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6 Reasons the IT Team Shouldn’t Be In Charge of Your Website Strategy

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Too many people (you perhaps?) incorrectly assume that building and maintaining a website is only a technical endeavor. Because PHP, CSS, Java, and HTML (scared yet?) are literally considered other languages, its easy to assume that the translator – your IT team – is your website’s most important asset. They’re the ones who can make it work, after all. So IT ends up at the forefront of your web strategy decisions.

But the reality is that your website is not just a technical tool. Your website is first and foremost a marketing tool. After all, what use is a translator without a message to translate? 

There’s no replacing a great IT team when it comes to developing and maintaining your dream website. However, they may not be the ones best equipped to drive your overarching web strategy or make all the decisions for your site.

Here are six things you need to keep in mind when putting together your website marketing team.

#1 Your Website is First and Foremost a Marketing Tool

Most importantly, your organization’s website is a marketing tool. It is the face of your business online. In needs to attract the right audience, effectively convey your brand’s message, and drive your visitors to take action. Here are several questions, for starters, you should be asking about your website:

  • What is the purpose of my website?
  • Who am I trying to target with it? How do they think? What do they want?
  • What do I want visitors to do on my website?
  • How does the website support my business strategy and message?
  • How does the website impact my organization’s bottom line?
  • What makes my organization or products unique?

The decision-maker in charge of your website needs to have a clear understanding of your business, audience, and marketing goals, in addition to what is technically possible.

#2 Marketing is the Message. Not the Code.

Your audience doesn’t care if your website is built in WordPress or Magento, custom-coded, or uses an ancient version of Microsoft Frontpage. They do care that what you have to offer meets their needs in some unique way. Your brand message is conveyed through headlines and copy, graphics and layout, and calls to action. And that’s marketing.

Do keep in mind that coding can also send a message about your brand. Poor code that is broken or clunky detracts from credibility and frustrates visitors. One of your IT team’s most important contributions to your website is crafting a fully-functional, seamless experience. And that’s a critical and difficult job.

But your website team needs to be led by someone who understands your core marketing message and how it can be implemented most effectively on the web.

#3 Functionality is NOT the Same as Usability

One of your basic needs is a website that functions properly. Every page element in its proper place, links that work, servers that don’t time out, pages that load quickly, shopping carts that function. However, just because it’s functional technically doesn’t mean it’s easy for an end-user to, well, use.

Add to Cart buttons that work properly won’t get the sale if they are in the wrong location, are the wrong color, are sized poorly, or are competing with other buttons. A menu that works is useless if the content isn’t intuitively organized and labeled. And that’s just the beginning.

It’s important to have someone influencing your team who is knowledgable in usability and understands proven website conventions (yes, links really should always be underlined and blue).

#4 Content is King on the Web

Years before content marketing was even a thing, we were touting the phrase “content is king”; meaning that fresh, quality content is your website’s most valuable asset for marketing to users (and search engines). It is also the single-most difficult thing for organizations to develop and maintain.

A person who knows your brand, audience, message, and products AND can write AND is motivated to do it regularly is one of the most valuable members of your team – and typically the most difficult to find.

#5 Coding Is No Longer (Completely) Specialized Knowledge

Ever heard of WordPress? Joomla? Drupal? These internet-based website platforms, and others like them, make it easy for just about any moderately computer savvy person to build, update, and maintain a basic website. Shell out $100 for annual hosting with a script to install the platform, find an inexpensive design theme you like, and you are well on your way to creating a basic site yourself. Gone are the days of using clunky software like FrontPage or Dreamweaver or having to pay exorbitant amounts for custom websites you can’t manage yourself.

Web technology today is much more accessible, which means the people who excel in your marketing strategy can participate in managing the website more easily as well.

#6 Better Utilize IT’s Strengths

Code is invisible, unless it’s not working. And especially then will you be very glad to have a great IT team in your corner. Even with a user-friendly tool like WordPress, there still is no substitute for great programmers who can do things above and beyond what you get out-of-the-box. Or who can come to the rescue when something stops working.

Your website needs a smart, savvy IT team who excels at building clean code, knows what is and isn’t possible in your platform, gets excited to try new things, solves problems, and fixes what breaks. Nobody is better at translating your marketing vision into a working website – and enjoying it.

Just be sure that someone with a great grasp of your business and marketing is the driving force behind your website strategy.

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Flickr Photo Credit: Infusionsoft. Used with permission via Creative Commons. 

If Someone Wants To Talk About You, Encourage Them!

When it comes to blogging, I find myself on both sides of the coin. Here at SiteLogic, we heavily advocate blogging for business as a great customer service/link/traffic resource. We also know how valuable it can be to have an influential blogger talk about your company or product.

On the flip side, I am also a hobby blogger with a decent following and increasing influence in my niche.

Even if it’s positive, don’t talk about us
On my hobby blog, I frequently write about my experiences as a volunteer with a local non-profit organization. I believe wholeheartedly in what we do and the benefits of our service, and my goal in sharing my stories is to spread the word. I want people to know this service is out there for their family members or as a volunteer outlet. And I’ve had great responses from my readers.

Until the organization discovered my site and asked me to stop talking about them.

While they appreciated that I said good things about them, they were worried that they could be hurt. And they were especially concerned that, heaven forbid, I had used their organization’s name. Somehow, all that great stuff I said was going to come back and bite them.

I’ll certainly respect their wishes, but I’m disappointed that their views of the internet, blogs, and online marketing are so misinformed. Even if someone is giving you negative press, it’s a bad idea to ask them to stop. It only feeds the fire. But why get in the way of someone who talks glowingly about you?

The single PR spokesperson is out
I studied public relations in college, and one of the points the professors drilled into our heads was that an organization needs ONE spokesperson. That ONE spokesperson knows the company and its core message, and is adept at handling media and other people invested in the organization. The idea was to avoid conflicting messages that would reflect badly.

And years ago, it worked. But now, people no longer trust ONE representative advocating a unified, and perceived inauthentic, company marketing spiel.

Hail the unintended spokesperson
With the advent of the internet, everyone with a connection now has a voice. If someone loves—or hates –your product or service, they can talk about it and have lots of people listen. When they feel strongly enough to write about it, especially positively, they are staking their reputation on you. When their reviews prove trustworthy, other people start to listen.

Your customers are reading reviews and blogs and forums and making their decision to buy based on what other customers say. They aren’t making decisions based on your corporate about page or how great you say your customer service is. They are listening to online “friends,” many of whom they’ve never met but have come to trust. Sometimes these influencers are customers, sometimes they’re employees, sometimes they are just brand evangelists. They are men and women of all ages, backgrounds, careers, education, and interests. And they have a lot more to do with how you are perceived than you do.

Embrace those who want to talk about you
Countless organizations have embraced their “unintended spokespeople.” And plenty haven’t, doing themselves and their most loyal customers a great disservice.

Jared of Subway fame is a classic example of embracing an unintended spokesperson. He lost over 240 pounds eating turkey and veggie Subway sandwiches, talked about his experience, became a brand evangelist, and then was brought on as the official Subway guy. When Subway discovered him and the story he was sharing, they encouraged it wholeheartedly. Jared had a great experience with this company and talked about it before he ever appeared in a commercial, which is what makes him so trustworthy. Subway didn’t respond by saying “How dare you use the phrase Subway Diet! Our marketing director didn’t endorse that.” No, Subway went out on a limb and provided more outlets and actually paid Jared to keep talking.

If you find people blogging about how great you are, find ways to encourage them.

  • Send them samples of new products, give them a free membership, offer whatever service you can that will show your appreciation (and give them reason to talk about you even more).
  • Ask their opinions on your customer service, marketing campaign, whatever you think might interest them and their readers.
  • Give them exclusive information, interviews, or breaking stories.
  • If nothing else, at least say thank you!

These are just a few ideas of ways to appreciate your unintended spokespeople and to encourage them to keep talking. Keep in mind, though, that your focus should always be providing value to them and their readers. The positive efforts you make will spread like wildfire online and will help your bottom line more than any on or offline marketing campaign. Poor handling will spread even faster.

While the old adage “any kind of press is good press,” doesn’t necessarily ring true with the internet, good internet press is the best kind of marketing you can get. And even better, it doesn’t cost you a thing beyond being willing to give up a little control.

Focusing On People At Small Business Marketing Unleashed

northwest-forest-conf-cente.jpgI attended the Small Business Marketing Unleashed conference at the beginning of this week fully expecting to learn a whole lot of good internet marketing information from a great group of speakers. And I did. However, I wasn’t expecting to become part of a warm, welcoming, and helpful community that extends beyond the two-day conference. But I did.

The Unleashed conference was all about community both in the sessions and the networking.

  1. I was able to network with almost all of the other attendees and build lasting relationships with many of them.
  2. The speakers emphasized building and marketing websites focused on the visitor, rather than the search engines.

Real-live handshakes, face-to-face conversations, and more than a few tweets
One of the pros of the internet is that we can easily connect with people all over the world. On the flip side, the con is that we spend more and more time online with virtual friends—and less time face to face. Working in the internet marketing industry naturally allows for a widely distributed client and colleague base, many of whom we never see. So I loved Unleashed because I finally got to meet many virtual friends and colleagues in person.

seg-crew.jpgThe crew behind Small Business Marketing Unleashed—Jennifer Laycock, Robert Clough, Rachel Phillips, and Vickie Evans of Search Engine Guide and Small Business Brief—were brilliant in starting off the conference with a speed networking and charity event. (Think speed dating with three minutes and business cards and no evaluations.) By “forcing” all of us to talk to each other, any speaker/attendee cliques that could have potentially formed were broken up from the start. Pushing us out of our comfort zones to meet new people on that first night made it a whole lot easier to do so throughout the rest of the conference.

  • Internet marketers shared knowledge with business owners.
  • Speakers befriended attendees.
  • Neighbors asked and answered each other’s questions during sessions.
  • Previously total strangers hung out talking about the industry and life in general until the wee hours of the morning.
  • My Twitter tweet rate quadrupled at least as we are continuing the conversations now that we’ve returned to our homes all over the country.

As a result, I came away from the conference with a head full of knowledge and a contact list full of friends and resources willing to share ideas and input. And a whole lot of new friends.

Information-packed sessions with a focus on people
alamo-atrium.jpgI was looking forward to Unleashed because it was a smaller conference (purposely) yet offered some of the best professionals in the industry as speakers. I knew the sessions would go into each topic in-depth and send me home armed with practical applications. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Sessions that stood out included:

Intro: SEO Success Pyramid by Matt McGee
During the overview session, Jennifer Laycock, Wendy Piersall, Matt Bailey, and Matt McGee set the tone for the rest of the conference. Jennifer made the excellent point that “search engines are like Pinocchio. They just want to be a real boy.” She meant that search engines continually try to think more and more like real people. Build and market websites geared focused on your visitors, and you will be successful in the search engines. This theme was carried on throughout the conference.

Matt McGee shared his SEO Success Pyramid, a great concept he recently developed to guide the SEO process. The pyramid has five levels:

  1. The foundation: has nothing do with your website. The foundation is about preparing yourself for success by ensuring that you have a unique product, good customer service, etc.
  2. The first steps: preparing your website for success. This includes design, usability, analytics, etc.
  3. Nuts and Bolts: improving on your website with content, crawlability, and contextual links.
  4. Reaching out: getting involved on other sites.
  5. What its all about: gaining trust.

I loved this concept because it’s the same thing we preach at SiteLogic: SEO is about so much more than putting keywords in appropriate places. It’s about selling something people want, building a website that is easy to use, focusing your visitor on your goal, and building a good reputation that will have longevity. Download Matt McGee’s SEO Success Pyramid for free.

Website Architecture with Stoney deGeyter
Stoney broke his presentation into three main topics:

  1. Domain and URL structure
  2. Page and document structure
  3. Link structure.

Stoney emphasized that the most important thing to keep in mind when building or maintaining a website is “Don’t make them think.” Make navigating and using your site as obvious and as easy as possible. If visitors can’t figure it out, they’ll just leave.

The session was filled with good technical information without being confusing to those who come from a marketing background. This laundry list of items of which to be aware is essential for any marketer or business owner who wants their website to be effective for visitors and search engines.

Building a Community with Wendy Piersall
unleashed-fiesta.jpgWendy shared methods for successfully building a community around your website. She said the most important thing to remember is WIIFM, or “What’s In It For Me?” This is the question visitors will ask themselves when they come to your website. If you answer that question well, they’ll stick around. Always remember to focus first on your visitor, and last on your own ideas.

Blogging For Business with Mack Collier
Mack, a regular contributor to Search Engine Guide and blogging expert, provided some great information in his speaking debut. As did many of the other speakers, he emphasized the importance of focusing on your visitors above all else. Mack’s elements of a great blog include:

  1. content
  2. posting schedule
  3. comments
  4. sidebar elements

Mack strongly recommends including a picture of you and a brief bio of you on your blog. Allowing visitors to really know who you are adds to your credibility and personality and encourages them to stick around.

He also noted that blogs are great for targeting long-tail keywords.

Keywords and Content with Heather Lloyd-Martin
Seeing as Heather practically invented the concept and has a witty, energetic speaking style, she was a no-brainer to lead this session and workshop. I appreciated her focus on writing copy that focuses on the visitor and helps them to understand and navigate your site. Heather strongly emphasized that people’s decision to purchase stems from an emotional connection. She also explained that shoppers are willing to pay more if they relate to your company. Building that relationship and trust is where small businesses can really shine. Thus, it’s essential to create that emotion through your website’s copy.

Heather’s power placements for primary keywords are:

  • Headlines
  • Subheads
  • Benefits statement based on keyphrases
  • Links and anchor text

Link Building with Debra Mastaler
Debra is the queen of link building, and I was really looking forward to the opportunity to learn the secrets of the trade from her. Between the day one session and day two workshop, she blew through a ton of great information. While my brain felt a little fried at the end, I walked away with a solid understanding of how to run a link building campaign and knew exactly how to get started. At the workshop, Debra provided a “blueprint” for link building with the best methods for getting started. They include:

  • searching for authority sites
  • directory submissions
  • article directories and content sites
  • press and media links
  • utility linking
  • social buzz

Viral Marketing with Jennifer Laycock
poplabs-plus-jackie-and-eri.jpgI attended the viral marketing and link building workshops back to back, and came away completely inundated with great information. If you needed to know what viral marketing is, how to plan and run a campaign, and how to choose the tactics that are best for your organization, you would have been completely prepared after Jennifer’s workshop. She talked about:

  • the benefits and pitfalls of viral marketing
  • creating the idea
  • tips for creating and running a campaign
  • types of campaigns with pros, cons, and examples
  • identifying influencers
  • and pitching bloggers

She so well prepared us in her presentation, no one even had to ask questions!

Off and running across the internet
We are all now back home and off and running with new and improved internet marketing campaigns and tactics. Needless to say, if you weren’t at Small Business Marketing Unleashed this week, you will not want to miss out on it next year! You can expect to come away with a plan for how to best market your website online and greatly improve your organization.

An Internet Marketing Conference That Digs Deep

small-business-marketing-unleashed.gifAs I wrap up my sixth month as a bona fide internet marketing professional under the influence of Matt Bailey, I’m starting to hit my stride. I’ve figured out in which areas I’m naturally talented, what most interests me, what is effective and what isn’t, and what I’d still like to know more about. Besides, this industry is constantly evolving and there is always more to learn.

So I am beyond excited about attending the Small Business Marketing Unleashed conference in Houston on April 21-22. Facilitated by the team behind Search Engine Guide and Small Business Brief, Unleashed is a two-day intensive conference complete with workshops, networking events, and a host of talented and knowledgeable speakers. It’s geared towards small business owners and newbies to the internet marketing industry.

I’ve been fortunate to quickly build a solid search engine marketing foundation working under Matt here at SiteLogic. But I’m not about to pass up a chance to learn from some of the best in the business!

Helping Small Businesses Level The Playing Field
I’ve always loved working with small businesses to help them make their communications more professional and effective. And the great thing about online marketing is that the internet levels the playing field between big business with big advertising dollars and small business with, well, not so much. With some SEO and a great link building campaign (for starters) a small business website can rank right up there with the big guys. And it doesn’t cost tons of money (or even very much) to get there.

Unleashed is geared towards small businesses and internet marketers who want to get the biggest bang for their buck out of their websites. Whether your site is geared towards sales, leads, memberships, or page views, the sessions at this conference will give you practical, easy-to-implement tools and strategies to vastly improve the effectiveness of your site.

The conference is purposely being kept small in order to facilitate the best possible learning experience for those who attend. Instead of a major industry conference with thousands of people and basic sessions, Unleashed will dig deep into each topic.

Practical Sessions And Workshops
meeting-space.jpgThe sessions and workshops I’m planning to attend are a nice mix of topics I know something about and ones I know little about. Regardless, I’m expecting to learn a lot from all of them. The first day of the conference is informational sessions. The second day is filled with a variety of intensive workshops to supplement the sessions from day one. Topics I plan to attend include:

  • Keywords and Content. This workshop is all about how to choose the right keywords and then integrate them into your content. It’s about a whole lot more than just title tags.
  • Link Building. I know why it’s important to get links, and I know how to get them for my blog. But I’m going to this workshop to learn how to plan and run an actual link building campaign. It focuses on creating a long-lasting strategy that will improve traffic and sales as well as rankings.
  • Viral Marketing. I know a bit about viral marketing, the buzz phrase of the day. But I need to know how to actually plan and implement a viral campaign; what works and what doesn’t; and how to identify key “influencers.” All of these are key topics for this workshop.
  • Blogging for Business. I’m a big believer in blogging for gaining links and traffic, branding yourself as an expert, and for fun. I’ve seen firsthand how successful running a blog with a few key tactics can be. This session will cover blogging as a component of your greater marketing scheme. It includes tips and tricks for building your blog and audience.

Those are some of the sessions that interest me most, but they all look amazing. I wish I had Hermione’s time-turner so that I could check them all out! Other topics include:

  • Site Architecture
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Web Analytics
  • Site Clinics
  • Building a Community
  • Paid Search Advertising

Knowledgeable, Approachable Speakers
The speakers for the Unleashed conference really are some of the best in the business. I’ve had some contact with several of them, met several personally, and read blogs for most of them. They really do know their stuff. Their expertise is also recognized by other top industry professionals.

Most of them will be available after their sessions and during various network events. They love to meet you, answer your questions, and talk about the industry or life in general. (Personally, I can’t wait to meet Christine Churchill and talk to her about that gorgeous horse I’ve seen in her profile pictures.)

Register Now And Get A Discount
The total cost for Small Business Marketing Unleashed is $975 and includes all of the sessions and workshops, a networking dinner, and a flash drive with conference materials. Enter the discount code PUPPY when you register and get a $100 discount. Workshops are limited to 50 people, so register soon to make sure you can get into the ones you want.

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