Three Ways to Help Your Website Project Go Faster

1. Have all your digital media and statement of new content needs ready. 

Whenever I am ready to sign the dotted line for a new project, I advise my clients to start collating their best photographs and content and make it accessible to me on a Dropbox or other cloud-based server. It is not wise to delay your materials preparation until after your consultant has delivered the project, because it can take MONTHS for you and your staff to prepare it for entry.

MDN_Header_rec_723My Digital Nature places strong emphasis on building a solid content strategy, so if we work together, we’re likely to have a preliminary site map within a few weeks after project initiation, and a plan for collating your materials. Oftentimes, these materials provide me with the juice I need to think holistically about your project and take it to the next level. It gives me ideas on how your website can best communicate WHO you are, WHAT you do, what your values are, and importantly, how your website will improve your business not only by earning NEW members or customers, but by supporting or simplifying your work flow using digital tools. If there’s a way to make your life easier, you’ll know about it from me.

2. Slow down! Commit the time necessary to go through content strategy.

In a hurried business life, it may be tempting to let your consultant just go away and do their job of building a website, without providing much detailed input about your needs, goals, and workflow. I encourage you to slow down and let yourself be walked step by step through the process, and provide supporting materials to the process, as this will save you time and money in the long run.

Many people can build a website. But not everyone has a sense about how to make the website work for you as a communications tool, marketing tool, sales tool, and as a workflow simplifier. Content strategy planning is where we hone in how to make all those things work better for you on your site.

3. Provide timely feedback, and make sure all stakeholders are on board with it.

You will be given opportunities to provide website feedback during your project, usually after the completion of every major phase. The number of times you are invited to comment and receive work revisions is often limited by the scope-of-work contract. This puts a realistic cap on the number of revisions your consultant is required to make relative to the budget of your project; larger projects normally allow more reviews and revision cycles.

There is a huge element of subjectivity in web design, at least in the graphic and visual display arena, and smaller budgets have a harder time achieving that perfection. But no matter the budget, your consultant should do his or her best to:

    1. understand your desired visual directions and how that will impact the success of your website.
    2. have the skills to achieve that standard, or be willing to subcontract the work to get them.
    3. budget appropriately to make your web dreams come true.
    4. communicate well with you throughout the process.

At some point, you may find yourselves at an uncomfortable impasse. You want something “more” out of the design, but you’ve expended your allowed revisions and change requests. How could that have been avoided?

Assuming your contractor followed the due diligence required in A – D, above, you will probably have to accept some level of compromise.

There are a few things you can do to support your contractor in nailing a spot-on design for you:

    1. Provide examples of other websites you like.
    2. Provide favorite photographs that represents your business.
    3. Take time to communicate, orally and in writing, about your needs and expectations.
    4. Get staff input for every phase of design. Don’t assume that if it’s okay with you it’s okay for everyone else. It’s important to bring stakeholders along with you on the process.
    5. Review the contractors previous work to see if they’ve done the kind of work that you want. If they haven’t, maybe there’s a reason. I have an emphasis on nature, birding, and tourism sites because I have a sense for helping them come to life, and can pick the right subcontractors to deliver the visual goods.

And remember, with WordPress and most open source systems, the design you have today is not locked in forever. The DESIGN code is kept separate from the CONTENT code, so you can change design without affecting site structure or existing content.

Many of my clients come back every 2-3 years looking for a little website primping. As the years roll by, their business focus changes, and so must the look and feel of the website.

That’s why I always say: A website is a living, breathing organism. 

Roll with it!

Recent Work: Digital Communications for Conservation

IWJV For the past two-plus years, one of my favorite projects has been working with a conservation organization in the Intermountain West, helping them to build from the ground up, and then manage, their entire digital portfolio of communications tools.

Several top-notch communications professionals are working on the project, and this has been a true team effort.

So far, we built an entirely new website on the Drupal framework (working with DJCase.com), created a new enewsletter in Campaign Monitor, produced new content strategy and copy for the website, and started an organizational Facebook page.

Following a well-researched communications strategic plan, we defined goals and audiences, crafted messages that would influence desired behaviors, and then developed content and tools that would best serve these goals.

The impetus for this well-crafted strategy is this: that conservation can only happen when people are on the same page, working from the same data, with a shared vision that takes into account all the needs of the stakeholders. The goal of our communications work is to bring together the community of stakeholders and help people get on that same page so solutions can be attained.

Communications can be a fascinatingly precise science. And the tools we have developed are equally interesting. Check out iwjv.org and let me know what you think.

Recent Work: NatureTravelNetwork.com Media Site

NTN homehttp://naturetravelnetwork.com/

Nature, birding, and travel have been my inspiration for as long as I can remember. So have communications and digital media. The NatureTravelNetwork.com website brings these interests together into one platform that promotes birding and nature travel on a fresh, continually updated platform. This is a place where birders can dream about, and plan, future trips.

This project is my own, and it’s a true labor of love. Not only does it help connect the dots for nature travelers, but it satisfies my itch for making a mountain of information about world birding travel accessible and appealing in a digital format. Now that it is launched, I am also in the business of promoting travel tourism–travel writing, selling ads, and helping make connections between travelers and destinations.

I used the WordPress framework to create the site, launching with a “starter” content strategy that I knew would grow rapidly with the content. I invited more than a dozen authors with keen travel and nature experience to write, so the site is continually updated with new articles.

As usual, I credit my brilliant subcontractors for the initial customization work. More design and indexing will come with time and budget.  I also thank the fun and engaging writers who help make it an interesting site to visit.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Oops! Turning Project “Afterthoughts” into Budgeted Plans

As part of our  website project, my client realized that after investing in the new branding we had developed for his website (logo plus website), he couldn’t just slap on his old PDF trip itineraries to the site – the difference in branding visuals was so large as to be disturbing — like unwrapping Velveeta when you’re expecting Camembert or tapping a Bordeaux to find a Gallo.

So we transferred the visual identity (branding) we had created for the website into a PDF template that he could use over and over again to create new trip itineraries. The client is on Mac, but doesn’t have sophisticated software. So we built him a template on Apple’s Pages program, which is just like Microsoft Word, but lighter and more adept for small projects with lots of images. Now, all the client does is opens Pages, opens a new template, enters his new data, saves, and Voila! Job is done.

After a modest learning curve, the biggest challenge for my client was finding time to transfer all the old PDF material over to the new format. Of course we are always available to do content entry and management at competitive pricing, but the client wanted to do the work in-house since this wasn’t included in our original website proposal.

A great lesson here is: a simple website project may evolve into several working parts. Even the minor parts can be much larger than you first realize. Taking (and investing) time with your consultant to work out the content strategy in advance, and looking at every aspect of your work flow, will help you better anticipate your project needs.

HiLoEcuadorPDF_cover HiLo_Itinerary_Ecuador

Websites Are Like Babies

"You know you can't follow me forever, Mom."     "As long as you're still interesting, I will."

Websites are like babies. I carry them around for months on end and, like any mother, when it’s time to send them off into the world on their own, I can’t totally let go. I want to be there to watch the website grow, see it make friends, and be there to pick up the pieces if it runs into any trouble. And sometimes I just like to gaze at it and think – did I make you?

Weird, right?

So that’s why I keep tabs on all the websites my team has built or contributed to, whether I’m on a maintenance contract or not (I do highly recommend a maintenance contract for many reasons).

One thing I like to do once a site takes flight is to monitor visitor traffic to the site using Google Analytics. I also like to do Google searches on a related topic to see how well the organization stands up to its competitors for related searches.

So you can imagine how cool it is to do a search for “birding tours” and see TWO of my clients show up on Page 1 of the search results – both High Lonesome BirdTours and Tropical Birding.

If you’re a developer, try this with one of your latest websites. Seeing your web baby stand proudly among its peers lets you know you ‘raised it right.’ Maybe you and the client chose the right platform (WordPress, in both my examples), developed the right content strategy, or you applied all the best SEO practices to help the site rise above the rest. Whatever you did, it worked. So you can breathe a sigh of relief and work on birthing the next big project.

This digital parenthood thing can be pretty rough sometimes, but it’s your destiny and worth every minute. Except when it steals the keys and won’t let you back in…that’s why you keep all passwords locked in an iron vault!

 

 

Recent Work: Birding Tour Website

I am thrilled to announce the recent release of our latest project, a birding tour website for High Lonesome BirdTours.

High Lonesome Birdtours Website

The challenge was to transition the owner’s website from a poorly organized, visually ineffective website built on an open source framework called CMS Made Simple to an organized, visually appealing site with high search engine value. Most of all, the owner wanted his customers to easily find his site when searching for birding tours on Google, and easily navigate to make a purchase. Our previous work on a different birding tour site had impressed our client enough to make an inquiry. Our “professionalism” during the proposal process impressed sealed the deal, even though our price was “a bit higher” than other quotes.

We implemented a customized WordPress solution utilizing custom post types to design each custom tour detail page. A great deal of content strategy went into the information layout. We did our best to interpret a typical customer’s mindset as he/she lands on the home page and tries to find an ideal destination to travel to. We took into account that a motivated customer may wish to find a specific tour by region (e.g. “I’m seeking a tour to Alaska!”) or find a tour during a specific time span  (“I need a birding tour in April of next year!”). But we also tried to appeal to the casual dreamer who stumbles upon the site and surfs from region to region until his/her interest is sparked (note to self: visuals matter a lot to dreamers).

We took into account that some users are visual learners while others ignore images to read only text. Because I’ve done quite a bit of birding travel myself, I realize how information hungry birders are. So it was just as important to provide quick overviews as it was to provide easy access to detailed itineraries and trip planning information.

Each tour page provides an overview, details, full itinerary, downloadable itinerary, info on accommodations, top birds and mammals lists, habitats covered, as well as trip reports and travel planning suggestions (recommended readings, clothing and gear, and other attractions). Luckily, most of this information was available in some form or another on the former website, though it took considerable effort to move it over into its new format.

Another notable addition is a shopping cart that keeps track of the number of spaces left on each tour – to avoid booking too many people on these small-group tours. Custom forms were built to court the user through the booking process, culminating in a Make Payment page that lets the user make a deposit either via check or online via Paypal.

We are thrilled with the results but even more so, the process of working with our client, who allowed us to “get into his business” and solve problems unique to his company and the tour shopping process.

Nothing interests us more than solving problems – and we never lose sight of the fact that every problem we solve must have positive implications for the client’s business (or it’s not worth solving) and have respect for his work flow. 

Better yet, our client seems happy, too:

I asked Laura Kammermeier and her group, My Digital Nature, to help me build a new website after mine became outdated. We started working together in August and, this month, we were able to launch the new site. I’m extremely happy with the results. The site is professional and user-friendly, exactly what I wanted. Laura was highly responsive and helpful. She was always available to answer questions and work through problems. I can highly recommend Laura and her group, without reservations.” — Forrest Davis, owner, High Lonesome BirdTours.

BUT DID THE SITE IMPROVE BUSINESS? Time will tell but here’s a good indicator: within one week the site crawled up in the Google search engine results from oblivion (not within the first 20 pages of search results) to page 2, #7. Impressive what a SEO-friendly platform, sound content strategy, and smart implementation will do.

P.S. Special and abiding thanks to those that helped make this project possible: Bill Klingensmith (mydarndest.com) for custom design and coding; Sean Koch for content entry; Stina Kennedy for logo and design work.

 

Recent Work: Yoga Website

We recently released a new website for a fledgling yoga studio in Belgium. The goals were to:

  1. create a low-cost new business website that fuses nature and yoga,
  2. highlight classes, workshops, and events,
  3. make sure students can easily find the hours and location of each class,
  4. create an easily updated class and pricing schedules and,
  5. demonstrate the fun, enthusiastic personality of the studio owner.

TreeofLifeStudioOur solution wrapped mainly around an off-the-shelf theme that provided a sensible information architecture, several hours of custom tinkering to overcome idiosyncracies of the theme, integration of an existing logo into the design, creation of the fun tagline, and custom Contact Us and e-newsletter forms…sprinkled with, of course, the requisite social media buttons.

Using images taken by the owner, and inspired by the yoga studio itself, we used soft, green colors against a backdrop of a wooded forest with ferns and moss. (This particular studio offers nature inspired classes in addition to kids’ yoga.)

Designer Bill Klingensmith did a fantastic job with coding and design. The client played a part in the creation of the site by providing site content and images and editing most of the content once it was placed online. I admired her tenacity in learning new tools and wanting to make it ‘just right’ for launch.

Now my client has a website where she can actively recruit new students and send traffic from her Facebook page to her domain, where she can turn traffic into leads.

Please visit her site at TreeofLifeYoga.be. Let us know what you think!

 

 

 

Introducing My Digital Nature!

mydigitalnatureMy Digital Nature is an evolution of the services provided by Laura Kammermeier, who for years has provided authentic, interactive, and content-rich digital marketing solutions to a variety of worldwide nature and travel organizations such as magazines, nature nonprofits, tour companies, tourism boards, and others. Her previous work in this area can be found at Birds, Words, & Websites and will now be carried out under My Digital Nature.

In addition to the new Multimedia Digital Document products, My Digital Nature provides a variety of services including freelance writing, content strategy & development, web/mobile media consulting/project management, social media coaching, and online marketing.

Through the strategic creation of websites and now, digital brochures, newsletters, and travel guides (see samples here), My Digital Nature helps clients craft compelling Web 2.0 solutions that answer the question, “How do we tell our story? How do we cut through the digital noise and make a meaningful difference in the community we’re trying to reach?”


More about Laura:

Laura is an online content strategist and digital communications specialist who blends nature, travel, and small business content with progressive technologies. She and her team of web designers and writers help clients modernize their message on multiple digital platforms by crafting, transforming, and/or repurposing existing content to reach today’s busy, distracted audience of nature and travel lovers.

Laura has a background in science, birds, and communications and has worked for several nonprofits before going solo in 2002. Former clients include The Nature Conservancy, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American Birding Association, and Tropical Birding Tours.

She is also well known among bird watchers as an independent travel writer who has covered destinations such as Belize, Virginia, Texas, and Israel. Her warm, affable, and personal writing can be found on her Birding & Travel blog which will remain at Birds, Words, & Websites.

Laura is also the Destinations Director for a nationally syndicated birding travel TV show, Nikon’s Birding Adventures TV, which is hosted by James Currie and airs on NBC Sports.

Laura is prepared to offer clients a full array of options for marketing their destinations among bird and nature enthusiasts.

Contact My Digital Nature for help in promoting your organization, destination, or nature-related service.

By the way: We’d be grateful if you would share this link with someone you think would like to explore multimedia digital communications. Thank you!