Part 2 ? Essential Tools
Some of you may find it hard to believe, but some nonprofits we have worked with are unfamiliar with the essential tools used to promote and monitor the well-being of their site or where to find them.
So here is the run down:
You must own your own domain name:
While that may seem obvious, some nonprofits (and for profits)? that we work with don’t have this information – or at least readily accessible. They have relied on the good will of others to make sure their site is pointing to the right server – and most importantly to make sure they will be able to regain control should it be needed.
Whether it is GoDaddy, Network Solutions, or Hover (among others), you should have immediate access to your DNS. Recommended practice is to make sure that all the detailed name service routing is done on the DNS provider?s server and that your IT support people have access to it.? It is fine and often necessary to ensure that your trusted web partners can access this also.
Always keep a screenshot of the latest version of the DNS page of your site on file (and even back a few).
You must own your own analytic/social properties:
One of the best practices we adopted in the mid 2000?s was to setup a default Gmail address for our clients, and whenever there was a new social media service out, we would use that account as the default email, so our clients have a common mailbox for their social properties. Your marketing director should have immediate access to that account, and the password to that account should be VERY STRONG (8 to 12 characters minimum, with numbers, lower and upper case letters, and if the service allows, use special characters such as @, !, or #).
The same practice applies to your Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and other analytics accounts (e.g.: Marketo) ? we create a separate email just for our client?s analytics and webmaster tools (or an email they prefer) and then use that to permit our default user to grant full access to their analytics.
Is the software behind your site appropriate for your needs:
This subject is one that I can write quite a bit about and in the near future probably will again. But in short, the type of content management system (CMS) that you use to manage your content will affect your site?s ranking and your traffic (not to mention ease of use).
-The First option is No CMS, with a side of code. That is a workable option no matter what kind of site you have, but depending on how large your site is, the site maintenance, edits and SEO can get quite expensive. Out of some 40 nonprofit organizations that we work with regularly, only one is currently running a static HTML site.
-The Second option is WordPress. WordPress is a good software. If your site is informational only or is a blog, WordPress will be as good as any CMS for managing your content. There are situations, however, where WordPress is not ideal – and many of those can have a significant impact.
-A Third option is Joomla/Drupal. Both these CMS’ are robust and they are more appropriate if you have a content heavy site with a lot of events, shows or similar data. At the end of the day, WordPress, due to its inherent coding, is unable to present your DATA as data and thus hurts your Google ranking if you are relying on your show data to improve your site ranking.
-Magento, X-Cart, and OpenCart are all robust environments for e-commerce and are extremely good tools for setting up a shop.
Every week, at least one person is asking me, ?So why shouldn?t I use one of these free content management sites like Squarespace?? The answer is simple: you get what you pay for. These sites are made simple-to-use by removing back end functionality that is essential to your success. In addition, even when you get the paid version, the tools have been modified to accommodate everyone, thus not truly effective for anyone.
Get yourself some proper instruments:
There are some things that you will be using over and over on your site. Newsletters, forms, image storage/video & audio streaming, site security (SSL or Secure Socket Layer), and Social Media are some of those.
There are dozens and dozens of newsletter creation and distribution sites. You should research them and decide on the one that is appropriate for you. Some of the ones that we happen to prefer are Mail Chimp and Constant Contact.
Using forms on your site will improve your visitors’ user experience. Allowing a customer to fill out an online form, instead of printing and hand filling a PDF, may keep a customer/visitor that would otherwise have found another site to get the same thing.
Forms are valuable marketing tools. They allow you to gather information about your visitors and identify potential leads:
– Contact form
– Giveaway forms
It would be great if you could keep that data somewhere off of the website where you could easily manage it and have it interact with your other software such as your newsletter software.
As with Newsletters, there are many form generation and management sites, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. It is important that you research them. We happen to prefer Formstack for the needs of our customers.
Your site getting hacked is a real and constant threat, which is why it’s so important to protect your website.
If you are conducting any transaction on your site, you have to be sure you have an SSL Certificate installed on your website to keep your data secure.
You also need to be sure that you have daily backup of your site and that your provider and/or? IT department is running a daily Trojan and virus scan on your site.
Another essential item is displaying your social media. There are two ways that you must utilize the social media: one, to provide interaction for the end user and the other to display that you are interacting with the end user.
So what do I mean by that?
First, you must help your visitors help you by providing social media share buttons on your blog and other shareable website content. It is best not to use commercial share tools such as the “Share This” button for this purpose since you cannot guarantee your visitors? privacy. In fact, almost all governmental sites (city and state) that we have worked with do not allow the use of commercial share buttons due to the very same concern.? There are dozens of code snippets, both free and for 5 to 6 dollars, which can provide the exact same functionality, but give you complete control.
Second, you must show your visitors that your social media is active. This is easily achievable by displaying your Facebook and Twitter feeds on your social media or home page. More importantly, Google bots will like you better if you have these on your site.
As a final step, it is best to include social media icons that link to your organization’s profile pages. These buttons can be placed in the header or footer of the site if you are running an informational site, but if your site is transactional (events, shows, e-commerce, etc.) then it is best to have the icons only in the footer. It is a given that you should only display the icons of the social media that you use.