Category Archives for "Content"

Using Your Niche Statement

A client, a voluntary organisation, raised a concern about marketing during their session this week.  Having a clear niche statement about what you are about, a proposition or elevator pitch, doesn’t it conceal information from prospective members or supporters?  I suppose the fear is without the detail, inquirers might feel they have somehow been fooled.

Obviously, it depends on how you handle things.  Marketing is not a value free activity and can be used for dishonest purposes.  The best marketing, however, is educational.  If you are seeking allies or genuinely want to offer help with a particular problem, then you need to set out your stall.  Those who use it to exploit make it more difficult for everybody.

Take the analogy of a shop front. You might have a window display with a written statement to encourage people to enter your shop. Once inside maybe 20 out of every 100 will make a purchase.  I haven’t chosen 20 for any particular reason.  It may be many more in some shops and a lot less when considering, for example, visitors to websites.

Shop Window

These 20 would not have entered the shop had they not seen what’s in the window. They don’t see everything you offer just enough to engage their interest.  You need the other 80 visitors because you don’t know which of the 100 will make a purchase until they enter the shop.

Of the 80, some

  • May return and make a purchase at a later date
  • May pass on the message to others who are interested
  • Satisfy their curiosity but decide it is not for them
  • Be actively disappointed by your offer

Your Website

The same dynamic applies online. Your website home page or social media presence act as a shop front. Other pages on the website explain and educate and make offers. Online the numbers may be somewhat more adverse. Maybe only a few percent will make a purchase or sign up to your email list. These conversions are what you want to increase. Those who sign up are equivalent to those visitors who make a later purchase or refer friends to your shop.

The aim online is to engage interest through your home page or social media, for example, and then draw those who are interested into your site where you can provide more information.  This extra information is important. This morning I looked at a site where I am likely to make a purchase.  I have so far not used their offer because their site lacks the detailed information I need to decide.

It is not easy to provide all the information visitors needs a format that is accessible and usable.  It’s best to make a start and then gradually make improvements as you receive feedback or gain fresh insights.  But you won’t get feedback until people visit your site and so there is no need to fear attracting them with clear statements about what your site is about.  Those who are interested will visit and some of them may stick around.

How to Use Testimonials

What can you do with material collected through interviews?


The big advantage of testimonials is their language. Even with our best efforts websites can feel artificial or stilted because of the language we use.

Many sites use jargon that distances them from potential users. In general, people seem to respond best to language as close as possible to the language they use.

There are some issues. A recent client wanted a static website. The term “static website” normally means a site lacking dynamic content. Such a site when regularly updated, doesn’t have anything on it that enables visitors to influence its content. My client means a site that requires no work, with content that never changes.

Leaving aside whether an unchanging website has any real purpose (they do exist and can have a purpose under certain circumstances) the problem is if I use this language on my site, it would be misleading. As it happens unchanging websites do not interest me; so the chances are I would not present this particular idea on my site. But it illustrates the issues you might face using your interviewees’ language.

Positive and Negative copy

Substantial positive copy is of great value and one goal of testimonials. Positive copy is most effective when attributed.

However, negative copy can be of value. Whether you attribute negative copy depends upon context but you can use it to, for example, respond to objections to your service.

Treat negative copy as a request for an enhanced service. So, you will be able to say something like: “several past clients have commented that they’d like a particular service and so in response I’ve started this new thing”.

The value of the interview is whether comments are positive or negative, you are more likely to get a deeper understanding of why the interviewee thinks the way they do. This can be immensely valuable.

Generally it is difficult to get anyone to say anything about your service. A negative comments are valuable; use them, so long as they are constructive. “Your website’s rubbish” is not helpful. But a comment that explains why the website is rubbish may be helpful. The fact that someone took the time to comment suggests they value what you’re trying to do and want to help you improve it. You may have invested hours of work in your site and prone to be defensive but a positive and appreciative response to the comment is better.

How to Incorporate Testimonials into Your Website

Testimonials can be used on your website and the question is how they can be best deployed.


The first question is whether to attribute testimonials. There are a variety of options depending upon context. Broadly, testimonials can be attributed only with permission. If someone sends you a testimonial on request, then attribute it. If they send you something you haven’t asked for you will need to permission to attribute it.

An attribution is something that can in principle be tracked down. If I say John said something, it is not really an attribution even if John is the name of the person who said it. I suppose someone might work out who John is but it’s not very likely and they wouldn’t have proof.

If someone is willing they may also feature a photo or video their views.

An attributed testimonial carries more weight. They are evidence of the value of your work.

However unattributed testimonials have value. You could say here are some quotes from past clients. This is not as effective as attributed quotes. You could use them with negative comments. For example I might say: “One of my clients said …” and then a negative comment. I would then respond to the comment.

The client might not want to be attributed for a negative comment (it would be more convincing if they are) but that it is negative carries some weight. It shows you respond positively to negative comments.

It is not necessary to say something on your page is feedback. You may find that comments can be incorporated seamlessly into your copy. They may enable you to write in language your customers use and appreciate. If, for example, you receive comments from a client, it might be inappropriate to quote them on your own website but they can still influence the copy on your site.

Where to put them!

Do not place testimonials on a page by themselves. No-one will read them. You could put them in a sidebar but it is better to integrate them into your copy. So, if you are explaining about your coaching offer, quote from a customer.

How have you used testimonials creatively to enhance the copy on your site?

How to Collect Testimonials

Last time I explored sources of testimonials and today I’ll look at the practicalities of one source: the interview.

Why Interviews?

There are many potential sources for testimonials but interviews are particularly helpful for two reasons:

  1. The interviewee can talk fully about their experience in their own words.
  2. It can take about 20 minutes for them to become confident enough to speak their mind in real depth. Most other testimonial sources, eg written statements, tend to harvest superficial thoughts. This is the nature of the media, rather than the intentions of the interviewee.

Who should you interview?

There are two possible answers to this question. Obviously one is people who have been or still are your clients. They will have appreciated some of your contributions and may be unhappy about others. Their experience can be invaluable to you as you design your service.

But there are also people who have not been your clients. Perhaps people you know who have sufficient experience to articulate relevant issues they have met.

How to interview

Here are a few things you need to agree beforehand.

  • Where to meet; either a face-to-face meeting or by telephone.
  • That the interview shall be recorded.
  • It shall take 20 – 30 minutes.
  • You will prepare a transcript and share it with the interviewee.
  • You will agree the material you may use and whether and how it shall be attributed.
  • Ask if you may take a photograph.

If you record the interview you don’t need to concentrate on writing things down. This means you are likely to capture a lot more. Don’t forget to test everything is working before you start.

Prepare your questions beforehand. Don’t have too many and allow people space to expand on their answers.

There are three possible applications for the material you collect.

    1. Use and attribute material, using the interviewee’s name and organisation (the precise nature of the attribution should be agreed) and it can include a photo. Video and audio are also possibilities.
    2. Non-attributed material may be where there are sensitivities. However, it is inevitable you will weave your feedback into your website. I’ll expand upon this next time.
    3. You will never use it in any form either because it is not suitable or the interviewee asks for it not to be used. The latter should be rare because it would only apply to something very specific that could be traced without attribution.

Sources of Testimonials

In this, the first of a short series about testimonials, I shall describe sources of testimonials. All these sources have value and drawbacks.

  • As you build a regular readership, blog comments can can be an excellent source of feedback. I’ve found it difficult to do this. There are a number of barriers. Relevance of the blog is obviously a reason but the blog also has to be found and there needs to be a relationship between the author and readers. This is normally built up over time.  (Whilst occasionally someone starts a thread and the word spreads rapidly, most people report a steady growth as their blog becomes established.)  There may be issues about confidence with the technology, can people work out how to comment?  And do visitors have time to devote to reading and commenting? Comments once established make a massive difference to a blog, if only because the blog author can respond to them.
  • Blog posts – may seem to be an odd thing to include. However, it is possible to run blogs with a team who can converse with one another. Another possibility is guest posts, allowing friends or critics space to develop their ideas.
  • It is easy to underestimate emails – they can be an effective way to hold conversations. The technology is better known than blog comments and so emails may encourage more responses. There are three main types of email: broadcasts, sequences and RSS feeds. All of these go to your email list and recipients simply hit reply to make their comment. The disadvantage over blog comments is replies to emails are shared only with the author. If an interesting conversation takes place, the author can report it on their blog or the email can contain a link to a website page with a comments facility.
  • Social media – permits followers, friends, etc to comment in various ways. The advantage is that with any application you are likely to be talking to a group distinct from those on your website or in any other social media application. The task is to build a lasting relationship with some of these people and encourage them to read your blog or visit your site.
  • Questionnaires – can be circulated to people on your email list. If you have a url for the questionnaire then it can be made available to social media followers as well. For testimonials you really want discursive answers and not tick-boxes. So, you need a few stimulating questions.
  • Requests – you can of course simply ask people for testimonials. There are disadvantages as many people need help to respond constructively. A questionnaire or proforma might help but capturing what they really see as a priority may be difficult if they follow a set format.
  • Interviews – may be a better way to draw out the real issues. This is the theme I shall follow-up in more detail next time.

How have you gathered helpful information from followers online?

If you enjoyed this post, you can sign up to my email list at the top of the right-hand column. You will receive a weekly summary of my posts, an email sequence about community development and occasional emails about community development online.

Using Testimonials

Last Tuesday, I wrote about two essentials for your avatar. Your avatar’s main weakness is it is still your invention. If you’re not tuned into your visitors the chances are copy addressed to your avatar still won’t sound right.  You can solve this problem using testimonials.

The aim of testimonials or feedback is for people to write your website for you so your site will speak to other people like them. Their words can inform your avatar and so improve your copy. It is OK to base your avatar on real people because you don’t share your avatar online and it evolves as you hear what people say.

Over the next few weeks, I shall explore some aspects of building your site with the words of others.

Here are the topics:

  • Sources of testimonials – how to be proactive identifying clients and others who know your work.
  • How to collect testimonials – you have several options taking notes, audio or video recordings.  You need to get material you need for your site.
  • How to use testimonials – how to deploy the material you collect to speak to your market.
  • How to present them on your website – there are several options and some are better than others.

A small group will soon be producing a testimonial blueprint or report. This project has inspired these posts and I shall interpret their work for voluntary organisations as well as try out some of their ideas on my site.

How do you use testimonials on your site?

Two Essentials for Your Avatar

Last Tuesday I wrote about the market as people engaged in many activities. The marketplace is not solely or even mainly buying and selling. Maybe online marketing would give you that impression but look closer at what is happening.

Online marketers are right. A website that doesn’t sell is a waste of time. But what does it mean to sell? The early retail co-ops not only sold quality food but also education, campaigning against adulteration of food and financial support for families. These co-ops were social institutions first and that is why they succeeded.

Buying and selling is about building relationships and so is everything else worth doing online, just as in real life. Without building relationships, nothing will sell. So, if your website is in support of a cause or educational, you still need to build those essential relationships.  Without them no-one will visit your site or rate it as worth a visit.

I have written about avatars and how to develop at least one avatar for your business or cause. Your avatar is a typical customer. The idea is if you address your avatar when you write for your website, your customers will respond positively to your message. The aim is to get away from jargon and to reach your audience through the words they use.

Your avatar helps and the more detailed and real it is in your mind the better. However, there are two things all avatars should have in common.


They must be able to respond to your offer. So, if you’re selling something for £500 your avatar must have at least £500 disposable income. Money is the most obvious but there are other ways in which an avatar may need capacity, for example:

  • Where do they live and how far are they likely to travel to your events? If you offer accommodation, are they more likely to attend?
  • Do they have time to attend your event?
  • Do they understand your offer? Your avatar might lead you to simplify your content.
  • If you want them to write a letter, do they have the information they need?


The second thing they must have is a positive view of your offer. You are not delivering a website for people who disagree with you. They might visit but they are not likely to respond positively. If they do respond positively it will be because your site is particularly persuasive and that will be because you have made the case to your positively inclined avatar.

However, your avatar need not know anything about your offer or even the problem your offer addresses. If your avatar is a middle-aged employed woman and a socialist, you might be able to persuade her to donate towards a campaign against modern slavery, even if she is ignorant of the facts before she encounters your site. A similar avatar with a more extremist political view, might be less sympathetic.

The point is: run with an avatar who is sympathetic. If you’re building a following for your website, you need to speak to the people who are likely to follow.

Who is Your Market?

Yesterday someone on BBC Radio 4’s “You and Yours” defined a market as small businesses providing a particular product or service. I suspect this is a common mistake. Businesses are evidence of a market but they are not themselves the market.

When we talk of the market as somewhere we visit, we mean the marketplace. Economists when they refer to the market, do not mean a place but rather the people who buy things or potentially buy things.

They are right. It is people who make up the market, not the businesses or the market stalls.

Another problem is how we think of the market. These days the collective noun for the people who take part in the market is “consumers”. This illustrates how the pressures of capitalism have distorted our thinking.

The purpose of the market is not consumption, it is community. We have moved a long way from understanding community as something that grows out of trade. These days we expect community groups to hold everyone together. They are entertainment for a few but can’t compete with the marketplace, the local economy, for building community.  Global interests have wrecked the local economy, leaving many people with no work and no marketplace.

In a world where multinational business extracts money from our pockets and transports it to off-shore tax havens, it is hard to remember or imagine the market as the hub of community life.

The market depends upon trust. Even corrupt practices need trust. If someone is flogging something substandard, I am not likely to buy it twice. I might buy it the first time out of trust, but I will know better in the future.

Traditional markets are places where people meet friends, buy and sell, worship, exchange news, hold courts of law, take a bath, relax …

We have separated buying and selling from the rest of life. Instead of seeing my business as something that enables me to enjoy life, it is normal to work for someone else to finance my debts. The idea of the freedom of the entrepreneur is not readily understood. There are major problems, especially if there are debts to be paid but  many self-employed people’s experience is their place in the market brings them freedom and enjoyment of life.

Your Relationship with Your Subscribers

This is the last in a series of five posts about promoting your website locally.

When people visit your site they will join your email list if they find your site content of  helpful.  So, you need to focus  on your offer to your subscribers.

You can offer additional material through an email sequence, email broadcasts or downloads (perhaps in a password protected part of your site).  Some sites charge and others offer content for free.  Offering free material to subscribers encourages them to join your email list.  This means you can tell them when you add new material to your site.

If visitors can comment then it is worth notifying your email list when there is something new to share.  Other reasons may be you want to recruit visitors to a cause or sell them a product or service.

Good content is also a reason for other sites to link to yours.  If people link their site to yours, this increases its chances of showing up in a search.  Links to pages and blog posts increase the online presence or authority of your site.  As more people visit your site, they are likely to sign up to your list.

Resist the temptation to link back to these sites unless you really want to recommend their content.  Reciprocal links have a mutual advantage as both sites experience increased traffic.  However there are two disadvantages to reciprocal links.  First, search engines ignore them because closely related sites often have this arrangement.  Also, if you have many miscellaneous links for no reason other than misguided politeness your site will become cluttered.

Take a back-link to your site as a complement, by all means acknowledge it and thank the people  who set it up but only return the favour where it will really help.

That completes my suggestions for now about increasing local traffic to your website.  There are more ways than the ones I’ve touched upon and I’ll return to the topic from time to time.  If you have any ideas, do share them in the comments.  This is a fascinating area and it would be good to build up a resource of ideas, especially ones that can be shown to work!

Manage your email list

This is the fourth in a series of five posts about promoting your website locally.

Lots of organisations have email lists and in the community sector they’re often kept in a spreadsheet or distribution list.

This is not sustainable.  As your list grows in size, your Internet Service Provider will think you’re spamming because you’re sending a few hundred emails at once.   Also if you are going to send a lot of emails, recipients should be able to unsubscribe.

So, you need to manage your list!  The big advantage is once you have a list, you can grow your followers.  As people sign up to your site, you alert them to new material as you put it on the site, remind them about events and offer products or services.  This blog has an email service and if you look below, you will see a sign-up form that links directly to an email service.  I don’t need to think about it, as the service does everything for me.  Sign up to see how it works.  You receive a weekly summary of this blog and an email sequence about community development.

You can do this through an email subscription service, where you can manage more than one list, whilst confident you are fulfilling the requirements of the law and etiquette.

Some Email Services

If your organisation has a limited budget there is a good deal with MailChimp.  They allow you can have up to 2000 subscribers free of charge and you can send a maximum of 12 000 emails per month.  However, you can’t sequence your emails with the free offer and once you go over the limits it is marginally more expensive than other similar services.  So, go for this if you expect to stay small and just want to send newsletters and occasional emails.

AWeber charge from the start but they’re a little cheaper than MailChimp and include email sequences from the lowest prices.  This is probably the best service for medium to large lists, particularly if you expect to expand your activities.

Both services provide loads of guidelines about how to get the best out of them.  They generally simplify your lists and so they are worth exploring.

There are other email list services and you might want to check them out before you make a final decision.

Do you use an email service in the voluntary or community sector?  What offers do you make to your subscribers?

Find out What your Followers Want

This is the second of a series of five posts about promoting your website.  It may seem obvious and  few organisations do it.   Find out what your followers want.  We easily convince ourselves that we know what our followers want and it happens to be what we can provide!

Use your email list to invite comments or suggestions, eg to suggest products and services.   If you do this, be sure you sign people up to your list with their consent; if you collect email addresses for some other purpose and then sign them up, they have every reason to be upset.  When you ask for their email address, be clear about what you will do with it.

Finding Followers’ Views in Real Life

In a real-life business, followers can respond either online or in real life.  If they respond in real life, eg through a questionnaire, ask them to leave their email address to join your email list.

So, if you are a baker you might find out which types of loaf are popular, whether they would like recipes or how they would like you to extend your business, eg by adding a coffee shop.

You can ask people to discuss issues outside your business.  So, perhaps a community group wants to canvass opinions in the area.  The baker’s might offer to ask their followers for their views.  In return, the community group might have a list they can contact on the baker’s behalf?

The ground rules are:

  • At the very least acknowledge all serious contributions.  (A questionnaire in the shop may result in a brief report on a leaflet or poster; this could summarise both online and real life responses.)
  • If you pick up an idea, discuss it with the people who suggest it; acknowledge them in some way.
  • Use your list to help other organisations in your area, in return for their support promoting yours.  There is every reason for a local business to be supportive of local activities.

Charging for services is not always necessary; when it is, you can use your email list.  Don’t be afraid of people falling out with you if you make them an offer.  It isn’t compulsory to buy from you and whilst many on your list might not respond, if you build on the trust you’ve already generated, then it might work for you.   Those who are really upset can unsubscribe.

We need to be much more inventive about using online media locally.  The private sector is often distanced from community activities.  Do you have examples of how small businesses have participated in community activities?