In the computer programming world, the old adage “reinventing the wheel” is used often. Programming veterans and code monkeys alike learn early that reinventing the proverbial wheel is often a foolish endeavor. Google it and you’ll see. People tend to get frustrated when their favorite software gets changed or “tweaked”, especially if the real issues are not addressed. These unexpected updates to games, apps, and tools we’ve grown attached to tend to create great WTF moments. Essentially, the wheel is reinvented and no real value-added is achieved.
The frustration of seemingly pointless updates extends to content as a whole, blogs included. Let’s say your audience (business customers, sales leads, gaming clan/guild members, readers, fans, etc.) is used to forums or discussion boards as the primary means of communication. You launch a separate forums site, eZine, mailing list, blog, or what-have-you. Now you notice that you don’t have as much participation or, even worse, little or no people are visiting or consuming your new content. What gives?
Let’s explore some of the considerations in service and site launches and updates alike, as well as online trends and habits that impact web site and online service performance…Uncomfortable Truths About Why No One Really Cares About The New Thing You Launched
The first uncomfortable truth is about competition and why great content doesn’t always come out on top: on the Internet it’s easy to spread your supporters thin. You have to realize there are trillions of sites, products, and services out there on the Web so expecting people to remain loyal without making deliberate retention efforts is unreasonable. This is why I urge all online creative engineers to focus on building up what you have already established. Let’s not forget that there are so many other things out there competing for the attention of your target audience/market and, nowadays, all it takes is one or two clicks to move on.
Building new things is great and, in some cases, these things are unique enough to be stand-alone experiences; however, you should always expand and launch content with cross-promotion, usability, and interoperability/integration in mind. If you’ve built up great content and you’re not linking to/from your most popular and highest-ranking pages, you’re not showing loyalty to your peers and audience. In return, you lose loyalty and retention.
Seth Godin says it best when he explains that you can evolve your “thing” freely but you can’t change the underlying rules. To understand the rules here is to understand user habits and what makes you successful. If you don’t understand what brought you to success before, how can you expect to replicate success?. The uncomfortable truth here: you’re likely flying blind on your creative project or venture.
A final, but very important, uncomfortable truth is this: no matter how special your thing or content may be to you, it’s been done before (or at least thought of before). With that in mind, the real goal in any venture or creative initiative is to do something remarkable, even if it’s not necessarily unique. Clever positioning/marketing by way of SEO/SMO is definitely a good start to that end. Simply put: you have to become a master promoter and tell good stories (more on that in a bit).
Some Things To Consider Before Launching Or Expanding Your Ideas And Projects
While you don’t want to get stuck in analysis paralysis, you can’t skip the research and planning phases when executing on any idea or concept. Ask yourself…
- Have you asked your audience how they feel about the update or launch?
- How easy will your new thing be to adopt?
- What resources and costs will your new thing require to maintain?
- Do you have the time and money to remain consistent and persistent?
- Have you monitored user trends for your current thing?
- What appeals most to your audience with your current offerings?
- What concerns does your current audience have?
- Can you use your existing sites and services or is a fresh start necessary?
- Will this “thing” be considered a reboot, revamp, relaunch, or expansion? Or a whole different thing, perhaps?
- What value does your new thing provide?
- How unique is your new thing?
As you can see, quite a lot goes into the creative process and the evolution of ideas. Rather than being redundant (reproducing mistakes and overwhelming your audience), you want to do something special without abandoning your other efforts. The key take-away here: use your existing content and audience to feed into and build up other efforts. Content and code are re-usable with good reason: they have inherent value and make development more efficient!
Cross-Promotion, Integration, And Tools That Bring It All Together
Re-use and re-cycle is not just about going green. It’s all about working smart! If you have compelling content, get it to more people so it can spread like a virus. To do so, you’ll need to use social and organic tools along with concise summaries, titles, taglines, tags, keywords, and abstracts that will catch the attention of the users out there with fickle usage habits and short attention span. This is the basic premise of making content viral: build something remarkable and get people talking about and sharing your stuff!
While integrating your sites and services is not always feasible, you can always link to and from related content (on-page promotion and link building) and syndicate content in thriving social communities/platforms (off-page promotion and link building). You don’t want to rely on referrals and word-of-mouth marketing alone. Building an organic experience should be your goal.
The tools of the trade vary but, to figure out what’s best for your thing, you need the aforementioned understandings and at least a basic grasp on SEO and SMO work. In basic terms, SEO is about building links and making it easier for new visitors to reach your web site by way of popular keywords. SMO is more about building communities around your most compelling content. Ultimately, these things all build up organic and referral site traffic.
With so many tools out there, it’s hard to figure out what is worth your time. You’ll have to adopt the things popular amongst your current and target audiences alike. Personally, I find that StumbleUpon, Twitter, and Facebook are the most effective and widely-adopted online promotion tools currently. Other ones tend to come and go.
Networking your content via appropriate platforms is important too. There are tons of blog and article sites. I like eZineArticles, Blog Engage, and Networked Blogs the most right now. Helium, Buzzle, Articles Dashboard, and Amazines are also great.
Directories still have value but they’re not as organic. Reviews and guest blogs have more value for building referral and organic traffic alike thanks to more extensive context; that is, they are keyword-rich and provide more natural backlinks. Being natural is huge because you don’t want to seem sales-pitchy. People want you to talk WITH them, not AT them. Just think about all the interruptions and noise people avoid by using DVRs, ad-free premium services, and the like. If you got something worth sharing, be honest and nice about it.
As you nurture your ideas, you’ll find that some tools only distract and clutter, while others truly drive activity and retention. For example, I was excited about Digg in it’s infancy but now, not so much. Your reach on Digg is limited unless you already have the support you need to rise to the top to boot. I’ve been looking into Triberr but I have mixed feelings about it. Dino Dogan is brilliant and approachable, but it’s hard to get started on Triberr and I feel some of their users are creating noise more than they add value to Twitter conversations. Research your tools carefully but temper your expectations: tools only work if you work with them and stay persistent.
Why Organic Growth Is Super-Duper Important (And An Over-Used Term)
If you dabble with online promotion or web design, chances are you’ve heard “organic” a lot. It’s a lot more than what Clicky, Google Analytics, Alexa, or any other traffic analysis may show you. Organic traffic is what builds your audience exponentially the more you work, as opposed to other efforts that require more of a constant grind.
Think of organic traffic as “set it and forget it” link building as opposed to direct and referral traffic, which requires a more constant effort and personal touch. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is king here, though SMO (Social Media Optimization) plays a big part too. Organic growth should be any webmaster’s priority because it happens naturally and is much more sustainable. SMO is a great way to get some fast traffic but, without SEO surrounding such efforts, you won’t have search engines sending visitors to the cool stuff you built for SMO campaigns and beyond.
In my mind, “organic” is synonymous with “natural”, though the terms are used differently for web development, design, and marketing purposes. When I talk about building legs to your thing or site I mean this: establish more ways to be found. Let’s say you have a blog with no RSS feeds, no keyword focus, no subscription links, no social sharing, and no syndication. You are relying on frequent updates and the hopes that your keywords and topics are widely-searched. That is certainly not efficient nor is it organic.
Push And Pull: The Difference Between Bringing Customers In And Keeping Them
Two terms that are not as pervasive and prominent but still matter are push and pull (content marketing). When you push, content is sent to your audience. Pulling, in contrast, focuses on bringing people to your content. That’s a very important distinction because it goes back to user habits and needs.
Push and pull technologies come in different flavors but, for our purposes, we’ll categorize them as follows:
- Push – E-mail is possibly the most pervasive push technology out there, though Twitter is getting up there. There are many tools that take advantage of these systems, which only further cements their place amongst top online promotion tools. Some tools employ a hybrid push-pull model which make them more complete solutions. StumbleUpon would be considered a push technology in this aspect. Successful use of push marketing involves providing a more targeted, concise “digest” format; thus, push content is often meant as a teaser, tantalizing your audience to go to the more complete and/or premium offerings. RSS Readers employ push technology because they bring content right to the end-user.
- Pull – Web sites in general are considered pull systems. This is especially so with blogs since they are text-heavy and create more legs (ways for new visitors to find them). Savvy web designers know how to leverage code that sends site updates, newsletters, and feeds right to their users.
Whether you focus more on push or pull, employing both methods is the way to go. Much like SMO and SEO, push and pull technologies can build off each other and provide excellent cross-promotion opportunities. The trick here is to focus on the systems and platforms that are most popular with your audience.
If you want to see where your market reach is strongest, you can always look at what tools other successful people in your industry are using. Mailing lists, newsletter software, and services like Feedburner, Blog Engage, and Triberr show us that e-mail, blogs, and Twitter are certainly worthwhile technologies to leverage. You do have to consider the amount of noise and interruptions on any medium (the aforementione inclusive). Push content is inherently more pervasive but spam is a factor that lessens value. The more people adopt a communication medium, the more distractions and interruptions you have to contend with (but, hey, at least you get more leads and legs when that happens). Be prepared: the more popular and findable your site becomes, the more spam you can expect, especially with organic traffic.
I’d like to note that, currently, many bloggers are encouraging mailing lists to keep your audience loyal. This is mostly a sound idea. E-mail is still relevant but remember that lots of people use GMail and services like it so it is likely your good reads are buried in junk and may go unnoticed. Adjusting the frequency and titles of your messages is one powerful technique here. It wouldn’t hurt to keep your domain off spam lists by making sure your sites are secure either (spam blacklists can be very unforgiving). I particularly like Feedburner here because it you can give your followship the option of viewing your content in many formats on virtually any platform – RSS feeds and XML FTW!
Upgrading Visitors To Members By Giving Them A Voice (And A Face)
I find that increasing site traffic is easy if you stick with the things that work in the long run. The tricky part is increasing conversion rates. Whether that means getting people to other key content, boosting subscriptions, or getting people to pony up money, conversions are tough. You see, in this age of instant information and gratification, getting people to consume content is easy but getting real participation sounds like work to most.
Since conversion windows are really small these days, you have to make it easy for people to do stuff. Here are some personal turn-offs for me:
- Signing up for a site that doesn’t give me enough compelling reason or unique content to do so.
- Having to enter Captcha images for the most mundane of activities, including commenting.
- Scouring a site for subscription buttons.
- Not finding other content related to what brought me to the site to begin with.
- Being talked at rather than talked with – I want to feel welcomed and, to a degree, involved!
- Barring excessive load times (which, for me, are a non-issue), I do not like sites cluttered with graphics, no matter how savvy the design is (content is king, fluff not so much).
To put it simply, you need to woo your audience. Even then, people have other priorities and may not want to commit. This is why podcasts, blogs, newsletters, and other subscription-bolstered creative efforts fail.
Never fear! There is a solution: upgrade your visitors into full-fledged members and participants. In order to make new visitors and first-timers more likely to participate and support your efforts, you have to give them social and upgrade options. People like the sense of community because it allows them to become part of something greater than themselves. In essence, pretty much everyone wants to feel special, make themselves known, or just be appreciated.
This is where rewards programs and membership services have pulled businesses out of major ruts. We all don’t have the money to give out free stuff with apparent value (not just perceived value, like you would have with a free eBook or white paper) but, through collective economics and clever marketing, you can drive value through your current offerings – without reinventing the wheel!
One easy way to do this is to implement user profiles or feature your top customers, supporters, and readers. These guys are your fans and a key source of WOMM referrals. When you do this, people feel like rock stars. Now they’re more fully-vested in what you’re doing, rather than just being strangers passing through here and there. Share their stories and weave them into the fabric of your own stories – now THAT is where the magic really begins!
If you’re bootstrapping your efforts, seed money is necessary since you can only get certain things for free (you get what you pay for, after all). Donation buttons are often overlooked because people do not see enough reason to contribute (or they feel they can’t contribute enough). Why not do random drawings where one to three people each month or quarter can win something cool of their choice if the monthly goal is met? That there is collective economics at work. If you have 100 visitors that donate one dollar, that’s $100 to be split between prizes and overhead costs. Now, if those same people do five or even ten dollars, you see the potential here. Even better, your prize may not have to be physical if you have a service and authority to offer for FREE.
Most importantly, make sure you attach incentives, prizes, freebies, and/or perks (these are all loyalty rewards and retention-boosting items) to activities that drive value for you. Get your audience to interact with you, your team, and each other. Give your creative efforts some real warmth by boosting user-generated content and rewarding participation.
Wikis are exploding all over the Internet because they combine organic growth techniques with the power of establishing authority (providing a “one-stop shop” for your audience). Another trend to note is that the most powerful sites have some sort of social networking component or at least many opportunities for your audience to create user-generated content. What we see here is that placing supporters in the driver’s seat empowers them and enables great things for everyone.
One cheesy yet very effective way to engage your audience (at least it garners my attention) is establishing a virtual currency system. If you search the web for “microtransactions” you can see the tremendous potential here, especially if you’re looking for new ways to monetize your efforts. When I mention virtual currency I refer to any system that gives members points for completing activities. These points have inherent perceived value once you implement leaderboards, rankings, vanity titles, free prizes, and other prestige items and perks. Achievements, badges, trophies, gamer scores, social/group scores, and all that good stuff makes silly geeks like us happy! Just look at Pogo, PopCap Games, and Facebook apps: they are the epitome of cookie-cutter design and formulaic content but they’re HUGE. Not to steal their thunder but, quite often, even the simplest, most mundane of things draw massive followings simply because they build warm connections and attachments.
Expansive Promotion Versus Mere Redundancy
Back to the heart of this article: is it worth starting anew or should you build upon what you already have instead? Fresh starts are nice but they are wasted efforts if you’re not at least associating your collective works together. Web surfers tend to get more excited and trust you more when they see your track record and get more background information on everything (SEE Important Thoughts On Storytelling below).
Redundancy can be a good thing but, mostly, it’s bad if you’re creating online content. Launching a new site that does the same thing as another site you have is silly but people do it all the time. Scrutinize your reasons and make sure there is a real need, good timing, and true urgency. In most cases, expanding and building upon what you already have is the best way to go so I hope I have driven that fact home in this detailed article!
I’d much rather focus on expansive promotion across all points of presence than immerse myself in needless busy work. Think about the value you’re creating or taking away from other things you offer. Think about the little people that will feel abandoned. Do you REALLY want to disappoint and hurt feelings? I certainly hope not!
Storytelling: Closing Thoughts On Standing Out, Being Competitive, And Building Something Remarkable
Ah, the art of storytelling. It’s almost a lost art but there are still some out there that realize making people care about your life’s work is as simple as showing that you care. When you share details about yourself, you’re showing trust and, in turn, people will show you trust.
With so many faceless web sites and staff members out there, the warmth in communication seems to be lost in sales pitches, spam, and chest-beating. We have the opportunity to provide real value and inspire others. Sharing your story can help show others why your “thing” is so special; otherwise, you may just seem like all the rest.
I read a great article titled “Because, Because, Because, Because” (or something to that effect). Should have bookmarked it but I think I was frustrated with the fact that there were no social sharing buttons and I couldn’t comment without signing up first (we talked about that – shame on you). Anywho, the premise was simple: “because” is one of the most powerful words in the English language.
Why would a simple conjunction trump an adjective or verb? Because the words that follow cause people to listen more and see the urgency. In this particular article, a study showed that people are more likely do something if they are given a reason, even if that reason is silly. Imagine if you tell a good story: hypothetically, people would eat out of your hands!
You and I know it’s not quite that simple but it’s a start. Share your reasons. Better yet, share the journey that took you to your current “thing” (the evolution of your ideas, core values, and principles). Being a master promoter means becoming a great storyteller. Whether you want to believe it or not, we’re all selling and marketing something. Being honest and diligent about it is what this article has really been about.
Bringing it all together, I know you’ll find new hope in your endeavors. Don’t preemptively pull the plug on a project just because it got too tough. Chances are you may be on the cusp of great success! Instead, think strategically and work smart to breathe new life into your business and creative works alike!