Sometimes 140 characters are not enough.
Friends, I need your help with two things.
First, as you've probably noticed :-) I've been doing some analysis here of PR pitches received by bloggers. I'd like to continue this as a regular feature, with at least one good and one bad pitch per week. But I need your help. Between what I get myself and blogger friends, I have a pretty steady supply of pitches aimed at marketers and moms. I'd like to broaden the coverage to other topic areas, especially pitches aimed at environmental, political, tech, entertainment and health bloggers.
On the bad pitches, I black out all product, agency and blogger names. This exercise isn't about shame or blame, it's about learning. On the good pitches, I do share the company and agency names and with permission, the blogger's. Always nice to give credit when it is due.
Second item. We need database programmers and web developers for a few pending projects. Preferably based in eastern Massachusetts. Contract work. Some of the work could be done by entry-level programmers, some of it does require more experience, preferably with a variety of platforms and toolsets. My business partner in these projects manages the technical end and can tell interested parties much more about the requirements and volume of work. I'm just checking with my network for leads. Sound like you or someone you know? Please get in touch.
Email pitches and leads to me at email@example.com
Getting Web site development right
Two of the most popular search terms for this blog are "b2b website" and "corporate websites suck." The second due to a 2005 post called Why Corporate Websites Suck and some ideas for fixing them.
But, as I was writing a memo about site development for a client, I realized that I haven't written about Web development here in quite some time. Since people seem to be coming here for just that sort of information, seems like I should rectify that :-)
So here's a step by step outline that covers the most important part of the process: defining the requirements and navigation for the site. I strongly believe that you must have a clear picture of the path(s) you want your visitors to take through your site, to get to the desired result, before you commit one line of code or design a single page.
These are the steps I follow. Every time. New site or redesign.
1. Assemble a team that represents the key stakeholders in the site. You do not need every individual, but you do want to be sure that the representatives are truly cross-functional. In some cases, you will want someone from the actual business area. In others, it may be more effective to have members of your team interview the relevant people. Some of the functions that should be included are sales, marketing, business development, communications and customer service.
I do not recommend having the Web designers or developers too involved in this stage. You want to keep the discussion at a business level until you have a solid idea of what is needed across the company. Developers often get too wrapped up in how to do something rather than what is necessary, which should be the focus early in the process. Involving developers too early also can steer the discussion toward what the developers can do easily rather than what the company really wants. Later, when you get to the development stage, you may make concessions due to cost or complexity but it is too limiting and undermines creativity to start this way.
2. Once the team is assembled, the first order of priority is to identify the objectives for the Web site. These objectives should be closely aligned with your overall business goals. Some of the questions to ask:
a. Who are you trying to reach?
c. What do you want to tell them?
d. What do you want them to do once they are at the site?
e. What are the priorities of the business now and for the next three years?
It is helpful to pull the web stats from the existing site to better understand what your site visitors are doing. What areas get the most traffic? What are people coming to your site to see and do? It’s okay to let the team refer to areas on the current site that they feel need to be kept or improved, but don’t let them get bogged down in what they don’t like or think does not work. The point of this work is to develop a specification for the new site; rehashing previous decisions, good or bad, is not useful and slows down the process.
You are going to have multiple audiences and multiple objectives – everything from sales to customer service to media outreach to things very specific to your business plan. This is exactly what you want at this stage.
3. Next, you determine priorities. Of all the objectives identified in the previous stage, three, maybe four, will be critical to your overall business objectives. These are the priorities and the elements that should get attention on the highly valued “real estate” of your home page. For the most part, everything else can go on inside pages. Typically, the core priorities fall into these buckets:
* Identify product set and market segments so visitors know they are in the right place;
* Communicate key company news/events/messages to constituents;
* Customer service.
4. The team should then discuss content. Starting with the existing content. What stays/goes? What should be improved? What new sections do we need? What data do we need to capture from our visitors? How will we let people search our site? Keep the team focused on the desired result, not the technology that might be used to get there. And don’t worry about writing the content yet; that comes later.
5. One or two team members should be deputized at this stage to develop a straw man home page, home page navigation and inside navigation. Their job is to synthesize all the discussions into a cohesive navigation. You still should not be thinking about design or functionality. Keep thinking content. The key questions:
a. What action do we want or expect to visitor to take?
b. How can we drive the visitor through our site to accomplish our priority business and site objectives?
As mentioned above, you need to stay focused on the visitor. How does she use the site? What did she come for? Every click should move the visitor forward to accomplish her objective. The goal as we develop navigation is to ensure that she is never more than one click away from the next thing she wants.
This is just about the most important part of the process: Making sure you have defined a clear path through your site for your users so they get what they came for.
Never assume that the visitor will figure it out. If you want him to do something, make that the attractive option. If he wants to buy something, make sure he can do it easily and quickly.
So, if we sold apples, our home page would make it clear we sold apples, and perhaps the range of varieties. Within one click, the visitor could get more information on the specific varieties (product page). One more click gets him to the order page, or perhaps the dealer search page if we don’t sell direct.
We can offer more information about our apples, but we have to make the desired path crystal clear. Otherwise our visitors get lost.
Typically, the home page has its own navigation, and the inside pages have two levels of navigation: a top line navigation which contains all the items that are common throughout the site, and not that different from the home page navigation, and a side navigation, which contains all the navigation items for the specific section of the site.
6. Once you have your straw man, the team reviews it and the straw man is adjusted accordingly based on feedback. Continue the review and revise process until you have a defined home page and navigation that meets the approval of your key team. This should all still be in outline and very rough graphic form “FPO.”
Now it is time to involve the Web developers and designers.Whether you are putting the project out to bid or using an inside development team, I always recommend that the marketing team and key stakeholders get a clear picture of what they really want from the Web site before involving the techs.
I also stay away from delivering a “spec” to the Web team in the first pass. I find it more useful to present what the site needs to achieve from a business and customer perspective to see how the vendor(s) respond. You may discover that some of the things that you’d like to have require more funds than you have budgeted. This is where the priorities developed earlier come in so handy. The budget needs to deliver the priorities first, and the “nice to haves” come after.
The goal is to develop a scope of work that delivers as much of your core needs as can be accomplished, along with a plan to incorporate any additional elements as time and budget permit.
7. You then move into the development stage of your site which typically will have three main areas: Design, Development and Editorial. Your Web developer will probably offer both Design and Development (functionality, coding) services. Editorial, ie writing the site, is best project managed by someone in-house using a combination of internal and external resources. If you spend the time upfront as I've outlined, the actual development project will be far simpler and smoother than you perhaps have experienced in the past.
More Web 2.0
If I have to pick, I'm still against. And not so much against the ideas as I am the hype potential.
It's not that I don't understand the concepts that are being included under the Web 2.0 term. Or even disagree that many of the changes in the online world that have and are occuring as a result of "social media" are as revolutionary as they are evolutionary.
I just have an inherent dislike of labels. I also see too much old-style jockeying for position, influence and prestige (A-list anyone?) to believe that companies won't use this label to hype products that really aren't revolutionary or even evolutionary. Things have changed, but not as much as (yes) the hype would have us believe.
Just a last few, somewhat random things.
Further on Web 2.0 hype from Hypocritical, Web 2.0 Design Checklist. ROTFLMAO -- and if you don't know what that acronym means, please refer to your Web 1.0 manual :-)
From Marketing Tom, Santa's blog and a pointer to a Harvard Business School article on corporate blogging.
On to new content tomorrow and Monday!!
Random acts of blogging
For today, I have a whole bunch of interesting stuff to comment on that has accumulated over the past month or so, while I was feverishly working so I could take two weeks off, followed by the mostly off-line vacation.
In no particular order.
Blog comment spam: I increasingly find myself the victim of blog comment spam. I usually just delete it and move on. Here are two takes on the issue: from Blog Business World, some ideas for how to manage it and from Jeremy Pepper, some words about blogs that do not allow comments for fear of spam.
One thing I am thinking about: I have noticed that the comment spam always seems to be on the same old posts, leading me to suspect a script of some sort. I AM considering turning off comments on these older posts, with a note explaining why comments have been turned off for any legit folks who want to comment on the topics.
Web 2.0. Okay, I am trying, really, to understand why we need to define a Web 2.0. Sexist though it may be, I'm wondering, is this kind of a "guy thing" -- the need to define and box up things? How does any of this help customers and who really cares? Why do we have to put it in a box? Because as Elisa Camahort says in her post, a version number implies something finished and definable,and that ain't the web that I know.
Seriously, please, can someone explain to me what Web 2.0 is all about, other than a way for companies to promote their offerings ("Web 2.0 compatible, whatever that is), and for consultants and analysts to make money explaining it to everyone. Simple words please. I'm just wondering, "where's the beef?"
Here are a number of other posts about Web 2.0. I've read 'em all, and I am still confused....
- From Blog Business Summit, how NY TImes omitted blogs from article about Web 2.0
- Corporate Blogging Blog, the value of Web 2.0
- Emergence Marketing, The fanaticism around web 2.0 tools sometimes confuses me...
- NevOn, Understanding Web 2.0
- Jeremy Pepper, Do Web 2.0 companies have launch parties
I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the call to action by Steve Rubel for PR agencies to figure out this new media thing. Huh?! If you don't know what I'm talking about, actually you are very lucky -- it is a tempest in a very small teapot, a major ego-fest and I am 100% with David Parmet: YAWN!! He has the link in his post to the memeorandum thread if you have the inclination.
Those who are doing things will just keep on doing. If you want to posture, position and pontificate, go for it, help yourself to happiness. I'd rather just get on with it. Some other interesting commentary on same:
- Robert French on leaving out PR educators
- Niall Cook channeling Rodney King: Can't we all find a way to get along?
- Jeremy Pepper, One Step Forward Two Steps Back
Character blogs. As many of my readers know, I have strong opinions about character blogs --I believe they are a valid blog form, albeit hard to do well. About a year ago, this debate took off flying. A year later, here are a couple of anniversary commentaries:
That's it for random acts of blogging. This weekend I will start my end of year series.....
Corante Marketing Hub
I am pleased and honored to be among the marketing bloggers selected by Corante to be part of its marketing hub. I am in extremely good company, and rather than miss someone off, I'll refer you to the list on the hub.
Corante has taken a unique (and I believe ultimately successful) approach to the concept of collecting/aggregating interesting content. Instead of recruiting folks to contribute to another blog (in our copious spare time), they are providing what amounts to a daily commented, digest of content from participant blogs. Some posts are commented on, others are just included in a raw feed. BUT here's the most important part: our feeds are pulled with NO ADDITIONAL WORK ON OUR PART. Amen to that.
It is up to the hub members to continue to write engaging,interesting posts on marketing topics. Which is after all the reason we were recruited in the first place: the folks at Corante thought we had interesting, original perspectives on marketing topics.
Did I mention no extra work!!! I have participated in group blogs, and the hardest part is finding the time. The spirit is willing, but there just ain't no time. Lately (as I am sure my readers have noted), it has been tough to find the time to write here, let alone somewhere else too.
So, take a look -- this model has "legs" and I'm honored to be part of it.
Who's on top?
Why is it that even in the middle of a media revolution, we can't resist the temptation to create an aristocracy? Benevolent, but an elite nonetheless.
I agree with Fred from A VC, who says: Take me off your lists please:
"Open Media? Then let's make it open. Let's keep the desire to rank and create clubs in check guys."
Unfortunately, I don't think we are going to get our wish.
It is human nature to congregate with people of like mind. Social groups (cliques) form. Once the group has solidified, it is hard to break into it. Not impossible, but the formed unit tends to resist interlopers.
In nature, order and structure are a requirement for smooth operation of the unit. Someone has to be in charge of defending the territory etc. etc.
In human society, however, social groups are formed for reasons other than defense and self preservation. The group may initially apply order and structure to itself to make the group more manageable. You know, to blow up society, even anarchists need a leader :-)
It starts with the member list and a definition of the membership requirements. But, sooner rather than later, it becomes clear that "membership has its privileges." Status. Respect. Wealth. Before you know it, the group, which may *think* it is open to all comers, starts to fear dilution of the membership value, and as a result, begins to defend its exclusivity. It may be subtle. It may even be sub-conscious. But make no mistake... it is there.
This is bad enough when the group is a formal group. But when it is an informal group -- a clique versus an organization -- it can be downright insidious. Because informal groups aren't going to have rules in the same way a club or association might. So there's no way for those on the outside to EVER get on the inside where all those great connections can be found.
Do I think this has happened in the blogosphere? No. Not yet. But the signs are there, and it would be a shame if we didn't resist.
Captain Picard did, and so can we.
Another good article on RSS for newbies
This time from SiliconValleyWatcher:
Mid-Week Link Soup
Guaranteed to be tasty!
From BL Ochman: How to Set a Corporate Blogging Policy Links to great article from down-under about the corporate blogging phenomenon. Her what’s next blog is a great source of information about corporate blogging.
From Dan Gillmor, and also Steve Rubel, news of the Citizen Journalist Starter Pack. Posted in other places as well I am sure. I have nothing new to add to what already has been said, other than it is really funny, and I wanted my most loyal reader (my mom) to see it!
I don’t tend to comment too much on tech issues, although I do follow them. For example, the recent “discussions” about the Google toolbar. Others who focus on the search space have been far more articulate than I could ever hope to be. Here's the exception: you have to check out the Dougal Evil Toolbar, which I found on Threadwatch.
For non-techies, Dougal is such a crystal clear way of showing just how evil manipulating search results could be….
If you want to follow the search engine wars, you should check out Threadwatch.