9 Ways To Improve A Website

My rooomate (pictured above, eating a banana in bed while wearing a hat) is the camera guy for a TV show called Inside Fashion. As the name suggests, it is about the fashion industry in Canada and around the world. This means that he gets to do cool stuff like go to Miami to film the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week or fly to LA to interview Holly Madison at the Playboy Mansion. Like almost everyone else these days, the show has a website (where you can watch episodes for free) that includes an Inside Fashion blog.

I watch the show occasionally, but really only pay attention to what they are doing because I subscribe to the RSS feed for their blog. Because of what I do and because it is easier to criticize than it is to create, I've got some suggestions for them about what they can do to improve their site and online work. Where possible, I've tried to generalize my suggestions so that they would work for other sites.

1.) Sign-up and Set-up Feedburner

Most blogs have an RSS feed automatically built into them, so that when you create a new post, your subscribers can be automatically updated. However, there is no easy way to find out how many people are subscribing with these built in feeds. Feedburner will let you track how many people are subscribing to your blog.

If you're using Wordpress, you can just install the Feedburner plugin after you've got a free Feedburner account. If you're using another blogging platform, you can sign up for the Feedburner account and provide a link on your blog.

Since all shows rely on advertising to keep going, knowing how many people are subscribing to the RSS feed is a great way to demonstrate to advertisers how many people they are reaching.

2.) Set Up An Analytics Tool

Just as Feedburner lets you know how many people are subscribing to your site, a tool like Google Analytics will let you know how many people visit your site, what pages they look at and how long they stay. Again, this is valuable for knowing what kind of online audience you have and to know what parts of your site are getting visitors and which aren't.

Careful - as any blogger will tell you, stats can be addicting.

3.) Use Links

Back in the day, the decision to link away from your site was a difficult one to make. Internet connections were slower, and I don't think it was possible to use tabs in any of the browsers. Directing people away from your site meant that there was a sure chance they wouldn't be returning.

These days, things are different. Pages load quickly, and you can go back and forth between different websites in seconds, or even open them up in another tab or window.

A phrase I'm fond of repeating is "the Internet is made of links." Navigating the web is done, for the most part, by clicking on various links. Its how information is shared, and by linking to someone else you are participating in the online world.

Yes, I am aware of the argument that linking to other people gives up your link juice. However, I think it is more important to provide value to visitors to your site by pointing them towards more information that they might be interested in.

4.) Incorporate Multimedia Content

The internet is a place for multimedia. Unlike a newspaper, a blog post isn't limited by column inches. Even more unlike a newspaper, a webpage can incorporate video and audio. Use these multimedia elements to tell your story and get your message out.

So what does this mean for Inside Fashion? Well, the world of fashion is full of beautiful images. My suggestion is that they incorporate more images into their posts, and actually show the clothing and people that they talk about in the posts. Fashion magazines aren't all text, so why should their website be? (Over the past few weeks, they've actually gotten better at posting images)

Since it is a show, and they are already posting their clips on the main page of the website, I think the Inside Fashion team should also post their clips to their blog. The more ways that they can get people watching it, the better chance they have at growing their audience and providing value to their advertisers.

(BlogCampaigning is also guilty of not incorporating enough images into our own posts, and I'm determined to change this).

5.) Put The Social In Social Media

Some people write blogs because they merely want a place online to store their thoughts and share them with a few friends. They aren't worried about how many people read what they write. However, most organisations have a blog because they want to generate awareness about themselves. While putting up a website is a good start, it won't get many visitors in isolation.

Linking to other bloggers and websites is one way to be social online. So is reaching out to other bloggers and the online community. If they aren't already, the Inside Fashion team should be reading some fashion blogs or getting in touch with the fashion world online.

This social activity extends beyond cyberspace, too. While I enjoy reading blogs written by my friends and colleagues, I feel that I enjoy them more because I've met these people in person. I can put a face to the writing, and I feel more comfortable commenting on their blogs and otherwise getting in touch with them. The Inside Fashion crew are a friendly bunch, and they shouldn't have a problem meeting up with other bloggers and the online world to help promote their show.

6.) Make Content Easy For The Internet Audience To Enjoy

As I mentioned earlier, I think that the internet is the future of television (or, I suppose, the death of television) but we aren't quite there yet. I think that most people aren't yet accustomed to watching full-length episodes of shows via YouTube or on a webpage, and would rather do so on a television. With that in mind, I think that the Inside Fashion crew should still focus on creating 22-minute long episodes for television, but should break these up into 2 or 3 minute clips and post these on their blog rather than the main part of their website.

I think that VBS (the broadcasting wing of Vice Magazine) has done a particularly good job of creating short, web-only videos. To see what, I mean, check out their 8-part series about immigration in LA called Illegal LA. Each part is only about three minutes long, and each is easy to watch on your computer monitor. If you're creating video content for the web, keep this in mind. While you might be the world's next greatest director and are able to keep people enthralled for a two-hour epic, it is probably easier (and cheaper!) to create a shorter video that will keep your audience tuned into for just a couple of minutes.

7.) Make Your Content Embeddable and Sharable

I think it is great that Inside Fashion is putting some of their footage and clips up on their website and letting their audience watch it freely. However, it isn't really possible for me to share those clips without making you leave this page. While I mentioned earlier that linking away from your site is fine, wouldn't you be much more likely to watch a clip form their show if it was embedded right here, on this page?

If you want people to watch your online video, make it easy to share. Upload it to YouTube (or better yet, Vimeo, because all reports seem to point to it being faster and more user friendly for uploading) so that people can repost it on their site.

While they do upload their episodes onto their YouTube channel, you can't find and use these clips from their website.

("But I want to control all of my content, and I don't want people to share it," you might say. Well I have news for you: if people want to share your content, they will.

Even though Inside Fashion didn't offer an embed code for their videos, I was still able to rip this one off of their site (using a program called Orbit), upload it to YouTube and embed it below.

Since people can do this anyways, make it easy and enjoyable for them to use your videos and photos: provide an embed code where possible.)

8.) Make The Blog The Main Part Of The Website

Blogs are great because they constantly have new information. For the 90% of the population that doesn't use RSS, a homepage that is constantly changing gives them a reason to come back for new content and information. While it is great that main page for Inside Fashion always has a featured episode, I think it would be far better if they refresh that content more often. Having the blog as the main page would enable them to do this more easily.

9.) Connect The Dots

Inside Fashion also has a page on Facebook, and a YouTube channel but you wouldn't know that from their website. In each online space, make it easy for fans and interested people to connect to the other online spaces.  The more channels that you can distribute your message across, the more likely you are to gain an audience. Some people will watch the show on TV, but others might prefer to watch the videos on YouTube or catch up by way of the blog.  The point is that there are a ton of free distribution channels like this out there, and that by reaching each one you have the potential to reach an entirely new audience.

(While you're linking to your other websites, always remember to add the http:// in front the web address. Without this, some sites and message programs won't recognize it as a link and the user will have to cut and paste or retype the address into their web browser rather than simply clicking on the link - make it easy for your audience!)

What do you think about my suggestions? What would you do if you were working for Inside Fashion?