Websites Aren’t Just Websites

June 23, 2015

You’ve read this sentence; now four new websites have just gone live in that time. But there’s a context that gets lost when it comes to building websites.

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I’ve seen a lot of websites.

The total amount of websites online now exceeds 1 billion. Probably most people today have seen thousands and thousands of them.

A lot of these websites fail in one key area. An area which is the whole purpose of building and having a website in the first place.

How do you know if a website is any good? Because it gets tons of organic traffic or if the bounce rate is low or if it has a vertical scroll or if it looks real pretty?

Of course not. There’s more to a website. But only one context that makes a difference.

Where websites fail is if they fail to sell.

Vincent Van Gough was a post-impressionist painter. This refers to the type of art that he painted which is connected to a French movement in the 1880s.

He painted around 900 paintings, and 1,100 drawings and sketches.

Yet, he never sold a painting to a gallery. Out of 2,000 pieces of art, neither took off.

After his death, though, things changed. His work began to take off. His work spread like wildfire and was brought by collectors around the world.

Now, Van Gough’s work is worth millions and he is considered among the elite group of artists. His paintings are amongst the most expensive paintings ever sold!

So who decides if paintings are any good? Who’s in charge?

It’s absolutely ludicrous that someone can paint so many paintings, and only get noticed when he is dead. But they are what they are now because of the context of those paintings and the romance around them.

It’s context like this business, brands and websites don’t have.

Romance like this doesn’t exist in business because brands cannot be successful once they cease to exist. They have a very specific context.

Websites are there for a purpose and that purpose is to sell. Your customers and visitors are in charge of this. They are the context. Because if it doesn’t sell, then it is one that is failing.

Of course, websites have to look good.

You’d buy a pretty car over an ugly looking car just like I would. But a car is a product. A website is there as a platform to sell the product. It’s not the product.

A car can be a piece of art, but the website behind it shouldn’t be. Yes, it should have elements of ‘art’ that portray the car and its features in the best light. But its main purpose should be to entice the visitor to come into the showroom and see and feel and test-drive the car. Because that’s where a sale is made.

That’s what a business is there for. Along with its website, which should never be forgotten.

A website is there to inform, promote, educate and entertain. To sell. To convert people that browse to people that are interested. Conversion is sometimes forgotten about and people then design for things other than to promote. This is wrong.

Van Gough was a great painter.

But he was also mentally unstable. He suffered from epilepsy and depression and sadly committed suicide at 37. He created beautiful pieces of art that failed to sell in his market.

A website is not a piece of art.

If you think that websites are just websites – that are pretty and pleasing on the eye – then you’re in trouble.

Monitoring & Positioning

June 12, 2015

In any given market, a brand or business needs to have a firm position. But without monitoring, how can you determine that position?

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America has seen its fair share of Presidents.

George Washington is one of the first names that come to mind because he was the first. Then Barack Obama, because he is the current President.

But can you name the forty-fourth President? Probably not.

Neither could I. That’s not just because I’m British. Most Americans won’t be able to tell you either.

The answer is actually Barack Obama.

But do you know Barack Obama as the forty-fourth President of the United States? Nope.

You know Barack Obama as the first ever black President.

Which is unique. It’s different. That’s a position.

And that’s that’s how you need to be thinking about your brand or business, and how you position yourself in your market.

But you can’t do it alone. You need the help from the most important factor that will come into contact with you.

That’s your customers.

Today’s customer has the power to voice an opinion like never before. The increase in social channels and their zero barriers to entry is giving anyone that has access to the internet a platform to talk.

To say what they want, how they want it, when they want it and where they want it.

When you position yourself in your market you’ll need to consider these factors as they determine whether your venture will be successful or not. If you’re already successful without positioning yourself properly, then the potential is huge.

But positioning yourself isn’t a seminar. It’s not a weekend retreat.

It’s an exercise that takes months and months of research, thinking, planning, and monitoring. And it needs to be done.

That’s how monitoring the market to see what people don’t already have available to them is the first step. Then offering it.

Because then you’ll know that people will react to it because it is different. People love different.

Set yourself up with social monitoring tools Hootsuite and Social Mention. These will tell you exactly what people are talking about on social media networks about pretty much everything. If people have needs, you can find them here.

Next, use all of Google’s free resources. Google Trends will tell you how popular search terms are, whilst Google Alerts will give you an alert every time your keyword is mentioned on the web. Google Adwords can tell you a lot about keywords too.

Also, never be afraid to survey customers, prospects and friends to see what they think. SurveryMonkey is great for this.

If you want to be different, not only do you need to look at your competitors, but you need to look at your customers.

That’s why a smart brand is a listener of the market. A listener for opportunities.

Sure Barack Obama didn’t choose to be black. As a kid, he didn’t just decide he was going to become President one day. He didn’t choose it to be this way.

Things happen that we cannot control.

That’s in life, and in business.

But if you know how people and customers think, and how they react to things, then you can make much more of an impact. You can tailor everything to them.

If you can position yourself as totally unique, and offer what your customers what, then you’ll make a much greater impact.

That’s with everything you do.

Position yourself where everyone you want to see you, can see you.

The State of Play

May 26, 2015

Is your customer experience up to scratch? New figures might suggest otherwise. 

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The internet poses as many opportunities as it does restrictions.

As much as online shopping and browsing are both speedy and convenient, they can also be frustrating and difficult.

The internet is as much a platform as it is a barrier.

Roughly 6 months ago I talked about The Business of an Online Business. It’s worth checking out if you’re serious about the current state of play on the internet.

As it’s not pretty.

And what I’m about to say has been brewing for some time.

A recent SDL survey found that 40% of its respondents said that their worst customer experiences came at the hands of digital industries. That’s a little shy of half of all experiences.

Can we then assume that half of online customers are not completely satisfied with their experiences? Probably.

It’s been said that good customer experiences come down to empathy, appreciation and helpfulness. If only it was that simple.

If only it was that simple.

Just a few weeks ago I bought a used book from Amazon. If you buy used books from Amazon, you’ll know that the seller lists the condition of the book that’s being sold. Long story short, I wasn’t happy with what arrived. The experience wasn’t completely satisfactory.

But there’s a problem.

I’m not convinced that this pattern-dip in customer experience is solely down to the brand or business. I think it’s because of the customer. The customer who now calls the shots.

When I brought that book, it clearly stated that the book wouldn’t be in perfect condition. That it would have minor damage. Regardless, I wasn’t happy.

In all honesty, the book at been scribbled, highlighted and noted throughout. It shouldn’t have been sent to anyone.

But that’s just an opinion. And again, in the battle between the customer and the seller, the customer will (and should) always win. It’s that opinion that matters.

At times, there are customers that you’ll never be able to please on the internet. For the rest, there are areas to look at.

To correct this is a balancing act between values and function. Between your brand and your website.

First, look into your brand. Offer what customers really want, and then go beyond it. Keep innovating with the customer put first. Build a community for those customers so that others can share stuff with them. Your brand has to have a set of values that customers can all relate to. Make them clear and truthful. It’s why your product is brought over your competitor’s.

That leads on nicely to the next area…

The area where it actually happens: the online experience. Your website needs to load quickly, that’s a given on desktop and mobile. Navigation needs to be effortless. Keep content to a minimum, with good quality visuals. Make it easy for customers to contact you. But more that anything, make everything really simple. Don’t make them think.

If you put the customer first, you’ll always go beyond. You’ll have a better chance of providing a good experience.

Yes, it sounds cliche. Sure everyone puts the customer first. But do they really put the customer first? Because let’s face it, 40% is atrocious.

Everything you say and do online needs to be transparent. Equally, everything you say needs to be true. You’ll get caught out otherwise. Then the bad experiences will keep on building up behind you.

The internet poses as many opportunities as it does restrictions. Know them well, and work with them to deliver the best customer experience possible.

You don’t want to be somebody’s worst online experience. At 40% of all experiences, it’s not one that you can easily avoid either.

That’s the current state of play. Don’t leave anything to chance.

Never Try To Be “The Nice Guy”

May 19, 2015

There’s a common problem online with the way that people talk about their stuff. I feel that people are too nice when speaking to their customers.

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Think back to when you were at high school.

Who are the people (let’s say characters) that you remember from this period?

The funny one. The one that was always good at sports. The popular one that everyone liked who had the nicest looking girlfriend, who even managed to get the teachers to like him too. Remember these people? I’m sure you do.

Do you remember the quiet/nice guy? Nope.

That’s because that person was quiet for a reason. He lacked confidence. This person in business will always have a fundamental disadvantage over the other more confident person.

But the internet presents a new opportunity for that person to become a more confident person. To appear different to what he or she really is.

Think of the movie The Matrix, for example. Before Neo discovered the Matrix he was plain old Thomas Anderson. Inside the Matrix, he was ‘the one’. Hadn’t he been given the platform to become what he becomes towards the end of the movie, he would have remained the quiet software programmer he was at the beginning of the movie.

The Matrix gave him that platform. Just like social media can give you the platform to do the same.

On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, regular interaction with a person or brand builds trust. Trust becomes loyalty. These are all the things that trigger engagement, which is the entire point of social media. At least in my opinion.

To achieve this, you need to think about who you are. What your personality is. Because as we already know, there are certain personalities that will never be popular with other people.

Those guys from school weren’t nice. They were confident in what they did and said. Yes, at times they could be borderline bullies and arrogant.

But that’s why you should never try to be “the nice guy.” That guy doesn’t have a personality that you can remember.

Brands and businesses spend a lot of time on their values, personalities, and beliefs. But sometimes their tone of voice – the way they speak about everything – gets pushed under the table. The core principles of why a brand operates are not communicated in a way that allows other people to want to connect with them.

Everything a brand does is marketing. Everything you do and say reflects who you are. And if you’re just a nice guy, then even if those values represent the type of qualities a customer wants in a business it will always come in second best. Second best to the confident, and sometimes arrogant person in business.

I’m not talking about bad attitude here. I’m talking about assertiveness, philosophy, perspective and purpose.

So this is what you must do right now. Before you update your social media status.

Draw a picture of what you think your brand is in character form. Then give that person a celebrity voice. TV personalities, authors, movie stars… think of your core values and your business as a character that you want to represent it.

What is the behaviour you want to be known for? If it isn’t a confident behaviour then you’re in trouble. You want to be able to inspire your audience to mimic your behaviour and buy your stuff. Your communication needs to have a purpose.

Otherwise, you’ll only become a nice guy. And nobody will remember you. I feel this is too common on the internet today. And it needs to change if you are to be successful.

Your confident tone of voice is essential to your success in your given market.

My advice: use it.

The One Word That Changes Everything For You

May 8, 2015

There’s one word that can be used in any situation, that can swing a conversation in your favour at any time. Now, I’ll show you how to get to it, and what to do with it after.

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So you’re speaking to a potential customer. Or perhaps, speaking to a colleague, friend or family member.

What you want to do is influence that person to your way of thinking. Whatever it may be. You’re looking for a way to get through to that person, but whatever you say or suggest, it just doesn’t seem to register. And that’s fair enough. You can’t force people to come round to your way of thinking, after all.

But there’s something you can try. There’s something that you can fall back on that can actually change everything for you in such a scenario.

It’s so simple, that you’ll think: “Gosh, why didn’t I try this?!”

So here goes.

Salespeople know that the first thing they go after during a sales conversation is the word “yes.”

It doesn’t matter where, when or how this pops up in the conversation. If the other person says yes once, that person is instantly pulled onto the same level as you. Or at least, closer than previously. The more times you can get that person saying “yes”, the better chance you’ll have of winning that person over to your idea. Or your product, of course.

A psychological element is at play here. But we won’t go into the science. We don’t need to.

Let’s develop things.

When you’ve spoken a little bit about the circumstances, or why that person walked into your shop or why the weather is so great today, you can then start to turn on the heat. That is, get to the pitch. If that person has already agreed to what you’ve said a few times – that you both have a perceived general belief on things – then he or she will probably agree with your argument further.

If that person has already agreed to what you’ve said a few times – that you both have a perceived general belief on things – then he or she will probably agree with your argument further. There’s no reason why not.

How do we do it?

Well, the best way is to use the classic push-pull sales technique… with a twist. Make a request or statement, then acknowledge that the other person has a choice.

Build trust. Build a relationship. But more importantly, build the conversation based on a mutually agreeable subject. Then hand over ownership.

“Yes, the weather is good. Yes, I’d love a holiday today. Yes, I would look good driving this car with the roof open. Yes, I wouldn’t mind taking it out for a test drive. Sure, I don’t have to but I have some time, and my wife is away, so why not. After all, I’m free to do what I want.”

Of course, there are other methods to use within this type of structured conversation/sales pitch. Ones I’d suggest? I’d say, make the other person like you. Position yourself as an authority figure in a situation – relaying your heightened experience on the subject. Or, of course, use a little scarcity.

But as long as you start to agree on topics. As long as you are getting that person saying that all important word “yes.” And as long as you’re not forcing the issue (not coming over too strong and too much like a salesperson), and giving that person a choice – one that they can’t resist of course – then you’ll begin to see people coming round to your way of thinking more often.

Yes, yes you will.

You want people to get to your way of thinking, don’t you? Give it a try then! If you want to change the way people react to what you say, that is.

Keep Ahead of the Google Game

March 20, 2015 – 2 Comments

If you weren’t aware that Google is getting ready for an algorithm update, let this be a timely heads-up for you.

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The game is changing once again.

Google is still in pursuit of providing its users the most relevant search results it possibly can. This is something that Google will, of course, pursue for the rest of its days.

But this time, it’s all about mobile.

Think Panda, think Penguin, think Hummingbird. But think of them coming out on a much sunnier day.

A few weeks ago, Google announced on its blog that it will be updating its algorithms, and changing the way that it ranks mobile-friendly websites for mobile searches.

And what we’ve been given this time is a month and a half heads up before this change actually happens and affects businesses and websites! That’s pretty kind if you consider how it has usually operated.

I’ve covered this change in detail within an external article called The Google Mobile Algorithm Change That Will Make Or Break. 

I urge you to check it out. But if it’s an overview you’re after, then look no further.

If your website isn’t currently optimised for mobile, then you need to do something about it. Otherwise, you’ll probably see a drop in your organic traffic (and probably notice that your mobile-friendly competitors will see a surge in their traffic.)

That’s really it.

Pretty straight forward, if you compare it to the changes and confusion that Google usually produce as a consequence to their past algorithm updates.

The number of people using mobile phones and tablets to access the internet is increasing. This is a trend that we’ve seen growing for years – and it doesn’t look like slowing down. It’s somewhere in the 25% region of all internet users. So naturally, Google is working to better serve this increasing population of internet users. If you’re looking to be speaking to these users, then now is that time to adopt the change.

You have one month to do so until this algorithm shift kicks in on April 21st.

Don’t be an Island

March 15, 2015

The one single thing that you shouldn’t be doing in your business.

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I’m going to keep this one short because this doesn’t need to be a long post – the title says it all.

I once discovered that women, apparently, live longer than men.

Now, when I first found out about this I was appalled. Surely sex shouldn’t be a factor that would determine long life? Well as it turns out, though, it does.

Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, also points us in the direction of a similar statistic that the inhabitants of a small US town by the name of Roseto, Pennsylvania basically live on longer than anywhere else in the US, and would mostly die of old age alone.

What’s interesting about both of these things is that they all come down to one thing, and that’s community.

Just like women, the people of Roseto lived longer because of the close-knit social and supportive community that existed around them. The people there had formed tight networks and would talk to one another about everything – including their problems.

Facing challenges alone is just going to make you an older person quicker. You’ll also find that the solutions to these challenges are difficult to come by when there’s only one person doing the thinking. In business, it’s the same. But problem-solving is just one example where it works.

In life, just as in business, you’ll face a lot more problems. Problems with money or even problems with other people (strangely enough). To overcome these problems you need that support system around you, and that’s why if you’re an island, you won’t have that luxury. You’re by yourself.

Businesses cannot function without people around it – people internal and external to that business.

Women live longer because they meet socially with their friends and discuss things that are truly personal to them… their problems. What I found out – just be doing a little research – is that women don’t tend to meet up with their friends any more than men do. Women also don’t speak to their family any more than men do, either. What women do in the time with these people is speak about the things that are holding them back in some way.

Could this be the same in business?

The people of Roseto didn’t just make an effort to speak to the people in their neighborhood. They would spend hours talking to people on the street, have meals with generations of family members and would naturally spent most of their time within the community. Always with other people. Those people and their families were definitely not “islands”.

So look at yourself. Look at your business. How can you ensure that – by combining both – you are giving yourself a platform to prosper? The answer is simple, of course: just don’t be an island.

Build up the people around you and look to always have deep and meaningful relationships with these people so that when you have a problem you need help solving, for example, you’ll have someone there to help you with that solving.

You and your business can live longer AND experience more success if you take on board this small but hugely influential factor.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words…

March 2, 2015

Take a look at the photo below. What do you see?

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We’re currently in the middle of a dramatic shift.

This shift exists within our browsing behaviour, where today (as customers) we would rather engage with and consume, visual content rather than text-based. People have become progressively more interested in seeing information and content rather than reading about it, which is why I firmly believe that images and videos will fully take over pretty soon.

Just look at the ever-increasing popularity of visual social media on networks such as Vine and Instagram, amongst others. The main benefits of these sites give you the ability to communicate messages quickly. This is just another case of people not having the time to take notice of all of the marketing messages thrown at them daily. We as consumers look for shortcuts. So, it’s no surprise that around 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual because everything else, mostly written information, is completely ignored. This is because there’s just too much information out there.

That’s where thinking visual will set you apart from the competition. Interactive videos and quality photos can provide users with the information they need at a glance. Not only has it got a better chance of grabbing attention, it also has a better chance of leaving a lasting impression that enhances the ability for more (and better) engagement. Our ability to process visual information is what makes us choose products, brands and content over others. It’s critical to attracting business.

Okay, so you want more customers. Therefore, you need to use more images and visual content. But, it’s vitally important that you use only the right images. It’s only right when those images convey and offer a better selling point than what text could ever do. Remember, they’re not only there to grab attention, they’re there to inspire, and to push the desired action. Keeping this in mind, it’s also equally important to take your time and choose where you’ll use this image so that it gets shared more. You may have a great photo with a great message, but if it doesn’t relate to your target audience, then what’s the point? Therefore, it’s crucial that you assess the browsing patterns of your audience. Finding this balance early on will really set up your content strategy.

Now you know how visual content can represent your business, the next step is to build
a narrative (remember how important storytelling is) around this image or video. It’s key to remember you’re selling something here, so look to create an experience around your visual content. You can use visuals on absolutely everything that you do, from your social posts to your web pages, so look to add some visual content where you wouldn’t usually do so. (Sure, I could have written this section, or even this whole book, through visuals, but the difference is I’m not selling you anything!)

Now we know what you need to do, let’s look at the options and possibilities for getting visual content and materials out there. First up, is video. There’s a reason why it’s up first. Up to 80% of internet audiences watch videos online, and the number of people watching on mobiles is also on the up. They’re fun, informal, interesting, but more than anything, they give you more power when it comes to persuasion and reach. It can also be very personal if it’s coming directly from you.

Next up is images. You can really change your marketing by dropping high-quality images within all of your content. Though stay away from boring stock images because we’ve seen them all before. The goal is to be unique. How? Think about using funny memes that personify your personality. Try and tap into your audience’s emotions. Then there’s the more informative stuff. Here I’m talking about charts, infographics, whiteboards and presentation slides. Sometimes, complex data and numbers need to be presented to your audience, and if so, just do it in a way that’s easily digestible and fun to read! Remember that seeing something is believing in something.

In order for your content to grab attention, be it tweets, emails, web pages, sales letters or even point of sale posters in a shop, it needs to be able to connect with your audience on a personal level. Here are a few simple rules that need to be followed if you’re going to be successful with your online and offline visual content. 1) Keep everything simple. The saying “less is more” certainly applies to visuals as the main goal is to create content that can be digested in seconds. 2) All visual content needs to be appealing to the eye, so think about everything, including the colours, fonts etc. Also, consider how they can be integrated with your current identity. 3) Don’t just drop any old image on a page for the sake of it – put some thought into the layout.

Now, let me turn your attention back to the photo at the top of this post. Yes, it’s a stock photo. Yes, it was free. Yes, there could have been thousands of more suitable photos to use. But isn’t there something about it that makes you think? Something that opens your mind to a whole new world? It did for me. 

Nature made us the visual thinkers that we are today. Tapping into this innate ability is absolutely essential now if you’re looking to get your business or even your blog posts noticed. Not only will you be able to reach your audience, but you’ll be able to see your business expand into new worlds and grow to whole new levels you never thought possible.

All with the slightest of tweaks.