Posts for

December 14, 2009

Monthly Archives: December 2009

How to recruit and train your website

When we begin the web planning process with our clients, we tell them to think of their website as an employee.

Just as you wouldn’t take on a new member of staff without having a defined role for them, so the website needs to have a “job description” from day one. Unless you define what you want from your website, it’s almost impossible to see if it is doing its job properly.

Just like an employee, your site also needs:

To have a line manager
Someone needs to be responsible for the performance of the site, to support it and ensure it is working as well as it can. Managing the site needs to be a defined role, rather than something given to your marketing or IT support team to do in their spare time. The manager needs to understand exactly what the site needs to be doing and be pro-active in helping it do that.

To be a team player
The site needs to work with people across the whole of your business. Although you will have an individual or team directly responsible for the site, it needs to support and be supported by a whole range of people, whether that is the sales team, personnel, management or the shop floor.

To have a training programme
The site needs to grow into its role and with the business. Ensure that as the needs of the business change, the website grows to meet these needs. This means keeping content up to date, but also reviewing functionality as the online world and/or your business changes – for instance supporting Social Media, or mobile web, adding e-commerce etc.

What do you want the site to do? Set sales targets, or targets for efficiency savings. Perhaps you want it to answer a certain number of questions per month, or generate a certain number of telephone enquiries. Measure and review these targets regularly and if they are not being met, find out why and maybe review the training programme.

A proper recruitment process
Commissioning a website is a major investment for any company – and one that should be treated in the same way, and with the same attention to detail, as taking on a senior member of staff. You need a proper interview process to select the right candidate – establish what the site has to do and ensure that it will be able to do it. What your site needs to be doing – its job description – should be the bedrock on which it is built. Design should always support functionality, never the other way round. Get the interview process wrong, or fail to ask the right questions, and you could have a very expensive time replacing the website you have taken on.

Career development
The most important thing to remember when commissioning a website is that its job only really begins when it is built. You wouldn’t recruit someone and then simply leave them to get on with their job without accountability. Similarly, you need to use analytics, user feedback, targets etc to monitor the work your site is doing. When it meets targets, set it new ones. When it proves it is paying for itself, invest more in it.

A salary
You should set a budget for ongoing support, hosting and maintenance of the site. Be realistic in what you expect to pay. Just as you can get free hosting, you can also recruit a head of department on minimum wage. But in both cases, you’d probably get what you paid for.

Regular appraisals
As well as reviewing stats and targets, get feedback from the website’s “co-workers” – the people in your business who deal with the site directly or indirectly (and that should mean all of them). How easy do they find the site to work with? How is the site helping them? What could it do better? And remember, just like an employee, not everyone will always like or get on with your website – so get a balanced picture before deciding to make any changes.

In summary
Ensuring a website performs at its best needs ongoing investment in terms of time and money, just as employing a member of staff does. When you get it right both pay for themselves many times over. When you get it wrong, it can be a very costly mistake.

By thinking about your website as an employee, you can help ensure that more often than not you get it right.

Why results-driven matters

At Tickbox we define ourselves by the results we deliver for clients. A great example of what we mean by “results-driven” can be seen in our work to create a business-focussed web marketing project for a local authority in the South West.

The local authority in question has just had its Organisation Inspection report for 2009 – the Government’s performance audit for local authorities.

Facing challenging times, the council’s report was heavily critical of performance for the year, giving the lowest possible ratings in almost all areas – Managing Finances, Managing Resources and Governing the Business.

The one area where it received praise was for Managing Performance – and the web marketing project we helped create for them was singled out as an important reason for this.

The report stated: “supporting people and businesses through the recession is one of the Council’s goals and it does well at this. Its new website contains useful local information, promotes business events and shows commercial properties which are available to rent.”

It is gratifying to see our work with the council in helping them support business has been recognised – and the council’s willingness to engage in business support through the web, backed by a coherent strategy, is delivering benefits not just for the council but most importantly for the businesses it supports.

Results-driven means that when we work with a client we establish measurable goals and then drive their web strategy to meet those goals. In this case, we’re delighted to see those results measured, and approved, by rigorous third-party inspection.

Don’t be the first loser in SEO

There’s an old sporting saying (probably by an Australian!) that coming second makes you the first loser.

In the race to the top of the search engines, though, this isn’t always the case – in fact SEO is one of those areas where it really is more about how you play the game than where you finish (well, almost).

This was illustrated recently by SEO update meetings with a couple of clients. Both were very pleased with how their SEO work was going, but both also picked up on the fact that for one of their main keywords they “only” appeared as the second search result in Google.

The fact that in both cases it was their major offline competitor that occupied that precious place above them certainly didn’t help.

But in both cases we looked together at the competitor pages which had pipped their landing-page to the post, and drew the same conclusions.

In our clients’ cases, the sites had carefully optimised landing pages indexed at number 2, so potential customers got straight to the products they were looking for when they made their Google search with minimal fuss. They were also able to action their searches immediately – adding to basket or making an inquiry, key goals for the page.

In the case of the competitor pages it was clear that all their SEO efforts had gone into a single, catch-all page. The pages were full of text – not keyword stuffing, but dense, user-unfriendly text nonetheless. There was no immediate way to find the product you had Googled and after making an intelligent search in Google (whose interface users understand) you were then being asked to make another search using an interface with which you were not familiar.

Cue the back button.

It reminded me (and helped soothe the clients) that too often people see SEO simply in terms of rank. Yes, you want to be in the top few results, and ideally first. But successful SEO is not about being found, it’s about being used.

If 1000 people find you because you are top of Google but only 2 people use you, that’s bad SEO. If 400 people find you because you are the 7th result on Google but 200 of those use you, that is good SEO.

In the case of our clients’ competitors, they had “bought” position one at the cost of probably putting off a large percentage of potential customers. That’s not a price worth paying – position without conversion is simply poor SEO.

Optimising your site, creating compelling copy, making life easy for your users, focussing on conversion, writing good description text that makes people want to click through – these are all every bit as much a part of SEO as link-building, page rank and position.

In SEO, it’s not about being first – it’s about being the first winner.

Google cans Local Listing spam

Google appears to have taken on board complaints from business and ethical SEOers alike about the blatant spamming of its Local Listing facility.

While Google has been pretty tough on cracking down on black-hat SEO techniques like keyword stuffing in its traditional search returns (though not tough enough, but that’s another story), the Local Listings have been a haven for dodgy practices of all sorts.

Now Google has released its updated Business Listing Quality Guidelines, setting out the new rules on techniques such as name spamming (creating multiple business names for the same company), location spam (doing the same with locations) and services spam.

Key guidelines designed to tackle these techniques include:

  • Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website.
  • Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business into the business name.
  • Do not include phone numbers or URLs in the business name.
  • Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist.
  • PO Boxes do not count as physical locations.
  • Businesses that operate in a service area as opposed to a single location should not create a listing for every city they service.

Getting tougher on businesses which try to manipulate local listings results will help ethical SEO companies and businesses compete on a more even playing field – and those that have spent their money on getting listed in this way are hopefully about to see the rug pulled from under their “investment”.

More importantly it should help users get the most accurate search results for businesses they are looking for, which is what it is really all about. We’ll watch with interest.

How social media is helping charities

We’ve been talking to a number of charities and not-for-profit organisations recently about using social media to help raise awareness – and more importantly funds.

Social media – done well – is a highly effective marketing and communication tool, and for charities, perhaps more so than for most.

What’s the big appeal for charities? Well, it ticks the following boxes:

  • It can be done by volunteers (with guidance)
  • It doesn’t have to take much time
  • It requires sign-up so your message is going out to people who already buy into your aims
  • It creates engagement and discussion among supporters – helping to highlight issues
  • It’s a cost-effective way of co-ordinating and informing volunteers, fundraisers etc
  • It can generate real-time calls to action

Where it’s done well, it can generate immediate and significant rewards. We’ve mentioned elsewhere how well we feel the National Trust uses Twitter.

By using it regularly to provide useful information to followers, they have built up a significant – and loyal – enough following to enable them to use Twitter as a powerful fundraising tool.

Following the recent floods in Cumbria, a number of National Trust properties in the region were badly damaged. On the same day that the damage was being assessed, the National Trust used Twitter to launch an appeal for funds to help repair the damage.

Within just a few hours, several thousand pounds had been donated solely by their followers on Twitter.

Not all charities have the same reach as the National Trust, but all can use this as an example of how to use Twitter (and other social media) effectively.

If you give (a useful and informative social media service) then you will receive (donations and support from your followers).