Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications

4 lessons from WordCamp DC that will improve your website

18 Jul
by Deborah Brody, posted in Blogs, Websites   |  No Comments

This past weekend, I attended my sixth WordCamp (!). This time I only had to travel as far as Washington, D.C., which (finally) was hosting its first WordCamp. The past few times I’ve been to Baltimore and Philadelphia. In case you don’t know, WordCamp is a volunteer-led conference featuring talks and workshops on various WordPress and website/blog related issues. Since this website/blog is built on WordPress, and WordPress is also a platform for so many other websites big and small, I find it extremely useful to learn more about WordPress and attend WordCamp.

This time, I made it to about 11 presentations out of a total 60. As usual, some of the presentations were really useful and/or interesting.  Although I picked up several nuggets, I had four big take-aways.

Be generous

Have you ever clicked on a blog post that promised you some good information, but found out instead that the post was a sales pitch for the book/webinar/course where you could pay to access the information? I hate that and so does Tracy Schorn, who is the author of the very popular Chump Lady blog. Her main advice from “How to Build a Popular Blog and Master WordPress Even If You Are a Liberal Arts Major” is to be generous. Tracy says you should offer solutions, help people and be a resource for your readers.

Of course, Tracy works hard at her blog too. She writes a post every weekday, and answers her readers’ questions. Tracy is definitely on to something, as she is living the blogger’s dream. Her blog became so popular that she was able to write a book, get it published and then get it optioned for a TV series! Oh, and she makes money of her blog too.

Many ways to improve your SEO

John Victoria runs a SEO/digital marketing agency and his talk was “10 Reasons Why Your Site is Nowhere to be Found on Google (and what to do about it).” The answer to getting your site to be found on Google is SEO—search engine optimization. Being in the first page of Google’s organic search results is crucial if you want potential customers to find you.

Among his suggestions:

  • Check your site loading speed—a slow load will turn off readers
  • Submit your URL to Google
  • Backlinks to your site matter. But, do not, under any circumstances, pay to get lots of backlinks to your site. Focus on quality not quantity.
  • Submitting an article to a leading publication/site in your field is a great way to build quality backlinks and third-party credibility
  • Use your keywords judiciously—do not keyword stuff and think of other ways of saying the same thing (e.g., dentist, dental practice).

Take a step now toward enhanced website security

Websites get hacked all the time. Sometimes the hackers are trying to make money by redirecting your traffic to another site. Sometimes they are trying to spread malware. Whatever the reason, this is something you, as a website/blog owner, need to work hard to avoid. And it  does take work and know-how. According to Adam Warner of SiteLock, from his talk “5 Steps to Personal and Website Security,” even taking one step helps. Some of what he recommended:

  • Have strong passwords, do not repeat them and consider using a password manager
  • Install SSL on your website, which, as a bonus, gives you an SEO boost
  • Use a plug-in to limit the amount of logins into your site
  • Do not use public Wi-Fi networks that are not password protected

Design matters

I really liked Annie Smidt’s talk “Easy Design Tips for Non Designers.” She says (and I completely agree) that design can make your site look credible, and can also help visitors like your site. We all know how important it is to make a good first impression.

Some things Annie suggested non-designers should consider:

  • Have a hierarchy—the most important message must stand out
  • Consistency is important
  • Your color palette should match your audience and the mood you are trying to create (Annie provided some great sites/ideas on how to come up with palettes too)
  • Typography increases comprehension, so choose typefaces carefully and don’t use too many fonts (she says having two is good: one serif, one sans serif)

One important tidbit I learned from Annie was how to make em-dashes on WordPress. All you have to do is use the Omega button to access special characters. I’ve already done it in this post!

You can read her slides here, and see her excellent suggestions on where to get color palette ideas.


There were dozens of other sessions on three different tracks.  Some were targeted to developers and some to those who work in government or big institutions. Most of them should be available on WordPress TV.

I highly recommend attending a WordCamp in person. It’s fun, you’ll learn new stuff and great hacks, meet new people, and not to mention, you’ll get a t-shirt. For a list of upcoming WordCamps, just check WordCamp Central. There are WordCamps everywhere!

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

A website mantra to help you achieve marketing nirvana

07 Mar
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, Websites   |  No Comments

A mantra is defined by Merriam-Webster as a mystical formula of invocation or incantation. In Sanskrit, a mantra is a phrase, word, or sound that is repeated during meditation to help practitioners focus.

If you want to increase your website’s performance and focus, I have come up with a mantra for you:

Make it easier to find.

If you concentrate on this mantra, you will have a website where people have an easier time finding the information they want.

If you don’t, you will make your website users so frustrated that they will leave your website and will end up not doing business with you.

Searching and searching

This morning, I decided to research CD rates at a local bank. First, I had to put in my zip code “to get localized results.” Then, I had to navigate to a “Savings and CDs” page. Then, I had to click on “Savings Accounts and CD Options.” Then, I had to click on “Certificates of Deposit,” and then scroll down to find the link for “Interest Rates.” To sum it up, I had to go through five different steps/clicks to find the information I was seeking.

What do most people need and want to know?

I think  going through five steps to find simple information is too many steps. It can be discouraging to have to keep clicking through various pages to get what you need. In the case of the bank, I assume the one thing most people research are rates. Every industry and business has to answer some questions more frequently than others. Restaurants, for example, may need to provide their menu, hours and location. Banks need to provide a list of services, current rates, hours and locations.

The information your website visitors request the most, and need the most, needs to be easiest to find. It’s that simple.

So repeat after me: make it easier to find. There, are you feeling a bit more zen?


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

How to make one of your biggest marketing decisions

12 Jan
by Deborah Brody, posted in Marketing, Websites   |  No Comments

Do we agree that your website is one of your largest (if not the largest) marketing properties? If so, then read on.

When you are a solo business owner like me, you don’t have an IT department or a webmaster. And so it’s up to you to deal with your website. Last week I changed web hosts  for the fourth time in the more than 15 years that I’ve had this website. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while for many reasons (perhaps the subject of an upcoming post) and I am glad I did. Going through the process showcased exactly why it’s so important to choose the right host.

Choosing a website host is a crucial business decision

Since your website is your front office on the Internet and it needs to remain open and accessible at all times, choosing your web host is a critical business decision. There are dozens if not hundreds of website hosts (do a search and you will see), many offering dirt cheap hosting packages. The host you choose can have a tremendous impact on your business, and your decision should not involve price alone.

Here’s what you want from a website host:

Near perfect reliability. In hosting parlance, this is called “uptime” and you want to make sure it is as close to 100% as possible. If your host’s servers go down frequently, that means your website goes down frequently, which basically means lost business for you. And when servers are down, you won’t get email either, which also means lost business.

Fast website loading times. Website loading is partially due to your host’s servers (capacity, whether they are shared or dedicated) and partially due to factors on your website (number of plug-ins, design). According to my current host, the closer the servers are to your customers, the faster the website loading times. Website loading times may even affect your SEO ranking (read more about it here).

Good if not great customer service. If there’s a problem, you want to be able to speak to someone who can (and wants) to help you. You are looking for customer service that is available 365/24/7, and if you are in the U.S., preferably based here. You may also want to look for an employee-owned company, because the people you talk to will have a real interest in solving any problems you may have.

Clean record. Some hosts, due to their cheap rates, attract a lot of spammy businesses, which in turn get the host blacklisted by some ISPs. This is big. Your host’s standing can affect whether your emails get delivered (my previous host was blacklisted by Yahoo and my emails to Yahoo addresses would all bounce back) and even your SEO standing.

Ability to deal with your website specifications. You want to make sure tech support understands your platform. For example, if you run a WordPress site, you want a host that works with WordPress; and if you run ecommerce on your website, you want a host that can handle secure transactions.

Ease of use. My last hosting provider had two different accounts for me. One was a billing account, with a separate user name and password, and a “cPanel” account, for handling website administration.  If I needed to update credit card information, I had to log in to billing, and to change website parameters, to cPanel. To make it worse, you couldn’t access cPanel from the the main hosting website, but rather through an obscure URL you had received when you signed up. Needless to say, this was not easy or simple. It wasted a lot of my time too.

Here are three other important tips:

  1. Don’t rely on your developer/designer’s recommendation. Many website developers have reseller accounts with a website host, so it’s in their own interest to sell you that. Do your own research. There are several resources to help you identify a good host. I like SiteGeek. Check out reviews and see what people are saying. Are many people having the same issue? What is the main complaint? Are more people leaving a host than transferring in?
  2. NEVER register your domain with your website hosting company. If there’s a problem, they will be able to hold your website hostage. Instead, choose a separate registrar. It may not be the cheapest option, but it will save you hassle in the long run, and let you maintain control of your website.
  3. Have a separate email account on Gmail or something similar. Use this for the administrative emails that you get from your website hosting company and domain registrar. If your website and email are down you will still be able to access your stuff, particularly if you forgot your user name and/or password, or need to respond to a work ticket.

Remember your website is an integral part of your business and marketing efforts. Money you spend on your website—whether it be on design and development, hosting, listing—is a business/marketing expense that I can assure you will provide you a return on your investment. Cheaper, especially in website hosting, is just cheaper, not better.

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

3 website blunders that are costing you readers

07 Jul
by Deborah Brody, posted in Websites   |  No Comments

Have you checked your analytics lately? What’s your bounce rate? If it is high, it means that people arrive at your website only to “bounce off” a few seconds later. This means they are not reading your content. This means they are not clicking through to other pages.  And of course, this means they are not buying your product, supporting your cause or contacting you to learn more about your services.

Here are three website blunders that could be costing you readers (and support):

1. Audio/video autoplay: Nothing, and I mean nothing, makes me close a website faster than auto sound/video. It always startles me and then it irritates. Do not, under any circumstances, enable autoplay on your website. Not many people want noise (talk/music that is unwanted is noise) suddenly blasting out of their device.

2. Links to abandoned social media feeds:  Sending folks to a Twitter account that hasn’t been updated in months (or worse, years) is a recipe for failure. If you can’t keep up with a particular social media account, do not link to it. People do check social media accounts because they want to see what you’ve been up to. If there’s nothing there, they assume you are not active, not just on social media, but in general.

P.S. Plus, it’s essential that your social media descriptions be up to date, and relevant.

3. Your way or the highway: Are you enabling pop-ups to force people to sign-up for a newsletter before being able to access your site? Are you asking people to subscribe to email in order to get updates instead of allowing RSS subscriptions? Telling people to go to Facebook to read the latest news?  If you are imposing your favorite tactic, you are effectively telling people that it’s your way or not at all. People appreciate choice. And different people like different things, so offering options is always good (not too many options mind you).

Are you committing any of the above three blunders? If not, there are several other issues that may be turning off readers, including:

  • Making your content hard to read (font/type that is too small or white type on black background)
  • Website it too busy (too much going on, distracting)
  • Typos and/or spelling/grammatical mistakes
  • Outdated information
  • Not enough information

What sends you off a website? Please share your website peeves with me in the comments.

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Is that link broken?

09 Jun
by Deborah Brody, posted in Websites   |  No Comments

Every Monday, I get a enewsletter that compiles events. Yesterday, it listed an event that sounded interesting and when I clicked on the link to learn more, it took me to a 404-error page not found.


By PastaWS on Flickr

Broken links or missing pages are a hassle for your readers.  And not only that, search engines punish you for them (by affecting your SEO).

If you are planning an email/enewsletter/Tweet/Facebook post/etc.: Check your links before sending or posting. It’s that simple. Just click on them and make sure they are taking you to the right place. It may be an extra few minutes of your time, but it will make your readers happy and make you look competent.

If you want to make sure there are no broken links on your website, there are many tools that can help you (search for broken link checker). Here’s a compilation, specific for WordPress sites:

5 Tools to Check for Broken Links

Once you’ve found broken links on your website, you will want to fix them.

Web Marketing: How to Deal with Broken Links

Make sure to put some time and effort into avoiding sending people to non-existent website pages. It will help maintain your readers’  trust and your standing with the search engines.

If you come across a broken link, what do you do?


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Give your website an oil change!

19 May
by Deborah Brody, posted in Websites   |  No Comments

Your website and your car are more similar than you think. You put in a substantial investment up front when you acquired them, and you need to give them both maintenance if you want to keep them working properly.

Mechanics and car by Astrid Westvang via Flickr

Mechanics and car by Astrid Westvang via Flickr

Chances are good that if you want to keep your car running, you’ve spent some time and money giving it proper maintenance. But have you given any maintenance to your website since you launched it?

Manufacturers provide guidelines for car owners, making it easy to know when to do what. For example, most car owners are advised to give their vehicles an oil change approximately every 3,000 miles. You are also asked to take your car in for service at certain milestones (50,000 miles, etc.) to check out things like your brakes, hoses, and whatever else.

Depending on who developed your website, you may also have some guidance. However, there are many websites out there that haven’t gotten their figurative oil changes lately. It’s as if the website owners think that just putting up a website and forgetting about it is enough. Unfortunately, if you don’t give your website some maintenance, it will stop working properly for you.

Here are few things to check out on your website:

  • Is it mobile-friendly?
  • Is the contact information accurate?
  • Do you have social media properties? Are they included?
  • Are your links up to date?
  • Are all your pages rendering properly?
  • Is your content updated/accurate?
  • What is the copyright information (hint: if it says copyright 2009, you need to update)
  • If you list any personnel (staff, leadership, board), is the list complete and up to date?
  • If you list services or products, do you still offer all of these?
  • If you have pricing, is it accurate?
  • Is your website software up to date?
  • Is your domain registration in order?

This is not a comprehensive list. But if it’s been a while since you gave your website any thought or attention, you may want to put it on your to-do list. You may even find that maintenance is not enough and that you need a complete overhaul.

It’s no longer enough to just have a website. You must keep it up (or hire someone to do it for you).

What are your thoughts? When was the last time you took a look at your website?




About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Some weekend reading

06 Mar
by Deborah Brody, posted in Copy Editing, social media, Websites, Writing   |  No Comments

I share so many articles every day on Twitter, and of those I save my favorites to Pocket (my favorite tool for saving articles). Starting today, I will do a weekly or biweekly round-up of great articles for weekend reading.

Here are three articles on writing and editing:

7 Self-Editing Tips for Reporters Without Copy Editors

Study Shows the Value of Copy Editing

11 easy ways to write more clearly

Here’s a couple about websites and social media:

5 Things You Can Learn From a Poorly Designed Website

Is Social Media Actually Helping Your Company’s Bottom Line?

Happy reading and have a great weekend!


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

How high is your website’s barrier to entry?

11 Feb
by Deborah Brody, posted in Blogs, Content marketing, Websites   |  No Comments

Recently, I came across an article about how the Jewish online magazine Tablet is dealing with comments. It has decided to charge a fee to allow people to comment in order to make it harder for trolls to post obnoxious (and often anti-Semitic) comments. But there is an unintended consequence, and that is that legitimate commenters will now be dissuaded from commenting as well. The barrier to entry may prove too high.

Have you ever thought about how a visitor interacts with your website? What does that person need to do to find what he or she is looking for? What information is crucial and how easy is it to access it?

If you have been seeing a low conversion rate on your website, a drop in visitors, or a high bounce rate, perhaps you need to examine whether you have created an unintended (and intangible) barrier to entry or have built a barrier to entry that is too high.


Many websites have barriers to entry. Some are easily “climbed” and some are like Mount Everest, impossible. Generally, these barriers include “mechanical” barriers such as subscription fees, sign up forms, or registration requirements. Some barriers are more subtle, intangible, but still make it hard for visitors to access your content.

Mechanical barriers: High, medium and low walls to climb

In an effort to generate revenue from online readers, newspapers have added online subscription fees. That’s a high barrier to entry, since visitors will not only have to sign up, but provide payment. Some websites require registration, generally your email and a password. That’s also a medium barrier to entry.  Yet other websites splash a newsletter sign-up before you can read the content, but generally you can close that out making it a low barrier to entry.

There are good reasons to create these barriers. After all, you may want to grow your marketing database or get some insight into who is visiting your website, or like many newspapers, you are looking for a source of revenue.

Intangible barriers: Creating a psychological “wall”

But barriers are not just mechanical or even visible. Your barriers to entry may be intangible and psychological. By that I mean that your barriers are tripping visitors’ heads. For example, your website navigation may not be intuitive or clear and may make it hard to for visitors to find what they are looking for.

Another hard-to-quantify barrier is the language that you choose to use on your website. Many tech and government websites are flush with jargon that is nearly unintelligible to an outsider.

Some websites make it hard for visitors by having too much content or information to sort through. Have you ever landed on a page that made your eyes and head hurt from information overload (or worse, visual overload)? Then you probably know what I mean, and I bet you just went elsewhere.

How would you classify your website in terms of barrier to entry? High, medium or low? Is it what you want or are you unintentionally turning visitors away?

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

The 5 essential skills for great web writing

27 Oct
by Deborah Brody, posted in Websites, Writing   |  No Comments

Web design keeps changing

The wonderful Leslie O’Flahavan gave a great presentation/workshop last week about new web design trends and how they affect web writing. You can download it here. Some of these trends include infinite scrolling (like on the Time Magazine website, where you can just keep scrolling down through endless articles) and the large-type front page (like this, on this page with A to X Writing Advice).  There’s also a trend to include pre-made shareable content (usually pre-written tweets).

How people access a website has to be considered

Then there is the need (this is not a trend) to have everything visible and rendering appropriately on any device people happen to be using to access your website–desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.  Type has to be readable. Although these issues are solvable by good design and web architecture, web writers have to consider these when deciding how to present which information.

Web writing is not quite the same as writing for print

Since most every business, nonprofit and news organization is on the web, web/content writing is probably the largest type of writing being done today. Yet, it is not as if you can just take your print materials, digitize them and call it a day. Clearly, there is a lot to consider when you are writing for the web.

What makes for a good web writer?

Can just anybody write for the web? Not really. I think people can be taught how to write for the web, but not everybody has the ability to be like Leslie and be able to see what is going on in web design, spot trends and realize how these new changes affect web content.

The five essential skills of a great web writer:

1. The ability to spot the trends. This also means keeping on top of UX (user experience) and other issues that affect how websites are designed.

2. Understanding how the new design trends affect what you write. It’s not enough to spot the trends. You need to be able to see how those trends impact what content should be included and how it should be written.

3. Ability to write in short and long formats. As Leslie describes in her presentation, there’s the snack and then there’s the meal. You have to be able to write short, snappy headlines but also be able to write longer, more “meaty” content.

4. Ability to synthesize information.  You are called on to write short descriptions, whether it be for pre-made tweets or web page headings. In order to do this, you must be able to take a lot of information and condense it. It’s helpful if you can explain things simply too.

5. Visual and design sensibility. Being able to understand the role that visual and design play in how a website is read and viewed is key, as the ability to work with graphic/web designers to make your content look appealing.

Have you noticed website writing has changed? Have you seen websites that look great but read poorly? What is your experience with web writing?


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

5 guaranteed ways to increase your website’s bounce rate

01 Jul
by Deborah Brody, posted in Websites   |  2 Comments

Here are five guaranteed ways to increase the bounce rate on your website:

1. Use a small font. Or use a weird small font. Basically, make it hard for those of us forty-plus to read your content.

2. Clutter, clutter everywhere. Cram it full of stuff to make it seem like a contender for an episode of TV’s Hoarders. Make it so busy I don’t know where to look first. Or whether to look at all.

3. Make the video (or audio) play automatically. Bonus points if it is really loud.

4. Make it hard to figure what you do, who you are or where you are located. If you want to be even more obtuse, make sure to use excessive and meaningless jargon.

5. Spelling and grammar mistakes galore mixed in with typos.Certainly, don’t bother proofreading.

Yes, the five ways to increase your bounce rate are the five ways to turn off potential website visitors. It’s not good, and I have experienced all of them on websites recently.

Bouncing Ball photo

Bouncing Ball by Dave Murphy on Flickr

Do you know what the bounce rate on your website is? I don’t mean the term (just in case, Google Analytics defines it as the percentage of single-page sessions, where the user enters your site but does not interact or stay on your site), but the actual number.

If you don’t know it, I suggest checking your Analytics right now. Basically, the higher the number, the worse your bounce rate. A high bounce rate indicates that people are just not interested in your website, which in turn indicates that you have a problem.

In reality, you want to lower your bounce rate. You want to have the visitors to your website stay and not bounce off. Notice that the bounce rate does not have to do with the number of visitors that land on your site, but rather the number that stays. So, if you have thousands of visitors, with a 95 percent bounce rate you are doing much worse than a site with a few dozen visitors and 65 percent bounce rate.

What makes you want to stay on the websites you visit? What makes you run away as fast as you can click that x on the browser tab?

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About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.