by Michael W Dean,
Show host,Freedom Feens
For the past two months, I’ve spent about ten hours a day looking at every talk radio station Website in America, compiling contact info.
I have not only looked at your station’s Website, I’ve looked at several pages of your station’s Website. And I took notes. There are a lot of things wrong with a lot of radio station Websites.
I can hear you saying to yourself, “Who the hell IS this guy?” and “Why the hell should I listen to this guy?”
“Who the hell is this guy?” Well, I’m just some guy. Nobody you would know yet. But I use the Web constantly, and am a Web designer, as well as an author, filmmaker and talk show host. I’ve been very active on the Web since its inception, and know good sites from not-so-good sites. And no, I’m not trying to get you to hire me to re-design your Website. I don’t do that. I do my own sites only. But I can tell you what works and what doesn’t, both from the standpoint of someone who consumes a lot of talk radio, and as someone who would have reason to contact a radio station through their Website. That is, I can tell you what works from both a business-to-listener standpoint, and from a business-to-business standpoint. A lot of radio station Websites fail, to varying degrees, from both standpoints.
As for “Why the hell should I listen to this guy?” Because I offer tough love. I have nothing to gain or lose from telling the emperor he has no clothes. A lot of people who design Websites are yes men. They tell the client what the client wants to hear, even if it’s wrong. They often do easy things that look flashy but don’t add anything, and skip complex, subtle work that needs doing. You’re not paying me, and I am not a yes man.
It’s pretty amazing that in 2013, people still have reason to write articles about “Is Your Business Website Up To Snuff?” People have been writing variations on that article since 1994. And apparently everyone has caught up except radio. Radio is an old-school medium. It’s amazing that it’s still around. Even more amazing is that, in a world filled with television, movies and streaming chromed-robot turds in everyone’s pocket that instantly bring everyone all the media in the world, terrestrial talk radio is not only still around, it’s bigger than ever. However, there are only a few more years of that. Companies that are savvy with new media will make the transition from terrestrial talk radio to i.p. “radio” and satellite delivery. People stuck in a 1920s mindset will not.
Having a clunky Website for your station will not alone be the death of your business. Think of it more as a canary in the coal mine of a fast-changing industry.
Here’s a hint: a lot of people talk about how important social networking is. It’s not as important for your station as your Website is. Many regular listeners of talk radio are comfortable using a Website, but may find social networking scary and abrasive.
Social networks are constantly changing their terms of service, which alienates users. They fix things that aren’t broken, and break things that are working just fine, until they go out of business. Or become so un-hip that they’re technically still in business, but might as well not be. Remember how important MySpace was five years ago? No one uses it anymore, and it’s so neglected now that the site barely loads. Remember MP3.com, 15 years ago? No? No one does. But it was once “the next big thing” and a lot of media companies poured a lot of money into developing a presence there. I want to get this prediction on record: In five years, having a “Find us on Facebook!” logo is going to seem as square as it would now if someone said in a radio ad “LOG ON to our Website at H – T – T – P – colon – forward slash – forward slash – double ewe – double ewe – double ewe – dot…..”
And why put your time, effort and money into someone else’s business model? Put that time, effort and money into your own site, where you have complete control of everything, and the site won’t go away.
These two articles in Talkers Magazine do a great job explaining more on what I’m saying about which kind of stations will likely still be around in five years, and which kind may not:
“Radio Execs Name Internet in Car as Biggest Threat.”
“The Young Guns of Talk Radio”
That first article nails it. It explains how “radio” will soon be something that doesn’t mean what it means now. The second article talks about the type of young new media-savvy folks who “get it”, and why they should be looked at to replace the old-school talk giants as they retire and/or become irrelevant over the next few years. (Even if they’re talking about anything BUT technology.) You need talkers who grew up on the Internet, because radio is going to BECOME the Internet. And while a good working Website is not the total endgame in that, it really is a good place to start.
Having a good Website isn’t rocket surgery. It just takes an understanding of what works and what doesn’t. And that can be a lot simpler than you’d think.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK:
MULTIPLE AUTO-PLAY MEDIA PLAYERS that all go off at once and crash the browser. Do NOT use auto-play on ANYTHING. About 20% of all talk radio station Websites commit this offense. Give people a choice whether or not they want to hear (or watch) something. Many people immediately click away forever from a Website that automatically starts talking or singing at them. Auto-play may work fine on your end, but it will crash some percentage of browsers out there, and even lock up some older computers and phones, requiring a reboot. If someone’s coming to your Website to look up a phone number or check the sports score and it takes ten minutes for their computer to recover from it, it’ll likely be the last time they ever visit your site. Or listen to your station. Or buy anything from your advertisers. Or step on the brakes if they see you crossing the street.
Seriously, auto-play is about the worst thing a Website can do. Again: do NOT have ANYTHING auto-play on your Website. Give people a choice. And give them a choice of high- and low-bandwidth players, and a choice of something that will play on Windows, Apple and Android devices.
JUMPING THROUGH HOOPS
Do not make people pay, sign up or “join a community” to do anything basic on your Website, ESPECIALLY to simply listen to your streaming player. I’ve seen stations do that. That’s like saying, “Hey, we want you to hear our advertisers who pay us money to have you listen, but first you have to fill out this pile of paperwork.” That wouldn’t work in person at a county fair, and it works even less online. Don’t act like the DMV. You don’t have an enforced monopoly, and if you make something difficult, someone else will make it easy and take your customers.
Every page of your Website should have your call letters, frequency, plus CITY AND STATE. I can’t count the number of times some local news story has gone viral, I’ve clicked on the link of some local radio Website, and they’re writing in such local terms that I have no idea where the news occurred. Don’t limit yourself to thinking local-only just because your transmitter covers a local market only. Your Website can be read outside of the tri-county area. Put the name of your city and state on the same place on every page, either at the top, the bottom, or on the sidebar. The nature of the Internet, and the nature of how people pass information from person to person can lead to good things you’d never anticipate. Like someone buying ad time because someone forwarded them a link from their town, after that link went around the world twice. The interesting forwarded news story on your site could be the thing that makes a local company buy ads with you rather than with a competing local station, or with the local newspaper. Without the location info, they could read the story and think it happened on the other side of the country.
I found stations that had Neal Boortz listed as “Now Playing.” Boortz retired in January, and the stations weren’t playing archives of his show. I found three stations that actually had an active Web poll on the front page about “Who Would You Like to See as the GOP Nominee for President? Palin, Romney or Trump?” Either something on their Website is broken, or they just can’t accept the fact that none of those un-hip tyrants got elected over the hipish tyrant who did. Either way, nothing freezes you in the past like a poll for an event that was over last year.
I actually saw one talk radio station Website that greeted visitors with shiny scrolling text that said “Good morning! Today is October 15th, 2010!”
Talk radio is not a time capsule. It’s commentary on what’s happening NOW, and what may happen tomorrow. If you’re obviously stuck in 2010, you’ve got a ways to go to not be left behind in the transition from terrestrial to digital.
1920 AOL HOMEPAGE
A lot of smaller talk radio station’s Websites have garish colors, giant or blinking text, animated images, links to MySpace, conflicting auto-play players, and no contact info. Remember when most people’s first Websites were a “homepage” on AOL? I’m talking around 1996 here. Well, some current radio station Websites look like what an AOL homepage would have looked like in 1920, at the dawn of talk radio, had there been an Internet. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen ‘em.
I’m not saying a Website has to be ultra-modern. In fact, many radio station Websites look extremely modern and flashy, but have no usable information, and give people no reason to return. A cleanly designed, very simple Website with contact information, updated local and national news, occasional opinion pieces, and a functional streaming player users can control is far better than an ultra-modern expensive site with lots of dancing bologna but no functionality or helpfulness. And a clean, simple, useful site is FAR better than a useless 1920 AOL homepage.
NO CONTACT INFORMATION
A Website is, above all, your business card. First, you should have the station’s frequency. There are sites that actually do not have this. You should have an easy-to-find link on every page that says “Contact”, that links to a page that lists the CURRENT names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses (NOT a Web contact form) for the studio, office, ad sales, general manager, program director, and a way to submit news. If it’s a 500-watt mom-and-pop station and one person does all those jobs, fine. But have that one person’s name, phone number and e-mail address. Have the e-mail address work. (Test it!) I found ones that bounced, or had a malformed mailto: link that opened my e-mail program with an address that was not an actual e-mail address. And don’t forget to include your area code. I saw an inordinate number of radio station Websites that had phone numbers but no area code. Include your area code. Someone from outside your town might have a valid reason to contact you. And if you make it hard for people outside your area to contact you, you are likely not going to be a frontrunner in the transition from local terrestrial radio to worldwide digital delivery that all stations are going to undergo in the next three to ten years. Start thinking outside your town. The smart money already is.
An unbelievable percentage of talk radio station Websites, even for larger stations, do not show up on the first page of a Google search for the station’s call letters and frequency, or call letters and city. If you don’t show up on the first page of Google results, very few people will click to the second page. In many cases, the quickest way to find a station’s Website was to search on Google, then go to the Wikipedia entry for that station (which is often the first Google result), and click the station Website link from Wikipedia. Most people will NOT bother to do this. I’m not saying you need to hire some “SEO consultant.” Many of them are a scam, offering back links from multiple spam blogs or “splogs” that will temporarily raise your Google rank and then crash it permanently.
But here are three easy, honest, and useful things that will get you higher up in the results of Google searches:
1. Have your station name, call letters, frequency, city and state as text (not just an image) on every page. I recommended that earlier for other reasons, but it also helps a lot with Google searches.
2. Encourage your advertisers to link you. Offer them some sort of incentive to do so, like an extra spin of their ad for linking back to you. Do NOT have some long, cryptic legalese about what is required to be ALLOWED to link you. That is a 1920s old-media mindset, and has no place on the Web. I’ve seen it a lot, especially on sites of companies from a few years ago that are now out of business. If you want to thrive on the Web, you should allow anyone to link you, anywhere, any time, even if they’re being critical of you. To do anything else makes a company look like an angry dinosaur thrashing in the tar pits. There’s no such thing as bad press on the Web, as long as they link you. The most scathing review that actually links you will improve your standing on Google.
3. Check your site from time to time and remove broken outgoing links. Broken outgoing links lower your ranking on Google and other search engines. Search engines will perceive your site as “less useful” because of broken links and you’ll come up lower in searches, even searches for your own unique company name.
These three things will help get you higher Google rankings, so you at least show up on the first page of Google results in a search. There’s no reason someone else should show up before you in a Google search for your company name. Check now and see if you come up first, or at least in the first few results. If you don’t, you should address this.
Speaking of Wikipedia, keep your Wikipedia page up to date. Don’t “fluff it up” and make it read like an advertisement (this can get you removed from Wikipedia). But many Wikipedia pages for talk radio stations have extremely out-of-date information. Some have not even been updated since the station moved to talk format, and still list the station as Salsa or smooth jazz.
FREE WEB HOSTING
I can’t believe this needs to be said, but don’t use some cheesy free hosting site. I found a number of stations hosting on a free Web service, where they didn’t even have their own URL, and there were ads for that free Web service bigger than the station’s call letters across the top of the page. Pay ten bucks a year, get a memorable (and even location-specific) dot-com domain name, and host with a real Web host. (NOT one that runs ads featuring leather-clad female race car drivers.) I’ve tried ‘em all, and if you want a recommendation for a good Web host, ask me and I’ll tell you who I like.
WHO DOES IT RIGHT?
Cumulus stations do it right. All their stations’ sites use the same cleanly designed template, the sites work well, and have the contact info link in the same place (bottom left corner, marked “Station Information.”) They all have current contact info, and today’s local, state and national news items updated frequently, but displayed in a non-cluttered way. Their Websites do not crash browsers, the players work, and you have a choice of using the player or not. And they have the name of the station and the location on every page.
GCN does it right. Their site is a good one to check out because, as a network, their end users are program directors AND listeners. They serve both well. Clear Channel stations do it right. A bunch of smaller company’s sites do it right. A good example to check out is KTGO in North Dakota.
The most powerful form of human communication is one person speaking to another. That’s what talk radio is, and there will always be a market for people who do it well, regardless of the actual delivery medium.
There’s a lot to keep track of in running a station, from studio and transmitter technical issues to ever-increasing nit-picky government regulation and ridiculous reporting requirements. Your Website can easily fall to the bottom of the priority list. But your Website is often a potential listener’s first impression. You don’t want it to be their LAST impression.
Keep your Website simple, useful, and up to date. You’ll have a better chance of making the transition to a world where “radio” doesn’t always mean owning a giant tower on a hill.
MICHAEL W. DEAN is an author who has sold over two million dollars’ worth of books about new media, sang in a band that was signed to Warner Brothers, and directed a film narrated by Robert Downey Jr.
Michael will be calling you soon about programming his feisty libertarian weekend talk show THE FREEDOM FEENS on your station.
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