Should You Design Your Own Website?

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Website design involves any number of tasks and skills related to getting a website online. These include such things as graphic design and manipulation, interface selection and alteration, content writing and editing, HTML and other coding, search engine optimization (SEO), and more. Therefore, when determining whether to design your own website or hire a designer to do the work for you, it’s crucial to realistically consider your skills in each of these areas of design and decide whether or not designing your own site is the best way to go.

With interfaces like WordPress or other content management software, even online marketers who are not especially skilled in website design can learn to create a site to meet their needs. When you’re just starting out in business, that may be the best option for you since the rates for quality website design are often more than beginning entrepreneurs can spend.

In addition, website design services are in high demand and with the industry continuing to grow every year as more and more companies are bringing their businesses online, that demand for quality website design services will become even greater. That, in turn, will raise those rates even higher.

The caveat, however, is that your website is your online storefront. With Internet marketing competition being so stiff, it’s imperative that you present a professional, customer-service oriented site to your clients and customers. You can only do that through a fast-loading, easily navigated, thoughtfully written and well-designed website.

The goal of any website is to sell or promote products and services. Meeting this goal requires you to persuade others, to motivate them, and to entice them to buy, subscribe, register or whatever action you want them to take. That’s why your site must be filled with rich content and helpful information and must present a professional image to those who visit.

Your website must involve your visitor, it must engage them, and it must make them want to read what you have to say so they can learn what your site is all about.

Your content must explain the benefits and rewards of what you’re promoting and make your visitor feel she wants and needs that product or service. This is done through educational and informative articles, blog posts, ebooks and more, which are all part of your site’s design.

Your site must have some kind of effect on visitors. Whether it’s for them to make a purchase, enter an email address, leave a blog comment or share your posts on social media, it’s your goal as a designer to get visitors to complete that task – whatever it may be.

The need for a well-planned, well-designed website is critical. And while not everyone has the ability to create a polished site that welcomes a visitor and encourages them to complete a desired task, these skills can be learned if you have the time and energy it takes to learn them.

If you need a quality site right now, though, or you’re just not interested in spending the time and effort needed to learn website design, you may find the smartest thing for your business is to hire a website designer. Simply decide what will work best for your specific situation and proceed from there.

If you choose to hire a designer, I’ll be glad to help. Contact me and let me know what you need and we’ll go from there. Either way, keep these tips in mind when designing your website or hiring a designer. After all, your online business success depends on it.

10 Hot Topics for Blog Posts

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Online business building in any format often includes writing blog posts. But trying to decide on a topic two to three times a week can be tough. A healthy, active blog requires fresh content, though, and for those times when your mind just can’t seem to latch onto an appropriate topic that you feel competent to write about, it’s good to have a go-to list of possible ideas. Here are a few to consider when you just can’t seem to decide on what to write:

1. Answer a frequently asked question. If you’re not already doing so, begin to compile a list of the questions your customers and clients ask on a regular basis. Then, when you need a topic for a blog post, pull one out and write a quick answer. Over time, you’ll be compiling an FAQ section for your blog and offering great content at the same time.

2. Answer a specific reader question. This is similar to creating a list of questions to write about, but this involves specifically addressing a question one of your readers has recently asked. I’ve often used the answer I gave to an ezine subscriber as a post or article by simply adding an introduction and a conclusion.

3. Create a Top 10 list. Notice the title of this post? Writing lists is a simple way to pull together a blog post that attracts visitors. That’s because you can offer a lot of good information in short paragraphs in a very short time. And top 10 lists make very popular posts. You’ll find more people tweet and share the links to such posts on Facebook than any other type.

4. Discuss news and current events. Browse your morning paper or visit Yahoo News and you’re almost certain to find a topic you can comment on. Tie it to your blog’s theme, offer some insight on it, and you’ve just finished writing a new post for your blog.

5. Invite a guest. You can interview someone you know your readers would be interested in hearing from, or you can invite a guest post from someone occasionally. You don’t want to overdo this, but letting someone else do the writing every now and then is a nice break for you and for your readers.

6. Make it personal. Stories can create an extremely interesting blog post. And there’s plenty of online help for writing stories that sell. Learning to incorporate stories into your writing can have a tremendous impact on your blog’s success.

7. Post a review. This is a great way to share information about a book you’ve been reading, a product you bought, or a service you’ve used. A lot of people search for reviews online. Writing an objective review is an excellent way to attract readers and traffic to your blog.

8. Report on industry trends. Those same news sources can provide information on what’s hot in your niche. If not, search for trends in your industry and you’ll find plenty of ideas. For instance, searching for “2016 writing trends” brought up millions of results on Google. That’s enough blog post fodder to last a very long time.

9. Solve a problem. Just as you do with questions, keep a running list of the type of problems you solve for your clients and customers. Use one of them to create a post that discusses the problem then offers the solution. Writing this type of post will also serve to let your prospects see what you’re capable of doing for them. Pretty smart, don’t you think?

10. Visit other blogs. Search for other blogs in your niche and read what other bloggers have to say. This can inspire you to create a similar post or even to comment on a post you’ve read by writing out your opinion and linking back to the original.

There are times when almost any blogger struggles for a topic idea. Using these simple tips can help you generate more posts and add a steady stream of fresh content to your blog every week. Just keep in mind that your blog posts don’t have to be long, drawn-out, complicated articles. Sometimes writing a blog post means simply pulling together a couple paragraphs of a few sentences each on a common topic. You can handle that!

Can You Accept Help When You Need It?

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Before I became a professional desktop publisher, freelance designer and writer, I worked as an Executive Assistant and Office Manager for about 15 years. One of the companies I worked for, in particular, was going through some changes in their business. They were growing, adding new employees, managing more debt and more income, and dealing with more logistical, transportation and office/warehouse space related issues.

At the time, some of the managers were concerned that the company owners were not adequately equipped to handle the sudden growth. We suggested that they call in an independent company to perform a business valuation and offer ideas for coping with the fast-moving changes. Because of the CEO’s control issues (which were only part of the problem), or because of his belief that the company didn’t need help, they refused to do so.

Today, that business is barely operational. They’ve lost a number of large contracts because of poor management and had to lay off dozens of employees. Some of these problems could have been resolved had the company executives recognized their need for help and accepted it at that time.

Don’t let your attitude in business be such that you feel you can do it on your own, that you know all you need to know, or that you don’t need help from outside sources. Few, if any, business owners are truly in that position. And the ones who are most likely won’t be small business owners, as the folks I worked for were.

There are times when all business owners, entrepreneurs, work-at-home moms (WAHMs), direct sales consultants, etc. need some help. Allow yourself to accept it when it comes your way. Seek it out when you need it. And you’ll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish and how much more successful your business will ultimately become.

Effective Social Networking for Business

Photo courtesy flickr/ButchLeboChances are, you’re like the other millions of people online who belong to at least one social networking website. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or another one, the rise in popularity of online communities where folks gather is attracting even the newest computer users. That makes social networking sites an ideal venue for building a business online.

To make the most of any social networking community, though, you need to actually participate in the discussions and use other features available. Social networking works best when you remember the social aspect. This is just as true when building an online business as with anything else you hope to accomplish from your efforts.

Learning to make the most of your social networking efforts will help you build a business faster than almost anything else you can do online, except perhaps blogging. Getting acquainted with people through the informal atmosphere offered by social networks like Facebook and Twitter is almost as good as meeting people face-to-face at your local Chamber of Commerce gathering. Maybe better since folks can refer back to your posts and comments and easily ask a question if something sounds unclear.

You may find, like other online community members, that your social networking site of preference actually has a number of features you aren’t taking advantage of, or that you even know about. Learning what each site offers and how to use it in building your business will help you tremendously. And the best way to do that is to simply browse around. Maybe ask a few questions such as, “Can I… (fill in the blank here)?” Or post a note saying, “I really wish this site let me… (fill in the blank with something you’d like to do).” You’ll be surprised at how much help you’ll receive from your online friends.

Take the time to familiarize yourself with the online community you’ve chosen. Ideally, it’s best to stick with one or two sites for the greatest results. Spreading yourself too thin won’t help you build an online business any faster and it may actually hinder your progress.

Scroll through the site’s options and see what kind of features are available. Facebook, for instance, lets you enter your contact information and allow friends (or whomever you choose) access to that data. This can be helpful if you want people to be able to contact you by phone or snail mail. Though, of course, you need to be cautious of who you share this information with – especially if your office is in your home.

While it’s great to spend all your time focusing on making online friends at your chosen community, doing it the right way is critically important. Never “friend” or invite people indiscriminately to connect with you solely for the purpose of sending them ads or information about your business. Not only is this not the best way to build a business online, it can get you in trouble if someone reports you for spamming.

Instead, begin with the online connections you already have and invite them to friend or follow you. Then, as you get to know the ins and outs of the network, seek out new friends. Take time to get to know folks. Ask questions, respond to comments. Share your thoughts and ideas. Answer questions. Let people get to know you. That’s the joy of building a business through social networking.

If you work alone at home, as more and more people do every day, social networking is a tremendously effective way of building your business. But it’s also an excellent outlet for meeting new people and enjoying conversations with someone other than your yourself or your pets.

Increasing Customer Loyalty

Offering excellent, consistent customer service to your customers is the most important thing you can do for your business. Without premier customer service, why would your customers want to come back? And a returning customer is a loyal customer.

Since your customers are your business, customer loyalty is paramount to your business success. Without them, you won’t have sales or even positive referrals. Here are a couple of suggestions you can follow to help increase your customer loyalty:

1. Resolve problems promptly and efficiently.

Any time your customer has a problem, take the time to resolve the issue quickly and to document the resolution. Be sure to follow up with them to let them know the steps you took to resolve their problem. Ensure them it won’t happen again.

2. Determine what constitutes quality for your customers.

Ask for feedback when your customer’s order or project is complete. Try to incorporate some of this feedback into your current operating procedures. Ask them how good a job you did and how you could have improved.

Follow-up with them later to let them know what changes you’ve made. It’s a good idea to keep an edge in today’s business world by staying up-to-date on new information in your field and incorporating new trends into your customer service.

3. Make it a priority to review customer service policies on a regular basis.

Even if you don’t have any customer complaints, it’s beneficial to continually work on upgrading your service, increasing your business knowledge, and networking with other business owners to improve your customer service policies.

Growing your customer service skills will grow your business. By showing your customers you’re willing to go the extra mile for them, you will certainly reap the reward of greater customer loyalty.

It may be challenging, but your customers are worth the time and effort to make them happy. Since you’re the frontline for your business, it’s important to learn how to manage customer issues and improve your business policies to minimize those issues as much as possible.

Your efforts will pay off. No matter how technologically advanced society becomes, customers will always prefer a personal touch and expect good customer service.

Swimming Against the Current

Photo courtesy pixabayAfter reading a post titled, “How I Got 170+ Retweets, a Mention on Copyblogger & 2k Visitors in One Day,” awhile back, I started thinking. (You know that’s a dangerous thing.)

The post talked about how the author wrote a “link-bait” article – one designed to get readers to link back to it. According to the author, this article brought in a couple thousand visitors, a bunch of retweets and more as, you can see. The post offers some excellent advice that might help other online marketers accomplish the same goals.

What I’ve been thinking about, though, is how much of a rebel I am in both my website design and content writing.

For instance… this article linked to a post at Copyblogger, a very popular site as and one I’ve visited many times, that offered a compilation of what the writer considers the best about pages. In going further, I saw that the about page referenced wasn’t a traditional “About Us” page as I had always thought of one. Instead, it’s a sales pitch for subscribing to their blog with some more traditional about us info at the bottom.

It’s very well written, as anything that comes from that site is, but I felt myself rebelling against actually subscribing to the blog. Though I did give in to temptation eventually. But even as I was entering my email address I found myself thinking, “I don’t like to subscribe to something just because everyone else does, or because someone stresses that I should.” That really bugs me.

Now, I did go on to view the remaining about pages, and most of them offered the type of information I expected, though very creatively. I found some new blogs I like and definitely came to agree with the article that these are, indeed, excellent examples of what an About Us page should be.

But the rebellion remains.

When I see “55,736 people like …,” my first instinct is to run the other way. Most people would say, “Oh, since everyone else likes this, I should, too!” and click the button. I rarely click that button.

Does that make me strange? Probably to some. (But I would have been strange to them for some other reason if they hadn’t found this one.)

What it does make me, I believe, is someone who’s swimming against the current both in my website content – whenever I can let my real personality show through – and in my life every day I’m above ground.

The thing is… I want to go upstream while the rest of the world swims downstream. I want to be different. Not just for the sake of being different. But I want to see, and read, and hear, and learn, and like unique things. Or at the least unusual things. Not the things everyone else likes simply because everyone likes them.

And the same applies to my website design and content. I don’t want to use the template everyone else is using or publish only quick and easy articles like everyone else does. Publishing simple blog posts just to keep fresh content on the blog is better than nothing, but, hopefully, that is an exception to my content rather than the rule.

My goal is to write more truly original, creative and thoughtful posts and articles. In short, I plan to rebel even more.

Okay, so maybe that does make me strange. But I’ve been that way as long as I can remember. And I don’t think I’ll be changing any time soon. I have enough other character flaws I’m working on right now.

Why Website Copy Must Be Unique

Photo courtesy pixabayIf you’re an online marketer, you may fall into the trap of thinking that all content writing is the same. But that’s really not the case. Writing for online venues, in particular for websites where 99 percent of the people who read the text will be reading online, is really a different game entirely.

One reason online copywriting is different is because of the readers. Online readers have a completely different mindset from those who read in print. For one thing, the majority of online readers scan the text rather than read it word for word. That means your text has to have a lot of white space, use short sentences and paragraphs, and say what you mean quickly without rambling. (A fault I try to overcome continually!)

In addition, most websites are visited because someone found the site listed in search engine results. This means that the first few lines of text must be especially compelling and interesting. Obviously, someone found your site because they were looking for what you have to offer. But if you don’t prove to them quickly that you do, indeed, have what they want and need, they’ll just as easily continue their search and click away to the next site.

A first time visitor will typically ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” They want to know up front if they’ve clicked to the right site for what they want. You’ll have a matter of a few seconds – literally – to convince them to stay.

So, how do you do that?

First off, look at your site from your readers’ point of view. They’re really not interested in learning about you, your company, or your experience at this point. Unless you’re a celebrity, that is, and that’s another game entirely.

What they do want to know is what can your products and services do to improve their lives, make them money, give them a better outlook, make them more beautiful, or whatever else it is you claim you can do. Answer these questions for them as soon as possible, and you’re well on your way to creating a site that not only attracts visitors, but buyers who are quickly targeted to be looking for exactly what it is you have to offer them.

How to Write Better Website Copy

Photo courtesy pixabayWhen you’re doing business online, your website is your most important asset. Since people today buy virtually everything online, your website is your store front and must be the best it can be for your success and profit. The copy you write for your site can literally make all the difference in the world. Good copy can help you create a powerful sales tool that draws targeted visitors like a magnet and converts them into loyal, repeat customers time and again.

The first rule of writing website copy is to use simple language that your readers will understand. If your site is geared to college-degreed visitors, you might get by with a higher level of writing, but for the general audience, keeping content at an eighth grade reading level is about right.

It may be tempting to use $10 words when talking about your products and services, but big words and fancy language actually hinder your website results. Prospects must understand your language and identify with the words in order to buy from you. Plain words will work best to help you get your message across. So keep this in mind as you write.

You’ll also see better results if you keep your website content short. Overdoing the content is easy when you want to give visitors the information they need about your business. But too much content is actually so daunting, many people will leave without reading it.

Instead, use short sentences, short descriptions, and short paragraphs for the best results. Some folks also caution against having to many pages on your site. This advice varies based on the type site you have, but don’t feel as if you have to have 100 pages before your site’s complete. Sometimes you can get your message across better in just a few.

Using concrete verbs and nouns will help your writing stand out from the rest. You don’t have to be a professional freelancer to write interesting content. Keep in mind what message you want to convey then search for the words to adequately describe it.

Highlight the benefits of your business that your website visitors are most likely to be interested in. If you offer free or low-cost shipping, let them know. If you have exclusive offerings or a lower than average rate, let them know. Tell readers what they’ll find on your site that they won’t find elsewhere and you’ll keep them around longer and bring them back more often.

Obviously, there are no rules that specifically address the content to include. This will certainly vary by niche or target audience. But telling visitors what you can do for them, how you can do it better than your competition, and telling them in short order without a lot of hype will go a long way in helping you to write better website content. Regardless of the type site you have.

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