Recipe for a tasty website

Some things should be easy. After all how hard can they be? You have an idea for a website, you find a reputable agency and presto. You should have a website, right? Right? It’s surprising how often I get asked about creating quick websites!

The idea that any type of great collateral is really that easy makes me twitch. Sometimes you hear about an epic campaign that took almost no time to put together, and sometimes it’s even true. The reality is that even if you have a web guy in-house, 99.99% of the time it takes a lot of effort (and time). Unless of course you aren’t trying to deliver something awesome (and just want to hit the publish button).

If you’re under pressure from teams that are unaware of the magnitude of a web project, it might be a good idea to have a project scoping meeting. It’ll give you the opportunity to gain clarity and what your stakeholders want, and more importantly to illustrate to them what’s going to be involved to actually launch the project – you could even bring a short list of resources their teams are going to have to provide (that usually puts things into perspective).

Below you’ll find a quick list of things you’re going to need to put together your website. I’ll release a powerpoint template that you can use in your own meetings shortly.

Even if you’re just going to use a great looking WordPress Theme (and some of the theme demo’s can look incredible), don’t forget everything else that you’ll need:

  1. A domain name; This isn’t actually as important as many people think. There are so many new domain extensions being made available, that it’s becoming much easier to design creative domain names. Just remember to stick to the basic guidelines and you should be ok (ignore point #3 in this guide).
  2. Ideas; Most people have an idea of what they actually want, hopefully you’ll even have a reference website (or three) that you can show your agency for inspiration
  3. Page map; this is a great way to start laying out what’s actually going to be on the website, and an excellent starting point for detailing what you’re going to need. This along with your design will have a huge impact on the usability of your website.
  4. Designs & templates; whilst your agency (or wordpress theme) might deliver theme, be cognisant of what’s involved in selecting your design and having it built/modified to suit your purposes.
  5. Graphics; if you don’t already have plenty of great product images, you’re going to need to take some or buy some from a stock art repository. The web is a very visual place, good images go a long way. Don’t forget things like head-shots from individual members & team photos. Getty has recently announced that some of it’s content is free for non-commercial use, which might help if you’re just writing a blog – and don’t mind the big Getty logo that’s going to appear underneath.
  6. Copy; scratching out a few lines won’t cut it. You need good text for good readers, as well as good SEO. Look at competitive websites and gauge how much and what type of text you’re going to need. Be ready to repeatedly revise your copy to accommodate changing page lengths, SEO requirements, and changes in design.
  7. Pricing; if you have something to sell, get your pricing and other special offer details ready. If you’re selling online, make sure your payment gateway or shopping system is setup and in place. These can have long leads times themselves.
  8. Download-ables; If you’re providing whitepapers, guides, how-to videos, or any other type of material for your user to download – you’ll need to start getting this ready. Your content is where most of your energy is going to go. If you need to produce intro videos, brochures or any type of content, be ready to invest the appropriate amount of time and to get adequate support from your internal teams. Some content may have a longer lead time than the website itself.
  9. Go Live Criteria; lots of projects suffer from feature creep, web projects aren’t any different. Set a specific “go-live-minimum”, at which point you’ll publish the site. It allows you to focus your efforts on partially launching the site, and breaks your project into a minimum of two distinct phases.
  10. A lot of patience; things never go as expected, so keep plenty of this to hand.

For ball park numbers, it took me two days to redeploy a new theme onto my website. That includes rewriting some of the content to match the updated layout, sourcing alternative images – and figuring out how to actually get the theme to do what I wanted. For a corporate website where there are more decision makers, potentially an agency, and there are quite likely to be multiple revisions – expect to spend up to 2 months to get things delivered.

Of course if you’re looking for a list of ways to mess up your website, I’d recommend reading this hilarious post.

content schedule calendar

HowTo create a content schedule

Why do I need a content schedule?

There are lots of benefits to using a content schedule, for me the most important reason is that it helps maintain my sanity. By scheduling my content I can ensure that I’ve got a constant pipeline of high(er) quality articles being published. I’m not rushing at the last minute to hit publish, and get plenty of time to review and modify articles. It also gives me the extra time that I need to research and source data & images for my articles. I’m going to assume you’re already sold, so let’s dive in and have a look at what a content schedule is and what’s involved.

You can download a copy of my content schedule here, the rest of this article will reference this document.

What should be included?

A good content plan should cover all the copy you’ll need to create over the next few months. It can include everything from you social media (twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc.) through to your press releases and blog posts. Different mediums will have different volumes of posts, so you may want to separate the content plans into multiple tabs to prevent things like your twitter updates from drowning out all your other content.
Do you really need to fill out all the columns in this enormous excel sheet? Ideally yes, but I know it’s not practical for everyone. So I’ve tried to color code the columns by importance & relevance. The blue fields are essential to making your content plan work, everything else is for tracking. You should modify the columns & the priority to suit you.

How far ahead should I plan my content?

Try to create a plan for as many months as is practical for you, this really will vary based on the amount of time & resource you have. Personally, I like to keep 3 months worth of article titles ready, and top-up every month. I try to keep 4 weeks of articles ready for automatic publishing, and begin fleshing the articles for the second & third month out as I go along.

content schedule

What do I put into my schedule?

Everything. All your content. Absolutely anything you want to publish at all, including anything that goes out in an ad-hoc, last minute manner.

Seasonal activities

I usually start my content plans by highlighting important dates the plans needs to accommodate. For instance Christmas, Chinese New Year, a significant Corporate launch or industry event. This allows you to create topical information on the approach to these activities, and illustrates how you’re connected to the industry.

Theme based content planning

I’ve previously talked about the benefits of using content themes, this is the perfect opportunity to create themes with ideas that flow neatly into each other. Here’s an example of how you might plan a series of articles in a theme:

  1. What is Omni Channel Retail?
  2. Examples of Omni Channel Retail
  3. Using NFC & QR Codes in Omni Channel Retail
  4. Using Email as part of your Omni Channel Retail strategy
  5. Creating your email schedule (this is the start of the next theme)

You could assign these the same category, varying tags, and deliver them as a series. Grouping related content together makes it easier to navigate content on your site, and allows you to deliver much more in-depth information without overloading any one post – enhancing your position as an authority in your field.

If you need some inspiration on what to write about, stay tuned. I’ll shortly be writing about different methods of sustainably creating content. There are lots of different methods & styles, I’m sure one of them will work for you.

Stay Alert

Just because you have a content plan doesn’t mean you should follow it blindly. Be mindful of current events and remember to consider the communities sentiments at large before allowing your content to publish. This is especially important if you’re using an auto-post system.

 

beta testing stamp

Beta testing is for Marketeers

Why Best Test?

I recently met a small company that’s getting ready to release a new app for sale. It’s a great idea and I wish them success, but I was really surprised to learn that they’d had almost no beta-testing. Beta testing isn’t only about bug testing. Asking prospective clients to use your service provides you lots of information that’d be really hard (or painful) to other wise get. Specifically:

  1. Actual use-cases; knowing what our clients actually do with your product is surprisingly helpful. It’s not always when, where or what you might think. How they’re using your product might have an impact on whom you market to, or how you market it to them.
  2. What they like or dislike; if your friends & family are testing your product, you might not get the same level of objectivity, or a large enough sample size. Importantly, the larger you sample size, the more valid your data. There’s no sense in building features that your audience isn’t interested in.
  3. Market testing; The best beta-testers are your prospective clients. Approaching them directly should be straight forward if you know your customer. If they’re not interested in beta testing your product, consider how you’re going to sell the product to them.

Don’t sign them up and ignore them. Remember to speak to your testers, they’re your gateway to real feedback and (actually) important feature requests. Engaging with them in a non-intrusive & un-annoying way can provide you a wealth of information. Your testers are also the most likely prospectives to convert to paying customers or, if you’re really lucky, early evangelists.

Beta Test Sites

If you’re not clear on who your target audience is, or you’re looking for more general feedback there are plenty of beta-testers available through beta test sites. Here’s a list of a few sites where you can register your product and get some impartial feedback:

  • prefinery.com
  • utest.com
  • centercode.com
  • Betali.st
  • Startupli.st
  • killerstartups.com
  • feedmyapp.com
  • listio.com
  • StartupTunes.com
  • openforbeta.com

Forums

You can also start working the Internet forums, it’s a great way to get your service in front of very targeted audiences. Some of the forums drive enough traffic to make your product successful just through their traffic alone. The caveat is that you’ll need to be a reasonably regular member at the forum before your post will be taken seriously (or even allowed to include external links). So you’ll need to start work early. There are far too many forums for me to list here, but a quick google search will show you exactly where to go.