other’s sounding boards, spell checkers and friends. We’ve got big plans for next year, so watch the Valuable Content space. Work should be happy, so surround yourself with good people.

5. Be yourself.

I get on with my clients, and find them really easy to work with and it is more than a happy coincidence, I believe it comes from creating an on-line presence that reflects who I am. People will have checked me out on the website, maybe read my Tweets and newsletter, and decided whether they like my style and approach. People who don’t like the sound of me, won’t get in touch. I’m happy about this – it saves us both time. Be true and the right people will find you.
(I’m basing this theory on the one difficult client I’ve had this year, who came via a contact of a contact of a contact. He hadn’t been through the web/twitter filter – maybe if he had he would have chosen a different writer.)

So for next year? I”m going to do more of the same. More blogging, more writing about how to write, more newsletters, more collaboration, more Tweeting. But I’m going to try my hand at networking too, and I am, I promise, going to get those business cards sorted.