flower tree

5 Simple Ways to Spring Clean Your Online Business

Overheard in the office this morning: “The sun’s out so I can’t complain.”

After a few grey days and long months of winter, that pretty much sums up my feelings exactly.

Spring has officially sprung in the British capital!

Even if I’m still in boots and a jumper (hey, it’s London) the sunnier weather signals a fresh start — a chance to dust off those landing pages, make your social media shine and brighten up the ole blog.

The best part? They’re easy, and dare I say, fun updates to make.

So let’s roll up our sleeves and breathe some new life into your online business.

These five tips will tidy up your digital space in no time and give it that glow other websites wish they had.

1. Revamp Your Headlines

Headlines and page titles play a huge role in attracting visitors to your site.

They’re not only the first words people see when they land on your website, but they also tell readers exactly what they will gain by clicking on your content. Or at least, in theory, that’s what they should do.

To see if your headlines are providing as much value to your community as possible, open up your blog or a landing page on your site and ask:

  • Is the benefit clearly stated?
  • Do you want to click to read more?
  • Can you easily understand what the article, video, landing page, etc. is about?

Every title on your website should pass this three-part test with flying colors.

In fact, you can even apply this “rule” to your social media posts too.

Because headlines are THE chance to pull your reader in.

If you’re feeling stuck or not sure how to craft a compelling headline, look at magazine covers and newspapers. Try to incorporate their bold punchiness into your titles.

The Onion is a master of this, although I would say it takes a certain brand to pull off this type of headline:

Think of the benefit your reader will receive by clicking on your page and put it right into the headline.

Above all, keep your audience top of mind when writing headlines. Because if it’s meaningful and relevant to their lives, it will catch their attention.

2. Perform Better on Google

Wouldn’t it be awesome to know which search terms are taking people to your site?

Google Search Console is a free tool that tells you just that and more.

Once you connect your website to the Search Console, you can see:

  • The search terms that pulled up your company’s pages during an organic search on Google
  • How many times one of your pages showed up in a user’s Google search results (the tool calls these “impressions”)
  • How many times a user clicked on your URL via a search
  • The click-through rate for each URL (i.e. the percentage of impressions that received clicks)
  • The position of your URL on the search page

This is a wealth of information about how users are finding your content through search, so how can you use it to your benefit?

A nifty video on using Google Search Console.

As digital marketing guru, Neil Patel, suggests, you can use it to zone in on search terms that aren’t resulting in clicks.

Jot down the search terms that have a high number of impressions but a low number of clicks.

Then try searching for the term yourself and seeing how your webpage appears in Google.

For these underperforming search terms, that can mean your SEO title and meta description aren’t clear and compelling enough.

Like your headlines, the Googler should know exactly what the content is about just by skimming it: short and to the point.

Next, make sure the description below the SEO title is also crystal clear. By giving the reader a bit more context while piquing their interest, your meta description can be the difference between them visiting your site or not.

No matter how you choose to use these insights, this tool is a quick and easy way to see which keywords are bringing people to your site. That’s gold.

3. Read More Tags & Widgets

I recently noticed it was next to impossible to discover new content on my website.

At the end of my blog posts, there was a small clickable link to the next post, but even I had trouble seeing it.

blog screenshot
On my blog, the links had to be changed to black and increased in size (see above).

For websites built using WordPress, Squarespace or Wix, the title of the previous blog post will typically appear at the bottom of a post, under a “Recent Posts” section or via a link to “Newer” or “Older” articles.

If this is difficult to find on your blog, try making the link bigger and more visual.

If your website is built using WordPress, you may also be able to add a widget to your footer to give visitors another way of discovering fresh content.

footer screenshot
The Recent Posts widget is fully customizable. Here’s how it looks on my footer.

This update, made by adding a “Recent Posts with Thumbnails” widget or “Read More” tag to your website, is one of my favorite tricks because it’s a small change that makes a big impact.

Plus, it extends the shelf life of your content. What’s not to love, right?

4. Boost Your Instagram Profile

With 1 billion people using Instagram each month, it’s easy to see why businesses choose to grow their community on the app.

It’s not a one-way relationship either; people interact with brands on Instagram.

According to Hootsuite, 60% of users discover products on the platform and 75% take action, like visiting the business’s website.

A content-packed Instagram bio with Linktree and Highlights.

This is why upping your Instagram game is so important.

Here are two simple ways to do that all within your Instagram profile:

  • Add Linktree to your bio so you can share multiple links to your website at one time
  • Use Highlights, or curated Instagram stories that do not disappear, to draw in your followers

Both of these tools are free and easy to use, not to mention a quick way to share more of your brand with your community.

What type of links can you add to Linktree?

The beauty is you get to decide. It could be your latest blog post, newest product, About page or even a music playlist. All you have to do is upload the link and switch it out whenever you see fit.

Highlights, on the other hand, are much more visual.

Pro tip: Canva has free templates you can use like this one to design your Highlights.

These permanent Instagram stories can be made up of photos, videos or both and can be a window into many aspects of your business: events, blog, services, tips and inspiration, ambassadors. Even the office pet.

Most importantly, they give your brand another dimension, a more personal one. Because what’s the point of social media if not to connect on a personal level?

Now, give Linktree and Highlights a go and watch your Instagram profile come to life!

5. Revive Your Blog

We’re not talking a full overhaul here, just some fun keyword search to give you new topic ideas for your blog.

I say fun because you sort of feel like an undercover detective when you find out what people, in general, use the web to search for.

Let me show you what I mean, with the help of two free tools:

  • Google Trends tells you how often a keyword was typed into Google over a period of time.
  • Wordtracker is similar in that it estimates how many times a keyword was searched for over a set time, but it also shows you how competitive that keyword and related search terms are.

Google Trends is a helpful way to identify seasonal trends, dig up relevant topics that people are interested in right now and see which geographical regions are seeking out your content.

A snapshot of topics and queries related to Van Gogh over the past month in the UK.

Alternatively, Wordtracker’s value comes from the competitive analysis it performs on a keyword.

It effectively tells you how many businesses are paying to get that keyword seen by as many people as possible.

That means you should focus on keywords with a high search volume and low competition. Those are the topics people are interested in but aren’t being overly covered by other brands.

‘Easter’ has been searched for roughly 60,500 times in the past month.

Once you start plugging in your own keywords and getting a feel for these tools, you’ll see how handy they can be for producing fresh and relevant content for your audience.

And with that, you are well on your way to giving your digital storefront that special springtime glow — one that radiates sunshine and success.

Looking for help to achieve that glow? Drop me a line at celeste@cbacontent.com.

Old Station House B&B

A Bed & Breakfast Guide to Attracting New Visitors to Your Site

The sun was setting as we walked up to our bed and breakfast in Broadway, a charming village in the Cotswolds.

Andy opened the door with a warm handshake and a smile, welcoming us inside so we could drop our bags before he gave us a tour of the house.

Starting in the entranceway, he gave us a brief history of the house,  which used to be the station master’s house in the early 1900s. This is the exact location, he explained, where the steam railway’s operator lived and managed the train line.

Inside the Old Station House

View from inside the Old Station House B&B.

By the door, Andy pointed out some flashlights that we could borrow at night and just inside the door he showed us a table full of brochures and guidebooks on Broadway and the surrounding countryside.

As Andy led us through the breakfast room, living room and up to our bedroom, my boyfriend and I immediately felt welcome and at home knowing exactly where everything was and how everything worked, from putting in our breakfast order to indulging in a nightcap before bed.

He pointed out the obvious (“Here’s the snack bar”) and the not so obvious (“The hallway lights are on a timer”), leaving no questions in our minds. Little did he know, but Andy was perfectly exemplifying how your website’s content can attract more people and convert more prospects.

Using Andy as our guide, here are three benefits of being as clear and transparent with your site’s visitors as possible. 

Your readers feel welcome

During Andy’s tour, he told us since we were staying in one of the smaller rooms that we could spend as much time in the living room as we’d like. 

Oh, and the light in the bathroom, he made sure to tell us might not turn on completely (it’s only happened once or twice) but the light above the mirror should be bright enough if needed.

Fireplace

Our favorite feature of the house.

His explicit instructions and homey tips for our stay put us completely at ease.

To provide this sense of comfort to your audience, use straightforward headlines on your blog posts that tell readers exactly the benefits they will receive by clicking through. Also, make sure your landing pages have uncomplicated titles, use clear language and a clean layout with ample white space.

It’s easy for customers to find their way around

Shortly after our arrival, we knew exactly where we could find things, and if not we knew we could ask Andy. The first morning, we even knew to put the long spoons we used for jam in a tall, clear glass so they wouldn’t leave sticky spots behind.

Everything was intuitive and easy to follow.

That’s what your website should strive to do — seamlessly lead your visitors from one page to another while providing them with the information they need to learn more about your service and purchase your product.

You can do this with the headline and layout suggestions above along with call-to-actions that pop out on the page, an easy way to contact you directly and user-friendly navigation.

These guidelines also apply to things like your business’ social media posts and newsletters — always aim to make your outreach messages clear with unambiguous directions so that your readers know exactly what to do next and are therefore more inclined to click to learn more.

A return visit is more likely

The night before we left the bed and breakfast, Andy reminded us that the steam railway reopens in March and when the weather is warmer, the village is buzzing with things to do.

He also told us he’d be happy to pick us up from the train station next time and if we wanted to go on a new hike, he would drop us at a footpath in the town nearby and show us which pubs and gardens to stop at along the way.

Inside the bed and breakfast

Train station touches were found around the house.

In other words, he gave us many reasons to come back. And I’m certain we will!

So when thinking about how to get visitors to return to your site, think about what you can offer them: free expert advice, exclusive deals and discounts, an online course, downloadable templates. Be creative! Put yourself in your visitors’ shoes and ask, why would I go here and not somewhere else? 

If you get stuck, remember Andy and his wife, Jenni — the perfect hosts. They made us feel right at home by giving us a carefully thought-out tour, precise instructions and multiple reasons to plan a return trip.

All photos by Alex Chirita.

Why French Cuisine is Good for Content Marketing

“[T]hey know what to do with every scrap of hoof, snout, entrail, and skin … Because they grew up with that all-important dictum. Use everything! (And use it well.)”

This is how Anthony Bourdain describes the French style of cooking in his book, A Cook’s Tour.

I picked up his collection of food and travel tales before my last plane trip and have since been reliving his fearless and much-missed spirit through his writing.

He brings up French cuisine when talking about creating magic with food. To him, these classically-trained chefs are experts of taking the most unglamorous ingredients — “boiled tongues, tails, bones, and cheap root vegetables” — and turning them into something delicious, like pot-au-feu.

Not unlike how content marketers strip down a business’s purpose, down to the core, so that they can then reconstruct its message in many different meaningful and relevant ways.

Because when done right, content marketing doesn’t appear as a business-driven message at all, but as a story you want to read, a song you want to sing, a feeling you want to have.

So how do you go from a word or an idea to captivating someone’s attention and evoking emotions? Like the French, start with the basics and build from there.

know the exact ‘ingredients’ of your business

What does your business do for its customers that is better and distinct from the competition? In other words, what are the main elements that go into your company’s special sauce?

mixing ingredients

What ingredients go into your business?

Is your product or service easy-to-use? Eco-friendly? High-quality? Backed by research?

Once you know the essential components of your business, then you can begin to shape your brand’s point of view and unique approach to a particular problem.

This thorough understanding of what goes into your offerings will make it much easier to create effective landing pages, start a conversation on social media and focus your e-newsletters.

keep it simple (especially when the idea is complex)

Remember, as Bourdain points out, you have to start with “scraps and trimmings and fat, ground up and seasoned” to get pâté.

In marketing terms, that is to say, if you are trying to communicate a complicated concept to your audience, there are always ways to break it down and reconstruct it so that your customer not only understands the message but can also relate and empathize with it.

Marketers can do this by being empathetic themselves, trying their best to absorb the pain points and desires of your prospects and customers.

By putting yourself in their shoes, you can more easily see what questions they might have and what problems they are seeking to solve. Then, tell them how your business can be their solution in a clear and to-the-point way.

Talk to them, person to person. And tell them what to do next.

Which leads me to tip #3…

use your words — in a myriad of different ways

Your underlying message will remain the same for the most part (e.g. we’re credible, we’re classic, we’re dedicated, etc.) but how you present it will vary in every context.

On a landing page, for instance, you’ll have a headline, subheadline, copy and call-to-action to convey your message. This checklist will help make sure your content is easy to read and understand.

Creating a post for social media, however, will take on a different tone and appearance. It will be conversational in style, shorter and visually engaging.

There are lots of other content types that your marketing strategy will include and therefore lots of options when it comes to putting it together and sharing it with your audience. Sometimes fewer words will work better, or a graphic or a series of newsletters.

What’s important is how you decide to tell your business’s story (hint: follow the French’s lead to create something truly special):

Those shrewd and wily French toiled mightily over the years, figuring out ways to make just about everything that grazed, creeped, swam, crawled, or hopped, and every growing thing that poked through soil, rotted on the vine, or hid under dung, into something edible, enjoyable — even magical.

Fields of lavender

How to Grow Your Content Strategy Like Lavender

Walking through lavender fields in south London last weekend, I was filled with happiness.

The beauty, the sight, the smell was all a delight.

This new experience wandering through rows of lavender got me thinking — is it possible to give your audience a similarly positive experience through content?

Turns out, yes it is.

Lavender has three qualities that make for an exceptional content marketing strategy.

1. Grow gradually

Just as lavender takes one to three months to sprout, it will take time for your content to attract and engage new readers.

As a business, you will use different types of content across a range of online channels (your website, social media, newsletters, etc.) to draw in prospects, interact with followers and encourage them to take a specific action.

None of this happens overnight and no one piece of content magically makes your company successful. However, knowing which content is used to produce specific outcomes will help you gradually grow your business.

Here’s a quick rundown of content types:

Attraction content helps build a following.

It’s content that:

  • Communicates the value your reader will get in exchange for their time
  • Is free to consume
  • Specific, relevant and eye-catching

Bee pollinating lavender

Your content should attract readers like lavender does to bees

Action content motivates behavior.

It’s content that describes:

  • What your business stands for
  • What your product or service does
  • How you solve your audience’s problems
  • A clear next step for your reader to take

Authority content illustrates your expertise.

It’s content that:

  • Helps your audience by offering solutions
  • Shows you are a leader in your field
  • Your audience can trust
  • Encourages other people to link to and share

Affinity content creates a bond.

It’s content that:

  • You and your audience agree on
  • Your reader believes in and likes
  • Is passionate, genuine and important tor your brand

2. Nurture your evergreen

Lavender is an evergreen plant, able to last years after its flowers are dried out. This quality also makes lavender a very versatile shrub. It can be used as decoration, perfume, a deterrent (to pesky mothballs), in tea and much more.

That is the goal for your content: to be long-lasting and to offer a number of solutions.

Always think about how you can extend the shelf life of your content and adapt it across different platforms. Ultimately, you want any future visitor to be able to use, learn and benefit from your content in some way.

You could create a video, for example, on how to use your service and publish it on your  YouTube channel. Or write a blog post series on one topic and turn it into a podcast (or vice versa).

The possibilities are endless; just remember that evergreen content will benefit your readers long after it’s published.

3. Prune at set times

While it’s recommended to prune lavender soon after it’s been planted and once a year following that, you’ll want to look after your blooming content strategy on a more frequent basis.

There are multiple ways to tweak and improve your content plan as you go:

  • Analyze the metrics to see which content performed the best
  • Collect user comments and answer their pain points with solutions
  • Ask your audience for feedback, using a customer survey for instance
  • Listen to what your prospects are saying on social media

The great thing about content is that it is adaptable and easy to adjust throughout all stages of your marketing strategy.

Taking the time to evaluate what is working and what isn’t, is crucial. It lets you see what resonates with your audience and in turn, gives you the insight to grow worthwhile relationships with your customers.

So, the next time you feel stuck in your content creation process, take a deep breath and imagine you’re in a field of lavender. Its purple leaves now represent much more than a soothing remedy.

Celeste in lavender fields

Lavender is good for the soul … and your content strategy!

Writing a checklist

This Content Checklist Will Make More People Want to Visit Your Site

Bathing suit…check.

Passport…check.

Boarding pass…check.

If only improving your website’s content was as easy as preparing for a trip to the coast of Italy (I may be going there this weekend and it may be consuming all my thoughts).

Well, if you knew how to prep your content and had a focused checklist to follow, I think it could be as hassle-free as flying into the Tuscan sunset.

The real challenge is figuring out how to make your website dispense gelato and pasta carbonara on demand.

gelato

Content goals: To make your website as irresistible as gelato.

For now, though, let’s get to that content checklist so you can create a customer journey that people are excited to be a part of.

#1 Does it make sense?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that other people aren’t living and breathing your brand like you are. Whether you founded the company or recently joined the team, it’s likely you know a great deal more about the service or product than the casual web browser.

That’s why it’s important to put yourself in their shoes and ask if the content on your homepage and landing pages makes sense. Equally important is making sure the visitor clearly understands the purpose and point of your newsletter, about page, blog post, etc.

These  questions are a good place to start when determining if your content will easily click with your reader:

  • Is the brand statement, or the core of your business, prominently conveyed on the homepage and/or about page?
  • If this is the only page your visitor goes to, does it give enough background information on the product or service you offer and describe its benefits in a straightforward way?
  • Is your content inviting and accessible? For instance, do you use sub-headlines and bullet points to break up text? How about visuals to give your audience a clearer idea of whatever it is you are promoting?
  • Do you use industry jargon that others might not understand? It’s best to rephrase in those cases.

#2 Is it attention-grabbing?

One of the best ways to capture and keep your audience’s attention is with an enticing headline. That can mean the title of a landing page, a headline of a blog post or the subject line of an email.

These helpful descriptors have the power to make someone click, open, share or skip completely, so it’s always worth getting the headline right.

Here are some pointers on how to do exactly that:

  • What is your reader getting in exchange for their time? Put the benefit in the title and tell them right off the bat. This will intrigue them to click and find out more.
  • Is the headline an inside joke only your company would understand? Or, are you trying to show off your creative writing skills? Remember, it’s always best to leave puns or clever phrases out of headlines. The clearer the better.
  • “How To” or list headlines (“3 secrets to healthy-looking skin”) are great ways to structure a title because they make you think about the reader and the value you are providing.

#3 Do your readers know what to do next?

Before hitting publish on a new landing page or sending a sales email, make sure to include a clear call to action (CTA) in every piece of content. After all, the point of your business is for people to buy your product, sign up for your service, share your article, etc.

In order to get visitors to take that next step, your CTAs should be eye-catching and benefit-driven. It should be a no-brainer why you would click on a button to register for an online course or download an e-book.

Below are some tips for crafting effective CTAs:

  • Visually, does the CTA button or sign-up form stand out from the rest of the page? Putting it in a bright color or using bold text could really make it pop.
  • As for the copy, does it tell your visitor exactly what they will receive after entering in their personal information? Author Jeff Goins is really good at this.
  • Consider adding a photo of the e-book cover, screenshots of the online course or any other visual that helps give your reader a better idea of what they will be getting.

This checklist may be more detailed than the one you have for an upcoming weekend trip, but if you let it be your guide when publishing content on your site, your audience will enjoy the final destination (your digital storefront) a whole lot more.

P.s. If you would like help improving your website’s content clarity, headlines and CTAs, my free custom marketing evaluation is for you. Get a leg up on the competition and sign up here.

People working outside

Put a Spring in Your Website’s Step With These 3 Revitalizing Tips

Cafe doors are flung open. City dwellers flock to the park and I’m sipping on the first iced coffee of the season.

It’s only mid-April but with temperatures in the 80s (close to 30°C), London has fallen under a summertime spell.

Of course it won’t stay this warm for long, but while it does, let’s follow the capital’s lead and swap out the old for the new: it’s time to hit refresh on your website.

These three steps will not only revitalize your site, but they will also prove to be helpful guidelines when publishing content in the future.

1. Eliminate clutter

White space is your friend. It lets your content stand out on the page and gives your reader a more pleasant browsing experience.

Remember, you may only have 7 seconds to grab your visitor’s attention, so don’t let a cluttered layout turn them away before they settle in.

  • Remove out-of-date and irrelevant information like which high school you attended on your About Page. Or photos of your pets (unless maybe you run a pet business).
  • Take down graphics or visuals that don’t serve a purpose. They should either compliment the content on the page or serve as a signal to take an action.
  • Delete sidebars on landing pages — site pages dedicated to making a purchase, describing a service or getting visitors to sign up for a newsletter. The less distracted they are the better.

2. Lose the bulky blocks of Content

Long, dense paragraphs are the last way busy visitors want to learn about your company. Rather, focus on providing multiple entry points so readers can easily soak in your service.

  • Break paragraphs into small, bite-size chunks that are easy to skim. They shouldn’t be more than 4-5 lines long and variation in their lengths is a plus.
  • Use subheads (titles of subsections) and bullet points to break up blocks of text. They jump out at the reader and convey messages much quicker.
  • Mix in other forms of media like photos, videos, infographics and playlists to keep the reader engaged. Making them shareable is even better!

3. Give your social life A Boost

Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to go to the pub and make small talk. This step is all about sparking meaningful conversations online and making your content super easy to share.

Let social media be your megaphone.

  • Display social buttons on every page so visitors can follow you on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Also, adding shareable links at the bottom of blog posts and other content pages will make it easy for your audience to share your business tips, e-books, videos and so on.
  • Post any new, freely accessible piece of content onto social media. The tone and style will need to be adapted for each platform, but it will immediately widen your content’s reach.
  • Make signing up for your newsletter easy and obvious. Add the form to the bottom of each blog post and consider having it pop up on certain pages. Giving visitors a clear way to receive company updates is essential to creating meaningful customer relationships.

Apply just one or two of the above tips and you’ll begin to notice small changes in the way that people respond to and engage with your website.

Think of your online business as a work in progress. But less as “work” and more as a fun touchup, giving your site a pep in its step.

It’ll have you feeling like…

excited gif

via GIPHY

blue butterfly

The Simple Art of Differentiating Yourself (and Attracting an Audience)

One of the first things you see when you exit the train station in Bath, Somerset, is an iconic British telephone booth filled with flowers.

I’ve seen lots of red telephone booths, some lined with books inside, others vandalized and wreaking of urine, but never filled with purple primroses and intertwining ivy.

I took a photo of it thinking it’d be the only one in town.

Luckily, there was another one just around the corner.

Turns out, this is a trademark of Bath’s. Or another way of putting it — it is their unique selling proposition (USP). They reimagined an antiquated communication system and turned it into something you might encounter in a Lewis Carroll book.

It catches your eye and makes you think, why doesn’t London do that?

But that’s exactly what adds to Bath’s unique appeal. The city is smaller, quainter and has special touches like flower-filled phone booths.

Like Bath, your business needs to have a reason why people decide to visit your website or storefront.

What do you do differently and better than your competitors? It is this distinction, your USP, that will attract the right people to your brand.

Here’s how differentiating yourself and promoting your USP can be the simplest way to grow your audience and increases sales.

YOUR USP sets you apart

Roughly 2.6 million blog posts have been published so far today.

That’s a whole lot of content options for your audience to choose from.

Why would they visit your blog then and spend time on your site?

Because they value whatever makes your product or service different — a love of all things handmade, an eco-friendly approach or a long history of exceptional performance.

Your brand personality, motto or experience jumps out at them because it is relevant and/or appeals to them.

YOUR USP zooms in on your audience

A direct (and positive!) result of setting yourself apart is a clearer picture of who you are trying to reach.

Whether you share a belief with your audience or have a similar personality or way of doing something, that likeness is what groups you and your community together.

This likeness, originating from your USP, is baked into everything you do, and gradually attracts the right people to your brand.

So rather than casting a wide net in hopes of attracting a bigger audience, concentrate on your distinguishing trait and focus on drawing in those who you have something in common with. This will make it much easier for your target audience to recognize you and become a valuable part of your community.

YOUR USP naturally generates engaging content

Once you decide what your special X factor is, put it at the center of everything you do.

That way you have a guiding light, so to speak, that makes it obvious which direction your blog posts, newsletters and company’s content should take.

If achieving a meditative mindset is at the core of your yoga clothing line, then your content should revolve around a mindful lifestyle. You could write a blog about morning routines for a productive day. Or shoot a video of your favorite meditative poses. Or team up with a healthy food store and host a yoga event.

The possibilities are endless when you clearly define what makes you different. 

Whatever your X factor may be, it is essential in catching your audience’s attention. It not only provides a meaningful connection to your community, but it also makes it much easier to create compelling content.

Think of the flower-filled telephone booth and capture your customer’s imagination with your USP.

Woman with phone

3 Meaningful Ways to Connect with Your Online Community

We had 30 minutes to kill before the next bus to Chatsworth, so we started making our way to a coffee shop around the corner.

Before going in, I noticed a man in a big green coat and checkered Sherlock Holmes hat talking to my boyfriend.

He had just arrived from Baslow, a town over, and stopped to chat with my boyfriend, Alex, about his camera and photography.

After checking his watch and waving for us to follow him across the street, he said he’d love to treat us to coffee before meeting his friend.

He led us through a nearby hotel lobby, telling everyone hello along the way (he even knew their names), and offered us to take a seat while he added coal to the fire.

My boyfriend and I were smiling as we sat down, both thinking, “He is so nice! This never happens in London!”

Our new friend, John, had made the perfect first (and lasting) impression, and here’s how your blogs, newsletters and social media posts can too.

John Trevarick

Photo of John Trevarick by Alex Chirita

1. Be friendly and warm

If you plan to catch your reader’s attention as they flip through lots of other attention-seeking content, as is the case on social media, your message should be inviting and personable.

Like John, who introduced himself with a smile and a handshake, be friendly in your approach.

  • Use a conversational tone
  • Lay out your text in bite-size pieces
  • Introduce your message with a strong headline or relevant greeting
  • Upload a photo, video or GIF that matches the nature of your message
  • Make sure readers can easily access your content if it is on another platform

2. Be engaging

You want to find something in common with your audience so they feel like they are a part of the conversation. If your readers aren’t interested in the topic or can’t relate to it, then they will skip right over it.

John immediately asked us what we do in London, come to find that all three of us—he a singer, Alex a photographer and I a content creator—can relate to the difficulties of trying to make a career out of a passion or art form.

Yes, John had a long, successful career and had been through a lot more ups and downs, but he genuinely cared about our professional goals and how we planned to reach them.

He created an enjoyable, two-way conversation that was relevant to our lives—the second key to making a meaningful connection with your online community.

  • Narrow in on what your audience cares about
  • Think about your content’s purpose—does it solve a problem, entertain or act as an announcement?—and stick to it
  • Write a punchy headline that draws in your readers (and doesn’t mislead them)
  • Be passionate and genuine in the delivery of your message
  • Ask a relevant question and invite readers to leave comments or feedback

3. Be giving

It’s important to always give your audience more than whatever you are asking for.

In exchange for your reader’s time and attention, your content should provide something of value: a solution, piece of advice, helpful information, service or special offer.

John not only told us entertaining stories that are now fond memories (he met Tony Bennett once and sang him his favorite Tony Bennett song!), but he also insisted on paying for our coffee and looking him up the next time we visit Derbyshire.

He turned a spare 30 minutes into a new friendship.

How can your content do the same?

  • Offer a free e-book with authoritative advice or tips
  • Host a video chat where you answer your viewers’ questions
  • Give special offers on your products or services
  • Put on a contest and reward the winner with a prize (big or small)
  • Produce an entertaining podcast or post a cool behind-the-scenes video. Get creative!

There are countless ways to connect with your online community, but creating content that is friendly, engaging and giving will make those connections meaningful and relevant.

Thanks, John, for showing us how it’s done.

P.s. Here’s a short video of our weekend in Derbyshire.

woman working on website

The ‘This Is Us’ Approach to Evaluating Your Online Business

While catching up on one of my favorite American TV shows, This Is Us, Beth and Randall (a married couple) played a game called “Worst-Case Scenario.”

It’s like a mental check they do with each other when something goes wrong.

For example, when their foster daughter, Deja, is being difficult and moody all the time, they imagine what would happen in the worst-case scenario. Randall suggests Deja will kill them in their sleep and end up on the streets doing drugs (dark I know, but that’s the point). Then Beth, trying to top Randall, suggests Deja will kill them while they are awake and eventually turn their other two daughters into prostitutes.

As you can see Beth and Randall are pretty good at the game—taking it to the extremesbut once they’ve thought about the worst-case scenario, it’s easier for them to see the bright side of things and confront the difficult situation head-on.

The beauty of the game is that you can play it with anything, like your website and online business. And before jumping to conclusions and thinking this is some cruel exercise, don’t worry. It’s actually kind of fun (and completely harmless) to think how terribly wrong some things can go.

Plus, you end up seeing things in a more positive light once you’ve considered the worst.

So let’s play

Worst-case scenario: your website doesn’t have any content on it. There’s no blog with helpful posts or inspiring ideas for your visitors. There’s no newsletter sign-up form to connect with your audience. There are no landing pages to promote your products or services.

The result? No one can find you on Google, no one will visit your site and no one will buy your eco-friendly clothes or use your professional catering service.

Now let’s pretend we’re playing with Beth, who considers another, grimmer situation.

Worst-case scenario: your website is bland and doesn’t offer anything new or interesting to your visitor. Equally as bad, the homepage claims that your real estate experience is “simpy the best”. There are no calls to action and your blog posts from 2010 are full of real estate jargon no one can understand.

In other words, if someone lands on your site—cold, unprofessional and outdated—they will immediately leave. There goes another potential customer.

On the bright side

Your website isn’t like this in reality. And if it is…well hey, at least you have a website, right? Not quite…we should talk about how to spruce it up if that’s the case.

As a business owner or someone who is trying to gain exposure online, it’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to get right.

Before creating content and providing solutions for your audience, think about the big picture:

  • Who is my ideal customer?
  • What makes my product or service different and better than the competition?
  • What are my customer’s pain points and how can I help them?

Knowing the answers to these questions first will make it easier to organize your website and produce meaningful and engaging content for your online community.

Make your website the best-case scenario

The next time you step back and reflect on what your website is doing well and what it can improve on, take Beth and Randall’s approach: what is the worst outcome of running your online business like “x”?

Nine times out of 10, your website is not headed in that direction. You know what makes your product stand out from the competition and your passion for helping others is contagious.

Start there—with the traits and knowledge that you already have—and a clearer picture of how to grow your online business will emerge: should you share your tips with followers in a different way, or do you need to reposition the content itself?

One thing is for sure: your website is easier to confront than an unruly child.

See now? The best-case scenario is totally attainable.