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How to judge a business by its website

28 Jul

You may not be able to (entirely) judge a book by its cover (or so they say) but you may be able to judge a business by its website.

Let’s start with the very basic question of does the business have a website? If the answer is no, that says a lot. Among other things, not having a website says that a business doesn’t get how people search for information nowadays, or that it works strictly off referrals and very traditional advertising or that it is not tech-savvy.

However, most businesses do have a website. Some websites are better than others, and that often has to do with the budget allocated to it and also whether it is being handled by a communications person or a tech person (yeah…the communications person should handle this unless you want the website to speak IT).

A website is a necessary part of any marketing/communications strategy.  Keeping that in mind, this is what  should you look for:

Appearance and design: Does the website look good? Is it easy to read? If so, it shows this business has considered that potential customers’ perceptions are important.  Also, if it looks like it was designed in the 1990s, it shows that the business has not bothered to keep up with the times.

Clarity: What does this business do? It should be crystal clear by looking at the home page what kind of service or product the business offers.

About us page: Does this page provide you the information you need to consider doing business with this company? Or is it a lot of fluff and platitudes, short on substance?

Services or product listing: Does the website specifically list what services or products this business provides? How deep do you have to dig for this information?

Contact page: Does the business provide several ways to contact it? Businesses that don’t provide a physical address and/or phone number and/or email are suspicious. They want to be able to contact you but not for your to contact or find them.

Freshness: What is the copyright on the website? When was this content updated and is it really up-to-date? If there is a blog, when was the last blog entry dated? Clearly, if a website lacks freshness, you have no way of knowing if the business still exists or in what form. For instance, if this is a restaurant website, and the menu is date Spring 2008, how do you know if they are still open for business?

Useful information:  You need certain information to decide whether you want to contact a business or not: Does it work with your industry? Are there fees? What are the opening hours? Does this website give you the necessary information you need? For example, you are looking at a hotel website and you have a list of needs (location, availability of WiFi, restaurant on premises)–does the website provide you with the answers you need? In a hotel’s case, does it list of room amenities and hotel services?

Easy to navigate: Is the website easy to use? Do you have to dig deep to get crucial information? If a website is not easy to use or navigate, it shows that the business does not understand what information its potential clients and customers need.  Sometimes, it is a business decision to bury information on purpose (and this tells you a whole lot!)

You can read 5 Simple Tips for Better Business Websites on to see some more technical issues (like making sure a website is mobile friendly).
What would you add to the list?




Check your links

26 Apr

I know you need to add one more thing to your to-do list like you need to wake up Friday at 4 a.m. to watch the royal wedding,  but do consider doing this with every blog post, website page, tweet, etc that you put out there:


Does your website have any broken links (or pages that don’t appear correctly)? Does the sharing software on your blog work? All of it? When you post a link to a story on Twitter, are you sure the link is working?

Many of us do not check these very often.

Case in point: a blogger I follow has faulty sharing buttons on her blog. I read a good post by her, which I wanted to share on Twitter. I clicked on the link and all I got was a blank Twitter page–no title and no link. No good. I created a Bit.Ly short link and posted it anyway but she would have no way of knowing that the item had been shared unless her blog records ping-backs. I reported this to her, and I hope she is able to correct it.

Prevent this from happening by occasionally checking these links. Just sayin’.


The New York Times’ Pay Wall

18 Mar

Yesterday, the New York Times announced its new subscription plan. Basically, you can read 20 articles on their site per month for free, and if you want continued access you will need to pay $15 a month. This applies to your IPad subscription too. If you are a print subscriber, your digital access is included.

It is very telling that this announcement generated more than 2,000 comments on the New York Times site (more would have come in but the NYT shut down comments). I started reading through them, and the majority of what I read seemed to indicate that readers will not pay for access. The biggest argument: it is too expensive.  The second biggest argument: already carries lots of advertising.

Will the pay wall work? In my opinion, it will backfire for various reasons:

  • Human nature:  People do not like to pay for what they used to get for free. And, there are plenty of other news sites on the Web that are still free.
  • Work arounds: If you click through on a Facebook or Twitter link to a New York Times article, you get around the paywall.
  • Too much money: People are looking for ways to save money and paying for a digital subscription is probably an easy budget cut.
  • Fewer readers=lost revenue: So say some people continue to pay for the content on the New York Times site. It will never be the same amount as the people accessing it for free.  With fewer numbers, they will either have to charge less for their online ads (and lose revenue) or lose advertisers unwilling to pay for fewer impressions.

For many years, I was a subscriber to the New York Times print edition. I was a huge fan of their crossword puzzle and I loved the Sunday Times. But, the price was exorbitant. I had to stop my subscription. I missed the crossword puzzle, yes, but not the huge bill. People will do the same with the site. They will miss it at first, but they won’t pay for it because of budgetary constraints.

UPDATE: Just came across this article from emedia vitals, which says that some sites using the “metered model” have actually gained visitors. Is it that you think you get what you pay for?

Your thoughts? Take my poll.


Web and social media irritants

16 Mar

There are things that I see happening on social media and on the web that are irritating. They happen way too often. Here are my top peeves (and least of this week).

One of my top ten peeves of all time, and which I have discussed before, is the impersonal invitation to connect on LinkedIn. In the past few weeks, I have received at least four or five invitations from people I don’t know and who haven’t made the slightest attempt to personalize the LinkedIn generated note “I’d like to add you to my professional network.”  I got one this morning, and I fired back a note telling the person in question that we hadn’t ever met, and that a tip for her would be too personalize the note.  She wrote back this really clueless note:

Please accept my sincere apologies. I must have mistaken you for someone else. I thought I had met you at a XXXX function. I never send blind invitations.
I am currently writing for a couple of online magazines and am building local pr connections.
So sorry to be an annoyance.

Why is this clueless? Because, a)  she did send a blind invitation. She could have written something like, “We met at a XXX event last week, and I would like to connect with you here.” And b) she is telling me she is using LinkedIn to build connections, which I interpret as using this forum to send out countless queries and newsletters , etc.  So, she is not seeking to build a connection with ME, she is seeking to build her network to profit her work.

Other irritants are:

Blog posts that are not shareable on social media. And ironically, this post, from the All things WOM, from the Word of Mouth Association, IS NOT SHAREABLE. Has no share buttons. Really. How stupid is this.

Web redesigns that are not useful to the reader. The Washington Post redesigned their website and recently re-launched it. As far as I can tell, readers were not consulted.  In a note to readers, sent THREE days after the re-launch the Post says:

The Washington Post is now even more essential and more in tune with the way you interact with news.

  • Follow stories as they develop and share your ideas as they evolve
  • Watch events unfold with new video programs
  • Know what’s getting the most buzz and what’s really happening in D.C.
  • Get straight to your favorite coverage with destination hubs for Politics, Local, Sports and Opinions

I guess what they mean by “more essential” is less stuff to read. Now I have to dig through the site to get to local news. And where are the blogs? Oh, and by screwing around with the site, lots of the Post’s blog RSS feeds were messed up. Nice going.

Using swear words on Twitter. I have written about this before, and I will again in light of this article in the New York Times. I swear all the time, just not on Twitter. Because Twitter is a broadcast medium that is also archived. What you say here is on the record for ALL to see.  It shows a lack of thought to use your words carelessly.

Promoting yourself endlessly or worse, showing off on Twitter. There is one particular person, whom I just unfollowed today, who felt it necessary to be a braggart at every turn.  It was things like this: “aren’t you jealous of my fabulous view?” with an attached picture. Why do I want to read this? Why do I care? Again, Twitter is a broadcast medium. What you say can be seen by 1000s of people.

Sending too many (or useless) email marketing messages. The AMA-DC was sending me four emails A WEEK. I told them it was too much. They unsubscribed me for criticizing them. And here is Entrepreneur’s take on why people stop following you. Read it and see that too many emails or too many posts irritate people.  (And get this, I keep getting Comcast’s marketing missives, even though they CANCELLED my account.)

Any of these get your goat too?





How to become irrelevant

22 Feb

How many blogs have you stopped reading? How many products have you stopped buying? How many ads do you ignore?

If you answered just one to any of these questions, the reason is because whatever the blog/ad/product/service has become irrelevant.

Some irrelevancy is by attrition–meaning that you will stop buying a product because you no longer need it (like baby diapers when your child is potty trained). Other irrelevancy is because you just don’t care anymore or the information does not ring true.

How do you become irrelevant?

If you are a blogger:

  • You write about things that people don’t care about or are not interested in.
  • You write about the same things over and over.
  • You write about you, you and more about you.
  • You never update your blog.

If you are an advertisment:

  • You advertise the same offer, over and over
  • You advertise an offer with tons of small print
  • You advertise things that are just not true (we beat any price, for instance).
  • What you advertise does not match reality.

If you are a product:

  • You don’t work as promised.
  • You don’t fill a need.
  • You are not well priced.

If you are a website:

  • You have outdated information.
  • You look like you were designed in 1999.
  • Your visitors can’t find the information they need to make a purchase/visit your location/etc.

Basically, you become irrelevant when you forget what your audience needs or wants.

What makes you tune out marketing? Let me know what makes blogs/ads/websites/brochures irrelevant.

4 items to check on your website

14 Feb

Have you checked your website lately? Chances are good that you haven’t, especially if it is built on a non-blogging platform. But go ahead, check it for these four items today.

  1. Does it load quickly? How long does it take for the average person to open your website? If it takes too long, you may lose that person.
  2. Does it load correctly? Are all the pages formatted correctly, and is the format readable? I have opened pages only to find HTML gobbledygook.
  3. Is the contact information current and accurate? The basics–address, phone, email–should all be up to date and you should make sure they are correct.
  4. Do you provide the information your prospective customers or clients need? If you are a retail location, do you have your hours posted? If you are a restaurant, do you have your menu posted? If you are a salon, do you have a listing (including pricing) of your services?

It is worth remembering that people go to websites to find useful information. If they can’t access your website or find the information they need, THEY WILL GO ELSEWHERE.

What types of things do you look for in a website? What turns you away?

You may be overlooking something

1 Nov

If you blog, for yourself or for your organization, do you know what your blog looks like to the outside world? How are your readers seeing you? Are they subscribing in a reader, via email or just visiting your blog?  Are those visitors sharing your blog? If so, how are they doing it?

(Caffeinated tip of  a few days ago was to make sure your blog is shareable.)

Many bloggers out there, including those that blog for large organizations, are NOT checking to see how their blog looks. I can tell you because there are several I follow in my Google Reader. Here are several fixable mistakes these bloggers are making:

  • Duplicating entries
  • Having no title appear for the blog or having a generic title like “Most Recent Entries.”
  • No sharing button
  • Sharing button that does not fill in information when you share so the post only has a link and no title.
  • Only sharing the first line of the post
  • Not allowing sharing from the  reader
  • Not having a visible RSS feed or email subscription tab on your blog

Happily, all these are fixable.  Start by following your own blog via RSS feed in a reader and via email subscription. Use your sharing button to see how (and if) it works. You may be overlooking something that will turn off one of your readers.  You should probably view the blog on someone else’s computer too.

You may be overlooking something. Protect your brand and your blog!