Own Your Content

When you think of “content creation”, you probably think of a buzzword that vaguely means blog posts, maybe social media, but generally involving hours and hours of writing for somebody “over there” because content creation is a marketing task that can be cut when budget needs to go elsewhere.

What if I told you that you already have content created, live, and waiting for ownership— even if you’ve never had a blog?

Every piece of information you have on the internet, from your location to your contact information to your company description, is content. Each word you have put on your website or social media profile is an opportunity to build rapport and brand yourself.

 

Everything is Content

The internet relies on content to exist. Web design is to facilitate users reading content. Searches are to find content. If you have information on the internet, you have content.

 

Does Anybody Own It?

This is a question to ask yourself seriously before you begin evaluating your content. While it can be tempting to dodge this question so as not to take responsibility for bad content, answering it— at least for future endeavours— is necessary to improve your online presence.

Responsible for content doesn’t necessarily mean you write it. What it does mean is you create a standard for all future content, keep tabs on what content you have, and prune any unnecessary or outdated content.

 

Managing It

Once you’ve taken or assigned responsibility for your web content, it’s important to keep checking up on both the state of your content, and any rules that are being passed about web content.

This means:

  • Regular content audits to see what you have online
  • Pruning irrelevant content once it becomes irrelevant
  • Reading up on legal requirements such as AODA
  • Making sure all new content meets those requirements

While this looks overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be all done at once (or even all the time). You can schedule content audits based on how often you refresh your content— a slowly changing site can have yearly reviews, with yearly pruning. Faster changing sites might need every six months, or quarterly. Unless you’re constantly adding new things to the website, it’s unlikely you’ll need more than that

Legal requirements for content aren’t published too often, and by updating your content creation processes you can ensure all future content is compliant. Not to mention, having regular content audits means you always know what you have, and don’t have to make content you don’t need anymore up to regulations.

 

Benefits

By owning your content, you can start to evaluate every aspect of your online presence for its effectiveness, and start to think of why people visit your site. Is your content something people want to look for? Does it answer their questions? Does it help them trust you?

Looking over your content means you start to be aware of where you stand. Once you know where you stand, it’s far easier to take next steps and improve.

wooden puppet facing unknown endings from non-descriptive links

Hyperlinking for AODA and SEO

Hyperlinks have become ubiquitous online, for good reason. Smooth, streamlined text that gets rid of a messy looking url is the hallmark of websites. A simple “click here” or “download” can string users along your site without breaking up the paragraph flow, and can even be inserted within sentences for an unobtrusive experience.

Except when hyperlinks can bring you farther away from AODA compliance, and worsen your SEO.

wooden puppet facing unknown endings from non-descriptive links

Bad Links

A bad link is, simply, a link that doesn’t provide context within the hyperlink text. While it’s very tempting to use these, since they’re the least obtrusive, they aren’t AODA compliant.

Examples of bad links include:

  • “Click here”
  • “More info”
  • “Continue reading”

While they look fine in context of a paragraph, links are often not read within the context of their paragraphs. As a result, people who use screen readers will come across link text that gives them no information for what they are about to click, rendering your website frustrating to navigate at best.

Google also doesn’t like blank links without a description, and while it will follow the link to rank your content, it won’t give any extra points for making the link difficult to understand when taken alone.

 

Good Links

Thankfully, it’s rather simple to turn a bad link into a good link. It’s simply a case of adding context to the link itself.

Examples:

  • “Click here to…”
  • “More info on…”
  • “Continue reading about…”

By filling in the blank about what you’d previously discussed in your content, you make the link stand on its own. This means anybody or anything that comes across the link will know exactly what it leads to.

This makes your site easier to navigate, and you can get a few more points in search in the process. While it can be tedious to go through and check every hyperlink to make sure it can stand on its own, the peace of mind knowing all links are compliant is worthwhile.

Image credit: a-poselenov

businesswoman pressing a floating unlock button

How to Write Alt Text

Alt text, short for “alternative text”, is text in the metadata of images that shows up either when the image doesn’t load, or for screen readers. If you’ve ever had an email full of images have the space replaced with, say, a coupon value, you’ve seen alt text.

While it appears simple, alt text requires time and effort to get the hang of.

businesswoman pressing a floating unlock button

Why should you put in alt text?

In short, it makes the graphic content of your website readable. This is useful for:

  • SEO
  • People with slower/limited internet connections
  • Individuals who use screen readers

If you’re in Ontario, you might be facing down the legal requirements of AODA, which requires all graphic information to be accessible in text. This is in accordance to WCAG, the international standard for web accessibility that is becoming the norm worldwide. While this is a laborious task, it reaps many rewards outside of disability circles.

By utilizing alt text to the maximum capacity, you can reap a rich keyword benefit that won’t visibly clog up the page (but don’t overdo it, as Google will still penalize you for keyword stuffing), and make your site available to a larger demographic.

Implementing alt text on a WordPress site is as easy as installing Yoast (for SEO) and allocating the hours to writing the material.

How to put in alt text

Simple images: describe the image in the “alternate text” window provided when you go to edit an image on your website. Sometimes, you need to go into the image’s properties to find this window. If the image has a caption associated with it, make sure the caption and image are vaguely related— the image might not be read with the caption!

Complex information: Diagrams that show a company’s organization, pie charts, and other images that present information graphically must also have alt text provided. It can be tricky to know how to tackle these, because usually you do graphics to make complex information more easily digestible.

For things like pie charts or flow charts that don’t show many steps, you can still describe the image in the alt text window. Just be extremely clear what information leads to others. For pie charts, descriptions should include what it’s for and the percentages per allocated slice. An example is:

Pie chart for [diagramed information] displaying: 49% of funds went to rent, utilities, maintenance; 32% to programs; 16% to staffing; 3% other.

Flow charts can be done much the same way:

Chart shows [item] at head, displaying four branches labeled 1, 2, 3, 4. Down the 1 branch, we have items A, B, and C. Down the 2 branch, we have L, M, N.

For larger pieces such as infographics, consider having a transcript of the whole chart that is available at a well-described link, such as “Click here for transcript of infographic.” (making sure your links are descriptive out of context is also required for WTAG compliance!)

Regardless of how you write the descriptions, making sure to include key terms you want to rank for (when appropriate) will boost your overall SEO. It is a heavy time investment, but the rewards are numerous— including people knowing your company is thinking about multiple types of web users.

Image credit: oatawa

accessible button on the keyboard

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Ontario is in the midst of rolling out AODA, a set of guidelines to make Ontario more accessible for people with disabilities. Websites will soon be judged on whether or not they adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, AA compliance (except for live audio and video). The timeline for when compliance is required can be found on Ontario’s AODA page.

Reaching WCAG guidelines helps open up your website to a wider variety of potential prospects, and earns goodwill among clients. Many principles of content accessibility are good SEO, smart design, or both. Even if compliance isn’t mandatory (which it is for all public companies and all private companies over 50 employees), WCAG are often simply good design.

accessible button on the keyboard

Where to Start

Low or no vision accommodations make up a large percentage of WCAG guidelines; this includes making sure all links are comprehensible out of context, there are proper code markers in place for screen readers to know there is text to read, and all information available in graphics is also available within text.

This is one of the most comprehensive places to start, and one that shows the most immediate benefit. Making graphic information available in text also helps your SEO by giving either alt text (for simple images) or search engines a better idea of what is displayed on your webpage (which helps determine its relevancy).

 

Keep Cleaning Up

If you have audio or video content pre-recorded on your site, transcripts and descriptions need to be available for those. Building a site map is also advised, for how it helps people navigate and find the page they’re looking for more quickly. If people have to make choices on your site, make sure colour is not the only differentiating factor.

Any PDFs you have available on your site should also be checked. If you have Adobe Acrobat Pro, you can use tools within the suite to determine if they’re accessible. Make sure all buttons have a programmed purpose, so a screen reader can say what button to press.

 

Continue to Maintain

Reaching WCAG guidelines is both an initial investment and a continuing one. If you refresh content on the site frequently, then any and all new content must also be compliant. This includes new graphics, PDFs, pages, and audio/video. Determine how often you should review your content based on the frequency you update the website, and allocate time to run a small scale audit for accessibility.

Hand-drawn image that says Time to Update

7 Reasons Why You (Probably) Need a New Website

I spoke with the owner of a manufacturing company recently who asked “why should I invest money in a new website when I already have good clients and I don’t deal with the public?”

 

In another discussion, a client stated, “We need to keep our costs as low as possible, so perhaps we’ll look at a revamping the website next year.”

 

As an experienced marketer, I found it incredible that seasoned and capable managers could have these viewpoints. Obviously, if times are tough and you need to choose between a new website and paying your staff and suppliers, marketing should take a back seat while you hunker down and prioritize payments. However, if you are simply waiting until your cash flow is particularly flush before addressing your website, waiting for the “right” time may be your downfall.

 

An effective website is a crucial piece of your marketing arsenal and shouldn’t be put-off or overlooked as an effective conduit for sales. Despite management’s best intentions, very few websites are actually designed to facilitate the sales process. Simply listing what you do and including a map as to where you are, won’t cut it anymore. The real role of a website is to interest and engage those who aren’t already sold. To educate those who don’t know about your product/service or how it can benefit them. To position your company and product/service favourably with customers and prospects. To initiate or nurture strong relationships.

 

Here are seven reasons why your website is important, and deserves your attention:

 

1) Powerful Prospecting

 

Whatever you sell and whoever you sell it to, your market is doing its research online. Prospects are clarifying product info and qualifying your company as a worthy supplier. If your website isn’t designed and edited to engage viewers and facilitate the sales process, you’re losing potential sales.

 

2) Create Caring Customers

 

We all understand the value of our customers and the importance of nurturing those relationships. Websites are an opportunity to always have the porch light on and the welcome mat out. A warm place where customers can be reminded of what you do, as well as learn about services they had no idea that you provide. It’s easy to take existing clients for granted, so review your website every now and then with a customer-centric point of view and ensure you’re addressing their needs and affirming their decision to do business with you.

 

3) Engage Employees

 

Using your online presence to motivate and retain employees is an important aspect that should go beyond a website application form. Featuring your team online, highlighting social outings, participating in blog articles… there are many ways to involve company staff in the website and welcome them as part of the family.

 

4) Build Brand

 

Brand sets the tone and positions your organization in the minds of your audience. Your website should be a hub for your brand. The design, messaging, and functionality combine to deliver a user-experience that will either support or malign your brand. A strong brand will help you gain sales, recruit talent, attract solid suppliers and please the public; so how is your website supporting your brand?

 

5) Supercharge SEO

 

In order for people to do business with you, they have to first of all, find you. Your website is not only your opportunity to tell your story, but it can serve as the magnet to attract viable prospects, too. Properly setting up your site for SEO and having strategically written content will lead to more traffic based on relevant organic searches. This increases your website’s potential to deliver qualified leads.

 

6) Responsive Design

More and more people are searching the web on their smartphones. In fact, this past Christmas season, Amazon shipped over 3 billion packages and 72% of those orders were made on a mobile device. Whether you have an e-commerce site or a blog, making your website easy to navigate and read is critical. A responsive website adapts to the screen size so laptops, tablets and smartphones can all provide an enjoyable user-experience. It also helps with your Google rank, as the search engine giant appreciates sites that adapt to the users’ screen, and penalizes websites that don’t.

 

7) Accessibility

In some states and provinces, having a website that is accessibility by people with a disability is regulated. In Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) outlines how your website must comply (based on WCAG 2.0 criteria). It covers colours and contrast, size of type, consistency and ease of navigation, Alt text for all images… there’s a long list of design and technical considerations to optimize the user-experience for a variety of users with different abilities. Not only is it good sense to make sure your website can be used by the entire populatin, but now it’s the law.

There are more reasons good reasons to look at what your website can be doing better for you; such as providing fresh content, facilitating administrative actions, creating process efficiencies, polling and intelligence gathering… what would you add this list?

Hand-drawn image that says Time to Update

Image Credit:  IvelinRadkov / Getty Images

Blurred background: Bright rainbow in drops of flowing water during the sprinkling with green grass background at sunny day.

8 tips to freshen up your website for summer

You’ve freshened up your wardrobe; you’ve added a bright splash of summer colour to your house and perhaps your office; and you’ve done some summer maintenance on your car… but have you given a thought to your website? Even if it doesn’t need a full revamp, we recommend capitalizing on the slower pace of business and giving your website a good summer tune-up. Here are 8 things you should consider to clear out the cobwebs, freshen things up, and ensure everything is functioning smoothly:

Blurred background: Bright rainbow in drops of flowing water during the sprinkling with green grass background at sunny day.
credit: MassimoVernicesole
  1. Repair any bad links:

    It’s easy to lose track of out-of-date links that may be sprinkled throughout your site, so take some time to comb through all your pages to remove or update bad links. This will lead to less frustration for your visitors, and may also improve your SEO and boost your search engine ranking.

  2. Verify underlying software:

    Does your site need any WordPress updates? What about your ecommerce tools – do you need to update your Shopify plug-in or your Woo Commerce extensions? Check that you have all the latest versions of your plugins for SEO, spam protection, automated site backups, website themes, multiple languages and translation, and user tools such as weather update apps. Up-to-date software tools ensure that your users’ visits to your website will be smooth and seamless.

  3. Check for security vulnerabilities:

    You probably already updated your website security software as part of step 2 above, but because this one is so important, we wanted to call it out separately just to make sure. Have your website administrator double-check that you have the latest and most effective security software to protect your website from hackers, malicious code, worms and viruses, and spam comments on your blog or contact forms.

  4. Replace old technology in apps and plug-ins:

    Still using Flash? Offering old versions of Adobe Reader for download alongside your .pdf resources? Beyond just updating old versions of your website software as described in #3 above, we also recommend that you clean house and use the latest or most popular apps and plug-ins on your site. Your users will appreciate your website keeping pace with their current favourite tools.

  5. Make sharing easy:

    Make sure your site visitors know where else they can find you online by providing links to all your social media channels in a prominent place on your site. And take it a step further by including social media sharing buttons on all your value-added, shareable content to make it easy for your fans to spread your message and circulate your knowledge resources.

  6. Identify RWD issues:

    Your audience will view your website on many devices: smartphones, tablets and iPads, laptops, and desktops. So, your web pages need to look good, be easy to use, and properly display key information regardless of the device being used – this is Responsive Web Design (RWD). Take some time to ensure that your web content adapts to fit any screen size and performs well on any device – it will pay you back in improved traffic, lower bounce rates, and increased time spent on your pages. If this task seems daunting, start with your key pages now, and tackle the rest over time.

  7. Comply with AODA standards:

    Ontario has laws to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. The requirements and deadlines you need to follow depend on the type and size of your organization, with the law stipulating phased-in compliance standards. At the very least, you need to keep pace with these phased-in deadlines, but it’s also good idea to get ahead of the game and try to implement upcoming AODA compliance regulations early so you aren’t faced with a last-minute scramble to comply. The requirements and deadlines for various types of organizations can be found here: https://www.ontario.ca/page/accessibility-laws.

Last but not least,

  1. Refresh or remove old content:

    Visitors and search engine algorithms alike will reward you for continuously refreshing the content on your website. This task may be the most time-consuming one on our Summer Refresh list, but it is well worth the effort. Remove any old content that is no longer relevant, so it doesn’t clutter up your site. Make sure your remaining content is current by making any necessary updates or changes to it. Add new content regularly in the form of blog posts, articles, photos, videos, and more. Doing so bumps your site higher up in search results, making you easier to find. It also keeps your existing prospects and customers coming back for more.

 

Take advantage of these 8 tips to revitalize your website this summer season. Staying on top of these elements of your site on an ongoing basis will help keep your site highly ranked and top of mind. Combined with clear objectives and compelling content, your website will deliver the business results you seek.

Alphabet Soup: SEO and AODA

The web can often feel like a sea of acronyms, and this is no different. SEO might be slightly familiar as Search Engine Optimization — making your websites more visible when people search for key terms— but AODA is a new kid on the block for Ontarians. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act sets to make companies think about disabled individuals and how to expand their accommodations to suit various needs, including how easily understood websites are.

All web content must be accessible by January 1, 2021, and private companies with over 50 employees must have all their content accessible already. Outside of legal reasons, accessible websites are good practice in general. The disabled population is a viable and untapped market, and an accessible website can be the difference between reaching that market and not.

Complying with AODA doesn’t just help you reach new markets — it helps your SEO, as well. In fact, screen readers and Google use pretty similar processes for navigating websites. Google’s commitment to accessibility means they favour sites that go the extra mile.

Here are three ways to use SEO to reach AODA compliance:

opt_perf-1.jpg

1- Site Maps

Creating a site map means screen readers know how to reach the page their users want to reach the most quickly, and are an SEO goldmine. By having a site map, you give everyone an easily read path to where they want to go, and people become less frustrated navigating.

While it can be heavily involved to make a site map, the payoffs are huge both on the accessibility and the SEO front. If this is on your ‘later’ list, consider pushing it up.

2- Alternate Image Text

Images are everywhere on the web, from buttons to coupons. While they provide engaging visual interest, they are completely unreadable to both search engines and screen readers. If you neglect to add alternate text, then search engines have less content to use in evaluating your site, and individuals could miss out.

Again, this is another heavily involved task, which means prioritizing is key. You don’t need to provide alternate text for all your images, but focusing on submit buttons, coupons, and images that click through to other pages or downloads will get you the most bang for your accessibility and SEO buck.

3- Descriptive Headings and Custom Page Titles

Search engines love custom page titles, because it proves relevancy for the content in the header. Screen reader users love them for the same reason — they know what they are clicking on as it is being read to them. This lowers frustration and allows people to use your site more easily.

Takeaway

Complying with AODA benefits everyone. By following three simple steps, you boost your SEO, and help make it everyone can enjoy using the internet. If you’re using WordPress for your site, you can follow tips outlined in this article to do even more for people with disabilities.