(Image Source: Webdesign Depot)
It behooves all professionals to always be in the mindset of continually learning. It doesn’t matter what kind of work you do, one should prioritize learning. Your education doesn’t have to be obtained exclusively from formal academic institutions. There are a plethora of online courses (including the LinkedIn Learning platform), workshops offered at libraries and through various business forums, etc. As a communications professional, I’m glad my community has a website solutions company that provides free workshops.
A best kept education secret in the Greater Milwaukee area is the free workshops Northwoods Web Solutions provides.
Northwoods Web Solutions, founded in 1997 by Patrick Bieser, is based in a neighboring community to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The company has an impressive portfolio of companies and has received industry awards to validate their expertise. During the founding years of the company, they developed a CMS system that has become their signature service. Their services include delivering digital solutions for website design, software development and digital marketing.
Thankfully, Northwoods doesn’t just rest on its achievements and focus exclusively on their clients. They have a robust offering of website development and design workshops. As noted on their website, the workshops “cover useful, relevant and current web topics.” I heard about the workshops about a year ago at a networking event. It took me a while to work them into my schedule, once I did, I got hooked.
After I attended the first workshop, I was trying to figure out what the catch was. The training was well facilitated and included a well-designed manual with all of the workshop slides. Why were they offering this for free? Were they going to start flooding my email with marketing messages? I have since attended several of the trainings, I have a collection of manuals I can hold in my hand like a deck of cards. My check off list includes ‘Introduction to Google Analytics & Google Tag Manager,’ ‘Introduction to Social Media Advertising,’ and ‘Kick Starting Your Content Marketing Strategy.’ I have never received business marketing emails from them, just notices for upcoming training's.
The most recent workshop I attended was ‘Writing for the Web’ on Thursday, November 30th. As I mentioned earlier, I’m hooked on these training's, so I registered knowing I would get more insights to help drive my startup business forward. It was a bonus to have Patrick Bieser conduct the workshop. He is a very engaging speaker. Having someone with his wealth of expertise made me glad I was seated in the front soaking up all the knowledge he was conveying. With each new insight I gained on how I could improve my business website, I became more anxious to get to my computer and start making needed edits. It was also great to hear I was doing some things right, especially as a journalist. Bieser stated many websites rate poorly because the written content is written contains “marketing mush.” Website visitors engage with content more based on the style of writing journalists learned during their schooling. Telling stories in compelling ways is critical to retain the attention of site visitors and convert them to sales.
Other key take-a-ways from the ‘Writing for the Web’ workshop included:
- Site viewers should not have to work hard to get the information they want. You will lose their attention if they have to dig too much. They will go to another website and take their business with them.
- Content matters more than design, it drives conversion.
- The first two sentences on a page, especially the home page, are very critical.
- People get blinded by over-decoration. Information should be simple, not too cleaver.
- As the saying goes, an image (picture) says a thousand words. Incorporating images is a good website practice, but should be done in moderation and they should be well placed.
- When writing content or designing pages, be sure to always keep the target audience in mind.
I really appreciated the example Bieser provided of content originally written as offline content for print and how to rewrite the content for online purposes. The example was based on work done by the Nielsen Norman Group. It was easy to see how the webanized content was more appealing. Key changes included:
- Visual organization
- Bullet points lists
- Headers that are meaningful
- Bold text
- White space
- Short paragraphs
Perhaps this will be to the dismay of salespeople, but Bieser stated company websites should be the best salesperson. If the sites are done right, they will be more than just marketing tools. Good websites will convert the visitors into customers/clients.
If you are in the Greater Milwaukee area and your job involves websites and/or social media, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of Northwoods’ workshops. Caution…you may get hooked like me. For those outside of the area, Northwoods offers some webinars. I’m still not sure why they offer the training's. Regardless of their motivations, they are a good example of a company putting corporate citizenship into practice. Providing a valuable service to the community.