Nonprofits: Guard Your Domains

Posted by Robin on Apr 23rd, 2010

Here’s a question for all you non-profit folks out there: what’s one mistake that can confuse the people you serve, turn off donors, call your reputation into question, and put money in the pockets of unscrupulous spammers?

Here’s the answer: Failing to protect your domain name—and therefore, your brand, your online footprint, and the interests of anyone who is seeking you out for legitimate reasons. Your domain will always be at the core of your content strategy, even if your organization goes defunct.

Let’s look at an example. This is based directly on something that I ran across while I was trying to make a charitable donation, although I have used a purely hypothetical domain name, organization, and organizational mission here.

Say you have an organization that provides job training services to low-income youth in, oh, how about Atlanta, or any other major metro area. Your domain name is AtlantaJobTrainingCenter.com. You’ve been around for decades, and you built yourself a nice little website back in 1997. You updated it a few times and you had lots of great, useful information for the people you served, your potential donors, the media, and anyone else who might happen along. You were part of a tight little community of organizations, and your fellow Atlanta nonprofits linked to you happily, providing referrals to those who might need your services. Your name pops up at #1 in Google for “Atlanta job training” and at #9 for “Atlanta jobs.” Not bad.

In 2006, you merged with a larger organization that provided similar services. They already had a website, and it was shinier that yours. You let your domain name lapse in 2009, having forgotten about it entirely.

Then:

Someone else takes over your old domain name, with its juicy local job-related keywords, and makes a killing filling it with spammy ads, while you don’t see a dime. Your domain name still has years of credibility built up, with keyword links from other trustworthy nonprofit sites. People who might otherwise have found your new online home end up hopelessly confused, and donors who used to give years ago aren’t sure where to find you now, which is too bad because that’s a chunk of change with your name on it.

Just be glad your old domain is now selling jobs and not something much sketchier.

The takeaway:

Hold onto your domain in perpetuity. Don’t forget that it’s an asset. It helps people find you. If you merge with a larger organization, include a pointer or redirect to your new site but do not abandon your old one completely. If you fold and must give up your domain, donate or sell it to an organization that serves a similar cause, and be sure that they are educated about the value that your domain name can bring them.

If you have a nonprofit site that’s been around a while, check your links out, and update them as necessary. It’s easy to use automated tools to find broken links, but you also need to hand-check for situations like this, where the domain still exists but has changed drastically.

Never forget: domains are the real estate of the Internet. Don’t let the land that you have worked so hard to cultivate become a weed-choked vacant lot or a slumlord haven.

Writing for Your Online Store

Posted by Robin on Oct 11th, 2009

What makes writing for the web so different? Here’s one factor:

Pre-Internet, you didn’t need to worry about keywords much. The job of copy was simply to inform and convince. Words serve an additional function now: they act as a map to guide people to the right location.

Keywords are not just important for external search results (e.g. Google or Yahoo); they are also critical for users who are already on your site.

Imagine that you have an online shoe store, complete with a nifty search box. You have a customer browsing your site, seeking the perfect fall boot. She types “knee-high boot brown leather” into the box.

What happens? The boots she wants don’t appear, or get buried amid pages of other boots that don’t meet her requirements.

The problem? They’re labeled “distressed espresso leather boots.” Your website doesn’t know that espresso describes the color brown, or that they are knee-high.

Words Are the Key, More Than Ever
Keywords help your customer find what she’s looking for. That doesn’t mean that the copy should be bland—quite the contrary. The writing must still sell the product gracefully. Good web copywriting strikes the right balance.

For instance, in the example above, the boots could be described as “Knee-high boots crafted of soft, espresso brown leather, subtly distressed to relaxed perfection.”

Here, you’ve included all of the likely search terms, plus additional information that evokes a lifestyle—“relaxed perfection.” The description is still short enough to be effectively scanned by someone in a hurry.

Include the Right Information
Customers shopping online often need more detail, rather than less, in order to be confident in their purchases. I’ve seen product descriptions that leave out vital information, such as the measurements for a piece of furniture.

Website copy has to have enough of the right kind of description—in the right places—to take advantage of search engine results (including the long tail) but not so much that it overwhelms or turns off a potential customer. In the example above, including the heel height and the overall height of the boots is important.

This is why user-generated reviews are so great—they include details that push products up to the top of the search results for more esoteric, long-tail phrases as well as basic searches.

However, even without the added heft that multiple customer reviews provide, it’s still possible to craft your product copy to take advantage of both internal and external search results.

As with any copywriting, but perhaps even more so, web writing demands close attention to the perspective of the customer—not just what they are looking for, but how they are finding it.

On SEO Copywriting

Posted by Robin on Feb 22nd, 2009

Before you hire an SEO copywriter, read this.

The bar for entry into SEO copywriting is very low. Often, requests for SEO copywriting contain “rigorous” demands like “Must be a native English speaker.” But even if you’re not outsourcing and the writing seems okay on the surface, some copywriters will—to put it bluntly—make you look bad.

If you lose even one sale because your site looks unprofessional, is it worth it?

Writing is more than the ability to string a sentence together.

Amateur writing lacks grace. It seems fine on the surface, but the rhythm is off. It’s like listening to your tone-deaf brother sing in the shower. Sure, he knows the words and you recognize the song, but there’s no way he should quit his day job. Bad SEO copywriting is like that. I’m not even talking about keyword-stuffed garbage; that’s easy to avoid. I’m talking about writing that is flat. Dull. Regurgitated. You wouldn’t pay to hear your brother sing, so why would you pay for writing that’s just as tone-deaf?

Amateur SEO writing often contains usage errors. I can’t even count how many times I’ve stumbled across copywriters looking for SEO work who can’t tell “complement” from “compliment.” It breaks my heart every time.

Amateur writing breaks the rules, but in a way that says, “I didn’t read the warning label” rather than “I’m a rebel with a cause.” In spite of what your English teacher told you (and yes, I used to be one) it’s often fine to break the rules. For instance, you can include a sentence fragment at times, for impact. Like this. But amateur copywriters break the rules from lack of knowledge, not from sensitivity to their readers.

Valuable web content is more than just “okay.” It accomplishes things. On a sales site, it makes people want to buy. On a news site, it delivers new insights and keeps readers coming back.

It’s more than grammar. It’s more than accurate research and good sentence structure. It’s about IDEAS. When you hire a copywriter, you’re hiring someone to give form to insight.

Good writing delivers on a promise. It yields wisdom. It stokes desire.

Good writing sets off fireworks. Bad writing sets off alarm bells. Which are you paying for?

Why I Don’t Blog Often and Why I Blog at All

Posted by Robin on Feb 14th, 2009

You may notice that I don’t post here very often.

That means I don’t practice what I preach when it comes to blogging. Updating a blog shows you care and causes people to check back more often, increasing loyalty, brand awareness, and knowledge of your services or products. Maintaining a blog is also a way to update your website and keep it current, meaning that search engines may crawl it more often.

So why don’t I blog more frequently?

It’s not because I don’t care. On the contrary, it’s because I care too much. I’m usually too busy with actual client copywriting to make blogging a priority. I’d rather focus on the work itself, and so far, I haven’t needed to increase my blog posting for marketing purposes.

Of course, this is the same argument I might get from a client about why she shouldn’t blog. And it’s true that a two-entry blog that never gets updated won’t do much good at all, and might even backfire, making it look like you don’t follow through. However, there’s a big difference between a blog that’s been abandoned without a plan and one that’s just not updated often. It’s better to have a few quality posts that actually say something rather than frenetically posting about nothing every day just for the sake of posting.

If I’m really honest, it’s also partly because I’m limelight-shy. I like to be behind the scenes.  I engage in other blog sins too, like not having comments open and not having a blog roll. Basically, I violate every blogging tenet out there. If the point is to build community, I’m failing miserably—on purpose.

So why do I blog at all? Why not just keep quiet?

Building a community is not the only reason to have a blog. I like to keep the site at least somewhat current and make it clear that I’m still taking clients. Plus, I like to educate site visitors about website copywriting and get up on my grammar soapbox from time to time. The blog provides a way for me to do those things. For common questions, I can simply point people to a relevant post.  Furthermore, every post has the potential to demonstrate the beauty of the long tail, getting me visitors from specific or unusual search queries.

And who knows—maybe someday I’ll get more serious about the blog for its own sake, or I’ll decide I need to ramp up my marketing efforts. At that point, it will have been around for a while and have at least a few posts built up, which never hurts.

In other words, I blog now so that I have a better foundation for blogging in the future.

Nonprofit Marketing and Website Development

Posted by Robin on Dec 8th, 2008

Most copywriters develop their skills around commercial targets, using their marketing savvy to sell products and services.

However, nonprofits don’t really sell a product or service, right?

But (you saw where this was going) of course they do. For instance, your nonprofit website might “sell” the following:

  • Your effectiveness to potential donors
  • Tickets to a fund raising event
  • The joys of volunteering with your organization
  • Awareness of your vital service (such as a suicide prevention hotline)
  • Your policy views on news in your niche
  • Local activism

Your ROI will be different, of course; rather than seeing additional sales of a product or service, you stand to gain additional publicity, the ability to serve a wider population, more evidence of people benefiting from your work, and more donor dollars.

Nonprofit websites can benefit from targeted web writing as much as businesses do. Services I provide for nonprofit clients include:

  • New ideas for content development and site publicity
  • Thorough editing of existing content
  • Expertise in search-engine friendly writing (keyword research, scannability, using page titles for maximum effect)
  • A solid understanding of your readership; I have experience working with a wide array of nonprofit organizations and can tailor content for various stakeholders, including clients and potential donors
  • A fresh perspective on your site and how potential visitors respond to it

Moreover, I love working with nonprofits–often at discounted rates.  :)

It’s All About the Writing

Posted by Robin on Oct 30th, 2008

Very soon after striking out on my own with this web content development business, I landed a client through Craigslist.

He was a local client and when we met in person to discuss the project, he mentioned that although he had heard from over a dozen other respondents to his posting, several of the responses he got contained mechanical errors in the writing–from people claiming to be professional writers. Obviously, he didn’t consider any of them. Moreover, part of the reason he was looking for a writer was that English was his second language; these were errors that stood out even to a non-native speaker.

He had specifically asked for a writer who was familiar with search engine optimization principles, and it sounded like he had heard from people who thought that keywords were more important than the writing itself.

Clearly, that’s not the way to approach one’s website; after all, the point of hiring a copywriter is to get good copy that converts, not just to bring people to your site with commonly searched phrases. If they get to your site and see lots of grammar and spelling problems, or even if they just see uninspired, uninformative copy, that’s not going to build a lot of trust, and all of your keyword research will be for nothing.

This particular client’s customer base was made up of highly educated, mainly wealthy individuals, so it was all the more important to provide seamless professional copy–while at the same time judiciously including the relevant search terms in appropriate places.

Search terms are important, but there’s no reason that they should come at the expense of good writing.

What is Strategic Copywriting?

Posted by Robin on Sep 20th, 2008

What is strategic copywriting, and how does it apply to your website? Any good commercial copy is strategic. However, an understanding of writing specifically for the web is crucial. What worked for a brochure in 1992 is not going to work for a website today.

The main difference lies in the power of keyword research. Good website copy shares many qualities with any good marketing copy: compelling writing, clear calls to action, and a solid understanding of the target audience. But the crux of strategic web writing is the ability to conduct and apply keyword research intelligently.

Writing strategic web copy demands a thorough understanding of the terms that your audience uses to search you out. It also requires an understanding of how to use keywords to maximum advantage: how to develop quality content around key search terms, how to place terms within the elements of a web page for the best effect, and how to use them to draw visitors to your site from a search engine results page.

Strategic copywriting with attention to keyword research is crucial because it helps you:

  • Gain an advantage over your competitors with superior knowledge of key terms.
  • Increase your site’s ability to target exactly what your visitors are looking for.
  • Gain a better connection to your site visitors, increasing the likelihood that visitors will become customers.
  • Become more visible to the search engines, and therefore more likely to entice new customers to visit your site.
  • Develop searched-for content that will increase the likelihood that people want to link to you, referring additional traffic to your site and increasing your site’s overall credibility.

Many small businesses completely ignore keyword research (or develop a very superficial keyword plan) when creating a website. Intelligent keyword research provides a serious competitive edge; are you taking advantage of it?

Fun With Keywords

Posted by Robin on Aug 24th, 2008

While doing keyword research, I frequently stumble across search phrases that range from somewhat odd to bizarre enough to make me question the functionality of my research tools. Usually, there’s a logical explanation for strange queries; for instance, back when “Dick Cheney’s sunglasses” was a popular search for a couple of days, it was pretty clear why people were checking out the vice presidential eye wear. (If you missed out on that, let’s just say it wasn’t because people wanted to emulate his fabulous sense of style.) While that humorous end of the long tail may not always bring customers or sales, it’s always fun to peruse, and may even provide a few useful insights.

For instance, here are some odd queries related to the keyword “blogging.”

“Died in a blogging accident”
At first glance, one supposes that some unfortunate blogger was electrocuted by her laptop. However, this is the reason for that phrase’s popularity, and a fine example of the observer effect.

“Cat blogging”
Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like.

“What the hell is blogging?”
Adding a little colorful language will help the search engine answer your question, I’m sure.

“Stop blogging”
Was this typed by a hopeless blogging addict–someone who needed to find a cure for compulsive blogging? Or an avid blog reader who reached the point of overload, desperately wishing people would stop writing? (“Stop blogging, Internet!”) Or a blogging widow, wishing that she could pry her spouse away from the keyboard? We may never know, but the sheer emotion behind the query reads loud and clear.

Web Content Development: Six Critical Types of Pages

Posted by Robin on Jul 30th, 2008

When I work with a client to develop a website content plan, there are typically a few different types of pages that work well, depending on the client’s goals and the preexisting site content. Obviously, not all content falls into one of these categories, but these are some common types of useful website content:

1. Core Pages
These are the pages that you probably think of first when you think of website development: a homepage, an “about” page, hours and directions, a contact page, and basic information about products and services. For example, a restaurant would need to include the above pages, plus menus (and please, for the love of God, don’t put them in PDF–I know it’s easier for updating seasonal menus, but it’s a drag from a user perspective. At least from my personal user perspective. MS Word is even worse.) A restaurant may also include information on catering, special events, and reservation policies.
Goal:

  • To provide visitors with expected information

2. Landing Pages
Landing pages, also known as doorway pages, are highly targeted towards a specific search term (often in conjunction with a pay-per-click ad campaign). For instance, if a Seattle-area Mexican restaurant was trying to expand its local catering business, it would be useful to have pages focused on “Mexican Catering in Seattle” and “Seattle Catering.” (A tantalizing PPC ad that leads to the page might say, for example, “Seattle Catering–Sizzling Fajitas, Crispy Nachos.”) When a user clicks on the ad, or the natural search engine result that leads to the page, she should see the info she’s looking for right away.
Goals:

  • Give the user what she’s looking for, whether she arrives by ad click or search engine result
  • Effectively target the term for natural search engine results (not with artificial keyword density parameters, but with strategic research and use of search terms in the right places)
  • Get the visitor to take action, such as ordering up a taco bar for a graduation party

3. Product Pages
Product pages are especially helpful for retailers who are trying to help customer find very specific products. Let’s say you sell digital cameras and you want your customers to know that you specialize in Canon products. Since zillions of other retailers sell Canon cameras, you want to target specific models–but you need to distinguish your copy from the same copy (or total lack of copy) that appears on all of those other retailers’ pages. Why? Because duplicate content tends to get filtered out of natural search results, and having no content at all provides little indication of what the page is about. This is why more and more retailers are offering product reviews by customers, but you can just as easily include some customized marketing copy geared towards specific products.
Goals:

  • Target your products more effectively in natural search results
  • Provide useful information to site visitors attempting to make a purchasing decision

4. Blog Posts
A blog is by no means a necessary component of doing business online, although it offers a couple of major advantages: it’s an easy way to keep your site fresh, and it can be a great tool for communicating with customers.
Goals:

  • Inform visitors of business-specific news
  • Showcase your opinions, ideas, and expertise

5. Special Resources
Special resources are pages that set your site apart from your competitors–something that you can give to your users that no one else can. For instance, if you’re a plumber in an area with lots of historic homes, you might devote a section of your site to the unique plumbing problems of older houses.
Goals:

  • Demonstrate your expertise
  • Build trust
  • Propel sales

6. Pages Targeted to Social Media
Social media sites like StumbleUpon, Reddit, and Digg allow users to share web content that they find compelling for being funny/controversial/sad/irritating/exciting. Each social media site has its own ethos, and different types of material are going to appeal to different social media audiences. Social media users may not convert into customers, but if you submit something unusual or compelling to a social media site, it may become popular enough that bloggers and site owners link to you, which can be a nice boost. There’s potential for crossover between a “Special Resource” page and page geared towards social media. (Best example ever of making effective use of social media for brand promotion: http://www.willitblend.com/)
Goals:

  • Get traffic to your site
  • Gain brand recognition
  • Get people to link to your website

Depending on what kind of business website you’re developing, you will need at least one (and probably more than one) of these types of pages. You may, for instance, choose to start out with some well-developed core pages and then add some additional landing pages or special resource pages in order to increase your site traffic and grow your business.

Mission Statement

Posted by Robin on Jul 21st, 2008

Mission statements are so 1999, but I thought I’d write one anyway:

My mission as a web content developer is to put my copywriting skills and knowledge of best practices in Internet marketing to work on your behalf, advancing your web presence and making your products and services easier for your customers to find.

With genuine enthusiasm for your product, a solid understanding of your target audience, thorough research, and superior attention to detail, I’ll help you meet the goals that you’ve set for your site and your business.

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