Content – an easy route to success?

Content is a business’ best friend – that’s what we’re told and to some extent this is true. However, publishing copious amounts of content is not a sure-fire way of improving your search engine rank. This misconception is one that many business owners and marketeers have, resulting in missed targets and the belief that content doesn’t work for them.

Let’s set the record straight – content does work, but making it work takes a lot of skill and effort.  Here are some tips on how to take your content to the next level.

Get a strategy 

Before you start writing any content you need to have a clear idea of who you’re writing for. Depending on your business this audience may well be different for each piece of content you produce.  The more specific you can be in who your audience is the more successful your content is likely to be. Now you know who your audience is you need to start creating content topics that will address their specific information requirements. Conduct some basic research to find out what questions your target audience have and what their needs are and then tailor your topics accordingly.

Don’t just create content

You’ve identified what your audience wants to know so now you need to create content that compels them to do something positive – that ‘something’ could be to purchase, to continue to other pages of your site and investigate your offering further, to react to your content, to share your content each of these is a metric that can be measured and used to determine your content’s success.  The more your audience interacts with your site once they’re there, the higher regard the search engines will have for it.

In order for that positive action to take place your content needs to be relevant to your audience and engaging.

Optimise for success

Without properly optimising your content you may as well not bother producing content at all.  SEO and content go together like gin and tonic – don’t judge, it’s been a long day. The problem is many people writing content aren’t copywriters and either don’t think about optimising their content for search engines, or try and cram in so many keywords that it loses its meaning and purpose. Both of these approaches will have a negative effect. Keywords should be considered before writing commences and remain front of mind so they can be inserted strategically and coherently.

Also, it’s all too easy to regurgitate old content to save time, but in order to really make your content favourable with the search engines you should be looking at creating original content. Repurposing content should be saved for new channels.
The next two pointers are where the magic can really happen.  A bit more time and dedication is needed but focusing on internal and external link building can take you from the realms of ‘nice results’ to ‘fantastic results’…

Internal link building

By using internal linking within your website, you can strengthen it in the eyes of the search engines. So, every time you create content and publish it on your website, link it to and from other relevant areas of the site.  Put some real thought into your links and make them as user friendly as possibly, avoiding the common ‘homepage’ and ‘contact us’ links.  Maybe it’s a link to another article that addresses a related topic, maybe it’s a link to a product mentioned in the copy; the key is to link to lesser viewed content deep in your site. You want to keep visitors engaged with your site for as long as possible, visiting as many unique pages as possible and internal linking can help you achieve this.

External link building

Your content will show higher up the SEO rankings if it is linked to from high quality external websites.  Therefore, it is highly advantageous if you can spend time distributing your content for other sites to pick up on.  Collate a list of contacts such as journalists and highly-regarded bloggers in the aim they will cover your news or product launches and link back to your site.  Distribute your content via social media sites and people will pick up on it too.  But, link building is only as good as your content.  If your content sucks then no one will link to it.

 

 

How important is Good Customer Service?

Restaurant bell vintage with bokeh

Customer service is an issue which affects each and every company. Yes, there are many important factors, whether it’s cost, profit, manufacture or promotion. However, customer service can have particularly influential effect on the overall reputation of a business and therefore its relationship with consumers. In fact, a survey conducted by American Express found that a staggering 78% of customers left a transaction due to bad service. Let’s take a look at how companies can combat this problem.

Respect

Respecting your customer should go without saying but unfortunately many companies still have a problem with the way in which their employees deal with clients. How many times have you read a negative review or heard first hand from a friend about how poorly they were treated by a service agent. This shouldn’t be happening but it’s a problem that is fairly easy to remedy. Training is key, of course, however companies should look into other issues. For example a hostile work place will lead to unhappy customer service agents. If you treat your staff well, this will be reflected in the way they treat customers. You could even provide incentives for agents who go above and beyond when helping clients.

Transparency

Some companies have taken the bold move of offering complete transparency of their customer service. They do this by showcasing their most recent reviews and ratings from consumers. This may seem like a risky move, as you leaving yourself open to negative critiques. However in our current climate of commercial mistrust, honesty is respected above all else. Even if you do receive a bad review, you can attach a reply which illustrates your attempt to resolve the issue. This signals that you are committed to solving any and every problem a customer may have.

Be Personal

The way in which companies and consumers interact has changed drastically in recent years. Thanks to social media, businesses have the opportunity to talk with their customers directly- creating a much more personal relationship. More and more people are choosing Twitter, over email and phone calls when they need to get in touch with an organisation.

Try to utilise different forms of social media, whether it be Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram. As well as using these feeds to stay in touch with your base, you can also promote blogs, videos or just post thoughts and feelings- which helps to humanise the company. Some businesses go as far as sending personalised notes, discounts or gifts to loyal customers. These are all things that clients remember when considering who to do business with.

Take Ownership

Complaints are just a way of life, the important thing is how you deal with them. Of course, there will be times when it isn’t your fault but this is just another opportunity to show your customers how much you care. Advise agents to take ownership of problems, this will signal to those complaining that you are hearing them and that you want to help.

There is also a lot to be said for customer service agents having the autonomy and clearance to deal with problems themselves. Many consumers are sick of being passed from pillar to post when they need help with a simple issue.

Survey

If you want to know how successful your own customer service is, just ask your customers. Surveying large amounts of people will allow you to see a broader spectrum and therefore any potential patterns. Many companies now ask for customer feedback, immediately after a conversation between an agent and consumer. This feedback can be invaluable in showcasing where you are doing well as well as where you could improve.

There are many ways in which you can survey your consumers. Of course you can call them directly but this can often come off as “cold calling”. Using other methods such as email, social media and text messages, may be a better way of garnering results.

Test Yourself

The only way to get a full understanding of how well your customer service is, is to test it. There a few different ways in which to do this but one of the most informative is the mystery shopper approach. You can choose to use either one of your own staff, or an independent person and ask them to contact your customer service team with a problem. The way in which they deal with this problem will showcase how they are dealing with every problem and therefore what may need working on.

Conversely, you can also use the mystery shopper approach in another way. You, or a member of your staff could pretend to be a consumer and interact with the customer service team of a competitor. This may give your some good ideas on where you could improve on your own system.

The truth is, customer service can make or break a business. This should inform every aspect of the way in which your organisation deals with clients. If you need a little more convincing, a study by Lee Resources found that 91% of customers who are unhappy with a company will choose to never do business with them again. You can’t argue with those numbers.

How to be better at Product Development

 

lightbub

When running any business, no matter the size, it can be all too easy to get caught up in the bigger picture without paying enough attention to the single most important area of your business – product development.  I’ve written many an article on brand development, marketing and service delivery which all stress the importance of delivering an offering that meets the needs of your consumer and product development is at the very heart of everything. If your product doesn’t meet your customers’ needs or expectations, you will have no customers to make happy!

This is especially pertinent to new businesses, where it’s all too easy to lose sight of what really matters.  Here are six tips to help strengthen your product development lifecycle and increase your chance of success:

Give it the time it deserves – ‘More haste, less speed’ – it’s an old ‘un but a good ‘un and it’s highly relevant here. Rushing product development can be hugely detrimental.  Often an outstanding product idea is prioritised for a quick launch, because it’s so amazing, then it is pushed at every stage of the process and the end result is often far below the initial expectations.  When you are certain that you’re on to a winner it can be so tempting to miss out stages of the product development life cycle, such as market research or reduced product testing, but do so at your own peril.  Failing to validate your ideas and assumptions may get your product to market sooner but if you miss something crucial it could completely flop when launched.  Development of great products takes time and patience.

Involvement from the outset – avoid unnecessary delays and lessen the likelihood of them occurring by involving all parties from the word go. Designers, engineers, research and logistics teams working together from the initial ideas stage will identify and iron out any complications as soon as possible, meaning less pressure and time wasted further down the line.

Account for unpredictability – product development is far from straight forward and with so many steps to market it’s easy for something unexpected to crop up. Make sure your project plan has adequate time built in for contingencies, such as additional testing stages, should the need arise.

Set realistic timelines – taking into account all the points above, it’s important to set achievable launch dates. All too often senior management will have a launch date in mind, which is often unfounded and unachievable.  Far from giving focus, this approach often results in immense pressure being put on the product development team.  Start by working backwards and ask to see a detailed, realistic project plan first with anticipated launch, then agree a date from there.  If step 2 above has been followed, and all teams have been involved to draw up the plan, then everyone will be clear on what’s expected of them.

Stay agile – harder for larger organisations to do but this is where small, flexible businesses will do well. Remaining flexible in your approach to product development can save you precious time and money in the long run and allows you to remain innovative. Yes, you want to develop a product but rigidly following your plans can leave you blinkered and prevent you from looking in different directions that may produce better results.

Don’t stretch resources – as tempting as it may be it’s better to concentrate on developing a few products that excel than having your employees juggling multiple product launches badly. This is particularly pertinent to young businesses where building up your product portfolio slowly and mindfully and getting an understanding of your customers’ response to the products, is the safest move.

 

Does Honesty Pay in Interviews?

Business people waiting for job interview. Four candidates competing for one position

From an early age I think most of us have been taught that honesty is the best policy, but what if this lifelong value ruins your chances of achieving your goals? Is it OK, then, to bend the truth a little now and then?

In my view, absolutely not. It just isn’t ethically correct to lie your way into a job that another candidate has legitimately worked hard for. That’s not to say it’s not tempting…

Your CV

We all know that to be in with a shot of an interview your CV has got to make a lasting impression, and you may feel that the only way to make an impression is to add a few extra (false) details here and there. It can’t hurt can it? Well, maybe not initially, but imagine being called in for an interview and being asked to talk about the qualifications or skills you lied about on your CV. It’s making me squirm just thinking about it. Not only that, let’s say, for argument’s sake, you’ve made it through the interview process and have landed the job on the back of a false CV. What happens if your new boss asks you to work on something you’ve falsely stated you can do? Imagine having he or she stood over you when you have no idea what you are doing. No, unless your blagging skills are top notch and you are bold enough to see your lies through, no matter the consequences, it just doesn’t seem worth the stress.

And if that’s not enough to put you off, you’ve also got to remember that interviewers can easily do a little digging online or make a few phone calls to verify that the information you have given them is correct. If you’re going to lie, you really need to cover your tracks well.

The interview

No matter how much you prepare, you just can’t predict the questions that may come up in your interview. That said, it’s definitely worth researching common interview questions and thinking about how you would answer them. The National Careers Service website is well worth a look. It offers all sorts of advice and support to help you prepare for interviews. Its ‘Top Ten Interview Questions’ is a great place to start and can help you get into interview mode if you are struggling. Try to spend some time thinking about how you will answer tricky questions. Bluffing your way through tricky questions may seem like the best approach, but, actually, your honesty in these situations may take you further.

Be positive

If asked about your weaknesses try to keep your response short and sweet, elaborating, instead, on how you are trying to improve in these areas. Always try to turn negative points into positives. And instead of lying about the things you can’t do, go to town talking about the things you can do; your knowledge and enthusiasm in these areas is sure to impress the interviewer.

Honesty all the way

Honesty has got to be the best policy, hasn’t it? If you are honest, people take you for who you are and if you land the job it means you’ve earned it on your own merit. Something to be proud of. Plus, if you are straight down-the-line, you are probably more likely to get on with the boss who may well have chosen you for your honesty and constructive responses. Interviews are really more about strategy than anything else.

If you don’t land the job you are after first time, don’t be disheartened, put it down to fate, hold on to your values and try again.

Good things come to those who wait. So they say.