Ward on the Web Entered in Blogging Idol Contest

Blogging Idol

After all the positive feedback I’ve received, not to mention winning that marketing contest a few weeks ago, I’ve decided to enter Ward on the Web in the Blogging Idol competition over at Daily Blog Tips. Throughout the month of July, I’ll be doing everything I can to promote my subscribership. Even short of winning, the conversational and linking benefits of participation are just too good to pass up. So, if you haven’t already subscribed, click here to have Ward on the Web delivered straight to your email or feed reader and help me become the very first Blogging Idol!

Launching a Successful Website, Step Five: 3, 2, 1… Lift Off!

Every step so far has led up to this: Launching your website. Of course, the technical bits should already be taken care of, leaving only the launch itself. If your site is small, this can be as simple as turning the key and hoping for the best. More than likely, though, you’ll need to spread the word to get any attention. As with everything that came before, here are some best practices to keep in mind.

Set a date. Much like a shuttle takeoff, there’s often a lot of coordination involved in launching a website. Pick a reasonable date in the near future to schedule it all. Your promotional experts may be able to advise the most strategic time based on your market (e.g., launching a football paraphernalia website just before the play-offs), or you may aim to launch as soon as possible. In any event, setting a date and sticking to it will help ensure the launch goes off without a hitch.

Submit the site to search engines. This used to mean manual submissions. Nowadays, though, it means compiling an XML sitemap and submitting it to Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo Site Explorer, and MSN Live Search Webmaster Center, as well as adding it to your robots.txt file for smaller search engines. This should get the spiders indexing all of your content as quickly as possible.

Publish a press release. With today’s technology, you might think that the old-fashioned press release would have gone the way of the dodo, but it can still be a useful method for promoting a website.

Contact reviewers. Nothing can bring a new site up to speed like an endorsement from a respected professional. Just be sure your site deserves praise before soliciting reviews. Remember your manners, too; unless they’re paid, reviewers are doing you a favor, and attempting to forcibly coerce a good review could easily backfire.

Tap social media. One well-placed Digg, Twitter, or Stumble could easily get a new site off the ground. Where appropriate, spread the news of your site’s launch out in these and other social networks. As with reviewers, though, don’t force it; social networkers have a notorious hatred for overzealous self-promotion. Tread with care or you risk provoking a very damaging backlash.

Establish advertising. You might use pay-per-click services like Google AdWords, banner ad placement services like Tribal Fusion, or seek out independent advertising agreements with individual website owners. The key is to know your prospective audience and the kinds of sites they’re likely to visit.

Build inbound links. Listings in relevant directories can provide some modest traffic and the initial link juice needed for your site to rank in search engine results. Even more valuable, though, are links from websites with significant authority in your market.

Launching Ward on the Web

Most of the concept and planning work for Ward on the Web occurred early in May 2008. Thus, I decided to set June 1st, 2008 as my firm launch date. I installed the Google XML Sitemaps plugin for WordPress, submitted my sitemap to the big three search engines, and added it to my robots.txt file. I then hit up some of my blogging contacts, including Adam Schultz, Daniel Scocco, and Simon Owens, with notice of the launch. Lastly, I added social media bookmarking links to my WordPress template and submitted the site to Dmoz. As for press releases and advertising, I intentionally left them out because I don’t have the budget for them.

In my next post, I’ll address how to maintain your site’s upward momentum after launch.

Launching a Successful Website, Step Four: Building the Site

Site Construction in Progress

You know what you want to build, you’ve got the experts to build it, and you’ve decided on a brand. The stage is set, so now it’s time to see your vision brought to life.

Proper website creation can follow any number of different models. Like me, you may be going into the process with many of the developmental choices already made. On the other hand, you may have no idea how your site will be put together. Don’t fret; if you don’t already have a process in mind, the following six phases of development should give you a good framework to get started.

Requirements Gathering
Before you go exploring options for your software and design, it’s important to lay out the requirements they will have to meet. Brainstorm with your content producers, managers, and promotion experts. Will the site need to facilitate monetary transactions? Will users be able to register and create accounts? Will it have an RSS feed? How will it be organized? What will the menus look like? The more thorough and specific you are, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to find the best options to suit your purpose.

Research
For the design, you may go to similar or competitor websites and observe the common design elements in use. For development, you may investigate the features and benefits of the different platforms available for your purpose. You may even go to bad websites and take note of the things you don’t like. Regardless of the angle, this stage of development focuses on researching viable options to meet the requirements of stage one. If you haven’t involved them already, this is when your designers and developers should become a part of the process.

Decision-Making
If the research phase were window shopping, the decision-making phase would be trying on clothes. Turn a critical eye toward design mock-ups and software demos. Sit down with your experts and carefully weigh the costs and benefits of each option. If a clear winner emerges, go with it and proceed to the next phase. If not, you probably need to go back and do some more research or further clarify your requirements.

Construction
If you’ve performed every step up to this point, you should know everything you need to know to get started. Set your experts loose to take the options you’ve chosen and make them a reality. Register your domain name if you haven’t already done so. Set up your hosting, install or develop your software, and skin the site in your chosen design. It may take awhile, and there will more than likely be plenty of bumps along the way, but the result should be well worth the trouble.

Production
In a similar vein as the construction phase, production involves creating the content for your site. In fact, the two phases can usually be performed in tandem. Set your content producers in motion to write the copy, edit the photos, and compose the videos that will comprise the site. Trust me; there’s nothing worse than having “lorem ipsum” filler text after launch.

Review
Once everything is put together, you may think that you’re ready for launch, but you’re wrong. Now is the time to test, test, and test some more. If the site has any interactive functionality, have different people walk through it. If possible, get prospective users who haven’t been involved in the project up to this point and ask them to critique the site. Often, you’ll be able to catch more than a few problems this way.

Building Ward on the Web

Having written a blog before, I had the first three phases of this process ironed out before I even got started. WordPress was a given. Beyond that, I took a few hours to find a professional-looking template that I liked. Many of these decisions were accelerated by the fact that I’m the only decision-maker, thus eliminating the need for discussion. Despite that fact, I did end up test driving a few choices on friends and family before finalizing them. Once the options were set, construction took very little time, with the only hitch being an improper redirect on the addon domain. Producing the content took the longest, since I wanted to write enough to stay far ahead of my posting schedule and give the blog a solid start.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the most exciting step in the process, launching the website.

Launching a Successful Website, Step Three: Choosing an Online Brand

Define Your Brand

Now that you’ve defined the site’s purpose and identified your experts, it’s time to give it a brand. This is important from a purely practical standpoint because it’s difficult to develop a site without a name. Failing to give it one will inevitably result in a valueless placeholder like, “the new site,” that doesn’t convey the site’s purpose or inspire its vision in those creating it.

Beyond serving as a name, though, your online brand will have a profound effect on the kind of traffic your site generates. For this reason, it’s important to get your promotional experts involved at this step. A little online marketing know-how will go a long way toward picking the right brand name. While you’re brainstorming, be sure to consider the following principles of online branding.

A good online brand should summarize and identify the site’s purpose as much as possible. If a potential visitor can read the brand name and immediately understand what the site is about, it will create clear expectations and a positive user experience. If, however, the brand name is vague or misleading, the initial user experience will be less favorable. Remember, you rarely get more than one chance to turn a casual visitor into a repeat visitor, so every little bit helps.

A good online brand name should be memorable. Be it catchy, humorous, or merely original, having a brand name that users can easily remember is a great way to promote repeat visits as well as extra traffic through word of mouth.

A good online brand name must have an available domain name. While brainstorming potential brand names, it helps to have a whois utility handy for this purpose. Find an available domain name on the .com top-level domain (TLD) if at all possible, or at worst .net. Other TLDs face stronger regulatory requirements (.org and .gov) or elicit less trust from users and search engines (.tv). Country-specific TLDs (.co.uk) can be acceptable if your site’s primary audience will be from that country. As for the domain name itself, avoid the temptation to choose a very long (e.g., shesellsseashellsbytheseashore.com) or dash-separated domain name (e.g., ward-on-the-web.com), as these can lead to a poor user experience and may appear spammy.

A good online brand name should be searchable. It helps to type any brand name under consideration into Google and see what comes up. If someone is already using the brand name, they may be too entrenched in the search engines for you to compete. Likewise, if the potential brand name is too vague (e.g., “Professional Website Advice”), you’ll probably never rank. In any case, ranking easily for your desired brand name is ideal for the promotional tactics that will come later.

A good online brand name should include keywords. As with ranking well for your brand name, you’ll probably want to rank well for searches related to your site’s intended purpose. If you’re launching an e-commerce site to sell widgets, for example, it would help for the site to rank well on widget-related search queries. Don’t go overboard, of course; plenty of websites flop because their brands are little more than long, spammy strings of keywords. However, it can be useful to include the one or two key terms that relate the most to your site’s purpose (e.g., “Widget Emporium”).

My Personal Brand: Ward on the Web

After a lot of brainstorming and more than a little cursing over domain squatters, I decided to go with “Ward on the Web” as my site’s brand name. Although it may take users a visit or two to realize, it clearly identifies the author (i.e., Stephen Ward) and the subject matter (i.e., the Web). The alliteration of the “w” also helps to make it more memorable. Most importantly, there’s no competition, and the use of “ward” and “web” in the domain name should help me rank for the site’s most desirable keywords.

In my next post, I’ll detail the process for building the website.

Launching a Successful Website, Step One: Answering the Question of Purpose

Many blogs open their first post with an introduction to the author, a statement of purpose, and the invitation for those reading to come back soon for more interesting content. Since Ward on the Web’s primary focus is on building successful websites, however, I thought it would be a more fitting to start with the considerations that went into its own creation. Over the next week, I’ll walk through the steps I took to plan the site’s launch and touch on the standard introductory bits as I go.

The Key Question: Why?

The Question of “Why?”

Why do you want to create a website? Some people plunge into web development without ever considering this simple question. I’ve heard horror stories of company executives spouting, “We need a website,” and individuals proclaiming, “I want to start a blog,” without ever asking, “Why?”

Why is “Why?” so important? Because the answer advises every decision that follows. If your answer is, “Because we need to sell our widgets to the world,” you’re obviously making an e-commerce site. You’ll need a shopping cart, a credit card gateway, a marketing plan, and so forth in order to achieve your site’s purpose of selling widgets. If your answer is, “Because I want to publish my expert reviews of widgets,” you’re probably making a blog. You’ll need a blogging platform, some writing ability, an understanding of the blogosphere, and a lot of widgets to review, among other things. Your answer to “Why?” will naturally affect the requirements, parameters, and success metrics that will come to define your website.

A good answer to “Why?” doesn’t just advise decisions, though; it inspires a grand vision. Which is more inspiring, a site with the purpose of “selling widgets” or one that “caters to the needs of widget aficionados everywhere, with a wide selection of top-quality widgets”? In the same vein, which would you rather read, a “widget review blog” or a “comprehensive source for widget industry news and product reviews”?

The point here is that simply answering “Why?” isn’t enough. A simple, uninspired answer will lead to a simple, uninspired website. Don’t just state your website’s purpose; define the vision to which it will aspire. Paint the picture of an ideal website that fulfills its goal, not just adequately, but exceptionally. Only when you’ve taken those bland statements of intention and refined them into golden statements of purpose should you consider any of the decisions that will follow.

My Answer to “Why?”

I did this exercise when the idea first crossed my mind to create a “professional blog.” Here is what I came up with to serve as Ward on the Web’s statement of purpose:

My new blog will showcase my expertise as a web professional by providing valuable insights on web development, online marketing, search engine optimization, blogging, and other topics related to success on the web.

In my next post, I’ll move on to the second step of launching a successful website, identifying expertise.