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ONLINE MARKETING

4 Essential Rules for Online Content

If you don't give customers the content they want--the way they want it--you'll soon be out of customers.
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You want your customers to read your email, your tweets, your Facebook postings, and your blog. If they're already doing so, great: Congratulations.

But beware: Too many businesses go out of their way to annoy customers and get them to unsubscribe or turn away--often without even being aware of the problem. Are you guilty of this?

1. Avoid Content Crimes

Here are a few of the worst content crimes:

  • Using Flash graphics as the first page of a site, so that anyone who's not on a laptop or desktop can't go past that page
  • Using tons of high-resolution graphics in an email, not realizing that countless people are reading their email on an Android device in a land of minimal connectivity
  • Making links hard to find or read--or, even worse, making readers (or, as you should probably think of them, customers) scroll all the way to the bottom of an email to find them. Ever have to scroll through 10 pages of text on a mobile device?

Absolutely nothing drives me crazier (and gets me to unsubscribe to a newsletter, or quit a site, faster) than not being able to read an email or website because I’m on my Android or iPad and not in front of a regular computer with a regular email client.

If you're one of the guilty parties: Why do you go out of your way to cause grief to the very people who pay your bills?

2. Respect Your Customers' Differences

Here are a few general things to remember about customers and content consumption.

  • Platforms vary: You don’t control how the customer gets his content; he does.
  • Customers expect privacy: Just because you have all of their contact info doesn’t mean you have the right to use it.
  • Customers' habits vary: Before you first reach out to a customer, know exactly how they like to receive their information. And think in detail: Getting email on a desktop is a much different experience than on a BlackBerry. There’s a reason text-based emails haven’t gone away.
  • Go where your customers are: If your audience isn’t where you’re trying to reach them, you won’t reach them. Sounds simple, but way too many companies have yet to figure this out.

3. Keep Things Simple

It's great to keep an eye on technology trends, but remember that your customers are more important than the broader population. Two years ago, I had a client tell me, “But everyone will have full html email on all devices in the next year!” But the truth is, some customers still want text-only email. Make sure you have a backup version that will make them happy.

I test out probably close to 30 phones a year, and on each one, I make sure to read a full html email with photos. I’ve yet to find one that looks as great as it does on a laptop or desktop. This doesn’t mean they don’t look “OK,” but OK isn’t good enough when you’re trying to give your audience what they want.

4. Test Your Links

If you’re trying to influence purchasers, your entire operation needs to be seamless, easy, and flawless--from outreach to close. You think a customer will click Buy again if she isn't sure it went through the first time?

So before you send out that email or tweet, before you post on your blog or add a link to Facebook, before you open up your new content to the world, take one essential precaution: Try the link, the email, or even the purchase action yourself.

Here's a cautionary tale: A friend launched a new conference a few months ago. She’d set everything up for the major launch, lined up press coverage and advertising, and launched.

What she didn't do, however, was try a test transaction with her own credit card to see if people could register. This would have taken about 10 seconds and been easy to refund to her credit card--and it would have highlighted any problems that came up.

You guessed it: Her bank hadn’t authorized her credit card processor yet. So although hundreds of people tried to sign up for the conference the second it was announced, not one of them got through.

Ouch.

I never post anything that could increase or decrease the credibility of my personal or professional brand without taking a deep breath, walking away, doing something else for a few minutes, then coming back and looking at it again.

Start doing this. Now. You’ll catch last-minute mistakes--and you could save your company both heartbreak and embarrassment.

Last updated: Sep 5, 2012

PETER SHANKMAN | Small business evangelist, Vocus

Peter Shankman is vice president and small-business evangelist for Vocus. He is the founder of Help A Reporter Out (HARO), which was acquired by Vocus in 2010.




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