Unlock the Answers Buried in Your Website

You may be contemplating giving your website a makeover and to ensure that you include the information that prospective clients desire most before you invest time and money on the project,  you’re smart enough to collect data that will serve as your site blueprint.  You want to confirm the role of your website—how much and what kind of information will persuade prospects to pursue follow-up? Reports that indicate how visitors interact with the site are the only way to examine, consider and interpret visitor behavior and then make adjustments in the site if needed.

Google Analytics will do that job and at no charge.  Google Analytics is a most useful service that helps one to find out who visits the website, the pages that receive the most visits, the length of those visits and actions taken while on a page.

1. Acquisition

Where do site visitors come from? Are you receiving referrals from search engines, your social media accounts, or other websites where you’ve contracted to maintain a link to your website?

2. Behavior

What are visitors to your site doing? Behavior Analytics show the pages visited, the    length of time spent on each and how visitors travel through your site. You’ll learn the content that visitors value most and least.

3. Conversion

Do sales take place on your site? Do visitors sign up to receive your newsletter or blog?

4. Goals

You can create conversion metrics to track actions such as sales and registrations for a class or webinar you will give, participation in a survey, or sign-ups for your blog or newsletter.  As a brand reinforcing grace note, you may create thank you pages to acknowledge actions taken (because positive reinforcement matters!).

5. In-page analytics

Find out the percentage of visitors who clicked on links or buttons on specific pages.

6. Key performance Indicators

If you’ve developed the milestones called Key Performance Indicators that identify each noteworthy action that leads to achievement of your goal, you can monitor them.

7. Mobile

I assume that a healthy percentage of Internet users are working from a mobile device. Find out that percentage and have it in mind when you design your new site or post new content.  Make visits to your site mobile friendly.

8.  Overview

Each section of Google Analytics offers an overview report, which presents high-level data that enables you to make a basic status report of that segment of your site.

9. Queries

This gives the search engine optimization report and lets you know the keyword rankings and click-throughs for your site.

10. Views

Here you’ll find five ways to see the data of any of your reports.

11. Web property ID

FYI, the web property ID is the tracking code that identifies your website with a 7 digit number, followed by the 2 digit property number.

I’m a little embarrassed to say that after putting up a website in 2007, I’ve only just signed up with Google Analytics this month.  What took me so long? I look forward with anticipation to reading and interpreting my website reports.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

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Time to Redesign Your Website?

Have you become disappointed with your website, or are you merely bored? Have you been visiting the websites of your colleagues and contemporaries and thinking about how you may want to do a website makeover? Think carefully about your goals before making a decision.

What would I like the site to do for my business?

Ultimately, a website gives information about your products and services and communicates how doing business with you can benefit those who would become your customers. Your job is to develop a website that gives prospects the confidence to explore more seriously the idea of working with you. Whatever is on your site—text, audio, or visual—must support that action.

Older websites are likely to be static, rather than interactive. That means in order to update the site with new information, it’s necessary to pay a web developer to make  changes in text, photos, videos and lay-out. As a result, static websites often do not reflect much of what is happening now.

Some Freelancers depend upon their websites to pre-qualify prospects through the use of an online contact form.  Rather than posting your email and telephone number on the “contact us” page, there is instead a form for interested parties to complete, so that they will receive a call-back. Serious shoppers only, please!

Content marketing will be featured on the website.  Freelancers who produce a weekly blog or monthly newsletter typically include the link on their website.  Your social media platforms will likewise be accessible through your website, as will videos, webinars and podcasts that feature you in a starring or supporting role.  Case studies to help prospective clients envision how your insights and expertise might help their organization resolve challenges and achieve goals may be posted to the site as well.

How is my site under-performing?

Much depends upon the information you’d like your website to provide to interested parties. Your site can be a one-page affair that is basically an online business card.  You may list three or four services, a photo,  a 3-minute video clip of you in action (or not) and contact info and that may be quite enough to convince prospects that you are a capable professional worthy of consideration.  But maybe you would like to have a much more active and engaging site?

Up-to-date products and services list

If you’ve substantively altered—simplified, upgraded, expanded, or eliminated— the services and products that you provide, let your website reflect what is current.  As well, old content and photos might be replaced and updated with an accurate depiction of how you bring value to clients today.

Can I accurately measure how prospects respond to my site?

This step can be the key to your website design.  If you are serious about updating your site,  contact an analytics service and sign up to obtain data that will guide the development of your website.  There are a number of modestly priced website analytics services available and Google has a level that offers free analytics. Collect three or four months of data before you act.

To begin with, you’ll learn how many visitors the site receives each month and the pages that are most often visited. Now you’ll know what visitors want to know. You’ll also learn which pages are least often visited and if there are pages that are quickly abandoned for other pages, or seem to cause visitors to exit your site.  If you decide to update your website, ask your developer to build-in analytics or integration features, so that data will be yours at no extra charge, post-upgrade.

Is the site mobile-friendly? 

I write or edit three newsletters and the analytics for each consistently shows that about 50% of readers use mobile devices (smart phone or tablet) to read them. The other half use either desk models or laptops. Don’t frustrate your visitors,  make sure that your site is optimized for mobile.  Both interactive and static websites can be mobile optimized.

How’s the technology?

Recently, I met a truly brilliant MIT educated web developer named Al.  He showed me the site of a nationally known not-for-profit organization that on its website has an inoperable “donate now” button on the landing page.  It is imperative that all links and buttons on your website perform as intended on all types of devices.  Audio features must produce sound; videos must play; documents must download; ecommerce transactions must be secure.

“About us”

Trot out your brand story.  Connect with site visitors and concisely tell them what motivated you to start your business, how you developed your expertise, your vision and the company mission.  Share your guiding principles as the founder and business leader and discuss how that is reflected in your business practices.  Finally, let it be known that you love what you do and value the opportunity to work with clients. Recommended length of the text might be 200 words.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Social Media—Not?

It is by now standard operating procedure for business owners and other self-employed professionals to have a visible presence on one or more social media platforms,  in addition to an online presence provided by a website.  We’ve  internalized the assumption that there is no way to either launch or sustain a viable business without an active online presence spread over an array of platforms.

The majority of my colleagues and competitors spend rather a large amount of time  researching and writing newsletters,  tweeting,  Instagramming, or linking with and friending sometimes 500 + “connections”.  One of those colleaugues pays me (a modest sum) to edit her newsletter.  But really folks,  what is the demonstrable ROI of most of this effort?  Beyond a certain point,  I respectfully submit,  social media produces very little beyond siphoning off a chunk of scarce time and money.

How does social media provide a demonstrable ROI for Freelance consultants, who typically provide an intangible service? Our ventures run on referrals based on trust and reputation—how can that resource be communicated electronically? Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting and author of numerous books that address the consulting trade, including Million Dollar Consulting (2009), has for several years offered to split his (large) consulting fee with anyone who shows him how to acquire a client purely through social media or website channels and he signs a client as a result.  To date, there have been no takers.

The reality is that most of us in business are afraid to dial back the social media and so the practice continues. We fear that if we don’t participate,  our competitors will eat our lunch and customers will abandon us.  I’ve observed that in certain businesses and organizations,  social media and website marketing yield a good ROI.  A large collaborative of Boston artists and galleries has recently hired me to edit a newsletter and perform PR functions for an ongoing monthly event plus an annual special event and that is money well spent for the group.  Performing artists,  clothing designers, restaurateurs and professional organizations come to mind as excellent candidates for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to provide outreach / engagement with past, present and future patrons.

Nevertheless,  there is a group of social media and website holdouts and at least a handful are making a good living.  Maybe they possess valuable competitive advantages,  such as excellent word-of-mouth,  always the best form of advertising,  and exceptional skills? Among that group are two interior designers who have more clients than can be handled (in three or four cities, mind you) and the owner of a small neighborhood breakfast and lunch restaurant that is always packed.  Three of the six most successful Freelance consultants with whom I’m acquainted do not even show up on Google.  Author Otessa Moshfegh,  a member of the internet-obssessed Millennial Generation,  has eschewed both website and social media and her debut novel is selling nicely.

I’ve learned that Ms. Moshfegh has a professional publicity team and that gives her a significant edge. Her team portrays her as elusive and not given to crass displays of self-promotion and that is good publicity (!). The consultants once worked for larger consulting firms and like any hairdresser, when they went out on their own, they stole clients.  Nevertheless,  they continue to grow their client lists without websites.  The interior designers seem to be known by the right people and receive lots of referrals. On an a laptop or tablet,  they have a few photos to show their work to prospects.  The restaurateur has been in business for 20 years,  a Starbucks opened across the street at least a decade ago, but he continues to prosper.  Patrons started Trip Advisor and Yelp pages for him and patrons control the reviews on those sites.

You may wonder how my website and blog perform for my venture? I did not work for a consulting firm, so the website I feel helps me look legitimate.  However,  no one has ever hired me as a direct and exclusive result of visiting.  This blog has shown prospective clients that I have a solid knowledge of business topics and that I have a certain writing proficiency. The blog has been a factor in my hiring, but the clients were a result of referrals and not this blog alone.

I do not advocate that Freelancers and business owners close down their internet presence.  Rather, I respectfully recommend that you consider the ROI of your investment and take heed of the analysis.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Getting Paid

Freelancers who design Power Point presentations,  write reports and perform accounting functions are the big winners in Freelance Nation right now.  A recent review of 2Q 2013 data on 300,000 job postings by freelancer.com. revealed the results.  According to freelancer.com,  business owners are hiring Freelance workers to perform core functions,  jobs that once were the domain of permanent employees.

Demand for Power Point slide design and production increased 35%  from 1Q 2013 to 2Q 2013;  requests for accounting services jumped 23% and report writing 20% between the first and second quarters of this year.  By contrast,  demand for copyediting during this period fell by 14%.  The survey indicates that demand for Freelance skills that are mission-critical and require sophisticated and specific knowledge are on the rise.

Freelance graphic designers,  especially those proficient in website and Power Point slide production,  and content marketing writers are in demand.  Employers are backing away from pricey advertising agencies and are continuing the transition to Freelance labor,  a trend that started in the 1990s.  Requests for Freelance illustration was 20%  higher from 1Q 2013 to 2Q 2013 and Freelance Photoshop design increased by nearly the same amount.  Banner design assignments increased by 14%  and logo design projects were 9%  more plentiful in 2Q 2013 than they were in the first quarter of the year.  Speaking of design,  3D imaging’s depth and sophistication caused demand for 3D printing to shoot up by 17% in the second quarter of this year,  over the first.

In a 2012 global survey of 3,000 Freelance professionals conducted by Elance,  the online employment marketplace,   respondents were queried on the types of assignments they were receiving.  Web programming,  website design,  mobile app development,  graphic design,  online marketing and content writing were the predominant assignments and Elance predicted that the trend would continue into 2013.  Results of the freelance.com survey support that prediction.   Both surveys indicate that graphic designers,  accountants,  certain techies and writers are raking in most of the money in 2013.

Plan to succeed in the gig economy by identifying which of your skills clients will pay to obtain,  how to package and present those skills and how to connect with paying clients.  On your website and in all marketing materials,  demonstrate that you are a top-of-the-line professional who exceeds expectations and works with recognizable clients.  The latter may not be immediately possible,  but those who provide visual products should post a portfolio that makes it known to prospective clients that your work is distinctive and not cookie cutter.  Providers of intangible services should include case studies.  Every website should include client testimonials.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Mine Your Search Engine Data

What are interested parties interested in when they visit your website?  That very critical marketing intelligence is often not quite obvious when we plan and contract to build our website. We know to include a description of the products and/or services we sell.  Those who sell products on their site know to include an e-commerce function.  Those who schedule on-line appointments know to include a booking function and perhaps also a pay online feature.

But what information,  surveys,  videos,  white papers or whatever grab attention and keep visitors on a certain website page and convey details that prospective customers need to make a decision about doing business with you,  helping to convert prospects into customers?  Well,  you have to build the thing before you figure out the nuances of what information and features best serve your prospects and business,  but once you’ve done that Google Analytics can help in a big way and as of September 29,  even more than before.  Let’s take a look at Site Search Analysis (SSA) and two new Google offerings,  Real-Time Analytics and Analytics Premium.

SSA functions as  Search Engine Optimization  (SEO)  for your website,  extracting  and reporting valuable data about  site visitors that will provide clues on how to effectively fine-tune the sales tool that is your website.  This is not inbound lead generation  (nor is it actual SEO).  SSA analyzes data generated by your website’s own search engine.  Analytics Premium and Real-Time Analytics will make the information more timely and comprehensive.

The big advantage of Real-Time Analytics is that it will produce a set of reports that show what’s happening on your website as it happens.  You will receive instant insight into the visit count and much other valuable information about what resonates with visitors directly from the search engine of your website.  Real-Time will also measure the activity of social media linked to your website and it will allow you to monitor the impact of new content and marketing campaigns.  Once you’re registered with Google Analytics,  you must enable the Real-Time feature by clicking “new version.”

The more traffic your website receives and the more search queries occur,  the more extensive and revealing the story.  The data from this internal search process will identify what prospective customers want from your website and your business.  What are they curious about?  What information do they seek?  SSA internal search data lets you know the ways your website does and does not deliver information and answer visitor’s questions.

You will be able to evaluate website content—do you provide enough of the right information,  do you tell the right story in the way that prospective customers can understand?  Or you may have the right content,  but analyzing search data can tell you if visitors to your site somehow become frustrated and wind up exiting the site,  perhaps because the desired information is hard to find because it’s buried somewhere that prospects don’t expect to find it,  meaning you need to re-arrange and re-configure pages.  Maybe your information needs to be presented in a more eye-catching fashion or the text and terms used should be clarified,  expressed in language that your clients use and will better understand?

Analytics Premium is a paid service that reportedly will produce more specific website traffic data than the free service.  Premium will offer more customizable variables and downloadable reports.   There will also be guaranteed service level agreements for data collection,  processing and reporting,  plus  24/7  customer service reps available to assist with installing the program.

In closing,  I offer you a caveat:  SSA provides much intriguing data about how prospective customers respond to your website,  but you have to interpret the meaning of it all and decide what smart thing to do with the information.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Optimize Online Multimedia

Because the February-March session sold out,  I have been invited to reprise my three-part workshop  “Become Your Own Boss: Effective Business Plan Writing”  at Boston Center for Adult Education 122 Arlington Street Boston MA on three Mondays,  May 9, 16 & 23 from 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM.  For more information or to register please visit http://bit.ly/becomeyourown59  or call 617.267.4430.

A picture is worth 1,000 words and a good online multimedia presentation can help prospective clients connect the dots on why it’s smart to bring you in.  To that end,  many Freelancers,  small business owners  and countless other organizations and individuals have added video to their websites or posted online. 

Unfortunately,  many presentations do not achieve the expected objectives.  It’s necessary to think strategically about how online multimedia might draw in prospects and promote business and additionally,  determine what aspect of your talents or services will do the trick.

What can you say and do in three minutes or less that will persuade prospects to follow up?  Should you demonstrate a product or discuss a service,  show yourself in action as you conduct a workshop or give 3-4 pieces of advice that will validate your understanding of client needs?

Whatever you decide,  deliver a simple,  uncomplicated experience for viewers to ensure that your message is understood.  Produce a presentation that focuses on what’s in it for the customer and you’ll have their attention.  Be aware that a little multimedia goes a long way.  In other words,  use audio,  visual and animation effects judiciously and always in service of your business strategy and customer priorities.  Make sure your content delivers what prospects want to know.

Hire a professional videographer to ensure presentation quality.  Expect to pay $500.00 – $1500.00,  depending on what you do and who you work with.  Get references and see examples of their work before signing a contract.  You want expert production,  lighting that flatters and flawless editing.  Remember to confirm that your website has the bandwidth necessary to support video.

Location,  location  Place the video link on your website home page at eye level,  so those with smaller screens will not need to scroll down to find the link.

Control  Give website visitors the choice to opt in to your multimedia.  Avoid presentations that play automatically.  Indicate the length of the video and include play,  pause and stop buttons.  Make the viewing experience interactive and easy.

Context  Let potential viewers know what they’ll learn from your video clip before they click “play”.  Do not leave it to your audience to figure out its purpose and how they will benefit from taking the time to have a look and listen.

Short & sweet  Produce a video that runs no longer than three minutes.  The clip is an hors d’oeuvre and not a banquet.  Your objective is to whet the appetite for more of what you know and do.  Keep your message clear and easy to absorb as you demonstrate a core capability or service and spell out what’s in it for the viewer when they work with you.

Call to action  Tell viewers to take the action that you want them to take.  As you close the presentation,  advise viewers to contact you for more information.  Tell them how to leave a comment,   order your book or sign up for your newsletter.

Distribution deals  Upload your video at Tube Mogul http://tubemogul.com , a free site that will not only send your link to a wide range of social media and other hosting sites,  but will also allow you to track the number of views,  clicks and comments received.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Business Model Nitty-Gritty

Business experts view the development of a strong business model as an essential component of business planning and I would agree.  The business model ranks near the top of the list of business planning responsibilities.  I teach business plan writing for an SBA affiliated organization and I’ll place the business model fourth in line,  after one gauges demand for the product/service,  defines the primary customer and evaluates the competitive landscape.

The business model is the roadmap within the roadmap that is your business plan.  It is the blueprint for the process by which a company will make and sustain a profit.  It is therefore necessary to do thorough market research and put the pieces together carefully.  If you expect to make any real money,  you had better get your business model right.  Unfortunately,  too many aspiring entrepreneurs do not roll up their sleeves and hash out the gory details that are the building blocks of a viable business model.

The business model shows you how to make your business work efficiently.  The first big question the business model asks you to examine is,  how will you and the clients connect?  Will they find you via your website?  If so,  how will they know that your website exists?  What should you do to drive them to your site and what do you want them to find and do when they get there?  The type of website that you design and your call to action are business model issues.

Or maybe you will connect with clients and prospects via referral.  Who, then, will refer to you and what will motivate that behavior?  Do you have,  or can you create,  referral relationships that will feed you a steady supply of prospective clients? 

For example,  if you are a florist,  do you have relationships with wedding and other event planners? Perhaps you worked in a busy floral shop and know a few people who will send brides and others to you.  Or do you think you can depend on networking to connect you with enough prospects to get the ball rolling on sales?  Who knows,  maybe you are that lucky.

Where business will actually be conducted is another business model issue.  Will customers visit you at your floral shop,  or will you operate as a Freelancer and go to them, toting a binder or iPad that shows examples of arrangements you can create?

For those who sell other types of products,  will you sell from a physical location,  will you place items into the  stores of others on consignment,  or will all be sold via your website?

Providers of intangible services must first know how clients expect to engage in the type of transaction offered and whether you should open an office  (accounting or law),  or go to the client’s location  (PR services or business consulting).  Your business model will explain it all and tell the reader (and you) why it makes good business sense to sell in the way you’ve chosen.  As your business grows,  the business model will change accordingly,  to accomodate increased demands on resources and client expectations.

Remember also to address customer service issues,  like your return/replacement policy,  in the event that a few customers are not satisfied with a product,  or if something breaks while being shipped.  If you will sell from your website,  the shipping process will be addressed in your business model.

So the business model impacts many facets of your business plan and its fine points deserve careful consideration before you take the plunge and start spending time and money on a concept that you cannot make work.  Next week,  we’ll take a look at questions to ask yourself and some guideposts to assist you as you develop a business model for a new enterprise,  or revamp the one you’re in now.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Your Ad Here

While we’re on the subject of making the most of what you’ve got and monetizing resources wherever practical,  let’s talk about renting out advertising space in your virtual world.  We’ve all seen the sponsorship promos, banner ads,  hyperlinks and ad words on the websites,  Facebook pages,  blogs and newsletters of nationally known Freelancers.   Some of you may also have seen advertisements or hyperlinks on a colleague’s  site.  As everyone digs deeper for revenue,  we might see a lot more of same.

I’ve spotted banner ads on the sites of three Freelancer colleagues who specialize in PR,  marketing and executive coaching.  The good news is that all chose advertisers whose product line is complementary to their business.  The not-so-good news is that two of the three websites no longer look classy.  In this case,  it’s seller beware.

That said,  if you select your advertisers well and refrain from overloading your site with ads,  you can always try this on for 6 months.  The money you make will no doubt be useful.  Placing ads on your website will create a small and steady cash flow that can make a real difference in your ability to sleep nights. 

The first thing to consider is what you have to offer your new prospect,  the advertiser. The number one criterion of ad placement is the presence of the desired demographic.  Sign up with Google Analytics and  demonstrate to advertisers that your e-world attracts a large and loyal following of people who can potentially become their customers.  The amount of traffic on your site will also help you to determine advertising rates.

Next,  confirm that your site hosting platform will support advertising.  For example,  if WordPress hosts your website,  be aware that like this blog,  it’s probably operating on the  .com side,  which is free,  upgraded and backed up regularly and very user friendly.  It will be necessary to migrate to the  .org side,  which is an open source,  customizable hosting platform that offers more advanced options,  such as the ability to support what is entailed in advertising.

If the concept still looks feasible,  then decide where the ads can be placed.  Look at your home page and measure the available space.  Is there room for a banner ad or two,  or will the less intrusive text option be more to your liking?

If you have a content management system and you’re good with graphics,  experiment with your home page layout and eliminate or relocate certain text and photos to create more potential ad space.  Think right side or bottom of page for banner ads.

Research shows that ad words are best used on sites that generate huge traffic.  They are a pay-per-click option with a low response rate,  so big numbers are needed to make ad words profitable for both parties.

Now it’s time to give serious and careful thought to the types of businesses that you would be comfortable having as advertisers.  Give still more thought to your sales pitch.  As always,  it will be imperative to define what’s in it for them:  the right demographics and a popular site. 

Establishing a flat monthly rate based on the size of the ad,  with discounts given for multi-month commitments, is the easiest payment structure.  See the rate card and ad contract of a local newspaper for guidance.  You can set up a PayPal subscription for billing and payments.  You are further advised to set up a separate account for each advertiser,  so that site stats can be checked and ad start and end dates can be reviewed.

However,   it may be wiser to sign up with an online advertising management company.  Certain basic features of ad management are free,  but it may be worth paying for additional  features like billing.  That way,  if an advertiser cancels and you forget to take the ad down,  you won’t find yourself giving away free space.  Agencies to investigate include Etology,  Commission Junction,  Adbrite and Linkshare.

Because businesses are always in search of an effective way to reach customers and enhance brand awareness,  ads and sponsorships within the virtual world continue to proliferate.  Some businesses even provide a special link,  sometimes to a particular website page,  so that they can track advertising performance on your site.

It is imperative to consider the possible impact that virtual ads could have on your business.  For those who provide a certain type of product or service for a certain clientele,  including ads on a website will be a delicate balance.  The painstakingly cultivated perception of value and quality could be undermined by the presence of ads on either a website or newsletter.  Take care not to cheapen your brand in exchange for a few extra dollars a month.

Thanks for reading,

Kim