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  • How Outlines Improve Your Content

    Friday, March 14, 2014 by
    The Case For Outlines How It Makes Your Content Better

    There are few among us that take delight in organization. The process of planning something instead of building it requires a great deal of patience. When it comes to content, however, everything from your process to your impact can benefit from an organizational outline. By enabling writing, reading, focus, and memory, outlines are a powerful tool for any business blog, improving perception and enabling your commercial goals.


    They Facilitate the Writing Process

    Writing is a unique skill set, endowed in only a few. Unfortunately for those of us without that gift, our companies need content, and that content must be of prime quality to build a readership.

    Fortunately, outlines help ease the process of writing, imbuing the kind of quality required of published content for even those with meager writing skill. By creating a structure around which ideas are formed, the mind naturally constructs ideas in a coherent manner, allowing you to easily articulate one element of your piece after another, unburdened by concerns of flow and formation.

    Furthermore, they help provide inspiration. When writing content paragraph by paragraph without understanding the "geography" of your work, it's easy to miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. By understanding your work from a top-down perspective, filling in the prompts with coherent paragraphs becomes a much less arduous task.


    They Make Reading Easier

    The writer isn't the only party that benefits from outlines. The ever-important reader reaps the fruits of organizational effort as well.

    Our minds are eased by structure. Traffic lights, lines at grocery stores, and chapters in books all help us understand the boundaries of our actions and attention, working to help guide our cognitive resources in one, simple direction. Outlines are much like the road signs that lead us to highways and points of interest, constructing a narrative and helping set expectations for what's to come.

    In addition, well-crafted headings help summon the resources needed to finish reading. If your reader is forced to determine whether they should continue with each passing paragraph, the cognitive burden involved is likely to lead to page abandonment. Attention grabbing headings help remedy this decision-making process by piquing their interests and guiding them forward.


    They Provides Focus

    If you've ever had a conversation with a pedantic acquaintance, then you know how difficult unfocused conversation can be. If your conversation partner is offering compelling information or engaging you on an active basis, then your attention is held, identifying value in the experience. In the case of the talkative friend, however, your mind wanders, wondering when the toil will end, and when your next important task can begin.

    Poorly structured pieces are like wordy cohorts: they amble, providing value, but only among meandering sentences. Outlines help remedy this situation by setting reader expectations and then delivering on them in an efficient manner. An article entitled "The Ultimate Guide to Product Pages" makes a lofty promise, but by breaking the writing process into manageable chunks, the reader develops an understanding of the aspects of product pages that a cursory discussion could not deliver, perceiving value and continuing through to the final paragraph.


    They Make Your Message More Memorable

    Your content delivers value, but that's not its only purpose. In helping your customers, your ultimate goal is to strengthen your brand and facilitate sales conversion through an engaging conversation. Without the mental association between your content and your company, these efforts fall short.

    Outlines, through their multiple benefits, help build this desired association. By allowing writers to write more effectively, easing the readers burden, and providing focused value, readers inherently recognize the value of your efforts. The end result is an enhancement of brand image that will have a synergistic effect on commercial success.

    With content gaining importance in the marketplace, it's tempting to prioritize pace over organization, but savvy writers know that outlines facilitate both rate of production and ROI. By unburdening your writing process, improving reader experience, adding focused value to your content, and leaving an impression in the minds of customers, outlines represent one of the most valuable tools in your blogging and marketing toolkit.

  • How To Develop A Clear Voice For Your Brand

    Thursday, March 13, 2014 by
    How To Develop a Clear Voice For Your Brand

    There are many elements of your business that contribute to its success, but perhaps the most important (and intangible) is your brand. From the visual design of your ads to the reputation of your customerservice team, your brand has a voice, and identifying it can improve many aspects of your operations. By understanding the importance of this voice, identifying the characteristics that articulate it, and honing in on your desired perception, you too can take advantage of this powerful tool.  

    Understanding Voice

    First, it’s important to understand what “voice” is in a marketing sense. Simply put, it is how you say things and what language you utilize when talking about your products, services, and business.

    Your voice creates a culture that your customers will recognize and relate to. If properly implemented everything your business produces (emails, website copy, social media messages, etc.) will all have this same tone. Well utilized, a clear voice will connect you to your customer through consistent rhythm, pacing, word choice, and aim.


    Defining Your Identity

    So how can you craft this elusive unique voice for your brand? The key lies in identifying the following three traits:

    ● What your brand is ● Who your target customer is ● What you sound like

    Maintaining a voice that’s consistent with your current marketing efforts will help strengthen your reputation, identifying your target customer will help craft a voice that resonates with them, and determining what your voice will sound like will help craft the language you use.

    While these items can be challenging to nail down, the following steps will help you identify the points that separate you from competitor and help you craft a clear voice that communicates efficiently and personally with your customers:

    1. Identify your company’s values- Why was your company started? What is the driving force as to why you are in business? It should be clear from your mission statement, catch phrase or tagline. 2. Pinpoint any basic human values your company embodies- Perhaps your company is more spiritual focused or abstract. Identify what these are. 3. Note what it is about the way your company works that is different- What makes you stand out from your competition? Noting this difference will help show you your priorities and values.  

    Constructing Your Message

    Once you have distinguished yourself and know clearly who you are it is time to select language. There are several linguistic considerations to weigh.

    The first is formal vs informal language. This will largely be denoted by your audience. Ask your team which will appeal more to your customers: “Here is an opportunity we would like to bring to your attention” or “Hey there is going to be a great sale coming up!”?

    The next is technical vs. simplified language. Depending on what kind of business you are and the education level of your base audience your vocabulary will need to accommodate their reading level. In addition, B2B and industrial organizations will need to deliver language that meets the technical knowledge of their target audience.

    Among the more subtle aspects of your voice is colloquial language. If you can make pop culture references and the vast majority of your audience will understand them, inserting some slang into your voice is an option. However if you have an older or more traditional audience you might want to stray away from these. This can be largely dependent on the geographic location of your audience.

    The final and most niche consideration is swearing. Rarely there are companies who can get away with swearing as part of their brand voice. Less extreme swear words such as “hell” or “damn” might seem insignificant to you but can still have an impact with your audience. If it is a significant part of your voice proceed with caution.


    Once you have developed a clear banding strategy craft your brand voice is an essential next step. A clear brand voice is a simple tool to help your consumers relate and better identify with you, improving your customer service, recognition, messaging, and revenue.

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  • So You Want To Start A Business? Start Here

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014 by
    So You Want To Start A Business Start Here Ambitious minds take ambitious action, and few actions are more ambitious than starting a business. If you find yourself in possession of a killer idea, or wish to grow a fledgling enterprise, it’s important to know what you’re in for. Here’s how to build your idea from the ground up, and turn your ideas and resources into something rewarding.  

    Start with Your Motivations

    To begin with, ask yourself why you would want to start a business. The success of many businesses has a lot to do with our motivations for starting it in the first place. A business can become your annual salary, while also fulfilling your desire to do work that's more meaningful. Having your own business means finally getting to be the boss, and constructing a schedule that is optimal to your lifestyle. Perhaps you've finally realized that what you’re best at can provide immense value to others and would constitute a firm foundation for entrepreneurship. Many are simply exhausted from sitting behind a desk and would love to monetize the thing they're passionate about. Whatever your motivations may be, identify them, and use them as fuel going forward.  

    Turn Your General Idea Into Something Specific

    Next, it’s important to identify what your product will be. Let's say you want to help the earth by selling items that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the possibilities, spend some time researching what's already out there, and begin to hone in on a niche that means the most to you. The easiest way to become successful is by doing something better than what already exists, or by doing it differently. Ask yourself these questions: • Who is going to buy my product or service? • How will you be getting paid? • Is my service going to be sustainable over the next decade? The best businesses aim to solve a problem, and will survive by making a difference. Don't be afraid to start small and simple, there will always be room for growth.  

    Take Out A Loan, Or Start Saving Money

    It'd be unfair to tell you the average cost of starting a business when it is entirely dependent on what product or service you intend to offer. However, whether you'll need $100 or $30,000, you're going to have to develop a business plan. A major component to that plan will be the cost of starting up, as well as money necessary to keep you going until your first sales start rolling in. To estimate your costs of starting up, make two lists: one for your assets and the other for startup expenses. • Assets- Also known as capital expenditures, these will be the one-time costs. Think of property, equipment, and certain inventory as things you'll only buy at the beginning, or again down the road. • Expenses- These are the recurring costs that will be a part of the startup costs and continue throughout the life of the business. Things like rent, supplies, marketing materials, gas, and how much you will pay potential employees. Once you have a firm business model, it may be a good time to consider taking out the loan. If loans aren't your style, by all means proceed with the planning and set a goal for how much to save.  

    Make It Official

    If you’ve made it this far, then you should be proud. Making your business official means you have a direction, are likely ready to invest in its growth. To prepare for this, here a few legal and financial steps to consider. 1. Determine the Legal Structure • What form of ownership is best for you? This will determine which income tax form you will file. 2. Register Your Business Name • This will be registered with your State Government if you do business as anything but your legal name. 3. Set Up a Tax I.D. • This will be used to identify your business as an entity. 4. Register For State And Local Taxes • In addition to taxes required by the federal government you will have to pay some state and local taxes. 5. Acquire Licenses and Permits • To run your business legally there are certain federal and state licenses you need to obtain.  


    It may seem overwhelming, but the more you educate yourself the easier it will become. An important thing to remember is if you've chosen to go into business for the right reasons, eventually you're going to make it happen. Foreknowledge, structure, and a calm mind will do a great deal when building a sound financial future through entrepreneurship.
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  • Where To Go When You Can’t Think of New Content Ideas

    Friday, March 7, 2014 by
    Where To Go When You Can't Think of New Content Ideas

    Content creation is not an easy task. The Internet is rife with copycats and un-original ideas. The difference is, you’re running a business, and your ideas fuel a resource that turns readership into profit. When you can’t afford to let writer’s block slow you down, here are some powerful resources for getting the wheels turning again.


    Mine Your Data

    If you have a body of content, then you also have a body of ideas. Past blogging successes should inform future topics, and analytics provide insight that can help guide content creation and dig you out of your creative rut.

    Look at your analytics platform and see which posts have received the most views. This alone isn’t necessarily and indicator of success, but if traffic on the page has remained consistent for some time, then you’ve likely stumbled upon a winner. Consistent traffic signifies that the piece has become a reference for others, resonating with your audience and maintaining traction as a result.

    Monitor trends in high-performing content and leverage them to generate new ideas. If you’re an industrial supplier, a series of posts on safety with consistently high traffic should indicate that the subject is of great importance to your customer base. Additional posts on safety, or subjects like compliance, which feed into the topic, will likely find success, giving you new material with which to work.


    Tap Your Co-Workers

    When your job is to create ideas, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. Step outside your creative box and into the field where the work gets done to find new insights.

    Colleagues work within your business, creating solutions that help customers on a daily basis. For this reason, their understanding of customer concerns and the intricacies of your operations can be of great value when creating new content. Ask for suggestions, hold round-table discussions, or ask for guest posts to give your blog a new voice and a new lease on life.


    Scout Social Media

    Just like numerical analytics, social media can be a gold mine of ideas. Users on social media are inundated with content every day, only stopping to interact with posts that actually resonate with them personally. High-performing posts can indicate that a topic is of importance, suggesting new ideas and alleviating your creative burden.

    Comments on social media posts may also offer suggestions. In the aforementioned example of a safety series, comments to the effect of “how do we do this in our business?” may hint that follow up posts for developing your own safety practices would do well. Read between the lines of reader interactions and you’re likely to find a great deal of inspiration in the process.


    Monitor the News

    As an entity of authority, your insight is trusted. At no time is that insight more appreciated, however, than when it becomes relevant in the news. Wildlife researchers, for example, were treated with additional media attention during the Gulf oil spill, due to the fact that their unique perspective offered direction in a confusing situation.

    Keep an eye on the news and look for opportunities to give comment. Doing so not only positions your blog and brand well, it also automates the process of inspiration for you. The aforementioned industrial supplier may see an industrial accident, for example, and provide tips for clean up and proper handling of volatile chemicals, achieving relevance and value simultaneously.


    Check Out the Competition

    It’s sometimes difficult to admit that your competition does something well, but their strengths can become your boon. Visit your competitors’ blogs and see what topics are occupying their pages. Copying ideas whole-cloth is not recommended, but trends in subjects can help give you ideas for new territory, providing the chance to turn their insight into your traffic.


    Ask Your Audience

    When you’re looking to hit a home run with each post, few methods work better than simply asking your audience. Gauging trends and assessing the potential of posts pales in comparison to direct requests for topics. When the ideas no longer flow, go to your most trusted asset and simply solicit topic requests. Doing so will provide a wealth of new insight and provide an engagement opportunity that gives readers a personal stake in your blog, turning one-time visitors into devotees.


    Your content marketing is only as good as your ideas, and when your ideas seem to evaporate, it’s important to know where to turn. Your owned assets, social interactions, national relevance, and competitors all offer inspiration that can get your creative efforts back on track, so don’t despair the next time that killer topic simply won’t appear. Utilize your not-so-obvious assets and your business blog won’t miss a beat.

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  • Why The Images On Your Homepage Matter

    Thursday, March 6, 2014 by
    Web design concept

    Your business makes a number of decisions every day. From management to product design, everything about your enterprise is organized with the intention of building a brand and selling a product. In the fray, however, certain aspects can become lost, including the images on your homepage. To the surprise of many business-owners, these seemingly simple assets can shape your brand perception, influence customer decisions, and improve conversion in profound ways.


    They Heavily Influence Your First Impression

    The old adage that “you only get one chance to make a first impression” is hard to shake in a rapidly moving society. For perspective’s sake, consider any time you’ve made a purchase online. You likely visited the homepage of the product in question and made a rather snappy judgment regarding characteristics that may even be impossible to perceive from the comfort of your desk chair: dependability, trustworthiness, quality, worth, value, etc. In that brief few seconds of analysis, you’ve already made a decision, completely independent of the carefully crafted text and list of product features.

    Photographs help ensure that your product or products make a positive first impression quickly. Tired, hurried minds are far more likely to consider a visual before text, since text requires additional effort to process. Furthermore, the setting, subject, color, and quality of photos all convey the kinds of characteristics mentioned earlier. By presenting attractive images of your product or individuals using your product, you’re more likely to capture visitor attention and make an impression that spurs further research; no small feat on the constantly shifting web.


    They Affect User Experience

    As mentioned, Internet users are tired creatures, bombarded constantly by attention grabbing ploys and solicitations. In this scenario, visuals command immediate attention due to their ability to convey a great deal of information more efficiently and effectively than text.

    In this way, visuals are more user-friendly, acknowledging the plight of the modern individual and offering a compromise that’s beneficial to both parties. Through presentation of a visual, users are treated to something pleasing, easy to digest, and easy to understand. By presenting a visual, businesses offer a more friendly web experience, additionally controlling the perception created by the presentation. This combination of effective communication and usability leads to a more positive brand perception that will influence future sales and open further engagement opportunities.


    They Speak to Design

    Apple’s market-changing products have shared one characteristic in common: design. The intelligent combination of visual appeal, functionality, and intuitiveness has propelled many of their devices to the forefront of the market, effectively demonstrating that the modern consumer has design in mind. Whether through conscious acknowledgement or subconscious enjoyment, this expectation is carried through all brand interactions.

    With this conscious attention to trends, maintaining an up-to-date web design is paramount to brand image, and large-format photographs are a part of that package. If the images on your page are pixelated or of poor quality, users will take note and assume that your brand lacks the attentiveness needed to also produce a quality product. High-quality photos, on the other hand, inspire confidence, providing a positive experience and satisfying discerning tastes.


    They Set Expectations

    Unless your marketing campaign has significant clout, it’s generally safe to assume that a new visitor to your site knows next to nothing about your product. With this uncertainty comes a great deal of fear, generally dissuading purchases if an understanding of product functionality, performance, price, and value isn’t conveyed quickly.

    Images help bridge this gap between uncertainty and comfort by quickly establishing viewer expectations. A photograph of a business setting suggests that your product helps productivity and communication in a professional context. An illustration of a house builds the understanding that your product is meant for consumers and used in their home. While it may be challenging to pick the perfect image to convey the nuances of your product, doing so immediately alleviates the mental burden of uncertainty that customers experience, guiding them further along the path to conversion.


    They Affect Conversion

    While each of these factors can be listed as important in their own rite, the net result is conversion. A strong first impression keeps viewers around while an easy-to-use website provides a more pleasant browsing experience. Strong web design inspires confidence in your company while accurate product expectations help convey brand message and improve conversion rates. Ultimately, the images you use on your homepage are more than just decoration; they are tools to bring potential customers into the fold, generating revenue and enhancing brand perception in complex and far-reaching ways.


    From your products to your pitch, everything about your business is engineered for success. Your website should benefit from the same treatment with attractive and communicative images that turn one-time visitors into repeat customers. Don’t underestimate the value of a good visual and use the inherent benefits of these aesthetic assets to turn your homepage into a conversion tool.

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