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Total posts: 43
Last post: May 18, 2017

20 Years

By dave on  May 18, 2017

This May (2017) Aztek turned twenty years old.


I know, I know. There are companies that are much older so big deal, right? Yeah, but most of them aren't web design (and development, and digital marketing) agencies. In our industry, surviving for twenty years feels comparable to a hundred years. It's a whirlwind industry of constant change; where what you make and how you make it changes daily. Hell, 20 years ago, we were making websites that looked like this:

Screenshot of the first website they ever let me design and build.

This was literally the first site I ever designed and built. I've gotten better, I promise.

I started with Aztek 16 years ago, so I've been fortunate to witness how the Web and Aztek have grown and evolved since the very early days.

When I was hired on, there were only about eight of us, and we were barely adults. For many of us, the ink on our diplomas wasn't even dry yet. The Web was still a very new place. I didn't even know HTML yet, I learned right there on the job. We smoked cigarettes right in the office. We built websites in classic ASP using tables and Dreamweaver. eCommerce websites seemed like technology only aliens from an advanced civilization could master. People weren't really talking about web standards or accessibility yet. Heck, we didn't even know what CSS was, let alone use it. Nobody was really sure how to price this stuff. It was like the Wild, Wild West.

Fake it till you make it, right?

It's probably more accurate to repeat platitudes like, "Try, try, again", or "Never give up", "Experience is the best teacher", and so on. All of that rang true. We worked our butts off. There were countless late nights, Saturdays, Sundays, even a few "all-nighters" to make things happen. Of course, it was much easier to pull all-nighters when we were still in our twenties. This was just normal for nearly a decade (we eventually got a little smarter in our old age).

Very near our ten year anniversary, something critical happened. We moved our offices to downtown Cleveland. It was a big change for us. Previously, we had been in dreary, soul-sucking cube farm office spaces. In fact, I nearly turned around when walking in for my interview at the first office because of how ugly the hallway was. But not downtown. The downtown office was cool. Big open spaces, tall ceilings, we looked like a bonafide hip digital agency. And that feeling made us believe we really were. And not just us, our clients too. You could feel it in our work, in the kinds of people we hired, in the kinds of things clients started saying to us. It was transformative. Our entire culture began to change. We became more open minded, changing and adapting with greater ease. We took on new technologies with zeal, read countless articles, and attended conferences ravenously. We switched to Agile. The list goes on.

We grew mentally, professionally, and of course, in actual size. We have forged a culture that we can be proud of, and everyone else can be jealous of. We started breaking down barriers between disciplines and departments (if you've tried to get designers and developers together you can appreciate this) and spent a lot of time thinking about how we could work and communicate better together. It was not without a few bumps and bruises, but it worked.

The timing of moving downtown also fortuitously coincided with Cleveland's resurgence as a great city. When we moved in, we were surrounded by nearly empty buildings and the signs of urban decay. We got broken into a few times and there were a few moments that we questioned if Downtown was a good choice. But just a few and they were short lived.

Things started to change quickly. New buildings started going up around us. Old ones got revitalized. Aztek started working with organizations who were influencing the revitalization of our great city. Architects and hospitals, major art and cultural institutions, large and small companies who call Cleveland their home. As the city rose from its rust belt image (and from being the laughing stock of the rest of the country), we felt like we were not just seeing it reborn from the inside, but helping to push it along, even if only in our own small ways. We met and worked with many others who were in the thick of the action, and it was exhilarating.

As the City grew, so did we. We added new services, which required new team members, which required new clients and projects. And as the Cavs brought a championship back to the City last year, we had the biggest team we'd ever had and some of the biggest and best clients and projects too. It was perfect.

We've also had some of the best coworkers along the way. Not everyone stayed for the entire trip, but everyone who came through contributed to our growth and evolution, even the folks who didn't leave willingly. I thank everyone who has ever worked here. I mean that. Everyone moved us forward in some capacity.

Working for this company has been one of the most rewarding efforts of my life. Back in art college, I thought I was going to draw comic books for a living; I had no idea (I don't think anybody did) how the Web would shape the future. A pleasant surprise to say the least. I love Web design. I love the challenge of a new project. I love seeing the results. I love hearing a client say: "This is awesome and you guys are so great to work with". Aztek (and Cleveland) has been such a great place to spend my career. Now that Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence are upon us, I am even more excited about where our industry and city will go. When I tell my A.I. augmented brain to write my next anniversary blog post in 20 years, you may just consume it directly from my thoughts. Who knows?

Until then, I'd like to say thank you to every client, employee, and friend of Aztek.


Dave Skorepa

Chief Creative Officer


Optimizing Conversion Rates: Less Effort, More Customers

By dave on  April 24, 2017

According to Wikipedia a Conversion Rate is "the ratio of visitors who convert casual content views or website visits into desired actions based on subtle or direct requests from marketers, advertisers, and content creators".

If you are an E-commerce website selling widgets, that may mean a sale. If you are a subscription based website, that may mean a new member signup. But every website should always be thinking about conversion rates, even a simple informational website. We all want our users to be doing something, even if it is just picking up the phone to call, or request more information about our services.

In pursuit of that quest, Smashing Magazine has another great article with tips for website stakeholders to help increase their website conversion rates.


Social Media Marketing: Examples of Success & Failure

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Aztek Beaver Creek Presentation August 20th, 2009
Thanks again to everyone who was able to attend Thursday’s presentation of Social Media Successes and Failures. For those of you who are interested, here a few of the links and videos we mentioned in yesterday’s examples.


Consumer Reports delivers product reviews with online video
News media group allows Individualized news service
Target Stores allow their facebook fans vote on what cause to donate millions to
Samsung places 10,000 copies of their product in one room
Guys back flipping into Levi’s jeans
SUN CEO Jonathan Schwartz’s blog
Starbucks lets users send in their idea and vote on the best one
Zappos leads the way in corporate Twittering
Graco fosters a community around their products and brand by allowing customers to share their experience on Flickr


Loctite facebook page lack real fan participation
Skittles homepage twitter feed
United Breaks Guitars
Motorola Crave plants positive comments on tech blogs about their products
General Motors Lets users create their own advertisements

Categories: Social Media

Can you please remove your site from Google?

By dave on  April 24, 2017

While this email gave SEO's across the World a good chuckle, it's important to note how Search Engine Optimization actually works and the kind of influence we really have over the Search Engines. 

Work with websites and search engines long enough, and you're bound to run into this type of request. We've been asked by folks if we can have competitors removed from the search engines, or to have disparaging remarks (from other websites) removed from the Internet altogether, and of course to have every page rank (number one) for every keyword on the wishlist. 

If somebody is ranking higher than you, you'll just have to work twice as hard to start outranking them. Work with your SEO firm to develop new keyword-rich content to target those keywords who are lagging behind. Set a realistic timeframe to start showing progress and adjust your strategy as the rankings landscape changes. It's not going to happen overnight. We're not talking about years of waiting, but give it a few weeks at least. Your search team will help you keep a close on on the progress and make recommendations on where you need to adjust.

Before you hire your search optimization firm, it's a good idea to educate yourself about the limits of SEO tactics and set realistic expectations for your site in the search engines. Competitors aren't going to remove themselves and nobody has a magic button to send you to number one the day you launch your new wesbite. 

Natural rankings come from good research, persistence and most importantly, good content. Your SEO firm is your guide.

Help! I’ve been trapped by my web design agency and I can’t get out!

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Handcuffed by your web design agency?

It happens all too often. After selecting a (seemingly suitable) web design firm and committing to a project, you may find the company you picked was not a good fit and the relationship sours. Like an unhappy marriage, you want out -- and want to take what’s yours with you. You did after all, pay for your website.

Not so fast buddy.

Your contract says otherwise. That content management system you use that has ALL OF YOUR PRODUCT DATA in it? Yeah – you’re only leasing that from the web firm. That monthly fee you pay is for the rights just to use their “proprietary” CMS. Oh, I should mention that it’s written in a language that nobody else in town supports anymore. So even if you get out of your contract, good luck finding another firm to support the ancient technology. And just to put the icing on the cake, they bought your domain name for you (since you had never done it before) and you don’t actually own it! And you thought they were just nice guys looking to help you out back then!

So where does that leave you?

Sadly, it may leave you stuck between the Devil and the deep blue sea. You can suck it up, and stay trapped in your dysfunctional relationship or you can cut your losses (as painful as it may be) and (pay to) redevelop the site from scratch with another web design firm. And after the money you just shelled out for the website you have, neither option sounds all that appealing.

How did I get here? If only somebody would have told me!

So your unfortunate pre-existing condition aside, what should you have looked out for? How can you avoid getting hijacked by your web design firm again in the future? As a client, you may be at a disadvantage because you may not possess the technical expertise to wholly understand how all the parts of a website work together and how that firm handcuffed you to their solution.

Here are some guidelines and recommendations to avoid being trapped by your web design firm in the future (or those of you who still have time to choose wisely).

  1. Make sure you own:
    1. the rights to your design files and images
      You may in the future, wish to have your new web designer do some layout updates. There is a good chance he or she will want the original design files. We’ve also seen clients who didn’t realize they didn’t own the rights to all the images used on their website until they got an invoice a year later to renew the rights…to the tune of $50,000.00. Whoops.
    2. the rights to your source files
      If your new developers are going to add/modify/delete functionality to your .NET site, they’re going to need the VB project (not just the compiled code)
    3. all your domain names
    4. Analytics accounts
      You can replace the one they set up for you, but it’s just easier to own it yourself.
  2. Make sure they’re going to develop your site in a modern technology (that’s going to be supported for a long time)
    For example, I only know of one firm still developing in ColdFusion. If you wanted to leave them, you either redevelop in a new technology or sit tight with the functionality “as is”. Using a more widely adopted technology such as Microsoft .NET will make it easier for you to find a new web developer who can step right in and help.
  3. Read the contract carefully
    More importantly, have your attorney read it first.
  4. A “Proprietary” CMS with recurring licensing fees? Red flag!
    Firms who develop proprietary stuff don’t want the competitor you are leaving them for to see how they built it and they aren’t going to let you just take it.
  5. Ask “What happens if I ever want to pack up my site and leave you?”
    Keep in mind the points above when listening to their answer.
  6. Ask for some references and do some digging of your own.
    If they’re going to try and trap you, they’ve probably already done it to some other clients. And those people are probably more than happy to tell you their horror story.

Some web design firms simply are not confident enough that good work and top notch customer service will retain their clients, so they may resort to business practices that enslave their clients’ website…A content management system that you can’t keep, or a domain that wasn’t put in your name, the list goes on and on.

It’s a shame, but it happens. Just don’t let it happen to you.

Categories: Web Design

Why Do I Need Internal Site Search on My Website?

By dave on  April 24, 2017

As most web users know, today's websites are more complex than ever before and are getting more robust every day. Many websites contain an immense amount of information and features. Before a visitor to your site can purchase your product or contact you for more information, they need to be able to verify that you have what they are looking for. This may be difficult on a site that is loaded with information, data and special features. Large sites may overwhelm and even intimidate some users. Including an internal search function on your site can assist visitors in finding the information they seek and help them determine that your site is where they need to be.

Internal site search provides numerous benefits that help site visitors and can also assist in your marketing efforts. Outlined below are a few of the benefits and advantages of adding internal site search to your website.

Help visitors find exactly what they need more quickly.

Internal site search is one of the best ways to make it easy for visitors to find exactly what they need. Some users will get overwhelmed with complicated and large websites. This may cause them to quickly leave your site to find another more simplistic and easier to navigate website. Offering internal search will give users a way to find what they came for quickly and easily.

Most web users are already familiar with  "searching".

It is common knowledge that Google is used around the globe to find information, research products and much more. People have grown accustomed to searching for what they need on the Internet. Internal site search is an extension of this searching behavior. Users feel comfortable using search. Offering search on your own site offers users a way to find what they need in a way they are used to and comfortable with.

Internal site search caters to the "I want it now" attitude.

Web users expect, and even demand, quick and fast results. If they can't find what they need on your site, they will go to another. Websites need to cater to the many different types of users. These types of users may include: information seekers, prospective customers, long time/loyal clients, etc. Site search helps knowledge and product seekers find what they need, period. And this is the first step in turning a visitor into a customer.

Site search helps your marketing team gain valuable knowledge.

Analysis of internal site search data can provide valuable insight into how visitors use and navigate your website. This data can reveal insights into visitor intent and behavior. This data can include: what type of information was searched for, what pages were found, which searches were successful, which failed and what searches intrigued the user to stay on the site.

Site search can reveal new and important keywords.

The keywords and phrases that users type into your internal site search tool can provide insight into the keywords that should be used in your optimization strategy. These keywords can be used to improve the optimization of your site's pages and further improve and refine your content. These keywords can also be added to a search engine marketing program to widen the reach of the campaign and provide more opportunities for traffic. 

Site search can open the door to new products and services.

If users are constantly searching your site for a product and/or service that you don't currently offer, this could be a sign that you should be offering this product or service. If users to your site expect your company to offer certain products/services, this could be an opportunity to expand your offering and increase the amount of users that become customers.

Sites with an internal site search function offer users a quick, easy and effective way to navigate your site and find what they need. The main goal of any website is to turn a visitor into a customer. The first step in converting visitors into customers is verifying for the user that they are at the right place. If they are looking for a specific product, they need to be able to find it easily. If they seek information, this information should be readily available. Internal site search is one of the best ways to help visitors find what they want, make your site easy to use and keep people coming back regularly.

Categories: Web Design

Is Your Web Developer Who They Say They Are?

By dave on  April 24, 2017

File this under ethics.

“Google Certified! Microsoft Certified! WC3 Valid HTML! Wow! These guys must really know their stuff! Sign the contract!”

“Not so fast. Did you verify they weren’t lying?”

“What do you mean? They have the little logo right there on their website. See? It says “Microsoft Partner.”

“Did you click it?”

“Well, no.”

“Click it.”

“It’s not a link.”

“It should be.”

“A link to what?”

“To the organization they claim to be certified by. That little Microsoft logo should take you to a page on Microsoft’s website that verifies what they claim is true.”

“But the little logo…they have a little logo!”

“Yes, they stole that from the Internet; probably from a Google image search. Look.

Google images search for Microsoft Partner Logo

I can just download one of these and slap it up on my site. Heck, I could put one on your site! I can also call my car an airplane, but that won’t make it fly. Sorry buddy, but you’ve been duped.”

Let the buyer beware.

As a web developer, it is very easy to claim expertise…The way an unscrupulous auto mechanic might bamboozle a customer into unnecessary repair work. The common person doesn’t possess the knowledge needed to know if they’re being told the truth or not. In the web design and development industry this often happens with those little logos and banners you see plastered all over a design shop’s website.

As a consumer, the burden is on you to take your web design and development firm to task on their claims. Even if you’re afraid you don’t know what you’re looking at when you click the Google AdWords Certified badge on their footer.

What Should I look for?

  1. The badge or logo should be a link. (if it’s just an image with no link, that should be a major red flag).
  2. The link should go to the official website of the organization they claim to be certified or verified by. You should see the address bar change accordingly (not be redirected to just another page within their website).
  3. That page should tell you all you need to know about the company in question. Google and Microsoft will tell you that firm has passed the necessary certifications and is qualified to do the work. The WC3 valid HTML/CSS pages will tell you how many errors (in bright red text) if the code is not valid. You don’t need to know HTML or be a programmer to call people out on this.

Put your money where your mouth is.

After all this talk, we’d better.

We are Microsoft Gold Certified Web Developers
We are Google AdWords Certified
Our CSS is valid.

Note: Because of the blog platform we use, our HTML on this page is actually NOT valid. So we don’t claim that here. The HTML on our main website IS valid, so we show the badge on those pages.

Go forth and make informed decisions.

We’re not claiming to be the best web design firm in the Universe (but we won’t argue if you feel that way), but we are proud of our certifications and achievements. Our team studies hard, has taken the (and passed) the tests, and spent hours upon hours perfecting our code. Firms who misrepresent those same certifications destroy the value of what we worked so hard to achieve (and they know who they are). But worst of all, it hurts the client who is trying to select a capable firm to build a great project and future relationship. So all you potential clients, get clickin!

Categories: Web Design | Web Development

4 Reasons Why It's Time to Hire a Copywriter

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Website content…It’s the most important part of your project, yet it is often treated with the least regard. You probably hired a professional web design firm to build you the site (because hey, you’re no web developer right?), but you plan to do the copy yourself…Later…When you can set some time aside.

Maybe you finally do, but nobody can make sense of it, the search engines aren’t particularly attracted to it and it took you five months to finally give to your web team.  

Maybe you don’t. Maybe your entire web redesign project goes up in flames over this “content stuff”. Maybe you wish you had called for help sooner. Here are some signs that it’s time to hire a copywriter.

  1. You’re not that great of a writer
    Most of us are good at the things we need to do to do our regular jobs…so unless you are a professional writer, it is doubtful writing is your strongest suit. And that’s okay.  I’m not ashamed to be less than proficient at say, biochemical engineering. Let’s just say there’s a good reason I went to Art School.
  2. You aren’t used to writing for the web
    Ok fine, you’re a great writer. Heck, maybe you even have an English degree. But does your experience include writing specifically for the Web? The Web is a different animal. It requires the understanding of how people read scan a page, how to break up the content for online viewing, how to be persuasive and lead to a conversion, and maybe most importantly - how to incorporate SEO tactics.
  3. You’re too close to the subject matter
    Lots of people mistakenly assume that certain basic things don’t need to be repeated or included in their web content, so they leave it out. Maybe they feel that the audience already knows it, or the audience simply won’t care about it. But oftentimes those types of things do matter to the audience, even if only to say “yes, this website is related to the widget industry, and I am looking for widgets”. Sometimes the audience is Google, who still needs to see those keywords even if you think they’re disposable.

    Perhaps you’ve just been doing whatever it is you do for too long and are no longer as passionate about it…Well, any copy you write yourself if going to sound about as uninterested as you feel.  A copywriter can bring a new perspective and refreshed enthusiasm for your industry and business. That’s the voice you want speaking to your visitors (I would hope).
  4. You don’t have time
    You’re a busy person. You have a job that already demands 50+ hours a week and then the boss strolls into your office and informs you that on top of your regular duties, you are now also in charge of the content for the new website. Oh boy.

    Weeks later the content still isn’t done (or maybe not even started). Your web design firm wonders why they haven’t heard from you, your boss wants to know why the project still isn’t done and your family wants to know where you got all those grey hairs from. It’s time to call in the cavalry.

It doesn’t matter if it’s because your writing skills leave a little to be desired, or if you don’t know how to achieve a good keyword density, you’re bored with your industry, or you just can’t squeeze eight days out of a seven day week. If you fall into any one or more of those categories, it’s time to call a copywriter to help finish your website content.

The Pre-Project Website Design Checklist (for the Client)

By dave on  April 24, 2017

Beginning a new website project can be a daunting and intimidating task. There are so many moving parts it is easy to overlook some of them. This doesn’t just go for the web designer; it goes for the client as well. In an effort to help make the process a little less frightening, here is Aztek’s website project checklist for the client

  • Domain Names
    • Do you have a list of all relevant domain names?
    • Does your company own the domain(s) and have access to the domain registration info?
    • How many domains point to this website?
    • Would changing any of those domains impact other areas of your business such as company email?
  • Site Security
    • Does your website require an SSL?
    • Password protection?
    • Other?
  • Target Audience
    • What kind of audience will the site be developed for?
    • What kind of information are they looking for?
    • What kinds of actions should they be taking?
    • Is any usage or analytic data available for the web design team to review?
  • Keywords/SEO
    • Compile a list of keywords and key phrases you think your website should be targeting
    • Are these words the same as what your audience might use to search for your products or services? Be sure to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.
    • Be sure to consider this list when auditing and compiling your website content
  • Audit Existing Content
    • How much is staying?
    • How much is being removed?
    • How much needs just minor editing?
    • How much new content needs to be generated?
    • Don’t forget to include logos, images and videos in this process
  • Site Structure
    • Does the site already have a sitemap to follow?
    • How will changes in your content impact the way the site is organized?
  • Creating New Content
    • Are you developing the content internally?
    • Do you need to enlist a copywriter for partial or full copywriting assistance?
  • Existing Site Assets and Functionality
    • Is there any data or functionality that needs to be carried over?
    • Do you already have a web analytics solution in place that should be retained?
  • New Functional Requirements
    • Is there any new functionality the new site should be capable of?
    • Does the site need to communicate with any backend systems?
    • How will ecommerce transactions be handled and processed?
    • Who with your organization should receive web form submissions and notifications?
  • Technology Requirements
    • What technology requirements (if any) does the new site have? For instance, should the site be developed on the Microsoft .Net platform, or .PHP?
    • Do you need a printable version of the site?
    • A mobile version?
  • Content Management
    • How much of the site’s content will you need to edit on a regular basis?
    • How often does the content change?
    • What kind of content changes will you be making?
      • Product data, simple text updates, adding/removing whole pages, and images to a gallery, etc.?
    • Who within your organization will be responsible for these updates?
    • Does content need to be approved by other in your organization before it goes live?
  • Hosting
    • Where will the site be hosted?
    • If switching to a new host, does the new host support the technology the new site will use?
  • Deadline
    • When does the new site need to launch?
    • What is the plan in the event there are any delays?
  • Budget
    • What is the budget available for this project?
    • If there is not adequate budget for this project, can some of the features and functionality be phased in?
  • Social Media
    • What social media does your company participate in?
    • How will social media be integrated into the new website?
    • Do you own and have control over all the usernames and passwords for those accounts?
    • Do you need to create them from scratch?
  • Marketing
    • How will you promote the site to your existing users and customers?
    • How will you attract new users and customers?
  • Project Management
    • Who will be the main point of contact during the project for your organization?
    • Who has the power to make decisions and approve project milestones?
    • Have you assigned tasks to other team members from your organization to assist with the project?
    • Do they understand their roles and responsibilities?

If you’ve never been responsible for a website design project before, we hope this list gives you some confidence and sets you in the right direction. If you want to learn more about your overall digital presence, learn more about our assessment.


New Year's Website Resolutions

By dave on  April 24, 2017

As the year wraps up, it’s a good time to make some plans for things to accomplish in the New Year. Budgets are being decided, strategies being finalized. Make sure there is some time and energy set aside for your organization’s website. Even if you just finished a huge website project last year, there are still lots of other things you should be considering this year.  And since your website doesn’t need to quit smoking or call it’s mother more often, here’s a few more appropriate ideas…

  • Survey your customers to see how your website could better serve them this year
  • Ask somebody who’s not a customer if they understand who it’s for and what they would improve
  • Remove meaningless language that doesn’t benefit your users
  • Remove meaningless, flashy or otherwise useless features that don’t directly benefit your visitors
  • Create content and features that does benefit users
  • Develop a content creation strategy and schedule (and stick to it)
  • Execute at least one new social media initiative and give it enough time and attention to actually work
  • Do a year-end review of your website analytics
  • Try a new analytics package (heat mapping is neat if you’ve never used it)
  • Conduct A/B testing to see what is working and not working on your site
  • Better define site goals and conversion metrics for the new year
  • Improve search engine rankings for five keywords
  • Start ranking for five new keywords
  • Refresh the look of the website
  • Update the photography used on the site (before people’s clothing starts to look dated)
  • Develop a mobile version of your website (if you don't have one already)
  • Start a Google AdWords campaign
  • Start a new HTML email campaign
  • Clean off old or unused files from your web server (or have your web design firm do it)
  • Update old dates or references to time that should change with the New Year (we’ve been in business “x” years, etc.)
  • Check that outgoing links on your site are still going to the intended location. Sometimes domains change hands, occasionally with embarrassing results for the sites who were linking to them
  • Commit to constant review and improvement (for you and your website alike)

From all of us at Aztek, have a great New Year!