New Rules of Internet EngagementBack in the early 90's, looking over the shoulder of my office manager, I'll never forget the first time I saw a webpage on the Internet. It was part of something included with her new computer and it was called America Online.  My first thought was: "another place for me to receive advertising pitches, or perhaps just waste my time." "It's like a billboard in the sky!" …Turns out, I wasn't far off the mark.

A great deal has changed since my first exposure to the net.  Today, the Internet touches virtually every aspect of our lives and how we interact, relate to, and communicate has changed forever.  It's a critical component of your marketing efforts and so it's important to get it right.  I've been busy and haven't written much lately, as I migrated this blog and Questus Strategies to a new platform.  As a result, I've learned some new tricks of Internet engagement that I hope you will consider.  

Lego-like Building Blocks

Remember Lego, those neat little preformed, colorful, construction pieces that made it easy to build just about anything?  I don't consider myself a web-developer, but over the years, I've built about a dozen websites. Each time I've had to pour untold hours into learning or relearning a development application to get the job done. It sure has gotten easier!  Now there are lego-like tools to make building a website pretty darned easy. 

My latest venture was to dive into WordPress.  It is known as a blogging platform, but it has some great tools for building complete websites. One of its main features is its (CMS) content management system. CMS makes it easy for non-techies to organize and manage websites, giving you flexibility and an easy interface for building pages, adding pictures, and other content. 

Wordpress has nearly 1800 free and hundreds more custom "themes"; templates which detail how your webpage will appear and give your site a unique layout, look, and feel.  In addition, there are countless "plugins" and "widgets" that make updating and further customization a breeze.  WordPress is probably the most popular CMS, but there are dozens of others with interesting names like Joomla and Drupal.  It's important to have an ever-evolving, dynamic site that refreshes your message and encourages your audience to return on a regular bases.  So, the bottom line is, if you can't update your website content yourself, you are way behind the curve. 

That's because…

"Content is King"

First coined back in 1996 by Bill Gates and still true today. You literally have only a few seconds to capture a veiwer's attention, so you need to get right to the point: what do you do, why is it important, and what is the benefit to the community?  Not effectively communicating answers to these critical questions are probably the biggest problem I've found among nonprofit websites. You can avoid making this simple mistake by employing the Triad of Value in your web presentation.  It's a structural issue, one that doesn't rotate, flash, or scroll, but is focused on the reader's expectations, which will lead to greater understanding, empathy, and emotional connection.  It's easily remedied with just a little effort by using the Triad to define your value proposition

So, your first step is both simple and hard.  Understand what your audience wants and then to give that to them, hopefully in a manner that creates an emotional connection. Take some time to define your target audiences and then research what they find interesting. A dynamic well-organized site that is easy to navigate is best, so try to avoid static copy-heavy pages. 

To create this dynamic look and feel, remember that people naturally gravitate towards images.  Appropriate images will move you up the ladder and garner greater impact.  You should also consider: calendars of events, contests, product reviews, testimonials, reference materials, forums, newsgroups, knowledge bases, blogs, and photo galleries.  The lynchpin is that your content should be as unique as possible, so you distinquish yourself from the crowd. 

All this will work to fulfill another branding fundamental… positioning. You should use your website to showcase your good deeds, your impact, and value to the community.  Remember that: "donors want to be investors in a well-managed organization that has an exciting plan for the future." Show them how exciting, organized, and impactful you are through your website.

SEO, Analytics, Mobile, Smoke, and Mirrors

For the longest time, I felt that (SEO) search engine optimization was not that critical to the nonprofit community, because after all, we're in the relationship business, right? Well, yes and no.  SEO is important in widening your audience and presenting your organization as a leader and expert.  So work to get your ranking higher up the food chain.  There are plenty of resources to help you understand the basics, like this one, or you may want to consider hiring someone who understands the algorythms more thoroughly. 

Web analytic tools are now within reach of even the smallest nonprofit organization. Analytics are those metrics that track trends and visitor behavior. Website success is more than content and design, it’s about knowing who is visiting, how they arrived, where they are landing, and how long they are staying.  Analytics can help you understand what really drives visitor actions, providing a clearer picture of your website's performance. You may learn that donors spend a good amount of time viewing your about us and program pages, prior to a donation follow through.  Armed with this information you can massage and tailor your website for growth and continued success.

Understand that the world is going mobile, so by all means make sure your site is optimized for smart phones, tablets, and other on-the-go devices.  That means the site recognizes the type of viewing medium and adjusts accordingly. You want viewers to get your message on all their devices.

But, be careful not to get caught up in the latest trends, further complicated by technical jargon.  There are thousands of sites with great visuals and technical wizardry that fail to get the message across.  Determine up front the goals for your site. Do you have a clear vision of what you want your website to accomplish?  For instance, is it a donation tool, informational site, marketing piece, or all of the above?  Defining your website goals will help you align your presentation needs to match your brand.

These are just a few new rules for Internet engagement and for successfully defining your "Billboard in the Sky".  These basics can all easily be applied by you, or if you choose to hire expertise, following these simple rules will help you stay on course.