There are several blogs I follow; I read them whenever I can. Sometimes I just read, and other times I read and comment. Only a small percent of blog readers take time to comment. The reasons are many: too busy, a lack of confidence, not knowing what to say, fear, and so forth. There are, however, some reasons why we should comment. Here are three:
1) To Interact With Others: The biggest reason to comment is to connect with other likeminded readers. Some do more than just comment on the post, they also comment on other comments. Just remember to keep things positive and civil. Don’t say something online you wouldn’t say in person to your closest friends.
2) To Connect With The Author: As we read blogs, we get to know the author, but the author doesn’t know us at all, though most want to. Adding relevant comments, with appropriate self-disclosure allows the author (and other readers) to get to know us. And don’t we all want to be known?
3) A Link to Our Site: Though it’s secondary, most commenting programs allows us to include a link to our website when we comment. This is good for search engine optimization (SEO), and it provides a means for others to learn more about us if they wish.
4) Not to Promote Our Book: Commenting on blogs is not the place to promote ourselves or our books. Comments are for dialogue not marketing. Avoid temptation.
Speed and Responsiveness Matter for Your Online Presence
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Having a website is the first step in creating your online presence. Then you need to keep it up to date and add content to stay relevant. But there’s a third element, one which many businesses overlook. It’s the speed of your website. Do your pages take too long to load? Is your site sluggish?
Know that in today’s I-want-it-now world, impatient people won’t wait for a slow site to display its content. They’ll bounce. When they do, they’ll go to your competitor. Each tenth of a second of delay increases the likelihood of someone leaving your site in frustration.
Yet this is a problem you can solve. Here are some items to consider.
The biggest factor influencing a website speed is the hosting. Shared hosting is the cheapest option and the slowest. This is because hundreds, likely thousands, of websites all run through one server. If anyone of them has problems or encounters traffic spikes, every site on that server will suffer.
The key is to move away from shared hosting. Making this change is the quickest way to increase the speed of your website. Though there are many options once you move past shared hosting, all of them will provide a faster, more responsive website. And all of them will cost more.
Though you’ll pay more for faster website hosting, this is not a place to skimp.
The images on your website also impact its operation. A site with no pictures will be faster than one with images, but today’s users expect visuals on a website. A straight-text site will be off putting. It will also look quite dated.
The first consideration is image format. Though PNG files have a higher quality, JPG files are perfect for online, and they’re also much smaller. Though exceptions exist, converting PNG files to JPG results in a much smaller file size. And smaller loads faster.
For pages with several graphics, using JPG files over PNG will result in quicker load times.
Another consideration is the dimensions of the graphic. Though websites will resize large graphics to fit smaller spaces, the better solution is to upload the right sized image to begin with. Don’t weigh your sight down with large images that you’ll never display as full-size graphics.
A third consideration is bogging down your website with features you don’t use or don’t need. For WordPress, which accounts for over 40 percent of all websites, these extra options are called plugins and widgets. Other platforms use names such as apps, extensions, or add-ons.
Only install the features you need and delete everything you don’t use. Also consider the utility of each feature. Does it truly add value to your site, or does it just look cool?
The fewer things running in the background of your website, the faster it will load and the less problems you will encounter. It’s an ideal example of the saying that “less is more.”
Don’t accept a slow website, as it will cause you to lose business and frustrate users. Instead take steps to make your website faster. This will cost some money and take time, but it’s an investment worth making.
You have a website for your telephone answering service. That’s the first step to establishing your online presence. But is your website doing all that you want it to do? Is it living up to your expectations?
If you’re not enjoying the traffic you want to have, the answer may be search engine optimization (SEO). As the name suggests, SEO makes your website more attractive to search engines.
If you impress them, they’ll show your content to more people who are searching for answering service solutions or the expert content you’ve posted.
Here are three keys to SEO success.
1. Content is Key
Good SEO starts with great content. But don’t produce content for search engines. Instead write for people. Put your visitors first and the search engines second.
If you pursue the opposite strategy and produce content with an SEO-first mentality, you may see a quick bump in traffic, but visitors will quickly bounce once they discover your content is substandard or not what they expected. It’s a prime example of the adage of winning the battle but losing the war.
2. Avoid Shortcuts
Successful SEO is an investment in the future. Adapt a long-term perspective when it comes to optimizing your website for search engines, and you’ll enjoy lasting results with traffic that matters.
Yes, there are ways to game the system and garner a short-term spike in traffic. But it isn’t sustainable. And most of these get-traffic-quick schemes hurt your site in the long term and end up working against you.
These are called black-hat SEO strategies. Basically, it’s cheating. Though nefarious SEO practitioners will continue to develop new ways to avoid doing the hard work of search engine optimization, the search engines strive just as hard to negate these cheats.
This means that to stay ahead, they need to continually develop new strategies to trick search engines.
Don’t go this route. Instead take the high road. When you do so, you’ll enjoy better, long-term results.
3. Outsource with Care
Though it’s possible to learn SEO and successfully implement it, many opt to outsource it instead. It seems either too daunting or the learning curve is too steep, or they lack the time, so they seek SEO professionals to do the work for them.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to assess the abilities and effectiveness of individuals and companies that offer SEO services. Most talk a good game, but not all can produce. Too many of them will perform basic steps you can easily do yourself.
Sometimes they haven’t kept up with the industry and recommend techniques that once worked but no longer do. Other times they unknowingly—or knowingly—use black-hat tactics that will cause problems in the end and damage your website’s search engine reputation.
There’s no effective way the vet an SEO professional, but referrals from happy, long-term clients are key. You should expect quantifiable, measurable results. If an SEO vendor can’t provide that, then they don’t deserve your business.
This isn’t to disparage all SEO providers. There are good ones out there who are worth every dollar they charge. The challenge is finding them and distinguishing the good ones from the not-so good ones.
SEO Success Action Steps
When it comes to SEO success, put visitor-focused content first, avoid damaging shortcuts, and select your SEO vendor with care—or do it yourself.
But the worst thing you can do is nothing. That’s the most ineffective SEO strategy of all.
Use Social Media as the Spokes of the Wheel and Your Website as the Hub
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Most telephone answering services (TASs) have a website. That’s great! But not all do. They don’t think it’s worth the modest investment and feel social media serves them quite well.
I’ve even heard from services that are thinking about ditching their website in favor of using social instead. That would be a bad move.
Just Because Social Media Is Easy Doesn’t Make It Ideal
Social media is simple to use. Most of your staff is already adept at using the major platforms. And you likely have a platform-specific expert on staff who could help with any up-and-coming provider you might consider.
This is not the case with websites, which require a bit of expertise to manage and have a cost component, even though it may be small. But just because social platforms are easy doesn’t mean it’s the best solution.
With social media come significant risks, which you can smartly avoid by having your own website. Read on to learn more.
The Narrative is Harder to Manage on Social Media
The messaging on social media is challenging to manage—not yours, but everyone else’s. Anyone can say about anything in response to any one of your messages.
On some platforms you can block these offending messages, but on others you can’t. And too often these contrary messages spark an online war between your supporters and your detractors. No one wins.
Nowadays few websites allow for visitor interaction. And for those that still do, you—as the website owner—can delete the offending message. Your website is a safe place with relevant information about your business. Its free from trolls and malcontents.
You Can’t Control How the Platform Looks or Works
The wonderful thing about social media is it has a predetermined format for you to follow. Though you can control what you add, you have little say over where it goes or what it looks like. It offers little flexibility or customization capabilities.
Though some website providers follow this same philosophy, a self-hosted website offers a blank canvas for you or your design team to configure the way you want it and make it function however you wish.
You Don’t Own Your Presence on Social
I’ve saved the most compelling reason for last. You don’t own your page on any social media platform. Your provider does. They can limit who sees your messages. More infuriatingly, they can charge you so that the people who want to see your information actually can.
Even worse, they can summarily shut your account down at any time, leaving you with little recourse. When this happens you’ve lost all the traffic and the audience that you took years to build.
Owning your own website smartly avoids these problems and you falling victim to the whims of the social media overlords.
If you like social media, go ahead, and use it for your TAS. But don’t put all your eggs in one proverbial basket. Instead use social media to point people to your website, the one online destination that you can own and control.
And if you don’t like social media, don’t use it. Focus on your website. That’s what matters most.
Plan to Evaluate Your Online Information and Make Sure It’s Up to Date
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
For the past 25 years I’ve worked on my own websites, designing them, posting content, and keeping them up to date. Sometimes I break them too; then I get to fix my mistakes.
I currently have ten websites for myself, my writing, and my business. Though this experience doesn’t make me a website guru, it has taught me to look at the sites I visit with a critical eye.
Sadly, I see areas that need improvement on most websites. And too many have obsolete information. You probably know your website needs some attention, but you haven’t gotten around to doing it yet.
I urge you to move this task from your want-to-do list, and put it on your schedule. Write it down and put a date on it. Then do it. Here’s some things to consider:
Read Through Your Website
Start by going through your website. Read through your site methodically, page by page, and read every one. Unless you want to be really diligent, you can skip blog posts. The main thing is to focus on the pages.
This is hard to do and time consuming, especially for large sites. It’s something I don’t do often enough myself, but don’t follow my example. You can do better; after all, you probably don’t have ten sites to go through.
To get through it faster, you can always ask for the help of other people in your organization. This will make the job go faster and be less taxing for everyone.
As you read each page, look for out-of-date text and missing information. Also be on the lookout for missing words, wrong words, and punctuation errors. Likewise flag confusing information so you can fix it later.
Pages To Remove
As you go through your site, you may come across pages you don’t need anymore. Make a note to remove those obsolete pages. The good news is that once you decide you don’t need it, you can stop reading it.
Pages To Add
Just as there are pages you may want to remove, you’ll also discover important content that’s missing. Make a note to add it. This may include new services or products, procedural changes, and information your patients or visitors may commonly seek.
For ideas, check with your call center agents to find out what questions they keep hearing over and over. This is prime material to go online. Yes, not everyone will see it, and they’ll still call and ask. But some people will notice it, and then you’ve just saved your staff a needless phone call.
When it comes to adding new pages and removing obsolete ones, this affects your website menu and site navigation. You need to adjust your menu accordingly.
Don’t just add or delete options. Instead take a step back, and see if the navigation is logical, intuitive, and easy to use. For help, ask someone outside your organization to look at it and tell you what confuses them about moving through your website. Then implement their suggestions.
For your website to best do the job it’s supposed to do, it must have correct information and give visitors what they’re looking for. This requires periodic reviews of your website’s content and navigation.
Don’t put this step off. Both your staff and your patients will appreciate it.
Make the Most of Your Online Presence to Better Serve Customers and Grow Your Business
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Does your telephone answering service have a website? I hope so. What does your website do for your business? Over the years, I’ve seen a wide range of TAS websites, from severely lacking to impressively professional.
They fall into some common categories. Consider which category yours fits into. Then determine if it’s the right one.
Some websites are nothing more than a placeholder. It may say “coming soon” or have generic text that gives no specific information.
I suspect this is from companies that registered the domain name to use for email purposes. Or maybe it’s businesses that registered the name but never got around to setting up the site.
Either way, be aware that prospects and others looking to learn about your business will stumble upon it. The message a placeholder website sends is not a good one. You’d be better off if it didn’t exist.
An Online Brochure
Moving beyond a do-nothing placeholder website is turning it into an online brochure. Effectively this means taking what once would have been in printed marketing materials and putting them online.
Typically this begins as a one-page website. There’s nothing wrong with this. At a basic level, an online brochure provides visitors with some information about your operation. It’s a great start.
An Information Center
Building upon a website as an online brochure, add other content that prospects will find helpful. This means adding more pages. In addition to your marketing information, you’ll want a homepage, an about us page, and a contact page.
You may also want a blog to post news and content marketing pieces, but don’t jump into starting a blog without first thinking it through and making sure you or someone on your team has the commitment to produce content on a regular basis.
A Marketing Tool
You can expand your website beyond an information center and turn it into a marketing tool. You can add pages that cover services offered, specialties or industries served, testimonials or reviews, pricing, and a sign-up form.
Which ones you include will vary with your marketing strategy, so don’t think you need to pursue every suggestion. Just add what makes sense for your situation.
A Client Support Resource
Until now we covered website options from the perspective of a prospect. It should also have a section for clients. Provide client-specific information to help them get the most out of their experience with your answering service.
You can also include a client portal to allow them to access messages, submit a customer service request, and make on-call or employee directory changes. You can also allow them to pay their bill online.
Most or all these options should require a customer login, thereby blocking prospects from accessing this information or trolls intent on causing mischief.
Your Online Hub for All Interaction
The best websites are both a marketing tool and a customer support resource. It becomes your online hub for communication with both prospects and clients.
If your website is currently at this level, well done! But that doesn’t mean you’re finished. Look for ways to make it simpler to navigate and more user-friendly.
A website is never done and requires ongoing tweaking. The goal is that each change makes it better and more effective.
Most medium-sized and large companies have a website. And successful organizations have one too. Yet some smaller or older companies struggle in this area. Some don’t have a website, while others have one, but it’s outdated or substandard.
Here are some tips to help you move forward in setting up a practical online presence you can be proud of.
The Role of Social Media
Some organizations make the mistake of foregoing a website. They try to use social media for their online presence. This is a bad idea. First, they don’t own their social media page and can be kicked off it at any time, for any reason.
Contrast this to a website, which a company owns and controls.
This doesn’t mean to ignore social media, but the goal of social media pages should be to direct people to your website. Think of social media as the spokes of the wheel and your website as the hub.
Although it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to design a professional-looking website, there are less costly options. After all, we don’t all drive a luxury car; sometimes entry-level transportation will do just fine.
In truth, you can make an inexpensive website yourself for under $100. The goal is for it to not look cheap. Most hosting companies offer do-it-yourself website templates you can customize to provide a basic, yet professional-looking, site for your online presence.
If you want to avoid using predesigned templates, WordPress.org is a popular alternative.
Regardless, there are a few beginner mistakes you will want to avoid:
Stay away from line art graphics or any artwork that looks homemade.
If you need to resize a graphic, be sure to keep it proportional. Otherwise, it will distort and look odd.
Proofread the text, verify spelling, use correct grammar, and employ commonly accepted punctuation.
Have others double-check your content. Then have someone else triple-check it.
Don’t go crazy with different fonts. Use one or two at the most.
Have a consistent style and color palette throughout.
Avoid uppercase text; people will feel like you’re screaming at them. (The one possible exception might be when listing your company name at the top of the page.)
Use italics sparingly. It’s hard to read in large blocks.
Don’t insert some nifty gadget on your site. Resist the urge. Just because these features are available doesn’t mean you should use them.
Also be wary of animation, videos that play automatically, and sound that’s turned on by default. If you irritate a visitor they’ll bounce from your site and never return.
Also, don’t piggyback off someone else’s domain name; get your own. You can inexpensively obtain a domain name from your hosting company.
While you’re at it, set up an email account using that domain name. Post that email address on your website. If necessary, you can have this new address forward to an existing email account.
Search Engine Optimization
Now that you have a functioning website—which avoids all the above beginner errors—you want people to find it. Aside from telling everyone you meet and listing it on every piece of literature and stationery you have, you need search engines to notice and appreciate your website.
This is called search engine optimization (SEO).
Since the search engine companies closely guard their methodologies, SEO is more of an art form than an exact science. Even so, here are some common SEO basics:
Each page needs a title. This will help both visitors and search engines.
Each page needs a description; don’t use the same description on every page or repeat descriptions.
Add correct keywords. Although most search engines ignore them, some search engines may still look at them. Again, keywords should not be the same for each page.
Although some people still pursue reciprocal linking (that is, “I’ll link to your site if you link to mine”), this no longer helps and could hurt your visibility with search engines. Don’t do it.
Many of the companies that guarantee you top search engine placement do not deliver or can’t sustain it. There are experts who can do this, but they are in a minority and their skill is often hard to verify.
If you hire someone to improve your website’s SEO, you have every right to expect results and to hold them accountable for optimizing your online presence.
If you want people to find your site and contact you, the next step to consider is content marketing. This is when you post helpful, non-salesy information on your website as a no-strings-attached public service.
This content should be relevant to your company and helpful to your prospects. In doing so you become a subject-matter expert in the eyes of your audience.
Search engines serve up this content to people who seek it. The result is traffic to your site. After they read what they came there to find, an attractive and helpful website will keep them there.
Hopefully, some of them will want to learn more about your company or your products and services.
A website isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it effort. A website benefits from ongoing tweaking to make it more valuable to your target audience. Also, expectations change over time, as do best practices.
Expect to continue to work on your website on an ongoing basis to fine-tune and improve it.
You can outsource any or all these steps, but it comes at a cost. As an alternative, you can do it yourself. Regardless of which path you take, don’t expect immediate results. It takes time to perfect a website and drive traffic to it.
The best time to make your website was ten years ago. The second-best time is today.
Marketing Management Success Tip
If you don’t have a website, you need one. And if you have a website, work to make it better. In either case, the results will increase visibility and leads.
Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.
He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.
As authors, our websites are our home base, the destination all of our online activity points to. We need to make sure our sites are up at all times and working correctly. When there is a problem, we limit our ability to connect with others about our writing.
Here are six things to check:
That it is running: A down site helps no one. Make sure it is working.
That all links work: Broken links are a disservice to our audience and cause Google to devalue our site. Regularly search for and fix broken links
That there are no spam comments: Quickly remove spam. Spam in the comment section clutters the site and reflects badly on its owner.
That there is no malware: Malware that infiltrates a site can potentially infect computers that visit it. No one wants to cause problems on other people’s computers.
That it properly displays on mobile devices: More people access websites from smartphones and mobile devices than from computers. To display properly on a smaller screen, use a “responsive” theme. If your site is not responsive, view it on a mobile device to see how it looks.
That all forms work: Periodically test forms to make sure they work. A broken form is a missed opportunity.
The good news is that the first four of these items can be automated. That leaves only two items needing direct attention – and only one when using a mobile responsive theme.
With more and more people viewing websites from mobile devices, it’s critical that our sites work well with smaller screens, that they are “responsive.” In simple terms, a responsive website is one that automatically resizes to fit the viewing area of the appliance accessing it.
In the past this meant making a separate version of each page for mobile screens, be it a smartphone, tablet, e-reader, and so forth. Now many website themes have this functionality built into them. If a theme isn’t “responsive,” then don’t use it.
Having a responsive website, one that is mobile-friendly, is important for two reasons. First, we are near a point where the majority of sites are accessed not by a computer but by a portable device. Not having a responsive site hampers half our readers from having a usable experience.
The other key reason is that Google is reportedly rewarding responsive sites by placing them higher in search engine results. This means they are effectively penalizing sites that do not play well with mobile devices.
Although you could test your site with every size and type of mobile appliance to see if it is responsive, Google has provided an online tool to check for us. Just enter your web address (URL) and click “analyze.” It takes less than a minute.
If it says “mobile-friendly,” then you are all set. If it reports your site is “not mobile-friendly,” then find a responsive theme or hire a website developer to correct the problem.
Whether we are selling books or promoting something else, our websites are there for people to use. We don’t want to eliminate half the population because our site doesn’t work well with mobile devices.
Fix Broken Links: Broken links—be it internal links to other pages on your site or external links to other websites— are disrespectful to visitors. At the very least, broken links will frustrate them and at the worst, cause them to leave. Search engines also don’t like broken links. If they find broken links on your site, they will lower your ranking and thereby suggest your site to fewer people. Fortunately, there are programs that can search for and notify you of broken links so you can fix them.
Implement SEO Best Practices: Books have been written detailing search engine optimization (SEO), so a brief blog post won’t cover everything. But the basics are to use alt tags on your graphics, appropriately include your targeted keywords in your content, consider both people and search engines when writing your titles and include a good description and relevant keywords. Whatever you do, don’t try to game the system, because you will eventually be caught and penalized.
Keep Your Site Up-To-Date and Regularly Add New Content: Regular visitors (your biggest supporters) and search engines both like to see new content on your site. Keep them happy with regular posts. Also, be sure to remove outdated information so you don’t frustrate visitors.
That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll talk about the importance of capturing email addresses.