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WordPress Makes Life Easy

By | Web Design

We are often asked by clients who come to us with older websites and are considering a move to a WordPress system what the benefits would be, so we thought we’d list a few of the “biggies” here.

In-House Content Management
The big obvious benefit to establishing a WordPress platform for your website is that it enables the website to be easily administrated internally, with minimal training. A variety of user security levels can be applied for different levels of access such as authors, editors and administrators, and when editing a page the system is much like editing a Microsoft Word document. Easy peasy!

Some clients are so busy they prefer to have us perform updates on their behalf, but still like the idea of being able to “drive their own car” if they wish. Many clients will perform simple content updates themselves, and call on us when they have more complicated changes they need done. Companies who are still paying a web developer to perform simple page copy updates should definitely take a hard look at making a change.

When we do a website redesign for a client, one-on-one training on the WordPress system is always included. We can also travel to businesses to train groups on WordPress administration.

Reliable, Adaptable and Expandable
WordPress has proven to be a reliable system and is infinitely flexible and expandable. For designers, it’s a dream to work with because we can lay out amazing templates and rely on a strong infrastructure to hold our design together over time, producing easily navigable world-class websites that are affordable for our clients. Our clients are happy to know their new WordPress site can accommodate branding changes, marketing adjustments and other visual tweaks without ripping anything apart. Time and again we have seen clients with WordPress websites save thousands when confronted with the prospect of a major look and feel overhaul that with another system would be a nightmare to implement.

Mobile Friendly Responsive Layouts
You know those websites that have separate mobile systems? That costs as much as it sounds. There is no need to go to those lengths, as responsive websites become more prevalent and pre-packaged responsible themes are available for WordPress systems. Beware, however – not all WordPress out-of-the-box themes are truly responsive. We work with our clients to make sure that their site is truly responsive and compatible with mobile devices of any size.

We’re happy to answer your WordPress questions – give us a shout!

Do Keyword Meta Tags Help Your Website’s SEO?

By | SEO, Web Design

Do keyword meta tags help boost your SEO ranking?

SEO (search engine optimization) is a tricky, ever changing landscape. The algorithms and data sets used by Google, Bing and the other search engines are constantly adjusting to accommodate the vast amount of information circulating throughout the World Wide Wonderland. Our challenge as optimizers working to help our clients is to anticipate these adjustments as we maintain websites and tweak content and code to secure a solid corner where their SEO is earning them organic traffic that results in customers or sales.  I do have a theory as to how Google develops its ranking algorithms – read it at your leisure and see if you agree.

Clients assume, understandably, that keyword meta tags are the first thing to insert into the code of your website pages to start optimizing. When Google first was a thing (remember that??) keyword meta tags embedded in the code at the top of the each page were critical – they were heavily weighted by the search engines, as that was before the days of the millions of click-bait websites that now clutter up the information highway.

Ok, so keyword meta tags have a history of being highly important. The question is, do keyword meta tags help your search engine ranking nowadays?

The answer is: NO they don’t.

Back in 2009, Google officially announced something they had already implemented – “Google no longer uses keyword meta tags in web ranking.”

That same year, Yahoo announced the same thing – they would no longer use keyword meta tags as a factor when determine website rankings. Bing’s announcement didn’t completely disavow keyword meta tags but the reality is the same. Keyword metatags were so heavily abused they became obsolete in terms of content indicators.

So why do so many people still take the time to enter them in? Habit, for one. Also, theres a feeling of “but what if they’re just SAYING they don’t use them for ranking, but they actually DO!” Well, there’s that possibility I suppose. But think about how many zillions of websites are out there who over the years have stuck any old keyword in the meta tags trying to climb in rankings without containing relevant content. It makes complete sense that they are now useless. Also, I really don’t think Google is trying to pull the meta wool over our eyes, with this one at least. They’d rather developers spend more time working on SEO that actually indicates legitimate content, that’s what helps Google in the long run as they can deliver higher quality content to the end user.

Let me be clear, I am NOT saying that meta tags in general are useless – I’m just talking about KEYWORD meta tags. Title and description tags among others are absolutely critical when working on your site’s SEO. You definitely should design your SEO efforts around your target keywords and phrases and incorporate them as much as you can into the content of your site – just don’t waste any time messing around with keyword meta tags. Instead, use that time to improve other angles of your site!

Water your Twitter Garden

By | Social Media

Social Media can help your company in many ways, but one of the benefits that many marketers fail to recognize is that of getting to know your customers and their behavior better.

Sure it’s great to have success with a coupon campaign or receive a slew of retweets for a Twitter promotion, but when we think about long tail success it’s all about understanding your customer base.

One of the mistakes people make on Twitter in particular is forgetting to explore. By searching the very hashtags you are using in your own posts you can find plenty of users out there interested in the same topics – and when you combine that with geo-regional tags you can drill right in to your own city, or even your own neighborhood.

When you find these glowing examples of likeminded neighbors, take a moment to explore who they are, who they follow, who they retweet and who they bash. If they look like a perfect customer, give them a friendly shout out – send an @ message agreeing with something they tweet, invite them to visit your shop, retweet something you agree with, sprinkle their timeline with faves, give them a follow if they look interesting or influential. Maybe they’ll return the favor! The loyalty of a new customer acquired through direct personal contact with your brand is definitely worth the two minutes it takes.

Once you’ve established the connection, maintain it! Keep a private list of “loyal customers” and regularly groom your list. Feeling special will bring those customers back time and again, and will keep your brand in their mind when they make recommendations to friends and family. A great way to maintain this connection is to glance at your “loyal customer” list timeline once a month or so and just send out a slew of friendly @ responses to posts that you also personally identify with. If somebody tweets “Beautiful day, fun time at the park with the grandkids!” tweet back, “we went to the park today too! Isn’t Austin the best this time of year?”

It’s just the sort of pleasant back and forth that so many feel is lacking in modern society – isn’t it funny that the technology brought to us by the social media boom is what is bringing it back.

This ongoing relationship is a special sort of communication that is still new – it lacks the face to face intensity of meeting somebody in person, but what it lacks in physicality it gains in the ease of communication. There is no awkwardness, the contact is fleeting enough to be comfortable yet personal enough to plant that golden seed of brand loyalty we are all working toward as marketers.

Tend your garden of potential customers thoughtfully and they will surprise you with the level of intimacy they will share with you. It all bends toward positive results – more customers, happier customers, loyal customers. That’s a win, in my book.

Have a Twitterific day!

What is Google’s SEO Algorithm Development Process?

By | SEO, Web Design

How exactly does Google figure out the algorithms they use to rank websites in search results? Wouldn’t we love to know!

SEO is a crazy wild west and the search engines have the job of trying to deliver high quality search results that show users exactly what they are looking for. It’s a mind boggling task, and the process is kept a tightly sealed mystery so that us SEO professionals are kept guessing.

Or at least it WAS – until now! I have top secret insider information that you will find nowhere else about how Google develops the algorithms that crawl the internet, parse the data and rank content. I made a journey to Google HQ and was taken to the center of the brain. Allow me take you on that same journey so you can see for yourself how Google creates SEO standards for ranking websites.

Here we go…

You have been traveling for days by air, train and boat, blindfolded, and have finally arrived at Google headquarters. As they remove your blindfold you see that you are within a ultra-high security compound, surrounded by an empty desert stretching as far as you can see. You are taken to the building at the center of the compound, where guards with machine guns escort you wordlessly through ten biometric security systems. Once inside, they shove you into a chamber that sprays you with some sort of decontaminating chemical and wait while you put on a full body hazmat coverall and space helmet. They write your name on a “My Name Is” sticker and slap it on your chest. You ask them why you have to wear this crazy getup and one dead-eyed guard mumbles “Google can’t have you contaminating their SEO geniuses with your disgusting peasant germs now, can we. Let’s go.”

You are taken through a white-tiled room, to a shiny metal elevator. As the doors slide open and you venture inside, you notice the Google logo inlayed in the back wall with what looks like gold. There are cameras in every corner that follow your movements. The doors seal silently behind you and suddenly you are plummeting downward, dropping at top speed, miles beneath the surface of the earth.

When you reach the bottom after what seems like an eternity, the doors open and you cautiously exit, entering a long hallway. Along the hallway there is a series of doors. You see a small glass window high up on the first door. You slowly approach the door and get your first look inside.

Standing higher on your tiptoes to try and see better, your space helmet clunks into the glass. What you see is a surprise – you assumed, understandably, that Google’s innermost headquarters would be sort of futuristic – sleek and minimalist, like the buildings miles above you. Don’t worry, everybody thinks that, it’s natural! You’re now one of just a handful of people on earth who know the truth.

The vast room you see as you peer through the glass looks strikingly like the library at Hogwarts. Countless books line the walls from floor to ceiling, with tall rolling ladders arranged to access them. Long wooden tables are illuminated with candles in tall ornate holders, evenly spaced along the length of the tables from end to end. The surfaces of the tables are overflowing with stacks and stacks of papers and books.

As you look around you count exactly one hundred frizzle-haired geniuses milling around. (You can tell they are geniuses because they are all wearing thick glasses and have suede patches on the elbows of their tweed jackets.) The armed guard at your elbow speaks up.

“In case you were wondering, there are ten vaults like this,” he says, and you realize that ten rooms each packed with a hundred geniuses think-tanking Google’s SEO algorithms is sort of perfect, with a googol being 10100 and all.

Some of the geniuses are hunched over computers, examining their screens and pecking at the keyboards with their index fingers. Some are paging through ancient, dusty tomes, muttering to themselves. Several are furiously scribbling equations with squeaky chalk on blackboards, occasionally mumbling and scrubbing out big sections with their tweed sleeves before starting in again. Some are simply staring into space, thinking.

Suddenly, you are startled when one of the nerd-geniuses (this particular one is an elderly red haired woman with an English accent) leaps up, dings a bell on the table and announces loudly, “Eureka! I have done it! A new algorithm! A new, brilliant Google algorithm! This is the one, I tell you! The one!” She looks around the room expectedly, beaming.

All the other geniuses in the room start listlessly clapping, but you can see them rolling their eyes at each other behind the excited red-haired lady genius’s back. Each of them clearly thinks the algorithm they are working on is WAY better than hers. The excited genius scribbles on a scrap of paper, yanks the door open and pushes her way past you to hurry top speed down the hallway, waving the scrap of paper in the air wildly and shouting “Eureka! Eureka!” as she runs. You follow closely behind, passing door after door of more genius-filled vaults, your space helmet fogging slightly as you break into a sweat trying to keep up with the red-haired lady (you’re not accustomed to running in a hazmat suit).

The genius slides to a halt in front of a massive oak door at the end of the hallway and starts banging an iron door knocker that looks like Medusa. The echoes from the door knocker reverberate down the hallway. A voice from behind the door growls “You may enter!”

You can’t believe what you are about to see! This is it! The center of Google! The answer to the ultimate SEO mystery!

The genius takes a deep breath, shoves her thick glasses higher on her nose and enters the room. She approaches the desk with reverence. She bows and holds the scrap of paper in front of her, like an offering. “I have a new Google algorithm, sir!”

You look past her…

and…

and…

this is what you see:

 

And that, my friends, is how Google develops the algorithms that rank websites. Now you know!

Website Facelifts – Easier Than Design Firms Want you to Think!

By | Web Design

Many folks think a website redesign has to be an entirely new website – often, actually most of the time, this isn’t the case.

Especially when my web design client is on a tight budget, there are many creative ways to update a website and make it look and feel brand-spankin’ new without changing much except the “Skin.” If it’s not necessary to change the structure of the site and you just need a rebranding, it is probably a much smaller job than you think!

As for cost – I have seen company after company fall for the same line from website design firms – “your website code is out of date, it needs to be rebuilt from scratch.” WRONG. This is almost never the case. Sure some code might need to be updated or infrastructure tweaks made, but  don’t let website design firms fool you into thinking you need to build an entirely new site when some code updates and graphic changes will achieve great results and a smoothly working website that is up to modern standards at a fraction of the cost.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you approach your website redesign project:

1) DOES MY WEBSITE WORK WELL?

Are your customers and website visitors easily finding the information they came for? This is what I hear time and again from internet users: “Why did they change their site? Now I can’t find a thing!”

If your website already works great and you just want better branding, you are the perfect candidate for a website facelift. Ask your designer what they can do to leave the overall feel of the site intact and just improve the look.

If your website is confusing and not easy to navigate, this is the perfect time to look at restructuring the flow of your information and the page heirarchy. Remember – one click is always better than two!

2) DO YOU HAVE NEW BRANDING TO INCORPORATE?

What does your business card look like? Your brochure? If your customer is holding these things in their hands while looking at your website, it should all look like it came from the same company. Colors, logo, and font selections should match. Memorable branding across all your business collateral means your customers will remember your company before thinking of your competition! If you decide to update your website, make sure your cards and brochures match too. Doing them all at one time can be much more efficient and cost effective than tackling them one at a time, so plan ahead!

3) WHAT DOES MY COMPETITION’S WEBSITE LOOK LIKE?

Do some market research! Find out what your closest competitors’ website design looks like and then BEAT IT! The first thing I do with a new client other than looking at their current site is to look at their competitor’s. I want my clients to win, hands down, when customers are comparing websites. This not only means a better looking website, but a better flowing website where information is easy to find!

4) IS THE PROBLEM WITH MY CURRENT SITE STRUCTURAL OR VISUAL?

This is the big one when deciding whether to facelift or overhaul your website design. I can help you take a look and decide what needs to change – but usually you can tell by yourself. Hint: most often it’s visual!

You Pollen, Customer Bee

By | Social Media, Web Design

When you think of social media, it often feels like you’re stuck in one place, waiting for people to notice you. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

You are like pollen, drawing bees to you – and the brighter your flower (your content), the quicker they come to snoop around. Even if they don’t actively pick you up, exposure is good – it sticks to their legs as they fly around, and if your flower was nice they’ll be back.

The goal is to get picked up by each of your visitors and carried back to their hive. To be one of the favorite brands of a customer is an honor and an accomplishment. Sure you can luck into it with a solid product and a good brand, but growth over a longer period of time takes careful marketing planning and execution to continue to be shared by all the bees buzzing around the garden of your city or neighborhood.

Think like a flower trying to get the attention of a bee.

Look Good!
Branding is key – you need to be memorable even if you only have a split second to make an impression. Without a solid brand and a cohesive strategy, people won’t remember which business they were looking at once they move on to the next. If you haven’t already, invest in developing a strong brand that carries throughout every single piece of material your customers will see – from storefront to product labels to color schemes inside your store t0 business cards and, of course, your website. Social media is part of this, too. Many people will see just a tiny square with your brand – make sure it represents you, and if they see a branded van rolling down the street with your catering crew inside, they should feel that spark of recognition “hey I’ve seen that catering company in my Twitter feed – I’m going to write down that number.”

Smell Good!
In social media there is big business in snark and dark comedy, but not for a small business. Keep it light and happy, and don’t complain. Even if it’s about traffic – you might think that makes your feed more human, but negativity in any form is not something you want associated with your brand. If you’re feeling stinky when you’re crafting a post, maybe save that one for later when you have a sweet smell again!

Be Flexible!
Move with the breeze. Each day put your finger in the wind of social media and see what people are talking about – if you’re creative, there’s a way to catch some of that wind in your sail! Many times there will be a word game circulating around, like one I saw today –

#LyricsThatNeedToBeShouted

Make use of these tags to amuse your followers by not only playing the word game but pulling your brand into it too. You sell hardware? Put the lyrics to Sledgehammer. You clean houses? Quote a little Iron MAIDen. Get it? Customers love seeing you have fun with your brand, and it makes it memorable.

Remember, your customers WANT to carry you with them. Give them good reasons to do it.

Happy Marketing!

Facing Facebook in Small Business

By | Graphic Design, Social Media, Web Design

Behind every Facebook user there is a story. Each is keeping a personal journal of sorts, marking events in their life and passing the time with friends as they browse their timeline on their laptop.

Facebook is the success it is because it is a personal journey that each person can make their own. Your business Facebook presence is a part of this story. The trick is to make your posts just personal enough to fit in each user’s timeline without feeling too commercial, while keeping it surface enough to not intrude on their real life friendships. There’s nothing stranger than seeing a commercial Facebook account that seems like it’s trying to be everybody’s best friend in real life.

One of the ways I’ve found this can be done is to identify what it is about your company that made your followers “like” you in the first place. A strong brand presence is key, so they know who you are at a glance. A concise message, always – that’s marketing 101. But in most classic marketing materials, the personal connection is either forgotten or overlooked.

If they clicked like for your company, it’s usually because of one of two scenarios:

1) They have visited your shop, tried your product or service and had a positive experience

And/Or

2) One of their friends recommended you

Either way there is a similar bar to overcome – they are giving you a chance to provide them another positive experience in their personal Facebook timeline, one that is pleasant enough to remind them to support your store or product in the future.

Posting what your store is doing that day or if you’re closing early on Thursday isn’t enough. Facebook users are looking for an emotional connection – you’ll notice on your own timeline the most “likes” are heaped on the posts that elicit an out-loud emotion. Laughter, tears and joy are three of the ovbious ones.

When something fabulous happens for you and your business, POST IT!
If you landed a big account or a new distribution deal – share that with your fans! They love to share in your success, and feel the emotional boost that you got when you opened that letter or got that phone call.

Post lots of funny things that are connected with your business
If you’re a taco joint, post that it’s National Taco Day! Run a special on Pirate Day and post a picture of yourself wearing an eye patch with a parrot photoshopped on your shoulder, eating a taco. Your fans love to see you having fun at your place of business, because if somebody’s having fun it means they’re doing well and prospering.

Include some personal tidbits
Without oversharing, include some personal tidbits that serve to remind your fans that your business is homegrown and locally owned. When your in-laws come to town and have dinner at your restaurant, that’s the perfect opportunity to both make it personal and poke a little fun. “Even my in-laws love it here!”

When all else fails – pop culture makes it fun
When it’s a slow news day, simply go for an easy laugh. Photoshop a puppy holding your product and exclaiming out loud about it. Puppy and kitten pictures are the fuel of the internet – without them we would all perish.

Above all, have fun with your Facebook feed and your customers will feel it! That happy, feel-good connection is what will keep bringing them back again and again, and remind them to recommend you to their friends.

Happy Facebooking!

Too Many Social Media Accounts = Spaghetti Mess

By | Social Media

Throwing social media spaghetti at the wall does NOT result in a delicious meal.

The first time you made pasta, you didn’t throw cinnamon in with the tomato sauce, right? Well, there’s no need to add every spice in the cupboard to your brand new social media platform. When it comes to social media marketing, start with the basics and get your recipe just right with with hand crafted, fresh ingredients., and then start to experiment.

One of the most common mistakes we see when a company comes to us looking for help with social media management is that they have stretched themselves way too thin by diving headfirst into every social media outlet they can find, with the mistaken impression that they need to have their company represented on all of them. When you count them all, you can participate in an unreal number of social media circles – the obvious ones being of course Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+  to name some of the giants.

Simply participating in the media outlets just mentioned means that you have five different social media accounts to manage – and to manage five separate social media accounts effectively means creating five engaging, interesting pieces of content several times per week (if not daily) that not only speak to your audience but actively reinforce your brand identity. That’s upwards of 25-50 pieces of original content and graphics per week. Easier said than done, as our clients learned first hand.

Depending on the industry you find yourself in there may be even more outlets that you are tempted to include in your social media strategy. If you have tons of video, perhaps Vine or YouTube would be an obvious choice. Or maybe your company focuses on networking with other professionals and LinkedIn is the way to go. Or Tumblr. Or SoundCloud. Or Flickr. You get the picture.

We recommend starting with the ONE or perhaps TWO social media networks that your target audience most likely will be participating in. Not only will it be more effective in terms of marketing impact, it will be easier to create and maintain content because it will feel natural. Think of your initial social media accounts as salt and butter. You can always add basil and garlic down the road… but to build on, you need your dish to be perfectly al dente.

Once you have established a routine and are seeing a solid return on your investment of time, money and creative energy, you can look to add another outlet to your social media repertoire. This steady, deliberate strategy  over time using metrics and measurable results is a much more effective approach than throwing digital spaghetti at the wall with a halfhearted presence on a multitude of networks – spreading yourself thin results in poor response and can even make your company look downright bad.

In short – be targeted, be strategic, and most of all – don’t bite off more than you can chew! A job well done on one social media site is better than having five poor quality accounts.

Happy Marketing!