We give presentations for WordPress and Small Business at various meetups and networking groups in the local and regional areas. Below is the bulk of the presentation we give, with both the slide bullet points, and then some commentary (since you won’t get all the live dialogue). Please feel free to use the comments at the very for questions, and if you are interested in our WordPress consulting services, please Request a Quote.
Here’s the presentation slide deck from WordPress Ann Arbor:
What is WordPress?
- Why Is It SO Popular?
- What Is a CMS?
WordPress is popular because it’s a highly intuitive CMS (Content Management System) for websites. By using both themes and plugins, you can easily configure and maintain your own website (in most cases) without a developer or designer.
A CMS is software that allows you manage a website and it’s assets dynamically, without the need for static (individual) web pages. You can create, edit, and manage web pages, and images – without the need for web development software.
How do I get WordPress?
One of two ways:
WordPress.com is a free blog service
- signup for: websitename.wordpress.com
- can’t modify theme code
- have to pay to modify CSS code
- can’t install plugins or themes they don’t already have
- has paid upgrades (like vanity domain names)
- don’t have to pay for hosting
- maintained for Automattic company, not WordPress community
- limited customization – but nearly unbreakable
WordPress.org is free downloadable software
- requires web hosting
- maintained by WordPress community (which includes Automattic)
- can install any plugins or themes you want
- highly intuitive, fairly easy learning curve
- unlimited customization potential
- you break it – you fix it
But Isn’t WordPress for Blogging?
WordPress started in 2004 as “blogging” software (online journal), and that’s how many people still perceive it. It is (today) a fully fledged CMS system, and maturing more with each release. It is in use at websites receiving millions of daily pageviews (like Engadget.com), and at many high profile organizations, such as eBay, New York Times, CNN, UPS, General Motors, Best Buy, Forbes, National Geographic, and more…
Can I Really Create and Manage My Own Website?
- WordPress is Free
- Thousands of Free Themes
- Thousands of Free plugins
- What’s Your Time Worth?
Yes, you can create and manage your own WordPress powered website for free. You can use a free theme, you can use all free plugins, and depending on your level of technical skill, you can have a new website up and running in very little time.
Having said that, you might have to search awhile to find a free theme that doesn’t look “amateurish”, and you might need to be a slight bit tech savvy to upload your own logo, and customize it slightly. Also, some business owners are so busy – that they simply don’t have the time to learn how to use and setup WordPress for a website (as easy as it is). If you’re too busy already making money to create and manage your website, pay to have it done by a reputable expert. If you don’t have the capital to invest, then you’re stuck investing your own time.
How Much Money Will I Need?
- WordPress.com is free (but inflexible)
- Most businesses “self-host”
- requires a domain name and web hosting account
- What you spend beyond that is unique to your business needs
- DO NOT put your website LAST on your list of expenditures
If you go with the WordPress.com free website, you’ll be up and running in minutes – with no cost unless you purchase an upgraded feature (like a vanity URL). Most businesses however, require additional functionality that only “self-hosted WordPress can offer”.
You can get a domain name for around $10-12 (for 1 year registration). We recommend registering domains names with GoDaddy.com, because after using them for our own domain names for more than 10 years – they have been nothing but excellent. We can’t however say the same about their web hosting (or other) services.
You can get a web hosting account for about $10-15/mo. We recommend web hosting with HostGator.com. Since we fix hacked and infected blogs nearly every week, we have extreme experience with over a hundred web hosts, and HostGator has always been the best in both support and number of websites compromised. We do not recommend Bluehost, Dreamhost, or GoDaddy, as these are the #1, #2, and #3 webhosts we see with infected WordPress websites most often.
Beyond the basics of a domain name and web hosting, the best thing we can say as to the amount of money you’ll need is “your mileage may vary” (depending on your business needs, and the amount of money you have to spend). If you’re a law firm you might find that the free themes aren’t as professional as you’d like, and you might see out a “premium” (paid) theme that has high end graphics (and support). If you’re a jeweler, you might want to actually have a shopping cart in your website, a bar or meeting place might need a “list of events”, and a school or organization might need some type of subscription or members functionality. There are premium (paid) plugins you can purchase to address any one of these scenarios (and more). At the end of this presentation will be a list of recommended premium themes and plugins.
Beyond themes and plugins, you may have to (at some point) hire some help. This could occur if your website doesn’t look exactly the way you want, or if it doesn’t do exactly what you want. It could also happen if your website breaks (and you can’t fix it). Whatever you do, don’t put your website last on your list of (business) expenditures. If you had a physical brick and mortar store you would at least need to pay for rent or mortgage, utilities, insurance, and maintenance and upkeep. You need to view your website as important as a physical building, and invest in it’s upkeep and maintenance accordingly.
Preventative Website Maintenance Tips
- Offsite backups
- Update WordPress regularly
- Update Plugins regularly
- Remove unused plugins
- Use Basic Security measures
My NorthShore Advisory consultant gave me this advice, it’s important that you treat your website with as much care as you would your house or your car. If you’re using your website for business, then you intend on making money with it, and you intend on investing time and money into it. If someone broke into your physical business building – you would have to spend money in time and repair to fix it. You must realize the same would be true if something happened to your website.
Use a backup service (offsite if you can). If you’re a little bit technical, read the official WordPress Backups page.
There are free plugins like WP-DB Manager, but some of them (like that one) only backup your database, and not all the files in your website.
WP-DB Backup manages to get a snapshot of your site, but will get get not only wordpress and your database, but all the (other) files in your website (you may not want). It has an option to email a zip file to you, but if your site is big – this may not work.
A more sensible backup solution may be the Automatic WordPress Backup plugin. The plugin is free, but the web site backup is stored “in the cloud” in Amazon S3 storage (which you have to pay for).
You can see why many people just choose to purchase a plugin based service for backups, that will both backup and restore your website – should disaster occur.
Once you have offsite backups, you can feel confident in updating WordPress and all plugins regularly – because if something bad happens you can revert to the previous version of your website (rollback). You should also remove any unused plugins.
For more in depth WordPress security information, try reading our WordPress Security Guide.
How Do I find a WordPress Expert?
- forums or groups
- outsourcing websites
There are many ways to find a qualified WordPress expert, you could Google search until you found one with the skills required for your job or project. You could also ask questions or hang out where you can find WordPress experts, like the WordPress Tavern Forums. You could take a recommendation from a web developer or tech person you know, or go to one of the popular outsourcing or freelance websites.
How Do I know if my WordPress guy IS AN expert?
- ask for examples of work
- ask for references WITH contact information
- get estimates of work in advance
- ask lots of questions
- talk with them over the phone
- pay for only portions of work over time
We have heard so many “I got burned by my previous guy” stories from clients it’s not even funny. If we had a nickel for every one. Typically in each case, the client didn’t ask (or talk to) any references, and believed all the up front promises of the purported expert, and then once they got the money – they didn’t (or couldn’t) deliver.
The first thing you want to do is ask for examples of work from the person or company you want to hire. Then, ask for the references and contact information specifically for 3-4 of them and see what kind of response you get. If they say something like “they won’t allow me to give out their contact info”, or “that was when I was with another company” – and they want to skirt around the issue by giving you their “preferred contacts” (who may not even be real clients) – run don’t walk from this expert. They either never did work on that site, or they know they wouldn’t get a good reference from that person.
Next, give your expert a clear explanation of what you want. In return expect a run down of how they’ll do it (not, “sure we can do that”). Make them tell you HOW they will deliver your project, from techniques, to timeline, and cost.
Then, get an estimate of hours, and find out how much is required to start, and if you pay more during the project or the remainder at the end. Find out if they have a work contract. If it’s important to you, demand to talk to them over the phone – and make sure that their communication skills are enough for you to work with them.
How Much Do I Pay a WordPress expert?
- You get what you pay for
- Rates run from $10/hr to $200/hr
- Compare costs to any other skilled trade
- Differences are from coaches to coders
- If you want custom work, you pay a custom price
This is a good time to state that a great majority of people think that they can hire just anyone to work on their website. It’s crazy, because you wouldn’t just go to the bad section of town and hire some guy on the street corner to paint your car, or change the locks on your front door. And yet, time and time again we find people hiring some guy in India for $10/hr to completely setup their website. You don’t want a minimum wage plumber, an electrician with a 6th grade education, or an accountant or lawyer that can’t speak English. If your website is for business – why on earth wouldn’t you at least want someone that is both knowledgeable, and an expert at doing it for you?
Here’s something to think about, we had a job estimate last week where the client had paid a previous developer 40 hours worth of work to create a basic WordPress website. Before telling us that, he asked what we would’ve charged to create the same basic website – and we said we could’ve created what they had as-is in about 35 minutes or less (it was a basic theme with no customization and a single contact page). Even though our hourly rate is a little more than double what he paid his previous developer, he paid less by the hour, but paid for 40 hours of work (and still didn’t get what he wanted). Get an estimate up front, get it in writing with all the details of what you need.
Realize that there are differences in the levels of knowledge between WordPress “experts”. Some may be great “coaches” with enough experience to help you do basic customizations, including installing plugins and themes. They may not have enough experience to actually make heavy coding changes, or design customizations. Find out up front how much they know, and whether they would make a great “coach” or a great “coder”. Also, just because they can setup the website, does not mean they know anything about marketing, ads, search optimization, or security. Ask all the questions you can in advance.
We run into a lot of people looking for “custom work”. WordPress can do a lot out of the box, and there are plugins allowing you to do even more. But those plugins have specific features “out of the box”, and if you have unique needs beyond that – you may need some custom coding to get exactly what you want. We mention this because we get people (all the time) that don’t understand how much custom work costs (because of the hours involved). If you buy a suit “off the rack” – you pay a cheaper price. Get a kitchen from the showroom floor, most of it’s pre-designed. If you need a tailor or an architect – expect to pay good money for it! The same is true of websites. Get the best guy you can, make sure the work is done right, get exactly what you want – just don’t expect to get all this for $10/hr!
PEOPLE ARE JUDGING YOU!
- first impressions are everything
- you have about 5 seconds time
- it’s like a job interview
- are you trustworthy?
- can YOU do what I want?
- is what I want within 2 clicks?
The cold hard facts are everyone judges a book by it’s cover. You don’t like to think that, but it’s true. In your day to day life everything you encounter is based on judgements and snap decisions that you (and everyone else) makes in 5 seconds or less. You judge things by how they look, how they smell, how they act or appear, and what others think of them. Does this make sense to you? Because if it does, then you know that first impressions are EVERYTHING.
You have about 5 seconds time (on your website) to impress visitors before they run away (and sometimes they do before that). It’s like a job interview, new users are looking you up and down like a job prospect at an interview. Are you trustworthy? Can you do what they want? Can they find what they need within your website in just one or two clicks?
We use a lot of analogies with people in regards to websites, because (to be quite frank) most people are cheap bastards. We can’t blame anyone for being frugal, but why is it that a business that would spend thousands of dollars on a yellow pages ad for 10 years, not want to investest (one time) a few thousand dollars to have a spectacularly designed website? If you would spend money on a big shiny sign, slick business cards, a mailer campaign, television or radio – then why wouldn’t you want to invest the APPROPRIATE amount in your website design? Think about the best websites you’ve ever been to, that looked the best, and were the easiest to use…and then think about your own website. Does it match up?
You may not know this, but quality of design is an indicator of trust (proven in usability studies). In other words, it’s just like a job prospect. If a new applicant came to your business and interviewed for a job in shabby clothes, speaking bad English, and needing a bath – you probably made your choice before the interview was even over. I sure hope that your website doesn’t give the same impression to new visitors, because it’s there to attract new business – not turn it away.
Needs of a Small Business Online
- listing of services
- selling products (e-commerce)
- social media engagement
- contact forms
- generating leads
- SEO (getting found)
- email marketing
The needs of a small businesses are quite common when it comes to websites. All business websites need some type of listing for their services, and some actually need to sell products. Many business owners have a blog (within their website) for promotion of the brand. Nearly all markets can benefit from some type of social media engagement (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). WordPress has great free (and paid) plugins for contact forms, invoicing, SEO, email marketing, and advertising (should you choose to sell ad space). WordPress is popular because it has both free and paid plugins to address nearly all these needs.
Listing Your Services
- write in depth descriptions
- don’t put non-relevant services on the same page
- think off each service page as a “target”
- know your keywords in advance
- don’t OVER-SEO
- don’t forget the homepage target
A business website serves many functions. The first is to actually “get found” in the search engines, and if the search crawlers can’t figure out exactly what your business does, or what all your services (or products) are – you’re not going ot come up in search for anything.
One key thing to remember is that you should write great content with in depth descriptions. If you have multiple services (that are not completely relevant), then break them up into multiple services pages. Think of each services page as a “target” for a search engine visitor. Write great content that would not only make them want to use your business when they view the page, but that would also tell a search crawler the most about your business.
More often than not a business owner will think that they know exactly what “keywords” to use in their website. A quick trip over to the Google Keyword Tool might just change your perspective on that a bit. More importantly, once you know some good keywords to use, don’t go overboard with them. Use them in natural language context in your title, headings, and content. You can definitely “over-SEO” your webpages if you try to hard.
One thing most business owners tend to overlook is some descriptive text on your homepage actually stating descriptively what your business is about. If your domain name or business name isn’t keyword specific – a search crawler is going to have a hard time figuring out what you do (if you don’t tell them).
Selling Products (e-commerce)
- know your requirements first
- find the best solution (using WordPress or not)
- have a dedicated maintenance person
- be secure
- cover yourself legally
Selling products online is completely different than just having an informational website. The best thing you could possibly do is write down all the requirements for your online e-commerce in advance.
- how much do you anticipate selling?
- are they digital or physical goods?
- will you need a merchant processor, or will paypal work?
- how many products do you have?
- what shipping methods will you use?
- who will maintain your online store?
- how much will you have to worry about security?
- what’s your return policy?
- do you have the appropriate legal disclaimers?
- How is inventory maintained now (Excel, Quickbooks, another system?
- What accounts / receivable interface is necessary?
Once you know your own requirements, it will be much easier selecting the best way to do e-commerce. It should be quite clear if WordPress will work (or not). For instance the WP e-Commerce plugin is great, but does require some setup. You might also need to upgrade to get the appropriate shipping modules. Cart 66 is easy to use, and under $100 for a single site license, but it doesn’t yet have a CSV import tool. Then again, it is highly integrated with Amazon S3, Gravity forms, IDevAffiliate, Contact Contact, and MailChimp.
Blogging for Small Business
- don’t let it be a missed opportunity
- position yourself as an expert
- grow in the search engines
- use it to populate social media
- give away knowledge as your loss leader
- Keep people engaged via updates
- Use examples, case studies, and testimonials
Many small businesses say “I just want a standard website, we don’t need a blog”, but they couldn’t be more wrong. They may not “need” a blog to have a business website, but not having one is a “missed opportunity” for marketing. Blogging is a way to position yourself as an expert, it’s part of branding. It’s a way to make you human to your customers, and build trust. Every single blog post is a new seed in the search engine lottery, and if you don’t use social media frequently (like Facebook and Twitter), you can auto-post your blog post links to those accounts.
A static website is just that – static. It doesn’t change much, and people only visit when they need to lookup your service. A blog keeps people coming back over and over again, even when they aren’t looking at your products or services. You can keep them subscribed via email, RSS feeds, comments, forums, SMS text message, or through social media. If you’re not good at blogging, simply using recent customers examples of work, case studies, or testimonials is enough – or even highligh specials or new products when they are released. You are YOUR OWN PR opportunity!
What Plumber Would You Call?
When we gave this presentation live at WordPress Ann Arbor we showed some examples of local business websites that we found on the first page of Google. When we first looked, what we were trying to do was find examples of quality websites (on the first page of Google), but what we found instead were these examples.
For the first batch we googled “ann arbor plumber” and we found these 3 websites in Google page 1:
click image for full size version
When we did this live, we asked for good and bad things about each website. The image above is actually the entire homepage for this business. As you can see the print is entirely too small, the masters plumbers license # is buried in the tiny text, and the whole thing is too hard to read. It’s like somebody scanned in a bad business card.
click image above for full size
This website is a much better example, at least the phone number is in the header, and the master plumber license # is plainly visible in the left sidebar. The layout isn’t bad, but there is a bit of everything and the kitchen sink on the homepage, when it could be more of “call Mitch” with categorized links to all the information on inner pages. Then again – it’s better than the last example.
click the image above for full size
Even though this example doesn’t have the greatest design – the funny part is it has better design “because it’s lacking”. Meaning, it’s not cluttered, and the whitespace actually helps it. Your eyes can focus front and center on the phone number, 24 hours a day (although that should be bigger) and the fact that they’ve been in business 150 years. Rather than listing every single service they offer on the homepage, merely listing “heating”, “air conditioning” and “plumbing” are enough.
What Painter Would You Hire?
Next we’ll look at a couple of web sites for local painters, we just googled the phrase “ann arbor painter” to find a couple.
click image above for full size
When we showed the website above to the audience, the first thing they said was “why doesn’t the website look like it has anything to do with painting?”. Another commented that there was a big honking iPad where something about painting should’ve been. Funny thing is, we used this example to show that with the navbar wrapped around in the top header, and the text overlapping the images – clearly the designer of this website hadn’t tested it in all browsers (and didn’t know these errors existed). On this site although the “Request an estimate now” button was nice, the phone number was too small, and “painting company” in the logo was so small – it was barely noticeable that this was a painting company at all.
click image above for full size version
for the Pinnacle painter, the first everyone said was – where’s the phone number? That’s a major blunder, not having it in the top of the website. I guess the focus was on the free estimate, which was small in the header, and the poorly styled form in the body area wasn’t much better. But, at least on this website you can readily tell that they are painters.
Who’s the Most Reputable Lawyer?
When this screen came up and I asked “who’s the most reputable lawyer”, it sure got some groans from the crowd, and that was before we even showed the first website. I guess that lawyers can have that effect on people (lol). For these websites we simple looked at the first page of Google for “ann arbor lawyer”.
click image above for full size
Everyone in the room thought that the website above had been created in 1995, because it looked so outdated. Being dated dates your business. Another person asked why it showed the building and not the actual lawyers. This isn’t exactly the quality website you’d expect from a professional attorney.
click image above for full size
For the the lawyer website above, one person asked again “where’s the pictures of the lawyers”, and two or 3 others “what’s all that green garbage”? I don’t think if that attorney would’ve been in the same room they would’ve been as honest – but they’re right. What the heck does all that green artwork have to do with legal work in Ann Arbor? I have to give him credit, at least the phone is big and visible, and there’s a big “click to email me” link. It’s too bad there’s so much other wasted space on the page.
click image for full size
Out of all the websites we looked at, this was not only the best Ann Arbor lawyer / attorney website, this was the best overall. It shows actual people, phone numbers, an “e-mail our attorneys” button, it was professional, professionally designed, and well laid out and easy to read.
Which Accountant Would You Hire?
So we tried to find good examples of local accountants on the first page of google searching for “ann arbor accountant”, and this is what we found (instead)…
click image above for full size
In this website, you can see – there is no visible phone number, and while the website is ok, it’s very basic. There just isn’t much to it, there’s a lot more to be desired here.
click image above for full size
This website had a LOT of people saying “what they heck is going on?”. It’s just too much text, too busy, too small, too outdated, no phone number – just one of the worst examples of a small business website any of us had ever seen.
Believe it or not, the website above was listed on the first page of google, even though it was down). I guess they didn’t pay their Yahoo hosting bill. This is an example of a website you clearly don’t want to be.
Which Pizza Would You Order?
The next websites we found on the first page of Google looking for “ann arbor pizza”.
click image above for full size
This first pizza website had everyone saying “WHO IS IT”? Mainly because the only place the name appears is on the logo (and it’s too small). My comment was, with the huge big read area in the header – why didn’t they put the name and phone number there? All in all, this website is way too busy, and the sizes and proportions of things are all out of whack. Sure, you know they sell pizza, but does the pizza need to be 500x bigger than the phone number and name of the business?
click image above for full size
The pizza place above was known by most everyone in the room – they all said it was one of the best they ever had. If I had not heard that, I would’ve thought (based on the website) it was just some hole in the wall. Mainly because the website looks like a badly scanned business card and menu with the most important thing (the phone number) at the bottom of the page. One of the main comments here was, business owners have to understand that the yellow pages are useless, and Google is the new yellow pages. Invest a few bucks in a web site, because that’s how everyone finds you first in this day and age.
click image above for full size
Even though the pizza place above is kind of a mish-mash of design gone wrong, at least there’s some social media, an “order online now” button, and location finder all there right on the very top of the homepage. With addition of the social media icons, they seem to be the only local pizza place that “gets the Internet”.
Examples of Good Small Business Websites
Again, our initial intention when finding those websites was to find some good examples of a small business website, and right after we went through those – that’s exactly what someone in the audience asked (and if we had an example or two that we had done). So we fired up a browser and…
click image above for full size
The website is a great example because you immediately know what the business is, and the logo stands out. You can see right away they’re on Twitter and Facebook (which is how they stay connected with fans and racers), and the last posts are featured. You can get to exactly what you need fast, with photos, results, rules, and schedule in the top navigation.
click image above for full size
The image above is another great example, because it’s professional design, just enough whitespace to not be cluttered, and you can easily and quickly see exactly what this business is about, and where to get exactly the information you need.
What have we learned?
- Have an extermely visible “Call to Action”
- Look as professional as possible
- Highlight your strengths
- Don’t have a “cluttered” website
- Is your message “5 seconds or less”?
Your website should solicit some type of action on pages where you expect it. Whether it’s “call me”, “email me”, “contact me”, “get this free report”, or “free estimate now”. Your website should be as professional as possible in both layout and design, and your homepage should immediately highligh your strengths. Don’t have a design so cluttered that people can’t get what they need quickly, and be sure that people can find what they want just by glancing for a few seconds or less.
Are You Getting Conversions?
- Is your website bringing in visitors?
- Are those visitors converting to sales?
- What can you do to get more traffic?
- What can you do to convert more sales?
The main reason many business owners overlook (or are frustrated about) their website is that it isn’t brining in any traffic. You can hire content writers, marketing experts, or SEO gurus to beef up the traffic, but you still need the basics we already talked about. And all the traffic in the world isn’t important if you aren’t somehow converting that to sales.
Thing about what your website is currently doing with the traffic you are getting. Is it converting into sales? Do you now how and where? Do you know how to get it to convert to MORE sales? Be sure to have at least basic statistics or analytics installed to capture the information about your visitors, how long they stayed, where they came from, etc. Study this data to learn more about how people are using your website.
Does Your Website have ROI?
- Every business owners wants ROI
- If you don’t spend (time or money), no ROI
- ROI is NOT manufactured overnight
- You get OUT of it what you put INTO it
Every business owners wants a return on their investment (ROI). You wouldn’t have a website if you didn’t want it to do something. That “something” is MAKE MONEY (in one form or another). One side to that coin is, if you don’t invest in your website (time and money) – don’t expect any payoff. That, AND you can’t manufacture ROI overnight – you build it over time (like ANY business).
Go BEYOND your website
- Spend time doing external promotion
- Network in local meetups and groups
- Answer questions in forums
- Connect in forums
- CALL PEOPLE
- Connect traditional media to your website
You can get more worth out of your website simply by going beyond it. Don’t just put your website on brochures and business cards. Use it for networking, information, your signature of a forum profile, in social media, or even physical business networking situations. Go BEYOND your website and make it work for you!
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