Posts Tagged ‘SEM’

Using media to enhance user experience

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

There are many ways to enhance your user’s experience when they visit your website from simple graphics to full multimedia immersion. Most sites depend on graphics (at least to a degree) to help sell the content. And while as a designer I am all over this because it helps feed my Starbucks addiction, there are sometimes simpler ways to enhance an otherwise decent design that may be in need of a little freshening up. One of the best ways to breath new life into your site is with the discreet use of multimedia.

Although it can be pretty old school in its execution, a little movement goes a long way.

Flash – No matter what Steve Jobs says (and I generally listen) Flash is the best and most accessible way to implement animation on your website. It is fast, it is clean and iPad’s and iPhone’s not withstanding (I know mine aren’t) it is accessible to most people on the net. The only real drawback is the need for an experienced designer to help you out with it (again, happy to feed my coffee addiction with your animation needs) but it allows for you to please most of the senses (sorry no smellivision available, but I am sure someone is working on it) with sight and sound.

GIF – A little more old school but no less effective is the tried and true GIF animation. Although only the flip book of online animation offering no sound to accompany the visual goodness, judicious use of this type of animation can draw attention and revitalize an otherwise flat site.

Although not as compelling as animation, adding sound to your site can enhance the experience for your users as well with the added benefit of you being able to record the audio yourself. Most newer computers (or even older ones for that matter) have some rudimentary capacity to record and play audio. A simple message from you can be enough help draw users in and help engage them with the content of your site.

Given the ubiquity of video enabled cellphones and digital cameras (including the simplicity of the flip video camera) the ability to add video to your marketing endeavors has grown exponentially in recent years. Now, without need for professional assistance (although in some cases it is still needed…seriously…but I digress) anyone can add exactly what they need to show potential customers exactly why what they have to offer is second to none. And to make it even easier, enter YouTube and Vimeo as free resources for hosting your video content while allowing you to stream it directly to your website so it appears to be embedded. Giving you a professional sales tool without the expense.

And while these things have sometimes been considered gratuitous in the past (and still can be depending on your implementation), the media that you are looking to add to your site today ain’t your Mama’s video.  It is no longer just about dazzling them with shiny objects. Those shiny objects now serve a purpose beyond drawing your visitors ever closer to the poisoned donut. Recent changes to Google’s search ranking algorithms  are giving more prominence to what it considers to be high quality sites which are defined as sites with more original content. And what is more original than the audio and video you are producing for your potential clients?

So what are you waiting for? Get out there – be little Murray Sparkles (and if you get that reference you definitely have kids) and start enhancing both your user’s experience and your site ranking AT THE SAME TIME!

Adding some pizazz to your social media

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

As more and more marketing relies on the use of social media, and more and more customers use social media outlets as a primary means if communication, companies have to make more of a concerted effort to integrate their corporate identity into their different media outlets. It is no longer enough to just “Be” on Facebook or Twitter you have to be recognizable to your customers and potential customers but how to do it?

As social media has evolved so have the platforms on which they were built allowing users more and more control over the message they are sending. But not everyone is taking advantage of this personalization. Too many businesses make do with base templates rather than customizing the experience for their customers.

WordPress is arguable the most prevalent blogging platform out there with literally thousands of free themes available to customize the look, feel and functionality of any given blog. Themes are easy to install, and easy to modify (OK, maybe easy is not the right word, and not all themes allow customization through the admin area but you can at very least change the header graphic to make it more in line with your current identity). Unfortunately, many site owners do not even get this far. Changing out that header graphic should be done at a minimum but with WordPress you can take it even further depending on your need.

Custom themes
So how do you know if you could benefit from a custom word press theme. Well, riddle me this, Batman – Do you have an established identity for your company? Wouldn’t it be great if a customer reading your blog KNEW they were reading a product from your company rather than having only a vague notion that they might have some affiliation with the writer (like their best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who is pretty sure she once had an out-of-body experience that possibly involved a company like the one who was writing all this great content). Well then what you might need is a custom theme. Custom themes can be as simple as a unique design and layout that is specifically created for your company and as involved as a great deal of custom functionality that allows you to show and maintain everything exactly they way you want it, in other words something that “ain’t your mammas blog”.

You can also take it a step further while you are at it. Word press has evolved into a full on CMS (content management system) and as such it is good for more than just blogging anymore. If you have a site and a blog hosted separately and would love to have it all under the same roof, now is the time. You can have a custom theme created to match your existing site (if it totally rocks) or if it is nothing to write home about and you are apt to put on your best John Cleese and say “now for something completely different”, you can just go with a whole new design. Either way you will be able to have the best of both worlds with your regular site pages and your blog posts all housed in the same easy to use CMS you have been used to. And depending on your functional requirements, the costs can be very reasonable too. Just think, a new site with built-in blog all while removing the need for a Web professional for ongoing updates. And if you are updating your site as often as is prudent for SEO that can begin to add up.

I would bet that a day has not gone by of late when you have not heard about someone “tweeting” or how many followers someone might have but even if you were the one doing the talking, have you ever given any thought to what people see when they come across your brilliance while searching twitter for the absolutely most current info on your area of expertise? Chances are you are like far too many twitter users, you set up your account using the defaults and just started spewing your wisdom to anyone who would listen. This is not a bad thing by any means, after all as I have stated many times before, content is king. But in order to increase the number of subjects under your thought leadership you have to pay at least some attention to your identity so they when someone happens upon you, they’ll tell two friends or at very least be able to figure out how to learn more about their newest addiction…you.

In order to feed the masses chasing the dragon of your wisdom, you need make sure they can find your blog (I mean you can only get so much across 140 characters at a time) or better yet, your website so they can tell all of their friends about this great new resource for products and services. The best way to do this with twitter is by creating a custom theme for your twitter profile. There are a number of tools available to edit your account look and feel with something as simple as a color scheme that matches your corporate identity and something as involved as a custom background image that has your logo, photo and/or other pertinent information staring at your users as they soak up your brilliance.

Many companies have bitten the bullet and setup a fan page for their company or product but like with their blogs, very few have taken the time to take advantage of all of the resources that are available to enhance the experience for their fans.

Profile picture
At very least, anyone with a Facebook fan page should use a custom profile picture that includes your logo as well as other pertinent company information so when someone arrives at you Wall page they know exactly where they are and how else to get in contact with you and although company info is available on the “info” tab, it is always better to make sure that your customers and potential customers do not have to hunt around for ways to get in contact with you.

Custom tabs
When a sweet profile picture is not enough, and getting them to the wall is not the goal, it is time create a custom landing page for your users. Making use of Facebook’s HTML Application allows you to add completely customized content to your fan page so you carry your corporate identity right into your fan page as well as add custom forms and more. And for those of you who want your fans and wannabe fans to land right in the middle of all this greatness, you are I luck because Facebook allows you to decide where they land.

The Networked Blogging application allows you to syndicate your blog content so other Facebook users can subscribe to it while at the same time displaying it for your Facebook Fans on its own tab of your Fan page.

These are just three examples of ways to enhance the user experience with your social media. Identity consistency across all marketing mediums helps customers and potential customers to know they are in the right place right away so they can concentrate on the pressing business of engaging you in conversations that will help them while providing you with valuable interactions that will ultimately help you grow your business.

FREE Tools to Ease Your SEO Woes

Monday, November 8th, 2010

No matter whether you are getting your feet wet with SEO for a new website or just trying to make sense of things for an existing site, there are a number of tools available to help you at a price you can afford…FREE.

Analytics is kind of a buzz word these days but in this context it refers to something very important to your site, you traffic. As the name implies, the tools allow you to analyze your site traffic so you can see the patterns of behavior that are hidden to the naked browser. There are many packages on the market to help you understand you website traffic but by far the most popular (and best choice for most users) is Google Analytics. It is robust, easy to use and best of all it is FREE. Not only is it great for individual site owners but developers love it because it allows you to track multiple sites within the same account.

Once you sign up for an account all that you have to do to get started is to add a simple script to any page you want to track (pretty much all of them). Once you code is set, just wait a few days and then take a look at the treasure trove of information available about your site traffic. The more time that passes the better your insights can become because the patterns that can emerge over time.  And with the simple graphical display emerging patterns are easy to discern so you can concentrate more of your time on your business.

Now don’t be fooled by the simplicity. Analytics are great but  getting the information is the easy part, it is what you do with it that counts. The tools available have hundreds of built-in ways to access your data and they are also easy to customize so you can see the information the way it makes the most sense for your business. And once you begin seeing the data in a meaningful way it will allow you to change the way you look at things enabling you to adjust your marketing and email campaigns accordingly.

Webmasters Tools
Now that you know how to see who is looking at you, it is time to take a look at how you are seen. All of the major search engines offer what are known as webmasters tools to allow you to see yourself as the search engines see you. This is invaluable information because it allows you to truly maximize your SEO potential.These tools allow you to see what keywords you are ranking for,  how often you come up in searches, what sites are linking to you as well as general performance information that will help you fix problems you may not know you had.

And although most things these days are geared toward Google, it is important to make use of the tools from Yahoo and Bing as well so you can get a more complete picture of how you are perceived across the net. Taking this balanced approach will allow you to maximize the effectiveness of any SEO changes that are made as well as giving you more insight for potential SEM campaigns that you might run in the future.

Those sound great but how do I get to them?
The tools are all technically Free to use, but as you know, there is no such thing as a FREE Lunch. In order to access the tools you will have to set up an account with each of the Search Engines. In general this is not a problem but you may want to make sure and bookmark each of the pages as you go because these tools are not exactly easy to get to. While you are at it you might also want to set up email accounts with the different providers for testing purposes. I like to set up Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail accounts during this process so I have them to use for testing email campaigns going forward (while you are at it, if you are thinking about email testing, you should also set up an AOL account as well just to round it out).

Use the links below to check out the different tools and setup your accounts now:




Used properly, these tools can help you to significantly improve the efficacy of your online identity as well as your ongoing marketing efforts.

Keyword Research on a Shoestring

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

The cornerstones of any SEO or SEM project are the search terms used to set your content apart from the crowd. These terms, commonly referred to as Keywords, are how all of your potential organic SEO traffic is eventually directed to your site. But how to you determine what keywords fit best for your site? That is a tough question with a number of answers but they may be simpler than you think.

The best place to start with any keyword research is in your own head and there are two ways to do it:

  1. Try to put yourself into a potential customers shoes and think of the non-industry specific, jargony keywords and keyword phrases that you would use as a layperson trying to find your product. Then begin writing your site content keeping those search terms and phrases in mind to be sure they are included


  2. Start writing the content for your site the way you think it should be written and let the keywords fall where they may.

Either way you decide to go, you are well on your way to where you want to be. The next step, once your content is complete and your site is up, is to consult one of the many Oracles that Google provides in the form of online tools. In this case what you want is the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Although this tool was ostensibly developed to be used for Search Engine Marketing (SEM), it is still an excellent Free resource to use to help with basic organic SEO.

So how does it work?
Essentially the way the keyword tool works is that is looks at your site and then tells you what IT thinks your keywords are based on your content. Intrigued yet? I thought you might be. This now allows you to see how the other half sees. You think you are optimizing for one thing and it turns out as far as the spiders are concerned you are talking about something totally different but once you know what it is seeing you can begin make the adjustments that will ultimately help bring in those elusive customers.

From here you can fill out your list with keywords you may not have considered before and start breaking things down using some of Google’s built-in “Grading”. The grading allows you to see how many searches are done each month on a given keyword . You will see some amazing search numbers and be tempted to try to rank for words like “internet”, “Computer”, “Security” (or the like depending on your industry) but don’t get sucked in by really high numbers – remember that the broader the term, the more competition there will be for it. As a small business you need highly qualified leads and you can’t afford to compete with Fortune 500 companies for searches that will, in all reality, have nothing to do with what you have to offer. The best option here is to narrow the terms (or more specifically phrases because single terms will almost always be too broad) as much as possible.

Once you have done that you can narrow it down further by the number of searches (remember, the more the better, but within reason – lets not get greedy). And here is where you play the SEM card for your basic SEO needs. Along with showing the number of searches and a general competition ranking, this tool also shows how much Pay-Per-Click advertising is going for on each keyword or phrase. The more it is going for per click, the more the competition is likely to be for regular organic traffic as well. So when you find your balance between competition, search volume and cost per click, you have found your keyword. then as with everything else you just rinse and repeat until you have ten to fifteen strong keywords that you can use as a base for your site.

Then it is just a matter of optimizing the content on the important pages to make use of up to three of these keywords (and they can be different on each page) and then you can go back to your analytics and other tools to see how things work out and adjust accordingly.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a reason why there are almost as many SEO companies out there as lawyers in this country, they have a lot of expensive toys and know how to really bend the search engines to their will. Depending on your needs it may make sense to work with one of these companies rather than trying to go it alone but for most small businesses, this tool is just one more example of the ways that individual site owners can take some measure of control over their web presence and enhance their organic search engine traffic without sacrificing any body parts to a deity not of their choosing.

Getting your feet wet in social media

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

With social media, as with many things, it is best to wade in slowly and get used to the water rather than just heading straight for the high dive and hoping for the best. There are many places where you can get your feet wet and it is best to just choose one or two to start and see where it takes you as you begin to develop your full social media plan.

One of the biggest booms in Internet development recently is blogging. One of the reasons for this boom is accessibility. There are a number of FREE platforms out there including WordPress, Blogger, TypePad and more) just waiting for you to decide to post but the real trick is how to make the most of it. There are many ways to start blogging. Some experts suggest that having both a personal and a corporate blog is the way to go but that can be a bit overwhelming for a novice user (or even an experienced one for that matter). I would recommend starting small and work your way up. The trick with blogging is the content. You don’t want to use it as a platform simple to push your products or recent press. The best use for a corporate blog is to use it as a forum to establish thought leadership for your company in your industry. If you start talking about things that holds both yours and others interests, it becomes a win-win. You will have a place to discuss things that are important to you and while you are at it you can begin to develop a following that sees you as an authority on the topics you discuss which can lead to great things for your company.

Twitter has bust into the scene was the place to go to learn about just about everything 140 characters at a time. If you asked any grow of people you run across you are likely to get widely varying opinions that run the gamut from “who cares what you had for dinner last night” to “this is the best thing to happen to me in years” and everything in between. But what the nay Sayers neglect to see is that as with many things in life, Twitter is what you make if it. If the only people you follow are home bound relatives, then your experience is likely to be poor, but if you follow people you find interesting, your experience will drastically change. Twitter offers the ability to mix a little more business with pleasure. You can follow industry luminaries while at the same time being able to hear what happened at that party you missed. It is a great platform for sharing blog postings (like this one @GraphicTechniq for those who are interested), PR for all the great new happenings with your company, product information, personal observations and you can even “re-tweet” interesting things put out by the people you follow.

Facebook is the ultimate online social gathering. Where else can you connect with family and catch up with people you have not even thought about in 20 years? But Facebook offers a great deal for business as well. Companies can set up “public” profiles that allow you update your “fans” about what is happening with your company (you can check out the <a href=”″ target=”_new”>Graphic Technique</a> page as an example). At the same time, Facebook provides a perfect platform for customer interaction that fortune 500 companies pay big bucks to get. Interactivity is the key here. Facebook is the best example of a place where social media should be a two-way street. Offer valuable information to your fans and take their comments and use them to help you improve your products or business as a whole.

Pod Casting
Pod casting is a good way to distribute additional audio and video content such as interviews, presentations, product demonstrations, conference panels and more. And if you have regular content like a radio show or the like, you could get your audio content added to iTunes so it is very easy for your followers to find, and even synchronize you to their iPod. For video content you could set up your own channel on YouTube for easy access and these are all things that you can cross promote with other social media avenues.

There are many more social media outlets out there beyond these basics. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to determine which of these individual options (or combination there of) makes the most sense to your business. And once you figure that out, unlace those shoes, peel off those socks and come on in…the water is fine.

Zen and the The Art of FREE in Social Media

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Giving out “Freebies” to potential customers is nothing new in marketing. From the sausage lady at the grocery store to the guy at the trade show throwing t-shirts to anyone he can see, businesses have been using the art of the FREE Gift as a means to a sales end. Social media is no different. One of the best ways to attract new leads is by giving people a reason to want to get to know you. If you offer something of value at no charge and without expectation, you can begin to develop a following of people with similar interests and some of those interests may be you.

Harnessing the power of this age-old technique sounds easy but there are some things that you need to know before you put your offer out there.

  1. Create a Welcoming Environment
    Before you even consider a giveaway you need to do a little housekeeping because the real trick to this ancient art is retention. You can entice just about anyone with a free giveaway but you want to make sure that after the luster of the FREE gift has worn off, the recipients of your generous gift want to stick around. Making sure that your website is pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate will instill a level of comfort in your giftees to be and if you top that comfort off with appealing content you will be well on your way to reaching that “sticky” goal.
  2. Make it Useful
    Making sure that your FREE gift is useful is another way to keep people coming back for more. Don’t just put something out there, slap an interesting title on it and “Dup” people into cluttering their hard drives with a bunch of specially packaged uselessness. If you are looking for more than just the fly-by-night internet surfer who thinks anything free is where to be, make sure that what you offer can have real use made of it. I am not saying that you won’t get those types of people showing up with their hand out as soon as they hear you are giving something away, because you will. But making something useful helps ensure that you will attract more serious people who will be more likely to stick around after the giveaway is over.
  3. Provide Quality
    Just because it is FREE does not mean it should be “cheap”. Make sure that what you offer has value. Offer something that people would be willing to pay for if you were not giving it away. Offering this type of premium product for FREE will serve to enhance the value of your other content and if people like what they see, they will be inclined to come back for more and then you will have them. At that point you will either be able to sell them on your other offerings or make use of them as evangelists for your brand.
  4. Offer Value
    I know what you are thinking, this is free, how much more value do I need to give them, right? Well, value means more than just cost. If you are offering a product, it should not be on an “As Is” basis. Be willing to offer some level of support for the product, after all this kind of customer interaction is exactly what you were looking for when you got into social media in the first place. Taking the time to answer simple questions or help people with bugs will go along way toward solidifying them as a potential customer, product evangelist or at very least a valuable marketing resource that you can go to when developing new products or services to offer in the global marketplace.
  5. No Strings
    Many offers out there require people to jump through hoops in order to get the FREE product but in my experience, this often has the opposite effect. You will either end up with people giving you fake information or they will take one look at the requirements and leave, never to return again. Now it is not uncommon to have people register on a mailing list in order to get the FREEBIE because in these cases, building a list is the whole reason for the offer as well as the basis for the interaction you seek. The best option when possible is to give away your FREEBIE with no strings attached, but if you are going to require anything for people to get their free gift, make it as simple as possible. Name and Email address should be more than enough (and for those of you truly in the global marketplace, country might also be a good item to capture). The bottom line is, the fewer restrictions that are placed as obstacles in the way of your intended audience the better.

With these little nuggets of wisdom in mind, go forth and create the perfect FREE item that will help you build your audience. And as you establish your following you can begin developing new ways to maximize the results for your social media objectives .

People should not need a GPS to navigate your website

Friday, February 12th, 2010

The ability for users to find their way around a website quickly and easily is one of the most important elements of any website design. If a user cannot find what they are looking for, they leave. It is as simple as that.

So what can you do to avoid bad navigation choices?

I harken back to my days in the Boy Scouts when I heard an acronym that has served me well ever since. The acronym I am talking about is K.I.S.S. or Keep It Simple Stupid. People visiting your site should not require an advanced degree in computer science in order to figure out how to find the information they need. The easier you make it for people to find what they want, the more useful your site will become. And the easier it is to use (assuming you have what people want) the more likely you are to make the sale.

OK, then what are the keys to good website navigation?

When considering navigation for your website there are three keys that I recommend: Placement, Depth and Consistency.

Placement – Where to put the menu
The first thing to consider when designing a website is menu placement. The most common place to find primary menu navigation on a website is at the top of the page because it is the first place the majority of users will look to figure out where they want to go. The left side was the old stand by for years and with the proliferation of blogs and sites built using WordPress there are a good many out there that still use the left (and the right for that matter) but I still feel that the strongest position for primary navigation in most design structures is still the top. And while you are putting your menu there, another good practice is make the logo of your site a link back to the home page. Even if there is a Home link in the menu, 80% of people will still try clicking the logo as a means to navigate home.

Depth – How many licks it should take for people to find what they want
The biggest trick to successful navigation is to make the menuing as shallow as possible. The fewer number of clicks to get to the information people need, the better. As a rule, the more clicks it takes a person to get where they want to go, the less likely they are to arrive there on your site. Many times people just get frustrated and move on to the next site. The sweet spot is to have any available information on your site no more that two levels deep. This means no more than two clicks to find any page on your site. I can’t tell you the number of sites that I (as an experienced web developer) have gotten lost in because they were just too deep. Three levels would be a maximum but I have run into sites that can take you four, five and six levels deep all the while changing the navigation as you go so once you get where you are going, you have absolutely no idea how you got there let alone how to get back.

Some sites rely on breadcrumbs, those little tags at the top of a page that try to show you exactly where you are on the site (for example you might see something like Home > About Us > Mission to indicate you are on the mission page in the about us section), and in general these work well, but only if the primary navigation is consolidated in such a way that it is very easy to get to where you want to go without having to click the back button twenty times.

Consistency – Keeping it together
The goal with any navigational menu should be to make it as simple as possible for users to get where they want to go. A great way to do this is to consolidate your main menu and sub-menu items together so that no matter where a person is on your site, they can easily figure out where there are because when they know where they are, they are more likely to be able to figure out where they are going. Above all, once they are consolidated, leave them alone! If you change the menu items every time someone clicks, you run the risk of a bad experience that can drive users to your competitors.

The bottom line for any website is that you want your content to be read so don’t hide it.

SEO…what’s that about?

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

When you start looking into internet marketing, you start to hear a lot about three little letters…S.E.O. but what do they mean? SEO or Search engine optimization is the process of enhancing website traffic (volume or quality) from search engines through organic (also known as “natural” or un-paid) results.

That’s great, but it sounds complicated, so what can I do about it?

Well, surprisingly enough there is quite a bit you can do to give your site a leg up without spending a ton of money. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for the big SEO companies out there. But when you first go online or even if you are just small and want to give your site a boost, there are several things you can do for free to enhance your sites traffic.

First things first, before you even consider starting your SEO, you need to understand your company and your customers. Creating an analog for your ideal customers can help a great deal. Sex, age, geography and socio-economic status are a good place to start. Once you have the basics, it is time to get inside their heads because when you do, you will begin to see your business the way they do and that will help you better communicate and anticipate what they want.

Now that you know yourself and have a better idea of your customers, you are ready to make use of your new found knowledge.

The best way to prepare your site for SEO is to build your pages with keyword density in mind. Even if you plan to hire an SEO company to bring you to the top of the heap, this is where they will start to get the ball rolling so why not beat them to the punch and make them work for the money you plan to spend. Keyword density is a way focusing the content on your site toward using the search terms you know your ideal customers will use when searching for a product or service like yours.

Lets start with your Meta Description and Meta Keywords. These two items are the basis for most everything else you will do. The meta description is a very succinct statement describing your business while the meta key words are a list of the search terms and phrases that you feel will get the most play with your customer base. Meta keywords are widely considered to be useless anymore but entering them here is a good way for you to get everything straight as you develop your content.

Meta descriptions should be no longer than 156 characters including spaces while keywords should be limited to 256 characters including spaces. Google crops anything beyond these amounts so refine your keywords and descriptions accordingly.

Next we will move on to the page title. Make it meaningful to the content on the page and be sure to use the specific search terms or keyword phrases that customers are likely to use related to the information being presented.

From here it gets a bit easier. All you need to do now is write the content for your page keeping your keywords in mind as you do it and making sure that you use keyword rich file naming an descriptions in your included page images.

There are a variety of other things you can do on your own to help the search engines help your business including creating a site map and some simple PR strategies to help increase external links to your site, but I will cove those another time.