Category Archives for "Website Design"

Blog Post Content

Last Thursday I described my approach to producing blog posts day after day.  This week is about post content.  Everyone approach is different but they will all have some combination of planned and spontaneous posts.

With planned posts you have a theme, divide it into bite sized chunks and follow it, usually publishing at a particular time each day or each week.  With spontaneous posts you are on the lookout for suitable content and post about it as it become available.

Currently, I plan posts each day Monday to Thursday and prepare spontaneous posts on Fridays. (OK they’re not as spontaneous as some people’s posts but I write them in the same week!)  There is no reason I can’t produce spontaneous posts at any time but time constraints mean I find it easier to stay with my established pattern.

I find content through reading and visiting sites online. I draw on experience as a development worker and website designer. It then depends on how it all comes together.

Sometimes I plan a sequence, about conversations for example, that evolves in my mind. I sketch out several emails and drop the sketch into a word processor. This means I know where it is. Every post in that sequence is in the same file.

For this sequence about working with a consultant, I used an e-book as a guide. The authors write about how to design a site yourself. I developed a variation on the theme and with a few exceptions have followed their structure. My purpose and content is very different from theirs. They provide detailed instructions, whereas I am more concerned about what you need to know to work with your designer.

I find that once I start writing, the content flows and often surprises me. I know more than I know I know! Often I find I leave my plan because I realise I need an extra post. Maybe a post turns out to be too long and so I need to split it. Or else I realise my original plan did not allow for the information the reader needs to make sense of the theme.

One challenge I have is how to present the posts in sequence. The blog presents them in reverse order and it is a pain to follow a sequence on a blog. Cornerstone Pages are my solution to this problem.

You may find your blog is not so much sequences as discrete posts serving a variety of purposes. Use categories in your navigation. So, for example, if some posts are about events, you can have an events category in your navigation.  Past events can be archived on your site or removed.

How do you write regular blog posts?  Where do you encounter difficulties?

Preparing Your Blog Posts

With help from your designer or consultant, you’ve set up a WordPress website with blogsocial media, and email list. Now you’re faced with the prospect of maintaining your site.

In this post I’ll write about how I post regularly and in the next about finding content.

You can set things up so that when you post to your blog you automatically post on social media and broadcast to your email list. This saves a lot of time and effort.

Your big challenge is to write the blog posts. They can be scheduled and so it possible to set up several posts in one session to go out over a few days.

The way I do it requires a kitchen timer. You can purchase one from a £1 shop and the batteries last for a very long time. Set it to 50 minutes. Switch off phones, email and other distractions, eg cats, dogs, babies, etc and write. Don’t worry about details just get your thoughts down.

If you finish one post, go straight on to the next. Over a few days, if you do this every day you can accumulate a lot of posts. I post on a different category each day and so I usually write several posts within one category during a single session. This way I can think within one theme without too many distractions.

I use a word processor. The next step is a few days before posting, usually the week before, I paste the post into WordPress and carry out my first major review. As well as proof-reading, cutting out rubbish (where does that come from?) and checking for accuracy, I also add in links and other formatting.

I assign categories and tags, and write the meta description. I also set the date and time for the post but I don’t schedule it. Once I’m happy with it, I leave it for a few days.

Usually on the day before I post I read through for the last time for a final polish. I find reading a few days apart is helpful because I take a more balanced view of the writing. Some people may want a more direct and less polished effect. That’s fine if it works for you.

How do you prepare your posts?

Setting Up your Post-Sign-Up Email System

Last Thursday I described how to encourage site visitors to sign up to your email list. This week I shall describe, your post-sign-up email system, the things you need to prepare once they have signed up.

Confirmation Page

So, someone enters their email address into a form on your webpage. The confirmed opt-in email will appear in their inbox. This might take a few minutes. What should happen is when they press the button, they jump to a confirmation page. You give your email provider the address of the confirmation page. It should not appear in your site’s navigation.

What do you put on it?

  • Thank them for signing up.
  • Explain they should receive an email requesting them to confirm they wish to be on your email list. Ask them to track it down and follow the link.
  • If they can’t find the confirmation email, ask them to check their spam folder and explain some spam systems are very sensitive. If they want to receive your emails the best way to stop them going to the spam folder is to add your email address to their contacts list.
  • If you’ve offered them an ebook or a video or whatever, remind them what they’re going to get and tell them it is on the page they reach by clicking the link in the email!

Write the confirmation email

Most email service providers write this for you  but you may want to personalise it. Remind them they need to add your address (in the “From” panel at the top of the email) to their contacts list so that emails are not diverted to their spam folder.

Final Confirmation Page

This will feature whatever you have promised in return for signing up. If you have promised an email sequence or something that will arrive later, you will need to explain what will happen on this page.

Don’t forget to remind them of the long-term benefits of remaining on your list and the consequent disadvantage of unsubscribing.

The types of long-term benefits you might offer include

  • regular updates when you add posts to your blog – if you post most days it may be best to promise a weekly summary email and not an email every time you post. If you post occasionally, an immediate email should be acceptable.
  • A newsletter. This may be an issue for membership organisations that send newsletters to their paid-up members. Whilst you will want substantial benefits for paying members, you also want to build relationships with prospective members.  Working out who gets what is an example of the challenge to your established ways of doing things through the Internet. You could issue a shorter version that summarising the members’ newsletter. Or members might get advance notice of meetings or special offers.
  • Occasional broadcast emails with the latest news. So, if your organisation organises events, you may promise subscribers will receive advance notice.
  • Downloads of pdf, video or audio files.

Connect your blog to your email service

Your email service provider will provide instructions about how to do this. You can set it up to send an email every time you post or else you can send summaries once a week or at whatever frequency you like.

Setting Up your Pre-Sign-up Email System

Once you have signed up to an email service, they guide you through the steps you need to take. Rather than duplicating their guidelines, here are few things to consider for your pre-sign-up email system.

Confirmed opt-in

This practice is standard for most email services. Sometimes wrongly called “double opt-in”, confirmed opt-in is when someone enters their email address, they receive an email asking them to confirm their application to be on your list.

This has a several advantages.

  • It is an anti-spam device. If someone adds your email address to a list, you receive an email with a link. Click the link to confirm you want to be on the list. To decline the request for any reason, ignore the confirmation email.
  • If it is your list, the advantage is people will confirm if they are really interested, which means you have a list more likely to respond positively to your emails.
  • Some people may want to download your offer but are not really interested and they have a special email address they use for these services. It goes to an inbox they rarely if ever check. Confirmed opt-in is likely to weed out addresses of this type.

Your sign-up form

Most email services offer a form design service. You design the form on their site and upload it to your website. Alternatively, design your own form and attach the email service to it. Both methods are straightforward.

The Main Things to Consider

  • What information do you need when someone signs up? The best advice is keep it minimal. You can ask for more information if someone on your list becomes more active. Some people say they get the best results when they ask for email address only. It is worth considering whether you also ask for first name. You can add their first name to an email to make it more personal. I think anyone who isn’t prepared to offer a first name is probably not that interested in your offer and so I don’t think you miss much by asking for it. One word of warning though, if you ask for first names do not include them in the subject line of your emails. Two reasons: (1) it looks tacky, and (2) some people put coded names so that they can identify who has sent the email.
  • The text on your form. You need to think about (1) a reminder about what you are offering in return for the email address, (2) reassurance that it will not be passed on to third parties, and (3) something on the button that says more than “Submit” (a really dreadful word that implies some sort of online wrestling match).
  • Where you put the form. The two main options (and you can use both) are (1) in a sidebar or (2) on a landing page. For the latter remember you need a good title, minimal text and no videos. If a video is involved, you can use an image on the page and insist visitors sign up to see it. This type of landing page (sometimes called a squeeze page) must have no distractions, ie things like navigation. The visitor either signs up or goes away. Landing pages can be targeted from social media, so if you have a new video, send a link to the landing page from social media.

Follow-Up

Email services do vary in terms of the support they offer.  If you use WordPress you have a number of plug-ins to choose from that offer support in addition to your email service.  I can write about all this in more detail on request.

How do you link your site to email services?

Set Up Your Email List

Last Thursday I introduced email list management.  To set up your email list, it’s to use an email list service because they:

  • are reliable
  • don’t run into issues about spamming when mailing large numbers of people
  • help you manage your lists
  • make sure you operate within the law and best practice.

They charge for their services but given your list is likely to be your most valuable asset, this is money well spent.

A Point about Terminology

If you are running a complex organisation, you will have more than one list. For example, you may have a prospects’ list that records people who sign up from your website. If one of them makes a purchase, you can programme your site to take them off the prospects’ list and add them to your buyers’ list. Also you may have members and various committees, all with their own lists. For simplicity, when I use the word ‘list’ I mean the total of all the lists you have with your email service within the one account. If I want to distinguish between lists within an account I shall refer to the list by name, eg prospects’ list.

Choosing a Provider

There are several email service providers. The two most common used MailChimp and Aweber. There are high-end providers, such as Infusionsoft that provide a complete business service. These are more expensive.

MailChimp is popular among small voluntary organisations because it provides a free service. Aweber does not provide a free service and may be slightly cheaper once MailChimp starts charging. Some people think they offer a better service. I don’t think there’s much in it.

MailChimp’s Free Service

If you opt for MailChimp’s free service remember it is, apparently, quite difficult to change provider. I know people who’ve done it, so it is not impossible. However, you may want to consider where your organisation is heading when you make this first decision.

The free offer is up to 2000 email addresses. So, if you have multiple lists and some addresses appear on more than one list, then they will count to the 2000 total more than once. You can send up to 12 000 emails a month. So, if you have 2000 on your list, you can send 6 emails per month.

If you exceed these targets, they start to bill you. So, if you’re happy to pay once you exceed the target, there’s nothing to worry about. Most small organisations find they can operate quite happily within these constraints and do so for years.

The big drawback is you can’t send email sequences. If you want to send sequences, then you pay for your membership whatever number of emails you have on your list. You can upgrade at any time, so if you don’t want to send sequences immediately, you can sign up for the free service and upgrade later. However, if you’re going to start with a paid service it may be worth comparing prices with other providers.

Using Your Email Service

Most email services offer the following services. You will need to check out which services you must pay for with any given provider.

  • List management
  • Advice and guidance about email legal obligations and courtesy
  • Sending broadcast emails, where you write an email and send it to everyone on your list.
  • Email sequences, where you can schedule several emails to go out over a several days, once someone signs up to your list
  • You can schedule emails to go out when you post to your blog. This can happen each time you post or a number can be saved and sent in one email.
  • There are usually email templates. I’m not convinced these are particularly useful.
  • You can design forms for your website so that people can sign up to your list. The services can also receive emails from forms set up from other sources.
  • Help to get started and you can ask for help when you get stuck.

If you’re undecided between two providers, try to find out more about the quality of their support services. If they run a good responsive support service the chances are they provide an all-round good service.

Do you have experience of using these services? What advantages have you found?

Managing Your Email Lists

Social media has value but an email list is a better way to grow support for your website.  What is an email list?

If you run any kind of organisation, the chances are you will have one or more lists. You may have distribution lists in your email account for various committees and meetings. To call a meeting, distribute minutes or circulate information, you simply call up the distribution list and away you go.

They can be very powerful. So, let’s assume you have one organisation that runs several meetings, with distribution lists for each meeting. Some people will appear on more than one list. Sometimes you may find that joining one group means, they need to receive emails from several groups. And of course, when they leave they need to be removed from all the groups. Perhaps you are familiar with the problem; keeping lists up to date can be a real drag.

Where do You Keep Your Lists?

Distribution lists can be stored by your email account manager or you can keep lists in a spreadsheet such as Excel or you can add a database to your website and keep your lists there.

The latter is a popular option. Some database plug-ins on WordPress, for example, have a lot of functionality. However, they have certain disadvantages, when it comes to sending emails:

  • They are not always reliable
  • If your list grows to hundreds of members the chances are your host will object to sending hundreds of emails from your site. They will suspect you of spamming.
  • These emails do not necessarily follow best practice for bulk emails. There are many examples of good practice, some reinforced by law (depending on where you’re based), eg using an unsubscribe facility, displaying your postal address, adding people to the list with their permission.

So, the best option is to use an email list service and I’ll write about them next time.  You can find details of other posts in this series on the page about website design.

What issues have you met using email lists?

Linking your Website to Social Media

This sequence about guiding your web designer or consultant as they set up your website, aims is to help you identify the issues you may encounter as you develop your site together.  (All the posts about building a WordPress site can be found in the CMS category.)

There is a lot you can do on your own. You will have asked for help because you’re not technically minded, or you want help from someone more skilled than you are or else you simply don’t have the time. Whatever the reason, you need to understand what is going on.

Social media may be one area where you feel you don’t need a lot of help. Indeed you may have already set up a Facebook page, for example, and used it to test your market. Some businesses seem to use social media and don’t bother with a website.  This is not an approach I recommend.

Alternatively, you may be bewildered by social media.  I think it is an age thing and as an older person, I find I don’t have an instinct for social media.  I suppose having lived most of my life without it, it is harder to add it into the natural rhythms of my life.

On balance my view is social media has its uses but there are limits.  Whether you are a natural user or struggle with it, you do need to understand its limitations.

So, let’s start with the disadvantages of social media. They explain why I would always have a website. I’ll then go on to the advantages of evolving a social media strategy with your website at the centre.

  • Never forget that social media are proprietary applications. They may be free to use but you pay in various subtle ways. This is not necessarily a disadvantage, once you understand how each social media application works, you can make informed decisions about whether and how you use it. The owners of social media are under no obligation to provide consistency of service. They can withdraw a service and material you have accumulated may be lost. Whatever you and your followers or friends put on the site belongs to the site owners; they can use your material in various ways, eg for advertising. You take part with their permission and they have the power to remove you from the site should you misbehave.
  • Their rules about what you display can seem arbitrary. I’m currently building a Facebook business page and I find their rules arbitrary.  I don’t understand why they cannot be more flexible.  So, I must display a postal address, which is not very helpful to me but there is no way I can display my website address with the same prominence as my postal address.  I can understand why people might want to know where to find me.  Whilst they may find the postal address reassuring, not many people are going to use it.  A web address would be used by more people, which is probably why Facebook doesn’t want to display it directly, because it will tend to take visitors away from the site.
  • Whilst data security and privacy is much improved, your material is no longer yours. The site owners use the data you add to their site in various ways, eg for advertising. Once you understand this it is not normally a major disadvantage but it seems reckless to build a business on data controlled by someone else.

So, what are the advantages?

  • First and foremost, social media can drive traffic to your website. You can arrange to feed your blog posts directly to your social media sites. If someone clicks on the link to read your post, it takes them to your site. They may like a post on Facebook or follow you on Twitter but the most valuable thing is if they sign up to your email list on your site. Once they have done this you can build a relationship with them.
  • Some social media can offer you valuable services, eg YouTube is brilliant if you have videos. You might not want to use YouTube for every video, eg you might sell access to some of them, but for videos you use to publicise your site, YouTube is the place to keep them. Not only is it an excellent platform for videos, if you look after your account it can be very effective driving traffic to your site.
  • Advertising is a growing area and by all accounts can be very successful. Until a year or so ago, most online advertising took place via Google Adwords. Facebook has been very successful because it can offer a targeted audience. Adwords uses the search term to target ads, whilst Facebook allows you to describe your target audience, using data provided by Facebook members. I would sound a note of caution here. If you are interested, find out about best practice before you start advertising and generally it is best to build an organic following before you pay for advertising. This is something to discuss with your web consultant.

So, what has been your experience? How have you used social media successfully?

Next time, I shall show you a better way!

Using Email with Your Website

By now (if you’re following this sequence starting here) you should have a very basic usable website, as the foundation for your online business or project.  The chances are you have had an email address for years and so won’t need to set one up.  However, if you don’t have an email address, now is the time to register.

Hang on though if you think this post is not for you!  There are a few things to consider even if you have an email address already.  How many addresses do you need?  It might be a good idea, especially if this is a new project, to consider an alternative address for your project or business.  This will mean you can separate personal from business emails.  For example, you can have specialised email signatures for each type of email.

Also you may find you need an additional address because paid-for addresses have more authority than free addresses.  If your email address is part of the package you receive from your Internet Service Provider, or web host, this has more authority than an address from a free site, such as gmail or outlook.  Free and premium addresses have different uses.

You may find, if you use an email service, they will query a free email address.  Their advice is likely to reduce the chances of your emails being treated as spam and increase recipients’ confidence in your emails, where they don’t know you personally.  So, it is worth considering a paid-for address.  Hunt around, you’re likely to be paying for several addresses you don’t use!

If you enter your email account and find settings or similar, you can set up an automatic signature for your email.  You can add a lot of information to your signature.

The free addresses are fine for personal emails, where your recipients know you and they can have other uses.  Many websites have email sign up services (and I’ll be writing about them soon).  Why not use a free address for these?  This means your main email account will be free of a lot of clutter.  Many of these services are helpful but they can get out of hand.  This is a simple way to manage them.

Have you other uses for additional email accounts?

Using your Blog

A few Thursdays ago I posted about the site structure and the pages you need to start your website.  Today, I shall write about using your blog posts.

If you have a blog, you will find a page somewhere on the site that lists your blog posts.  Many themes default blog posts to the home page, but they don’t have to be there.

The blog adds posts to the list at the top, so the posts are older as you scroll down the post page.  If you click on the title of a post, you go to a new page with just that post and nothing else.  This page has a unique url, which means you can link directly to it.

Creating a post is similar to creating a page and if you are familiar with word processing, you should not have too much trouble.

However, you might object you do not want a blog.  You may have heard you should post every day and you really don’t want to take on all that work.

Do you need the blog for your business or project?  Your online presence is not what it would have been a few years ago.  Today, your site needs to be active and to be seen to be active.  A blog is one way of bringing activity to your site; I’ll write about others in future posts in this sequence.  If you choose to do something other than blogging, that’s fine but don’t use the work involved as a reason not to do it.  If you haven’t got the time, why be online at all?

So, how can you use your blog?  Blogs are personal records and there are some advantages to sharing  personal experience.  Equally, blogs can be for teaching and if you want to be taken seriously online, this is something you should consider.

Blog posts do not have to be learned in tone or terribly long.  A brief post that makes an informative point is all you need.  Posting regularly helps you become established online but it is not essential.

Some Ways to Use Your Blog

  • Simply, write about your business or specialty.  Be informative and offer your best information.  This will in time establish you as an expert in your subject area.
  • You can publicise events on your blog.  Set up a category called “Events”.  You can add that category to your navigation, so that “Events” appears in your main navigation bar.  For a new event, simply add the details to a post and add it to the “Events” category.  Visitors can see at a glance what is going on.  If you set up another category, “Archive”, you can add it as a drop-down under “Events” in your menu bar.  Simply move an expired event from “Events” to “Archive”.  Visitors can see what you’ve been doing.  You can of course add photos or videos to your archive.  This is neater than simply adding events to a page and easier to navigate.
  • Let’s say your website features several groups or you want to list partner organisations.  You can assign these to categories in a similar way to events.  In WordPress there are plug-ins that help you organise this type of information on the page.
  • You can set up your blog so that each new post is automatically communicated to your social media.  (More about social media later in this sequence.)  So, you can use your posts to publicise your website and your work.

So, blogs are one way of organising the information you want to share on your site.  Your designer / consultant can help you work out the best way to use your blog.

Have you any examples of creative ways of using blogs?

Adding Navigation to Your Website

The navigation available to you depends upon your chosen theme.  Most themes have primary navigation towards the top of the page or else in a sidebar.  Secondary navigation may be in drop-down menus, in a second menu that appears below the first when you select a page in the primary menu or elsewhere on the page, usually in a sidebar.  Once you’ve chosen your theme you don’t have to use all the available menus but it’s sometimes difficult to add more navigation options.

Some themes provide additional navigation, eg they showcase (usually 3) key pages on the home page.  If you have a few major issues, products or services, this may help visitors navigate the site.

Last time, I mentioned the type of wireframe that can show relationships between pages on your site, your designer uses it to plan your navigation.  You need to decide which pages are in primary and which in secondary navigation.

As your site grows, you can add to navigation, although if the site becomes very large you may have to re-think your site structure.  A designer or consultant will be able to help you do this.

Setting Up a Menu

If you click in “Appearance” in wp-admin and then on menus, you can see how to build and edit menus.  You can

  • create new menus
  • add and remove items from them and add or remove secondary or even tertiary items (you can go beyond this but really?)
  • assign menus to the various locations available in your theme.

Make sure the words in the tabs are clear both in terms of meaning and appearance.  Contrast should be good in the following modes.

  • Unvisited – the pages you are not on should all be in the same font, colour, etc and be easy to read.
  • Hover – the word should intensify in some way when the user hovers over it.  A good way is to reverse text and background, so black text on white background becomes white text on black background
  • Active – this was important when machines were slower but these days is rarely noticeable; a colour change appears when you click the link and before the new page comes up.
  • Visited – behaves in different ways.  Sometimes this colour change applies when you’re on the page, so that you can look at the navigation and tell where you are.  For links in the text, the colour change can persist so you can see which links you’ve visited.

You need to check all this out with your designer / consultant.  What additional aids to navigation do you like to see on a site?