I am not using “machine” in the cool and/or hip sense, as in, your website will magically cause magic to magically happen.
I am using it the sense of a mechanism which does a thing. Because your website is probably an online brochure, limiting, perhaps even repelling, connection. Do these things well, and your site will have the mechanics to allow, even foster, connection. (These are mechanical steps, not social engineering, which is a subject for a different marketing-based post.)
Quick and dirty, not necessarily in order of importance unless otherwise stated.
- Your newsletter is the goose that lays the golden eggs. Your primary online goal is to get the right people on this list. These are people who are actively seeking to buy from you and do business with you, people who’ve asked you to inform them when you have something for sale. Getting the right people on the list is the purpose of all the other factors in this list. I use MailChimp. I see no reason for the solopreneur to use anything else. It is free and simple to being and is very expandable. The first paid level is only $10 a month.
- Blog post frequency: regular is more important than frequent. “Every Friday” beats “twice a week but who knows what days they’ll be” every time. WordPress is my tool of choice for websites and blogging. Self-hosted, if possible, not the free WordPress.com tool.
- Post goal-setting and commitments: From a writing perspective (and there’s brain science to support this) saying “I’ll try to write 2 posts a week and settle for 1 if that’s what happens” teaches your brain not to write. Instead, set a goal you know, absolutely, you can reach, and teach your brain that writing is what you do. My writing mentor says commit to 15 minutes a day, then set any “reaching” goals you like, knowing that your goals are negotiable, nice-to-haves, not commitments.
- Post length is irrelevant. Ask yourself: how long should a car trip last? How about, until you arrive at your destination? Any other measure is irrelevant. Hours, miles, bathroom stops: irrelevant. If you’re heading to Cleveland, your drive should last until you get to Cleveland. Same with your blog post. A hundred words or a thousand, write until you make your point, then stop. Your readers will read until you’ve made your point. Those who get bored by a long post and don’t finish are not your concern because they are not your fans. Ignore non-fans. Shun the nonbelievers.
- Worth saying again: ignore non-fans. Shun the nonbelievers. You cannot have insiders, real fans, unless there are also outsiders.
- Perfect is the enemy of finished. Spending an hour choosing the right image for a post, then spending an hour adjusting it, then spending an hour choosing just the right spot for it, then getting called away by an emergency just before you finish: this is not done. It’s perfect, but no one will ever know.
- Taxonomy: categories and tags. Here we go.
- On WordPress, you can swap these if you so desire. So where I say either word, feel free to swap in the other, as long as you do it consistently. The functionality of WordPress makes swapping them irrelevant, but only if you do it consistently.
- Categories are broad. You should have 3-10 categories which would include every post you ever write. Unless you’re God, one of those categories can be a catchall like “And Other Stuff” (I have one on my fiction site: “Things that keep me up at night.”)
- The best categories will be broad enough to cover all your posts, now and forever, and specific enough that rarely will a post fit in two different categories. So for instance, categories of “Travel” and “Writing” make sense, but categories of “Travel” and “Places” would overlap so much that one quickly becomes redundant.
- Tags are specific. Tags are the lifeblood of search. Search is the sticky for your site. Want folks to linger? Master tagging.
- Each post should have as many tags as you can possible imagine. Fifteen or twenty is great. Less than six is weak.
- Tags should cover every major word and phrase used in the post, ever personal name referred to, and as many implied or inferred references as possible.
- If you only have one post on your site tagged “anthropomorphism” that’s fine. They don’t cost extra. But someday, if you use the tag again, that rare reader who finds one will certainly find the other. Make it easy for them to stick to your site.
- Oft-used tags give the reader a self-created rabbit hole. They read a post about Ventura, see the tag “surf music” and follow that to 23 other posts referencing surf music. And along the way they see the tag “condo rental” and end up sending you a thank you email for helping them find a beach place in Malibu. All because you used tagging correctly on your site.
- Extras: audio and video.
- Google loves video. Bloggers love video. After they spend a week perfecting the production values on their 90-second blurb. Do not be that person. Do the best job you can to record a watchable video, upload it to YouTube, embed it on your site, and move on. Learn more from actor and web geek Nathan Agin.
- Provide a transcription if at all possible, because some people (me) will never ever ever watch an instructional or inspirational video, but they (we) will read the transcript.
- YouTube is free video conversion and optimization for web use, with free hosting for the largest files you’ll create for your site. It is also another portal through which folks can find you. Only reason NOT to use it is if you need the video to be private, in which case there are other streaming options. These are best implemented by a professional who understands video streaming and online security. (I happen to be such a person. I am expensive in this realm.)
- Audio for use online should be MP3. Yes, there are a million other formats and your Mac or UNIX box or whatever outputs Ogg Vorbis and FLAC and all kinds of audiophile quality formats. They can be problematic in a browser.
- An MP3 will play flawlessly in any browser, and when you stuff a link to an MP3 into a WordPress post or page, it provides a streaming player as part of its infrastructure.
- Audacity is a free audio editing program which is massively powerful, yet easy to use for basic functions. If your recorder outputs WAV files or AIFF or some other format, open the file in Audacity, export it as an MP3, and it’s done.
- Image size
- You do not need to post print-resolution images on the web. If your image is 2,000 pixels wide, no one but the guys in the basement drinking Mountain Dew will have a monitor big enough to see it full size. In fact, any image wider than 1024px and/or taller than 768px is, almost always, a waste of space on your hosting account, and a waste of time and bandwidth for your readers.
- Yes, WordPress will create usable sizes of your mile-wide original. It will also keep the mile-wide original, using up hosting space you could use for other things.
- A large image could easily weigh in at 5mb. This is the equivalent, in size, of the text of two full-length novels. A perfectly visible sharply focused image at the size of my large monitor can easily be as small as 100kb, or 2% of the bloated huge file.
- Photoshop is the best image manipulation tool. It is expensive. GIMP is a free alternative. Both ore complex tools. A simpler solution is a tool like Dynamic Drive’s free online image optimizer. Upload your image (though it has to be smaller than 2.8mb to begin with) and you can see multiple versions, and choose the right balance of clarity and size.
Get the right tools in place and take the few minutes requires to learn to use them correctly.
And always remember that being human trumps technology, every single time.