What Makes Content Compelling?

So that business book that you ordered just came in and you kick back on Sunday evening for a relaxing read. Ten pages in and the content is letting you down. Try as you might, you can’t see how anything here relates to the problems you are facing at work.

So it is with your website and other marketing materials. Unless customers and prospects can quickly see your content as a credible answer to their own challenges, they’ll be on to the next thing in no time.

Creating content that’s compelling, authoritative and accessible is the most important task for anyone in charge of a company’s website and other marketing materials.  It only stands to reason. If visitors can’t understand your messaging, get lost in your product descriptions and fail to see how what you provide is relevant to them, they won’t stick around for long — even if your site is a digital work of us. Still, it’s surprising to us how many marketers put content development farther down the list when discussing website redesign projects.

Tell your customer stories.  So what qualifies as compelling content? First, there’s no better way to help prospects envision how your product can be useful to them than showing how an actual customer is already using it to good advantage.

Wen SAP came to us with a request to create case studies based on how several large organizations were benefiting from real-time data in the cloud, we jumped at the chance to tell their stories. The U.S. National Hockey League is one example from this series. In two pages, readers learn how NHL coaches are using SAP’s cloud and an iPad UI to react to constantly-changing player statistics on the fly.

It’s a fun two-page read, and it’s easy to see how the NHL’s usage might apply to more standard business practices. You can download the NHL case study PDF here.

Be seen as your industry’s thought leader. Winning a customer’s trust is important for any business. If you are selling into a a conservative sector like financial services, even a perceived lack of credibility is tantamount to failure. So when Authentic8, creators of a unique cloud-based browser that’s practically impervious to malware, asked us for advice about a compelling content format, we recommended a survey-based white paper to cement their credibility.

The resulting 12-page thought leadership report is based on a custom survey of 160 financial institutions conducted in the summer of 2019 on behalf of Authentic8. It uses charts from the survey findings along with quotes from industry analysts and customers to highlight several key issues — including original research proving how senior managers in IT, legal and compliance roles often view security risks differently. You can download and read the research report here.

Make it easy to find.  Many companies have great products and compelling content that is hidden behind a poorly-designed user experience. Not only are these sites difficult for readers to use. Keeping them updated can also place a burden on the company’s marketing team.

Squark is an early stage software company that came to us with such a problem. Their website, while new, was difficult to maintain in key areas like the homepage and FAQs. Plus users found it hard to find important information.

To fix the problems, we refreshed the site by reorganizing the main menu sections, cleaning up the design and implementing standard WordPress plugins. This made Squark’s content easier to find and simplified maintenance for marketing. Too see how the refreshed site looks, check out Squark here.

Until next time. . .

Think Like a Customer

In between the usual client activities this summer—customers always come first— we were able to redesign and relaunch our Radar Media Group website. Top of list was to create a site that would impress and inform customers and new visitors alike. In other words, cause prospects who might not know Radar (except what they found on a web link, social media post or word of mouth from another client) to call, email or give us a try on a project.

Time will tell how successful we’ve been. But here’s some of the logic that caused us to make the content and design decisions we did:

Don’t be coy about what you do.  We appreciate good web design as much as anyone else, but not at the expense of making it clear up front as to what this company does. If the top animated tiles don’t give you enough information about the services we provide, just click through for more information on each one. If that’s still not enough to inform you, then the homepage “elevator pitch” about our mission says you’ve found the integrated marketing services company in Boston (and not that “Radar” gossip site in NYC).

Real customers, real quotes. Experience counts for a lot in the marketing services business. In our 10+ years of history, we’ve delivered lots of work for clients. And we’ve not been shy about asking for a quote or recommendation at the end of an engagement.  Sure, some clients are unable to do say anything for legal or competitive reasons, but you never know until you ask. We feature rotating client pictures, real customer names and titles on both the homepage and Testimonials page.

Show them your work. It’s one thing to describe the products and services you offer. We do that in our Services section.  However, showing samples of your work is arguably more important. For a boutique web agency like Radar, prospects typically scope out our design and content deliverables before anything else. Knowing this, we wanted an interactive Portfolio section that would provide a good cross-section of capabilities without forcing visitors to jump from page to page.  Judge for yourself whether we hit the mark.

Integrate your social channels. It’s not enough to just update your website with fresh content on a regular basis. Today’s prospects are just as likely to find you on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. Given that, it’s surprising how many websites bury their social media and blog activities behind a link or icon. That’s why on our own (and many client sites) we like to surface the most recent social media and blog post headlines on the homepage and key inside pages. Doing so keeps your website content fresh and better integrates your channels. Plus modern content management systems like WordPress make it easy and automatic.

Until next time. . .




Ecommerce: Likely Easier Than You Think

Many established companies, especially those in the B to B space, are reluctant to venture into ecommerce. The reasons are many, but among the ones we hear most often:

  • Ecommerce is hard to set up and manage
  • We don’t want to compete with our own direct sales force and distributors
  • We can’t compete with Amazon. So why bother?

If any of the above sound like you, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at your options.

In terms of the initial setup and management, yes, ecommerce was a bear to set up five or 10 years ago, especially if your budget and time options were limited. Today, however, it’s pretty easy to get started, particularly if you’re inclined to start small, see what works best, and build from there. In the world of WordPress, for example, there are many ecommerce extensions from proven providers that can be used to add an attractive and easy-to-manage online store to your existing website.

Plenty of B to B companies live or die by the talents of their direct sales, so it’s understandable why they might be reluctant to examine online sales. But in the spirit of starting small and seeing for yourself what works best, why not consider launching your store with just a few of your less expensive or low margin offerings? One of our clients uses its own direct sales force and overseas distributors to sell high end testing systems to life sciences customers. However, customers are encouraged to buy from their online store when it’s time to replenish the consumable test tubes that these systems reguarly require.

As far as competing with Amazon goes — yes, Amazon commands an astonishingly large part of the ecommerce market. That said, mass merchants like Amazon will never be able to match the customer service strengths that many smaller companies can offer. Right now we are on the cusp of the holidays, and one of our larger B to C clients — they sell customized Christmas ornaments to people all over the world — is processing hundreds of online orders per day. Yes, Amazon will sell tons of Christmas ornaments this year as well, and the prices are tough to beat. But try to get someone at Amazon to take the time to personalize each of those ornaments with family names, memorable dates and messages of the customer’s choosing, and suddenly the Amazon mass sales model seems vulnerable.

Ready to try ecommerce? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Until next time…

To Sell More Products, Please Don’t Write About Them

It runs counter to what many business professionals instinctively want to do, but one of the best ways to build credibility about your products and services is to not write about them. Before you call in the brand police, let me explain. What I’m talking about here are longer pieces of marketing content typically used to build awareness early in the sales funnel. In other words, white papers, reports, surveys and other forms of thought leadership content. For this kind of high quality content marketing, touting your own offerings before first demonstrating a thorough understanding of the business problem is a readership turnoff.

A far better course for reports is to follow what my company calls the “5-1-1” approach that has worked well for such clients as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Cognizant and others. (The first number is arbitrary, but you’ll get the idea.) That is:

  • Four pages of editorial text based on analysis and reporting of a business issue facing many companies
  • A one-page custom cover, co-branded with an authoritative editorial source if possible; and
  • A one-page sponsor statement.

A good example is a report we produced last month called “Doing Business In-the-Moment: How SMBs Run Live in the Digital Economy.” While the real-time subject matter of the report is aligned with the client’s “run live, run simple” advertising campaign, no mention of the client or its products appears in the first four pages. Rather to keep the writing as objective as possible, the content is based on interviews with industry experts, discussions with midsize companies, and our analysis of the latest marketing data information. It’s only in the sponsor statement, typically the final page of the report, where the sponsor ties the theme to their own offering.

Although not every company can afford to do so, a great way to add even more credibility is to co-brand your report with a well-known editorial authority. Among the business and technology nameplates we partner with are Forbes Insights, HBR Analytic Services, eWEEK and CIO Insight.

Want to sell more product? Easy. Don’t write about it! Until next time. . .

Use Tags to Monetize Your Marketing Materials

If you work in a technology or product company, the chances are good that you’ve developed a large library of training resources, technical papers, webinars and other material that you post on your website. Most likely this information is is posted here and there on the key pages where visitors will hopefully find it.

Posting relevant content on inside pages is a good best practice. But if you’ve found that all the hard work that’s gone into preparing these materials isn’t generating the traffic it should, maybe the problem isn’t with the quality or relevancy of your documents. Perhaps the fault lies in how your material is organized.

Fortunately there are inexpensive but powerful tools available for our favorite CMS platform — WordPress — that make it easier for readers to discover the downloads they want. All it takes is a little thought on on your part to get started.

The first step in the organization process is to collect all of the documents you want to make available to create a single “information library” of support content — typically data sheets, product brochures, case studies, technical application notes and so on. Assuming many of these documents are already published throughout your site, you don’t need to physically pull all the PDFs together. Just note the document name and URL for each one.

Next, step back and look at your list of materials. What are the category “buckets” that the information falls into? Typically you’ll spot a handful — technical documentation, release notes, case studies, product brocures and so on. As you may have guessed by now, these categories will ultimately be used to create category “tags” that readers will use to help narrow down documents of interest. Once your new info library page is set up, readers will be presented with one or more dropdown menus from which they can quickly filter the types of documents they want.

After the WordPress plugin is installed and configured, you’ll need to go into the tool and assign tags to each of the documents in your collection. Depending on how many documents you’re trying to organize, simply organizing the content into major categories may suffice. But leveraging the power of tags can be extended further using subcategories — essentially tags within tags that further filter a long list of documents down to a select few. If for example you have dozens of application notes dealing with server software, but only two or three that deal with “Microsoft Windows,” then a subcategory based on operating systems (Microsoft Windows, Macintosh OSX, Linux, etc.) will be useful.

To see for yourself the power of tags, check out the “Resources” page we recently built for Listen Inc. in Boston. It uses tags in drop-down boxes to cull through a wide variety of information. Without ever leaving the page, readers can find a listing of upcoming trade show events, choose from multiple training and webinar programs, and access dozens of papers, technical notes, news and test sequences.

Until next time….

Is Your Site Mobile-Friendly?

If your company depends upon Internet traffic–and what business these days doesn’t?–then know this. According to many sources, including this new comScore report, more than half of digital traffic online now comes through mobile apps. Smartphones and tablets combined now account for 60 percent of all Internet traffic. And that’s growing fast from last year’s survey milestone of 50 percent.

As you might expect, a good amount of that traffic is driven by the entertainment business where digital radio, digital messaging and social apps like Twitter and Facebook rule the day. However if you run a business-to-business company like many of our clients do, you still cannot afford to ignore the importance of mobile traffic.

Another report, this one from SEO platform provider BrightEdge on the amount of organic traffic generated by mobile, is equally enlightening. That study suggest 23 percent of organic website traffic originates from smartphones with another 12 percent coming from tablets. In other words, nearly all organizations should figure that 35 percent of their visitors will be reading their content on smaller devices. And if your clients include a good mix of Millennial users or visitors from Asia where smartphones prevail, then that number is almost certainly higher.

This begs the question as to whether your site is optimized for mobile devices. If it’s not, then perhaps it should be.

Many newer sites, including those we design, are built from the ground up to be responsive. That is, we design using a framework that automatically reflows the content to display well on devices of all sizes. Even the navigation automatically adjusts. For example, a traditional drop-down nav can be made to display in full desktop mode, and a finger-friendly “hamburger” style menu will appear when the content is viewed on a mobile device. And with responsive, there’s no more “pinch to zoom” when using phones and tablets. Text is always full size.

Making a site responsive is best done as part of a site redesign effort. If your site is otherwise solid or a redesign isn’t in the budget, then you might consider making some of your most highly visited pages mobile-friendly. One of the best ways we’ve found to do this without creating a mobile site from scratch is to use a site plug-in designed for this purpose. There are several WordPress plug-ins we’ve found that do a nice job with this.

Until next time….

Don’t Put Off Upgrading Your CMS

With so many well-publicized security scares in the news each week, most business people have a good idea how important it is to keep their computers updated with the latest security patches. What sometimes gets forgotten is the need to pay just as much attention to the security of their company websites.

Security wasn’t always such a big web issue. A few years ago, before the widespread use of content management systems (CMSs), most websites consisted of passive HTML files and graphics. While these sites weren’t nearly as easy to maintain as today’s systems based on sleek CMSs like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, they were virtually impossible to hack. Because those old sites lacked the active code and database components that make today’s backend editing process so interactive and easy to use, there were few hooks that hackers could use to gain their unlawful entry.

Today it’s a much different story. CMS-driven websites like the ones we build for clients are chock-full of useful code that provide tons of features that today’s users cannot (and should not) live without. Whether these features are built into the CMS platform itself or added later via plug-ins and add-ons each one introduces new code that in some cases and without the right security cautions included, can be exploited to provide a “back door” for hackers to get in.

Fortunately the good guys are well aware of the potential problems. That’s why CMS providers like WordPress and Joomla regularly update their systems with security releases.  Updating your website to these new versions is usually straightforward, and in the case of the most recent releases of WordPress, can be set to automatically update in the background.

So how often does a CMS need to be updated for security? Usually it’s not necessary to update your site the moment these security patches come out. From our experience updating a site two or three times a year to the newer CMS release is usually fine and will keep the hackers at bay.

There’s one other security to keep in mind. Most sites today use at least a few plug-ins in addition to the core CMS for things like forms management, calendars or interactive photo rotators. Many of these contain code that can also be exploited by the bad guys. But just like the CMSs themselves these plug-ins also get regular updates.

A good “best practice” to keep in mind is checking with the plug-in providers for security updates at the same time you upgrade the CMS. Keep in mind that a security update for the CMS can sometimes “break” the functionality of the plug-in, or vice versa. When possible, it’s best to update the site first and then check the plug-ins, one by one, to see if updates are available and that they still work with the CMS.

Until next time. . .

Fair Use Content: What’s Fair, What’s Not?

Clients often ask us for content advice when setting up their sites. One of the questions that comes up the most involves use of external content. First they want to know how much of the better industry content that’s out there they can safely repurpose without copyright violation. Then they want to know what are the best practices for doing so.

But first a little background. Generally speaking, the best possible content you can feature on your website is original content. Both visitors to your site and Google love fresh, interesting and informative articles that speak to them directly about solving business problems. Whether web pages or blog posts, original content is far superior to anything else you can find on the web and re-post on your own site. That said, companies that are attuned to an industry niche are frequently in a good position to curate the best content for others.

The “fair use” question usually arises when it comes time to build the News section for a site. For clients that are well established and generating their own interest with the media, the News section is rarely a problem. They can easily quote from their own press releases and link to stories in the media that are about them. For startups or smaller companies that are infrequently mentioned by others, creating and maintaining viable News is more problematic. That’s when the temptation emerges to copy and paste the articles into their sites.

We understand the temptation, but always caution our clients to not go there. Wholesale copying of large blocks of text, even when attribution is included, is widely regarded as violation of U.S. law. The law is somewhat murky but the the U.S. Copyright Office interprets it thus:

Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work.

So based on this interpretation, is there any way for a small marketing department to legally leverage relevant industry content without putting their companies at risk? A good best practice that works for many of our smaller clients is to publish only the headline and first two or three sentences of the article of interest. Include the day, year and publication name of the article in question and be sure to link to the full text of the article on the publication’s website. Doing so avoids copyright violation, provides your readers with valuable content they might otherwise miss, and helps to generate more web traffic to the publication’s site all at the same time.

A good example is how our latest client, McNulty and Associates, handles News content here.

Until next time. . .

Make Your Next Site Responsive

It’s no secret that sales of desktop PCs and laptops are on the decline. Even Apple with its much-vaunted hardware, has seen a big dip in iMac sales, so far at least outweighed by increasing sales of iPads and iPhones. So if you’ve been seeing a spike lately in your smartphone and tablet web traffic steps, join the party.

With so many people now surfing the web on smaller devices, now may be a good time to evaluate how well your site performs on smaller screen sizes. But first a word about our own best practices here at Radar Media.

Whenever we launch a new site, we make sure it works well on multiple browsers and operating systems. We also make adjustments for smaller devices. For example the drop-down menus should work regardless of screen size, and the site should easily pinch up or down to zoom in and out without issue.

For some mostly big companies like eBay and Amazon of course, that’s not good enough. Customers expect a truly optimized experience to be offered by way of an app in the app stores from Apple, Google/Android and Microsoft. For smaller companies with more limited budgets, though, developing a custom app has never been a viable option.

Fortunately now for them and many of our clients, there’s a new option option available called responsive design. Unlike apps, which require a separate software download, responsive design refers to a new way to design and build websites so that they automatically reformat themselves to look good and perform well on all screen sizes and shapes.

When viewed on a desktop, a responsive site looks like any other web design. But when viewed on a smartphone or tablet, the graphics automatically resize themselves to fit into the smaller screen real estate available. Even more impressively, the navigation changes from, say, a standard drop-down horizontal menu to one that’s more vertically-oriented and far more touch friendly. It’s as if the site were displaying as a custom app, but without the custom app development cost or client download.

It’s still early days for responsive design, and there are some design restrictions as a result. But a growing number of content management systems and frameworks, including WordPress and Joomla, now support it. To see responsive design in action, check out the Radar site for SystemExperts, one of our newer clients. If you don’t have time to run the site on multiple browsers and devices, then just try resizing the width of the browser from “normal” screen size to about the width of a smartphone screen. And behold the magic of responsive design in action.

Until next time…

Marketing Automation: The Next Step Beyond Google Analytics

When we launch a new website, nearly all clients opt for us to include Google Analytics. It would be foolish, really, not to. . .it’s free and offers a great deal of insight about your web traffic sources, number of page hits, what parts of your site are drawing the most interest and more.

But Google Analytics is not and was never intended to be a marketing automation platform. That is, a tool designed specifically to give your marketing (and sales) departments a way to measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, track leads, and create forms and landing pages, to name a few.

However a number of powerful and surprisingly affordable marketing automation systems are now available and catching on fast. Most are sold as cloud-based services that integrate pretty easily into a wide variety of sites. One that we’ve used for several of our client sites is called Pardot. And our clients swear by its effectiveness.

So what’s so great about Pardot and other marketing automation systems? I’d put being able to track leads to marketing campaigns high on the list. Say, for example, you send out a Pardot-enabled email blast about your latest new product. When readers click through to the items in the email, Pardot automatically records this in its database. If that same reader then returns two weeks later on the site in order to read more, Pardot will track that too.

Best of all, the information becomes actionable. Because Pardot (and similar systems) are designed to easily integrate into the major CRM systems (Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics, etc.) your salespeople will always have that detail at their fingertips when they follow up with a phone call or email.

With Pardot, your whole website becomes more sales and marketing driven. Say for example a prospect never responds to your emails, but one day decides to download a white paper from your site. Once they fill out a form for the white paper, your golden. From that point forward, Pardot will track when they come back to your site; how often and where they go to visit; and whether of course they decide to download any more information.

With that kind of intelligence your sales and marketing people can better grade the quality of your leads and follow-up at the most appropriate times. And an increase in sales is sure to follow!

Until next time…