Wednesday, August 31, 2016 by Amelia WillsonAs a global web hosting company, HostGator supports websites numbering in the millions. We recently analyzed a random selection of US-based domains we host to discover trends among the words most commonly used in website titles. The resulting word cloud (thanks WordClouds.com!) may surprise you. A few notes before you look: These words were taken from the title tags of each domain's home page. We removed common words like "the," "and," and "a," as well as company designations like "llc" and "ltd." And, to keep things simple, we looked at domains isolated to the US so the words are all English. Take a look... what do you see? These words reveal many things. Here are several we noticed. We care about location, location, location. Words like "nyc" and "usa" show how popular it is to use your location in a company name, and make it easier for customers to discover your local business. We like putting our name on things. Many of the smaller words are first names like "dave," "brian," or "mary," reflecting how common it is to personalize your blog or company name. We have many passions. From "art" and "film" to "crossfit" and "wrestling," our websites reveal what we're blogging about and what we're interested in buying. We're obsessed with our appearance. In a culture like ours that values beauty and youth, this shouldn't come as a surprise, but it's still something to see just how many of the words center around achieving a perfect "look": "hot," "fat," "skin," "face," "diet," "spa," "wax," "self" We need a lot of help with our cars. "Auto" and "car" are two of the most used words. We love our pets, especially the canine variety. "Dog" and "pet" both make a big appearance. We recognize the power of positive psychology. Many website owners promise "fun," "joy," "power" in their website names, along with the sales pitch words like "get," "deal," and "sell." We're not all SEO experts. Two words that surprised us with their popularity were "untitled" and "title." Many of these website owners are missing out on a SEO opportunity by failing to include keywords in the title tags of their page. Most of all, our websites represent our lives. The most popular word was "life," making it clear that we really do see our online world as an extension of our physical world. What else do you see? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016 by Kevin Wood
You’ve probably come across various subdomains throughout your time spent searching online. But, maybe you’ve always wondered why companies use them, and if you can see any benefits from using them in your own website?
Below we dive into what subdomains are, why they would be used, and how they can affect your current SEO strategy.
Why Would You Use a Subdomain?
To make it simple, a subdomain is a part of the main website. But, it’s considered a separate entity by the search engines. Subdomains can be used for organizational purposes, or even for an SEO boost.
Sometimes you don’t want certain pages of your site indexed with the rest of them. We can’t predict your unique circumstance, but some of the most common explanations are below.
1. Hosting a Blog
Some companies like to keep their blog separate for certain reasons. This can either be because the blog has a different design than the rest of the site, or they want to create a distinction between that content and the rest of their site.
If you’re building out a blog that’s a large content powerhouse, then you might want the flexibility that a subdomain will give you.
Some companies even decide to use a subdomain for other practical purposes, such as a dedicated help desk or forum. HostGator's support page follows this approach. Often, this type of website needs to utilize a different kind of platform or software, so it makes sense to utilize a subdomain.
2. To Cater to Different Regions
Sometimes your website caters to different regions of the US, or even spans out into global sectors. Instead of having a single website with a very confusing website architecture, you can create sub-domains for each specific region.
The first example that comes to mind is Craigslist. Each region has it’s own dedicated sub-domain. Without having their site broken down this way it would be nearly impossible to use.
3. Showcase Different Product Lines
Your line of products and services may be so diverse that you might want to separate them out into different niches. This can help you to focus your efforts and provide your visitors with a more relevant browsing experience.
Subdomains and SEO
Your subdomains will be treated as entirely separate websites in the eyes of Google, as Matt Cutts explains:
This means you can create unique authority for each of the subdomains you’re using. Subdomains can actually be beneficial to your SEO efforts, as you’ll see below.
1. Subdomains Can Insert Keywords Into URL
Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to fit certain keywords into your main URL. But, with subdomains you have another chance to insert hard-to-rank keywords into your domain. Which will never be a bad thing for your rankings.
2. Subdomains Can Improve User Experience
If you have a large and confusing site that’s hard to navigate, you’re going to provide a poor user experience. A poor user experience means your users will spend less time on your site, which can lead to lower rankings.
3. Subdomains Can Grow Niche Authority
Building large-scale authority can be a lot of work. However, ranking in niche markets can take a lot less time and energy. By ranking and building authority and smaller markets this authority you build will help to reinforce the authority of the main domain.
We hope that you now have a better understanding of subdomains and the role they can play throughout your site’s organization and your existing SEO strategy.
Current HostGator customers can create a subdomain by following these instructions.
Do you currently use subdomains? Please share in the comments the effect they’ve had on your search engine rankings, if any.
Monday, August 29, 2016 by David Mercer
At some stage in the life of your company, preferably earlier rather than later, it becomes vital to garner media coverage, in some form or another, in order to raise awareness about your products and services. Your business will have to learn how to work with and communicate with media houses and publishers as part of your overall marketing strategy in order to reach bigger and better audiences.
This is where the press release comes into play. It’s an incredibly powerful PR tool that can make the difference between ending up in mainstream news, growing like mad, becoming profitable, selling out and retiring… or not.
But because press releases can have such huge payoffs, journalists and news outlets are constantly bombarded with irrelevant or spammy info that simply gets ignored. Most companies use a technique called, “spray and pray” that adds to the huge volumes of mediocre content (i.e. hit thousands of sites with your PR message, and someone will publish it eventually) the news media has to deal with.
Against this background it’s important to understand just how difficult it can be to get decent coverage. That’s why it’s important to start out armed with the right press release that can be used for maximum benefit (if done properly).
What makes a press release work
Repeat after me, “it’s not about the press release."
Sounds a bit odd, considering the point of this article is to share a press release template (one that won national media coverage). But it’s true. There’s far more that goes on behind the scenes of a successful press release than meets the eye.
Before I share the press release, here’s a step-by-step example of what I did in order to get national news media coverage for my site…
1. Come up with a compelling story
Not every business is intrinsically exciting. It can be harder to get media coverage working in accounting than it can in tabloid gossip. But, just because it is harder doesn’t make it impossible.
Be creative in the way you approach the ordinary aspects of your niche industry. Take your time thinking outside the box. Find something interesting to talk about – especially if it involves other people.
Don’t talk about yourself.
A story should be about your industry, and the players in it. Not about yourself. Anything that has even a hint of self-promotion will be duly ignored by almost every quality journo in the world. And, unless you have a big budget to pay for media coverage, this tactic simply won’t work.
For example, I spend a lot of time sharing small business ideas to help inspire and stimulate aspiring entrepreneurs. But there’s no point in writing a press release each time I post a new idea to this list. Journalists aren’t interested in what I’m doing. Yet.
But, there are other industry players who are doing newsworthy things that I can talk about at the same time. So I went out and created a list of the top 10 new business ideas from University entrepreneurs that highlighted the breadth of talent found in young entrepreneurs (crediting the entrepreneurial colleges nurturing them at the same time).
That was interesting for me to see the incredible ideas and startups coming out of U.S. colleges, it was an interesting article for my readers, and above all else, it was something newsworthy for mainstream media.
2. Identify journalists & editors who cover topically related stories
This step shouldn’t really be too much of a surprise. There is absolutely no point in sharing a story on the wrong news site. A business editor won’t publish a story about bird migration patterns, so why bombard them with irrelevant stuff?
Find the writers, editors, journos, bloggers and reporters who write about the same or similar topics. A good way to do this is to search for similar stories on Google and note the websites and writers responsible.
Build a permanent journalist contact list including their names, employer, email address, social media accounts, and other pertinent data.
Record all your interactions as it is very likely you are going to need to build a strong relationship with them going forward. A press release is never a one off thing. You’ll need those contacts again so it helps to keep them organized from the start.
3. Draft a press release template
A good press release has the following generic features:
- Subject: A punchy, interesting, clear and concise one liner. The subject line has to be catchy and of real interest to the reporter otherwise it's unlikely your press release will be read.
- Date: A date is important because many news sites don’t want to cover something that is already stale.
- Media contact: Journalists and reporters must have someone they can contact about the press release in case they have questions about it.
- Teaser: One or two sentences. Think of it like an elevator pitch. Easy to read. Easy to understand. Compelling.
- Point of interest: It's a nice idea to highlight one aspect of the news that is particularly noteworthy to that particular journalist. This can be adapted in the following step when tailoring the template for specific people.
- Motivation: One sentence about why people will care about this news. If you can't think of one, you probably don't have news worth reporting on.
- Credibility: Is there supporting and compelling 3rd party evidence to support this story? Unless the story talks about something that is plainly obvious in the public domain, you’ll need to establish some sort of credibility.
- About: Who are you to share this news? Establish some sort of personal or brand authority and trust.
In the case of my specific example, I sent the following press release to USA Today’s college section:
Press release: 24/04/16
Subject: Top 10 new business ideas from University entrepreneurs
The top 10 new business ideas by university entrepreneurs has been compiled and published. The full winners’ list complete with profiles on each business is available on SME Pals at:
The top 3 winners are:
1) RaptorMaps – MIT 100k Launch
2) Latitude – BYU Big Idea Pitch
3) Focus Foods – Harvard New Ventures
The list offers a fascinating selection of startups that highlight the creativity and energy of young entrepreneurs in colleges around the U.S. Please feel free to quote from the original article, use the media and screenshots as required. In addition, feel free to contact me for more information regarding this news.
How the winners were chosen:
The SME Pals team scoured university competition websites for two days gathering a list of possible candidates from winners, runners up, and other finalists over the previous couple of years. From that big list only those ideas that had moved from being an idea into a real startup were considered.
The winners were selected based on which were inherently unique, or offered elegant solutions to existing problems. The final rankings were chosen based on an assessment of how profitable (i.e. how much existing and potential demand there is in the market) each could be, what their growth potential is, and what possibilities there are for providing ever more and better add-on services/features as the businesses evolve.
About SME Pals
SME Pals (http://smepals.com) is a preferred free entrepreneurial resource with many great universities like Duke, Cornell, Boston, Emory, and more, because it offers an innovative and creative approach to generating business ideas; along with guides and advice to turn those ideas into successful startups.
And, not long after that, I was delighted to see that they had covered my story online:
4. Customize the press release
Once you have a draft press release statement it’s important to look at who you are sending it to and acknowledge that they might be interested in different aspects of the story. Not everyone is interested in the same thing, and being smart about who you are pitching to can make a huge difference.
For example, the same template was used as the basis for a new press release sent out to each of the colleges and universities that made it into the top 10 list. In this case, the focus was less about the list and more about the inclusion of their idea/startup into the list.
In addition, the modified template also included mention of the fact that the list has already garnered national media attention (to bolster the ‘credibility’ section). Again, it wasn’t long before the release made it onto the news feeds of top universities around the country:
Once you’ve successfully pitched a news outlet it often becomes easier on subsequent tries as there may (or may not) be some interaction with the journalist in order to complete the story. In this sense, an undeniably important aspect of writing successful press releases is the quality and number of existing media connections to which you have access.
Press release template
So, hopefully you’ve seen that having a great press release is only a small part of the equation. There’s a lot that goes into building a successful PR campaign using press releases. But, since we know this particular one has worked on a national level, here’s a blank outline for you to copy and paste into your email client to get started:
Press release: INSERT DATE
Subject: PUNCHY, COMPELLING ONE LINER
Source: YOUR NEWSWORTHY CONTENT/ARTICLE (LINK TO YOUR ARTICLE)
One-line elevator pitch: WITH A PROMINENT LINK TO THE SOURCE ARTICLE
Point of interest: TAILORED TO SPECIFIC AUDIENCE (ONE AT MOST TWO PARAGRAPHS)
Motivation: WHAT MAKES THIS STORY IMPORTANT (ONE AT MOST TWO PARAGRAPHS)
Credibility: IDEALLY LINKED TO RELIABLE EVIDENCE (ONE AT MOST TWO PARAGRAPHS)
About (ONE PARAGRAPH)
Above all else, it’s important that your press release makes life easy for the journalist involved. Keep it short and to the point, but include everything that is necessary for the journalist to verify and understand the story.
Have you used press releases to drive media coverage? What tips and techniques do you have to share about what works and what doesn’t? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Friday, August 26, 2016 by Kevin Wood
There are a variety of reasons for which you’ll need a professional portfolio. Especially, if you’re in a creative field where your ability to get jobs depends upon the body of work you’ve built up. Whether you’re a freelance designer, developer, or writer, you’re going to need a portfolio that represents you and your skills.
There’s no way a potential client, or employer, is just going to “take your word for it.” By taking time to create a stellar portfolio you’ll be able to represent yourself in the best manner possible. Your portfolio can either make or break you.
Below we dive into what you need to know to make the most out of your website and your creative portfolio.
Build your online portfolio with a sleek website from HostGator.
Crucial Portfolio Website Elements
A portfolio is all about promoting you, your work, and your existing skill set. Below we highlight five different elements you’ll want to make sure that your portfolio website includes.
1. Logo and Tagline
Your logo is one of the first things a visitor will see when they land on your website. If you’re a designer, then this element is going to be even more important. This is your first chance to really wow your visitors.
Your tagline is equally important. This is how you set yourself apart from the rest of the field. You’ll use this to explain what you do, while at the same time being memorable.
2. Actual Portfolio
Since this is your portfolio site you’ll need to include an actual portfolio. Some people prefer for this to be their homepage, while others prefer to have a separate page dedicated solely to showcasing their work.
You’ll always want this page to showcase your highest quality work. It can even be helpful to add any testimonials you’ve received from the client in regards to the project you’re highlighting. It can also be helpful to spell out project goals and what you hope to accomplish.
3. Service Breakdown
Your services page will spell out in detail what you actually do. You don’t want to make your clients guess. If you make them think too hard, they’ll probably just end up clicking away.
Map out your services in as much detail as you can. Highlight your experience, and any testimonials, or blurbs you might have received.
4. Your Story
On your About page is your chance to get personal. No one wants to do business with a website that seems like it’s been created by a robot. Show some personality.
How did you get into your field? What’s your unique background? What experiences do you have that set you apart?
By sharing your story you build trust with potential clients. This will go a long way towards convincing them to work with you.
5. An Active Blog
A blog can truly make your website some alive. A lot of portfolio website end up looking like a virtual business card. By running a regular blog you’ll be able to further communicate your expertise and give people peace of mind that you actually know what you’re talking about.
Your blog can be a great way to teach people and cement your status as an expert in your field.
Portfolio Best Practices
The above steps will help you to create a fully built-out portfolio website. Below we showcase a few more things you’ll want to keep in mind as you grow out your website.
1. It’s Focused
When building your portfolio site it’s important that you keep your ideal user in mind. Who are you speaking to? What kind of person is most likely to hire you? What will they be looking for?
Speak to a specific niche, rather than trying to talk to everyone in the entire world.
2. It’s Easy to Use
Along with being focused your site will need to be incredibly easy to use. If you have clunky navigation, or a site that takes forever to load, then you won’t be doing your credibility any favors.
Pare your website down to the basics while still reflecting your unique brand and identity. Remove any elements that are out of place, or don’t actually fit into your goals of showcasing your best work, and getting you hired. Review your site to ensure you're not making any of these common website mistakes.
Keep in mind when creating your website that it’s important to strike a balance between usability and creativity. Showcase your creativity, but don’t do it at the expense of the usability of your website.
What common online portfolio errors do you see? Share in the comments below.
Thursday, August 25, 2016 by Kristen Hicks
Recruiting is an important part of any university’s lifeblood. Students (rightfully) see choosing the best school for them as a high-stakes decision that has to be made with careful consideration. Their high standards mean you have to figure out how to tell the right story to show them what your school is and why it’s a strong choice.
Your university blog can be a powerful tool for that.
Your university website already has to do a lot of work in providing prospective students the basic information they need, while also serving current students, faculty, alumni, and anyone else seeking information about your school. You don’t have a lot of room there to paint a picture for your visitors of what it means to be a student at your school. A blog gives you a chance to dig into the details and show prospective students more clearly what they can expect. And students today know blogs. As of 2007, almost a third of all teens had done some blogging themselves.
Having a blog will only help you with student recruitment if you use it well. Here’s how to make sure your university blog helps win students over to your college.
1. Focus on student interests and needs
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with a university blog is making it all about what you think makes the school look good. You need to work on shifting your perspective to what your potential students are thinking. Talk to your current students. Talk to students who come for a visit to the campus. Figure out what they’re interested in and what kind of questions they have. Shape your strategy for the blog around what they tell you.
Colorado State University does a great job on their ValuEd blog at covering topics of concern to continuing ed students. A group of prospective students that may generally feel underserved in college recruitment, they’re an audience that has a lot of questions and concerns about the process of getting a college education late in life. With topics like “Why Waiting to Go to College May Be The Best Choice You Ever Made” and “Should I Pursue a More Practical Degree” they go straight to the issues their audience is thinking about and make a larger case for why college is valuable, instead of making it all about CSU (although they do slip a link to learn more about CSU’s offerings at the end of the first post).
Your blog posts can’t be all about you. They have to emphasize what your prospective students are thinking, feeling, and entertained by first.
2. Recruit student bloggers
Even at a young age, students know how advertising works. They recognize that the person working at a university that sings its praises is being paid to do so (even though they might mean what they’re saying). The word of a university marketer, in whatever form it takes, won’t matter as much to them as the word of someone like them.
That’s where student bloggers come in. Not only are they much closer to prospective students than anyone in your marketing office demographically speaking, but they’re also perfectly equipped to tell potential students exactly what they need to hear most: what it’s like to be a student at your school. In addition to the quality of education and resources the school offers, students want to be able to picture what their life will look like for the next few years. If you recruit a diverse array of student bloggers, their posts can show prospective students a lot of options for what that could be.
Cornell highlights the student blogs of students from different years, studying a variety of different things. From the Human Ecology and Nutritional Sciences major who writes about great restaurants in town to the Arts & Sciences and Government student who writes about her time studying abroad, the student blogs show the variety of subjects and extracurricular interests students at the school are able to pursue and brings some personality to a prospective student’s view of the school.
3. Feature your faculty
Student stories are extremely important to helping students picture themselves at your school, but one of the biggest components to what their experience will be like as a student is the faculty they work with. Invite your professors to contribute posts of their own that tell readers something about their experience, interests, and personality. Make sure these posts are written in a way that’s likely to appeal to potential students. A lot of the writing professors are most used to does require an academic tone, which you’ll want to avoid here. The posts shouldn’t just be about how much a faculty member knows or how many awards they’ve earned, they should show off the stuff that matters to their students – like their humor or ability to communicate what they love about their specialty.
[bctt tweet="Do professors contribute to your university blog? Avoid sounding too academic #education" username="hostgator"]
Boston University has a section on their website called Professor Voices that collects opinion pieces, research updates, and videos where different professors provide their opinions on a random topic. Importantly, these aren’t dry, academic treatises. They touch on issues that many students are likely to care about, like gun control and gay marriage, and the school mixes up formats, using videos as well as writing.
You can fold faculty pieces like this into your main blog so they’re easier for your students to come by. You can also do posts highlighting a particular professor and sharing a bit about their background and current research. In that case, be sure to include more casual information like how many pets they have, their favorite movie, or the best vacation they’ve ever had alongside information on their academic work, so your readers get a more casual and human look at who they are.
4. Tell alumni stories
Your students can paint a picture of what potential students’ lives will be like once they’re in school. Your faculty will help shape their lives during that time. Your alumni though, they’re the picture of the possibilities that will open for them once they finish school.
24% of students in a recent survey cited alumni as some of the people most influential in their decision to attend a college. Alumni content shows students the various paths people have taken after getting an education at your school, and it shows that graduates are happy enough with their experience there to continue participating through the blog in the years after.
[bctt tweet="24% of students cited alumni as the people most influential in their decision to attend a college." username="hostgator"]
Forward-thinking students will be quick to pay attention to stories of how alumni are doing now, how they felt about their experience with your school, and any advice they might have to offer for those interested in pursuing a similar path. The University of Vermont has a series called Alumni Advice on their blog. Each entry in the interview series describes what the alumni is doing now, gives them the chance to talk about the process of getting to that point, and includes any advice they have for current students.
That’s content that’s both useful to students in a tangible way – particularly any students hoping to go into one of the professions a highlighted alumni is in now – and that demonstrates the role the college plays in helping students develop and achieve their goals.
5. Make sure your blog is optimized for mobile
Nobody reading this will be surprised to hear that teenagers spend a lot of time on their mobile devices. 67% of teens have smartphones and about 46% of the time they spend on any device, they spend on their mobile devices. Even if the main audience you’re hoping to reach is adults interested in continuing education, nearly a third of all internet traffic now happens on mobile.
While the content you include on the blog is extremely important, the kind of experience your prospects have when they land on your mobile website matters too. Many of them will now be coming to your blog on mobile devices and you need to make absolutely certain that they can read the posts you publish without too much effort, or they’re more likely to give up on the content than continue, no matter how great it is.
6. Encourage and interact with comments
Blog comments are the best way for readers to interact with the content you create. Not every blog post will inspire prospective students to leave comments, but when they do, make sure you’re paying attention and ready to respond. The ideal for a blog that’s used for recruitment should be to develop a community that has an ongoing conversation. For there to be a chance of that happening, you have to be part of the conversation.
Your blog comments could become a valuable resource for providing insights into what your future students are thinking. What kind of topics do they care about? What questions do they have? How do they feel about your university and the content you’re putting out there? Pay attention and let those insights guide your blog strategy as you go.
7. Promote your blog on social media
Most teenagers are on social media. You knew that already. There have been enough trend stories written on the subject that pretty much everyone does. If you want people to find the content you put out there, you have to do the work of promoting it. If you want the people you’re trying to reach to find it, then you have to meet them where they are in your promotion efforts.
For most universities, that means social media. Don’t just push out the content and leave it there. Keep an eye on how people respond. Some of the comments you get will be left on your social media platforms rather than on your blog. The same rules apply. Respond and interact. Having a conversation with prospective students in the spaces they’re most likely to hang out in should be seen as a valuable opportunity.
[bctt tweet="Kudos to @ColoStateOnline @Cornell @BUexperts @uvmCDE for their outstanding #education blogs!" username="hostgator"]
Blogging is one of the most frequently used tools for all sorts of marketing today. For universities, which are full of strong writers and out to reach an audience that spends a lot of time online, using a blog as a recruitment tool is just obvious. Make sure you keep your prospective students top of mind at every stage of planning, writing, recruiting writers, and publishing. By focusing on audience first, you’ll be far ahead of a lot of the blogs out there.
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