Maintenance

2 Simple Ways to Keep Your Website and Work Protected

Okay, let’s face it. Few of us lean in with anticipation when we start talking about intellectual property protection and legal stuff. But you know who does? My friend, Christina Scalera.

Christina was my business mentor for just over a year, and boy, did I learn a lot from here! She’s super smart, and removes a lot of the confusion and barriers to protecting your company and assets. Her genius business idea is The Contract Shop, a place to grab most of your legal needs in just a few minutes.

While you may not have any contract needs at this moment, most all of you will have a website (or will soon). And, guess what—it needs protecting.

I used to freelance write for a website developer, and we once found a site that was almost entirely copied from his design! Lawyers got involved, and the website got taken down, but it was just plain weird. I mean, who does that?

And while you may not get your website ripped off, you do need to protect the time, effort, and money you’ve put into it. I love writing websites for my clients, and would be heartbroken if anything happened to them.

Besides, you have your mission to think about, not to mention the secret sauce of the way you work. There’s also any proprietary photography and other assets. It’s all those details that add up to your beautiful and unique brand.

So, while this may not be the most exciting topic to discuss, it’s super important! Give it a read, and see what you think. Plus, Christina makes legalese a little more fun.

 2 Simple Ways to Keep Your Website and Work Protected

You’ve got the shiny new website, blog topics nailed down, beautiful social media graphics, and curated photos to drive your mission home. You’re almost ready to announce the launch of your brand spankin’ new website!

But whoa—hold up for just a minute, buckaroo!

Have you posted the Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions on your site yet?  

Some of you are nodding along, and some of you are saying, “Wait, what?! What the heck is that?”

There’s no need to get freaked out! These two bits of legalese aren’t hard to understand and use, but it is a good idea to have them displayed prominently on your website. In fact, you could be violating federal law if you don’t.

So let’s talk about what they are, and what you need to do.


Privacy Policies

At their heart, Privacy Policies are intended to create transparency between users (in our case, readers) and yourself via your blog or website.

If you read blogs (like this one!), then you know that you leave little bits of your personal information behind when you visit. Things like your IP address, your name (or username), and email. If you make a purchase, there’s even more personal info that can be collected by the seller.

A Privacy Policy informs your visitors what information is collected from them when they visit your site, how you use that information (i.e: emails for your newsletter), and who else has access to the information (like your website hosting company).

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that any webpage collecting information from consumers, and/or that uses cookies, have a Privacy Policy available to visitors.

Not only is it legally required, but having one builds a greater sense of trust with your readers and makes you look more professional.


Where do I get a Privacy Policy?

Creating and implementing a Privacy Policy doesn’t have to be hard. You can start with an attorney-approved template, and then customize it to your situation.

You can also take note of what similar organizations use for their Privacy Policy. While I’m not recommending that you simply copy and paste, you’ll likely run across a few things you haven’t thought of, and you’ll get a sense of how a Privacy Policy can be made to represent your brand.

While this is the cheaper option, if you want to just get ‘er done and move on sans any worry or weird Frankenstein-ish policies you put together yourself, click here and snag your policies today.

Terms and Conditions

A basic Terms and Conditions policy tells people what they can and cannot do with your original content (like your photos, written words, or that cool idea you talked about in your last blog post). If you also sell content, it can be extended to protect you in the event that someone wants a refund or shares your content illegally.

It’s not at all uncommon for photos and content to be shared—with or without the permission of the creator—and often without credit. If this happens to you, what recourse do you have?

This is where a Terms and Conditions can help protect your interests. If you’ve clearly spelled out that you need to be asked for permission before your content is shared, then you’re on firmer ground if you need send a cease and desist letter or claim copyright infringement.

Just like the Privacy Policy, having a Terms and Conditions puts you on the level with your readers and consumers, lets them know that you’ve given thought (and care!) to what you’re doing and creating, and gives them clear instructions on how they can interact with your content.


Where do I get a Terms and Conditions policy?

Here again, you can cobble together your own, or start with a solid, attorney-approved Terms and Conditions template and customize it, which should cover everything you need and some things you might not have thought of.

Now you’re ready to rumble (legally-speaking anyway)!

I want to mention a couple other things before I wrap this up.

First, make sure that both the Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions are posted with a prominent and direct link on your blog or website footer somewhere.

Second, don’t stress too much about making sure your policies cover every tiny thing. You can always update them as you go along. (Pro tip: It’s also a nice thing for your visitors if you include a “last updated on” date at the top of your policies, and make sure you mention that the policies can be updated at any time.)

Third, and finally, if you have visitors from the European Union, you should check out this article to make sure you have that extra step covered.

The moral of the story? Privacy Policies and Terms of Conditions are important. Don’t ride the range without one! (Or launch a website… you know what I mean. ;)

Note: Links are affiliate links, but I have Christina’s Privacy Policy, Terms and Conditions, and Independent Contractor templates myself! They are awesome and so easy to use.


 Christina Scalera, The Contract Shop

Christina Scalera is the attorney and founder behind The Contract Shop, a contract template store for creative entrepreneurs, wedding professionals, and coaches.

When she’s not staring at a computer or awkwardly standing on cafe chairs for the perfect overhead latte photo, you can find her in the woods doing things that are sometimes dangerous but always fun, like riding horses, skiing, and reluctantly camping.

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 A basic Terms and Conditions policy tells people what they can and cannot do with your original  content  (like your photos, written words, or that cool idea you talked about in your last blog post). If you also sell content, it can be extended to protect you in the event that someone wants a refund or shares your content illegally.

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


How to Generate and Organize Content for Your Blog

This month we’ve made our way around the revolving door that is content marketing. If you haven’t had a chance to review Kristi’s take on email marketing, or our other posts on storytelling, trends in content marketing, or social media’s role in content marketing, then give those a rundown.

Among topics in the inescapable tide of content marketing is the importance of blogging. Blogging is the “meat and potatoes” of the internet right now and, if it’s not already, it should be an important tool in your marketing tool belt. 

Blogging builds your audience (in our case, Signifers), brand image, and increases your visibility on the internet. It’s also a very easy and practical way to show off your expertise. But don’t take our word for it—talk to our friend SEO. “Who’s SEO?”, you may ask. Well it’s not a “who,” but rather, a “what.” SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization

In layman’s terms, SEO is your visibility and popularity to followers, fans, and partners online. This is how you get to sit at the big kid’s table of websites and gain a following on the interwebs. Blogging plays a far more crucial role in you getting the attention you deserve than we sometimes like to believe.

Tech guru Larry Kim says, “If you’ve done any SEO at all, you’ve probably noticed that the stories that rank well tend to have high social share counts.”

 How to Generate and Organize Content for Your Blog

Blog Consistently: Start with Objectives in Mind

Search engines like Google and Bing use algorithms that discover analytics about your website. The more recurring visits, frequency of clicks, length of visits, and perpetual content (like blogs and social media) that these algorithms discover, the more likely it is that your website will be placed in an optimal position on search engines (hear: the coveted front page). Therefore, blog consistently. And, of course, make sure the content is good!

Soooo then, how do you blog consistently? To do this well, it begins with organization. If you want to blog well, you must plan well. 

You can’t assemble a car without the engine. You can’t construct a skyscraper without the frame. And you can’t create a phone without a silicon chip. Each of these objects has a core element—an piece that it can’t operate without. And each design is planned carefully around this centerpiece, knowing full well that the screen wouldn’t light up without the chip, the building tower go up without a frame, or the car fire up without an engine.

In the same way, you should create objectives and goals for your content. Start with a broad goal in mind and then move into the specifics required to accomplish it.

Objectives should be succinct, specific, and inform everything else. For example: 

  • Increase monthly sales by 5% in 90 days through increased blogging content about products

  • Increase email sign-ups by 150 in 60 days through increased exposure on your blog

Objectives exist as the frame for the overall picture. By setting clear objectives, you have a directed vision of where you’re going. Otherwise, it might lead others to believe that there is no consistency, thought pattern, or organization in your company’s writing. However, objectives require specific content. Starting from your objectives, first assess content that you have currently and then generate new ideas or improvements.

 

Auditing Previous Blogs: A Plan for Improvement

Last week, our other intern, Megan, suggested conducting a simple audit of all of your social media platforms. Through this process you can use an easy analysis—like SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats)—and revamp the existing content on your website. You have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.

In the same way you can analyze and improve Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you can evaluate the current content on your blog. Take an hour or so to study your websites analytics. (Google Analytics is a great, free tool!) See which content performed best, what is now off-brand and may now need to be removed, and what can be updated and reused. Also, take note of what content should’ve been included, but wasn’t, what’s new with your nonprofit or social enterprise that should be discussed. You can certainly do a more in-depth audit, but that’s probably the quickest way to evaluate your current and previous edits. 

So, now, how do you generate new content?

 

Moving Past Writer’s Block: Here’s What to Blog About

In her guest post,  Ask The Experts: Content Marketing 101, Jennifer Garrett addressed the issue of content oriented writer’s block. Yes, there’s a solution to the cry, “I don’t know what to blog about!” 

Currently, the content that is the most valuable online is the content that tells a story and intersects with your audience. However, you also need to make them take an action as a result of reading your stellar content. This could be signing up for your email list, purchasing a product, registering for an event, or making a donation. Remember, it’s a mutually-beneficial relationship. So, start with your end goal and make a list of ideas that both aid that goal and serve your audience. 

Here are just a few types of blog post examples: 

  • Surveys

  • Feedback or answers to customer service questions

  • Holiday-oriented content

  • Transcript or summary of your podcast episodes

  • Product or service spotlight

  • Successes or updates

  • Year-end giving campaign

  • Tell people about what problem you solve and give examples

  • Confronting objections people may have to your work

  • Questions that prompt ideas or actions

  • Guest posts

  • Updates to old posts (revive if outdated and repost; from your audit)

  • Upcoming events

  • Partnership or sponsor highlights

  • Grants or awards won

  • Member or staff profiles

  • Insights into your culture

  • Your organization’s history

  • Mention influencers or celebrities that recommend you

  • Milestone celebrations

(Want 80 more idea? Click here.)

Also check out this previous post on 12 Questions That Inspire Content Creation.

After establishing each objective and writing a list of topics, create specific content to support it. For the example of “Increasing monthly sales by 5% in 90 days through increased blogging content about products,” you might create a month-long blogging series on popular products your company sells. So, if your social enterprises sells jewelry to fight human trafficking, talk about your cause and how the product will aid in that process. By talking about what you know, you will become an authority in that topic, and people will follow you and come back to your blog to read more about subjects that interest them.

 

Plot and Plan Ahead

Plotting out blog content six or 12 months in advance can seem like a tall order. However, there are a variety of tools to help aid and hone your marketing skills and consistency.
Google Sheets or Excel are easy to use, often recommended, and even utilized by a lot of pros. A simple Excel doc is even what we use here at Signify. It has simple headers for the date, topic, the action we want people to take as a result of reading, if a supplemental piece is being created for the post (like a checklist), relevant holidays to tie-in, and notes. And here’s an example that’s broken down by the team at Edgar.

By organizing your content, you’re creating a strategy for your organization. You’re telling yourself and your team what’s important to talk about right now, and in the future. It’s relevant and actionable. Creating a professional editorial calendar will also aid in this process.


I prefer to use Google Calendar or a computer’s calendar to amplify the benefits of an Excel sheet. Google Sheets are nice, but it’s additionally helpful to have your deadlines and purposed content stored in a calendar somewhere so you can see it visually and even add reminders. The combination of Google Sheets and Google Calendar can be a powerful planning tool. There are plenty of how-to’s on the internet for merging Google Sheets with Google Calendar. Take a look at this example. As always, the idea is to find a system that works for you, and that you can stick with.

 

Maintaining Frequency in Your Blog Posts

But what about frequency? We recommend blogging a minimum of once per month. But remember, this is a minimum, not ideal. But start something, and build on it. Create the consistency for yourself and your readers. This gives them an expectation of when they’ll see new content from you, and allows them to eagerly anticipate what you’ll be talking about next. A by-product of this is that you’ll start sticking to a schedule, when it might have previously been easy to let it slide. Plus, Google’s algorithm loves frequently updated content!

You may also be asking yourself when you should post? After researching the best times to post and surveying analytics on your website or blog, you might realize that Wednesday and Tuesday mornings are great times to post because your audience is online around that time. These analytics vary by audience, demographic, and region. Research your audience a little bit, look for the right times to post, and then maintain a consistent schedule. 

This research can be done through your website analytics, social media analytics, and even reading experts online. But don’t get too hung up on the analytics portion if that seems overwhelming. (Totally get it!) We’d rather you get started than put off regular blogging for another month or two because you don’t feel like you have all the information.

While you may have some topics that need to post at certain times, like sales or giving campaigns, you’ll also have gaps on your calendar to fill in, or loads of ideas you aren’t sure what to do with. Don’t let those ideas past or go to waste! Be sure to capture them so you can fill in your calendar as needed. You definitely want to have a reservoir of topics to choose from so the supply doesn’t run dry. 

 

Helpful Tools For the Planning Process

Here are a few tools to help you jot down those notes as well as plan your content: 

  • Word doc - See, it doesn’t have to be fancy! You can just keep those “extra” ideas here for safekeeping.

  • Evernote (or Microsoft OneNote) - Not necessarily the best platforms for specific date planning, but can be helpful for simply jotting down ideas. Kristi uses Evernote, and loves it.

  • Asana.com - Good for planning specific deadlines and tasks, and delegating to specific employees or yourself. We use this here at Signify.

  • Monday.com - Stripped down planning software

Through consistency and effectiveness in your planning, you can ensure greater success for your blog and begin to implement a strong content marketing strategy. It will begin to feel more intentional to you, and that feeling will also translate to your readers. That blog doesn’t need to stay bare! 

This practical approach of generating ongoing content can increase your company’s visibility, which is exactly what you’re looking for because that results in more sales or donations. And that’s why content marketing is so important.

 

Read the other posts in this series:




Boost Your Content Marketing Through Blogging

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Michael Griffith Banks is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in Public Relations and a minor in Spanish. He’s throughly involved with UGA’s Office of Admissions, having served as an Orientation Leader for the University.


What (and Why) You Should Be Emailing Your List

We've been talking all things content marketing this month, and today's subject is a biggie. Everyone wants to talk social media all the time, but it's not the most important thing when it comes to engaging with your current donors and customers. That's right I said it—social media is NOT the most important thing. Breathe that in, people.

Don't get me wrong, social media is an important (and unavoidable) part of marketing, especially when it comes to finding new prospects, but it isn't the top priority for those currently in your circle of trust. I'd rather you stop focusing on social media, and start focusing on your email list. 

I've had many, many conversations with friends and clients about this topic. I get some slow head-nodding, blank eyes, puzzled looks, and then a question or two usually follows. Something along the lines of, "Why is email marketing so important?" or "Ok, but what should I send to my email list?" I usually also hear that people do send emails to their fans and supporters, but it's been a few...months.

Sending emails just sorta happens when they get around to it. Maybe they'd planned to send out an email blast, but there was yet another fire to put out. Or, they'll email again when they have something "important" to say. 

Any of this sound familiar?

I'm here today to tell you what and why you should be emailing your list. Because it's vital to the health of your organization. Yep, it's that big of a deal. Whether you're concerned about content marketing for your nonprofit or social enterprise, or not, email needs to move up on your priority list.

 What (and Why) You Should Be Emailing Your List - For Nonprofits and Social Enterprises

WHY EMAIL MARKETING IS IMPORTANT

Though social media is the shiny object of the marketing world, email marketing should be the staple. It's true that nothing will ever beat in-person conversations; those should always be the first option. But for electronic or online communication, email should be your focus.

Why? You "own" your list. We've already seen a handful of algorithm changes on Facebook this year alone, and they're all making it more difficult for your business to get seen by your fans and followers. That's great for us as individuals who want to see more pics of our friends kids, pets, vacations, or last night's dinner. Not so great from a marketing standpoint.

And as things change again, and they will, you'll be further and further removed from your audience, unless you are paying to get in front of them. However, with an email address, you land directly in their inbox. Whatever you need to communicate to them is front-and-center. They don't have to go hunting for it, and they don't have to wait to just see it occasionally, if the internet powers that be, decide today's the day to show them.

Plus, if one of those nifty social networks goes away tomorrow, or decides to remove businesses entirely, you have no way to reach those people. Poof! They're gone. But you know what you do have? That's right, your email list!

You also have more real estate in emails to get your message across than on social media, and emails still have the highest conversion rates as well. Two, more very good reasons!

Oh, and if you're slightly panicked about neglecting your social media, here's my solution.

(Side note: I recommend setting a reminder to download your list a few times per year so you never lose it either. Unfortunately, nothing is guaranteed!)

WHAT TYPES OF EMAILS YOU SHOULD SEND TO YOUR LIST?

Okay, now that you understand why you should be making more use of your email list, you might be stuck on what to send. Besides a lack of time, this is the issue I hear most.

So, what should you email to your list? The good news is that the options are pretty limitless! 

Here are just a few examples:

  • Program/product/service updates

  • New hires, job openings, or internship opportunities

  • Recent blog posts

  • Behind-the-scenes details

  • Thoughts from the founder or staffers

  • Links and resources your audience would find helpful

  • Tips and tricks

  • Surveys

  • Needs list (ex: resources a nonprofit might need to further their mission)

  • Staff or recipient profiles

  • Holiday announcements or celebrations

  • Photos or videos of people using your product/service

  • Testimonials and stories

  • End of year impact reports

  • Recent press/media

(Want 85 more ideas? Click here!)

Think about it: These people willingly gave you their email. That means they want to hear from you! And they want to hear from you more than a couple of times per year... So, don't neglect sending just because you don't have any "big announcements." 

I also recommend keeping a list somewhere of topics that would be good for your emails, even if it means they need to wait a while. You don't want to lose any good ideas! I use Evernote, since it's always handy, but you can use Google Docs or Sheets, a Word doc, a sticky on your computer, or whatever is a good fit.

To make things even easier on yourself, you can even set up a template for your regular email newsletters so that all you have to do is just drop in the new content each time. This is exactly what I do with Special Features. I have a formula that I follow of specific things I want to communicate to my audience. Each section has a purpose. Doesn't mean that it'll stay that way forever, but right now, it works for me.

 

A FEW TIPS ON FORMATTING YOUR EMAILS

Photos and graphics, or no photos and graphics? Headers or no headers? Long or short?

The truth is that I've seen emails of all shapes and sizes get the job done. Some are beautiful and some are plain. So, whether you have yours laid out by a professional graphic designer or not is your call. What works with your brand and your voice? That choice is up to you.

Here's what I will stress, however: It needs to be easy to read on laptops, tablets, and phones. (A LOT of people are reading your emails on their phones these days!) That may sound completely intuitive, and like I don't need to say it, but trust me, I do. I have seen some emails that likely have great content, but they are so hard to look at and read that I just hit delete. I'm sure you've done the same.

So, what's the cure? Well, a lot of the advice we've been giving over the past few months for websites and blogs carries over here, too. 

Namely:

  • Write is short paragraphs of one to three sentences. If you're reading anything on a phone, do you want to just stare at a wall of text? Answer: Nope.

  • Use headers where needed for clarity and changing topics, especially if the email is long. People are skimmers, whether we like it or not. Don't fight it.

  • Let white space be your friend.

  • Leave the jargon at the office. Keep the language easy to understand.

  • Give clear calls to action (telling people what you want them to do), and make it easy for them to do it.

  • Make it about the reader as well as your organization. Make the content relatable, and let them feel a part of your work.

  • Go back to your brand standards. All your fonts and photos should match your brand, or be extremely complementary if, for example, you have a really uncommon font. But make sure everything looks like goes together—and matches your brand. Watch out for sizes, spacing, and keep those headers in check, too. Tip: Look at it like a blog post. Get all matchy, matchy.

If you think that you do want to include graphics, but aren't good at design, have a graphic designer create templates that you can use over and over, just replacing text and photos as needed. This is what I did.

I had my designers create a standard template for my monthly newsletter, a couple variations for different categories of opt-ins, and a really generic one for simple announcements. Now, anytime I need to create a new email blast, I just choose the right template and switch out the info and graphics—presto! Now, I don't have to reinvent the wheel every time. (Hint: This also makes coming up with your content easier because you know what "boxes" to fill in!)

Your formatting is just as valuable as your content, so don't skip this step.

 

WHEN SHOULD YOU EMAIL YOUR LIST?

As with pretty much everything else, there are no concrete, black and white answers. Sometimes that's a good thing because you may feel bad that you can't keep up with "standards." However, sometimes that's bad because you don't have a guaranteed blueprint to follow for success. What works for some may not work for others.

But, here's what I tell my clients: I'd like you to email your list at least monthly. I guarantee you've got something to share each and every month. If you can email more frequently with smaller updates throughout the month, do it! But if you wait more than a month, you risk being forgotten.

Remember, we're all out of sight, out of mind creatures. So, if you aren't talking to your list, you'd better believe someone else is!

I'd also like you to figure out a consistency or frequency that you can stick to. This is an effort to make sure it happens, and also helps people expect when to hear from you. Both are uber important.

For example, in an ideal world, I'd email my list a couple of times per month with small updates and information that will be helpful to them. But as a solopreneur, I've got a lot on my plate. So, for now, Special Features goes out once per month. Specifically, the first Thursday of the month. I even have a reminder in Asana to help keep me on task. One particularly busy month, I worked late and finally hit send about 10:00 p.m., because come h*ll or high water, that thing was going out on the first Thursday of the month! It's a promise I made to myself and my tribe.

Others I know send emails every Friday, or every other Wednesday. So, make the decision of when you're going press the magic button, and commit to it.

THE NUMBER ONE EMAIL MARKETING MISTAKE

One of the biggest problems in not emailing your list very often is that you only tend to email them when you need something. This is a big no, no.

It takes time to build the "know, like, and trust" factor with your audience. This is what leads them to action.

Like real life, this is a relationship to be nurtured. So, how would you like it if you had a friend that only talked to you when they wanted you to buy something or donate to their cause? Ewwww. I imagine they'd move off your friend list pretty quickly!

Yet, this is what I see nonprofits and social enterprises doing again and again. They get busy, and only email their fans and followers when it's convenient for them. As a result, donations flounder and sales fumble.

The result? Organizations are left thinking email marketing doesn't work. So, once again, they put it off.

But the lesson should be to change the strategy. Begin working on the relationship with your audience regularly and gradually, rather than using it part of the backup plan.

 

EMAIL MARKETING AS A STRATEGY

Here are Signify, we're big on strategy. Yes, it's good to be sending those emails, writing those blog posts, and connecting on social media, but it becomes much more effective when there's a strategy behind it.

Other than, "because I have to," WHY are you sending the email?

Do you need to sell a product, drive donations, announce a new program, or promote an event? All of these are pretty big "asks" and will usually require more than one email. A series of emails primes them to take action. This gives them all the information or motivation they need to make the decision. And this requires planning. You'll need to figure out ahead of time what what to say and when to say it.

Often, once you lay out on a calendar or spreadsheet all the things you absolutely need to say in a year, you'll see how fast space actually fills up. Then you can plug in other types of emails such as the above examples.

Of course, the unexpected will come up, and that's fine! Nothing wrong with a special announcement now and again.

If you find it overwhelming to think about a year's worth of emails, start with six months, or a quarter, or heck, even a month. But it's time to get intentional. Email marketing is too important to ignore or leave to chance.

What questions do you have?

 

Read the other posts in this series:



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 Whether you're concerned about content marketing for your  nonprofit  or  social enterprise , or not, email needs to move up your priority list.

 Kristi Porter of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


7 Tips You Need to Know to Write a Better Website

These days, the internet is king. If you need to know or find something, you Google it. If you’re looking for a specific product or organization, you visit their website. And there’s nothing worse than landing on a page that’s cluttered, unorganized, and/or hard to navigate. We all know how fast we’ve hit that little red “x” on sites like that.

Designing and writing content for your website can seem challenging, but we’re going to walk you through the most important, and sometimes overlooked, aspects that will make your website effective, navigable, and memorable.

As a nonprofit leader, this is especially vital. Not only do you want to spread your message and goal, you want to raise money, and fundraising online is essential. It’s convenient, fast, and easy, and if done correctly can generate more money, more visitors, and more supporters.

This is important for everyone, though, not just nonprofits! Cause-focused organizations of all kinds also need web content that clearly informs readers of the issue and what they can do to help. You need to make an immediate and strong impression in order to gain supporters and grow your business. Everything must be clear, concise, and always lead back to the cause. So, let’s get to it!

7 Tips You Need to Know to Write a Better Website

You need to keep all of your web content clear, easy to understand, and catered to your specific audience.

Who are you trying to reach? Who is your ideal donor or supporter? What do they do, what do they like? Figure out these questions and then tailor all your content to reach your audience. In return, answer questions for them. What do you do? Why should they care? How can they help?

Make all of your writing clear and concise, don’t add any extra information that doesn’t need to be there and that may confuse or mislead them. Avoid jargon. You might know the language of your specific industry but others probably do not. Get an outside, third party to read everything over and ensure that it is easy to understand. Your purpose should always be clear.

Additionally, keep all of your paragraphs short and sweet. Break up chunks of writing into easily-digestible content that one can easily scan through should they want to. Highlight the most important information so they can’t miss it. This also makes it easier for people to read and look at if they are on their phone or tablet, which let’s be honest, most of us are.

 

Keep your home page and all of your pages simple, not cluttered with text.

Your home page is the first thing viewers see, so you don’t want to overwhelm them with a ton of written information. They won’t know where to look or what to look for, and probably won’t read much of it at all.

Instead, use images to draw viewers in and interest them. We live in a visual world, so use that to your advantage and choose strong, eye-catching pictures that support your narrative. These will intrigue viewers and guide them to the written information.

This goes for your other pages as well. Save yourself and the reader time and cut the clutter. Only write what is most important, clearly and succinctly. Keep it simple.

Also worth noting: watch the number of pages you have on your website as well. If you have lots of different pages and categories this can also make your site look cluttered, and confuse or overwhelm the viewer. Most people won’t read an entire site as it is. And this means less writing for you too! Sounds like a win-win.

Use storytelling to attract and intrigue readers, inviting them to be a part of your cause.

No one will want to read a bland, boring, or strictly technical website. People respond well to stories, something that draws them in, appeals to their emotions, and makes them think. If you want to make your website more effective, creating a story around your mission and goal is a surefire way to garner more support. Storytelling is powerful.

You’re passionate about your work, so put that to paper (or rather, keyboard) and make it show. Make others passionate too. Tell readers about your organization, introduce a character and a conflict, present the solution, and show them how they can be part of that resolution.

However, choose your words wisely. This isn’t a novel; you only have a few seconds to pique visitors’ interests and keep them on your website. Keep it concise, to the point, and powerful. Every word counts, and you don’t get many. Make sure each one is impactful and furthers your cause.

You may also consider using statistics or numerical data to further your story and prove that readers can make a difference. How will their contribution really help? Show the success and make it real for them. Just be careful not to overwhelm them with stats.

You can find more resources for effective storytelling here.

 

Make your website customer or donor friendly--donation buttons or calls to action should be on every page and easily accessible.

You want viewers to take action, so communicate clearly what you want that action to be and what they need to do. Don’t forget: always keep in mind who you’re writing to! Use action and power verbs and convince them to take the necessary action.

A call to action can be anything from donating, to buying a product, to getting on your email list. Whatever you want your audience to do, this is what you need to call attention to. These are powerful marketing tools, and should get an immediate response from the person viewing it. They should directly let your audience know what to do next if they’re interested in what you have to offer.

These calls to action are what drives donations if you’re a nonprofit, or sales if you’re not. Keep your statements direct and concise. Use “you” to make the reader place themselves directly into the situation. Appeal to emotions, just like storytelling, and create a sense of urgency. This will make your content more compelling and effective.

Your goal should be to keep supporters one click away from donating or making whatever action you need them to make at all times. Design-wise, you need to be placing clear, easy to locate buttons on every page. Make them stand out by highlighting them in a color that is different from your written content so visitors will be sure to see it.

Your “About” page also needs to contain client/customer/donor language.

Did you know that the About page is often the second most visited page on a website? If that’s also the case for you, it should probably be working a little harder on your behalf.

Yes, it’s about you or your organization, but it also needs to appeal to the reader. You’re writing it for them, so they can determine who you are and if they want to support you. So convince them!

Talk about what you do and how it can help them, or how they can help you and why they should. Tell them why they should spend their time reading your website or supporting your cause. Remember what I said before, everything should be about your audience, even your About page.

This is also the perfect place to include your social media. Your website should have clear social media icons sprinkled throughout, but you should also include them here. Don’t be afraid to add a call to action button here as well. (See our About page as an example.)

 

You also need to make sure you establish trust with your audience, whether it be a donor, sponsor, or customer.

Prospective donors and customers are going to want to know where their money will really be going and if their financial information is safe and secure. You need to consider this when writing content and build that trust. Address these issues and put their minds at ease.

Demonstrate your organization’s use of funding, maybe with an eye-catching graph or some other graphic. Make sure your audience knows you value their support as well as their financial information, and take all necessary measures and precautions to ensure that it is secure.

Speaking of graphics...

 

Your content needs to be visually pleasing, so use pictures, graphics, and make it all look clean and appealing.

While your content is obviously important and will ultimately drive visitors to take action and support your cause, things need to be aesthetically pleasing as well, like I mentioned earlier. Choose your fonts wisely. Pick fonts that are easy to read and large enough for all screens and eyes.

Choose pictures and graphics that are also strong and only relevant to your organization. You need these visuals around your website to support your written content, catch the audience’s attention, and generally just look good! Make sure all images are clear and not too distracting. Create a color palette for your website and match your pictures to that palette. Be careful to only use royalty free images as well!

Remember that this is especially important for your homepage and your donation/product page. These need to be clear and visually stunning, but still not cluttered or hard to navigate. On your homepage, make sure your page categories are easy to spot and organized. On your donation or product page, include bold amounts, payment methods, frequencies, and how their donation or purchase will help your cause.

Clear, concise, beautiful!

Your website is the face of your organization and communicates with the world what you do, why they need to know, and how they can help. Make sure your content is powerful and your visuals are stunning, and you’re more likely to reach your intended audience—and your goals!

 

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7 Tips You Need to Know to Write a Better Website

Megan Westbrook

Megan Westbrook holds a B.A. in journalism with a focus in public relations and a minor in Spanish from Georgia State University. An aspiring writer, her interests reside in blogging, social media, content creation, design, and photography. She is also a passionate social justice advocate and interested in nonprofit or cause-focused work. Megan is currently a receptionist at Servcorp in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Advice From The Editors: Avoid These Writing Mistakes

If you've been wondering what makes for great business writing, you're in luck! Based on feedback from the Signifiers Facebook Group, we're focusing on writing tips all month long. But before we talk about how to write an enticing and effective blog post, website, or social media, let's first chat about common writing mistakes. 

I don't know about you, but I see errors on professional websites, blogs, social media, and even national commercials almost daily. And, as someone who can spot them, it makes the brand seem more amateur to me, especially when it's a large company. That's definitely not what I want for your organization. 

So, to kick things off, I asked a few of my favorite #girlboss editors to explain some common writing mistakes, which will allow you to spot any weaknesses you may have, and improve them. (Basically, here's how you can up your writing game in just a few minutes!) Any corrections you can catch now may cause you to retain customers and donors in the future.

 Advice From the Editors: Avoid These Common Business Writing Mistakes

Audience

Sara Shelton:

My biggest tip for any and all writers would be to remember your audience. If you don’t know who you’re writing to, don’t start writing until you figure that out! Identify your primary audience and then write with them in mind. Read everything back through the lens of that audience and ask yourself if it makes sense just for them. Did it communicate specifically to that audience?

As an editor, one the biggest content mistakes I find myself having to correct is a lack of focus on an audience. It’s much easier to make a clear point and deliver a direct message to one, specific audience. When a writer or brand doesn’t know who they’re trying to communicate to, clarity and messaging gets lost and mixed up pretty quickly!

 

Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling, and Related Nonsense

Afton Phillips:

The Oxford Comma Debate

To add the third comma, or not to add the third comma. That is the question. A REAL BIG pet peeve of mine when editing is inconsistent commas. The Oxford comma is the last comma in a list of three or more items just before the "and" or "or." For example, “Johnny, April, and Samantha drove to the store to get Tombstone frozen pizza, which as we all know, is the best kind of pizza.” The comma after "April" is the Oxford comma.

The reason this matters is that sometimes the meaning of the sentence can be misconstrued without the comma. In the above example, it might otherwise seem like we’re telling Johnny that April and Samantha went to get delicious pizza without him, which is very rude. Without the Oxford comma, the last two subjects can sometimes be grouped together separately, leaving the first guy all alone, hungry, and wishing he had pizza. So, my humble opinion is to be kind and add the Oxford comma.

There are a lot of opinions on this topic, but no matter where you fall, my one piece of advice is be consistent. Whether you want to use it or not, whenever you have a list of three or more, make sure you either always or never use your Oxford comma. This will make your editor's life much easier, and it will clear up any misunderstandings in your text by your willy-nilly use of punctuation.

 

Jill Turner:

The number one mistake I have corrected lately (and so many times) is no comma before "and" (or any other conjunction) when marrying two sentences that could stand on their own. For example: Kristi Porter is a friend of mine. She is a talented writer. If I put those two sentences together, I have to say, "Kristi Porter is a friend of mine, and she is a talented writer."

A second thing that bothers me is the very popular use of "based off." A base is something you put something else ON. A base is a launching pad, a setting place. You can only base something ON something else.

A resource Jill recommends:

 

I will also add two of my own here:

First, an ampersand, or the famous "&" character, should not be placed in the middle of a sentence. I think this probably became more popular when people started writing like they text (note: me shaking my head and sighing). Use it for titles, names, and things like that, but if you're using it in a sentence because typing two more characters for "and" is a bit much for you, rethink it. It just leaves me feeling that whatever is written is unprofessional or sloppy. And it drives me insane to see large businesses who can afford proofreaders make this mistake.

Second, and somewhat related, is the use of single and double quotes. I still hold true to what I was taught in school: use double quotes every dang time, unless you are quoting someone within a set of quotes. For example: "I turned to look at a bewildered Samantha who said, 'Oh, no, she didn't!' and then we both burst out laughing."

That latter mention is the only time I believe a single quote should be used. And I really enjoyed this funny, tirade on the subject. Again, I think this leads back to texting being the death of proper writing. (Call me old, I don't care!) Then again, sometime these mistakes keep me in business, so there's that...

Resources I recommend:

  • I admit to Googling these questions now and again, but I only get my answers from reputable sources like AP Stylebook, Grammarly, and Grammar Girl, which you'll also see noted below.

  • Make friends with editors, ha! I'll also admit to texting some of these ladies questions from time-to-time.

  • If you have the budget, hire a proofreader. It may not seem like it should be at the top of your list, but remember, everything you say (including how you say it) conveys something about your organization. If you're asking people to buy something from you, or donate to your organization, you'd better make sure that you look and sound professional. Personally, if I see a lot of errors in a website, email, blog, or social media, that's not where I'm going to send my money.

 

Style

Crystal Chiang:

When writing, nothing is more often overlooked or more impactful than tension. Tension helps the reader answer the question, “why do I care?”. It moves them to feel something, to engage.

The problem is that no one really likes tension, not even the author. We want it to be relieved. We want the reader to know that we know the answer to the questions we’re asking. We want to stop feeling the tension, so we resolve it to quickly. And in doing so, we unknowingly sabotage ourselves.

The truth is, there’s a lot of content out there and our time is limited. So helping a reader know why this topic matters to them is key if we want them to stick around.

A resource Crystal recommends:

 

Leigh Harper:

Don't fall into the trap of foregoing correctness for the sake of being catchy or memorable. Trust me, you'll be remembered—but not for the reasons you'd like! Creativity is great, but keep it professional by using proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Playing off of words is welcomed (i.e. naming a boutique "Sew In Style"), but there's no need to get sloppy ("Sew 'N Style" or worse, "Sew-N-Style"). You'll be hurting yourself by appearing amateur. Plus, deviating from traditional spelling, punctuation, or grammar opens the door wide open for vendors, donors, and customers to misspell or confuse your brand. Naming an event, product, or campaign? You guessed it. Same rules apply in order to put your best foot forward.

Resources Leigh recommends:

 

A Little of This, A Little of That

Jennifer Bradley Franklin:

Effective writing is the foundation of successful messaging—in public relations and beyond. It can communicate the strengths of a brand to virtually any targeted audience, convert skeptics into evangelists, and it can make the journalist receiving it say, “Yes! I want to write a story about that!” Bad, boring, or unclear writing will make many people ignore the potentially terrific information you have to share.

What Makes Bad Writing?

  • Too much "puffery" such as: "It will be a fun-filled evening for the entire family, with each hilarious performance starting promptly at 8 p.m.”

  • Empty/meaningless language: there is, amazing, actually, basically, really, charming, fantastic, wonderful, etc. Use concrete adjectives that convey what you want to say.

  • Cramming in too many big words, just for the sake of, well, using big words.

  • Being unclear. Don’t make assumptions about your reader’s knowledge of a subject.

What Makes Good Writing?

  • Master the basics (grammar, structure, format) and then build in personality and “punch” from that strong foundation.

  • Write for clarity. Read your work with a critical eye, asking the question, “If I weren’t close to this project, would this paragraph make sense?”

  • Be concise, but include interesting details that entice the recipient to read on. Think like a journalist.

Resources Jennifer recommends:

  • Grammarly

  • "In general, I think the best way to become a better writer is to be a voracious reader. Reading good writing hones those skills!"

 

Jennifer Wilder:

I have two pieces of advice. First, no matter how well you write, you can still make spelling errors on words like here and hear, or they're and their, or your and you're. Often, these spelling errors elude us even after reading it twice. That's why it's important to have a second set of eyes read your article. This person could be your spouse, your business partner, a professional editor, or a virtual assistant. The second person will often catch things that you didn't.

If you're unable to locate someone to read things twice, then read it yourself, out loud, a third time. Pretend that you are reading it to someone who is looking over your shoulder at the document. You'll likely find that spelling errors jump out at you when taking this perspective.

Second, write as if your article or communication was going to be read by a group of fifth-grade students. Are your ideas clearly thought out and linked together? Are your sentences less than 20 words? Check to make sure you limit the use of pronouns or referring words. Mix in the proper names of things among those referring pronouns to ensure that readers follow your thought process through complex ideas about multiple subject matters.

Resources Jen recommends:

 

Patti Townley-Covert:

  • If a nonprofit does not have an experienced communications department, I highly recommend they hire someone to come in and do a seminar about writing tips. (Or if you have someone experienced, it's worth making the time for that person to share writing info with whatever staff personnel might write for the organization. It's amazing how few editors/marketing people/human resources personnel and others have any kind of training in effective communications. The authors I worked with at a nonprofit hated the writing/editorial process until I did a two-hour seminar correcting some misperceptions that even those designated as editors had. Articles/books/brochures and donor letters became far more engaging as a result. It's well-worth the cost.

  • Ledes (leads) should hook the reader into the material. Using a story, an outrageous or little known fact, or other compelling approaches will help readers take time to read the rest.

  • Writing is a team sport. It takes good communication and working together to get high-quality documents. Too many times authors and editors do not explain problems, they just try to fix them in isolation. That does not work well.

  • The worst problem I see, even with experienced writers, is passive or boring verbs—were, was, are, have, is. Verbs should be powerful, action words. That's fine for a first draft, but then substitute action words.

  • Another problem is over-using the word "I" in your writing. The article/missive/web piece is not about "you." Keep it focused on the audience, even when describing how you feel about it.

  • That said, when you're writing—just write. Let the words flow. Then go back and edit. The two processes use opposite sides of the brain, and trying to edit as you go makes a writer miserable. That was the number one reason the authors I worked with hated the process. They were trying to be creative and analytical at the same time.

 

Great information, right? These are smart, successful women who know their stuff. Take my advice: take their advice! These writing mistakes may be common, but they're easy to fix. Make these changes, and pretty soon, you'll be a more powerful writer who can help others rally around your cause.

And let us know in the comments which tips were most helpful for you!

 

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 These common writing mistakes could be costing your nonprofit or social enterprise customers and donors! Listen to what our favorite editors had to say.

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.