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November 24 2010

Have You Seen the Thesis Theme Framework User’s Guide?

It’s awesome, but don’t take my word for it!

If you check out the Thesis Theme Framework User’s Guide, you’ll see tons of useful tutorials that show you how to do almost anything with Thesis. Most recently, our resident support ninja, Girlie, shows us:

If you dig these tutorials, I highly suggest you bookmark the user’s guide because more tutorials are added each week.

Also, if you have any suggestions for other tutorials, let us know in the comments!

Tags: Thesis News

November 08 2010

How to Get More Blog Comments Quickly

Two people having a conversation

Are you tired writing “epic” blog posts that fail to get any reader comments? Are you secretly envious of blogs that attract dozens of heartfelt comments with every post?

Friend, you’re not alone. Blogs with active comment sections attract more readers, get retweeted, and find it easier to turn random readers into loyal subscribers and customers.

Why are comments so powerful?

When people browse the web, they’re looking for evidence that the websites they visit are legitimate. Blog comments act as such evidence because people assume “if other people are sticking around this blog, I probably should too.”

It’s called engagement evidence, and if you want a sure-fire way to grow your blog, increasing your engagement evidence by getting more quality blog comments is a must.

But there’s a catch.

Getting More Blog Comments Isn’t Easy

Most bloggers find the task of getting quality reader comments devilishly difficult. Even on blogs with gobs of visitors, it’s common to see only a few comments per post.

Did you know that this is typical, too?

It’s called the 90:9:1 Principal:

  • 90% of readers lurk on your blog quietly while consuming your content
  • 9% of readers are editors and comment regularly
  • 1% of readers are the fanatical people who leave page-long comments after each post.

The question is, how can you find and encourage 10% who comment to actually comment on your blog?

How to Get More Blog Comments

Before people write blog comments, they’re looking for two things:

  1. Comment-worthy Content – You already know that you must write great content, but you should invite conversation by being open-ended and conversational.
  2. Proof of Life – Your commenters want proof that you care about your blog. They also want confirmation that you care about your readers and their opinions, too.

While writing exceptional content can be difficult, showing proof of life is easier than you think and it works!

The Simple Comment Attraction Secret

Here’s how you show “Proof of Life.”

Respond to comments, ideally, as quickly as possible. And don’t write a simple “Thank You,” but instead, respond as if the person was in the same room with you. Read what they wrote and then offer them value in return.

Remember, you want those who comment to think “wow, this guy/gal really cares!”

You can pile on the value by:

  1. Expand on a point you made in your post to give a commenter more insight into your strategy.
  2. Empathize with your commenter and give them a word of encouragement or advice to their specific situation.
  3. Refer the commenter to another resource and blog that could offer them more help
  4. Ask your commenter a follow-up question to encourage them to open-up and engage further.

The Bottom Line

If you show your readers that you actively participate in your blog, they’ll show up and comment regularly. It’s a proven formula that has worked before and will work again.

Not only should you reply, you should kick your comment replies up a notch because you’ll demonstrate to your readers that you care about them and that will also encourage more blog comments.

By the way, you don’t have to answer every comment with a 100 word reply. Some comments are just quick acknowledgements, so feel free to reply with a short shout-out where appropriate.

Can You Increase Your Blog Comments?

Do you think you could use these tips to increase your blog comments? Have you tried other strategies that worked, too? Leave a comment!

Tags: Thesis News

October 14 2010

10 Questions You Should Ask Your Web Designer to Get Tangible Results

Ask Questions To Get Answers

Getting real results from your website can be hard…

Sure, you can hire a great designer, but remember, good design is subjective, whereas design that gets results is all in the numbers.

What kind of numbers? Sales, traffic, and subscribers, or in other words, the building blocks of an online business.

So, how do you know if your designer is qualified to get you business results? Here are 10 questions you can ask before hiring them:

1. Do You Get Business Results for Clients?

If you want to hire a designer that gets business results, look for someone who publishes case studies about how they helped their clients.

For example, if you see something like “The site redesign of client XYX helped them increase their online sales by 24%,” you’re on the right track!

If they don’t publish any case studies, you can ask them directly. If they’re legit, they’ll happily provide examples.

2. How Much Do You Charge for Web Design?

Results-oriented web design takes time and expertise to do right. So if you find that your web design is cheap, it may be safe to assume that your designer will take as many shortcuts as possible.

Note, when you ask your designer for a price quote, ask them to tell you what the quote entails. For example, will you receive a high converting email newsletter subscription box?

3. How Much Time Do You Spend Planning and Researching?

Designing a website for results requires planning and research, so, before your designer gets started, make sure they allot time for a basic analysis of your business, competitors, and market.

How much time should be spent on planning and research? Personally, in my custom web design firm, I slot anywhere between 3 and 10 hours per project. It may seem like a lot of time, but things like content structure and deliver, overal website functionality, and other details must be planned out!

4. Do You Create Wire-Frames Before Designing the Website?

Website wireframes are visual representations of where the content on your site will be placed. As you can see below, there aren’t any graphic design elements or content. Instead, there are boxes explaining where certain content will be found.

Example Website Home Page Wirefram

Figure 1. Example Website Home Page Wireframe

Why are wireframes so important?

Well, placement of items on your site has a lot more impact on your results than you may think.

For example, a good results-oriented designer will know that placing your newsletter subscription box high up on the right column will increase your subscription rate better than if it was placed on the bottom.

Now I know that seems like common sense, yet, most designers still place subscription boxes below the fold, as if they were an after thought. With a wireframe, there will be no after thoughts because everything is planned out prior to the web design.

5. Do You Create Easy-to-Use Websites?

A website with lots of personality may look beautiful, but if it causes your visitors to flee in frustration because they can’t find what they need, it’s a complete failure.

However, a good results-oriented designer has a basic understanding of website usability. They know how web visitors navigate websites and cater to them to help you achieve your goals (subscribers, leads, and sales).

Note, while asking your prospective designer this question helps, you should visit their portfolio, too. If their previous work is easy-to-navigate, you should be set!

6. Do You Do Market Research Before Creating Web Designs?

A web design should bring you closer to your customers. To do this effectively, your web designer must understand who they’re building the website for. In the end, you may want your site for you, but if you’re running a business, it’s really for your customers, right?

As a side note, another way to bring you close to your customers is by taking advantage of the nonverbal cues that influence your website visitors. To learn more about that, check out the free report that Derek Halpern wrote here.

7. Do You Do Competitive Research, Too?

This question is important because it helps your designer look outside the box to identify what else is out there. Often, good reuslts don’t come directly from optimizing your site, but by also doing things better than the competition.

8. Do You Offer Conversion and Usability Testing?

If you want your website to live up to all it’s worth, you must optimize your pages for results. However, how do you know if your pages are doing everything they can to generate those results?

You test them. Instead of making a guess, you create two different pages, and pit them against each other. The page that does the best, should be phased in permanently.

How do you do this type of testing? It’s called split A/B or multivariate testing. Results-oriented designers should know all about it, so you should ask them if they offer this as a follow-up service.

9. Do You Analyze My Current Traffic Before Making Design Decisions?

Analyzing a site’s metrics, if done correctly, can help identify the current site’s strengths. For example, what if your blog has great visitor loyalty, but the rest of your site doesn’t? Or, what if one of your pages has a lower bounce rate, can anything be implemented elsewhere on your site?

In summary, by looking at your site’s metrics, designers can arm themselves with information to better equip themselves to make better decisions.

10. How is Your Design Going to Help Me With My Business Goals?

When you decide to lose weight and start a new diet, you have a goal weight in mind, right? A website design project is just like that. You’ll have goals, and you need to ask your designer how they’ll help you achieve them.

Note, before you ask your designer to turn water into gold, you should know that you’re better off setting realistic goals. A results-oriented designer will help you come up with these goals, but if they don’t, here are some goals you should consider:

  • We’d like to increase the overall revenue generated from our website by 20%.
  • We’d like to increase the orders from our PPC campaign to our landing page by 20%.
  • We’d like to get 20% more newsletter subscribers within the next 6 months.
  • We’d like to increase our average order value by 20%.
  • We would like to reduce our bounce rate on page X by 20%.

All this said, sometimes the goals of a new website design or redesign are related to things that can’t be easily measured like increasing awareness of a brand, spreading a message, or increasing authority.

However, if you are looking for measurable return on your investment, finding a designer that can help you get tangible results can be a very wise choice.

Photo credit: SMJJP

About the Author: Naomi spends a disproportionate amount of time wondering about how we can make the web a better place. You can catch her designing custom websites for clients over at Intuitive Designs or helping people improve their online conversion rates over at her own site.

Tags: Thesis News

October 08 2010

10 Tactical Ways to Position Yourself as an Authority Online

How can you quickly become known as the go-to authority in your field?

You could hire a celebrity publicist, sign a six-figure book deal, or make a few simple tweaks to your website.

Does the latter sound too easy? Here’s the truth:

People pretend that superficial things like web design don’t matter, but trust me, a polished site can seal the deal with web visitors.

Now enough hype. Here are ten tactical ways you can tweak your website today to position yourself as the top dog in your field.

1. Put Other People’s Logos on Your Homepage

Have you ever been quoted at a newspaper, spoken at an event, or won an award? Put their logo (with permission of course) right on your homepage.

People connect logos and prestige instantly, and the funny thing is, the logos don’t even need to be that important.

So, if you were featured anywhere, grab those logos and create a section on your site to feature them. Personally, I include them towards the bottom of my home page, like in the picture below:

Figure 1. See how I feature logos on my home page?

2. Go Graphic for Your Title

Many people make the mistake of not having a logo in their title. This is a problem because a stylized logo makes your website feel “homemade.”

Now, your logo doesn’t have to cost $5,000 or even include any graphics. Instead, it can just be your business name in a more distinct font/color scheme. As an example, refer back to Figure 1 above to see how I stylize my name on my site.

3. Prominently Feature Testimonials

Short, impactful testimonials get your customers excited about your work AND prove that they aren’t the first one to hire you!

The quotes collection plugin was meant for quotes, but it can be used to rotate testimonials in any widget-ized section of your site, too.

What if you don’t have any testimonials? Where can you get them?

Twitter and Facebook. Just start using the nice things people say about you and your business as testimonials for your website. This works because these mini-testimonials have a name and picture associated with each comment and that helps build trust.

4. Don’t Get Stale

As your website evolves, it’s easy to let little things slip by the wayside. While perusing my site, I discovered an old opt-in form from a past even that was no longer delivering the content it promised. It may seem small, but to the person who opted in, I didn’t deliver and I could have lost their trust forever.

Get a system in place for continuously checking links, autoresponders, and old pages to make sure everything is still up-to-date and in working order. Check out this broken link checker plugin to help you get the job done.

5. Create a Favicon

A favicon is the term for that little icon that shows up next to a website’s title at the top of your browser’s window, or in the tab that you’re browsing. Creating a custom favicon that matches your branding is one of those tiny tweaks that divides the boys from the men.

Sure, it’s subtle, but it really adds polish to your web presence. In the latest version of Thesis (1.8), there’s a built-in favicon uploader which makes it a snap to add a favicon to your Thesis WordPress site.

6. Ditch the SEO Gobbledygook

Did you think you were being clever by listing your keyword 50 times on the bottom of your site? We can all see it and it looks like a hot mess! Always write for humans first and search engines second.

SEO gobbledygook anywhere on your site looks like a desperate ploy for a better ranking – which is not something someone who is already at the top needs to do. Instead, use the built-in SEO features in Thesis to optimize your site for search. If you don’t have Thesis, the All In One SEO Pack plugin works too.

7. Clear the Clutter

If you want to position yourself as an authority, you want your site to promote YOU, not other people.

It’s tempting to fill your sidebar with badges like “I’m a Super Cool Blogger 2009,” ads, buttons, and various other widgets, but they lead people away.

Plus, it makes you look like a newbie blogger, not a professional.

8. Use Your Own URL (and email address)

Top authorities can afford web hosting! Dump that blogspot, typepad or WordPress.com URL and move to your own “grown up” website. (What are you doing not using WordPress.org anyway?)

Beside being unprofessional, freebie websites build up SEO juice for the company that hosts your site, not yourself. This goes for your email address as well – use your domain name in your email address and get professional, consistent email addresses for everyone in your company.

9. Spring for a Designer Already!

Just one hour with a web designer can take your site from mundane to marvelous. When people think of web design they usually assume a 6-month project that takes thousands of dollars is coming, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Most designers are more than happy to be hired for just one hour to tweak your site, or create a header graphic for you for a few hundred bucks. Browse through the Thesis Designer Directory to find someone who fits your style. This small expense has a big payoff in positioning yourself as #1 in your field.

10. Get Psycho About Typos

Yes we all know this one, but have you actually done it? Your entire site should be scoured top to bottom by at least three people, or a professional copy editor. Or cheat a little bit by using the “After The Deadline” plugin, which uses artificial intelligence to check the style, spelling and grammar of all your posts and pages.

Small mistakes can be a huge turn-off to a prospect. After all, if you can’t get it together for your own site how can you be expected to provide top quality to your customers?

What Else Can You Do?

Implementing just one of these ten tactics can greatly bump up your reputation in your prospect’s eyes.

If you’d like additional help, you should join my new course Creating Fame. It’s a step-by-step guide to making you and your business famous using social media.

Note, enrollment is  currently open for a limited time until Tuesday, October 12, 2010.

About the Author: Laura Roeder is a social media marketing expert who teaches small businesses how to create their own fame and claim their brand online. She lives in Venice Beach, California, where she video blogs, makes frequent trips to the library, and volunteers with local middle schoolers.

Tags: Thesis News

October 06 2010

7 Ways to Improve Your Website’s Effectiveness

Post image for 7 Ways to Improve Your Website’s Effectiveness

If you’re unhappy with your website’s performance, you’re not alone.

Everyone expects a certain level of performance from their website — bloggers want bigger lists, businesses want more sales, and non-profits want more participation.

But it doesn’t always work out the way you’d like, right? And when your site isn’t converting well, the lack of results can leave you feeling frustrated, confused, and defeated.

The good news is, it can be fixed. The great news is that correcting the problem is usually just a matter of making a few minor changes.

You need to do an evaluation of your site.

If your website isn’t bringing you the results you want, then it’s time to figure out why. To do this, you need to take a “step back” and assess your site as objectively as possible.

For the best results, try to look at your site through the eyes of your audience, and be ruthless in your critiques. The more honest you are with yourself during this evaluation, the more effective it will be.

To help you review your site, here are 7 things I look at I when I do website evaluations for clients.

1. Website Load Speed

How long does it take your website to load a complete page? The longer your site takes to load, the more sales you stand to lose.

For more information, read Willie Jackson’s article, and you’ll learn how to speed up your website.

2. Focal Points

When your website loads, what’s the first thing on the page that grabs your attention? Is it your logo? Your photo? A banner ad?

Having the wrong element of your site as the focal point can distract people from the item you want them to take action on, so pay careful attention.

If you’re having problems finding your focal point, load up your website and close your eyes. Then, when you open your eyes again, take note what part of your site your eyes go to first.

If you’re looking for a more professional approach, Crazy Egg’s eye-tracking software is a great service you can purchase and run on your website because it places a heat map on your website, successfully showing you where people click.

3. Visual Appeal

You’ve probably heard the sayings, “content is king” or “design doesn’t matter.” Neither are true. Recent studies have shown that the visual appeal of your site makes a measurable impact on its effectiveness.

For example, some Canadian researchers discovered that people make a decision about whether or not they like your site within the first 1/20th of a second.

Since you don’t have much time to make a positive impression with your website, make it count.

If you don’t want to spend thousands on a new design to highlight key action items, you can highlight them in a special color and use nonverbal communication to make them stand out.

4. Color Schemes

Since each color of the rainbow affects the human brain in different ways, especially when people are making purchase decisions, something as simple as choosing the wrong color for your site can hurt your sales.

To prevent this, you’ll want to study the psychological effect colors have on people. For more information, here are two great resources:

  1. Color Matters
  2. The Psychological Effect of Colors (infographic)

5. Website Readability

This section involves 2 parts:

First, you need to make sure that your audience can understand your writing, meaning, you must write easy-to-read sentences by avoiding complicated words. In general, use the simpler word, if it exists, always.

Second, you must cater your content to how people read online. Let me explain. Jakob Nielsen discovered that people read websites in a modified “F” pattern, meaning they scan each page with their eyes in roughly the shape of a capital letter “F.” Placing your critical content within that area of your site will help drastically.

For example, see figure 1:

Figure 1. See how people read in a modified “F” pattern?

6. Check out the Competition

Everyone has competitors, so spend some time reviewing their sites and ask yourself these questions:

  • What are they doing differently than you?
  • How does their site compare to yours?
  • Is it more professional looking?
  • Do all of them use a similar color scheme and design style?
  • What keywords are they using that you aren’t?

Arming yourself with this competitive research helps you in three ways…

First, remember, not all of your website visitors come to your site first. Some will be aware of your competitors, so knowing about their experiences will help you make your site more effective.

Second, studying your competitors can reveal your weaknesses. Whatever they may be, study them. Ask yourself why they are doing things differently and determine if doing something similar (but better) would help your site.

Third, it helps you find ways to take advantage of your competition’s weaknesses. For example, if their site is out-dated, improve yours. Or if they’ve overlooked a service or topic, take advantage of it.

7. Make your competition irrelevant

How easy would business be if you didn’t have any competition? Real easy, right?

The next step is to identify ways you can make your competition irrelevant. There are two key ways to do this:

First, think about how you can position yourself so that you’re the market leader. To do this, niche down your topics until you have no competition. For example, if you’re a web designer, you could become a web designer for litigating lawyers.

Second, you could offer more value than your competition by finding unique services and products or by improving the value of your current services and products.

Either way, how you do this will vary based on your individual needs. For more information on positioning, I suggest you check out the book Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

Converting your evaluation into action

Once you’ve completed your website evaluation, outline your potential improvements, create a timeline for the roll out, and spend time testing and tweaking each modification before implementing the next change.

And remember, if you do it right, you’ll be able to increase conversion rates, attract more customers, and build your audience.

Photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt

Tags: Thesis News
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