Archive for the ‘Websites’ Category
In December, I had a chance to spend the afternoon talking about the news and social media with the staff at WEYI, NBC 25. After I left the meeting I spent a lot of time thinking about the point where Social Media and Traditional Media intersect and how to integrate new techniques into a successful format.
My Top 6 Tips:
- Create a hierarchy/Flow Chart of news importance and Direction.
TV news is one of the most limited formats since a broadcast may have as little as 20 minutes of air time per 30 minute show. Not every tip, press release or AP story can be covered in this amount of time. However, news that doesn’t make a the broadcast should be directed elsewhere. Creating a flow-cart or other formula for deciding, before hand, what information should be shared, and where, gives reporters an opportunity to engage the audience more often.
- Twitter has the highest volume but the fewest characters allowed, and should be used for snips, teasers or as a directional service getting followers to visit videos, on-scene cell-phone pictures captured by reporters or other websites where they can interact with the news you’re reporting.
- Facebook & Google Plus don’t have the tight character limits that Twitter does but since your fan’s home page feed doesn’t move as quickly, posting too often can be overwhelming. Weather maps, Follow-ups and viewer-to-viewer based communities can boost station loyalty.
- YouTube. Posting segments after they’ve aired is a great way to keep people talking and gives you a way to gauge response. People also like seeing themselves in the news and Youtube offers a way for broadcasts to be shared or included in blogs. Youtube can even generate revenue for the station.
- You have to give to get.
Traditional media tends to push out information, but Social Media demands interaction. The easiest way to interact is by Following-Back and replying… within reason.Take time to look at your followers and a few of their posts. There are a lot of useless and undesirable accounts that will only bog down your efforts. A DNFTT (do not feed the trolls) policy wouldn’t hurt either.
- Cover more Local businesses and Not-for-Profits.
Being neighborly and engaged locally is a great way to increase station loyalty across all media outlets. This can be as simple as following and sharing or re-tweeting informational posts. Showing people who are working hard to better the community also counters negative news and illuminates bright spots. Directing fluff pieces to social networks also saves air time for more serious news.
- Create custom Twitter and Google Plus Hash Tags.
Information overload is the side effect of social media success. At a certain point it’s just not possible for a human to consume every post your followers, prominent citizens and organizations create. Creating the Hash Tag is as simple as choosing a word or phrase (without spaces or other special charters) and adding the pound sign to the front. For Example – #MINewsTip. Just be sure to search using your potential tag first to be sure it’s unique enough to lay claim to it. Then search for the tag to gather your tips, comments and relevant information.
- Create a Social Loop
All of the social networks you’re using should feed into one another. Tweets that send people to YouTube, Facebook, your website and then back again are part of a interaction loop you should strive to create. Creating content across the various formats also allows you to interact with people who use Facebook, but not Twitter, etc.
- Use Feedback on the air.
Don’t forget to include air time in the social loop because it’s the one thing you have that Social Media doesn’t. Viewers who are empowered to comment and rewarded with air time are more likely to develop a deep loyalty to the station.
Good design is one of those things that when it’s right, you might not notice but, when it’s wrong, there’s no hiding it. One of the easiest ways I’ve found to create good design is by getting the color scheme right and my favorite way to nail it every time is with Colr.org.
Color sets the mood, carries the theme and can convey ideas. When a website’s elements such as links, tables and mast-head images all work together, the other elements of the design seem to fall into place. After all, it’s much easier to see when a table is too wide than it is to put your finger on just 1 of the more than 16 million colors represented in hexadecimal.
With the help of Colr.org I only have to find a picture that represents the idea I’m trying to convey. Once I have it, the site’s software allows me to load it and sample it’s colors.
I’ve used this technique for everything from client websites, to matching the tables and links in my Twitter profile to a custom background image.
The “right” picture is one of those intangible things that I can’t really help you find, but I like to start with a short list of adjectives to help me focus my search. Peaceful, happy, warm, bright, or any number of words that might describe the mood or theme of the design. From there I just go with an image that I like the best.
For this post I chose “Lobster Adirondack Chairs” by cbgrfx123 on Flickr because it had an Attribution Share-a-like license and could use it, here, and in the example to the left, without running afoul of someone’s copyright.
But if all you need are colors that work well together, and won’t be displaying the picture publicly, it’s fine to use any image you want.
My suggestion is, if you’ve never used Colr.org’s software, pop over to the site and start playing around with some of the features by using one of the random Flickr images on the home page. There’s a very handy button allowing you to load other, random images in case the ones on display don’t float your boat.
The button I use most is “Pick a Scheme from image” since that will auto generate a scheme with 3 or more colors taken from the image.
The “Edit Scheme” box is handy too. With the features found there, you can delete a color you don’t like, add a new one with the + or get the hex so that you can add the colors to a template. There’s even a feature that allows you to find paint by brand name in case you’re designs are for a physical space.
If you’d rather pick your colors on your own, simply hover your mouse over one of the 3 pictures on the Colr.org home page and click into any one of the colored boxes to find out more about it.
Colr.org also has a very handy how-to page for help using the site’s features.
Once you have some colors that you think will work well on your site, don’t be afraid to move them around in your template. My first instinct isn’t always right when it comes to backgrounds and readability. It’s perfectly acceptable to switch things around or go back to your picture and find a new color or two to substitute if things just aren’t right yet.
If colr.org can make me look like a design professional, I’m sure it can help you too.
I recently sat down with a client who was trying to build a new website based business. They hired a local gal to do the site and had the shell of a site layout to look at, but the process was stalled so they called me in. As I sat in their office listening to all the features and functions the site should have I asked one little question – Is she a web designer or a developer? To which they replied, “There’s a difference?”
Yes, a big one.
For most businesses, it’s possible to find a currently available software suite and put it to work driving your functions. For instance, this site is powered by WordPress which means all the fancy features of creating a blog post are in my browser window, search functions, plug-ins and lots of other bells and whistles are part of the programming that makes my life easier. I don’t have to code pages by hand, upload HTML pages using FTP, or re-upload them when I need an edit. All of the functions are part of the software running on the server.
The graphical component, or the part that you’re looking at right now, comes together because of a template I added to the site using the WordPress Admin’s Appearance Menu (another software development gem). The template gives me the overall aesthetics of the site. Color scheme, menu placement, fonts, and on and on. It’s the reason this site has a conversation bubble on the right rather than a tag-line under the big “KarlieRobinson.com” on the left.
The thing is, the very analytical thinker I need to create or modify the software that runs my site isn’t always the same person as I trust to pretty things up for my visitors. The process works the other direction too because it’s rare to find someone who’s good at everything.
My husband and business partner, Todd, is a hard core website developer, I trust him completely when it comes to database modifications, payment service integration or any other modification to sites that generate our income. However, when it comes to aesthetics, sites he designs usually have orange somewhere in the color scheme. Not that his sites are unpleasing, but not everyone likes orange as much as he does.
In the case of my client’s new website, they hired a designer hoping to develop a custom database and other software functions that were obviously out of her league. I don’t doubt she could have made the site look good (though the 5 second load time of her own site has me wondering what she’s thinking), but she didn’t have the programming skills to create an efficient software solution, from scratch, to recreate the clients wants and needs as a software solution.
The moral of the story is to know what it is you need before you ever hire someone because you need to know what type of hire you need to make. If aesthetics are more important, then a Designer is probably the best choice to lead the project. If the functions, like ability to accept payment are more important, than hire a developer. Even if this person can’t fulfill every aspect of the project they should, at the very least, be able to act as the project manager and form a team to ensure the requirements of functions, delivery date, and budget are met.
The first issue is that software is a cost center, and ROI to shoot for is some sort of increased efficiency. Regardless of how efficient it brings in customers, tracks inventory or creates slide decks for presentations, you have to have it to compete, so it all comes down to how well the system works.
The good news is that publicly licensed software allows businesses to think about starting their software roll out with the finishing touches. Carrying a General Public License or other Open Source License is the most important part because, it’s usually available at no cost.
If getting it for free isn’t enough of a cost savings, then stick with me for another moment.
Custom software is usually the best way to get a system that works exactly like your business model dictates, but the costs grow exponentially. The more complex the system, the more it’s going to cost to build. But it doesn’t end there, I usually recommend my clients assume an extra 30-50% above and beyond the initial construction phase for tweaks, bug tracking and resolution. If you start with a lower cost, then your 30-50% is also going to be a much smaller number.
In some cases fixing a bug in the system could also be free if it’s submitted to the software’s development team. It might take a little longer for resolution, but it’s hard to argue with free if your budget is tight.
With a little research it’s usually possible to find finished software suites that are close enough to meet the business’ requirements and development can begin where a custom solution would just be finishing up. A good software developer can even combine functions that may not have been designed together to create a truly custom solution.
The library of software that’s publicly licensed these days is vast and a business that wants to go this route should start the research process by outlining what functions the software must have. I also advise they look at what might happen in phase two of the roll-out and to consider what flexibility they’ll have to modify the system to adapt to changes in the business environment. A good plan and a shopping list of features goes a long way to making this process successful.
I’ve been advising one of my fellow SCORE counselors about the role of websites in business as we attempt to help one of his clients boost her sales. In his latest email he said, “a web site must have a business purpose, not an ego purpose.”
I couldn’t agree more!
In this case, the issue is not that the client is a braggart, but that she’s unwilling to accept that she might have taken a wrong turn with her website. I’m pretty sure I know where she’s coming from because I struggled for years thinking my websites, business cards and other materials were just fine because that’s what family and friends will say to spare feelings. I can tell she doesn’t understand why, with all the positive feedback, the business is struggling to get off the ground.
I also assume she’s reeling from the sting of my reality check because I didn’t have many positive things to say in the website critique I was asked to give. No item was safe as I did my best to explain why the color scheme right on through to the composition of her professionally shot photos could be contributing to the sites performance issues.
In her response to my critique she asked for a second opinion, and, I’m worried that she’ll keep looking until she gets an opinion she likes.
Hopefully she won’t have to learn the hard way that business is no place for the faint of heart. If you’re not willing to accept the opinion of an “expert,” no matter what the field of endeavor, who has no stake in your success or failure, then you’re subconsciously choosing to wait for the competition to mop the floor with you. Again, harsh, I know, but tough love is always a downer at first.
Shopping for complements isn’t going to save a business, but being your own harshest critic might. If you intend to make a living by owning a small business, you need to check your feelings at the door and allow logic and honest feedback sort out the path to success.
Those of you who’ve known me for a while know that I’m a fan of beginning with the finishing touches whenever I can. While the idea sounds easy enough, it’s not a fool-proof method of building business applications especially when you consider the prep that is involved.
To begin a website with the finishing touches, we need to start with the idea that any computer can become a server. All you need are the appropriate applications to announce your presence to the world.
The thing is, the “appropriate software” is a list of things such as
- an operating system – Microsoft, Apple, Linux, or another.
- server software – Apache, LAMP, MAMP, etc.
- the database – MySQL, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, etc.
- software for any languages your applications will be using – PHP, Ruby, Perl, etc.
After all those are up and running you’re ready to install your Content Management System, eLearning, Photo Gallery, or whatever else you might need to conquer the internet.
While this may not sound like too many steps, for those without a lot of experience, the process may not be as straightforward as it sounds. The term “Dependency Hell” comes to mind when I think about how the process could turn sour.
This morning, however, I stumbled upon BitNami. While I haven’t had the chance to use it yet, the idea has me fluttering with the first blush of puppy love.
I’d suggest you take a look at their site for complete information, but, in short, the beauty of BitNami comes through in the steps that follow the operating system in my list above.
Rather than downloading and installing all of the other components separately, the BitNami stack does it for you. The server software, programming language support, database, and application come together in one tidy install.
Now I’m not saying that there won’t be tweaks left to perform, but when you’re jumping ahead to the spit-polish phase, BitNami can make it easier for you to get there.
Now I’m not all raves at this point. One major shortcoming is that they’re lacking any sort of shopping cart system like OSCommerce or Magento. But like most projects, a quick trip to their forums show me that you could request an application. I even saw that OSCommerce will come down the pipe if there are enough votes for it.
I’ll be keeping my eye on BitNami because I think it holds a lot of potential to help small businesses get up and running faster. Faster also means less money out-of-pocket. Especially if/when the offerings grow and more of my favorite FOSS Internet suites are available.
I had a phone message come in from the SCORE office on Tuesday from a small business owner who has questions about expanding her business onto the internet.
While it may have sounded better to say that she “had” questions, I know that no matter how good I get with explaining the guts of eCommerce websites, there’s always more to know and thus, more questions to be asked.
One topic I always need to cover is the basics of hosting – specifically storage and bandwidth since those two factors effect the cost more than just about anything. The idea is to get the right package. One where you’re not paying for more than what you need or getting hit with overages every month – or worse, getting a limited number of visitors to the site. (better to get a big bill than have your reputation tarnished by poor site performance)
I’ve found that the easiest way to explain storage and bandwidth is to think about the data as if it were water. Most people can quantify and understand this analogy even if they’re not plumbing experts.
So in this analogy bandwidth is the pipes or hoses and storage is the tank.
To determine how much storage one would need for a website, we need to think about the content the site will be providing so that we can get a general idea of what we’ll be dealing with.
A full page of HTML coded text – without any images or fancy script functions (like Java Mouse over effects) would be a drop.
Add some graphical layout elements like small images to soften the corners of tables or a tiled background image you’ll bring your data up to 1/4 teaspoon.
A large header image adds another 1/4 teaspoon to the size of the page.
Of course you can rack up the file sizes pretty quickly with high resolution graphics (1 cup) and even need more space with HD Video (1 liter per minute)
So depending on what content you are thinking about I would hope you can begin wrapping your head around the data storage needs. At least in a Small, Medium, Large, sort of way.
Next we need to think about bandwidth allotments so that your visitors can view your content. While we commonly say that someone is visiting a website, the truth is, the content is being sent to their machine. So each time someone requests information the tap is running.
Bandwidth is measured by each byte of data that comes and goes and how many of them can move per second. Just as you can measure how much water your family uses, you can also measure the bytes coming in with requests and bytes going out with content.
When your hosting agreement comes with a transfer cap, think of it as being limited to a certain number of liters/gallons. So while this doesn’t provide a definitive number, it does help if you keep in mind a small number of people requesting a large file will have the same effect on your bandwidth cap as a large number of people requesting small files.
The bytes per second number will be a factor in how fast the data can be sent from your server. Will your users be trying to get a gallon of information through a drinking straw? Hopefully not.
Now I’m sure you’ll have more questions. If so, leave them in the comments below.
It’s not that we didn’t give it our all, we just couldn’t sustain an altruistic side project as the economy was beginning to tank. After all, there are little men with big appetites around here.
A few days ago I was being my normal busy body self and butted into an IRC conversation on #TeachingOpenSource and ended up blabbering about PSF even though the site had been down for who knows how long.
Well it’s back up now due to that initial conversation and I’m wondering what you think about a project like the Public Software Foundation?
I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look around and give me your feedback.
My first blog post about Full Spectrum Copywriting was a little short on details. While I’m not a fan of excuses, I can say I left the post short because I’m not sure how much is too much for the blog.
With less than 20 full blog posts under my belt, please bear with me as I find my blogging rhythm.
So let me take Mel’s questions one at a time and see if I can’t clarify things.
How do you figure out what terms (and phrasings) are at what level of beginner/expertness?
Part of it is basic knowledge of the field you’re writing about. The rest is putting yourself in a position to see where the questions might come from. Can you anticipate the FAQ?
So let’s say On-Disk.com is listing a 6 DVD Repo set. First, I need a draft of what needs to be said. Since I’m pretty good with Linux jargon, my first draft will most likely exclude any entry level terms.
For the second step, I’ll look for variations that include opportunities to define the draft without the use of Jargon. Since I’m listing a Repo, I need to use the variations on that term in my listing — Repository, Extra/Additional software, etc — as I strive to find the lowest common denominator.
Lather, rinse and repeat for any of the other industry specific terms from my basic draft – Mirror, Package manager, Dependencies, and such.
Balance is key. You’re not trying to dumb things down or show people how smart you really are. Instead, think about how you can bring people up to speed without taking too much time to do so.
The inspiration for the technique came from my uncle John. He was the first person I ever knew with a PhD (Or at least associated with a PhD). Because I was still a child and feeling that he was probably much smarter than everyone else I told him so. He then explained that no matter how “smart” someone might be, if they can’t explain a concept to someone else, they don’t really know what they’re talking about.
How do you learn these terms if you’re copy writing for a field you’re encountering for the first time (or does that not happen much)?
The thing is, you don’t need to be an expert to take advantage of the full spectrum. Being on the middle ground is also a good place to start.
Most of the time, the copy writing process is more like a translation service. It doesn’t really matter what the product is, since the person/people on the bleeding edge of the technology usually know all the terms and jargon. They may also supply a draft for you to write from.
Have you ever done an experiment to see how much more effective full-spectrum is (over writing entirely for a novice or an expert audience, over writing with the reverse order – expert terms at the beginning, beginner at the end)? That sort of data would make an incredibly compelling pitch for FSC.
Not a formal study, but I do have anecdotal evidence to suggest the benefits.
It kind of plays into one of my other beliefs about customer service.
If one person comments, take note but use your best judgment on how seriously to take it. If a second person tells you almost the exact same thing, there’s no guessing, you’ve got a serious problem.
Full Spectrum copy writing developed as I wrote and rewrote listings and web pages so we could stop tripping up our customers.
I’ve just been hired for what initially was billed as a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) job. The thing is, when I’m done, the website isn’t going to be optimized just for the engines. If I do my job well, the site will also be optimized for sales conversions.
Let me explain…
The company I’ll be working with offers a software suite to enterprise customers. The important part of these transactions is understanding how enterprise level decisions are made.
First off, most sales training makes closing the deal sound as if you simply need to get past the gatekeeper and convince a decision maker. As if the process is a linear game, like Mario trying to rescue the princess.
The reality in enterprise level B2B sales is getting the buying committee to understand how the products and services will benefit their organization. Knowing that each person is going to have a different point of view on how their company will best be served. For some it’s all about the financial commitment and return on investment (ROI). For others it’s integration into an existing systems.
This is where the idea of Full Spectrum Copywriting comes in.
When I’m writing anything that might be technical or only appeal to professionals in a specific industry, I assume the audience has both entry level and expert understanding of the topic.
To keep everything organized, I start with plain language and use more industry jargon as I go.
As someone reads down a page or goes deeper into the site by clicking second and third level links, it’s important they understand what they’re buying into before they get overwhelmed by terminology. By continuing into industry specific jargon, experts in the field should also be satisfied that the company might actually know what they’re talking about.
Just don’t get hung up on on what defines your unique set of technical terms since they’ll vary by the audience. For example, if I’m talking about how a product or service saves money, I’ll be sure to include details only an accountant would love.
This technique also works outside enterprise sales because you’re never quite sure who’s reading your materials. Even consumer items will have quite a broad spectrum of people who will need their questions answers.
One example would be a family contemplating a big ticket purchase. Will your customer’s spouse see the benefits?
We also try to use Full Spectrum Copywriting techniques at On-Disk.com since there’s always a good mix of expert and new users viewing the catalog. I’m fairly certain our customers don’t always run their purchases past a spouse or committee, but it’s really easy to assume the customer knows what you’re talking about or leave out the juicy, technical details advanced users might need to know before they buy.
I’d love it if you’d leave questions for me about Full Spectrum Copywriting in the comments below.