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Is your homepage as welcoming as an entrance hall?

June 30, 2011 by Fiona Humberstone

Imagine arriving at a stately home or (my favourite) a boutique hotel. You walk in through the front door and instantly feel at ease. The beautiful decor, fresh flowers and welcoming receptionist ready to look after you. You’re welcomed and guided to your room, shown to the bar or the spa. It’s a great start to a wonderful stay.

I always think that a website’s homepage should be just like an entrance hall to a stately home. Warm, welcoming and easy to navigate to where you want to go next.

Some websites give you too many options on the homepage and it becomes overwhelming (imagine the receptionist saying – I can show you to your room, the spa, the bar, the restaurant, the golf club, the tennis courts, the croquet lawn, the beach – you get the picture – you forget what she said at the beginning!).

Other websites leave you standing there – leaving you to find your own way through the “house”. That’s why we’ll almost always use navigational buttons on the homepage to guide people around a site.

Worst of all, imagine after a long drive arriving at the stately home. Rather than asking how you are and showing you what you need to find, the owner shakes you by the hand and starts telling you his life history. Yawn!

Are you with me so far on this analogy? Your homepage isn’t the place to tell people about your business – save that for your about page. Sure – they need to know what you do – they need to be sure they’ve come to the right place. After that, talk to them about their challenges and how you help, you’ll find you get a much better response.

Your homepage should welcome, guide and show visitors on to the meatier parts of your site. A bit like an entrance hall!

Fiona Humberstone is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and runs her own creative consultancy.

More articles on website design:

Cashier number three please - why queue systems can improve customer service

June 29, 2011 by Terry Green

Customer waiting time and queues are an arithmetic certainty of service delivery. In the real world, even when you have extra staff available just in case demand builds up, queues will occur. It’s normal for shoppers to arrive in bunches and not in a steady flow.

Well-planned and well-managed queues are a healthy thing. They indicate a vibrant business that is successfully controlling the cost of delivering service to its customers and at the same time managing shoppers’ perceptions of their wait.

Whether there are only two people waiting or 42, the right mathematical methodology has to be used to determine how to serve customers as efficiently as possible and how to allocate service fairly.

You can see the impact of a well-managed queue on the faces of the customers and servers. They are relaxed, unstressed. Waiting customers look around them and take an interest in merchandise. The store receives fewer complaints and suffers lower staff absenteeism. A business without queues is either overmanned or lacking customers – or worse, both.

Every store has a strategic decision to make. Is operating cost more important than customer service? Cutting costs can mean that customers wait longer.  On the other hand, if stores decide that service times are more important to their brand proposition than cost or if they know that because of the nature of their business customers will be less tolerant of waiting times, they will ensure that fewer customers have to wait, but they will also increase the cost of their operation and risk more times when staff are standing idle.

This dilemma can be resolved through lean queue management. By making wait times more acceptable, and by organising service allocation systems they can help to lower costs and reduce waste in the process.

Research by Professor Edward Anderson, “A Note on Managing Waiting Lines,” has shown that queue times are affected by many factors:

  • If all servers are constantly busy, the queue quickly exceeds acceptable levels.
  • The “lumpier” the arrival rate, the longer the queue. So in smaller stores with lighter traffic – where arrival rate is less predictable – the waits are likely to be longer.
  • The more the staff keep their service times consistent, the shorter the wait for customers.
  • There is a limit to the number of servers it makes sense to have in a store, as at some point the cost of an additional server will not be repaid by shorter wait times for customers.

The voice of “cashier number three please”, Terry Green is heard over 30 million times every month in post offices, shops and banks throughout the UK.  His voice and ideas have transformed the way the world queues.

Terry Green - You're NextCompetition results

We asked, what percentage of our lives do we spend waiting? The answer is 17 per cent. Congratulations to Tim Latham and Clare Evans (who got the answer spot on) who both win a copy of Terry Green's book.

Why does spelling matter?

June 28, 2011 by Ceri-Jane Hackling

Spelling. Does it matter? It's a question that provokes very different opinions and can cause serious arguments. Believe me, I know!

Personally, I believe that spelling and grammar do matter and I'm particularly worried about the proliferation of text talk and bad grammar in the modern world.

PR is all about communication, but I am always surprised by the amount of job applications we receive with spelling and grammatical mistakes. Even personal profiles on networking sites such as LinkedIn are filled with errors and yet these are intended to show you at your best.

At Cerub PR, we know that spelling mistakes in press releases mean that we're headed straight for the journalist's “no” pile.

Well, you could argue, “That's PR, it doesn't matter in other jobs, does it?” I would argue that it does matter and here's why.

For one thing, it shows a lack of care and attention: if you can't be bothered to spend the time checking your writing, there's a very good chance you won't be bothered about attention to detail in other areas either. This means that as a potential employee I'm not inclined to hire you and as a potential supplier, I'm not convinced of your ability to do a good job for my company.

Bad grammar and bad spelling make you look unprofessional and, if I'm being honest, childish. The people who can't spell properly tend to be children and if by the age of 20 you still haven't mastered spelling or sentence structure, then maybe it's time to go back to school!

Top tips for good grammar

Check, check and check again. Don't rely only on spell check. It won't pick up on mistakes like “I went to they're party”, or “I bought some flours”. Once you've checked it, give it to someone else and ask them to check it too. Then leave it overnight and check it again. Then send it off.

Write concisely. Go through your text and take out any extraneous words. Anything that doesn't add to your message can be taken out. Clear, concise and easy to read is what you're aiming for.

Don't repeat yourself — make sure that each paragraph says something new. No-one wants to read the same thing over and over again and you'll lose your audience.

Find out more

There are some links to useful guides below.  And if you find any mistakes in this piece...well done! (Just testing!)

Ceri-Jane Hackling is the managing director of Cerub PR.

Read more on writing press releases:

A complete guide to writing an effective press release

How to write a press release

Press release template

Spring cleaning your home page

June 23, 2011 by Sharon Tanton

Spring cleaning your homepage - feather duster

When you’re trying to sell your home, estate agents recommend clearing out the clutter to show off your best features. I think the same applies to your home page. It’s the first place new visitors land, so you want to make a good impression.

Here’s some things I’d expect to see:

1. Clarity of purpose. Your home page should tell me very clearly and simply how you and your services can help me, so share your mission in a few well chosen words. I’m talking a paragraph at most. About Us will go into more detail about you and your ethos, so you don’t need to say lots here. Keep this page very clear and straightforward.

2. Navigation. I want to know exactly where to go next. Your home page should set the agenda, so your choice of words and destinations is important. Being too clever here can be a mistake. I see an awful lot of websites, and am a fan of the ones with the easiest navigation. The home page isn’t the place to surprise me, or to be oblique. Help me find my way around.

3. Call to action. What do you want me to do now I’m here? Call you? Read more? Look at this? Think about that? Don’t go overboard with your demands, but do try and get me to engage. The right words can pull me further into your site.

4. Evidence of life. Empty houses are harder to sell, and so are empty websites. I’d like to know you’re around, hard at work, helping people like me. Twitter feeds, blogs, video content. Have something on the home page that shows me you’re in business, right now. We’re talking tasters — headlines, logos, boxes — not the whole thing. Use your up-to-date content to lead me deeper into your website, and to reinforce your expertise.

5. Room to breathe. Sometimes I use home pages as a reference point, somewhere to go back to and orientate myself. In a large website, packed with valuable content, it’s good to have somewhere clear and simple to take a breath. (It’s a bit like returning to the blurb on the back of a book you’re reading.  That clear reminder of the story that grabbed your attention is useful.) So don’t overload it. Less is more.

Sharon Tanton is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut, a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant and a Valuable Content associate.

Read more on improving your website:

Social media made simple

June 22, 2011 by Nic Windley

You may have talked about it, some think they already do it, but what actually is social media marketing?

As Sherlock would say, “the clues, dear Holmes, are in the name”.

Media is content that is published online and, to be compelling, it’s usually developed from a solid strategic marketing perspective and has a social component that allows it to be shared, discussed or even added to in some way.

Think of social media as an online meeting room where people can share and discuss ideas anywhere and at anytime.

One of the great things about social media marketing is that it supports the inbound marketing methodology. By taking part in social media you can help your business by:

  • Improving the SEO of your website
  • Promoting you, your business and your website
  • Following a permission-based marketing approach

How to get involved in social media marketing

It’s quite simple. It’s just like entering a room where there are lots of people that don’t know each other. Just make the effort to get to know them — it’s far easier than doing it face to face where people can make snap judgements about you.

Ignite the conversation

You can meet a lot of people online and start your own conversations about topics that are important to the people in your market.

Add value

It’s not about advertising your products or services — answering questions and helping others will get you noticed.

Be open

Be open to asking questions and listening to what others have to say and to what they recommend. Take it on board, investigate and share your results with others.

How to build simple social media marketing campaigns

Just like the simple steps outlined above, it’s all about give and take and the more you give the more you can take, in a positive and creative way of course.

Don’t be shy

Anyone can publish, share and network, including you, so don’t be shy. The internet enables you to leverage assets that were never before possible.

Everything you have can now be published to any place that allows it, so collect and release as much as you can — including videos, pictures, blogs, articles, e-books, white-papers, slide-shares, bookmarks, and tweets.

See what others in your immediate market or complementary markets are creating, publishing and sharing and promote what they’re doing.

Empower your stakeholders to do the same.

Use marketing technology that helps you to promote and measure the efforts of your social media marketing activity as simply and effectively as possible.

Nic Windley is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and is a lead generation and nurturing specialist.

Read our content on social media marketing.

Small business owner? What you need to know about online reviews and why they’re so important

June 21, 2011 by Paul Stamp

It’s time to book a holiday. You know where you’d like to go, when you can spare the time and the type of place you’d like to stay at.

So what’s the next step? If only you could get a bit more of an insight into the array of hotels on offer — find out what real people have had to say about the location, the facilities and exactly which sort of holidaymakers it could suit — before making your choice.

Of course, reviews of things like hotels, as well as bars and restaurants, are readily available online from a range of websites. But because consumers are now more than happy to include browsing through reviews before picking a business as part of the overall buying process, other sites have grown in popularity too.

It’s fair to say that, increasingly, businesses of all shapes and sizes — such as plumbers, double glazing installers and driving instructors — are being reviewed online. It’s becoming the norm.

Think of it as transporting your testimonials from behind the counter, where only people already through the door can see them, and making them visible to everyone.

So what do I need to know about reviews?

In a nutshell, they are happening, people trust them and they can have a big impact on your business. But with a little understanding of just how good they can be for you, they can be overwhelmingly positive.

Why are they so important?

Time for some stats:

  • 79 per cent of online UK retailers reported that the main benefit of consumer-generated rating and reviews was that they improved site conversion rates. (eMarketer, 2007)
  • Consumer reviews are 12 times more trusted than product or service descriptions. (eMarketer EXPO Purchaser Influence Survey, 2010)
  • 70 per cent of UK internet users trust recommendations from strangers when looking for information about goods and services online. (Neilsen Global Online Consumer Survey, 2009)

So I should be asking customers to review my business?

Yes! Encourage your satisfied customers to post reviews on websites because it will differentiate you from your competitors, help build trust and show that you are a real business doing real trade. Reviews are your positive word-of-mouth amplified.

Any business listed on Yell can be reviewed – take a look at Yell.com/reviews. To find out more, and to get some free promo materials to encourage people to rate you on the site, visit the reviews section of marketing.yell.com.

This post is the first of three on online reviews — stay tuned for the next update on managing negative reviews and how they can even be good for your business.

Paul Stamp is the community manager at Yell. For small business video guides, advice and information, follow @yellbusiness on Twitter.

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