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Which web works?

I'm a woman of a certain age - let's just say generation X.  Recently I've been struck by the gulf that's developing in how my peers and generation Y's (also known as millennials), perceive and use websites.

Ah, websites.  In the early days they were a billboard to the world.  Function over form and a sure sign that your company was at the cutting edge of technology.  Back in the dark ages of 2005, youtube.com (to give it it's full title as we did in the day), looked like this. Retro huh?



Further back, in 1996, even Apple was an ugly duckling.


For those of us who've lived through the early evolution of the internet, websites have become the trusted face of a company, so it's easy to forget that a mere decade ago, while generation X were embracing the joys of technology, baby boomers were suspicious of this passing fad.  

Earlier this year eMarketer ran an article showing the differences in behavioural internet usage by age range. The results confirm that those born in the age of social media are far more likely to turn to Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for help and advice than they are to visit a company website.  Web pages which once had a monthly and in some cases yearly shelf life, just can't keep pace with the immediate need for answers that visitors now have.

This all means that knowing your target audience is key when defining how your website looks and the content it contains.  You can start by answering three simple questions, as you try to put yourself into your customers shoes.

1. What key problem is the visitor trying to solve or which burning question do they need to answer?  
This might be as simple as finding the phone number, address or opening hours of your company if you're aiming at generation X.

2. Does your website tell visitors who you are and what you do?
Do the colours used engage or distract?  Are you expecting your visitor to read text or providing the simplicity of a video? Does it load quickly and function correctly whether it's viewed on a tablet or a mobile or a laptop? (try it).

3. Are you making it simple for visitors to find what they need?
Each page of your website should have one clear call to action.  Make it easy for the visitor to do what you want them to do.  How many times have you clicked a link for a particular offer only to find yourself on the homepage scrambling around to find the offer all over again?  Equally, if a discount code can be applied, take visitors not only to that page, but preferably pre-populate the discount code for them as well. 

There are loads of great articles on designing your website from your customers point of view. These are some of my current favourites


What does your website do to bridge the generation gap?

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How to tell your SEO from your PPC?

Today I've decided to decipher some marketing speak, with a simple comparison table.  

For those who don't know, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation or how visible your website is to the rest of the world.  Since the holy grail for companies is to appear on the first page of any Google search (and ideally in the top 5 results on that page), SEO is a term that keeps marketers awake at night.

PPC, Pay Per Click is a way of directing traffic to your website, by letting you, the frenzied marketer, buy your way onto that elusive Google search front page.

Ideally you want to use both tools to complement your outreach, but understanding the basics is always a good start.

SEO
PPC


Organic search
Paid search


Keywords are embedded into your web content.  The search engine brings back results based on visitors search query. Fingers crossed they type your keywords
Visitors search query triggers an advert associated with a designated keyword, paid for by each company


Long term tool.  Keyword rich content must gradually climb the search charts.  This can take weeks or months to achieve
Faster for drawing customer attention.  Good short-term tool.  Ideally for those in the market to buy right now and for informing potential new customers


Uses location specific keywords but tends to be less attuned to geographic location especially when the searcher hasn't specified a geographic term in the search
Uses location specific keywords.  More effective at targetting local areas because you can designate where your advert  appears in certain geographic locations


Keywords must be used in the test or HTML headers of the page, which makes writing for search and readers challenging.  Overuse of keywords can actually make a site or page, drop in search engine rankings
You can designate multiple keywords in your PPC adverts without having to actually include them in the text of the advert


If your content isn't displayed on the first page of results, users may never see it
Adverts are positioned prominently at the top or right hand side of search results


Achieves highest potential when used to build brand recognition over a long period
Not every click is a conversion.  You pay for the click but they may bounce from your landing page or ignore the CTA



You might be outbid by a company with larger finances pushing your advert lower down the page or onto the next one



Make sure you have a landing page that matches your advert, showing they are exactly in the right place, with a clear call to action tested on different browsers



My best advice to SMEs is to get some professional help with this area. Customers need to know you're out there before the sales can start rolling in and many a great company has been lost in the noise of the internet because no-one could find them.

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Websites, not as easy as they look

I've had a holding page for a very long time now. Not a website, just a link to my twitter and LinkedIn feeds, but enough to show I'm a real person (sort of). Like one of the cobblers children, I never had time to consider building something for myself, while helping others with their marketing and online adventures.

Then [gawr-juhs] came along and behold, I am soon to be a real entity, with an official site. It's a bit like walking in your first pair of heels - you've seen it all before and it looks easy enough but it takes time to walk gracefully. Despite years of experience I'm finding my own website build much harder than I'd expected.

It's definitely a work in progress, so I thought I'd share my journey and what I've learned so far.

Problem #1
Writing about yourself sucks.
 
Whether you're a 'solopreneur' or an SME, writing about yourself is tricky and quickly becomes a list of facts and features which might make a CV proud, but will put your customers to sleep.

Solution
I had a friend interview me and summarize what she heard. Speaking your answers saves your vocabulary from business speak and helps you perfect your pitch all at the same time.  Genius.  Finding someone supportive to work through this exercise with, is a great way to test your differentiators and discover whether your unique selling points really exist. (I can highly recommend http://www.aweebirdie.com/)


Problem #2
First impressions count.
 
You can generally control what you wear, say and do when you meet a new client in person, but online your website or more specifically the page people land on, can be make or break in helping them decide to read on or bounce. You have approximately 3 seconds to make an impact. Eek!

Solution
Think about the websites that are most appealing to you. How much of the appeal is visual? Which elements of the layout, look and feel, grab you? Now, imagine your ideal client. Think of them in as much detail as you can. What's likely to turn them on/off? It might help to consider alternative websites they could be visiting, so that you can replicate navigation, location of search and any other key elements. I had an excel sheet with 3 columns - sites I like, why I like them, what level of importance my clients might give them.  If you're part of an SME, it would be worth asking several team members to go through the same exercise.


Problem #3
A perfect website is never live. 
In other words, you can spend months 'tweaking' the finer points and remain invisible to the world in the process, or you can work on a 'good enough' policy and refine in situ.

Solution
While your website is an important part of customer perception you can thankfully supplement your efforts via blogging and social media. Remember that different audiences read different media and in my own experience, my RSS feeder regularly delivers information, which lets me by-pass a number of worthy websites.

Good luck to those of you who share my pain .......
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