Too often as website owners we live and die by Google Analytics. We fret about bounce rates, unique visitors and dwell time. However, when we focus so heavily on the performance of our website we miss a fundamental point – the aim is to expose users to our content not our site. The website is tool a that can be used to showcase our content, but it does not have to be the only one.
Truly successful websites understand this principle. Take for example the following…
- Amazon – Their primary objective is to sell stuff.
- YouTube – Their aim is to use video content to carry advertisements
- Twitter – They are about facilitating twittering (who knows what their business model is!)
In each case it is the content that matters not the site. That is why each company provides numerous ways of accessing their content beyond their websites. From Amazon’s affiliate scheme to YouTube’s embed feature, it is possible for these companies to reach audiences who may never go to their websites.
Twitter is probably the best example of all. What percentage of the time do you read tweets (or post them) via the twitter website? If you are like me, then the answer is very rarely.
The lesson here is obvious – as website owners we need to start thinking in terms of a broader web strategy and releasing our content from the shackles of our websites. How then do we do this? I would like to propose 10 possible opportunities that you may wish to consider integrating into your online approach.
1. Targeting the desktop
eBay recognised they had a need for a desktop application. Many people make their living from selling on eBay and these people needed desktop software that streamlined their business processes. They needed desktop notifications, faster more desktop like interaction and easier access to eBay features.
Using platforms like Adobe AIR it is easy to take web based content and functionality to the desktop. This is exactly what they did and it has proved very successful among their power users.
As a website owner you should be asking whether a desktop application is right for you. Do your users need desktop features, offline access or better integration with the operating system.
2. Going mobile
It won’t be long before more users access the web via a mobile device than do using a PC. In many countries this is already the case.
Traditional website often render poorly on mobile devices or are hard to use. They also do not take into account the context of being a mobile user. It is therefore necessary to approach the mobile web as a different channel to your traditional website.
Methods of delivering content to the mobile web include…
- Producing mobile websites – Mobile sites take into account small screens, different input devices and the numerous other unique characteristics of the mobile web.
- Using text messaging – Text messaging is ideal for notifications and updates. A perfect compliment to your website and a way of keeping users informed.
- Building mobile applications - Mobile platforms like the iPhone and Android make it increasingly easy to build applications that run directly on the mobile device. This provides opportunities to make your content available even when the user is not connected or away from their PC.
Pushing your content to mobile devices is ideal if your target audience is often away from their computers or require access to your content while ‘in the field’.
3. Start twittering
Twitter is surrounded by so much hype at the moment. However, it does provide a unique opportunity to reach a larger audience with your message. The question is, how best to use it?
Some organisations use twitter as a broadcast tool. This is fundamentally an alternative to RSS. An example of this is BBC news who provide latest updates via the service.
However to use Twitter as a broadcast tool, fails to grasp its real power. Organisations who really ‘get’ twitter include Zappos and Omnifocus. They use Twitter as a way to engage with their followers and even provide customer support.
Use Twitter as a way to engage with your audience. If you have a number of people working on your site, encourage them all of them to twitter, rather than having a single ‘branded’ account.
4. Writing for others
Writing for other sites provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and spread your message to a larger audience than would otherwise be possible on your own website.
Do not limit your words of wisdom to your own website. Look for other editorial sites and blogs who are speaking to your audience and offer to write for them. After all your audience visits many sites other than your own. Why limit your writing skills to your own blog when you can reach new audiences by writing for others?
Of course, any article you write for others has to be more than shameless self promotion. The owners of those sites are going to want quality content that fits their site and is of interest to their audience. For example I recently wrote an article for a site whose audience was franchise owners. If I had simply written about how great Headscape was then I doubt it would have been published. Instead I shared a case study of our experience working with a franchise based business. The content was both relevant to the publication and useful to their audience. However, at the same time it raised our profile among a potential new customer base.
What sites exist that reach your target market? Would they consider publishing some of your content? How could you rewrite your content to make it more appealing to them?
5. Embracing Facebook
Another option that allows you to expand your web strategy beyond the website is Facebook.
I am sure it is unnecessary for me to explain the importance and reach of Facebook. However, you maybe tempted to dismiss it because your target market is not the teenage audience normally associated with these kinds of social networking sites.
What may surprise you is that Facebook is no longer confined to the younger demographic. Over the last year the number of users between 35-54 has jumped by 276% to over 6 million.
So how do you reach your audience on Facebook? There are three good starting points…
- Create a group – Groups have been around a long time and are ideal for building a dialogue with those already interested in your product or service. You can easily invite people to participate and those people in turn can invite others. This makes groups ideally suited for viral marketing
- Create a fan page – Fan pages are basically public profiles for organisations rather than individuals. Unlike groups, pages are public facing. This means non-facebook users can see them and they are indexed by search engines. Fan pages are perfect for building long-term awareness and for reaching people both inside and outside of Facebook.
- Create an application – Facebook allows third parties to build ‘applications’ that can be add to user profiles. These can range from games to RSS feeds. Unlike pages or groups, some technical skill is required to build an application. However, the possibility of users embedding your content into their profiles makes this an attractive proposition if you have appropriate content.
Of course Facebook is not the only site of this nature. However, it does have considerable reach and provides some the best tools for reaching their massive audience.
6. Developing widgets and APIs
The ultimate way of distributing content has to be by providing an API or widget.
An API gives other web developers access to your content allowing them to build applications and websites around it. Using an API, a developer could do anything from embed your content into their site, to build a desktop application that offers your functionality.
Twitter really gets APIs. When was the last time you viewed or posted tweets from their website? The chances are it was a long time ago. Because Twitter offers a powerful API, thousands of developers have built all kinds of applications allowing you to view and post tweets. Infact, what Twitter offers is very basic. However, because of their API it is possible to do everything from view Tweets on a google map to post photos, video and audio.
Unfortunately, APIs do have some drawbacks. They require a considerable level of technical expertise to implement. As a result they are only of use to developers. What about the rest of us? How do we add third party content to our sites? That is where widgets come in.
Widgets are typically a small piece of code that you can copy and paste into your website. There are literally thousands of widgets available. They allow website owners to utilise the content and functionality from other sites quickly and easily. Widgets are used to embed YouTube videos, show your Amazon wishlist or display your location on a map.
Widgets are powerful because they are easy to implement. This means anybody can add them, so distributing your content as far as possible.
Widgets are also easier to build than a full API. This makes them a good starting point for those wishing to put their content in front of more people.
7. Offering better feeds
Not all approaches to putting content in front of users has to be as time consuming or complex to develop as an API. There is one thing you could do to increase views within a few minutes.
Increasingly users are relying on RSS feeds as a way to consume content from websites. This is especially true for news, articles or blog posts. However, some website owners are so obsessed with driving traffic to their sites that they only provide a teaser of the post via RSS. To read the whole article, the user is forced to ‘click through’ to the website.
This approach to RSS is counter productive. When a user is browsing a large number of feeds, they are less likely to read your content if they have to leave their news reader to do so.
To maximise a users exposure to your content, ensure as much of it as possible is displayed within the RSS feed itself. Only require a user to click through when absolutely necessary.
It is also important to note that when users are reading content from an RSS feed, they do not have the context of your website. It is therefore necessary to ensure content stands alone and that calls to action are incorporated in the copy of your posts.
8. Using multimedia
Of course, it is becoming increasingly unnecessary to limit your content to the written word. Creating audio or video content has become trivial with services like YouTube and applications like Audioboo making production and hosting easy.
Also, pioneers like Diggnation and Wine Library TV have shown that users care more about quality content than high production values. Both shows are essentially presenters talking to a single locked off camera. This kind of production value can be achieved with a consumer camera and basic editing software.
That said, creating popular content is harder than it first appears. Many organisations believe that simply uploading their latest product demonstration to YouTube will generate millions of views. This is simply not the case.
Good rich media content has to be engaging if you want people to watch, or more importantly recommend it to a friend. This can be done through a passionate presenter, great content, humour or shock value. With thousands of videos uploaded everyday it is important that your video stands out from the crowd.
However, do not forget your content has to be appropriate to your target audience. Shock tactics may work well for a teenage audience, but it might not go down so well with a middle aged business executive!
9. Start streaming
The next wave of multimedia on the web is not going to be pre-recorded material. It is going to be live streaming.
Services such as ustream, qik, and Justin TV are all fighting to dominate this space. Each offers the opportunity to stream live content to the web at zero cost. This makes the barrier to entry extremely low.
The main benefit of this approach over pre-recorded material is interactivity. The live format allows viewers to engage with the presenter in real time via chat. This offers a host of opportunities including (but not limited to)…
- Live product demonstrations – Live streaming allows you present your products and services while talking questions from the audience. This is considerably more powerful that pre-recorded promotional videos.
- Community sessions – If you run an online community, live streaming gives you the chance to engage with that community on a much more personal level than the written word. Social news site digg.com have run a number of ‘Town Hall’ meetings where their user base engage directly with the CEO and founder.
- Online training – Finally, live streaming is a perfect environment to provide remote training. Whether you are providing training on using your product or selling online workshops, live streaming provides the opportunity for users to both hear and see what you are doing.
Live streaming is still relatively immature and few are taking advantage of this new opportunity. There is a real chance to differentiate yourself through its use.
10. Don’t forget email
Amongst all this talk of video, audio and APIs it is easy to forget the tools we have always had for reaching beyond the confines of our website.
Although not the ‘sexiest’ tool in our list, I could not end this post without mentioning email. Email should be a key component in keeping your content in front of users.
Obviously, email can be used for a lot more than syndicating content. However, for the purposes of this article you should use email as a way for users to subscribe to your content. If a user can subscribe to your content via RSS, they should also be able to do so via email.
Fortunately services like Feedburner makes this easy. If your RSS feed is managed by them, users can also subscribe via email when you adding a single link to your site.
I do however want to share a word of warning – If a user subscribes to your content via email, they are not giving you permission to spam them indiscriminately. If you fail to respect their email subscription, you are in danger of loosing that user and potentially having them post negative comment that could put off others.
There was a time when build a website was enough. However, increasingly your website should be just one small part of your website strategy. It is naive to expect users to come to you. Instead, you need to take your content to them, whether that is on a social network like Facebook or a mobile device like the iPhone.