A recent introduction to online marketer Ken Wells turned into a captivating telephone interview on Web content. After some thinking and a bit of research, I decided our discussion was good educational material and worth publishing. I’ve added some background info and a few insights to round it out.
Ken is president of IED Web Marketing and he’s been involved in online marketing for about 10 years. His company offers a full range of digital marketing services to small and medium businesses in the Richmond Hill, Newmarket and Vaughan areas.
Digital Marketers: “They’re on the endangered list. There’s far fewer of them this year than last. Why? “So-called search engine optimization “experts” have realized that Google’s updates have more to do with social proof and especially content.”
Social proof is a validation of one’s website, a web page or blog post from others through recognized channels, such as:
- Recommendations – on Linked In and other industry networks
- Testimonials on Google Plus, Yelp, etc.
- Ratings and reviews on company sites from satisfied or ecstatic customers
- Social shares (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) of well received web pages or blog posts
This type of evidence is powerful because it equates to consensus from unrelated parties. Just as people check out comparative software reviews, social proof can sway others if they’re unsure about an impending decision.
Ken Wells: “If yours is a legitimate site, you will likely have social media (social proof) connections: a Twitter profile, be on Linked In, have a blog, be on Facebook and have a Pinterest account.” Standalone sites, however, with no connections are likely spammy ones.”
Spammy Websites & An Example
First, what is a spammy website? Primarily, they’re commercial-advertising sites for doubtful products like sort of-legal services or get-rich-quick schemes. Their sole purpose is to steal personal information like name, address, city, country, credit card/driver’s license numbers and email addresses.
Why? identity theft and email lists which turn into spam emails.
Before 2011, spam sites used to be frequent entries on 1st pages of the search results due to “black hat” search engine optimization (SEO) tactics. Black hat techniques focused only on fooling the search engines and ignoring human audiences.
In Google’s words: “These websites look Ok except that they use hidden text, cloaking (words in black text on black backgrounds), stolen (scraped) text from other sites, and gibberish text not visible to website visitors.” Read the rest of this intriguing article, “Google shows live examples of web spam,” on SEOProfiler Blog.
- When looking objectively at the site, is the primary focus the user need or the business goal?
- If some of the pages on the site are high-quality and engaging, are other pages on the site not as high quality? (Google has stated that enough low quality Web content on a site can reduce the entire site’s rankings, not just the low quality pages.)
If it’s the business goal, than the site could just be a promotional spammy site
Websites with a real-life purpose will have strong Web content on every page to convince readers to stay on-site and soak up their marketing messages
Ken: “Before those updates, fly-by-night sites served as units in link farms (sites that are linked to each other in little networks) to boost other sites in the rankings. Now they need strong Web content to do so. That takes work, a search for writers, money to pay writers and a legitimate purpose so as to attract readers who might buy what the site markets.”
Content is where it’s at: Now, and in the Future
Producing informative Web content aimed at your customers’ interests and priorities is a necessity, not an option. Regardless of how or where you meet a new contact, they’re going right to your website to check your company out.
When they get there, they’ll be scouting around scanning text as they go. The more interesting things there are to read, look at or watch, providing you’re covering interesting topics in an interesting way, the longer they’ll remain on your site: absorbing your marketing messages and developing trust in you.
Web Content as Currency
Back in 2009, I was fortunate to hear Bob Pearson (@bobpearson1845), now president of Atlanta-based public relations firm W20 Group, speak at Toronto’s Third Tuesday social media Meetup. His words were prophetic:
“As the digital revolution accelerates, everything will speed up and there will be less time to evaluate companies as partners, customers or vendors. For companies of all sizes, content will become the new currency of communications.”
Content communicates your understanding of your customer’s problems, expectations and what the Hubspot folks say delights them. It demonstrates your company’s values, expertise, service and grasp of your customer’s experience.
Educational Web Content
Content, in whatever form it appears, must be educational and customer-centric. Educating involves deciding what topics or aspects to address and communicating their features and benefits succinctly.
A sales or marketing background helps because with all the practice and trial and error involved, lessons are internalized. This is especially important for video where you have only seconds to make a good impression.
Finally, if Web content is being expressed in words, they must be well-written, meaningful and be engaging – to the point that people are compelled to share them. That would a social share, of course.
Video is the New Black
Ken does a lot of video for his clients and notes that it’s the future of marketing. “People would rather watch than read but the words are necessary to frame the video and words do wonders for SEO for videos.”
His perspective parallels what was said in a TechCrunch May 8, 2016 article, “The Information Age is over; welcome to The Experience Age.”
“The central idea of the Experience Age is this: I’ll show you my point of view, you give me your attention. I hear you yelling, “That’s always been the story of social! And it has. But what’s changed is that the stories we tell each other now begin and end visually, making the narrative more literal (factual) than ever.“
But here’s an startling fact: 70% of Ken’s clients aren’t comfortable in front of the camera. This includes people in such public occupations as lawyers who work in courtrooms. “People say their voices sound foreign to them because they’ve never had an opportunity to listen to their recorded voice.”
I piped in: If people are anxious in front of cameras, their business capabilities may be not be as trusted because video is equated with real-life. Hiring actors might be a better idea as they won’t be self conscious. The business owner, in turn, would receive a professional corporate video. Ken agreed, adding that this practice is very popular in Australia
Uncommon Sense Makes Sense
Near the end of our phone discussion, Ken shared a question he asks every Web content writer: “Do you have uncommon sense?”
“Good one,” I replied
I knew where he was going with this. It goes further than the old chestnut, “Can you think out of the box?” Common sense only exists among people with common traits, cultures, and backgrounds which gives them a shared perspective.
Uncommon sense as it relates to writing means:
- Being an adaptable thinker
- Seeing other possibilities within a story and possible tributaries extending from the first one
- Understanding how one theme might be related or linked to another, technology and-or application
- Being creative, curious, ingenious
- Reaching out and asking to speak with people: influencers, if you like
- If you feel your vocabulary could be stronger, you become a fan of Dictionary.com
Uncommon sense is based on uncommon thinking which challenges customary ways of perceiving, analyzing, and creating. Uncommon sense is derived from resourceful, creative, limitless, unconventional, lateral, relational, linear, logical, critical, abstract, and unusual thinking.
The type of thinking that created new technologies like:
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Wearable technology
- Virtual/augmented reality, and
- Further advancements in wireless technologies
The transition from the Information to the Experience Age will require uncommon sense and thinking to be able to originate uncommon solutions to complex problems. Courtesy of a Twitter contact Rain_Callahan
here’s a top 10 list of skills projected to be important in 2020:
It appears, we’re all going to need uncommon sense to remain employable and vital human beings.
Staring out from a friend’s balcony last winter, I got to thinking about the splendor of the evening sky even if its colours were dusky dark gray bleeding to even murkier depths.
With its successive vertical layers, the encroaching night’s sky reminded me of artist Mark Rothko’s abstract paintings. In many of them, he layered both contrasting and complementary colours to form visually arresting effects.
Like all painters, he created his own hues (variety of colours) on his pallet and required them in volume. I mention that because it increases one’s appreciation of his work and demonstrates a point yet to be made.
From Washington D.C.’s National Gallery write-up: “Rothko developed a painstaking technique of overlaying colors until, in the words of art historian Dore Ashton, “his surfaces were velvety as poems of the night. By the overlaying of different colours, he produced a velvety haze that compels and mesmerizes the eye, drawing you into its projection.”
Which is also how great ideas and concepts are arrived at: by overlaying them, one on top of another until the best idea is achieved or a more refined or dynamic version emerges. This requires it be shared with someone else, and preferably, many people.
In contrast, an unexamined idea is seldom sufficient to achieve a desired end. Creators are too close to it and thinking within the vacuum of their own minds, it’s very easy to make assumptions.
Knowledge isn’t Everything
I write this from personal experience having been swept up in a personal vision, that of a Web Usability service back in 2007. I’d been interested in that subject and had technical sales writing experience since the 90s, taken a class in it, read 4-5 books by Jakob Nielsen and Steve Krug, and applied what I learned in several of my client’s websites – with very successful results. They made a lot more $.
‘Figured that was it: good to go, ready to launch. However, recognition of the importance of Web Usability among the SMB (small-medium biz) market was low, i.e. scant. In fact, at that time, at least in Canada, websites were still only gaining credibility.
Months later, I realized that, while the idea was good, my thinking was premature. ‘Best to wait. But that was only after I’d spent a lot of time-and money-during that time.
What if, instead, I’d sought the opinions of others in the Web industry, offered the idea up for debate and had it subjected to “So what? / What if?” hard questions and crushing doubts? Or better still, set up an open debate or even organized a Meetup group of my own to formalize the critique-overlay process.
How would it work? Each of us brings up an idea they’re working on and someone adds to it, expands it, critiques it, tweaks it, extends it or takes it in an another direction. Throughout, what is required is an absence or minimization of Ego and a “Let’s see where this goes” attitude.
Regardless of whether those involved had a vested interest in the process, successive idea overlays make for a much stronger concept. There’s also the possibility of finding others to collaborate with.
Let’s Finish with more Rothko
If you weren’t already familiar with Mark Rothko’s work, leaving you with the impression that he dealt primarily in darker shades wouldn’t be fair – or accurate; in fact, most of Rothko’s work was done in striking colours. Here’s a sample, but miniature editions don’t do him-or you-justice.
To really appreciate his work, one needs to behold one of his paintings in person. In a lecture at Utica, New York’sPratt Institute, Rothko told the audience that “small pictures since the Renaissance are like novels; large pictures are like dramas in which one participates in a direct way.”
Just like sharing ideas and sharing in them
Looking up last week, above the streets, people and traffic, I saw something I’ve never seen before – and twice in 1 day: large groups of birds perched on telephone and hydro wires taking in the world below. Could it be they were exchanging ideas?
This ‘beak meeting’ was of pigeons, which I’ve never seen in groups of more than 20 or 30; even then, they’ve always been in dining mode. That day saw roughly 200 of them out of my hearing range, but likely chatting among themselves.
Had I not looked up, I wouldn’t have seen them. Later, that reminded me of how limited perspectives can impede problem solving.
Most of us stare straight ahead (or down at our phones) and apply the same approach to problem solving or working out equations.
We get used to figurin’ the way we always have, even if the solutions arrived at weren’t particularly effective: habitual thinking and humdrum ideas are both the process and the result.
Alphabet Block Method
When I discuss problem solving techniques, I inevitably refer to the cube theorem; a children’s alphabet block provides a good visual. Its 6 sides are distinct yet some appear to be identical. But they’re not. The ‘M’ on an adjacent side is a different colour, for example, which parallels how similar conditions or lines of reasoning can be mistaken for their similarity. That leads to skewed and-or inaccurate conclusions.
Figuratively speaking, hold up the cube (or problem) in front of you (or write it down) and rotate it.
Consider its different sides, perspectives or aspects. How similar or different are they from your accepted rationale? Maybe they suggest that other factors or thought streams, not yet considered with any depth, may deserve more consideration. Asking different questions about ‘a’ topic yields different answers and often, breathtaking insights.
This is often followed by:
- The birth of new ideas
- Tweaks to existing philosophies or concepts
- A re-think of content and marketing strategies, and
- Adjustments to products and services
Later down by the lakefront, I heard the cackle of birds and gazed upwards. There, on a construction crane’s cable and trestles were perched hundreds, if not thousands, of them.
My photo doesn’t capture the amount of activity flying about. Beyond the stationary ones, several birds hovered about, jockeying for position or hop scotching to different spots. Kind of … like a debate was being held or perhaps a negotiation of some sort.
Seeking Feedback Equates to Seeking Clarity
That got me thinking about the value of seeking feedback on one’s idea, concept or hypothesis (a proposition assumed as a premise in an argument or line of reasoning).
It’s very easy to ‘fall in love’ with one’s idea and for others to do likewise, especially in groups or companies where it may be politically advantageous to do so.
When this occurs, the Farmed Salmon Effect (my term) takes hold and does so to the detriment of both the idea’s soundness and those involved. Figuratively speaking, all those fish swimming in an enclosed tank with:
- Inadequate water circulation
- No predators to escape, or
- Challenging water currents
leads to an under-examined idea, concept or product-service.
Whereas, inviting others’ critical-constructive feedback reveals oversights, updates thinking and polishes already stellar ideas; it also prevents well-meaning, experiential conclusions from previous-current applications unduly influencing one’s thinking.
Having ‘an’ answer, preferably a researched, analyzed and “proofed” one, promotes trust. The objective is cohesive content, a sound sales proposition or other argument, whether vocal in nature or in written form. Being proactive improves quality.
Is this theme a future post or merely just another side of the alphabet block?
It is both.
On the subject of inquiry, the great thinker Edward de Bono said:
“Everyone has the right to doubt everything as often as he pleases and the duty to do it at least once. No one way of looking at things is too sacred to be reconsidered. No one way of doing things is beyond improvement.”
According to Twitter, altering your Twitter profile text color can only be done within their platform.
Initially, that was fine. However, when I had a graphic designed for me (see above), I wanted a text colour that matched it. Why? To minimize distraction: a Usability rule.
From a branding perspective, however, it may be important that one’s Twitter profile text color agree with those in the company logo: looks better, more cohesive.
None of the choices in the Twitter palette appealed to me, primarily due to poor readability. I found most of the colors abrasive. Interacting using a phone, where light conditions are variable, can make the hashtags and links fade out.
An examination of the Twitter palette shows a selection of:
- Saturated retina-scarring tints like red, orange, mustard yellow and emerald green (top middle tile). I wondered to what degree could people read my tweets while their eyes dealt with the glare?
- Pale colours such as pink lemonade, the blue-green one, powder blue, and gray are going to get drowned out by surrounding light, forcing aggravating adjustments.
- The purple wasn’t suitable but its dark hue makes it legible, at least. The remaining blue one beside the gray tile is what I created for my Twitter profile using a colour customization tool called Color Picker.
Customizing Twitter Profile Text Color
- As you move the vertical slider up or down, the big square on the left also changes colour.
- Moving the little white circle around illustrates the range of colors within the vertical slider’s temporary setting. Where ever the little white circle ends up, color-wise, will be reflected in the top right corner square. Let’s say you find a color you like.
- Clicking the “Add to My Colors” rectangle transfers a chosen color to a horizontal palette beneath the working area.
- Each color you click in either the bottom right hand rectangle or the palette of your choices underneath the Color Picker produces a HEX (decimal) color code up top. (Now it’s time to access your Twitter profile page.
Updating Twitter Profile Text Color
- In Twitter, click on your personal image or symbol (top right corner) and scroll down 1 level to View Profile. A line of stats appears. Click on ‘Edit Profile’ at the far right. (I added this graphic because it’s easy to overlook it).
- From the left side box, click on Theme Color and the palette opens up. Into the box on the bottom right, copy whatever HEX code you’ve chosen from Color Picker and paste into that box. Instantly you’ll see the change in the text directly above it.
- Save changes and examine your Twitter page as a whole. If the new text color is not to your liking, you may continue to experiment with Color Picker. To save time, use several of the 10 available colour choice squares in the bottom palette.
Result: A color-coordinated Twitter presentation that’s easy on the eyes and works with your branding.
Most businesses spend the majority of their resources on customer acquisition, rather than serving existing clients. As a result, customers often feel left out or unappreciated, subsequent to a product installation or service on-boarding.
Traditionally, Customer Service departments have had the responsibility for answering customer questions and resolving issues. They’ve also contributed by saving disgruntled customers from leaving.
What is at the root of this great upset?
- Customer service agents failed to answer customers’ questions 50% of the time (Harris Interactive)
- 68% of customers who left perceived an attitude of non-caring, 14% left due to companies not staying in touch and 9% due to dissatisfaction with the product or price (U.S. News & World Report), and
- 40% of Canadians believe businesses are paying less attention to customer service: more than any other country surveyed (2014 Amex Canada Survey)
Compounding these intimidating numbers is the ongoing customer power shift fueled by social media opinion sharing. In view of the stats above, it isn’t surprising that news of bad customer service reaches twice as many ears as good.
Short of a company-wide appraisal, what can be done right now to demonstrate care, concern and appreciation for customers?
Apply Social Media Channels & Email as Customer Service Enablers
To communicate gratitude to customers and to bridge the information-attention gap, a 3-step process can be undertaken and begun immediately. Please note that this is an ongoing process.
Does this seem daunting: too much? I understand that. It can be a little intimidating but proactive customer service is the new black. The customer power shift is only going to intensify.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Step 1: Address Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Customers ask us questions each day. Start keeping track of them. Write them down and solicit feedback from anyone who deals with them. Far too often, vital info is silo’d in people’s minds and activated only when prompted.
If employees are in different offices, create a Wiki (a type of website that allows users to collaborate in content creation). They’re easily setup and simple to use. If you’re using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, review the files for any notes on questions.
According to their industry or type of business, Solo-entrepreneurs can search for articles on questions, issues and problems. Then write out the answers.
Organize the questions and answers into topics, categories and/or departments.
Step 2: Conduct Social Media Audits on your Customers
As a starting point, you need to find out their social media status or level of participation.
- Type your customer’s company name into the search box and see what info presents itself.
- Pull up their website and see what social media channels they’re using, or
- Make customers aware of the platform you’ll be using and monitor which ones pay attention.
Depending on your industry or field of endeavor, your customers may not be terribly savvy or engaged with social media. If so, position your company as a helper by:
- Emailing them to let them know about your blog.
- Sending out a notice that you’re starting a blog and provide an overview of the subject matter. Take the time to create a content strategy so your efforts are focused.
- Refer them to your favorite YouTube How-to video on whichever platform you’ve chosen or find a printed version online.
Step 3: Customer Service Measures
While it likely isn’t possible to implement all that follows, it is hoped that some progress is made.
Regarding the frequently asked questions from Step 1, you may present them in blog posts or email them, depending on customer preference. If some questions are more prevalent, integrate their answers into your website, sales and post-sale product-service content.
As FAQs accumulate, organize them by subject or category in a web page. In time, search capability can be added.
Contests can be held for clients who volunteer an idea or discuss an application they’re using your product-service for. Winners get featured in your website each month or receive a Monday morning coffee delivery announced on Twitter.
Via an emailed newsletter, a points reward system could be originated based on your clients’:
- Community involvement
- Extra services purchased or 1st to order a new service
- Toughest question of the month or a combination of activities.
Post-sale customer service can take the form of:
- Providing helpful tips related to products-service
- Telephone follow-up with emailed references to new articles, learning guides or even educational (YouTube) videos, or
- If customers are using Twitter, recognize them via an appreciative shout-out, calling attention to their fine services. That’s just good PR.
Proactive, appreciative customer service works. 76% of Canadian respondents said they’ve spent more with a company because of a history of positive customer service. On average, they’ll spend 12% more. (2014 Amex Canada Survey)
The numbers in the U.S. were similar. 70% of respondents were willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent service. (2011 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer)
Listened-to customers are also more likely to Like, link to, follow, share and connect with companies perceived as being helpful. Wouldn’t you? You’re someone’s customer. And good news can travel just as fast if it enhances the self-esteem and reputation of the person passing it on.
Greater social proof, all Google, Bing and Yahoo ranking factors, results in your company being found more readily online. Everyone wins.
Closing Stat: Social Media Enables Customer Service
In the previously quoted Amex Canada survey: 21% of Canadian respondents used social media to get a customer service response in 2013 and 55% felt Canadian companies improved their response times over social media channels.
That’s a proof statement.
Can anyone share some ideas as to how they would use social media to improve customer service?
An analysis of the buzz and strategic aspects of Toronto’s Powered by Search’s Inboundcon landing page.
- Conversion optimization
- More complex forms of A/B testing
- Inbound traffic generation
- Local search engine optimization and tracking
Multi-Purpose Landing Page
At first blush, Powered by Search is promoting Inboundcon in a conventional manner, via:
- The InboundCon.com website
- Emails to last year’s attendees, new-prospective customers and partners, and a
- Landing page with a social media promotion introduced at their monthly InboundTO Meetup presentation last week
Apart from representing proper landing page composition (single, easily accessible offer, time limitation for urgency, no extra info etc.), the landing page strategy has wider implications, benefits and marketing spin-offs for its creator.
First, let’s understand that the $200 Early Bird discount (if tickets are purchased by July 31st) made in the Inboundcon website and the landing page are identical. No big deal: they’re just different channels.
The difference is the type of outreach. The website is a 1-to-1 conversation to educate, promote and gain commitment; the landing page is a 1-to-many, multi-channel broadcast with a feedback loop, as those getting the word out must contact Powered by Search to obtain their $200 discount.
Why might Powered by Search undertake such an experiment?
Lead Generation + Discovery of Social Networks
- If emails are sent, their addresses will be retained and, possibly, mined, for lead potential
- For social shares, automation tools can measure-track their diffusion and determine: 1) Who the most prominent influencers are, 2) Whether their employers are prospective clients, based on their projected marketing needs and budgets
- Social shares builds: greater awareness of Inboundcon; more PR for Powered by Search; more follows; social mentions; incoming traffic and a stronger branding footprint in their local area
- Post-July 31st analysis provides a wealth of statistical insights future promotions can be judged against
- A landing page model for use in client presentations and applications research: “Here’s what we did; here’s what we found; here’s our results. This could work for you.” Social media-shares behavior findings would likely be of great interest to companies unfamiliar with social media psychology and marketing potentials
The Shopify e-commerce platform is a vast and multi-faceted one. Its architecture addresses all aspects of a business conducted online and no detail is overlooked; however, there were Usability shortcomings which made my experience less than satisfying.
With the intention of making a great product better, I’ve conducted a brief analysis of the tools, processes and screens which slowed my progress.
For those who are unfamiliar, Usability (Use-ability) “is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces (websites) are to use. The word also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.”
This definition belongs to Usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s of the Nielsen Norman Group. For a more thorough explanation, you may refer to his firm’s website.
Personally, I’ve been studying Usability since the mid-90s and was introduced to Neilson’s work in 1997. His books detail research findings over a span of many years. I’ve purchased 3 of them, then integrated my newfound knowledge into client websites – with impressive results: my customer’s sites were chosen over their competition because they were easier to use.
Creating and writing my first Shopify e-commerce store was an intriguing and challenging exercise. With new experiences come new lessons and preferably, advances in thinking. Mindfulness and perseverance are allies in such situations.
This is a 2-part article. Next week, I’ll make suggestions (with screen shots and text re-writes) as to how the Shopify e-commerce platform, its Usability and overall presentation could be improved.
The opportunity arose the way many do. I met a fellow at a social gathering and we got to talking. ‘Turns out his girlfriend was selling fashion jewellery and doing very well with it. She imported the necklaces, bracelets and earrings from overseas and they looked quite attractive – and great on her.
The client had been a product manager and figured he could parlay her show-and-sell parties into online merchandising. We agreed on a price which included learning time, number of items, and a deadline 6 weeks distant: just before last Christmas, which seemed reasonable.
Shopify, with their integrated e-commerce platform, was making waves in local Web circles and a relative was using them for her online store: “It’s so easy-to-use and it was only $30 a month.” In contrast, a website designer wanted $130 every 30 days, “forever.” Easy decision.
Through the Web, people (the customer) are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter, and getting smarter faster than most companies. The ClueTrain Manifesto – 1998
These prophetic words have become a reality in 2016 due to the continued growth, mutually related and shared influences of:
- Social media networks
- Mobile, and
- Local Search
Combined with established hubs like forums, curated sites and YouTube channels, people share, compare and learn from others’:
- Stories and experiences
- Expertise and know-how
- Learned lessons and recommendations
- Tips & little known secrets
This had led to a quiet revolution in the business world wherein power has shifted in favour of the buying customer.