With the growth of responsive design, inbound marketing, personalization and web analytics, websites have become more complex, time-intensive and often expensive. While most clients require these services, often budgets do not keep up with technology, so agencies like RainCastle need to work smart to provide our clients the best and most current services at a reasonable cost.
Understanding how the website fits into your organization provides opportunities for streamlining the web design process, which leads to saving money.
1. Determine if Your Website Redesign is a Strategic or Tactical Project
Depending on your organization, your CEO or CFO will view the website as either a strategic project of critical importance or a tactical project that should basically, "do no harm." There is a gray area in between but the Director or Vice President of Marketing or the CMO, should know what degree of importance this project holds for the organization. Much time, effort and $ can be saved by being clear on this point from the start because a strategic website will involve much more key executive time, and a more sophisticated agency partner providing a greater degree of service than what is required for a tactical website. This reality should be factored into the budget. If lead generation is not a key component of your website, perhaps you don't need an expensive agency that takes a custom approach.
2. Establish a Clear Division of Labor with Your Web Agency
Initially you may assume that once you choose a Web agency partner, they will do the entire website. The reality is that a website project may consume more than a third of your time, if you are your company's point person for the website project. While the agency is responsible for designing, programming, QA and other web activities, you will be reponsible for:
- scheduling executive meeting times, and rescheduling
- establishing and maintaining corporate goals
- maintaining project momentum within your company
- getting input and approvals from all internal or customer resources
- assembling corporate content
- providing messaging feedback
- Leading weekly meetings
- Managing your agency partner
- Managing all of your other work at the same time (Remember, you already have a full time job!)
Because many agencies allocate their resources to your account according to the project schedule, understanding your own time committment will yield a smoother process with less stops and starts, which often add $ and time to a budget due to the agency's reallocation of resources.
3. Don't Write Your Own Copy
"Who knows our business better than us," you may ask? It's a legitimate question to which I'd answer, "Probably nobody." That said, we all know about the shrinking attention span of today's web reader, and we've discussed the internal time commitment required to do a website — on top of your already full-time job. Our experience with B2B websites is that in-house resources also find it challenging to write with brevity and to seamlessly infuse copy with relvant keywords.
Internal copywriting, is the single thing most responsible for broken schedules, which ultimately result in increased $ and more frustration than any other facet of the website design process.
4. Use Design Templates as They Are Intended
A wee bit of "abstract thinking" can go a long way to save time and $ on a typical website project. When designing any website, your web agency will look at the site's Information Architecture (IA), and with an understanding about the content of each web page — from prior discussion with you — will design a "page template," which will establish the design format to be utilized for as many similar type pages as the IA indicates. Where some clients want to see every page of the site individually layed out, costs can escalate. The best way to economize is to create templates with dummy copy, that reflect the amount and types of content the page will ultimately require. This requires that little bit of abstract thinking to imagine your specific copy in the layout, but the agency should write to a word count, which will make the result predictable. Then, once the copy has received final approval, it can all be flowed into each template once, during the Implementation, rather than many times during the Design Phase, thus saving on the time required to flow iterative stages of copy into the templates.
5. Your Corporate Culture May Define Your Website Budget
Within some B2B industries, such as Consulting firms or Architecture, Engineering and Construction firms (A/E/C), decision making is commonly a committee process, often a large committee. While the agency cannot and should not determine the approval process, it is important that businesses that make decisions this way will require more client service, more creative options, more review cycles and a longer schedule. Each of these have budget implications. When possible, a core decision committee of 3 or 4 individuals, is optimal for streamlining a web project and saving $. Organizations that make decions by committee, should condiser if there is a clear line between team members that get to "see" the website in all its phases vs. those that "approve" the website in all its phases.
Bonus point - Try to tie the launch of a new website to an event like a tradeshow, Sales meeting, user conference or major announcement. Having a hard deadline is wonderful for creating urgency and driving decisions!
Considering these 5+ points will either save your organization real money or provide reasonable expectations about what drives costs.
If one believes that in life nothing is permanent, then the constant changes in the science of SEO are just a fact of life. But for those who tend to get uncomfortable with things arcane, it's good to refresh yourself now and then. Managing your website's SEO in 2014 looks a little different than it did in 2004.
Let's quickly trace how SEO has evolved. SEO has been traditionally broken down into on-page SEO (keywords) and off-page SEO (links). The more keywords and links, the better the search. I've had many discussions with people who wanted to permeate their websites with search terms and links, which at times challenged principles of grammar or the creation of a natural "voice." And with everyone adapting this attitude, one's Google ranking constantly fluctuated as competitors outworded or outlinked one another.
Audience Focus - What people often overlooked was "their audience," i.e., providing full pages of content tailored to their audience's needs, and associating this content with compelling offers that would motivate visitors to register or in the case of a blog, share your content.
Relevant Content - As the arbiter of value in today's websites, Google rates "relevancy" more than quantity of links or keywords. By making repeated, incremental modifications to your website over time, Google views these steady additions as relevant, hence your rank begins to rise.
The use of Buyer Personas - Branding and marketing professionals have used "buyer personas" for some time and these are becoming more important for the creation of the more personalized web content your web visitors expect and which Google rewards.
The value of a keyword
- "Are keywords still relevant?" I can hear you ask. The answer is a qualified yes, because it is now a quality rather than a quantity game. The value is in picking the right keywords. How do you judge the value of a keyword? Moz
has a simple, 5-step process, which I will summarize here:
- Relevancy: Will searchers find what they need on your site based on the keyword?
- Do your own Google search: Seeing who already ranks for your keyword will suggest how difficult it will be for you to rank. The presence of paid search that appears at top or right side of the page indicates the presence of a conversion-prone keyword.
- Consider a Google Adwords test: Test traffic by buying the keyword so that it appears on the first page of Google, and track impressions.
- Use the data collected to determine the value of each keyword.
Additionally, HubSpot provides these keyword research tips for marketers:
- Understand "transactional" vs. "informational“ keywords.
- Use alternative tools like www.similarsites.com ormarketing.grader.com for competitor research.
- Google’s keyword tool is now “Keyword Planner”
- Use AdWords auction insights.
- Look at data from Webmaster tools.
Google Changes - Digging in a little deeper in his excellent Forbes article, "4 Changes Google Is Making And How They Affect Content Creation," John Hall explains the busy year Google had, trying to make Search more relevant. Foremost of the Google algorithm changes is "that you can no longer mine Google Analytics for keyword data, leaving website owners in the dark about what word searches were used to find or stumble upon their site." Google has done this to discourage those who keyword loaded their sites but were not necessarily the most authoritative resource on a subject.
"Ultimately, the key to Google’s algorithm changes lies in its guidelines for content creation:
- Content is key. Good content — clear, concise, informative — is better than bad content.
- Use plain English. Write for real people.
- Keep links to a reasonable number. Make your content readable.
- Really, it all goes back to one idea: Create quality content, and you won’t have to worry about it riding the Google update rollercoaster.
Key SEO Takeaways - In conclusion, 5 key high-level, takeaways for SEO optimized content are:
- Tailor more unique content to your audience (personas).
- Create more educational content. The blog is most useful for this and social media for sharing.
- Make meaningful, incremental content updates, don't add content to "bulk-up" your site.
- Google ranks for relevancy to human beings, so go for quality, not quantity.
- Have clearly defined business goals greater than ranking for Google.
HubSpot has additional resources; some of my content here is distilled from their e-book, "SEO- Past, Present and Future."
I've never written an annual "State of the Website" blog and endeavor for it to be more relevant than the State of the Union speeches have become. As the leader of a company that has been designing websites for 20 years, a recent blogpost by Michael Brenner, titled "Is the corporate Website Dead?" certainly caught my eye.
Dire prognostications are standard operating procedure in the blogoshphere. Example: a few years ago I read that Search, which is more relevant than ever, was dead. Americans need to be always onto the next great wave, whatever that is, lest we be left behind or be perceived as yesterday's news. We're all journalists now so I salute a good headline when I see one — hyperbole aside — so let's see what's behind this one.
Mr. Brenner sites research like:
- According to Webtrends, nearly 70% of Fortune 100 corporate websites experienced declines in traffic, with an average drop of 23%.
- 90% of website traffic comes from just 10% of the content and more than 50% of the traffic is from just 0.5% of the content. ~ InboundWriter
- 60-70% of B2B marketing content goes unused. ~ Sirius Decision
- 60% of the buyer journey is complete before prospects reach out to vendors. ~ CEB
These statistics, which seem to focus on the largest companies, which is not where most of us work, don't suggest the death of the website so much as the need for better understanding of and focus on audience needs and providing content that is reflective of that. Audience focus, or the creating of more personalized experiences is the future of the website. Big companies like Boeing, Siemens and Coca-Cola are now actively seeking audience participation to improve their website's relevance. They are also leading with highly produced customer story videos and prominent links to their well-staffed social channels to enable ubiquitous sharing.
My own experience is that most B2B companies are still quite enamored of their products, want them emphasized on the website, feel that education, while important, is a distant second on their websites, to lead generation. So, in 2014, we still need to lead discussions about the importance of focusing on the audience, addressing their pain points and providing relevant customer anecdotes.
While it is imperative for B2B companies to continually look at the B2C world and the Fortune 100, which is where marketing trends often originate, there is usually several years lag time before B2C or big company trends are absorbed and reflected in B2B websites. Compounding this is the generational reality that many individuals in B2B leadership positions today are not digital natives and have not yet really become comfortable with the notion that the website is becoming "A desination" within a network of customer channels, rather than "THE destination."
We are believers in multi-channel marketing, personalized web experiences and the website as a continual process rather than an one time event. RainCastle is often invited to bid on redesigning a B2B website and often a B2B brand in which the client presents the website as a finite project to be completed in a specific timeframe. The assumption is that we will create a better user experience with better content, navigation, design and content management capabilities. What it fails to acknowlege is that in order to stay relevant to their audiences and to Google, maintaining a relevant website is a constant process of creating new content, measuring its effectiveness and creating additional content based on analysis, to nurture prospects through a sales process, or others through an education process, and to connect with them in meaningful ways, across channels. This work is never "complete." In the B2C world, the website is becoming the most ubiquitous entry point rather than the final destination in many cases. This will be true for B2B as well, over time; change will be an evolution not a revolution, at least for the next several years.
2014 and beyond are looking pretty good for the website. We look forward to creating more and more personalized experiences across channels, over time.
Far from dead, the website is only now really coming to life.
I've never been one to announce my New Year's resolutions, but this year is different. This year I resolve to abolish the whole idea of New Year's Resolution in favor of "Seeking a Higher Algorithm." Let's face it, there is an algorithm for everybody and everything, making us all increasingly predictable. As a marketer I am a contributor to this revolution via the data-driven marketing practice known as "Personalization." In this week's Sunday Business section of The New York Times, I was reminded of personalization that targets... me, which I have to admit I found a little irksome.
In the article, "Listen to Pandora, and it Listens Back," the author, Natasha Singer, discusses how Pandora, the internet radio service, is moving beyond aggregating my "Thumbs Up" rating of songs in order to increasingly serve music to my liking. Not surprisingly, they are now mining my musical data in order to serve me more targeted ads, to improve the quality of my interruptions.
Online ad customization, known as Behavioral Targeting has been around awhile but Pandora, with more than 200 million registered users, has an enormous proprietary database tracking people's musical usage habits at an individual level. Pandora's algorithms will correlate my musical tastes and figure out that I am a political independent with a left wing zip code, a Jew with Buddhist leanings, am happily married and other inferences based on lyrics and musical patterns that statistically apply to the many individuals like me. I'm having a passing thought that maybe I'll go on a Hip-Hop binge or start listenining to Christian Gospel music and really throw them off, but my guess is that like the stock market, I'm in for the long haul and they will seek and find my level.
It's been the guiding principal of my life and thirty plus year career to take the independent path, to marry a free spirit and be a capitalist, to maintain a foot in the art world but run a business, to be conservative on some issues and liberal on others and never belong to either political party, to follow intellectual pursuits and enjoy B action movies — to avoid being stereotyped. So as the industrial era recedes further in the rearview and technology makes us smarter and faster, I realize that as much as I've tried to think unique thoughts and try different things, while I may not have ended up a carbon copy of my neighbor, I'm every bit as predictable.
So this year, I'm going to work on my spiritual life and getting in shape and when I see Groupon ads on my Facebook page for discounts on biking trips to meditation retreats in Thailand, I will have reached a higher algorithm. But first I'd have to spend time on Facebook, which is entirely too predictable.
RainCastle wishes you a happy holiday season, with sincere thanks to all our wonderful clients, partners and friends. This season, in celebration of our 20-Year Anniversary, a donation has been made to Urban Achievers Boston to support 20 middle-school students as they receive after school academic enrichment.
Most of the time, making a difference for our clients means moving the needle in terms of how they present their company, product or service; how they feel about their new brand, website and approach to marketing and ultimately, what the work we’ve created will do for their business.
This week, we launched a site for Urban Achievers (UA), an organization whose ultimate goal is not just to be a hub for driving business, but to support a community of educators, parents, students and professionals working together 10+ hours per day, six days per week, 11 months per year to improve the learning and overall development of students in underserved communities.
Based in Dorchester, MA, in the Epiphany School, UA offers after-school, weekend and summer programs to students starting in the fifth grade and continues to work with them through high school to provide educational and life-skills experiences that prepare them for future responsibilities and success.
Over the years, we spent a great deal of time at UA: meeting and interviewing the teachers, students, volunteers, Board and Founder. We watched as the first class of students graduated last spring; heard the names of every single child and the list of extraordinary high schools they’re now attending; met the many mentors around the community in various fields who continue to work with UA students and their families to inspire and motivate them to continue to succeed.
Launching the site and video this Thanksgiving is a way of expressing gratitude to all our clients and partners; you’ve made it possible for us to donate our services to UA. We’re grateful to all of you and we’re especially proud to be associated with Urban Achievers.
While marketers have come to recognize the power of content marketing and the need for it to be strategic, web visitors and social media users have begun to wonder what to do with so much content. So how can marketers get the attention of people who are becoming saturated with so much relevant content?
We’ve been researching this question, reading analytics and attending numerous seminars and events. Here’s what we think works best and is not going to require a big budget or more staff.
HubSpot, one of the most vibrant marketing software B2B’s around, analyzed whether using visuals increased click-through rate. They found that, “Marketers who are using interesting images to their advantage can increase traffic to their websites -- just as long as they remember to include links!”
Another powerful tool for boosting website traffic is video. Marketers may think production cost is too expensive but videos don’t need to be television-quality. In fact, a video shot with a pocket video camera that looks less commercial will feel more personal.
In a recent Marketing Sherpa article, “Content Marketing: Videos attract 300% more traffic and nurture leads,” a case study of a B2B company that posted videos regularly demonstrated:
- site traffic spiked;
- average time-on-site per visitor increased;
- time spent on pages with video was about twice as long as without video.
So, how can marketers best use images and video to engage users?
- Use an image, or even better, a video at the start of your blog posts. According to an Oracle/Eloqua newsletter, “Videos tagged with metadata about a specific topic within a post can help your SEO efforts. Google recognizes pages where a click leads to longer time spent on a page, so a video capturing viewers’ attention on your blog for even two minutes longer can make your content more sticky and more likely to show up in Google search results for a particular topic.”
- Use video in email campaigns. Email campaigns can serve as tremendous opportunities to leverage your video marketing for lead nurturing. In a GetResponse study of nearly a billion emails, those containing video had a 96% higher click-through rate when compared to non-video emails.
- Use video (and interesting images) in social media channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Hubspot found that compared to text-only posts, Facebook posts that included interesting images received 84% more link clicks.
For help on how to include video in your email campaigns, here’s a useful link:
At a recent Boston Business Journal event we attended that featured a discussion about winning practices for social media, panelists concurred on this point:
The best marketing is marketing that does not "sell," but instead promotes the experience that the business has to offer.
By showing photos and/or video of customers enjoying a particular brand, marketers can combine best practices for offering up strategic content marketing that gets readers’ attention.
I was so captivated by a photo a friend posted on facebook of museum goers experiencing a recent installation at the Guggenheim, that I went to the museum website, clicked on a link to the video, and proceeded to buy tickets to for the exhibit.
James Turrell's "Light" exhbit at the Guggenheim and people "experiencing" the exhibit
Featuring video and photos on your website and periodically providing links to videos on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook can increase site traffic. And the image or video needn’t be as arresting as the Guggenheim clip. Videos of product demos, customer testimonials, introductory explanations and interviews offered on a straightforward b2b site, can be used to draw in and develop leads. And repurposing video across marketing tactics can make them an even more successful means of content marketing. For more tips on how to use video:
To YouTube and Beyond! 5 Places Where Including a Video Will Boost Results
RainCastle is pleased to be working with Jim Stengel, former Global Marketing Officer of Procter & Gamble, and an industry leader in the fields of Marketing, Brand and Business.
While everyone has come to recognize the power of brands, it can still be challenging to quantify the value one's brand adds to the bottom line. Jim Stengel, through extensive research, identified the connection between financial performance and customer engagement, loyalty and advocacy. Essentially, he found that the companies with the best financial performance are what he calls "ideals-driven companies," i.e., ones in which the mantra of "improving people's lives" is indigenous to their vision, values and culture.
When I asked how the idea of an ideals-driven brand plays to B2B, Jim said many of his clients are B2B companies and the notion of improving people's lives just takes a different form than with a consumer company, such as Nike or Apple. His contention is that people are people and will always feel empowered when feeling that their product or service has a deeper purpose than its immediate function. IBM's "Let's Build a Smarter Planet" is one example of a B2B that has embodied their brand ideal. And at the end of their TV commercials, the voice over proclaims, "I'm an IBMer," giving the ideals-driven brand a personal touch and making us feel that everyone at IBM is united in the mission to build that smarter planet.
"Creating Marketing People Love," is marketing software vendor, HubSpot's tagline. HubSpot is one of the most vibrant B2B's around and it is plain to see that they are an ideal-driven brand whose financials have grown at an enviable clip. Their tools help businesses increase leads and convert those leads into happy customers — a sure way to improve people's lives. HubSpot puts an enormous amount of passion and energy on educating their partners and customers, providing white papers, eBooks and webinars, so their customers will be successful.
Brands are often described as needing to satisfy a balance of rational and emotional needs. One might sound the familiar refrain that B2B markets and their decision making process are necessarily more rational than in consumer markets, because they are often selling higher value products or services, which require many decision-makers. But it still comes down to people selling to people. And people are moved by emotional ideas. This means that a strong B2B brand is expected to posess all of the rational attributes, but will truly rise above by offering an emotional benefit found in authentic brand ideals.
In the B2B world, How important do you think ideals-driven brands are?
I've seen many clients, who with the best of intentions fall into the same rut year after year. There are certain universal truths about successful websites; one of them is that on website projects that include a quality content editor as part of the dedicated team, the process is smoother, stays on schedule and client satisfaction is high.
Here's a common scenario. Insanely busy client initiates website project and can't wait to get the new site up — the current one is five years old (give or take a couple), which is three technology generations ago, and the company is looking tired.
The writing and other content development is divided among topic leaders around the company and a schedule is distributed. We provide guidance on writing and desired word count and counsel brevity. One of the company's writers gets called out of town. Another goes on vacation. Copy trickles in from others, some of which seems novel length long. Other copy switches from third person to second person in the same paragraph. An engineer writes in the passive voice with all the details of a product spec, and so forth.
So, how can a content editor help?
5 Benefits of a Content Editor
1. Understanding the Web Reader
"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter." This quote attributed to Mark Twain, holds true in the Internet Age and even more so as we morph into the Mobile Age. The most prevalent mistake people make when writing for the web is to tell a story in microscopic detail.
The Jakob Neilsen Eye Tracking Study tracks web readers' viewing habits, which can take a distinctive "F-shape" pattern indicating that people read the header, skim the first few lines of a web page, skip down to the next subhead and skim some more. The implications of this are for the writer to craft copy that one can skim in this way and still glean key concepts.
Keeping the reader’s viewing habits top of mind effectively and consistently requires expertise, training and the ability to pare back detail --- skills the Web Content Editor has honed through experience.
2. Objective Perspective
A content editor will begin by asking about website objectives, key audiences, messaging and tone. S/he will come to the assignment with a fresh perspective, without preconceived notions, or the inherent need of an insider to spell out every last detail for fear that something is missed. S/he will assume of the audience either too much knowledge or not enough.
The content editor will objectively evaluate the internally created content, based on stated site objectives. A good copy editor will continually challenge the inside team to focus on the value the company provides rather than the details of how something works or that it is great.
Providing consistent reminders that a website is about the audience and not the company is arguably the greatest value of having an objective resource.
3. Messaging Expertise
Bringing a consistent "clarity of purpose" to the content is something a good editor keeps top-of-mind. From the inception of a web project, s/he will glean key messages and brand attributes that are necessary to convey in the content. With each piece of content, s/he will ask, is the key message coming through? Are the details overwhelming the main point? Is it clear to the reader?
Content editors understand the power of cohesive messaging, consistently executed, and will cut through the clutter to simplify and promote the right ideas.
4. Single Voice
With the number of participants and various backgrounds of team members writing for the web, it's no surprise that copy is widely uneven in quality and consistency of message. The website is not only an educational and marketing tool, it is a representation of a company's culture, which is a reflection of the brand.
Reading the work of a single, objective, professional content editor is not unlike using an app to create a playlist of one of your favorite artists, versus listening to an uneven conglomeration of songs grouped into one “radio station” that ostensibly delivers the same sound as your chosen artist.
5. Maintaining Schedule
When a client has a new product launch, various events to prepare for, client management and website writing on his/her plate, guess which one tends to fall lowest on the list of priorities?
While writing for the web may be something a company executive feels the team should do, the reality is that the website falls to a "when I can get to it" status. I can't think of a website project where a missed schedule wasn't the result of client produced content not being ready.
In our experience, there is no question that having a dedicated content editor is most important for keeping the web project on schedule. Building it into the initial project from the start removes the greatest impediment to launching on schedule.
What are your thoughts on having a dedicated content editor?
I've purposefully not consulted the blogosphere or Twittersphere to give myself the space to consider Apple's new brand campaign, titled "Designed by Apple in California."
It is an interesting conundrum, because some aspects of the ad are solid, but after giving it a little time to sink in, I still hew to my initial visceral dislike and disappointment upon seeing it.
First, there is the "Designed by Apple in California," headline — or more accurately the "bottom line," as it is always located at the bottom of a long, poetic string of new agey blurbs, and is meant to encapsulate all that Apple represents. And in the TV ads, the voiceover issues the treacly words, "This is our signature, and it means everything." The choice of " in California" in "Designed by Apple in California," I find particularly affected. California has pretty well lost its lustre as the golden land and this just seems a little bit precious to me. If this notion is meant to be political, suggesting more jobs for California, it just further dilutes the impact by being oblique.
My levels of disappointment begin with the fact that the most famous disruptive innovation company in the world needs the focus of their first post-Steve Jobs corporate advertising campaign to revolve around a tagline that takes a defensive posture about making products in the U.S.
That the company that brought us "Think Different," is now presenting themselves as a soft touch lifestyle company featuring an asexual person whose face you can't see, accompanied by a lot of whispery, overly sincere language is to say the least, a wet blanket.
I think that the focus on values in and of itself is a good thing, but these values, like "Every idea we touch, enhances each life it touches" or "Who will this help, Will it make life better? Does it deserve to exist? If you are busy making everything, then you are not perfecting anything," are more like a designer's stream of consciousness or an entreaty to the impatient consumer to be patient because perfection is an art that takes time. It borders on feeling apologetic, if not self-aggrandizing.
What happened to visionary, iconoclastic values — of pushing hard to break barriers and change our world for the better — which still spoke to a higher purpose? What happend to creativity that showed rather than telled? This is the ad campaign I'd expect from a "mature" company. Maybe it is the new, mature Apple moving out from the long, Jobsian shadow. While I can understand that and the "need" for that, I can't help but being let down.
What do you think?