My real estate agent Stephanie Lane just sold my home in Durham so I could move funds into my nonprofit Story of Cancer Foundation. I was thinking about how I would help redesign StephanieLane.com.
I am not a graphic designer. The example above would need to be aligned and designed by a pro. The rough sketch does show a different approach to real estate. This approach has three poles:
* Buying A Home.
* Selling A Home.
Those would be great content “tent poles” for a new approach to creating a real estate website. I put “videos” as a separate menu item, but clicking on “videos” would provide a splash page with videos organized into BUYING or SELLING.
I’m also using “reviews” instead of “testimonials” because reviews feel more contemporary and easier to get. Reviews would be organized into buying and selling too. I left a traditional “About Stephanie” page off because I wanted to have the conversation about Stephanie in the “buying or selling” context.
Real Real Estate Online
Many cherished real estate marketing ideas don’t translate well to the web. Here are a few examples of real estate marketing ideas that don’t translate:
- Lone wolf pictures.
- Print ads moved online (with no stories or storytelling).
- Non-curated content (MLS fetch).
Lone Wolf Pictures
Somewhere in the real estate handbook it says put your picture on everything. Internet marketing is different because eyes follow sight lines of people in pictures. Normally I LOVE the straight at the camera portrait picture favored by real estate agents.
Portraits that look directly at the camera create engagement.
When you visit a website and there is a person looking out at you curiosity is high and you want to know more. Problem with “lone wolf” realtor pictures is that picture creates dissonance online.
Visitors to realtor websites are looking for signs of a NETWORK. People are smart. Sellers and buyers know 80% of real estate gets sold by 20% of the agents. The same image that makes a realtor look confident and strong on a business card looks lonely and dissonant to the job a real estate agent is asked to do – network with others to find or sell you home.
Do this search on Google: “real estate agents” and look at the image results. I looked through hundreds of images and couldn’t find an image where buyers and agent are on equal footing looking directly at the camera with big smiles.
Agents are on phones while buyers talk to each other (bad). Agents are looking at the camera apart from the buyers/sellers (usually a couple) who are speaking to each other (worse). The “nonverbal” communication of images like this run from arrogance to suspicion.
The closest image found is on the top right. I don’t like the separation between agent and “real people”. The agent looks removed and a little snobby. The image I want is agent between buyers/sellers, gaze directly at the camera, house in the background, big smiles and maybe the hint of a for sale sign.
Out in the world For Sale signs are the magic wand that starts a conversation. For sale signs should be LOUD and LARGE. The web is social, about community and visitors are smart about Internet conventions such as navigation and where to click to find what they need.
As cherished as realtor “lone wolf” pictures are in the world online they create confusion. Confused customers do many things buying (or selling) is rarely one of them. Realtors can show pictures that only have one person especially when that picture is next to relevant content such as “Selling A House After A Divorce” or information on the growing number of homes owned by single men and women.
The picture a realtor should NEVER show online is the picture they use on their print ads and business cards. If you show YOU alone and in a suit you are NUTS. A real estate agent should always been in a scene with others. In fact I would like to see these “group” images:
* Real estate agent with happy buyers / sellers.
* Real estate agent with bankers & lawyers (action shot in a meeting is good).
* Real estate agent teaching.
* Real estate agent volunteering (or involved with their community in some significant way).
* Real estate agent with their children (or nieces and nephews).
Each of these pictures creates a piece of the brand:
* Happy buyers / sellers = if they got a good result so can we.
* Bankers = understands the money.
* Teaching = knows the process and is a trusted source.
* Volunteering = cares about something larger than themselves.
* Children = knows the schools.
There are other pictures such as chamber of commerce meetings (reinforces area knowledge) and military (in uniform) if they served or were firemen or police and any picture with local celebrities or at local landmarks. Don’t go to the Old Well at UNC and pose a picture.
But if an event is taking place at the Old Well and you are there GET A PICTURE! In the Triangle best to balance UNC, Duke and NC State pictures. If you went to UNC, Duke or NC State I would share that without worry you would lose more than you would gain.
If I graduated from Duke I might volunteer at UNC and contribute to NC State. Smart to cover all bases and find ways to create the “like me” moment with anyone. Don’t do any of those ideas if you don’t believe in what you are doing, but in the Triangle I’ve been treated by UNC and Duke, I’m on a UNC board and I’ve taken classes at NC State’s McKimmon Center.
No MLS Print Ads Moved Online PLEASE
The web is about STORIES and STORYTELLING. Treating the web like a MLS print ad is confusing, hard for a non-realtor to parse and not a friendly User Interface. I’m not saying don’t use the MLS, but place the MLS in context.
In the example above BUYING and SELLING become the content “tent poles”. The new site should share stories of people who looked for homes and found them. Explain how they used your BRANDED tools to achieve their goal. Your “branded tools” may simply be MLS placed artfully in a page.
I’m confident any realtor reading this post can find a way to create a unique view into the MLS (mission style bungalows, homes next to schools or golf courses). Create a segment such as a Frank Lloyd Wright page (if you are in Chicago or Buffalo) and then tag and present prairie style homes that are for sale.
The Frank Lloyd Wright association will sell prairie examples like cold drinks on hot summer days. I live in Durham. Proximity to Duke is a key factor in home values, styles and listings. There is a “Trinity Park Style”. Use ideas like that to make a new development feel comfortable with an important style.
When you tell the Trinity Park Style story buyers who like the style self identify (by clicking your content) and you know how and what to show them. Think about your area. How can you group your home inventory into five to seven “styles”. In Durham we have:
* Trinity Park Style.
* Lofts and condos in renovated tobacco buildings – Downtown style.
* Parks and Schools style (developments around parks and schools and each of those may have slight variations).
When you create content based on these “meta” groups your website aligns with how people who live here search AND you become the “mapping” for those who don’t live here because you’ve described each neighborhood.
Easy to see how richer neighborhood mapping by characteristics, home vintage (years built) and styles is better than a bunch of MLS listings. The most important idea a content marketer can teach about content marketing is the more unique and branded your content the better. The more like everyone else (such as using a MLS widget) your content is the less valuable.
Again, this is NOT to say don’t use helpful tools like MLS, but DO create content that puts a commodity tool like the MLS in your website’s context, voice and mapping scheme.
Everything on your website should feel like you. If you use widget put them in context. If you use images, and you should use LOTS of images, make sure you take them or have them taken. Don’t worry about looking perfect. REAL is more important online than perfect.
I did some research on the top real estate agents in North Carolina for this piece they are Larry Strother’s ERA agency and Nancy Braun’s Showcase Realty. Larry’s office sold $70M in real estate last year while Nancy’s sold $40M (more units though).
I like how Nancy uses video and understands she should use every social network to help make the “I AM A NETWORK” point so critical to real estate agents. I like how Larry sells the IDEA of HOME with his big hero of a Norman Rockwell scene of American Home.
These sites show one of the difficulties of online marketing for real estate agents – it’s a team sport but not really. Real estate is a team sport like golf. The team matters and helps, but you still need to sink the putt. There are numerous ideas I would steal if I were a realtor and tweaks I would suggest as an Internet marketer, but those are for another day and another post.
This post’s objective was to suggest an alternative to commodity based widgets piled up on top of one another. As I noted at the start, I am NOT a graphic designer, but I’ve learned to always sketch ideas before letting a pro designer make them better.
I think realtors should focus on the emotions involved with buying or selling homes, look for ways to create stress relief and not create a website like everyone else. Larry didn’t and he sold $70M last year. Nancy didn’t and she sold $40M. Those are the kinds of people you want to steal from online.
Welcome To The Show That Never Ends
Instantly in love the first time I saw a website (early 1990s) something tectonic shifted. I knew the feeling. In 1982 not long after graduating from Vassar I purchased my first computer, an Apple. I climbed up on a soapbox and started preaching.
When I was asked to come to M&M/Mars Headquarters for training. I drove down from Buffalo to bring the Apple with me. I told everyone who would listen about this cool new thing called a “personal computer”. A group came over to my hotel room to see the marvel.
When we created FoundObjects.com in 1999 (gone now sadly), I was home. Internet marketing and websites require such a strange mix of right brain creative and left brain engineering my liberal arts education and love of art, science and fiction found a home.
Reading this post now means you are either new to Internet marketing and the web or have been tipping a toe in and now want to dive in. There is good and bad news.
Good and Bad News
The good news is it has never been easier to become an Internet marketer. The bad news is becoming an Internet marketer is so easy everyone is doing it and, ironically, that makes Internet marketing vastly more difficult.
Let’s start slow and simple with 3 ideas:
- Purpose of a website.
- Purpose of a blog.
- Social media.
At their core websites are a two way communication medium. We didn’t start that way. When I created my first website in 1999 we shared information without thinking about having a conversation. Anything online today in our social, mobile and global time is a two way communication.
Send information out and expect to get feedback, feedback that requires response and may mean changing your website, business plan or marketing. If your website or other digital properties aren’t supported by engagement your website will exist in a room by itself. “Engagement” means more visitors spending more time and “converting”. Conversion can be anything from filling out a form to making a purchase.
Interaction, communication and feedback is the purpose of any website today. Yesterday I wrote, “Own the conversation, own the traffic,” and conversations are always two way communication so expect to listen more than you talk. How to design a website as a two way communication tool is beyond today’s scope. Be aware that how you code, present and support content on your site matters.
Blogs emerged in the late 1990s as an easy publication tool for online journals and diaries. Blog content plays well with search engines and most of your visitors will start on a search engine. Blogs are seen as immediate and happening now.
Blogs are also a commitment. If you blog once a month without knowing it you are breaking a promise. Blogs need a daily or several times a week commitment to not break the promise made in the word “blog”.
Blogs are critical to your Internet marketing success because they are immediate, informative and easy to interact with. Anyone who says your Internet marketing doesn’t need a blog is wrong. “Blog” can also be a confusing term since some “websites” are made from blogging tolls like WordPress. Writing an article for Curattti.com about the difference between blogs and websites so keep an eye out next week.
Social media is where conversational rubber meets road. Don’t create a social media plan where you Tweet 12 times a day, Facebook 1 time a day and Gplus 5 times a day because social media is more dynamic than such static “rules”. Use social media to support your Internet marketing and to support your listening.
You need a Facebook page, a Twitter handle and a Gplus account (at least). Each of these tools excel at supporting your nascent Internet marketing, but they excel in different ways:
* Twitter – Twitter is the “radio” of the web. Use Twitter to share what is happening today. Follow related experts, Retweet related content and ReTweet people who ReTweet you. Be sure to say THANKS too. You may want to read about how Twitter works (since some of its features can be hard to grasp).
* Facebook - Facebook is the friendly people picture and video hub of the web. Use Facebook to humanize your company or brand, ask great questions and get LIKES and SHARES (both help with Search Engine Optimization or SEO).
* GPlus – GooglePlus is a series of tools that B. L. Ochman, a GPlus guru, describes as “Not just another social network but a revolution in online communication,” we tend to agree. If you are new to the web the GPlus learning curve can feel steep, but there is more “blue ocean” (uncontested space) on GPlus than anywhere else so we suggest you make a real commitment to getting over the GPlus learning curve. Start by following Mark Traphagen and learn fast.
Internet Marketing – The Show That Never Ends
Once you begin Internet marketing you’ve agreed to a covenant. The covenant is between search engines and your visitors and it is simple but must be adhered to or a hard rain falls. You agree to create helpful content, to listen at least as much as you talk and get better in ever faster loops.
Create a website with a blog and hang on since you are about to walk on the moon.
Content Marketing Tips For Lawyers
Imagine you are a lawyer. You work hard, graduated with honors from law school and don’t understand why your billing this year will be slightly less than last continue a three year trend. You aren’t starving, but you can’t put your finger on why this nagging trend continues.
Google is the reason why lawyers must embrace content and social media marketing.
Instead of spending 500 words to explain WHY Google and the web are behind what’s happening trust me it is. I’ve got good and bad news. Good news is content marketing supported by social media marketing is the solution. Bad news is content marketing supported by social media is the solution.
Since y0u’ve already trusted me to spare you 500 words on the new SEO let me spare you another 500 words. There are many tactical ways for you to create content marketing and none of them matter, at least not in the beginning, save ONE – Questions and Answers.
Start at the Beginning
There are a few important definitions that form the base of all content marketing:
- Blogs – Initially called web logs blogs started as easy publishing tools. Blogs have grown up to be sophisticated enough to be used as fully functional websites now (thus the confusion). Blogs are key for content marketing because their code, right out of the template box, can be more optimized for search engines, they play on QDF (Quality Deserves Freshness a key Google content concept) and blogs encourage conversations with comments and other easy to add User Generated Content (UGC).
- Websites – today’s websites use Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML5) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS3). The most important translation of HTML5 and CSS3 for lawyers is any website code is going to need a User Interface (UI) for you or your staff to maintain your website. If that last sentence sounded like a cash register ringing for my employer Atlantic BT, largest web and software design firm in the southeast, then you are learning fast.Does your law firm NEED a website instead of a blog? Depends on what you need it to do. If you want or need tight client or document security you probably need a website with a blog to create and share your content marketing. If you are a little one or two person firm who uses the web to round up new clients but doesn’t need secure, shared space then a blog could work (for a bit).
- User Generated Content (UGC) – UGC is the content marketing gold you mine. The web is a conversation these days. The more people talking with and about you the better. The more people contributing content the less money you spend on content creation (and I bill at $350 an hour when I have the time which is never).
- Links – Google’s algorithm for search is based on the democracy of links and social shares. One of the reasons you want UGC is because people who leave comments or ask questions on your blog or website may share their post (on your website or blog) with their social net. The more links and shares your website gets the more traffic it earns from Google.
- Platforms vs. websites – Atlantic BT where I am a Marketing Director doesn’t build websites. Websites don’t scale. The old days of “brochureware” are long gone. Today’s websites must make it easy to form community by encouraging and rewarding links and social shares. The difference is not subtle and it can be expensive.Building a website or blog to encourage social can be as simple as TONE, LOOK and FEEL and the RIGHT TOOLS in the RIGHT PLACES or as complicated as advanced gamificaiton (where a site uses game theory to encourage engagement). Let’s keep our lawyer content marketing website simple and assume it encourages UGC and social shares but doesn’t require advanced gamification.
- Social Shares – when someone shares one of your webpages on a social network such as Facebook, Twitter or GooglePlus Google’s algorithm “spider” follows the link and credits your website with a VOTE as Google begins to understand and RANK each webpage within your website. Google ranks every webpage from 0 to 10 with ten the best and rank is directly related to number and quality of your website’s links and shares. Links and shares come from the CONTENT on your website.
- 1:10:89 Rule – Early in my Internet marketing career I read Citizen Marketer. The book explained how 1% of most website traffic is willing to contribute in a meaningful way by sharing UGC, 10% will comment or vote on creations of the 1% and 89% ride free. if this sounds like encouraging and receiving UGC needed for your lawyer website to matter is as hard as law school you win a diploma.
- Q&A Content – One of the most powerful forms of content is when a web page starts with a question and ends with an answer. I’ve researched more than 10 different business verticals and questions and answers are always over subscribed and under published and the mass torts lawyers haven’t discovered this valuable content marketing truth yet but they will.
The Perfect Lawyer Website
Let’s assume our website doesn’t need fancy and expensive client workspace security. In fact we are using our website mainly for content marketing. This means we can keep the cost well below $50,000 by finding a WordPress template we like. Search “wordpress templates” in Google to find tons.
Keep your presentation SIMPLE and CLEAN. Lawyers with too much going on create suspicion and mistrust. Lawyer websites need clear nonverbal communication so visitors know where to go and what to do since clarity in presentation is a major trust creator.
Never walk into a design meeting without an idea of what you want and if you are faithful to that idea and ALWAYS have a sketch of what you want you will save at least $10,000 in design fees. That said, if a designer takes your sketch or example and improves on it be open to those improvements and think about the money you saved by defining the conversation.
I would never presume to be a lawyer. Even though I suggest you always have pictures of designs that work for you be open to new ideas the web design team will bring. I may change your design in ways you don’t understand so always ask.
If I moved your search box from bottom right to top right. Such a design change may be because search is more important for your website than you realize but not so important it merits a REI.com upper left next to the log placement.
I may move your search box knowing it won’t get much actual use, but its absence would be suspicious and hurt trust. No search box = you are going to lecture me. Search box in a conventional location becomes an immediate TRUST factor.
I might also move a search box (or other feature) due to previous User Interface (UI) testing I’ve conducted, recent “best practices” posts by UI experts or to take advantage of the hundreds of eye movement studies teams I’ve managed created or reviewed.
Here is the real rub, no matter how impressive my logic is anything prior to you launch is a guess. Don’t get hung up on guesses and don’t let anyone tell you something has to be in a particular place. Smile, node and then ask about what they are going to test and with what and how fast. If they don’t have an answer such as “A/B testing with Google analytics or a canned testing option such as Optimizely RUN).
The 3 RUN Web Design Responses
When evaluating a web design firm I have three favorite questions:
- If your website isn’t new ask how they would change your title tag.
- If your website is new ask to speak to their UI designers.
- Layout your business case and needs and then ask what they would do.
There is NO acceptable answer to how to change an existing title tag without doing hours of keyword research so RUN if they answer. If the team looks like deer in the headlights when you ask about their User Interface Design team RUN.
If you layout your business needs and ask what they would do any answer is fine but should include a “need more time to review” caveat. Any basic analysis of your position online takes half a day minimum and I do them all the time (so a day or two if someone doesn’t create competitive Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats SWOT analysis frequently).
Web Design’s Right and Left Brain Problem
Web designers think in pictures. Web marketers think in keywords, content and social support. Designers are very right brain creative while web marketers must have visualization skills, but also be analytical
Don’t spend your budget on pretty pictures. Pretty pictures matter, but engagement matters more. Benefit to traffic and conversion from pretty pictures let’s define as a 10. The traffic and conversion benefit from an ever-increasing amount of User Generated Content is a 50. The two working together is worth 100.
Here is another “inside baseball” Internet marketing secret.
Why does a web design firm such as Atlantic BT have 80 people working there? Yes part of it is demand, but another important contribution is great web design and content marketing requires diversity. If you go to a 2 person shop you are going to get a website like they’ve done before. When you go to an 80 many shop you get the website your business vertical demands (or the odds are better).
The Q&A Secret for Lawyers
Want your law firm to get started lightening fast and without spending a fortune? Create an About page that shares your law firm’s creation story. If DAD or GRANDAD created the firm that story is critical, and be sure to TELL IT like a story (hire a writer if needed). If you have pictures from those days more the better.
Bios with emails for every firm member. Use simple non-lawyer language to explain their background and expertise. Around a college town like where I live in Durham a stone’s throw from Duke note colleges early especially if they are DUKE, UNC or NC State. Easy to find bios and colleges with logos attached create TRUST.
Many law firms have complicated services pages. I wouldn’t do that (even if my firm’s practice was complicated). I would present “services” with a simple pie chart on the homepage showing % of divorce, IP, real estate, corporate, or estate law practiced. I know litigators are special fighter pilot lawyers, but define litigation in its understandable classification (corporate, personal injury, medical malpractice).
This is a content marketing lesson with two benefits. Google is keyword based. The more specific and aligned your content is to how people actually search for your services the more traffic (and so billable hours) your Internet marketing wins. The other benefit to being specific is your non-lawyer visitors, the ones who want to pay you for things, understand in a glance and so trust is created.
I can make a strong argument to SKIP the “service” page altogether. Services are intimidating as they are usually full of lawyer-speak and they don’t vary by 10% from firm to firm making the law you practice feel like a commodity (and I’m guessing no lawyer wants that since people pay less for commodities).
Named testimonials with pictures that look variable in quality and location is the other page to add to your “website”. Don’t studio shoot pictures of your testimonial advocates. If your firm serves the Fortune 100 then your pictures will be of execs in suits, but not all with the same lighting and background (since to do so would DESTROY trust you are trying to build).
Each testimonial should have a big picture, a short name, title location bio and a large tease of the actual testimonial with a big READ MORE call-to-action (CTA). When someone clicks READ MORE the rest of the testimonial should pop up in place (don’t move that visitor to a new page).
In the middle of the page include a large SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK link with about 100 points of contrast with your background (so big and red or orange usually works). NO ONE will use that link and that’s okay. The link is there to create trust in the testimonials on the page.
Once you have about 1,000 words of copy on your bios page, your creation page (with pictures and pictures on that page are more important than words) and your testimonials page your “website” is done. You should have social shares on your testimonials and creation page. Few will use those social share links, but that isn’t the point. You will get two or three and even so few creates a tremendous TRUST benefit.
Now find a Q&A Software as a Service (SaaS) like my friend Rick Ross’ AnswerHub.com and tell your designers to create the faceplate for the SaaS. I suggest seeded about 100 common questions and answers your practice is asked and answers daily (or very often). Create a ASK A Question button that fires an easy form that only asks for mail and name and the question in need of an answer.
Facebook has a comment feature I would use it for some kinds of firms since you don’t want anonymous questions. Some anonymous questions are okay, but you need the majority asking questions to share their info. Information about who is asking the question creates a “like me” response in other people with questions. Using the Facebook tagged comment feature is a great way to encourage questions with pictures and links to bios (on Facebook so pop those up don’t EVER send your traffic to a social net you want traffic to COME from social nets not the other way around).
You must answer questions in 24 hours and be sure to STATE that is your goal. Your questions may come drip, drip, flood. If they do GREAT, but make sure you have staff who can handle the volume and quality of answers needed.
Your email subscribe list is BEYOND IMPORTANT.
Make sure everyone who asks a question moves into your lifecycle email marketing. Lifecycle email marketing creates relevant messages to different personas and segments visiting your website and inside your list. Can’t explain email lifecycle marketing more today (since it would easily take another 1,00o words) but about half of your conversions will come after you’ve created a deeper relationship via email marketing.
The other half of your conversions, and “conversion” in this context is picking up the phone and asking for an appointment, will come from a path I bet looks like this about 80% of the time:
Entry via a linked website into a Q&A page.
Click on bios.
Click on creation story.
Click on testimonials.
Time on site will be around 3 minutes and the question page will have half of that time. When you see a conversion funnel like that the conversion happened on the question page every other page was a quick search for confirming signals.
See why I don’t want to clutter up the site with a “services” page. A complicated services page kills the conversion we worked so hard to create. Here is the tricky part for every lawyer still reading this post. Every lawyer bone in your body will say you must do what your competitors do and who the heck am I anyway?
Teams I’ve managed made over $30,000,000 in online transactions and our AOV (Average Order Value) was never more than $62.00, so hundreds of thousands of transactions. How did we do that? By knowing when and how to create TRUST.
Let me be more blunt. If you create the standard lawyer 10 page closed loop (i.e. non-social and no UGC) website then any website I or any of my friends helps your competitors create will beat your website senseless and you will never know why.
BTW every Internet marketing conference I’ve ever attended has a strong group of mass torts Internet marketers there soaking up every latest trick to turn web visitors into class action plaintiffs. Even if your law firm is 100 miles from mass torts, their ability to blot out the sun could hurt your online traffic and traffic = billable hours.
Create a “first mover” advantage by keeping your site simple, design clean and ask for and encourage User Generated Content even if you have to seed that content for the first six months (or so) do. Seeding is fine as long as you don’t do so deceptively (probably don’t hve to explain that one to lawyers).
I could go on and on, but it is after midnight and key ideas for a successful lawyer website are on the page. Keep it simple, make mistakes (something I know lawyers HATE) and don’t be a afraid to start. Read a great Neil Ferree post today that correctly insisted sitting on the sideline of content and social marketing is the most damaging thing a law firm (or business) does.
5 EASY Writing Tips For Techies
Helped our great network master guru write a post about Atlantic BT’s upcoming maintenance window (post is at the bottom of the piece). Loved helping my very smart friend with something – writing – he finds as intimidating as servers are to me. Here are five quick and easy tips to use the next time someone asks you (or your techies) to do the dreaded thing – write a blog post.
Techie Writing Tip 1: Be Specific
Strange to give a “be specific” tip to such detailed people? FIRE HOSE is how techies think so details aren’t a problem right? The first draft of today’s post was very detailed about things only two people on planet earth know (lol). The post was not specific about what everyone needs to know such as 9 pm Eastern Standard Time (pm and EST were missing). To be fair I learned the need for details like “pm” and “EST” from great editors like Joanna Wu (not naturally a highly DETAIL oriented guy so match me with a Joanna and life is good).
Techie Writing Tip 2: Be VISUAL, Use Made To Stick Analogies
If you are a techie who needs to write more, and we all do, read the Heath brothers Made To Stick book. One of the best marketing books ever written, Made To Stick is a great writing book too. The Heath brothers explain how new ideas are scary not STICKY. Sticky is good, you want sticky.
Writing about a maintenance window isn’t sticky it’s boring. Black Friday is sticky. So retell “maintenance window” story as a Black Friday story. Use KNOWN things to introduce unknown things. Use made to stick analogies to make boring maintenance windows become exciting Black Friday sales protection.
“Black Friday” is when retailers move from red ink (loss) to black ink (profit) thanks to day after Thanksgiving sales. Remember Black Friday is an example that works for this post. In the summer use 4th of July or sand and beach weather or flipflop days.
See how writing visually makes content STICKY? FlipFlop days doesn’t need War and Peace-like explanation. It’s sticky and visual. Write sticky and visual or visual and sticky.
Techie Writing Tip #3: Space Around Words = Understandable
Techies don’t see space the same as the rest of us. Techies look at a train wreck of DATA and slowly organize it into meaning. Yeah not so much for the rest of us (lol).
The more VISUAL you present information the easier it is to understand.
I edited run together and so hard to understand but critical information and tabled it. Tables create SPACE around content, around the ideas.
Techie Writing Tip #4: Tell A Story
Bet this techie writing tip is hardest to sell. What is the “story” of a maintenance window happening on 11.23.13? Here are story “hooks” that jumped up for me :
- Date is less than a week before Black Friday.
- Our maintenance window creates customer sales benefit.
- My techie friend IMed me, “We are just unplugging and old switch and plugging in a new one”. GREAT one line story so I used it.
- Find way to make SCARY things comforting and needed.
- Email marketing remains IMPORTANT to ecommerce merchants and these changes make ours better (so great story).
- Our techies stay up all night doing weird techie stuff and tweeting progress. I upped that bet by including a hashtag and inviting people INTO the “techies get it” moment.
- Don’t just tell a story, tell a SOCIAL story.
- Ask if your audience has similar experience, use hashtags to create impromptu community.
Techie Writing Tip #5: Write To THEIR Needs Not YOURS
If storytelling is hard for techies, this tip about having empathy for OTHERS is harder (lol). Techies THINK about complex things all the time. They must disappear a little to think their way through problems where one wrong connection = every website is down.
The problem with living in your head so much is you have little or NO empathy for me and my needs. In this case ME = customers and their needs trump all. Customers have egos. They want to feel in control (especially if they pay MONEY for that feeling lol).
The bottom line for Atlantic BT’s 11.23.13 Saturday 9 pm EST to 1 AM Sunday the 24th maintenance window is our customers websites will be down for about five minutes and they can’t create or distribute emails for a 4 hour window late on a Saturday night.
No Biggie since Sunday AM emails don’t convert anyway (trust me).
Most ecommerce merchants have holiday marketing plans in place by now, so a 4 hour window a week before Black Friday isn’t a big deal. UNLESS you present the need for a maintenance window in a YOU HAVE NO CHOICE voice.
Customers ALWAYS have choices .
Act like General Patton to Type A online merchants and they will eat you alive just to prove they can (trust me). Yeah that approach doesn’t hunt, or fly or drive. Better to constantly emphasize the upgrade’s benefit and importance IN CUSTOMER TERMS. Use words like QUICK FAST EASY to create comfort, empathy and a tip of the hat to who is in control (customer always CUSTOMER).
Bottom line is techie concentration is what makes them brilliant. We love our techies too since God knows we don’t want to be in a server room reading manuals all night (life way too short for that).
Use these simple tips so your writing creates connection and compliance you (or your techies) want. General rule of thumb is keep people who pay you money for things CLOSE. If the cost of maintaining a profitable relationship is learning a few new writing skills that is a great investment.
PS. Funny story is I published the post below after changing the categorization to avoid SEO penalties. I put in a great and Google friendly description, did the tags and published the post. It even got 2 tweets (now that is some BAD ASS writing lol). Then my techie friend removed the post thus destroying all my tagging work. LOL, you got to love techies .
Saturday November 23 Short, Quick, Important, Server Maintenance
|Atlantic BT Quarterly Server Maintenance
|What Are We Doing?||Server Maintenance|
|When Are We Doing It?||Saturday Night, November 23|
|Starts When?||9 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST)|
|Ends When?||Sunday November 24 by 2 AM (EST)|
|Services Impacted?||Everything for 2 – 3 minutes. email marketing for longer|
|Questions / Issues Contact||support(at)Atlanticbt.com, 919.518.0670 select option 8|
Before Black Friday …
To assure Atlantic BT customers are ready for a great Black Friday holiday this year, the day after Thanksgiving falls on 11.29 this year, we will do some quick quarterly maintenance on Saturday Night November 23rd starting at 9 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST).
The most critical maintenance will only take a few minutes as we unplug a network cable from one switch and plug it into the new switch. We will upgrade email too and our email upgrade will take longer. Our email upgrade will take 2 – 3 hours. Best not to distribute an email Saturday night 11.23.
Our Server Maintenance and Software Upgrade On 11.23 Includes:
- Deploy new network switches and upgrade mail servers – expect 2 – 3 minutes of downtown for all services (websites and email).
- New friendlier “User Interface” for our Level2 Webmail Server so our email marketing customers can create emails faster and easier.
If this important, quick maintenance window disrupts your 2013 holiday email marketing contact support(at)Atlanticbt.com so we can help create an new plan. We will be at our RAL1 datacenter Tweeting progress via @ABTSupport *DE make this a link*. Please join us the Saturday night 11.23 starting at 9:00 pm EST. Use hashtag #ABTsMaint to join our conversation.
On behalf of everyone at Atlantic BT, we wish you a great holiday season.
Atlantic BT Support Team
@ABTSupport *link this too*
Templates Are In Your Future
In one ten-day period last month I created two blogs (HeroesCureCancer.com and StoryofCancer.org). Create one website in ten days much less two was impossible when I created my first website in 1999. Now, with little prior knowledge, you can create an attractive website in a day by using templates and platforms such as WordPress or Blogspot.
It is easy to change your template too, so if your design looks dated or isn’t converting (moving visitors to buyers) change your template. Expect to spend about as much time changing as you did setting your blog up in the first place. It can take a day to a week based on how complicated the template and how well you operate with Photoshop and Dreamweaver (or some other HTML editor).
Template Design Tip 1: SEO Don’t Forget It
I noticed our CureCancerStore.org website’s Google listing says simply, “Cure Cancer Catalog” in the title (perhaps the most important “meta” information on the page). This title points to an oversight. In most templates SEO is shared and the bare minimum is where most templates start saying things like “home” for your homepage. It is easy to login to Agile7 and change the title to:
Shop To Cure Cancer | 100% Profits For A Cure | Cure Cancer Store
Right at 65 characters (the title character limit suggested by SEOmoz) and this new title is more keyword dense and engaging that what is there now. Google will take a day or two to revisit and change our title, but good lesson is to not forget to review your SEO especially on key pages. Eventually I will go through and write titles for every page, but getting our home page fixed is a good start.
Template Design Tip 2: Adjusting YOUR Perspective
When you use templates such as WTE.net’s Agile7 don’t fight the template. The color scheme of this Agile7 template meant we had to change our logo colors. Worth it to create a robust ecommerce store in a month, but be aware of how the template’s color scheme might impact your other creative.
If you know how to modify CSS (style sheets) you don’t have to live with the template’s starting colors. I don’t so it was easier for me to modify our logo (a logo with little following so it could be flexible). I could have hired a designer who knows CSS to help make changes but that defeats one reason to use templates – they don’t cost as much as writing original code.
Template Design Tip 3: Get Creative & Modify What Is THERE
If you modify a template’s core code you are spending money. I’m very proud of the “brand” area on CureCancerStore.org. Instead of Sony and Nike I modified the area to link to Story of Cancer Foundation websites such as CureCancerStarter.org and HeroesCureCancer.com.
Find ways to get creative with what is there and you will make web design templates work for you.
Template Design Tip 4: Improve Shopping Cart Later
Improvements in your cart such as fewer steps or a more clear sequence map (graphics showing steps) will contribute more to your bottom line than almost any other change, but don’t make those changes right away and never after Labor day.
Freeze your cart from Labor Day until New Years if you are a 4th quarter loaded ecommerce play like CureCancerStore.org. Launch with what came out of the can and improve it after the holidays.
Template Design Tip 5: Tables Are TOUGH
If you are like me and haven’t made the leap to CSS design yet templates are both a gift from GOD and a curse from the devil. Since the templates CSS controls things like how a table is displayed (with or without background, with or without border) going into the code and adding old school tables and other tags that may not be used in HTML5 and CSS3.
I tend to stumble and bumble along until there is ROI on having a pro show me how to fix my “bull in a china shop” design. You can find almost any code you need somewhere online. My suggestion is do the best you can, get through your first holiday selling season, look hard at your analytics and see what is worth fixing.
Oh and start with the cart and work your way forward (cart, product page, category page, home page). Many “new to the web” designers start the other way, but teams I’ve manged, the people I paid to know CSS (lol), have made over $30M in online ecommerce and we did that by knowing when to do what (like NOT working on our cart after labor day).
Most of those hard won web design lessons came the hard way. We messed up and then realized our mess up. There is so much information now you shouldn’t have to mess up half as much (lol).
Follow @ScentTrail on Twitter and let’s connect on G+ and I like to use Scoop.it and promise to share more hard won lessons that can save you time and money. Hope today’s tips about using templates helped.
Gamer Joseph Kim Rocks E-commerce
These are the times we live in. Times when one of the most substantial, intelligent and interesting e-commerce and content marketing articles I’ve read is by game developer Joseph Kim.
Kim’s 12 Critical Mobile Monetization Concepts is a tour de force and it is only the first of a planned three-part series. Before we examine why Kim’s ideas are so GREAT and applicable to e-commerce let’s review our current ecom situation:
- Online commerce continues to show healthy growth even as brick and mortar flatten.
- Conversion rates at most ecommerce websites are between 3% to 6% *.
- Schwans.com is highest converting ecom at 42%.
- Ecom’s past is about traffic, its future will focus on conversion.
Teams I’ve managed made more than $30M online. The “secret” is understanding the delicate balance between push and pull, trust and challenge any website must create. Ecommerce websites are games complete with sets, characters and stories.
This post is about how e-commerce has more in common with video game development than most realize. Here is Kim’s explanation of game development CSFs (Critical Success Factors) apparently being mastered by a Japanese game development company:
- High Ass ARPU: Claimed $12 ARPU (average revenue per user) – this was a strong indicator that there was a meaningful way that DeNA was designing monetization in their games not found outside of Japan
- User Psychology: Revealed their concept of user stress (“stress and release”) and the role of user frustration to monetization
- User Clusters: Advocated different treatment for different “play styles.” Third party analytics companies such as Playnomics and Playhaven only recently implemented segmentation and targeting by user types… but this can be taken much further.
Think of “ARPU” (average revenue per user) as AOV (Average Order Value or the average amount purchased on an ecommerce website) and you can begin to see how ecom and games are siblings.
The real interesting idea is #2. “Stress and Release” recalls the research of Amy Africa. I saw Amy present at the Conversion Conference last year and highly recommend you attend if she is presenting at a conference near you.
Amy discussed the “fight or flight” nature of conversion. She shared an example of watching a buyer square up, lean in and get ready to fight as they made an online purchase. Buying something online is NOT a natural act, so presentation, language and imagery must be crafted to calm buyers “fight or flight” dinosaur brains.
Content & Commerce
Post Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates the need for quickly improving ecommerce heuristics (time on site, lower bounce rates, increases in pages viewed) is beyond clear. Pages without social support, high bounce rates and no rank hurt more than help.
Interestingly e-commerce teams seem slow to fully appreciate Google’s new demands.
In a recent Content Marketing Institute study fully 90% of B2B companies indicated content marketing was a top priority. B2C ecommerce websites came in at 88%. Granted we lack tools to fully understand how traffic generation leads to content marketing monetization, but ecom teams lag because the right brains creative side and the left brains engineering don’t live comfortably in many e-commerce websites.
Think Like A Gamer
Here is one of my favorite sections from Kim’s brilliant post:
User Flow refers to a user’s activity path within a game. The core idea of this concept is to embed monetization points within a user’s set of activities. Whether within the core loop or whatever other activities the user engages in, you should design monetization calls to action where the user actually goes in app.
The point is that we cannot just rely on the user to tap within shop to monetize the user.
Think of your e-commerce website like a game. Are there rewards on each page helping visitors know how to “level up”? Is there just the right amount of “stress and release”. Is it EASY to buy? Here is another great quote from Kim:
It’s amazing how some games do as much as possible to not take your money. Once your shop has been designed, try to perform the following exercise:
Go into the shop and purposefully find ways of spending money.
How much are you able to spend?
At what points in the game can you continue to spend?
“Shop volume” speaks to the potential for your shop to monetize users based on the breadth (types) and depth (number, repeatability, and quality) of products in the shop.
Breadth: There should be an interesting mix of types of products and categories in the shop
Depth: In each shop category there should be a good mix of soft and hard currency items. Further, there should be a number of items that users really want to buy at every stage of user progression (e.g., by level, etc.)
We all know the truth of Kim’s note. We’ve visited online retailers who make it hard to buy. Some sites hide their Calls-To-Actions as if they are treasures. Some websites are so “high design” you can’t figure out what, if anything, is being sold (or what action you, a potential buyer, should take).
Confused buyers so many things, conversion is NEVER one of them.
High design comes from our fear of being “used car salesmen”. Read Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human, include a large CTA with high contrast (red or orange) and then take Kim’s test. How easy was it to buy from your website? How much is it easy to buy? Are you teasing links or swamping them? Does your ecom website tell a coherent story or is it all about PRICE?
E-commerce & Semantic Web
Web 3.0 and the “semantic web” will bring new design logic. We won’t design static pages. Page and content presentation is based on “If, Then” logic (much like a video game). If a customer came from Google on keyword X then show hero image Y and fill a dynamic zone with product mix z.
If a visitor is a “helper” archetype, a returning customer who has purchased products from A & B categories then show hero image Helper 3 with new cross category merchandising. Since variables on a single visit can slouch toward infinity we will use our personas, segments and archetypes from email marketing to craft our Web 3.0 semantic web logic.
If Web 3.0 e-com design sounds like video game development you win a cookie.
Practical Semantic Web Application Now
Thankfully I don’t have to beat last year’s numbers anymore as I did everyday for seven years as a Director of Ecommerce. The CATCH-22 of e-commerce is you can’t win without getting outside your usual approach and getting outside the norm looks like a sure way to lose. Here are some ways your Internet marketing can begin to ready for the Web 3.0′s “Semantic Web game”:
- Use HTML5 and CSS3 to create a small dynamic zone on your homepage.
- Create a “Read the cookie, fire the creative” business rule for the dynamic zone.
- Keep the dynamic zone out of Google (for now).
- Test the business rule with 3 to 5 keywords.
- Test the business rule with 3 to 5 traffic sources.
- Baseline heuristic and monetary measures with and without the zone.
If your conversions with the dynamic zone don’t go up 5x change your creative. Start small by only presenting dynamic content in defined conditions. Fill the hole for everyone else and keep those “non-dynamic” visits out of your test KPIs except as your baseline or B condition. Define “conversions” generously (more time on site, more pages viewed and signing up to your list are all valuable “conversions” these days).
What are your REALLY DOING? By thinking about what content to fire to a customer’s persona, keyword grouping or traffic source you begin to think more like a video game developer and less like a uni-directional ecommerce merchant who wants to sell something.
Your desire to sell something is or should be clear. Your job is to make BUYING fun, relevant and trusted. Strongly urge reading Joseph Kim’s full 3 part series. I will post links here as he continues to write:
12 Critical Mobile Monetization Concepts (part 1 of 3)
* Ecommerce conversion rates depend on time of year and what products being sold and by whom. Trusted websites with substantial direct marketing support such as Schwans.com may convert a much higher % of their traffic. Schwans doesn’t need to shotgun traffic to their website since they have a substantial installed base of customers for their home delivered frozen food. No matter what your website’s current conversion rate the biggest return is usually found in increasing conversion by even a fraction because selling better to existing customers who love you is how your website can convert 4 out of 10 of its visitors like Schwans.com.
After hearing “cancer” and my name in the same sentence life changed. After almost ten years and lots of stumbling around in the dark this Haiku Deck summarizes hard won lessons I hope you don’t learn the same way I did.
Wish I wasn’t so stubborn that it took the Big C’s hammer to confirm some of these lessons, but learning to love yourself (warts and all) is key to getting better and not giving up. Don’t ever give up (this is not to say there haven’t been days or weeks when “giving up” is where I was living .
We are about to create some very cool things. If you would like to be part of the next leg of “Martin’s Ride” please let us know by filling out the form below or LIKING Cure Cancer Starter on Facebook.
Why Startups Need To Get Ready For Christmas Now
I just finished the 20 Holiday Ecommerce questions teams must answer YES to before hitting the beach NOW (since it will be impossible during the relentless October – January holiday selling season). Finishing I realized startups need to ask important questions at this time of year too.
Web traffic goes UP in the fall. I would be willing to bet more startups get more funding during the September to June period than in the summer when the VC are off on their islands. Here are questions startups should answer YES to because doing so means they are ready for 4Q too:
22 Holiday Content / Marketing Questions For Startups
Is every slide deck you’ve created on Slideshare? (Yes / No).
Have you defined your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? (Yes / No)
Have you defined your Unique Customer Aspiration (UCA)? (Yes / No)
Do you have a functioning website? (Yes / No?
Does your website look good on mobile devices? (Yes / No)
Do you ask for emails, comments and social shares? (Yes / No)
Is your subscription list growing daily? (Yes / No)
Are you making more sales every day (may not apply to all) (Yes / No)
Are you creating some content daily? (Yes / No)
Are you spending some time on Facebook, Twitter, G+ Daily listening & Learning? (Yes / No)
Are you sharing your content on social nets daily? (Yes / No)
Are you treating your PROCESS as a PRODUCT (by sharing it on the web)? (Yes / No)
Are you developing video content? (Yes / No)
Are you curating MORE than you are creating? (Yes / No)
Are you learning something new daily AND SHARING what you learn? (Yes / No)
Have you created your first crowdfunding campaign yet? (Yes / No)
Have You created A Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats (SWOT) analysis for Your Brand / Idea? (Yes / No)
Have you created a SWOT for your top 3 competitors? (Yes / No)
Was SOCIAL and WEB HEURISTICS part of your SWOTs? (Yes / No)
Are you creating a movement NOT a campaign to sell your startup? (Yes / No)
Are you enlisting brand advocates (willing to work for free or recognition)? (Yes / No)
Do you have the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to know if your marketing is more or less efficient? (Yes / No)
Answer a solid YES to these 22 questions and your startup is ready for the holidays. I would suggest startups hit the beach now too, but most startups are so HARD ON IT taking a vacation until they are rich and famous is out of the question.
How do you GET rich and famous? Answer YES to the 22 questions above . M