Menu Aztek logo Contact Us
3615 Superior Avenue, Suite 4404A
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
216.472.2121

aztek

Total posts: 39
Last post: November 3, 2017

Fill the Leaks in Your Website Lead Generation Strategy

Fill the Leaks in Your Website Lead Generation Strategy

By Aztek on  November 3, 2017

I have some bad news for you. Right now, your website is a leaky bucket. You may feel good about your ability to bring people to your site, but you likely suffer from at least one of the following conversion issues that many sites struggle with.

No Calls-to-Action

Here’s a simple experiment. Go to your website, and take the perspective of a visitor who is unfamiliar with your site or your brand. Ask yourself the following question from each page: “What’s the next step?” In other words, what do you want a user to do from each page of your website?

Maybe you have a phone number and email at the bottom of each page on your site, but is anyone looking at it? And are they ready to contact you? Consider some of the following page types:

  • Home Page – From the home page, you likely want to drive people to your product or service pages. Or maybe you want them to learn more about your company. Make sure you prioritize your goals for your home page, and emphasize the most important actions higher on the page.
  • Product/Service Pages – Think about giving the users the right options here. For an e-commerce site, a purchase CTA (call-to-action) makes a lot of sense. From a B2B service page, though, the CTA may be to schedule a consultation. Be specific – list the name of the contact with a link to a contact form, and better yet include a picture.
  • Contact Page - Make sure you cover the right bases. Include a contact form, but also think about including contact information for specific people or departments, location/direction information, maps, and even customer service contact details. Don’t forget about social media…

Here are a few tips when thinking about placing calls-to-action:

  • Prioritize – Avoid having multiple calls-to-action with similar emphasis. It confuses users. Prioritize your calls-to-action, and make sure the most important is higher on the page, has more of a visual emphasis, and is easy to access.
  • Think from the User’s Perspective – Remember, a user isn’t always ready to purchase, or even talk to a salesperson. So what else might they need? Detailed product information? Testimonials? Pricing? Make sure they can find what they’re looking for, even if it’s not a direct purchase or contact.

No Way to Gather Customer Information

Step 1: Design a responsive website that everyone can view and delivers the right content.

Step 2: Drive traffic to your nice, shiny site.

Step 3…wait, you forgot about step three? When a new car dealership opens, they don’t forget to hire sales people, do they?

You need some way to engage visitors to your site and drive them to contact you, or give you enough information to contact them. (And if you’re an e-commerce site, hopefully you’re collecting your customers’ information when they make a purchase)

Here are some ways to gather customer information:

  • Email subscription – The old tried and true method. Provide valuable content on a regular basis, and send it to your email subscribers. The more valuable your content, the more people will want to give you their email address to be the first to know about it.
  • Contact forms – Sounds simple, but sometimes a properly placed contact form can increase conversions from none to some.
  • Gated content – Have a valuable resource that you’re giving away for free? Consider asking the customer for a few quick pieces of information (name, email, etc.) in exchange for your valuable resource.

Other unique website lead generators we’ve seen are calculators, audits, free consultations, coupons – any time you can provide incredible value to your audience, you might want to consider asking them for something in return.

No “Middle of Funnel” Content

If you visualize a funnel, customers at the top of the funnel are just learning about your company and your products or services. At the bottom of the funnel, they are close to purchasing. Perhaps the biggest area of opportunity for many websites is developing “middle of the funnel” content for visitors who are considering products or services, but need more information. These types of content include:

  • Case Studies – Visitors want to see how other people/companies are using your products or services. They want to hear success stories. It’s why reviews are so integral to the success of a product on Amazon.
  • Spec Sheets – This may be known by many different names (whitepapers, product sheets, sell sheets, etc), but it’s essentially more in-depth information about a product or service.
  • Demos/Trials – For visitors in the consideration phase, they may not be ready to buy until they try. Offering a demo or a trial can give you a great engagement point, and give the visitor an opportunity to take your product or service for a spin.

There are plenty of other opportunities for “middle of the funnel” content – just think about what information or resources your audience needs when they’re considering your product or service.

Not sure how your website is performing? Consider Aztek’s web assessment, which is the perfect way to identify issues and opportunities with your website.

Categories:
9 Website Items to Consider Budgeting for in 2018

9 Website Items to Consider Budgeting for in 2018

By Aztek on  October 6, 2017

As we enter the final quarter of 2017, organizations are budgeting for next year. According to Forrester, digital marketing budgets are growing at a pace of 11 percent annually, but we're no longer in the "spend to see what works" stage of digital marketing. Sophisticated analytics and tracking platforms have allowed digital marketing spend to be more efficient than ever.

While there will always be "trendy" digital marketing avenues to pursue, making sure that your organization's digital presence is well-positioned is essential. Below is a checklist to walk through when planning for 2018:

  1. Responsive Design - if your site isn't designed to be viewed from all devices, you're already behind the curve. Depending on where you look, responsive design adoption rates vary, but a 2016 survey reported that 79 percent of small businesses that had a website delivered a mobile friendly version of the site. Furthermore, as of 2015, Google began penalizing sites in search rankings that did not deliver a responsive or mobile-friendly site.
  2. Site Security - Site security is becoming increasingly important in this era of almost-weekly data breaches. Because of this, as early as 2014, Google began giving secure sites (HTTPS) a minor rankings boost. An SSL certificate will protect your users, stay compliant with modern browsers, and ensure your ranking potential is optimized.
  3. Site Speed Improvements - You may start seeing a trend here, but websites with longer loading times tend to perform worse in Google. This doesn't necessarily have to do with Google's algorithm quite yet, but when users abandon your site because it takes too long to load, Google picks up this signal and thinks that the user didn't find the right resource when clicking on your search result; therefore, your site gets negatively impacted in the rankings. Take a few seconds and run your site through Google's Page Speed Insights tool to see how you perform. Not only does page speed affect rankings, it also affects user experience, conversion rates, and in turn revenue.
  4. Content Updates - When was the last time you audited and updated the content on your site? If it's more than six months ago, odds are that some of it is outdated. If it's been several years, odds are that a lot of it is outdated. And if you have a website through which you can't edit the content yourself, it's definitely time to upgrade to a content management system (CMS) like Umbraco that allows you to make quick and easy updates to your site's content. Budgeting time and resources to ensure your content is current is essential, not only on your website, but across all of your web properties (including social media).
  5. Website Integrations - If you're like most businesses, you have a few software applications running your business: CRM, ERP, E-Commerce Platform, Email Marketing, etc. But do these applications all tie into your website and/or connect with each other? Or are you manually sending data back and forth through painful Excel sheet spreadsheets? Integrating your applications with your website can mean significantly less work on your end, and big benefits for your users who can see and engage with real-time data and content.
  6. Software/Plugin Updates - If you're still using the same platform for your website that you were 10 years ago (or even five), then you're not taking advantage of some of the huge benefits of modern web platforms. And you may have a long list of plugins running that are all ready to be updated, slowing down your site and potentially not running correctly.
  7. Technical Site Audit - Do you know how your site is performing under the hood? A typical technical audit that Aztek performs reveals a number of issues that may be impacting your site's ability to rank higher, render pages correctly, and present an ideal experience for your user. As a website ages over time, links change, images move, content gets neglected, and these issues can be easily resolved once identified.
  8. Usability Study(ies) - How are your users interacting with your site? Are there problem pages that aren't performing as intended? In-depth user testing using a variety of methods can help identify the issues with an under-performing site or page, and present solutions for how to drive users to the intended outcomes that are beneficial for your business.
  9. Marketing Automation - A scary fact: You will never interact with about 97 percent of the visitors to your site on average. They won't identify themselves through filling out a form, calling your business, or purchasing a product. However, using Marketing Automation, you can build robust programs to capture more leads, identify anonymous visitors, and build engagement programs to nurture leads throughout the sales process.

Are you putting together a budget and need help prioritizing? Let Aztek help you with a web assessment, or by providing you pricing for any of the items on this list.

Top 3 Reasons Why Your Website MUST Be Secured Using An SSL Certificate (HTTPS)

Top 3 Reasons Why Your Website MUST Be Secured Using An SSL Certificate (HTTPS)

By Aztek on  June 9, 2017

Internet security is a necessity when it comes to personal information. Users who feel like their information is being taken care of in a responsible and secure way will have more trust in a website. At Aztek, we push our clients for websites to be as secure as possible, that's why we strongly recommend installing an SSL certificate on all the sites we build. But before getting into the top reasons why you must have a SSL certificate, let's cover what exactly an SSL certificate is.

What is an SSL certificate?

An SSL certificate is digital file that creates a secure link between the web server and a visitor's browser to your website. This ensures that information passed between the user and the website is encrypted. Having an SSL certificate on your website provides integrity that information passed between your visitor and the website has not been tampered with, nor modified by a unknown third-party.

Server certificates can be purchased from many online sources, such as GoDaddy, and Network Solutions; however, you can also get free certificates from Let's Encrypt. Regardless of the source, all must be renewed on a periodic basis.

So now that we are clear on what an SSL certificate is, lets get into why it is important to have one.

1. Protect Your Users

This should go without saying, but if you are collecting any personal information about your website visitors you must take every precaution to protecting their data. "But I'm not collecting any credit card/payment information, my site only has a username and password box to view and download PDFs. "Why am I putting my user's personal information at risk?" you ask. Well, the fact is that users (against best practices) will re-use account credentials from website to website. So while your website may not have any sensitive payment information, the same credentials used on your site may be the same as that user's Amazon Prime account. So if you do not have an SSL certificate installed, a potential attacker could comprise the credentials on your site and use them elsewhere on other top websites.

2. Chrome, Firefox and other Internet Browsers are Changing Their Ways

Chrome and Firefox are instituting changes that will warn users when websites are not using secure server certificate. This includes warning users when a site contains username/password and credit card form fields. Users will see a "Not Secure" message in the address bar. This change was instituted in January 2017 (Chrome 56), and Google has even more changes slated for later include displaying the "Not Secure" warning for ALL sites that do not have an SSL certificate. Read more about this change and future plans.

Example of Not Secure Warning Message in Chrome

NotSecureWarningMessageExample

Image Source

Firefox has taken a different, more aggressive approach by tagging the form fields themselves with a warning message.

Example of Insecure Password Warning in Firefox

InsecurePasswordWarningInFirefox

Image Source

Conveying the message that your site is trustworthy by having an SSL could be the difference between a visitor staying and interacting with your site, or moving on to your competitor's site.

3. Google Ranking Factors

Google has announced that fast loading sites counts as a ranking factor. Under newer web server platforms, running a site under a secure server certificate may actually improve your site's download speed for your users. This has been made possible by changes in the underlying HTTP/2 protocol architecture that runs on newer web servers . Take advantage of these changes by using content delivery network (CDN) services such as CloudFlare, or hosting your website on newer versions of Windows Server, such as Windows Server 2016. Additionally, as if you need any other reasons, Google as posted back in 2014 that sites running under HTTPS will be used as a ranking signal.

At Aztek, we feel strongly that SSL has been a "must-have" for all new projects and we've even begun retrofitting several old projects over the last couple years. From protecting your website visitors, to gaining trust and confidence about visitors interacting with your website, to potentially improving your Google rankings, using a secure server certificate is a requirement and not an option!

Contact us if you would like to learn more about how we can help with your SSL needs.

Web Writing Best Practices: Process & Editing Tips

Web Writing Best Practices: Process & Editing Tips

By Aztek on  May 22, 2017

Reading online is different than reading a traditional book, magazine, or newspaper. Instead of sitting down with a nice cup of coffee and zero distractions, you're bombarded with cat GIFs, ads for the shoes you never bought (thanks Google), and links to the 20 Best Pizzas You Won't Believe Exist (you'll puke after reading #7!).

An eyetracking study by the Neilson Norman Group showed that,

"users often read Web pages in an F-shaped pattern: two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe."

Why does that matter? Because you'll need to write differently to get your point across to users online.

What web writing best practices will help improve your writing online?

First, Get Started

You can't edit copy you don't have. Start writing the ugly first draft. Don't paralyze yourself by thinking your first draft has to be perfect. It doesn't. Just put all your words down on paper. In your writing process you should have a time to get all your words on paper - don't worry about the title, don't worry about the opening paragraph, don't worry about how many times you've used the word "don't."

Follow a Process that Works for You

In the Content Matters Podcast Episode 22: How To Edit Copy, Barry Feldman outlines a 9-step writing & editing process:

  1. Write a working title.
  2. Understand the challenge/problem you're addressing for your audience.
  3. Outline the main body of your copy (use a template, get your main points down).
  4. Barf words onto a page (aka write anything that comes into your mind for your first draft).
  5. 24-hour rule. Let your writing sit for at least 24 hours, then revisit. Don't publish the first draft (unless you're Doug Kessler or Cara McCay and it is authentic for you)!
  6. Re-read and make edits.
  7. Write your opening last.
  8. Revisit your title and headings.
  9. Read it out loud. Expose all those complex grad school words and jargon.

When you're at the "re-read and make edits stage," make your words count by removing words and phrases that don't add value.

CUT-IT-OUT: Remove Words & Phrases to Strengthen Your Copy

via GIPHY

Where To Start? Big Picture Cuts & Reorganization

Ann Handley calls this part, "editing by chainsaw" in her book Everybody Writes: Your Guide To Creating Ridiculously Good Content (if you don't own this book, go buy it. right now). And that's what you're doing. Look for big chunks you can saw off or cut out, don't worry about the smaller details just yet.

  • Is your main point clear? Take out anything that distracts from the main point.
  • Is every paragraph earning it's keep and adding something unique?
  • Does the content flow? Should anything be moved?

Next: Cut Unnecessary Words & Phrases

Now that you've made the big cuts, keep an eye out for words or phrases that aren't adding value. Once you know what they are they will be easy to spot and cut out.

5 Types of Words and Phrases to Cut Out of Your Web Writing

Feel free to make the "cut it out motion" as you edit, it's fun and editing is fun. #winwin

1. Extra / Filler

Remove words used as filler - many of them end in "-ly". A lot them are adverbs. The Web doesn't like adverbs - neither does one of our favorite editing tools, the Hemingway App.

Examples of extra words: actually, easily, quickly, VERY, totally, really...

Filler phrases can be replaced with the infinitive (the to form) of the verb. Or rewrite the sentence without the extra phrase. Many phrases are used unnecessarily at the beginning of a sentence. If you want to, in order to, you can, you will need to...

Before: You will need to change your password every three months or it will quickly expire.

After: Change your password every three months or it will expire.

Before: It's actually very easy to get a million retweets. Ask Carter about his strategy to get a year's supply of Wendy's chicken nuggets.

After: It's easy to get a million retweets. Ask Carter about his strategy to get a year's supply of Wendy's chicken nuggets.

2. Superfluous Phrases

The Yahoo! Style Guide has a list seven pages long of superfluous phrases and what you can use to replace them. Key point here is to replace with more direct words or phrases when it makes sense, as long as it doesn't add confusion. Here are a few examples:

Instead of Use
a few of the a few
final result result
advance planning planning
in order to to

Before: In order to find a good conference to attend in your industry, you should research a few of the most popular ones and identify possible learning objectives.

After: To find a conference to attend in your industry, research a few and identify possible learning objectives.


3. Jargon

Replace jargon with a simpler word or phrase. What is jargon? If it's an industry term that's not in the dictionary, it's probably jargon. Or if you're using it differently than the main definition. Acronyms are also a form of jargon - always spell them out.

Before: Disavowing spammy backlinks is part of a comprehensive SEO strategy.

After: Removing spammy links to your website is part of a comprehensive search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.

4. Passive Voice

When using the passive voice the subject is acted upon by something. Not sure if it's passive voice? Try this trick by Rebecca Johnson (it involves zombies). While using passive voice isn't wrong, it can make sentences longer and harder to understand. Using an active voice (where the subject performs the action) sounds more engaging.

Before: The blog was written by Anna.

After: Anna wrote the blog.

5. "Things"

This is my personal pet peeve. What "things" do you mean? Be specific - there is a better word to use. Use it.

Before: We'll share five things you can do to improve your writing.

After: We'll share five tips to improve your writing.

Resources

These tips should get you started, but you can learn more from experts like Barry Feldman on copy editing tips to improve your writing. Or Ann Handley's book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content.Or Copyblogger.

REMINDER: CONTEXT MATTERS

Use your own judgement and keep words or phrases to emphasize a point, to maintain a certain voice, or to help optimize your site for search. Also keep in mind for non-native English speaking audiences that some smaller words can help clarify parts of the language, such as keeping the word then in the if-then construction. So don't just cut words and phrases willy nilly.

By following a process, editing in big to small chunks, and being ruthless with the delete button your content will be more web-friendly and your readers will thank you.

If you need help with your content, get in touch.

 

Image Credit- Icons: "Scissors" by Cristiano Zoucas "Point Right" by Cristiano Zoucas & "Thumbs Up" by Cristiano Zoucas with changes are licensed under CC BY 3.0

Categories:
2017 StirTrek Roundup

2017 StirTrek Roundup

By Aztek on  May 12, 2017

Our team goes to StirTrek every year because it's a great conference. One big change this year was the location. In years past, StirTrek was held in a movie theater, which was awesome. But it seems the success of the conference led to them outgrowing that venue and moving to OSU's Schottenstein Center. The move makes sense because it is bigger, but as an attendee, the new venue offered only cramped seating and challenging acoustics; each session was divided only by a tall curtain and you could hear the sessions on the left and right of you. This was not a user experience improvement. But hey, just like in websites, it's the content that really matters...right?

So what new knowledge and ideas did our team bring back with them this year? Check our session summaries below.

Why your agile isn't

Travis Alexander

We transitioned to Agile a few years ago, there is always more to learn and improve on, so I tend to gravitate to these types of talks, even if I only pick up one or two new things, and this session had a few great bullet points. In no particular order:

  • Epics are just to group stories that span across sprints
  • Use sub-tasks like a checklist for your user story
  • How do you keep story points from being a time estimate (and age-old agile debate)? Establish a baseline of shared understanding for something that everybody has done, such as adding content to a modal. That's a "two". Now, all of a sudden, everyone has a common point of reference to estimate the point estimates from.

No Estimates, or Lean Estimates, That is the Question

Chris McClellan

It was ironic that this session followed the "Why Your Agile Isn't" (in the exact same room no less) because some of the ideas seemed to directly contradict the notes I took from the previous speaker. In this talk, Chris explored the pros and cons of not giving estimates at all, or finding a compromise and using something called "Lean Estimates". Lean Estimates seemed to be a more reasonable solution where estimates are not given until the are needed (JIT), and are not debated endlessly by petulant team members who are more concerned about being right than getting things done. Not that anyone has ever had that happen.

For a short time, I did not think there was any value in looking back at sprint work estimates. They are just estimates and estimates are never actual so why look back - keep moving forward. In presenting Lean Estimates, Chris really changed my way of thinking. He conveyed that using historical data can help get you quick estimates for forecasting the future. If we keep a snapshot of past done stories/items per sprint, we can use the count of those to estimate how much we think we can typically get done. When the squads are really gelling a common throughput trend will stand out. He started to see that Week 1 they got 13 cards done, then Week 2 12 cards were done, then 13 again, and then 10. This is extremely valuables to see, before even looking at the next sprint you can estimate we will get around 12 cards done.

More Better Code Quality

Jim Holmes

I always love to hear how developer teams work big and small. Jim walked us through a simple and typical development lifecycle from Idea through Building and finally to Production. He pointed out how and where you should be using collaboration to discuss quality considerations. One point he stressed in the building phase, was using the 3 Amigos. This can be a quick 5-minute discussion before the developer dives in where the developer, tester, and BA/Product Owner review the story with their different perspectives. This story kickoff should result in an agreement on what is needed to get it done correctly. As a developer when I see a story with good acceptance criteria I just want to dive in knock it out and throw it over to QA but there are so many things wrong with that will end up costing more time in the end.

Fetch and Service Workers - Revolutionizing Web Requests

Jared Faris

JavaScript conference talks are always tricky. Sometimes you can sit through 45 minutes of something that is only implemented in 1 browser or something that is demoed so generally that you have no clue how to use it in something you are working on. But this is never the case with Jared Faris, he has a tremendous way of presenting through real demos. I would recommend seeing him present whenever possible. In this session he first reviewed the Fetch API, which he wrote on back in November of 2016. At Aztek, we've used the Javascript library Q to flatten our callback pyramids with promises and get implicit error propagation. The Fetch API is something useable today with or without a polyfill to get that generic asynchronous Request and Response for data to and from the server. Seriously, start using it today.

The latter half he showed off the arrival of the less implemented Service Workers. Service Workers will give use developers really easy and powerful ways to handle caching, offline and even push notification going forward. I see a lot of benefits in these when they get settled and adopted and will probably start digging in by using them to inject additional calls for telemetry in our applications.

Make Your Team More Effective From Within

Jason Blackhurst

In this very concise talk, Jason broke down the results from Google's Project Aristotle, which explored what makes a project team successful. The results? There are basically five things that your team needs to perform at their best (and of those five things, really only three matter). They are:

  • Psychological safety
  • Dependability
  • Structure and clarity
  • Meaning of work
  • Impact of work

If you've got those things covered, you're gonna have a good team. The problem, of course, is that doing those things well is hard.

The UX of Voice

Tim Rayburn

Voice/chat as a UI continues to gain momentum and if you believe Tim Rayburn, this is the year Voice is poised to explode the way mobile did a few years ago. So the key takeaway here was to get into voice now, so you can be part of the early adopter crowd. This goes for designers, developers, and brands alike. After that big message, Tim's talk focuses mostly on Amazon's Alexa platform.

A few smaller, more tactical takeaways:

  • Keep answers short (two items), ask user if they would like more
  • Interrupting skills (Skills are what Amazon calls an application for Alexa) loses the entire session
  • Use SSML for phonetic spelling

We recently bought an Alexa for Aztek, and are looking forward to hacking on it and experimenting with our own Alexa Skills.

Use Alexa to Learn Cloud Serverless Skills

Wray Mills

In keeping with our new found interest in Alexa, we attended this talk right on the heels of the UX of Voice session. This session was way more technical. Wray took the audience on a tour of all the places and steps a developer needs to get familiar with to write their own Alexa Skill. He covered what accounts, what services, what technologies, etc. you need to get started developing your own Skill. The bad news for me was some of it was way over my head (what do you want, I'm a designer), but the good news it, it wasn't so over my head that I was intimidated. Wray assured us that even a newbie could have their first Alexa Skill up in a weekend.

And just in case you thought Alexa was only for playing music, check out what he did with his.

Girl Develop It

(Stir Trek Spaces)

This was one of the unofficial sessions for people who wanted to present a topic but maybe didn't have a full 45-minute talk ready to go. I have twin daughters who might be interested in what Daddy does for a living in a few years, so I wanted to find out what Girl Develop It was all about. From their website: "Girl Develop It is a nonprofit organization that exists to provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development. Through in-person classes and community support, Girl Develop It helps women of diverse backgrounds achieve their technology goals and build confidence in their careers and their everyday lives."

Two representatives from the Dayton and Columbus chapters talked to us about the various events they sponsor and how their classes work. I also learned that next to California, Ohio has the largest number of GDI chapters. Surprisingly, however, there is no Cleveland chapter. Right then and there I submitted an interest form to let them know that I thought Cleveland could benefit from its own chapter. Go to https://www.girldevelopit.com/ to learn more about this great organization.

Planning for Accessibility

Jeff McWherter

Accessibility is something all web developers should strive towards. As Jeff pointed out in his talk, studies show that as much as 20% of the population has a disability, and we should try to accommodate as many of them as we possibly can. There are a lot of confusing and sometimes conflicting standards out there, and Jeff did his best to make sense of them for us. A lot of this I already knew, but it's always good to hear this stuff from someone who knows more than you because there's always something new to learn.

  • WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) and Section 508 are the gold standards for accessibility, but compliance with one does not necessarily mean you automatically meet compliance with the other
  • WCAG has three levels of compliance - A, AA, and AAA. Level A rules are generally easy to meet and should not impact the appearance of the page much, if at all. AAA, on the other hand, can be pretty difficult to achieve and may significantly impact content or appearance of the page.
  • NoCoffee is a Chrome extension that can simulate a number of vision disabilities, including low acuity, contrast sensitivity, colorblindness, and visual obstructions like glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy
  • Color Safe (http://colorsafe.co/) is a website that helps you create attractive color palettes that adhere to accessibility guidelines for text and background contrast ratios

Event-Driven UX in the Real World with Angular 2 and Socket.io

Michael Meadows

Introduction to Functional Reactive Programming

Corinna Cohn

I really want to learn more about Angular, React, and functional programming. Unfortunately, two 45-minute sessions at a conference like this is not the best way for me to learn much. These talks both went pretty much over my head. I will have to do much more of my own homework before this sinks in.

Building An Audio Microscope: Freezing and Exploring a Moment of Sound with PureData

Krista Campbell

I wanted to attend something "cool" for the last session, regardless of its applicability to web development, and Krista's talk fit the bill. Using an open-source programming language called PureData, created for processing and manipulating audio and video data, Krista created an application she calls and "audio microscope". Normally, when you slow down or speed up a sound clip, the pitch is lowered or raised in direct proportion to the speed change, and if you pause the sound, it just stops. Unlike video, where you see a still clip when the video is paused, sound requires motion to work, so if you stop the motion, there is no sound. Krista's app overcomes these limitations (with a lot of complicated math that I did not understand, but that's ok, because it's cool). She can load a sound clip, speed it up or slow it down without changing the pitch at all (sing "Happy Birthday" to yourself REALLY slowly but stay in the right key), and she can even "pause" the sound for an indefinite period of time and it will continue to play that small sample of sound (start singing "Happy Birthday" to yourself but just hold "Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa" as long as you possibly can). It's difficult to describe her talk accurately in words, but it was pretty neat.

Until next year...

As always, another great year at StirTrek. As an added bonus, our own Keith Rowe won a brand new XBOX1 from one of the vendor raffles!

Categories:
Mastering Customer Intent: Two Parts

Mastering Customer Intent: Two Parts

By aztek on  May 4, 2017

Every great marketer wants to be able to provide answers and information to an ideal customer in the very moment that customer has a need. These marketers would use digital marketing so effectively, it would sometimes create a need for the customer. How do you, as a business owner or a chief marketing officer, ensure your company is going to be able to give the customer what they need when they need it? You first must understand the visitor's true intent.

Part One: Use Data to Understand Customer Intent

You may have created personas based on demographics rather than intent. For example, if I manufacture and sell boutique baby products, I might target women who are between the ages of 25-40, have at least one child in the house, and have a median household income of $80,000. This sounds fine and dandy, except for the fact that 40 percent of all baby product purchasers are people who don't even have a child in their household (think gift-buying grandparents, friends, etc.). By taking a narrow view approach and targeting by demographic you've effectively alienated 40 percent of your target market! Here are a few other stats that may have you rethinking your approach:

  • 56 percent of sporting goods searchers on mobile are female
  • 45 percent of home improvement searchers on mobile are female
  • 68 percent of skin and body acre influencers, in the last month, are men

 

How do you take a deep dive into the intent of your customers? How can your company be there for them in those moments of need? First, look at who is visiting your site as it stands and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What search terms are visitors using?
  • Do you have relevant content that is answering questions they are asking?
  • What actions are new visitors taking on your site?
  • What pages do they spend the time on? What pages do they bounce from?

Do more research on your market and who the buyers are. There very well could be more than one intent and it's important to have content that appeals to those different customers. In my baby products example, blog content for new moms would be great for those in our original demographic. A gift guide would be valuable for people who don't have a child in the home, but are buying for a friend or sister who is expecting.

Part Two: Consider the Buying Cycle

It is important to cater content to customers who are in different stages of the buying cycle. Create content for those who are just asking a question. Create a comparison page for those who are comparing your solution against others in your industry. And, create content that makes it easy for people to connect with you at the very moment they want to buy. Don’t ask your visitors to buy from your company if they are simply asking “what do I look for when switching providers?" Do write a blog post that outlines answers to their question. You may be thinking this sounds like Avinash Kaushik’s See, Think, Do Framework. It is.

The bottom line is to not alienate your audience. If you are seeing traffic to your site that indicates you have a different customer intent than you initially suspected, publish a small amount of content that appeals to them and see how it performs. Step back from your digital presence, look at the data, and form content strategies around customer intent—even if it is not what you initially expected.

Still not sure where to start? Contact us to talk to one of our team members about your business.

Categories:

Selecting A Smart Domain Name for SEO Purposes

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

One of the first important decisions when building/launching a new website is the selection of a domain name. Domain names are a very valuable part of a business and its web presence. What most people don't know is that the right domain can deliver some great SEO benefits.

Researching, selecting and purchasing a domain name is an essential step in any SEO strategy. This important step should be taken seriously. Think of your domain URL as the address of your website. Much like your own address, a domain is where your site will "live" online. And you don't just leave where you live up to chance, you take the time to research and carefully choose where to live. This same care should be taken when deciding on a domain name for your new website.

There are a number of things that one should consider during the domain selection process.

  1. There are two strategies for domain selection- focus on the association with the brand of your company or including keywords in the domain.  Including keywords in the domain will help the site gain better recognition, lead to more external links, increase the chance for better organic rankings and bring more traffic to the site.
  2. Keyword-rich domain names tend to get more direct traffic. Keeping a domain keyword rich, generic and short in length will help bring traffic to the site when users type in the keyword(s) directly into a brower and add a .com extension. You don't want to miss out on this targeted traffic!
  3. Domain names need to be seen as trustworthy. Aim to select domains that are short and don't include a large amount of hypens/dashes. ex: onlinebanking.com vs online-banking-for-free.com
  4. If possible, also try to secure the .com version of the domain. People tend to remember, search for and navigate for this extension more than others
    (ex: .net, .org)
  5. Consideration of a domain's age is another important part of domain selection. There are a number of benefits for having an aged domain. These include, but aren't limited to, the advantage of getting pre-existing traffic to the previously developed site and its pre-existing inbound links. There are a number of tools to check the age of any domain name such as DomainTools.com.
  6. If you want to check out the site that formely was found at this address, use the Internet Archive or Wayback Machine.
  7. Domain names should be memorable. This will help your search engine result stand out as well as increase the probability of capitalizing on direct, type-in traffic.
  8. This may go without saying, but the domain name chosen should be easy to spell. Unless you create a completely new term/product, choose a domain that will be easily found and remembered by online users.

Now, with all of that said- you may be asking what are the SEO benefits of carefully selecting a keyword-rich domain name? Well, I am about to tell you...

  1. When linking to other sites, it is common practice for webmasters to link to the business name or simply the web address. Having a main domain name that is keyword rich will make it easy to create inbound links with strong, keyword rich anchor text.
  2. A keyword-rich domain also provides the search engines with something to consider when choosing search results for a specific keyword search. If your domain is keyword rich and revelant to your site, it has a fighting chance of showing up well in the natural rankings. Top ranked sites very often contain the keyword that was searched for. This isn't the case every single time, but there is a strong trend that indicates that there are advantages of having keywords in a domain URL.
  3. Domain names that contain relevelant keywords also seem to work well for obtaining Google site links (the exact algorithm is unknown, but the consensus is that this seems to work). Site links are the additional links you see below a result on the search engine result pages. These links are there to help users navigate to a specific, inside page without having them navigate to the homepage then searching for the information they seek.
  4. Keyword-rich domains also complement other aspects of a website's design that make the site easily crawlable by the search engine spiders/bots. Along with keyword-rich URLs, other things to consider to build a crawlable, SEO friendly site include:  well-structured site navigation with a sitemap and well-writted titles and descriptions (work along with strong domain name to produce high click through rates in search results).
  5. High natural rankings and the presence of Google site links will help combat your competition by pushing their listings down below the fold on the first page of the search results. Other tactics can also be employed to make sure that you dominate the first page of results above the fold. These include paid search and supplemental rankings. All of these working together will help build your brand and position your business/website as a leader in your industry in the minds of current and potential customers.

Can't decide between a few domain names? Is there more than one domain available that is keyword rich and relevant to your business' products and/or services? Not a problem, it is possible to purchase any amount of domain names that are desired. These domains can then be redirected to the main domain URL that you choose. This is another way to make sure that you aren't missing out on any direct, targeted traffic.

Carefully selecting a domain name is just one tactic to help your site perform well in the search engines for keywords that are relevant to your business. This is an important step that you must consider when building a site with the intent of generating large amounts of traffic, gaining qualified leads and building a strong web presence for your business. And really let's be honest, who builds a website without these goals in mind?

Using Twitter for Business? Take a Look at These 7 Tips.

By aztek on  April 24, 2017

Unless you are living under a rock, you have most definitely heard of Twitter. According to Wikipedia, Twitter is "a social networking and micro-blogging service created by then Cornell student Jack Dorsey that enables its users to send and read other users' updates known as tweets." These tweets can only be up to 140 characters in length and show on the user's profile page and are delivered to others that have signed up to receive your updates. If you question that this service has exploded since its founding in 2006, look at the estimated number of users in 2008. In November 2008, there was an estimated 4-5 million people "tweeting" online. 

You may ask, what does this have to do with me and my business? Well, businesses across numerous industries have been trying to leverage Twitter as a marketing tool for quite some time now. Companies such as Carnival Cruise Lines (http://twitter.com/CarnivalCruise), MGM Grand Hotel and Casino (http://twitter.com/Mgmgrand), Home Depot (http://twitter.com/thehomedepot) and Whole Foods (http://twitter.com/wholefoods) are actively participating on the social media/networking site. Other entities including universities and non-profit organizations are also getting their "tweet on". Some examples include the University of Kentucky (http://twitter.com/WildcatThursday) and the American Red Cross (http://twitter.com/RedCross). This goes to show that Twitter may be a useful tool for promotion, marketing and customer relations online.. if used correctly and with a concrete plan in place. 

There are a few things that businesses need to consider before adding Twitter to their marketing mix. First, get familiar with Twitter before creating a business account. Set up a personal account and learn how the service works. In order for Twitter to be useful for business, you have to have a firm understanding about how to use it correctly, how the conversation grows and the best way to utilize all of the tools Twitter has to offer. Second, a business needs to fully commit to its usage of Twitter. Like any other major business decision, Twitter will only be successful if a well-laid plan is put in place. There has to be a long term commitment to content, frequency of updates and timeliness of tweets. A firm definition of success is also helpful. Unfortunately, "success" on Twitter is not immediate, predictable or even easily measured. Twitter is all about building relationships with customers, creating a dialogue with them and having an open source for communication. If customers already have a dedication to/interest in your brand- they will be likely to follow you on Twitter to keep up to date on important events and happenings.

So, without any further rambling, here are some useful tips on using Twitter for business.

  1. Claim your business name/brand/product, etc. on Twitter. Do this by creating an account with Twitter using your most recognizable business entity. You must claim these important user names before someone else, maybe even a competitior, decides to create an account with your company/brand name. This will limit the amount of confusion and make it easier for fans of your business to follow you since your user name will be easy to recognize.
  2. Don't confuse your customers/fans. Therefore it is important that your Twitter page aligns perfectly with your website. Use logos, brand standard colors, etc. to ensure that customers know that they have found you and not an imposter. Let them know they are in the right place.
  3. Make it simple for customers to follow you. Create a Twitter page on your offical site. That way, if a customer comes to your site and doesn't know that your a user of Twitter, this will make it easy for them to find out and begin to follow your updates.
  4. Answer questions. Once you have established a following on Twitter and you have commited to creating updates and being part of the conversation (which can take some time), your customers may start asking you questions (right there on Twitter). Answer these questions honestly and in a timely manner. Customers will respect you for it!
  5. Don't be a passive participant. Monitor brand names, company name and any other relevent keywords to keep on top of what is being said about you and/or your products in other people's "tweets". This is becoming an increasingly important part of online reputation management.  People are using Twitter to communicate about their life and experiences. These experiences can be one that they had with your company, one of your employees, etc. And these may not always be positive, so it is essential to stay on top of the conversations on Twitter.
  6. Keep it professional. This isn't your favorite local pub or your family's holiday gathering- don't bring up sensitive subjects or debate issues on Twitter. It will not boost your company's image, just don't do it! It shouldn't take much more of an explanation.
  7. Don't be a robot - have fun and show some personality. It is important to continue tweeting as "you" even when you are using a Twitter business account. It is important that your followers get to know you as an individual. Most companies choose to have only one individual represent their brand on Twitter. Other employees can have their own accounts, but only one person should be the "face" of the company on Twitter. This will make the experience more real and not feel too forced or "corporate".

Twitter is a tool that is proving to be a feasible addition to a business's marketing plan. But like any social media endeavor, it is important to consider all aspects of the decision before jumping in. These factors would include, but are not limited to: the level of commitment necessary and the time to invest in updates, the impact for small/local businesses (targeting by location is possible in Twitter), how to measure success, the importance of ROI, the reality of using Twitter for promotion/marketing, etc.

Twitter may not be for all businesses, that is for each company to determine. But if Twitter is something that you would like to try, these tips should get you off on the right foot!

Categories:

Three Common SEO Mistakes to Avoid

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

Most companies, both large and small, invest a large amount of time and money into improving and maintaining their natural search engine visibility and rankings. After all of this effort and investment, it would be a shame to see a company harm their SEO efforts, results and successes. Below are three common mistakes companies make that work against and sabotage their investment in search engine optimization.

Redesigning a website or switching a CMS (Content Management System) without taking SEO into consideration .

Most web redesign projects emphasize front end design, user experience, back end content management and administration features. Most redesigns do not take into consideration some very important factors. These include: how the search engines will interact with the site and how a redesign will affect the current, organic search engine visibility of the site. This visibility has most likely cost the company a decent amount of time and money to achieve.

Not paying attention to these issues can be a disaster. It is important to remember that changes to a site can affect numerous things including: overall content organization, past content optimization, syntax of file naming, site navigation and other web page elements.

When crawling your website, a search engine has indexed webpages and links. Changing the links and pages of a site without using correct redirects can confuse the search engines and greatly hurt your natural rankings. If file names have been changed, the search engine will not find these pages. This signals that the content doesn't exist. These "non-existant" pages can be removed from the search engine's index and will no longer be available to web users looking for your products, services or information. If the majority of your web site is not available, this can mean a drop in visits and sales. And this is not a good situation for any company.

If a solid SEO plan is put in place during a website redesign, this can help reduce the negative effects of a major change. If a website has been around for a good amount of time, it has certainly built up equity in terms of its content and incoming links. Drastically changing content and breaking inbound links can result in a huge drop in search visibility. That is why it is important to make SEO a priority during any website redesign project. The Top Rank Blog has a great list of 10 things to keep in mind during a website redesign.

Focusing on keyword phrases based on internal marketing materials, product data and employees.

Keywords are essential to search engine optimization and any search marketing efforts. Keywords and keyword phrases are what consumers search for and use to find content, products and services. Keywords also help search engines understand a site's content for indexing, sorting and showing search results. 

A very common practice is for companies to focus their keyword research on phrases derived from within the company's own four walls. This includes reliance on internal staff, product data sheets and marketing materials for keyword development and site optimization. Why is this practice detrimental in search engine optimization? It is actually quite simple- just because you and your staff provide keywords that accurately describe your company's products and services, doesn't mean that potential customers/users are using these same phrases when searching online. Internal keyword research is a great place to start but it is essential for a company to use keyword research tools to determine the searches and queries people actually make when they use search engines. Keyword research is an invaluable process during search engine optimization. This process can provide phrases that are important to your customers for use in optimization. Extensive keyword research can uncover keywords that are higher in demand and more relevant to what your company offers. 

For example, "inexpensive airfare" may be what your company provides to consumers. However, after in-depth keyword research, it may be determined that most online users search for "cheap flights". This is a smarter keyword to use during optimization. 

Keyword research is an ongoing process- keyword glossaries and strategies should be developed as part of content creation and marketing strategies. It is important that a site is optimized for phrases that are important to your target market. Optimize for the keywords that your potential customers search for online- don't optimize your website for keywords that are used when discussing business with your co-workers.

Approaching SEO solely as a job for web development with no emphasis on marketing.

Search engine optimization is not a simple web development "fix". Conducting code and server side optimization along with on-page optimization is only a starting point in improving a site's performance in the natural search results. In today's SEO world, it is important to publish new content and acquire new incoming links on a regular basis. This very important process is done by people- more specifically web marketers.

A website needs attention, and people, to give customers and search bots a reason to keep coming back. Promoting new content, social web tactics, forum participation, etc. are all ways to attract valuable inbound links. All of these efforts are based on activities performed by a company's online marketing department.

During initial build out of the site, it is important to ensure that the site is built search engine friendly technically and with keyword rich content. But in order to maintain results and improve a site's competitive advantage, a site needs to grow and be maintained. New content and links are imperative to maintaining "healthy" visibility in the natural listings.

The key is to make sure all the basic essentials are in place for building a search friendly site then develop a plan for new content creation, promotion and optimization. Using web analytics to measure performance is also imperative for continuous improvement. This will also help determine what is working for your site and what is not. 

Don't damage your search engine optimization and overall search marketing performance by only focusing on the web design and development portions of optimization. SEO is so much more than that! This is the reason that companies need a website marketing team. Having a truly optimized and successful website requires ongoing involvement and analysis. Your competition is staying involved and paying attention to their site, therefore it is essential that you do the same to remain competitive online! 

 

RSS Feeds: The Benefits for Both the End-User and the Site Admin

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

RSS or Real Simple Syndication is a tool for content publishers to reach a wider audience easily. It also allows the end-user the ability to receive the information they are looking for faster without the hassle of going from site to site. Here is a brief introduction to RSS Feeds and how a user can begin working with them, and why your website should have them available.

 

RSS Feeds: For the End-User

I’ve been on the internet for at least 6 hours a day for the last 10 years; more so over the last 4. So, if you know what an RSS Feed is already and you want to know how it can benefit your website, then you may want to skip this brief introduction.

For those not totally familiar with what a RSS Feed is, I’ll try my best at giving a brief explanation. “RSS” stands for “Real Simple Syndication.” Basically, an RSS Feed is another way for the news services or blogs that you visit frequently deliver its content to you. Instead of you going from site to site to read your favorite blogger or to read the headlines of your local newspaper, RSS Feeds are made available so that you can read all of your sites from one place.

It’s the next step in the evolution of content delivery. First, you had newspapers, your only source for what was happening. Then, people read the news to you over the radio. Then, it became available online for you to view at your leisure. RSS Feeds takes leisure and convenience to a new level.

If you’ve heard of Netflix, then hopefully you’ll understand this analogy. Prior to Netflix, if you wanted to rent a movie, you’d drive up to the local rental place, walk through the aisles, choose a movie or two, walk up to the counter, and pay for them, with the idea you’d be back to drop off the movie 2-3 days later. Now that we have services like Netflix, we can do all of that from our home. Realistically, it took the hassle and wasted time out of the picture, and allowed the videos you wanted to be delivered to you when you want them to.

RSS Feeds are basically the same thing. Instead of you going from site to site, you just go to one location, and all of your headlines and blog posts come to you. No more wasted time going to sites that may or may not have been updated the last time you were on (plus, no more flash ads telling you how you’ve won something you really haven’t won).

To start subscribing to RSS Feeds, the first thing you need to do is get a feed reader. Depending on your daily routine, there are a number of ways to collect your feeds.

If you live in Outlook, Outlook 2007 comes with a RSS Feed Reader by default:

Outlook RSS Reader

Or, if you use Firefox, search for “RSS Reader” and choose one of the Feed Reader addons (currently 28):

Firefox Addon Search

Or, if you use Google for everything (Gmail, GCal, GDocs) then try out Google Reader. I personally use this and have no problems recommending it to everyone:

Google Reader

Once you’ve chosen an RSS Reader, you’ll need to start subscribing. To find out if a site has an RSS Feed, just look for the orange icon (RSS Feed Icon). If you read blogs and news sites, then you’ve most likely seen them, either in the sidebar or somewhere in the content, or if you use Firefox, you may see the icon in the URL bar:

 RSS Icons on CNN's website

By clicking the icon or “Subscribe to Our Feed” link, you are directed to one of two pages. If you see code, just copy the URL and add the subscription address to your reader.

RSS XML Code

If you are directed to a webpage, such as Feedburner, you’ll see options that you can choose that best suits you and what Feed Reader you decided on.

Feedburner Screenshot

Then, once you have subscribed to your feeds, you can go to your feed reader and find the news you want when you want it. Here is what my reader looks like.

My Reader Screenshot

I pick up about 300-500 posts a day from over 100 blogs and news sites. Obviously, your routine may differ, but the time I save using RSS Feeds vs. Surfing 100+ sites allows me to be a bit more productive in other facets of my day, which I’m sure my boss appreciates.
But, what about the site owners?

RSS Feeds: For the Site Owner

Hopefully, you now know what an RSS Feed is and how it can benefit site visitors. But what if you have a website? Should you have an RSS Feed on your site for your readers? In the end, it all depends on what you’re doing. Most blogging services have RSS built in. But, if you’ve had your site custom-built, that’s not always the case.

Every website has different motivations and objectives. But, if you provide timely content that you want to reach a wider audience, you may want to look into delivering that content via RSS Feeds. Here are a few reasons why:

  • It’s easy. It’s not just easy for you, but for the end-user. We’re in a time where simple is better. We want everything to be given to us instantaneously at the point that we ask for it. RSS Feeds allow that type of feedback from your website. No longer does a reader have to go directly to your site to find out if you are selling a new Snow Blower. They can just open up their reader, see your notification, and click through to your site to find out more.
  • Automate your content delivery process. When you update your website, it is not guaranteed that your readers or customers are going to notice. Instead of sending out emails every time you update, your subscribers will automatically be notified. This basically allows you to worry about the content, and allows your subscribers to get the content they want as soon as it’s available. Plus, no more emails getting blocked.
  • Make your content available to a wider audience. RSS is becoming more and more popular. It creates a direct contact between your content and the subscriber. People are reluctant to give out their email address after years of heavy spamming. But, they aren’t as reluctant to subscribe to a feed that provides them information they are looking for on a regular basis. You’ll know that your message is being delivered every time so no more worrying about being blacklisted. With RSS, you have the ability to build a strong relationship with your readers, and attract new readers who are also looking for what you offer. Plus, it’s hands-off way to update your audience.
  • You can reuse old content. It’s not just about new content. If you have old articles, newsletters, or product reviews, you can reuse the relevant content to populate your news feed.
  • Syndicate Your Content: Much like a syndicated radio show, with an RSS feed, you can easily share your content to a much broader audience. The more people you reach, the bigger opportunity you have at selling your goods. Your RSS Feed drives traffic back to your site, and having your feed syndicated means more potential visitors coming. An RSS Feed will allow you to broaden your marketing horizon and content distribution, and increase your brand awareness. Plus, syndication works both ways. If you are a local business that sells products of a national brand and they offer RSS Feeds, you can use their content in your site.

Resources

Available Readers:

More Information: