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Revisiting the question of catering to smartphones again

August 21, 2016

Accelerated Mobile Pages, Facebook Instant Articles

I gave some suggestions for catering to site visitors via smartphone in a July post, but I missed two big options for 2016.

I’ve spent part of this summer trying out both options, ones you may already be familiar with from a user standpoint. We should all implement Accelerated Mobile Pages and Facebook Instant Articles, if only to try them out.

Both serve the biggest audience, mobile users. Both strip away extra coding and bandwidth hogs to provide lean, fast-loading pages. Both require effort to implement, though in the end, the code does most of the work.

Accelerated Mobile Pages is an open source project, allowing for developers and webmasters to implement faster-loading versions of posts and pages. We typically stumble upon them in Google searches, as the company designates AMP articles with a lightning bolt.

Video: Intro to AMP

On my existing sites, accessing the posts and pages on a mobile device brings up either a responsive theme or a mobile-only theme. But at least a couple of sites are ready to go with Accelerated Mobile Pages.

I used the free official WordPress plugin, AMP. It handles posts but not pages yet.

To see the AMP version of any blog post (even from desktop browsers), add “/amp” to the end of a URL. For example, here’s the most recent post in standard and AMP forms:

Because Birmingham Blogging Academy is a WordPress.com site, AMP is built in.

Visitors won’t typically hit AMP posts directly. But for those searching online, Google will feature sites optimized with AMP prominently in results.

Facebook Instant Articles takes more work. It requires implementation on the backend of a site, as well as set-up within a Facebook page. WPBeginner has a guide to installing this feature on self-hosted WordPress sites.

Video: Introducing Facebook Instant Articles

The biggest tradeoff is ceding traffic to Facebook, which caches a version of a site’s original post.

For WordPress site, multiple plugins offer the ability to add Facebook Instant Articles. I use the free Allfacebook Instant Articles plugin.

To see the Facebook Instant Articles from Y’all Connect, visit the Y’all Connect Facebook page using a smartphone and scroll to a post marked with a lightning bolt (a catchy icon). Click the update to see a Y’all Connect post in Facebook Instant Articles.

These are the hoops we need to jump through in 2016 to embrace our mobile audience. And we’ll have more hoops to cross as the web shapes itself around an audience on the go with quicker questions and less time.

Try Accelerated Mobile Pages and Facebook Instant Articles to meet this group halfway.

More on catering to mobile audiences.

Video: What makes us distinct as a brand?

August 7, 2016

Brand is tossed about casually in marketing these days, but it’s so critical to a company.

At a recent talk, an attendee asked me about standing out on social media. It’s not about what we do all the time, but who we are.

Are we as special as we think? Does it make a difference to the world around us?

Watch the video, and if you need help with your brand, contact us about our 4-hour assessment.

More videos? Visit my YouTube channel.

Blogging fear: Not knowing where to start

July 31, 2016
index cards

Photo: Sanickels (CC)

I asked for your biggest fears in blogging, and y’all came through.

This week’s fear: “Not knowing where to start, because I have so many things I want to write about. And getting readers.”

(For getting more readers, please see this earlier post with my suggestions.)

I know a lot of bloggers who would love to have this problem. What a great problem to have.

I believe we all have a creative side, though not all of us indulge it. We can share it through artistry, through hobbies (from woodworking to knitting), through our everyday tasks (cooking, yard work, grooming).

Really, the most important thing is to start. Have trouble picking a topic? Write them on slips of paper and draw one out of a hat. Or randomly sort them into a list. But push forward by writing and publishing a great post about that first topic.

Sometimes, the only way to break the paralysis is to stop the procrastinating behavior and start writing. I know, I’ve cleaned the house or mowed the lawn many a time before writing a blog post.

You may find over time that you gravitate toward a narrower set of topics. Or you may go wild with even more ideas, topics and stories.

The worst outcome is that 3 months from now, you still are juggling ideas in your head with nothing to show for it on your blog.

Stop reading this post and go write something and share it with the world. Now.

Tell me about your biggest fear in blogging,
and I might answer it in a future post.

More in our Blogging Fears series.

Audio: Do the hustle

July 24, 2016

During a presentation to Alabama Media Professionals, I took a question from a group member about marketing to difficult-to-reach target audiences.

It’s not easy, and it’s not always fun. But at minimum, it requires a willingness to put in the work. To hustle. In “Crush It!” Gary Vaynerchuk insists that hustle is required to launch a personal brand.

Listen to my response in the embedded clip, and don’t hesitate to ask if you have questions about communications strategy (either in the comments or through the contact form).

Revisiting the question of catering to smartphones

July 10, 2016
teen on smartphone

Photo: Pabak Sarkar (CC)

Chances are you’re reading this post on a smartphone.

You may have arrived here through a social media link, or my weekly newsletter. So you’re also checking your favorite channels and reading your email from your phone.

Why not? You have it with you all the time, you can keep up with your friends and family, plus work-related updates and questions.

Is your website helping or hurting fellow mobile users?

I ask, because I prefer using a laptop for my work and surfing. It’s light, it has good battery life, and I can have dozens of tabs open. But that’s not how the world sees my work.

They’re using phones, from their desks, from their beds, from their cars (sigh), from their kitchen tables and their walks and their conference rooms. All I can do is make sure my posts and pages load fast, read cleanly and cater to on-the-go readers.

You have several options to meet this audience halfway …

1. Do nothing. Let them continue to suffer through your site loading on a tiny screen like it’s still 2006. This is a good way to lose a lot of mobile consumers who are one or two steps away from making a purchase.

(This site is an example of doing nothing, albeit with a WordPress theme that auto-loads a mobile version. Most sites have no such alternative.)

2. Use responsive design. I’ve implemented this solution on many of my sites through WordPress themes. Basically, the site detects the screen size and displays content in a format that works well at that size. If you’re on a desktop browser, you can see it in action by making the window wider or narrower.

I’ve come to realize that while this is an easy solution, it can be a bad choice for pages with many elements and one goal, such as a lead generation form. What works on a desktop browser can be a terrible experience on a mobile browser.

3. Use a mobile-only design. I’m coming around to this approach, because it forces companies to think specifically about mobile users. Their needs are different and more immediate than those of someone sitting at a computer.

It requires smart planning and execution. It also requires more resources, because updates often require work on both the main site and the mobile site.

4. Make an app. I’m talking a real, completely from scratch, app designed for mobile users. Not apps that are basically reskinned mobile sites (I’ve seen plenty for news, weather, sports, banks and on and on).

These apps can be free or offer in-app purchases, or have ads, or sell subscriptions or a pro version. Typically, the best ones cater to users based on their location, based on their needs (to find a venue, to look up business hours or department phone), or to comparison shop. They already have an affinity for your brand, having downloaded the app previously.

• • •

This is not a conversation we should be having in 2016. It’s very likely that for however long we have websites, mobile usage will continue to dominate over desktop usage. The possible next stage, apps, might cement it.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes: Open your site on your phone, and imagine if you’d go any further.

Chances are you’ll need to refine your approach now and every year to follow.

• • •

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Video: Picking the right marketing channels

July 4, 2016

With so many way to market your products and services, picking the right marketing channels can seem daunting.

That question came up at my recent talk to Alabama Media Professionals. I explained what to do as a brand to ensure that your message reaches your target audience.

Watch the video, and let me know your questions about digital marketing.

More videos? Visit my YouTube channel.

Blogging fear: Stuck using a phone to blog

June 26, 2016

WordPress app

I asked for your biggest fears in blogging, and y’all came through.

This week’s fear: “I fear of losing following, because I do this all via WordPress app on my cell, and there isn’t even editing tools there. I fear I will lose followers for my blog, and posts are too plain. All because I don’t have a computer.”

Let’s take these one at a time.

1. I’ve used the WordPress app on my phone. I hate it.

If I get a tablet someday, I might give it another whirl. But while I’m fine writing drafts on my iPhone (usually in Evernote or Notes), I can’t stand the WordPress app.

One alternative is to use your phone’s browser instead of the app. Log in to http://sitename.com/wp-admin/ and use the regular WordPress dashboard. You can use the full set of editing tools. Remember, the app has editing tools, even if they aren’t as robust as using the browser version.

I wish I had a better solution for you.

2. Losing followers is a natural fear for any blogger. But first, make sure you’re blogging for the right reasons.

Is it to have fun, to share knowledge, to make friends, to sell something? Is it to gain popularity, to connect to other bloggers, to learn to be a better blogger (or writer or photographer or storyteller or artist or entrepreneur)?

I find nothing wrong with pursuing fame. But it can be a hollow pursuit. While I enjoy being recognized from my posts, it’s not the reason I continue to blog after 11 years.

The fear of losing followers pushes bloggers to do irrational things, like pandering to gain more traffic, or doing it solely for the audience even as it saps your spirit. Trust me, it isn’t worth it. That’s what many bloggers have told me again and again over the years.

Just have fun. Make your posts as fancy or as plain as you like. Blog because it brings you joy.

Tell me about your biggest fear in blogging,
and I might answer it in a future post.

More in our Blogging Fears series.

Better webinars from the audience’s perspective

June 19, 2016
webinar setup

Photo: Stephan Ridgway (CC)

I’ve attended quite a few webinars lately. Most gave good information and ran smoothly. But I find with presentations of any type, we always have room for improvement.

I’d like to do more webinars down the road, and having one under my belt, I’d like to share my tips on making webinars as stellar as they can be.

Webinars can be an excellent way to present ideas and demonstrations, to connect with an audience yearning to learn and to generate qualified leads. They can also turn off a lot of visitors quickly, so let’s work to make them compelling and easy to follow.

Keep the interface simple. I know some presenters are stuck with whatever enterprise solution the brand uses. One webinar I watched had five or six separate windows in one screen. It’s sufficient to have a single window for the presentation, with an optional second window to chat or send questions to the speaker.

Put a microphone on the speaker. And if multiple speakers, panelists and moderators are on deck, each one should have her own microphone. Audio is the main vehicle, so why skimp on this critical channel?

Be sensitive to the audience’s limited time. Most webinars I attended this past month didn’t give the most critical piece of information in the promotions or the introduction: the end time. I want to know if I’m signing up for a 30-minute commitment, 1 hour or longer. Pick a time limit, and stick to it.

Answer the most important audience questions up front. That means in the promotion, in the registration, in the confirmation email or in the first 60 seconds live.

  • Will the slides be posted?
  • Will the video replay be posted?
  • Will the speaker have a Q&A session? At what point?
  • What is the speaker’s contact info? Include URL, email and Twitter account.
  • What is the schedule? This can be a rundown of speaker start times or topics to be covered.

Employ a producer. This person is critical to the success of a webinar. She keeps the speakers on schedule, handles the technical aspects, monitors audience questions and problems and frees up the speaker to shine. The producer runs at least one practice session in advance of the actual webinar to work out transitions, technical issues and flow. She should have a private channel to all speakers to guide them during the event.

• Use more slides or more demonstrations. Each new slide is a new opportunity to sustain an audience’s attention. The longer the screen remains static with a slide (no matter how lovely), the easier it is for an attendee to check his phone or email. That’s the hazard of webinars: We can’t see the audience. Combat the stillness with lots of slides and a brisk pace, or a live demonstration. (Personally, I’m not a fan of videos in webinars or onstage talks.)

Taking the time to make webinars better not only makes the speaker look better, but the brand, too. It gives the attendees incentive to sign up for the next webinar and to share what they learned with colleagues.

Don’t use the slides to hide poor preparation and lackluster presentation skills. Make the webinar the highlight of each guest’s day.

More posts on holding better events.

For WordPress admins, a dangerous default setting

June 12, 2016
WordPress

Photo: Lisa Risager (CC)

I’ve used WordPress for 11 years, with few headaches or hiccups.

It’s a great content management system and blogging platform, if properly maintained. But it has security vulnerabilities like any popular platform. Users with self-hosted WordPress sites should pay close attention.

For example, this open source software has regularly occurring updates, but like locks left unlocked, they’re no good unless actually implemented. I know that updating carries its own potential problems, namely breaking the site or a plugin or a theme. (I have survived these uncommon but still possible events.)

But one of the biggest vulnerabilities is a default setting on new installs (as I recall: It’s been a while since having a tech put in a new site from scratch). It’s the given suggested username, “admin.”

Tens of millions of sites are self-hosted WP sites, and I imagine many of them still have admin has a user, perhaps the only one. This user has full access to the entire site.

This gives potential hackers one less hurdle to overcome in seizing vulnerable sites. Combine that with weak passwords (such as “password” or “123456”) and it’s a huge security hole.

Do what I and millions of other users have done: Change from admin to a unique username. This requires creating a new account and deleting the admin account: Use the steps in this video.

This WPBeginner post has two alternate methods.

Take a few minutes and fix this security hole today. The site you save could be your own.

More posts on using WordPress.

The mommyblogger who dared speak her mind

June 5, 2016

Josi Denise

A few weeks ago, popular mommyblogger Josi Denise published a 4,000-word rant that went viral.

The subject of her rant? Mommyblogging. Specifically, sponsored posts.

She explains the sheer misery of pumping out reviews of products and services on behalf of sponsors for her site, the American Mama, then calls out other blogs for also participating in the echo chamber of nonsense.

It’s a compelling read, one worth careful consideration, whether you’re a blogger, a brand manager or a marketer.

I’ve always admired mommybloggers (whether they use that label themselves or not) for their creativity, their communities and their time management. The moms I know are juggling so many things simultaneously that to produce a blog on top of all that is miraculous.

Denise’s essay imparts nine lessons for bloggers and brands:

  1. Nobody is reading your shit. And that is true for most bloggers, most authors and most journalists. Don’t go into blogging to be a famous writer.
  2. There’s no way in hell you are actually that happy. I’ve been accused of negativity on occasion. But I have never been enamored of the “all positive all the time” trend in blogs and social media. God bless Denise for maintaining this artiface while suffering postpartum depression and navigating a divorce.
  3. Your goals are just as confused as you. Pretty much the first question I ask of anyone asking my help is “What is your goal?” If only I could be paid by the blank stare …
  4. You are wasting your money. She refers specifically to blogging conferences and Web designers. I take no offense as a blogging conference organizer: Lots of conferences are mediocre to awful, and do little to actually empower bloggers. She’s right: Save your money.
  5. PR friendly = “I have no soul.” Coming from a journalism background, this enabling of brands through a positive-only approach is foreign to me. I understand why bloggers do it, but I couldn’t live with myself. At the very least, bloggers should clearly define their boundaries, rather than let them be defined for them, one soul-sucking post at a time.
  6. Building your own prison with copycat guards. Denise takes bloggers to task for acting as shills for corporations. I don’t have a problem with sponsorships, partnerships and other brand collaborations, but I can understand why she thinks the deck is stacked in favor of the big companies. It is.
  7. Sunshine and fucking daisy reviews. She writes, “This shit would never fly in traditional journalism.” Have I got some bad news for her …
  8. Giveaway entries are not real fans. Aligning incentives with goals is a challenge, but not impossible. But it’s certainly a common mistake.
  9. You are wasting your time. Nothing is a waste of time if we learn and grow from it.

Her bracing honesty makes me wonder two things: First, where was this Josi Denise all this time? And second, would readers and subsequently paying sponsors have embraced her as readily?

I’m glad she escaped a lifestyle that was ruining her life and that she could share her experiences with all of us. Fortunately, she’s still blogging and sticking to a new tactic, radical honesty.

• • •

Brand-blogger partnerships can work for all sides.
Let me help …

Contact me

It’s always Peak TV in blogging and social media

May 22, 2016
Mr. Robot

A monitor on the set of “Mr. Robot”

It’s insane how much television is on television right now. And even off television.

I thought the expansion in reality shows and sports programming alone was crazy. Reality TV is cheap and easy to produce, while sports draws a consistent, desirable audience.

But the number of scripted programs has doubled to 409 from 2009 to 2015. Who has time to watch that many shows?

Apparently, the entire world.

Fortunately, we can watch some great stories in Peak TV: “Mr. Robot,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Casual,” “Transparent.” And we can watch a lot of mediocre programming.

Veteran showrunner Carlton Cuse (“Bates Motel”) compares it to what would happen if the National Football League suddenly expanded to 90 teams. “You would have a lot of football available to you, but the quality of it would be diluted,” he says.

What I find interesting is what talk show host and producer Conan O’Brien once said (I think) about the business: It takes as much effort to create a middling TV show as it does a hit. He’s referring to the army of people it takes to put a half-hour of television together: writers, directors, actors, costumers, set designers, carpenters, makeup artists, lighting crew, sound crew, editors, publicity and marketing staffers, casting directors, production designers, producers, directors of photography, camera operators, showrunners and more.

Multiply that by 400 shows in production. That’s a tremendous effort to make content competing for our limited attention.

Many of us feel that strain of producing content for consumption by audiences pulled in all directions. The number of blogs, social media channels, podcasts and YouTube/Vine/Twitch stars has always forced us to be creative and provocative in our output. Plus, the barrier to entry in the digital world is far lower than television.

The explosion of television is a reminder that the audience is always in control. The better we cater to audiences, the more likely we succeed in accomplishing our goals, whether to inform, to entertain or to sell.

Audience members always have the option to change channels, to pause, to recommend or criticize what they see. Whatever we create, we must keep them in mind and how we want to help or provoke them.

The competition never ends, nor should our commitment to content that enriches our audience’s lives.

• • •

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Video: The Power of Digital Storytelling [Alabama Media Professionals]

May 16, 2016

Video: The Power of Digital Storytelling

I haven’t given a talk for Alabama Media Professionals in a couple of years, so last week, I sat in on the May meeting in Homewood.

My presentation, “The Power of Digital Storytelling,” gave insights on how we can easily adapt our storytelling skills for online channels. I fielded some great questions and comments from the attendees.

Watch the 42-minute video, and leave me some questions in the comments.

Thanks to Alabama Media Professionals for having me.

Contact me if you want the outline and worksheet that accompany this presentation.

Speaking gigs: Alabama Media Professionals, May 2016

May 8, 2016

Alabama Media Professionals

This week marks the last of my spring talks, and I’m ending here at home on a high note.

I’ll be the featured speaker at the Alabama Media Professionals May meeting on Thursday. The topic is “The Power of Digital Storytelling.”

The official summary:

Marketing has evolved rapidly with the rise of digital outlets. But what can cut through the din of commercials and crass come-ons? Stories. We are natural storytellers, but we must strive to improve our skills for our online audiences.

Wade Kwon, conference director for Y’all Connect Presented by Alabama Power, will guide you through the options and strategies behind compelling storytelling. His work as a writer, journalist and storyteller has helped companies reach audiences quickly and effectively. Learn the three questions that will transform your brand’s story into a saga worth sharing.

The meeting is at 11:30 a.m. at Homewood Public Library. Tickets are $5 and available online.

I hope you can join us.

• • •

Book me for your event, conference or workshop today …

Contact me

Audio: The Power of Digital Storytelling [Craft Content Nashville]

April 17, 2016

Audio: The Power of Digital Storytelling

I returned to Nashville to speak at Craft Content Nashville last week. And I have the video to prove it, sort of.

Rather than subject you to a full half hour of terrible camera work, here’s my presentation on “The Power of Digital Storytelling” with audio only. Not to worry, I don’t have slides for that talk.

My 30-minute session explains how to define your brand story and how to tell it.

If you have a question, let me know in the comments.

My thanks to the organizers at Craft Content Nashville for a fun conference.

Contact me if you want the outline and resources that accompany this presentation.

More videos? Visit my YouTube channel.

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