2016 TATOC Conference Highlights: Go Online
LEIGH CONNELLY reports on Roy Forsdick’s presentation about making the most of your online activity at this year’s TATOC conference.
Having recently developed TATOC’s new website, Roy Forsdick shared a presentation at the TATOC 2016 conference comparing the building and growth of a website, with gardening. His aim was to show delegates how they can grow their own website by applying a ‘Groundforce approach’.
Forsdick explained that just as gardens started with the right nutrients and soil, an effective website needs the right systems and design to attract visitors. He then moved into a more detailed explanation of each of the important aspects of gardening, which he cleverly applied to the growth and maintenance of a website.
Design it well
A great garden would have been carefully planned to include well-placed practical areas and planting schemes would have been created considering position and sunlight.
During the design process of creating a website, the same careful consideration should be applied. A well-designed website needs a clearly structured menu and well-defined categories, which are easy to navigate. The layout should be clean and readable, and focus mainly on content, with unimposing space for advertising.
Make it attractive
Like a pleasant garden, Forsdick said that a website should be attractive and eye catching – somewhere where people will want to spend time. In order to achieve attractiveness, all websites should:
- Have great, original content to engage audiences
- Look good and provide a fantastic user experience across all devices – mobiles and tablets now account for more internet usage than desktops, and it’s important to consider these users
- Load and work quickly – no one wants to spend time on a slow website.
Make it seasonal
Well-planned gardens will bloom throughout the year, as thought has been put into which flowers, shrubs and trees will be at their best at various points of the year. In order to achieve year-round bloom on a website it should be kept up to date with new content and relevant news stories, but also have a stock of life-long, or ‘evergreen’ features. The aim is to give visitors a reason to keep coming back.
Forsdick went on to explain that just as gardens need bees, birds and other animals and insects to pollinate flowers, websites also need to attract pollinators. The best websites should have the equivalent of flowers – material that will attract the likes of Google and other search engines, as well as social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter that can aggregate and share their news.
Create a secure perimeter
Continuing the gardening comparison, Forsdick emphasised the importance of a secure perimeter. He explained that protecting property is of great concern to most people. “You don’t want uninvited guests in your garden, or nosy neighbours peering in,” he said. “So whether it be it a white picket fence or a hedge, it’s important to build some form of security. Cyber security is equally important, and today more so than ever. Good websites take security seriously.”
Take care of pests
“Whether there are green flies on your roses, or slugs eating your hosts – critters need dealing with,” said Forsdick.”You can never get rid of them entirely, but you can make some effort to deter them.” He explained that web pests include spam, internet ‘bots’ – automated applications used to perform simple repetitive tasks but which are also often used for malicious purposes, such as vandalising websites. Forsdick advised that investing in a good security system, to act as a virtual pesticide, is the best way forward.
Use the proper tools
“No self-respecting gardener would be without a good pair of shears, a rake or a decent lawn mower, and building a website is no different,” said Forsdick. “You’ll want separate software for tasks such as editing images and specific tools for measuring the number of visitors to your site. Many of these tools are free – Google has a suite of tools for website owners that provide brilliant insight into your visitors and measure your site’s performance from an SEO perspective.”
Hone your skills and knowledge
In thinking of the various skills and trades required to create and care for a garden – such as horticulturalists, paving and landscaping professionals – Forsdick highlighted that “there is no substitute for the experience of a seasoned professional”.
He went on to explain that there are also multiple disciplines in the web world, and various technical languages. “No matter how experienced you are, you will always run into something that requires skills which you do not possess. If you are thinking about trying your hand at building your own website, then, similarly to the various handbooks and beginner’s guides which are available from the Royal Horticultural Society, Google’s Webmaster Guidelines gives you a great insight into how to help them (Google) to find your site and also help you to keep in their good books. There is no end of help, advice, tutorials and learning materials online – the knowledge is there for you to learn.”
Now maintain it
“Maintaining a garden takes time and dedication,” Forsdick concluded. “Mowing the lawn, fertilising, pruning, planting and of course, weeding… a gardener’s work is never done!” Applying this to website maintenance means consistent creation of new content and news items, as well as updating important files and software.
“There’s always something you could find to do on a website, it is an endless task,” he said.