Day 1: The Website, The Solar System, and the Meaning of the Universe
Everything you post on the web, every key you press on your keyboard that is targeted toward communicating your message to the world, is yours. You own it. You are custodian of it as it moves through the universe. That’s why every discussion of building your brand online has to start with the online property over which you exert direct control: your website.
On day 1 of Building your Brand, we’ll talk about your website, share objectives of building our presence online, and discuss the overall role that your personal, professional, or organizational website serves at the center of your online universe.
Day 1 Recap
Thank you all for joining me for class today—great discussion all around! I’m going to do my best to reconstruct a few key points from our time today that will give you some ability to retrace our talk and do the work on your own. First, the website.
THE SOLAR SYSTEM AND YOUR ONLINE BRAND
The benefit of having a website is that you own it all. Investing time creating content and publishing to a third-party platform puts you at the mercy of another organization’s terms, conditions, and whims. So, as is the sun to the solar system, your website should be the center of your online universe. Everything else should point back to your site, where you facilitate all transactions — social, and financial.
(There is a caveat to this axiom that we’ll cover on Day 4, that being your social interaction that does not begin as a piece of cataloged contentshould exist in its best possible format. For example, a quick interaction on Twitter responding to a customer or fan likely would not have a blog post on your website that supports it.)
That’s an important concept. If your sun is your own site, then all the planets that orbit your site are the tools that connect to it — Google(+), Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, professional niche networks — anywhere you need to engage your audience should be met with your content in the shape and on the schedule that most suits them, and the platform. Why? Because in terms of building your brand online, you must meet your customers where they are, not where you wish they would be.
ARCHITECTURE OF YOUR WEBSITE
We didn’t talk at much length about the architecture of your website, and the pieces that need to come together to support getting your presence online. As a means of keeping the record complete, I’ll write a bit of a summary here. There are three pieces to this particular puzzle: the domain name, the host, and the platform.
- Domain Name: Your domain name is your entry in the global Internet phonebook in the sky. You lease your domain name from a domain name registrar and it takes the form of SomethingSomething.com. You might also hear your domain name called your Universal Resource Locator, or URL for short. Because you lease your URL, if you forget to renew your lease at the end of your term, you could lose it to someone else looking to capitalize on your traffic!
- Host: The host is actually a company that is renting you space on their server computers for you to place your website. Those server computers are identified on the public Internet by IP or Internet Protocol address, a 12-digit number that computers use to identify one another. Your URL in the Internet phonebook in the sky points to your host’s Internet Protocol address, making your website easy to remember (hopefully!) for all your raving fans.
- Platform: once you have your domain name and your host, you need to pick a platform. Your platform is the engine that serves your website on your server host. The most basic platform is simple HTML, or Hypertext Mark-up Language, the root language of the Internet. Today, however, we have many options for platforms allowing easy management and publishing on the web without having to learn any complex structured code. More on those in a bit
STEP 1: GET YOURSELF A DOMAIN NAME.
I recommend Hover.com to begin your search for a domain that is short, includes no confusing characters, and represents your brand. If you have to have numbers, make sure you register as many variants of your domain such that your visitors will get to your site no matter what. For example, if you’re registering the domain…
… the title of a book, you would also want to register…
Make sense? This way, you have captured all possible variations your users might enter into their browser to find you. In Hover, using the forwarding tool, you would then forward each of your domains to the same website and host so no matter what your visitor types into their browser, they’ll end up on your site, the canonical http://27dollarsandadream.com. Remember, this means you have to register three domains and keep up those registration fees each term!
STEP 2: PUBLISH YOUR WEBSITE.
You’ll be spending a lot of time on your website, so you want to make sure you’re using a tool that is intuitive for you, that is comfortable, and that you feel like you can control quickly and easily when you need it. In class, In class, we talked about Wordpress.com, Wordpress.org, and Squarespace.com. They are quite easy to use, and backed by solid technical reputation and history. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them.
Wordpress.com and Squarespace.com are what we call managed services. That means on the server side, there are people you never see managing the computers and networks that host your site every day, making sure that your site is fast and reliable no matter where in the world your visitors try to access it. As a result, both of these services operate on a pay model (beyond the very basic Wordpress.com tier), so be ready to fork out a few dollars for the best service and experience.
Wordpress.org is the non-profit, Open Source version of the Wordpress platform. That means that you can download the entire Wordpress platform — the very same version of Wordpress running on Wordpress.com — and install it on your own server or host, managing all aspects of it yourself for free. It’s an astonishingly powerful platform but requires a higher degree of technical know-how to configure and manage a Wordpress installation in this way; the upside is that you have 100% control over every aspect of your site.
Both Wordpress.com and Squarespace.com are templated, meaning you can choose the style and theme of your site easily, and both allow you to customize the look and function of your site quite effectively when you’re ready to bring in more custom functionality and advanced features.
Since both services offer some level of free introductory access, I strongly recommend you set up a site for this class and play with the tools offered. Wordpress.com allows you to set up a free blog, though you have to pay to access advanced features and get rid of advertising. Squarespace.com does not offer a free tier, but does give you two weeks to play with the entire service, and you don’t even need a credit card to sign up!
(Noted here so I don’t forget, Squarespace also offers a complete ecommerce solution built in. You can achieve the same results in building an online store through Wordpress, but in my experience building storefronts for clients, the plugin work required is complex to build, complex to maintain, and generally frustrating to operate. If you have something to sell, Squarespace is your best bet.)
BLOGS, INTENTIONALITY, AND BASIC COMPONENTS OF A SITE
We talked at length about the key components of a simple branded site. Sure, there are a handful of standard components that a good website will have. In our book site example:
- Strong landing page
- Book excerpt(s)
- Book history
- Author bio
- Links to buy book across reading platforms (dead tree edition, ebook edition, semaphore edition, etc)
- Subject blog
But just filling in the blanks here doesn’t get to the core question. The core question is, what is my intention in creating this website? If you have a book for sale, is your intention simply to sell the book? If so, then you’ll want to make sure your A-#1 objective in building your site content pushes people to buy the book in all its forms. Is your objective to build a community of like-minded readers? Then you might want to consider your resource library a higher priority, including more audio and video resources, more frequent news updates following your subject’s activities, and maybe even a forum allowing your site to become a place for readers to connect around your book. Understanding the intention of your site allows you to focus the development direction around your content more clearly and effectively. I mentioned the idea of the podcast, and given that the podcast is the number one advertising tool for the Taking Control site, our number one mission is to get people to subscribe to that podcast in iTunes.
Since one of the most important triggers for search engines to index your site is frequency of update, blogs have become critical tools. A blog is a list of posts or articles organized in reverse chronological order. Generally speaking, the more you post, the more often your site will be indexed. That’s a rich simplification, and we’ll get into details more in day 2.
Most major news organizations are now just glorified blogs. And many blogs are now so complex in design and function that they could be construed major news sites. What is fantastic about blogs and blogging is that it gives you an opportunity to educate your core customers, and do so in a way that directly communicates your personality and character. From a public relations perspective, this is a gift not to be squandered!
And, for those interested in our digital history quiz, here are the points we reviewed in class. You can find more on the relative sizes of networks here.
- 1971 - First email sent. The computers were sitting next to each other
- 1978 - First Commercial Spam sent by Digital Equipment Corporation advertising their DecSystem-2020
- 1978 - First Bulletin Board Systems exchanged data over phone lines
- 1978 - First copies of early web browsers hit USENet
- 1994 - GeoCities Founded -- one of the first social networking sites on the web
- 1995 - TheGlobe.com showcased user content and online
- experiences with other users
- 1997 - AOL Instant Messenger launches
- 1997 - SixDegrees.com launches, highlighting relationships and friendlists
- 2000 - The Bubble Bursts
- 2002 - Friendster launches, taking what theglobe.com did to new levels, highlighting real-world friends. 3 Million users in three months
- 2003 - MySpace is Launched. It was a friendster clone coded by an Internet Marketing firm and delivered in 10 days
- 2003 - LinkedIn Launched
- 2004 - Facebook is launched. Currently boasts 750,000,000 "active" users
- 2006 - Twitter is launched
- 2008 - Facebook takes over Myspace
- 2011 - LinkedIn files for IPO - LNKD
- 2011 - Google+ launches in reaction/evolution to Facebook further ignighting social wars. Grows from 0 to 20 million users in 17 day closed field test indicating pent up demand for alternative social sphere. Public reaction largely positive.
- 2012 - Facebook files for IPO - FB
- 2013 - twitter files dor IPO - TWTR
- 2014 -
- LinkedIn (2003) = 300 Million Users;
- Myspace (2003) =1 Million visitors (April);
- Twitter (2006) = 255 Million Users;
- Facebook (2004) = 1.31 Billion Users;
- Google+ (2011) = 540 Million Users;
- Instagram (2010) = 150 million;
- Tencent QQ (1999) = 784 million
I believe it was Sheila with the question, how many business pages are on Facebook? I did a little digging and found this piece on Marketing Land. It looks like the number is 25 million. Facebook does not say how that number is broken up geographically, but does say that 25 million represents pages that are updated at least monthly, posting updates and announcements and accessing Facebook page analytics.
That’s where we left it here, Day 1. If I missed anything that you feel like I should have covered in this post, please let me know through the contact form on the front page or in class tomorrow and I’ll make sure to fill in the holes. See you tomorrow!