Putting Autoresponders to Work for You

PUTTING AUTORESPONDERS TO WORK FOR YOU

You probably used an autoresponder last time you took a vacation. Simply stated, when you receive an email an autoresponder sends a response to the sender. At flyte we use them on our contact form to tell visitors we’ve received their email and will respond shortly.

But an autoresponder can accomplish much more for you. Say you have some valuable content: tips, industry reports, white papers, etc. You want to provide them to your visitors, but you want to follow up by email to “seal the deal”. How do you make sure they’re providing you with their REAL emails, and not a made up email–like x@x.com?

Set up an email address like articles@yourdomain.com and set up an autoresponder that contains the content of the article. By providing their real email address they’ll receive the article. If the email is bogus, they’ll get bupkis.

Alternatively, your autoresponder could contain a link to an article as opposed to containing the article itself. This method will give you more control over the formatting of your data, and will allow you to protect material not easily sent via email, such as a Flash movie or an audio file.

Using an autoresponder to deliver content will increase its perceived value to your visitor. However, it may reduce the number of people who view that material, so use it judiciously. While it may make sense to protect some unique, sensitive or proprietary data, you shouldn’t make it difficult for visitors to read your sales or marketing material.

If you have questions on how to set up an autoresponder on your own site, please contact us.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

Copywriting Tips for the Web

COPYWRITING TIPS FOR THE WEB

Many of my clients are excellent writers, and quite a few have several books under their belts. However, very few have experience in writing for the Web.

Writing for the Web is different than other types of writing. People tend to have a short attention span while surfing, and reading large blocks of text on a screen is tiresome.

Here are 7 tips that will improve your copywriting:

  • Use compelling, descriptive headlines; this may also help with search engine optimization.
  • Use keywords in your copy to help you get a higher ranking in the search engines. (Don’t guess at keywords, do your research for best results.)
  • People love bullet points; chances are you skipped right to these 7 tips, didn’t you?
  • Keep the focus on your visitor, not yourself. Don’t talk about your services and products, but about their needs (and then how you can help them)…use the word “you” in your copy, not “we”.
  • Break copy into bite-sized pieces; short paragraphs that cover only one idea work best. White space will help improve comprehension.
  • Use ellipses…they help the reader’s eye quickly scan the copy…(elipses are these dots…)
  • Less is more; ’nuff said?

Bonus Tip: Consider hiring a professional copywriter to write your copy or edit existing copy. It will be one of the best investments you make in your Web site.

Props to Liz Harvey who helped with the copyediting of this issue, since my Mom is on vacation.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

PayPal: An Inexpensive E-Commerce Solution

PAYPAL: AN INEXPENSIVE E-COMMERCE SOLUTION

Important Note:
Paypal no longer requires customers to signup for a Paypal account when paying through Paypal. See the flyte blog for more info.

PayPal logo

There’s a lot involved in accepting credit cards online: building an online store, getting a merchant account through your bank, adding real time credit card verification to reduce fraud, getting a security certificate and putting it all on a secure server. Not to mention the startup costs and monthly fees that accompany all these items. (Oops. I just mentioned it.) If it all seems overwhelming PayPal may be your solution.

PayPal is the most widely recognized online payment system and is now owned by eBay, which should increase its acceptance. It handles all major credit cards, verifies their authenticity in real time, has no startup costs, no monthly fees, and charges you 2.9% or less per transaction.

Our Story:
Last year we began receiving requests to accept credit cards, but the high monthly fees of a merchant account were more than we could afford. We took the PayPal route to gauge customer interest. Our customers can now pay their invoices online through the PayPal system with any major credit card. They get their miles and we get money in the bank within 3 business days.

Catherine BreerClient Examples:
One of our clients, the Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation, collects donations online through PayPal. The California Association of Medical Staff Services uses PayPal for member dues, annual conference payments, online classified ads and job opportunity listings. For artist Catherine Breer we set up a PayPal shopping cart to help her sell her calendars and cards.

Caveat:
Only people who have signed up with PayPal can use the PayPal system. Although signup is free, only takes two minutes and is nicely integrated into the buying process, in our short-attention-span society that may prove to be too long for some. If you’ve never used PayPal consider making a small donation to the JBRF or buying a calendar from Catherine Breer as a test drive. Or, if medical staff services interests you and you live in the Golden State consider joining CAMSS.

Final Analysis:
If you are looking to accept credit cards online and are on a strict budget, PayPal is a good solution. It offers secure transactions for one-time purchases, recurring subscriptions, online donations, and shopping carts. Even if your ultimate goal is to get a merchant account and take credit cards directly, PayPal can be set up so quickly it can be a stopgap measure while you plan out your e-commerce strategy.

If you have any questions on integrating PayPal into your site please feel free to contact us.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

7 Reasons to Start an Email Newsletter Today

7 REASONS TO START AN EMAIL NEWSLETTER TODAY

There are a few important lessons I’ve learned during my Internet years. One is to never ‘Google’ your own joke. You may think you’re clever, but it will turn out that about a thousand people were equally as clever before you, which makes them funnier.

Another lesson–and the subject of today’s soapbox opera–is that an email newsletter is the sharpest tool in your Web Marketing toolbox. If you’re not sending one out you’re missing a great opportunity to connect with your customers and prospects.

Why do I say this? A number of reasons. Seven, in fact. Which is lucky, because that’s the title of this article.

1. It complements your Web site like white wine to fish. (Not that your Web site stinks like fish, mind you.)

While you may believe that the world waits with bated breath for your next article and will return to your Web site unprompted each and every month to read it, this is not always the case. Most people spend more time reading and answering emails than surfing the Web. With an email newsletter you can get in front of them on a regular basis. Don’t worry whether your content is delivered via a Web page or an email as long as you have an effective medium to reach your audience.

2. Email newsletters are more cost-effective than print newsletters. For example, I publish a quarterly newsletter that you may be aware of because you’re reading it right now. It’s a four-color, four-page job and we mail it out to approximately 500 discerning, intelligent and attractive readers across the U.S. Your newsletter may be a different length, may be black & white, or may be sent to more subscribers more often. But for the sake of comparison, let’s use these numbers.

The cost of arranging flyte log on the page–now that the template has been created–costs approximately $350. The printing costs, including freight, comes to $700. Postage, address labels and “mailing seals” cost another $200. Let’s ignore the worker hours to attach these “sticky” items, as I’m generally doing it while I watch football or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Since creating content is the same for either print or email let’s table that cost. This works out to approximately $2.50 per subscriber.

To send out our new e-newsletter, Honey Roasted Peanuts, to the same size group the cost would be fifteen cents per subscriber. This covers both our setup time and the cost of some nifty software we use to manage subscribers, handle expired emails and send out HTML newsletters that look like Web pages in your mailbox. When our subscriptions go up ten fold to 5,000 it will cost only 1.5 cents per subscriber. As our circulation grows past a certain size we’ll be hit with small fees to handle the increased subscriber base; however, the cost per subscriber will continue to decrease. Also, no matter how many colors or pages our e-newsletter is, or where in the world we send it, our costs stay relatively fixed.

If you’re looking to save money for your company or organization wean people off printed newsletters. Don’t get me wrong: there’s a benefit to hard copy newsletters or else we wouldn’t use them. Due to the nature of our business we’ve never met some of our customers except “virtually”; flyte log helps us to connect by giving our clients something they can touch. You may want to consider reducing the size or frequency of your print newsletter if you can’t abandon it completely.

3. E-newsletters are interactive. In a printed newsletter you can refer to your Web site but you have to hope that your readers don’t mistype that URL when they go to their browser…assuming they even will. With an e-newsletter you can make sure your site (or a PDF, or a sound clip, or any document available on the Web) is just a click away.

4. You can test its effectiveness. Depending on the sophistication of the program you’re using to send out your newsletters you can track which links in your newsletter are being clicked on and which are being ignored.

5. E-newsletters encourage word-of-mouth advertising. It’s easy for your subscribers to forward your email to a friend or associate, especially with a friendly reminder from you at the end of each issue. It’s also a great way to build your subscriber base and market your services to people you might not have reached any other way.

6. You’re preaching to the choir. Your subscribers have signed up to receive your e-newsletters. These are your best customers! They want to know when your next book is coming out, when you’ll be speaking in their town, or when you’re bringing a new product to market. So be sure to promote your offerings in the newsletter.

7. Starting today will help build your subscriber base. Now that e-newsletter can contain formatted text, embedded images and even polls and surveys you’re no longer limited to boring plain text to get your message across. Soon you’ll be able to include forms, multi-media, and other marketing tools that you can deliver to your subscribers’ mailboxes. (With their permission, of course.) The best way to grow your subscriber base and take advantage of these new tools is to start right away.

Final Thoughts
In future issues we’ll look at what goes into a successful e-newsletter, how to attract more subscribers, and how to leverage e-newsletters effectively. (Or, if you can’t wait, you can contact us today!) However, there’s no reason to hold off on sending out your own e-mail newsletter and get a few practice issues under your belt. The sooner you start the quicker you’ll be connecting with your customers.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

Got Links? A Quick Way to Improve Your Search Engine Rankings

GOT LINKS? A QUICK WAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SEARCH ENGINE RANKINGS

Got Links?

It’s no wonder that everyone wants to rank higher in the search engines;
they bring visitors to your Web site that may not have found you any other
way.

While there are plenty of methods to rank higher, one of the
most overlooked is increasing the incoming links to your
site from other Web sites. Many search engines,
including Google,
view links to your site as “votes of confidence” and
will rank your site higher, all other things being equal.

How do you get these incoming links? Perhaps this bulleted list
will explain:

  • Create content worth linking to, including articles, White
    Papers, F.A.Q.’s and other resources.
  • Have a page of links to other complementary Web sites. Getting
    an incoming link from a site is easier when you’re already
    linking to them.
  • Ask, and ask again! Web masters and mistresses are busy people
    just like you and me. If you don’t get a response within a
    week or two send them a polite email asking again.

Your mission—should you choose to accept it—is to
go out and get at least one new incoming link before the next
issue of Honey Roasted Peanuts! (I know you can do it, I have
faith in you.)

–Rich Brooks

President, flyte new media

Promote From Within: Boaster Poster

PROMOTE FROM WITHIN: BOASTER POSTER

Boaster Poster example

Do you have a retail space? Do clients visit your office? If so, a great way to promote your Web site is through a “Boaster Poster”.

These 16″ x 20″ framed Web portraits showcase your site, continue your branding, and remind customers you’re available after they leave your store. They display four Web pages of your choice as well as your URL. The cost is $140 with a discount for additional copies.

<Unsolicited Personal Recommendation>
I ordered one for our office and was really impressed with the quality of the screen captures. We get a lot of compliments on it from visitors. These work best when promoting attractive sites like those designed by flyte new media. 😉
<Unsolicited Personal Recommendation>

More information and examples are available at BoasterPoster.com. Be sure to tell them Rich sent you!

If you’d like help in choosing or preparing the pages please contact us.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

Yahoo Acquires Inktomi

YAHOO ACQUIRES INKTOMI!

Welcome to “Honey Roasted Peanuts“, a monthly newsletter of tips & tricks to help you get the most of your Web site. These newsletters will be short and to the point, but if you would rather not receive them there’s an unsubscribe button at the bottom.

Search Engine Update:
Yahoo! to Acquire Inktomi

Inktomi LogoWhy is this important to you? Inktomi provides search results to other search engines. By getting your site listed at Inktomi you’ll also appear at MSN Search and Hotbot, among others.

How do you get your site listed at Inktomi? Inktomi charges $39 per year for your first Web page and has discounts after that.

So what does this acquisition mean? Currently Yahoo! pays Google for search results, so one way to get into Yahoo! is to be in Google. Now that Yahoo! owns Inktomi, why would they continue to pay their competition? I believe Yahoo! will start using Inktomi’s results and raise the fee for submitting to Inktomi.

So what should you do?
Boy you ask a lot of questions. I am recommending that you review your own site, choose the most important pages, and submit them to Inktomi as soon as possible!

If you would prefer flyte to do this for you just send us an email with the URL’s you’d like us to submit.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

Offering More Than Static: Dynamic Ways to Pump Up Your Association’s Web site

OFFERING MORE THAN STATIC: DYNAMIC WAYS TO PUMP UP YOUR ASSOCIATION’S WEB SITE

These days there are few organizations that don’t have a Web site–The International League of Luddites and The Association to Promote the Abacus come to mind–but generally every group with a TLA (three letter acronym) has staked out its territory on the Internet. Chances are you belong to a professional organization that has a Web site. So the question arises, is your organization taking advantage of the power of the Web and dynamically created pages, or is it simply offering a static online brochure?

Your organization probably maintains a database of members and may already personalize letters through a mail merge in a word processing program. So why not put the power of this database to work at your Web site? With an online version of your database and a programming language like Cold Fusion, ASP or PHP, you can create an experience that will increase the value of membership in your organization and your ability to attract new members.

The Benefits of Membership
Any group that collects membership dues is most likely offering special premiums to attract and retain members, be it online or off. A Members Only area at your Web site is an easy way to increase the benefits of joining your group. Members can log on to read or download special articles and resources, receive discounts at the online store, or whatever would best suit your membership. Calls to join the group can be made on the home page and promoted in a section called “Join Now” or “Become a Member” or “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch So Step Away From the Buffet”.

Make it Easy for Them to Join
Let’s say your association already has a Web site. You have a Members Only area protected by a password. You communicate through email and sell products through an online store. So why are you making prospective members print up a form and mail you a check? This is the era of instant gratification and people don’t want to wait for anything. They want to give you their credit card–securely–and get instant access to your Members Only section. The National Center for Gender Issues and AD/HD (http://www.ncgiadd.org) utilizes a custom-developed online payment system. People wanting to join enter their credit card information into an online form at the site. Their information is checked in real time through a third-party provider, and once validated they are given a temporary password. With this password they can now enter the Center’s Members Only section. No form printing, no check writing, no waiting. Simplifying the process increases the likelihood surfers will become members.

Greet Them at the Door
Your Web database can personalize the experience for your members. After physicians at Good Samaritan Hospital – Los Angeles log on to the Members Only section they can access information specific to them. Since many of the physicians might log on at public computers at the hospital, they need to know that the personalized information is for them, and not for the previous physician who had logged on. To accomplish this goal Cold Fusion–a powerful programming language–is used to interact with the database. The Members Only home page greets the physician by name and displays their photograph, assuming they’ve provided one.

Allow Members to Update Their Information
Why should you have to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to updates? If a member has a new email address, new job or has joined the Witness Relocation Program you can put the impetus on them to update their information. Once they’ve logged on they can click on an “Update My Information” link and change any information you allow them to. (You may want to allow them to change their password or home address, but not the renewal date on their membership.) The Human Resource Management Group (http://www.hrmg.org) offers just this arrangement for their members. HRMG is also alerted via email whenever a member changes their information. When HRMG wants to update their local database they can download the Web database to synchronize their information through a custom-designed admin system.

Personalize the Experience for Non-Members, Too
The Division for Learning Disabilities (http://www.teachingld.org) offers something special to both members and non-members alike. Educators of children with learning disabilities can go online at the site to the Find A Colleague section. After creating their own profile, including such information as where they’re located, what grades and subjects they teach, and optional questions such as why they got into teaching, they can then search through the other profiles to share ideas with colleagues.

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association (http://www.papsy.org) wanted to offer Continuing Education credits to both members and non-members. People can sign up at the PPA’s Web site and their credit card information is instantly validated through PayPal. (PayPal is an online service that will take credit cards for you even if you don’t have a Merchant Account.) Once the credit card has been checked a unique username and password is generated. Then the visitor can read through the materials and take a multiple-choice test at the end. If they pass they are taken to a page that allows them to print a Certificate of Completion. Those who don’t pass are allowed one more attempt. The PPA can review reports that say how many people have taken the test, how many are members, how many passed, and what their scores were. This is much more time and cost efficient than sending out printed tests, scoring them by hand, then mailing out Certificates of Completion. It’s also better for site visitors who can take the test at their convenience.

Save On Administrative Time and Costs
One of the many administrative expenses the medical staff office ran into at Good Samaritan Hospital was the time and effort spent on Affiliation Letters. Affiliation Letters–for those of you who aren’t medical staff officers–are documents of physician employment and status that one hospital requests from another. Before the development of this online tool, requests were processed, information pulled from the database, a letter was generated and printed, then mailed or faxed by hand to the requesting hospital. Now, other hospitals can simply log on, submit the physician’s name, and the Web site generates an Affiliation Letter including letterhead and signature. The requesting hospital gets their information instantaneously and the medical staff officers from Good Samaritan can put their time to better use.

Another activity for the medical staff officers was to coordinate dozens of meetings each month for the 600 or so physicians on staff. It was a time-consuming process to set up the meetings and invite a specific group of physicians to each meeting. There was no way to get quick feedback on who would be attending which meeting. Now, through an online admin system, the medical staff officers can create meetings and invite individual physicians or entire departments in less than two minutes. When members log on they can view their upcoming meetings and accept or decline the invitation. The medical staff officers can then view a specific meeting to see which physicians are able to attend.

Although your organization may not need to send out Affiliation Letters or plan dozens of meetings a month, there are probably activities that can be automated or simplified through your Web site. Membership renewals, email reminders for meetings, and regular updates to important documents are just a few places to save time.

Another Idea
As a membership benefit or for an additional fee, you could offer members their own Web pages at your site. A password protected admin system would allow members to update their information, add links to their own Web site or email, and upload their photo.

As you can see, there’s a lot of opportunity for your Web site to save you time and money, increase membership benefits, and generate funds for your organization. What you do with these tools is only tethered by the information in your database and your creativity.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

10 New Questions to Ask Before Setting Up a Web site

10 NEW QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE SETTING UP A WEB SITE

Watch the video BEFORE you read the article!




And now back to your article…


You’re probably too young to remember 1997, but it was a wild period of growth for the Web. Dancing babies appeared on every other Web site. Amazon.com sold only books. People used their new email accounts to frantically warn loved ones about the ring of kidney snatchers that left their victims in bathtubs full of ice. Some of the first non-Star Trek-related personal Web sites appeared. People were inundated with unsolicited email called “spam”. Well, some things don’t change.

It was in ’97 that I wrote an article called “Ten Questions to Ask Before Setting Up a Website” that appeared in our newsletter and on our site. At the bottom of each article on our site is a form that a visitor can use to email that article to a friend. By far, the “10 Questions” article has been sent most often.

However, it’s been an Internet lifetime since I wrote that article. The boom and the bust are behind us and it’s time to reexamine these questions. There’s still no one correct answer, but the questions apply to everyone.

1. Do I need a Web site?
Maybe you don’t. It could be that your marketing dollars are better spent somewhere else. However, many people won’t discover your services through any other means. The Internet has become an expected tool of modern business like the phone or fax, and companies or professionals without one may appear out-of-step.

2. What are my goals for the site?
If you do decide to move ahead, it’s important to know why you’re building the site. Is it for sales or marketing? Is it a tool for communication or an online brochure? Do you want to sell products through the site, or just educate consumers about them? Do you want to increase membership in your organization, or offer Web-based benefits to current members? Do you want visitors to email you? Call you? Subscribe to a newsletter? Knowing your goals will help focus your ideas for the site.

3. What am I trying to sell or promote?
Even if you don’t like the idea of selling yourself, it’s what we all do, every day, if we want to be successful. Don’t be afraid of sales and marketing. Finding the answer to this question will determine what are the most important themes of the site, what to name the buttons, and the tone to use when writing the content.

4. What are the components to getting a website up and running?

  • Design & Development: The architecture of the site needs to be built. An appropriate look and feel must be designed. The copy needs to be written and any additional tools such as online forms, shopping carts and audio clips need to be added.
  • Hosting: Just as you might rent office space, your Web site needs to be hosted somewhere so people can reach it.
  • Upkeep: Once live, a good site continues to post fresh material, giving people a reason to return.

5. What content do I need to build the site?
First, create an outline around the themes you want to promote. Second, remember that each line of the outline is a page that needs content–text and images that will help educate your visitors. The images may include a logo or photos of people or products. Poor quality photos or bad clip art can make the most attractive site look amateurish; sometimes no photos can be better than poor ones.

6. Do I hire a professional or do it myself?
If you have the skills, the time, the talent and most importantly the desire to design and develop the site, then by all means, do so. However, keep in mind that when you hire a professional–whether it’s to create a Web site, change your oil, or give you financial advice–you immediately acquire thousands of hours of experience, access to the latest tools of the trade and insider knowledge of the industry. Since an unprofessional Web site can be worse than no site at all, I strongly suggest to do what you do best and outsource the rest.

7. What are my responsibilities to create an effective site?
Even if you hire a professional Web developer your input is essential since no one knows your business as well as you do. Before you hire a developer you should review their portfolio and ask for referrals. You should expect to help develop a site outline with your developer, pull the copy together and give input on the layouts presented to you. Once your site is live you should also budget time to add content on a regular basis. You should reply to emails and inquiries in a timely fashion to show you haven’t abandoned your site.

8. What will this cost for start-up? For ongoing maintenance?
This is a young industry so there’s still a wide range in billing rates. The Pricing Guide for Web Services, Second Edition, found pricing from $25 – $250 per hour for Web work, and Web pages from $30 – $1,500. (Whoever’s paying $1,500 per page, please call me so I can save you a few bucks.) As a rule, you get what you pay for. An experienced designer and developer are worth their weight in gold.

Here are some rough (January 2002) costs: you’ll need a Web address for about $35/year and a one-time setup fee on a Web server of $25-50. A simple site between 5 – 15 pages might cost between $1,200 and $3,500; add $1,000 or more for e-commerce. Add-ons such as Bulletin Boards, multi-media, online newsletters and forms will all cost extra.

You should also budget money for search engine submissions, which were once free, but now can run into hundreds of dollars. We’re currently recommending our clients budget $500 for this.

Ongoing costs include hosting fees that can range from $30 – $100 per month. Regular updates to your site (which is a good idea) can run another $25-100 and up per incident, depending on the amount of content involved.

9. How do I attract more traffic to my site?
Search engines, links, advertising and more. A good developer will make your site search engine friendly and submit your site to search engines and directories on your behalf. You should create reciprocal links with complementary sites. Consider advertising on specific search engines, email newsletters, and traditional media. Put your url (Web site address) on your business cards, stationery, voice mail, and so on. Send out free email newsletters. Add a Recommend This Site to a Friend form on your Web site. Continually update and improve on your site. Reviewing your site’s traffic reports can alert you to what visitors are finding interesting and what they’re ignoring.

10. How will I know that my site is successful?
Look at your goals every 3 to 6 months. Have you met them? If so, is it time to create new, more challenging goals?

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

Creating Content

CREATING CONTENT FOR WEB SITES

In my very first newsletter I wrote an article about content that began: Why do people say “Content is King”? Because alliteration is fun. It wasn’t all that clever then and it hasn’t aged well. Still, I haven’t come up with anything better in three and a half years, so that’ll have to do. The definition of content, like “e-commerce”, “profitability” and most other Internet-related terms, varies from person to person. For the purposes of this article we’ll define content as the stuff people come to see. (Or hear. And one day soon, smell.) If you’re not giving people a compelling reason to visit, they won’t.

How Much Content Do You Need?

Not every site needs hundreds of pages of unique content. Maybe your site is primarily “brochureware”; an electronic pamphlet used solely to entice a visitor into contacting you. If so, a description of your services and hours of operation may be enough.

However, there’s great competition for eyeballs on the Internet that increases with every site that’s launched. As Einstein said, “Content = Weight”. He said some other stuff, too, but nothing as memorable. Many visitors to your site may not otherwise know you, so the content you post may be their only way to gauge your legitimacy. The more content you add to your site, the more weight you give to your implied argument that visitors should use your services, buy your products, or subscribe to your newsletter.

As always, you have to look at your audience to determine why they might visit your site.

How Do I Get Content?

Many of our clients are writers by nature; they already have plenty of articles to repurpose for the Web, or they can choose to create fresh material. If you find yourself in this group, consider yourself lucky. You may be able to turn this desire to write into a monthly column that can be sent out as an email newsletter, as well as posted to your site.

Even if you’re not the world’s greatest writer, people may still be interested in what you have to say if you’ve got knowledge in a particular area. They may overlook poor grammar, bad puns, and self-serving rhetoric to uncover information that could be of use to them. After all, you’re still reading this, right?

Putting Your Visitors to Work For You

There’s another way of creating content if you don’t feel you have the time or the skills to bake something from scratch. Ask your visitors. Below are three levels of visitor-created (or at least inspired) content that you can use to fill your site.

F.A.Q. or Ask the Wizard/Sage/Know-It-All

If you’re just launching a Web site you may choose to include an F.A.Q. (which stands for Frequently Asked Questions). To start, you can come up with a few questions that you think the average visitor might ask, and create your own answers, no matter how self-serving they may be. This content then gets posted to your site.

By adding an online form, or even a simple email link, you can empower your visitors to ask their own questions. Add a disclaimer asking permission to use their questions (with or without their names) and you have a steady stream of fresh content to add to your site or newsletter.

The nice feature of the F.A.Q. or Ask the Wizard is that you don’t need a lot of traffic to start one. It’s the perfect solution for new sites.

Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) a.k.a. Message Boards

If you have enough traffic the BBS may be for you. It is also an important tool for community building. Visitors can post questions and comments at your site that can be viewed publicly. Both you and other visitors can post replies to these comment, thus creating a “thread”. This is a compelling reason for return visits as people will want to see the replies to their post. There is a plethora of different ways to configure the BBS software depending on your needs. You can allow anyone to read or post messages, require them to log in first, or add private forums where only invitees can enter.

Pinnacle Systems Software Solutions uses their BBS to allow users of their special effects software products to ask questions of top Hollywood FX masters and to trade tips and tricks. (http://www.commotionpro.com). Parents and Teachers of Explosive Kids has set up a BBS for these groups to trade experiences and bring this community closer together. (http://www.explosivekids.org). The Center for Development and Learning (CDL) has placed their BBS in their Members Only section, adding value to their paid membership. Not only can educators trade stories of teaching strategies and successes, the CDL also sponsors monthly forums hosted by education specialists like Robert Brooks and Reid Lyon. (http://www.cdl.org).

Chat Rooms

The chat room is not something to be entered into lightly. It requires a large amount of regular traffic to your site. Many clients come to us with requests for chat rooms, but we advise them to crawl before they sprint. Although many people point to AOL’s huge number of chat rooms as an example that chat rooms work, AOL’s dirty little secret is that the popular chat rooms are all adult-oriented. (So I’ve read; I don’t have any first hand experience and you can’t prove that I do.) For an example of what an under-utilized chat room might feel like, walk into an empty room, close the door behind you and start a conversation. A chat room with only one visitor is even worse than an empty one.

The CDL will be opening its own chat room soon and are going about it the right way. Instead of keeping the chat open 24/7, they instead are hosting planned chats at schedule times so parents can pose questions to specialists and get immediate answers. One of the nicest features of chats is the real-time interaction.

Coda

In deciding what type of content you need, ask these questions: How much traffic am I getting or expecting? Does my service or offering lend itself to a community building experience like BBS or chats? Do I have the time to create the content needed? What is my audience looking to me to provide?

Once you consider these questions you can move ahead with the right content creation plan for you.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media