Image by elycefeliz on Flickr
Make your website your communications hub
Target audience: Businesses, brands, developers, marketing professionals, SEO specialists, geeks, general public.
No matter how many hours I spend at the Java Shack or Peregrine Espresso, I am just a customer. Social media and its social networks may feel like a home to some of us, but they’re really just private public spaces, similar to coffee shops, the Politics & Prose reading area, or the ballroom at the Rosslyn Marriott.
At the end of the day, none of this is yours. These places, while filled with amazing opportunities for connection and growth, mean nothing if you can’t bring it all home, be it sales, self-promotion, networking, creativity, marketing, education or brand building.
Ultimately, your home is your business and yourself
What is home? Well, in a practical sense, your online home is your web site; maybe your blog. More philosophically, your home is your business and yourself.
I was installing a new personal consulting website over the weekend and I was reminded of this. I chose to use Drupal, a content management system (CMS) that is similar to WordPress, though known less for being a blogging platform than a content platform. I chose a database-backed Web application instead of a Flash-based or flat file site for several reasons, all of which had to do with making my online brand identity work as hard for me as possible.
Some of the core functionality that drew me to Drupal is how well it connects to Cron, sort of like a server’s timekeeper. It keeps my website primed not just when I am available, it can also work on my behalf even when I am on a plane or asleep.
What do I mean by this? Well, Drupal is open source software, so there’s not only a lot of useful functionality built in but also thousands of modules and plug-ins that easily and readily extend the functionality of my site out the wazoo.
So, there’s a built-in aggregator that I can set up to suck in all the RSS feeds of all the blogs to which I contribute, including Twitter. This allows me to write for Tumblr, other blogs, and Twitter and have as much or as little of the content brought back into my business home site, and shoved into my own database for my own posterity.
Sharing doesn’t happen by happenstance
Another thing it lets me to do is add a plug-in that easily allows me to offer all my visitors the ability to effortlessly share my content to Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and more. This makes it easy to add and remove different buttons as social networks go away (good bye, Google Buzz!) and add them as they’re introduced (hello Google+, for now).
And remember, it’s always better when other people share your stuff. Just like compliments, it’s always better when other people say how pretty and smart you are. Also, by design every share will include a link to your content, to your brand, and to your contact info. It’s genius! You’re also not prohibited from sharing from your own site as well — nobody said not to.
Another reason why I chose Drupal is because Google gets Drupal and Drupal gets Google. Unfortunately, too many people roll their own sites. Generally speaking, these are some flat file sites, some bizarre proprietary solution some Web guy peddled you, or a pretty minimal WordPress install, designed by a graphic designer instead of a coder.
The flat file and the proprietary solution are alien to Google, at least for a little while. While Google has seen a bazillion Drupal, WordPress and Joomla installs, it might take a while for Google to suss out what you’re about on your proprietary or brochureware site, if ever. This is especially true if you’ve also designed the entire site in Flash or a sliced-up Photoshop file.
On the other hand, Drupal is very aware of classifications, user-readable URLs, customizable title, keyword and description tags. I have already installed a module that connects to Google Webmaster Tools via a dynamic XML Sitemap, to Google Analytics, and to all the Ping Servers (do people even use those anymore?). What more, I’ve installed an SEO module that will help me further explain myself and every page I make to Google.
Drupal can prevent you from being Sandboxed or De-Listed
And since the Drupal community is so Bright White Hat, they make several modules that audit your site to make sure you didn’t do something evil that might be perceived by Google as being Black Hat, resulting in your site getting either Sandboxed (pretty darn bad) or De-Listed (devastating).
Since I have my own server, I have access to server logs, which are great ways to look deeper into how people are interacting with my site than even Google Analytics can go. That said, Drupal does a pretty good job of being able to actively and dynamically promote similar and popular content to my visitors so that anyone who comes in looking for Blogger Outreach Services because of one search will be offered all the pages that are similar to the topic that are available on the site, hopefully keeping folks on the site until they’re convinced that they want to hire me.
I believe that Drupal also offers the ability to auto link text in its core or as an extension. I can write my copy with abandon without having to worry about linking text or whether those links will go dead or change over time. Every time my article explicitly says “Blogger Outreach” the server will turn that phrase into a hyperlink and that link will go to the page on Blogger Outreach. If I change things up, I can change the point-to link to somewhere else and it will change every instance instantly.
Drupal also offers dynamic meta-tag titles, descriptions, and keywords; it can connect directly with other web applications via XML, RSS, or ATM, both read or write, if you set it up correctly. It can also cross-post whenever you post something on your site — be it news, something bloggish, something sales or hiring, or something PR — out and about, automatically: to Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, or wherever.
And, if there’s anything you can imagine that you might want to do, there’s probably an app for that (well, a module, really). Now that Drupal has been accepted widely and has matured over time, anything that may well be missing can be created for you by extending an application that already exists (by either joining the team and adding features or by forking the code into your own thing) or by hiring a Drupal developer to do it for you. Since it’s “just scripting” (PHP and MySQL, really), you won’t be stuck behind that proprietary wall of opacity. There are lots of options and developers of all levels of talent, skill, and experience (back when I started, PHP-coders were rare and Drupal developers were like unicorns).
Make your website your communications platform
OK, I am a total geek and I am so psyched to be elbow deep in Secure Shell (PuTTY), FTP (FileZILLA), vi, chmod, wget, and tar xvf that I would like you to forgive me for this article (I should be talking about social media marketing and digital PR, after all). However, I have been in the PR world now for 10 years and most PR websites really suck. Your own personal web site should be more than just a landing page for decision makers. It’s also your own personal platform for communication, engagement, sharing, and for square-dancing with lovely spiders and bots of Google, Bing and the gang.
Take some time to become better than yourself. You make not be a geek like me, but you really need to take advantage of all the cool stuff I can do. The setting up of all the back-end stuff only took me one dedicated Sunday, so it’s not rocket science.
Good luck and remember that all the work that you do and have ever done on social media in support of your brand is ephemeral and likely to vanish into thin air unless you spend some time capturing your work, your words, and your creativity somewhere you can keep it and keep on using it.
It might as well be in your own online home, your website.