Author Archives: Patrice

Why most websites don’t work – a simple way to evaluate your websites effectiveness

I wrote this article back in 2004. I was going through my archives and found that the points I made 6 years ago still plague many websites today. For anyone who missed the article when it was first published, here it is again:

Why most websites don’t work…

The Internet is a huge opportunity for small and medium sized businesses for many reasons.

1. The Internet does not recognize size. If you are a small 2 person accounting firm, the Internet won’t know that, you can compete online with the larger firms and have a better chance of winning the business online.

2. The Internet is flexible. You do not have to pay big bucks each time you want to add a new service offering to your website. You can update information, add promotions, and add full color pictures (ink isn’t extra online) and images for no additional charge.

3. The Internet can extend your geographic reach. If you have a product that is not limited to the immediate Bellingham area, the Internet can help you sell in all other markets.

4. The Internet is cost effective. Having a professional website with necessary functionality does not cost tens of thousands of dollars anymore. In most cases you can see an immediate return on investment by adding information your sales people can refer potential clients to, having an time-saving informative FAQ section to free up your customer service reps, with appointment setting functionality, e-commerce and more.

This opportunity often goes untouched by business owners, even if they have a website. Too often businesses will put up a website with the following problems:

1. The website has no clear objective: when putting up a website you need to question everything. What would a website achieve for my company? Who is my company targeting and why would they visit our site? How will a website impact offline business? Start with a solid marketing objective and strategy.

2. The website is technology focused: Website development is often delegated to IT people. This does not ensure a superior web presence for your company. Your site will likely lose its marketing focus and may not be using technology that is user friendly. Develop a culture of designing customer focused online solutions.

3. The website is poorly written: Online, the written word builds relationships. Writing for the web is different, “corporate” or formal writing can come across stuffy or pompous on the web. Be flexible, but don’t be unprofessional. Always check and re-check your spelling and grammar. Bells and whistles may grab a customer’s attention, but words make the sale.

4. The website has a poor design: The design of a website can make or break a website. CyberAtlas reports that “65% of Internet users surveyed won’t patronize a poorly designed site – even that of a favorite brand.” Take a look at your website, is it easy to navigate (rule of thumb to use here is that no matter where a person is on your site, they can always make it back to the homepage within 2 clicks), are the colors appropriate, does it load quickly?

5. The website has no clear call for action: Do your visitors know what to do on your website? Have you given them a good reason to do it?

6. The website is invisible: 85% of Internet users start their search online with a search engine. If your website is not listed under the appropriate keywords for your industry your website is essentially invisible on the web. Having no traffic on your website is a huge missed opportunity.

7. The website doesn’t work: Choose your hosting environment carefully and test everything. Get other people to check it. Ask your hosting company for site logs to find pages that have errors, and check all of your links and forms regularly. Your reputation is at stake, demonstrate attention to detail.

8. The website has poor maintenance: Does your website say “Last updated September 2001?” Is it filled with under construction and coming soon pages? Your website should reflect your changing business. Update it often.

Having an Online presence is a necessity for any business that wants to be a major player in their industry. There are many ways to market your business online. Through Search Engine Optimization, email newsletters, high-touch relationship marketing and Search Engine Marketing you can make your website an investment that pays you dividends.

Use the 8 common problems above and evaluate your website. If you were a customer of your business, how would you answer the questions? If you are happy with your answers, congratulations, you are maximizing your investment on the web. If not, it might be time to revisit your website to make sure it is working for you and not against you.

Grammar Check – Are you making these common mistakes?

I don’t consider myself a grammar expert by any stretch of the imagination; however, I am consistently shocked at how often some words get misused or misspelled. Many of the gems below came from Tweets over the past few weeks. I get that a tweet is 140 characters long and is basically a stream of consciousness. However, for most of you, your tweets are public. That means a potential client or employer could be reading what you are writing and it never hurts to sound intelligent. Some of the biggest offenders are:

  • Lose vs. Loose – you are not going to loose your mind, you are going to lose your mind. And if people keep making the same mistakes over and over again, you may wonder if they have a loose screw. If you lose a screw, don’t worry, just go to Lowes and buy another one.
  • Irregardless – this just flat out is not a word. Regardless of what you think, irregardless does not show up in the dictionary (actually it does, though only to tell you it’s nonstandard, improper, wrong)
  • Site vs. Sight – we sell websites. So when we refer to the product that we sell, we talk about sites not sights. If you need better sights, you can check out some products from Nikon. If you need a better site, you can call us.
  • There vs. Their – this has plagued people since elementary school, but is really quite simple. There is a place, their denotes ownership. If we are going to a meeting together, you will not see me their, you will see me there. And if the meeting is at a friend’s house, we can go over to their place together.
  • Your vs. You’re – Anyone ever told you that your the best? It really should be you’re the best. Because you are the best and since you’re is a conjunction of you are, then you’re should be used. If we are going to your best friend’s house, then your should be used.
  • To vs. Too – you are invited to a party, can I come too? Both correct usages. Too is usually used as also when adding or including some additional information. Whenever you want to include something else, think of it as adding; therefore you also need to add an extra o.
  • Anyways vs. Anyway – Anyways is incorrect, anyway should not have an s on the end. Ever.
  • Mute vs. Moot (or Moo) – I can’t type this without thinking of Joey from Friends. If you didn’t see the episode about Joey’s Moo Point, watch it on YouTube. This would all be a moot point if people would use this term correctly.

And while I have you all thinking about the words you are using, be on the lookout for these sneaky words that look very similar when typing a message, but have very different meanings.

  • Out and Our – the t and the r are right next to each other on the keyboard, be careful which one you actually hit.
  • Now and Not – I have received messages from people that say “this is not a problem” when they actually meant “this is now a problem”. Obviously the words are very similar, but they have very different meanings.
  • You and Your – there is nothing technical about this one, just makes you sound less intelligent if you accidentally mistype the word you mean to use.

So take some time to actually read what you write. Read it out loud if you need to. If it is an important email or document, have someone proof read it for you. It never hurts to check your work

mixing old school and new school

My dad (Bob Reynolds, CEO of Net Solutions) and I have shared an office since August of 2009. Not a big office, probably 12′ x 12′. At first this annoyed the crap out of me. He eavesdrops on my phone calls, he types loudly and we definitely operate with two different internal thermostats. After I got over the initial minor annoyances of sharing an office, I started to realize that there could be some real benefits to this new situation.

Bob has been in business forever. As far back as I can remember he and my mom have owned and operated their own business. As a kid, I saw first hand the dedication, hard work, and tenacity that it took to be a small business owner. Sharing an office with someone who has 30 + more years of experience than I do has taught me a lot of things.

  • Before you know why John Smith buys what John Smith buys you have to see the world through John Smiths eyes. – As I now eavesdrop on Bob’s conversations with people, I hear that he has an uncanny ability to relate to people about their business. Within a matter of minutes, he knows who their clients are, what their clients are afraid of and what that means to the business owner. To the business owner, this brings great peace of mind. It gives them the feeling that this guy actually understands my problems and my issues. Translating those pain points into marketing plans, website content, and new processes has allowed NSNA to help many small business owners.
  • Take sales calls – I am a 20-something and rarely take calls from people that are obvious sales calls. My theory? If I needed your service I would have sought you out. Bob’s opinion is totally different. He’ll listen to your sales pitch but it had better be good. Many young salesmen have cut their teeth talking to Bob. I am sure many of them quit after they get off the phone with him, but others became better because of the conversation with Bob. We also now have access to many products and applications that we wouldn’t have if Bob had not taken these calls.
  • Think through all the possibilities – we had a recent phone call with a large potential partner that could mean many changes for the growth pattern of NSNA. In preparation for the phone call, I had one scenario that I played out time and time again. To me, this partnership would only work one way. That is, until I talked to Bob. Bob then gave me a litany of other possibilities that could come from this partnership. On the call, we were able to mention a number of ways we could work together which made the partner very excited.
  • You can do it – above all, I am learning the power of saying yes and feeling super confident that we can deliver on whatever I say yes to. With proper planning, a thorough understanding, a large heap of good sense, and persistence anything is possible.

So while I may miss my private office, the lessons I am learning by eavesdropping on my dad’s conversations have actually catapulted my understanding of general business operations. Plus it is fun teaching him about the new ways of doing business. Showing him Twitter and Facebook and explaining why people care what I had for lunch is quite entertaining. Also showing him the real time feedback that we get when I post a question on the various social media outlets is pretty great. The combination of the tried and true business methods mixed with the latest and greatest trends of our time have created a nice symbiotic environment in our little office.

why most small businesses need a web developer

we were developing a site for a client and were 99% done when they called and said their current site was down. Rather than attempting to contact their current host and/or web developer to get the old site back up, we opted just to take the new site live. When I logged in to their current hosts control panel, I saw this message.

This client is an average small business owner and the message on the screen meant absolutely nothing to him. He didn’t know how to pull a backup of his site or replace the temporary files that the host had placed on his homepage. From this experience he learned a couple of things:

  • 1. Although he wanted to be able to control the content on his site, he did not want to be in charge of hosting his site. Working with a company like Net Solutions who does all the managed hosting, backups, email, etc. gave him great peace of mind.

    2. He didn’t want to be on a shared server where one open source application (Joomla) could take down an entire server.

    3. He wanted a company that he could call and talk to a real, live person. When he attempted to get support on this issue he found they were “experiencing higher than normal call volumes.” He was asked to leave a message and the call would be returned within 5 business days. I don’t know about you, but 5 days is a really long time to have your website be down.

  • If you are attempting to build a do-it-yourself website with an open source application like Joomla, please give us a call first. With our ProFusion Ultra Internet Solution, you get the benefits of a do-it-yourself program without the hassle of having to set up a hosting environment and the worry of hackers taking down your site. While we can’t claim that our proprietary program is 100% unhackable, we do have extraordinary measures in place to make sure that any attack on our server is dealt with in a fast and furious manner. We also do all the backup and technical work for you. So in the event that an attack does penetrate our servers, we are able to quickly and efficiently reinstate your website from a backup. We then go to work on solving where our security measures failed and make sure they are patched as well.

    Delivering peace of mind… that is all part of being everything you need for the web in one place.

    tell me how much you like us…

    Soliciting a testimonial from a client can be kind of awkward. We recently went through the process of updating the case studies in our portfolio on our website. Our case studies are laid out so that we tell the reader the situation, the solution, the products used and the success. The success usually consists of a testimonial from a client telling the world how their new and improved website has made their life easier or better.

    One client that I wanted to profile was Beau Coats, Attorney At Law. I have never actually met Beau before. I have never needed his services (thank goodness) and he came across my name on a chance encounter. Beau called our office and I happened to be the one to answer the phone that day. We had a brief conversation about his current website, what his frustrations were and what his goals were for a website. I turned out a proposal that same day and a week later Beau had sent me a check to start the project. It took a little less than a month to get the site up and running and now Beau is pretty much on auto-pilot with his site. He makes the updates on it when necessary and tries to attend our webinars when he can. So I was pretty sure that if I asked Beau for a testimonial he would have nice things to say about us. I never dreamed he have wonderful things to say about us. Below is Beau’s testimonial for Net Solutions:

    Patrice Valentine is an absolute jewel. Why she accepted me as a client I will never know – but I am forever grateful. When I first contacted Patrice I had just fired my fancy (and expensive) New York City web designer. After nearly two years of development my website was still in the “planning stage.” I was frustrated and skeptical, yet desperate for a web site.

    Patrice was very patient and thorough as she walked me through the NSNA process. As the site developed she was bombarded with questions, most of which reflected my complete ignorance. Nonetheless she was always prompt with an answer, crystal-clear in her explanation, and ever diplomatic in her rendering.

    When the website was launched I was pleasantly surprised. The site is sophisticated yet easily used. I am delighted at the ease with which I can change the look and content of the site. The entire experience with Patrice and NSNA has been a pleasure. How rare that a company delivers more than it promises. But that is exactly what NSNA did.

    Had I never reached out to Beau to see what he thought of us, I would have missed out on this great testimonial which we will be able to use in our marketing efforts.

    Obviously this could have been a learning experience in the opposite direction as well. Had I reached out to Beau and found out that he wasn’t so thrilled with us, it would have given me the opportunity to make things right with him. Either way, the learning experience would have been beneficial. Giving your clients the opportunity to tell you about their experience is an invaluable follow up tool. It allows you to reach out to them once again and it opens a dialog that may not have happened had you not reached out.

    Lesson learned for me? I’ll be reaching out to more clients to see what they thought of their experience with us. Bad or good, I will have learned something to make myself and my company better in the future.

    Using Twitter and Facebook Icons in my Email Signature

    Update: Here’s a link to a handy video Patrice made showing how to do this in Outlook: http://www.viddler.com/explore/ProFusionDemos/videos/16/ Net Solutions Facebook Page

    I frequently get asked how to put the little Twitter and Facebook icons into an email signature with links back to their respective accounts. If you are using Outlook 2007, here are some basic instructions for how you can add these icons to your signature.

     

     

    1. Open Outlook
    2. Click on Tools
    3. Click on Options
    4. From the tabs, click on “Mail Format”
    5. Click on Signatures
    6. Click on the New Button
    7. Give your signature a name (Company name will do)
    8. Then in the Edit Signature section, type out everything you want included in the signature. My signature has my name, title, logo, address, phone, email, web address and Twitter/Facebook icons.
    9. To add the images to your signature (we have attached the Facebook/Twitter icons to this post for you to save and use in your own signature) click on the “picture” icon (which is the 2nd icon from the right)
    10. After you click on Picture, a browse wizard will pop-up and will allow you to browse your hard drive and add your twitter/Facebook icons to the signature.
    11. Once you have the images in the signature, click on one of the images to highlight it. Then click on the “hyperlink” button (it should be the last button on the right)
    12. In the address field at the bottom of the hyperlink window, type in your Twitter or Facebook address (depending on which image you are linking)
    13. Click ok
    14. Repeat that until you have all your images linked to the right web addresses.

    It takes a few steps to get all the icons loaded in the way you want, however, not having to type in your signature each and every time will save you lots of time and save your recipients time if they are trying to look up your contact information. Promoting your Facebook Fan Page or Twitter Account in a signature is a great way to get your Social Media efforts in front of everyone that you touch base with via email. Net Solutions Twitter PageThese icons can also be added to your website. Just reduce the size to 30 pixels x 30 pixels and then add them to any page on your site. We added them to the vertical column section on the Net Solutions site. If you are using the ProFusion Ultra Internet Solution as your website provider, you can see how to do this by watching our Introductory Webinar. Click to Download Social Media Icons If you’d like to host the twitter and facebook icons on our blog and link them into your site, use the URLs in below in your signature: Twitter: https://www.snoitulosten.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/twitter-small.jpg Facebook: https://www.snoitulosten.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/facebook-small.jpg Here is the corresponding video to this instruction set:

    Workplace Email Etiquette

    There is no doubt that email has greatly improved communication in almost all aspects of our lives. My husband and I keep track of our children and appointments with emails, my staff corresponds with clients and each other via email on a daily basis, and we know that many people are using email as a way to try and get their foot in the door. As important as an email can be, it still astonishes me at how lazy, unprofessional and completely unnecessary some emails can be. I sit on three different boards and numerous sub-committees and I try to teach all of them some basic email etiquette.

    The basic workplace email etiquette rules are:

    1. Be clear and concise – try not to make an email longer than it needs to be. Add as much detail as the email requires (see #2), however, try to avoid long winded situations. There are some instances where just picking up the phone would be a lot easier then typing out a 5 page email. Make it easy on yourself and on the person who is receiving the email.
    2. Answer all questions – one of my biggest pet peeves is receiving a partially complete email from someone. If you do not answer all of the questions asked in an original email, you are just prompting further emails which will waste your time and the recipients time. A great example of this is when people email me about what credit cards we accept. I could reply with just the names of the credit cards, however, naming the credit cards and telling them how to go about making a payment answers their initial question and probably the question they would have asked next.
    3. Spell check and read aloud if necessary – spell check cannot fix grammatical errors. If you are sending an email to someone, please re-read it before hitting send. A friend of mine received an email stating “I look forward to spanking with you again”. Ouch. Luckily she has a good sense of humor, but not everyone will. Also, try to avoid using acronyms and short hand. It really is not that hard to type out you instead of “u” or okay instead of “k” and it makes you appear a thousand times more professional.
    4. Watch who you are replying and sending to – I sit on many boards who use distribution lists or email aliases as a way to communicate with a larger group of people through a single email point. For example, I can send an email to board@xyzassociation.com and it will be forwarded on to all the board members for that group. There are times when it is appropriate to send a message to the entire board, however, 9 times out of 10 the email could have just been sent to those people immediately affected by the message. Along these same lines, only use reply all when it is totally necessary for everyone to see the message. Remember, we all get too many emails as it is. A reply all could be completely unnecessary.

    Implementing these rules will make your emails more professional and efficient and more likely to get read. If I consistently receive emails of this caliber from an individual, they are way more likely to get read and responded to.

    Best Practices for Email Marketing

    With the New Year comes new marketing strategies. If you are considering starting up an email marketing campaign, you’ll want to follow the 7 rules below to make sure that you are CAN-SPAM compliant.

    1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
    2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
    3. Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
    4. Tell recipients where you’re located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
    5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand. Creative use of type size, color, and location can improve clarity. Give a return email address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you. Make sure your spam filter doesn’t block these opt-out requests.
    6. Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
    7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.

    ProFusion Mailer

    Using a newsletter management tool, like the ProFusion Mailer, makes these 7 items very simple as they are handled automatically. Having used the ProFusion Mailer to send out thousands of emails for hundreds of clients, we have come up with a best practices list of our own.

    1. It’s all relative – while at lunch the other day, we were talking about how inundated our inboxes have been lately with email marketing campaigns. Our CFO questioned if email campaigns were still effective. The short answer is yes, they are if they are done properly. I get 20 – 30 unsolicited emails daily from marketers that purchased my email address off of some list. All of these get filed in the trash can. However, if my veterinarian were to start sending out a monthly newsletter about dog health, I would probably read that one. I have a dog, and this is of interest to me. If the email is about a product or service that I have used in the past or have elected to receive information about, I am 10 times more likely to read, and forward that email on.
    2. Don’t make me hunt for the good information – emails that scroll on for days and days get sent right to the trash file too. I am way more inclined to read the high level points in a newsletter, and if something interests me, I will click on the article to read more. Don’t force me to read it all in my inbox.
    3. Your newsletter should not just be a jpg – we’ve all seen the email newsletters that are just a giant jpg. To me this is lazy. Take the time to recreate the email into a HTML format (using the ProFusion Mailer, makes this easy), with actual links and text.
    4. Don’t have all the links in your newsletter go to your homepage – by all means, have a link to your website homepage in your newsletter. A signature at the bottom is a great place for this. However, if you have a teaser headline and a link to read more, the link should take me directly to the article.
    5. Give me an offer – I am giving you my precious time by even reading your newsletter. The least you can do is give me an offer at the end of the newsletter. It doesn’t have to be a coupon. But give me a reason to want to read them again, to visit your site, to call you, to give you more love.
    6. I’d love to add to this list. So if you have any pet peeves or great ideas for email marketing, feel free to leave a comment here.