Your guide to web etiquette
What does Emily Post know about web content? Actually, the best practices for solid website engagement are not altogether different from the lessons of Emily Post or our parents. Simply stated, behave politely and respectfully—just as you would in person—and you will be rewarded.
Why is it that we intuitively understand how to interact with people in the real world but turn into social klutzes when engaging them online? We're not talking about Aunt Gladys's tea party here. With potential customers, manners are not a nicety. They're a necessity. Is your brand behaving rudely online?
Get found on search engines (hint: it's not all about you)
Most consumers still begin all shopping or similar activity with a search engine query. The search algorithms of today focus heavily on two key elements: relevance and popularity. While we can't always directly affect popularity, we can directly affect relevance, which in turn can drive popularity.
So, how can you ensure your relevance on the web? Most fundamentally, use language in your copy that consumers would likely search to find your organization. Sounds obvious, but this is often different from copy written for other media. Start with an understanding of the best search terms, not just your message copied-and-pasted from your brochure. For help determining what exact words and phrases people are searching for in a given context, Google's keyword tool is handy.
Start an engaging conversation (hint: it's not all about you)
Just like meeting someone at a party, if you know a little something about her it's easier to start an engaging conversation. Focus on the benefits of your products or services only as they relate to the target audience. For example, rather than saying "Acme goes mobile," how about "Top 4 benefits of using Acme's new mobile service." When possible, place the most relevant content at the top of the page and use keyword-rich page title tags and headlines (h1 tags), allowing both human visitors and search engine bots to quickly scan and locate relevant information.
If your copy is relevant, visitors will do the rest. As in real life, consumers share web experiences. If your site proves to be useful (or not), visitors let other potential visitors know. As a result your site will earn the popularity (or cold shoulder) that makes up the other half of the algorithm, further lifting you (or sinking you) in search results.
Choose the proper technology to deliver a great online user experience (hint: it's not all about you)
Any worthwhile authority on etiquette will agree that sometimes only a handwritten note will do. Similarly, you should carefully choose the proper technology to deliver a great online user experience. Rather than run blindly toward a specific tool, first understand the target audience, then define a strategy and plan of action accordingly.
Specifically, think about building mobile versions of your site (such as m.domain.com or domain.mobi) that render properly across varied operating systems. Or maybe toning down the whiz-bang features if your user base is less sophisticated than your web developer. If budget constraints limit such activity, at the very least analyze your web analytics data to understand how customers are viewing the website so that page layout and multimedia use are optimized for the best possible user experience.
Make social media your friend (hint: it's not all about you)
Finally, in a news cycle dominated by social media, using our best party-manners is the guiding principal. No one likes the bore at the cocktail party. If someone steps up to you at a social event and quickly states, "Hi, my name is Ken; would you like to buy some insurance?" we are immediately turned off and head to the bar. The first word in social media is "social," so…be sociable. Engaging in conversation includes listening. Remember all of the old clichés about two ears and one mouth—it's more about the other person than about yourself. Build an actual relationship with people and eventually they will seek you out when they are in need of your product or service.
More importantly, if we are listening to our new friends/fans/followers when a valid question, concern or suggestion is offered, we will be in a place to answer with some semblance of authority—precisely because we have not been brash from the outset. We can answer with timely, accurate and candid information that addresses the need of the marketplace, further strengthening our standing amongst our "friends."
At the end of the day, if a consumer cares enough about a brand, product or service to align with you in a social site, there's a better-than-average chance they can become an advocate for you. Listen closely and you can learn how you are really doing with consumers and where you can improve not just your online experience, but your total brand experience. You might even make Emily Post proud.