Spring Clean Your Website Copy (Part 3)

[This article is part of a 4-part series on cleaning up your website. Check out the other articles on freshening up your design, copy and links.]

As time passes and your goals and objectives evolve, so should your website copy. If you’ve been following our series on spring cleaning your website, including putting together a clean team and purging dead links (click here to see all the articles in the series), you’ll be in the perfect place to start focusing on the words and structure that you use to communicate with your audience.

While keeping up on your website copy isn’t as fluid an activity as is purging your dead links, you still need to make sure your site is connecting to people appropriately and that you’re broadcasting the right message. Always watch your analytics to make sure you’re receiving the responses you expect. Otherwise, it’s time to make some changes.

The process of cleaning up your copy should be an abbreviated version of the one you followed when you began to write copy for your website. Here’s how you should start from scratch:

  1. Come up with a website architecture, or wireframe, that outlines every page of your site. That way you know what you need to provide copy for.
  2. Scope out the key concepts you want to convey for each page, usually three to five bullets for each page.
  3. Round up your research and source material to support your key concepts.
  4. Identify the appropriate tone for your website – chummy or serious?

Here’s the abbreviated version of the process you should follow when you’re cleaning up your content:

  1. Review your site structure. Do you have all the pages you need? The link-checking process you went through earlier should have identified gaps and unnecessary pages.
  2. Evaluate your message. Does the copy on those pages still match up with your key concepts? Do those key concepts still reflect your organization?
  3. Incorporate updates. Do you have additional research and source material to boost your copy? Look for new case studies, testimonials or tools, like social media widgets like a Twitter feed or most recent blog entries.
  4. Watch your tone. Does the copy’s tone still match your organization’s personality? You might find the tone too academic, or too punchy when you first wrote it, and it doesn’t accurately represent your mission.
  5. Finally, fix problems. This is possibly the most important step, and it’s a great chance to address any communications problems you’re having. For instance, your front desk might be fielding calls about directions or e-mailing forms that you can easily transfer to your site. Seek out potential communications bottlenecks, such as poor search engine results, i.e., SEO issues, that you can address with better copy.

Check back tomorrow to pick up the next article in our series on spring cleaning your website. Make sure you don’t miss anything by subscribing to the RSS news feed. Not sure what an RSS feed is? Click here.

Spring Clean Your Website – Dead Links (Part 2)

[This article is part of a 4-part series on cleaning up your website. Check out the other articles on freshening up your design, copy and links.]

This week I’m writing about how you can clean up your website for spring (click here to see all spring cleaning stories), and one of the most important tasks you can do is sweep out the dust bunnies. In digital terms, that means find and remove your dead links.

Nothing kills the success of a website faster than the reek of links that lead only to Page Not Found errors. Whether the link goes to somewhere in your site or to someone else’s site, it only takes one before a website visitor assumes the website is untended and inaccurate and never comes again.

That’s why cleaning up these pages should be an ongoing task – always stay vigilant against dead spaces on a daily basis or on an as-it-happens basis. You should still do a careful analysis at least twice a year to identify pages you may have missed or locate pages that are not technically dead, but that are no longer accurate. Those you can tag for a content cleanup as the next step of your spring cleaning.

Here’s how to go through your link check:

1. Get Clicking. If your site is small, just a few pages, then you can simply systematically go to every page and click on every link. This method is a great opportunity to evaluate where those links go and make sure they’re still appropriate.

2. Use a link-checking service. You can use these as an online service, or you can download software that does this for you. Here’s a website with several options. This method is most useful when you have many pages or links to many other websites and it’s impractical to check every single page on your own. These services will not evaluate your content, however, so you may have to check most pages at some point to make sure your copy is still up to date.

3. Move to a content management system. A content management system won’t save you from dead links, but it will make the job of maintenance easier. With a CMS as your platform, you can do things like set up a cron job, which can automatically seek out internal dead links. And you have power to create an alias, so you can easily redirect links to new pages or new content.

4. Set up a Report a Dead Link page where your website visitors and staff can do the reporting for you. You can include a form in the website footer that people can use to notify you of a dead link. Or if your site contains many links, create a button next to each one that leads to the link-reporting page (see what we did on the www.jesnapdc.org website for an example).

5. Rewrite your Page Not Found page. No matter how vigilant you are at keeping your links up to date, they’ll still change. You might move a page, delete a page or someone else’s website might go down at any time. So make sure that when someone clicks an inactive link within your site, they come to a friendly message directing them to your search tool or your homepage.

Make sure you perform a link-check for all your web presences, from your website to your blog to your Facebook page – anywhere you have links. Of all spring cleaning tasks, this one has the biggest payoff, and skipping it can be the most detrimental.

Check back tomorrow to pick up the next article in our series on spring cleaning your website. Make sure you don’t miss anything by subscribing to the RSS news feed. Not sure what an RSS feed is? Click here.

Spring Clean Your Website – Part 1

[This article is part of a 4-part series on cleaning up your website. Check out the other articles on freshening up your design, copy and links.]

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[Image: Flickr user bies]

At home, the flower beds are clean, the trees are pruned and the windows are sparklingly clear. I, probably like most of you, have been doing spring cleaning, and working my way down a list of home maintenance and improvement tasks. It’s satisfying to check those items off and look at the polished result.

At work, I’m also doing spring cleaning, and I hope some of you are too. I like to take some time every six months or so (call the second session fall clean-up) to tidy up some of the messiness that has worked its way into our website over the winter months. It’s also a good time to stand back and make some critical decisions about the functionality of your website and evaluate the direction you’re headed. Websites should never sit stagnant, and putting some time on the calendar at least twice a year to evaluate your strategy should be a given.

This week, we’ll guide you through a clean-up and revitalizing process that you can follow on your own website. Today we’ve got three things you can do to prep for your week of good housekeeping.

Put together a clean team. You’re about to do a major clean-up and make some big decisions. It’s not something one person should do alone, so put together a task force. If you are an army of one, just make sure to pace yourself. Here’s a good model for putting together a team:

  • You should have someone at a high level who can either make these decisions or who has the power to put them on the schedule for evaluation.
  • Also appoint someone to act as project manager. The person to put together a schedule, arrange meeting times and generally make sure everyone is moving along.
  • Finally, have one or more people to do the busy work: someone to update copy, remove dead links, make little changes. Volunteers can be a big help here.

Dedicate half an hour every day. Consistency is the key to spring cleaning – not killing yourself with work. Just set aside half an hour or an hour every day for a week to evaluate what needs to be done. Your task may take longer than half an hour, but you’ll be able to budget how much time you’ll need to do it in half an hour.

Set up a place to submit comments/ideas. While you’re cleaning up the website you have, you’re going to have ideas about the website you wish you had. Establish a place for you and your team to submit ideas or discoveries so you can decide if you want to add new functionality to your website. Check out this earlier post Make a Better Website with a User Survey for ideas of how to collect ideas and responses.

Good luck setting up today. Tune in tomorrow for the next step in your polished-up website, and click here to see all stories about spring cleaning.

Do Your Own Social Media Survey

I’m asked many times by clients what kind of social media they should invest in. It’s a tough question to answer, largely because it depends on what kind of social media makes sense to the people who you’re trying to reach. That’s why the best idea is to ask them directly.

Put together a survey, either printed or digital, and distribute it to your constituency or congregation to see where they’d like to hear from you in terms of social media. Ask them what kinds of social media they currently use, and then ask them how much and often they use them. It’ll give you a good idea of their capabilities and tendencies.

You can also make a pretty good educated guess. If your constituency is made up of largely older people, you’re probably best off seeing if you can transition from a printed bulletin to an electronic newsletter. If your audience is young and hip, hit them where they go: Facebook, MySpace, YouTube.

Also check out our social media survey.

Solace from Very First Twitter Updates

Twitter

One of the things I like best about exploring Twitter (I’m @talance) is watching it evolve and change so quickly as people use it and discover new uses.

But it’s still easy to feel left out and confused, which is why I think it’s a good exercise to look back at the very first messages up on Twitter. It can make you feel better to see how unsure everyone is when they delve into a new technology.

A few randomly selected examples of first Twitter updates:

Figuring out if this is really something I want to do
We’re finally live! Sorry to those who have been waiting so long.
trying to figure out twitter…
is learning to twitter…

So watch and learn. Ideas and applications will occur to you.

Word Watch: Crawlability

Crawlability: n. a measure of the ease with which a website may be scanned by a search engine robot.

This is one bit of jargon worth learning. It has a big impact on a site’s search engine rankings. Three things you can do to improve your site’s crawlability:

  1. Add a hierarchical sitemap
  2. Use descriptive URLs everywhere (i.e., pages should called about-us.html or driving_directions.html. Or better yet, get a CMS to do the hard work for you.)
  3. Make sure titles and headings reflect the site’s most important elements

How To Lose Donations and Confuse People

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has a great article about what prevents people from giving online (Confusing Web Sites Discourage Donors From Online Giving). What does it come down to? Bad design.

Nielsen Norman Group, which conducted the research and wrote it into this report. A summary of the biggest problems, which I can testify are the same problems we fix too:

  • Poor presentation of the charity’s mission
  • No information on how contributions are spent
  • Poor page design and unclear content makes it hard to find how to donate

Most of those issues are text related, so make your changes right now.

Make a Better Website with a User Survey

Many people start a web project by deciding they need a website. OK, good start, but that’s not where the project should end. Unfortunately, often it does, without any real thought given to what the website should do, what it should be used for and who should use it.

So the next step in starting a web project is to ask some questions, and who better to ask than the people who currently visit your website? Set up a questionnaire survey to find out what your audience thinks is most important. Take their comments into consideration for your needs assessment process (which I talked about here).

What those survey questions will be largely depend on your own organization’s directives. But a question like this might help you get started. I find Likkert-type questions to be the most useful in gauging opinion.

Please rate the value of each of these features, with 1 being extremely important and 4 being extremely unimportant.

– Ability to log on to access premium material
– A blog
– Video clips that demonstrate how we work

Make sure to leave a comments space so people can add features they think might be valuable. This is also a good time to evaluate some of your current processes, like asking people how long it took them to receive feedback or how easy it is to make a donation or pay for an item.

There are plenty of free survey tools out there you can use to collect responses, and just include a link to your survey online. But also send your survey out to your mailing list and include a line about it at the foot of outgoing e-mails or inserts in your paper newsletter.

Remember to not only use this exercise as building a route to a website that better serves your audiences, but add another survey in six months to make sure you’re meeting your users’ needs.

Website User Survey Template

Need a shortcut for creating your own website user survey? Request a free template we created that will help you get your website strategy in place.

Request your website user survey.

Working Your Out-of-Office Reply While You’re Away

Many people will take the time to set a simple auto-response to go out when someone writes them an e-mail. It’s usually something like “I will be out of the office until Tuesday, 4/14. If necessary, I can be reached at …” Talk about a missed opportunity!

Why not get a little fancy with this message and do a bit of promotion while you’re at it? After all, you have to write something there anyway, how about adapting one of these lines for your next out-of-office reply:

  1. I’m out of town and can’t respond to your message until next Tuesday. While you’re waiting for me, check out our blog at http://talance.com/blog
  2. I’m not checking e-mail while I’m out of the office until Tuesday, but I’m still Twittering! You can get a daily dose of what I’m doing at http://twitter.com/talance
  3. I’m out of the office until Tuesday, but I’ll be celebrating our latest website launch the whole time I’m away. Check out http://massmentors.org and tell me what you think.

The best part? You don’t have to do any extra work to do a little promotion.

Help with Number Crunching

Chart Advisor

Number crunching is the kind of art you don’t appreciate fully until you have to do it. As we were analyzing the data from the social media report, one of the biggest challenges we had was finding the right kind of chart to represent the trends we were seeing.

A big help would have been Chart Advisor, a little experiment from Microsoft Office Labs. This division plays around with prototypes and ideas that you can try before they’re fully released. Chart Advisor, according to the website, “ … was created as a concept test to explore new ways Excel users can create graphs quickly and effectively. Based on the data in your spreadsheet, it identifies, ranks, and displays an array of charts most relevant to you so you can make the most out of your presentation.”

Give it a shot and see if it helps you crunch your numbers.