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10 Most Important Parts of a Homepage

The 10 Most Important Parts Of a Homepage

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Your homepage: the front window of your business where you get to put what you do on display. The perfect setting to put your best foot forward. The first, and possibly only, impression on a potential customer or client. With so much at stake, you want to be as prepared as possible by leaving no detail unattended to. That’s what makes these the 10 most important parts of a homepage.

1) Headline

Have a single sentence clearly stating what your site has to offer. Get your viewers attention with something that has a little personality to it and leaves a unique impression. People are more likely to read this than your actual copy, so make it count.

2) Sub-Headline

This is your chance to further describe whatever it was that you previously stated in your headline. Elaborate a little more to maintain your viewer’s interest and prompt them to continue exploring.

3) Primary CTA’s

Guide your audience with a well positioned Calls-to-Action above the fold. These CTA’s should take the user to your main objective. If you’re an E-Commerce site take them to your ‘Shop’ page. If you’re selling a service, take them to the page with your differentiating factor.

4) Visual Support

Most people are visual learners, meaning seeing truly is believing. Beautiful, professional photography will be the best way to show off your products, service, or team. Try to restrict stock photography, though there is some worth using, and be sure to show your personality.

5) Benefits

What sets your company or product apart? A few key points highlighted on the homepage make for quick associations the viewer will hold with them as they peruse the rest of your beautiful site.

6) Navigation

Speaking of perusing, make sure your visitors have a clear navigation to guide them. Nobody likes hanging out somewhere where they keep getting lost with no clear way home. Keep it simple, easy to find, and readily available. If possible, include a search bar so if they want to find something specific, they can.

7) Logo

Like we said earlier, most people are visual. A logo gives people something unique they can instantly associate with your company, and the pleasant experience they (hopefully) had while visiting your site. Even if it was brief. Be sure to keep your branding consistent as well to further encourage association.

8) Contact Information

Make it easy for people to get in touch with your company. If you have a brick and mortar location, be sure to include that.

9) Social Media Logos

Give the visitor a way to connect with the company and see it’s personality a little more. Only feature buttons for social platforms that you’re active on, there’s nothing less engaging than a dead social media outlet.

10) Actionable Elements

Videos, downloads, blog posts, animations and other visual elements that involve user engagement will encourage a longer stay and more exploration.

A good homepage won’t look the same for every company in every field, and that’s a great thing. Just be sure you get you point across and give people an ample opportunity to know what you’re about, how to engage with you, and how to buy your product or service if they so choose. If you’re able to do all of that without someone leaving your homepage than I’d say you’ve done a good job.

How User Experience Can Affect Pagerank

How User Experience Affects Page Rank

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This year marks a shift for what factors in on-page optimization are most affective for search engine rank. Some of the items have been closing in from a distance for a few years now, but 2015 has allowed them to take shape. Google (and Bing and Yahoo) are taking a more holistic approach to how your pages and sites are ranked. Investing in their user experience has become increasingly important, if not the most important factor, for making sure your potential clients, customers, and audiences can find you.

What factors indicate a user’s experience?

  • Site speed – Users want a snappy site. The top ranked sites load in 2 seconds or less, and most users will leave after 3 seconds. Tools like GTMetrix can help you analyze how quick your site is loading, and what factors may be slowing it down. Upgrading server technology, using a CDN, and optimizing images are just a few of the ways to increase response time.
  • Security –  If you have an e-commerce site, or are exchanging sensitive information, installing an SSL certificate is a necessity. Adding encryption will help gain your clients and customers trust and confidence.
  • Responsive – No surprise, but mobile usage is on the rise. Search engines not only rank pages optimized for mobile higher, but decreases the rank for any page that is not responsive.
  • Topics – Users are no longer just searching for keywords. Were they ever? They want answers and solutions. Providing that information to your audience is a great way to see your rank increased. Things like proof and relevant terms have becoming increasingly evident on top ranked sites.
  • Images and Videos – Content that includes original images and video is more dynamic and more likely to be shared via social media. Don’t miss this opportunity to make an impact.
  • Readability – Font size matters. Sites that used consistent font size across their pages were ranked higher. Information structured using bullet and number lists also help users digest information.
  • Interactive elements – Top ranked sites also use buttons, graphics, and streamlined navigation to help guide their audience and structure their content.
  • Contact – Including a Contact and About page signals to search engines that you are authentic and interested in engaging your audience, clients, and customers.
  • Time – Bounce rates and time spent on a site are indicative to search engines to the relevance and usefulness of your content. Longer visits mean higher ranking. High Bounce rates can lower rank.
  • Social signals – Social signals continue to be important. Facebook being the biggest indicator followed by Google+. Backlinks from social media are considered trusted links and highly prioritized by search engines.
  • Ads – Including too many ads, or having ads above the fold of your site can now hurt your rank.

Thoughts on these new trends? It seems a departure from SEO strategies of the past. Keywords and URLS continue to lose their punch while qualified content and social media continue to gain steam. I appreciate the twist. I like it because it allows sites who take care of their audience and users to rank higher than companies who have just learned how to play the page rank game.

 

Page rank data from search metrics

Google Makes Mobile Site Mandatory

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Well it’s now official. If you don’t have a website that is mobile friendly you’ll be harder to find on Google.

After months of proclaiming the importance of having a mobile website, Google has finally implemented their changes that make a mobile site mandatory as part of a company’s SEO strategy. Up until last week, Google operated on the honor system allowing companies to just say their site was mobile friendly, but no more. Now Google is the sole arbiter of this issue and no longer will just take a company’s word for it.

So what’s the impact?

Effective last week searches from a smartphone will include the term—mobile friendly—in the results. By including this tag Google is betting that companies will work to make sure their site is verified as mobile friendly: that’s the carrot. There is also a stick, as the new algorithm rolls out over the next several weeks, sites that are not defined as mobile friendly will be dropped down in the search engine results list. While this is not stated specifically it is pretty much guaranteed it will happen.

However there is a silver lining here. The days of having to have a separate website done in mobile format are behind us. Many content management systems, like WordPress offer a 2-for-1 capability. Any site constructed with these tools should be set up to be “responsive.” This means that you can have one website which automatically reformats for the device being used to view it, meaning there is no longer a need to have separate desktop and mobile websites.

If you’d like to know how your site ranks use this link and enter your domain name.

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

If you need other reasons to value a mobile website consider the following:

  • Mobile traffic leads the Internet
  • Companies with responsive design websites reduce their bounce rate by 11% on average
  • 66% of all email is opened on a mobile device, think what it means for a client to open an email on their smartphone and not be able to read your website when they click there.
  • In a 2013 survey Google reported that 90% of executives used their mobile devices for research and 34% said they abandoned sites that were not responsive

5 Solid Reasons To Get A Website in 2015

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In our field of digital marketing we see a ton of websites. The good, the bad and the ugly. While there isn’t a whole lot worse than a really bad website, there is one thing – having no website at all. I’ve seen impressive websites for companies as big as they get, and great websites for as small as they come, such as landscaping and photography. Big or small – here are 5 solid reasons why you should get a website in 2015:

Connection

One of the most important aspects your company can provide to its consumers is being available at all times – websites do that since the Internet is 24 hours a day. Not all people are active, or interested in your business from 9am-5pm. Your competitors are online. Your audience is online. You need to be there too. Simple ways to connect, such as a contact form for people to fill out can be the difference between you and your competitors.

Impression

Your appearance can say a million words. Personally, I value a company that has a visually appealing website. When I see they have put effort into making their website look great, my attention is captured. Actually, more often than not, I remember them and value them over their competitors.

Knowledge

A website can be an excellent tool for your company to prove you have knowledge of your product or service. According to BlogHer, 81% of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs. Also, InsideView states B2B marketers who use blogs generate 67% more leads than those that do not. These statistics clearly show that having a blog can be beneficial to you and your company, and a great place to share your expertise.

Selling

Although I hate to bring sales into this, it’s true – having a website can be the key to more sales, especially if you have a great product or service. Even if you don’t want or have the need for eCommerce on your site, simple things such as an email list or newsletter sign up can lead to a potential sale.

Credibility

Having a website can validate what you do and help to prove who you are to potential clients and partners (B2B or B2C). If you haven’t had the opportunity to meet with a potential client, partner or customer this can be your chance to create a visual representation of who your company is and helps boost your brand within a matter of seconds.

For all these reasons and more, it’s time to look into creating a website for your company. Your audience is out there, use this simple tool to connect with them, impress them, show them your expertise, help increase sales, and build your credibility.

Need a new website?

Need a new website? Terms to know…

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With so many voices in the web building world, it gets tricky to sort through it and find the solution that works best for you. Here are some terms that can help sift through the web talk and help you make a better and more informed decision.

CMS: Content Management Systems: Long gone are the days of building webpages and sites by hand coding. With the size and scale of the sites on the web now, trying to manually manage them has turned from tricky to near impossible.

Introducing Content Management Systems. What is it? A platform that provides the structure, organization and deployment of content. Software is installed on the server, that allows a user to login to an admin panel where they can access, edit, and publish content without knowing any code. The setup and customization is typically much less work than traditional websites, and with a skilled developer you can have a fast, secure, and unique site on a time table that is a fraction of what they were 5 years ago. There are a variety of CMS available, with the most popular being WordPress.

WordPress: I know you’ve heard the term. It’s been floating around for almost 10 years now. My first experience with WordPress was in 2007 when I created my first photography blog. Then, I chose it simply because it was free and it promised a simple and quick installation. I’ve been able to watch it grow into the number one CMS powering 23% of the internet.

WordPress is my choice for CMS for a variety of reasons, the first being its community. As open source software, anyone and everyone is welcome to develop and create for WordPress. This establishes a network of well… help. Anytime I have needed help or had questions someone within the WordPress community has usually seen the same issue or wanted to try the same thing.

Plugins are extensions for the basic WordPress platform. There are plenty of free options, but if you’ve got a budget you can use premium plugins to quickly turn your site into whatever you would like. E-commerce site, blog, portfolio, you name it.

WordPress also anticipates and embraces new technology. They were leaps and bounds ahead of other platforms in developing sites that were mobile friendly. That is just one example. They continue to be ahead of the curve in adopting what users want on a front and back end.

Framework: Not interested in a CMS? There are plenty of other options. The next most used option is a Framework. People often compare WordPress and Drupal. Having a limited amount of time working within Drupal, it felt less like a CMS and more like a framework. You could build a CMS with Drupal but it requires more time, more humans, and more money. It is also open source, and there’s a very loyal community, but the learning curve is steep, and building and maintaining a framework site will require a team of developers. There are lots of arguments out there on why one is better than other, but I’ve yet to run into a situation where Drupal did something WordPress couldn’t. But the White House does use it, so there’s that.

E-commerce: Like shopping online? Me too… E-commerce simply allows you to sell online. Just a few years ago this required the use of highly skilled developers. Things have gotten easier. WordPress has plugins like WooCommerce to make this possible. And there are other sites that will make e-commerce very simple for you; but beware because they are often interested in taking a significant portion of your profit.

Free software: There are dozens of free options out there for websites. Some of the most popular being wix and weebly. As a developer I did not have any fun working with these platforms. While I am sure there is a demographic that benefits from these services, I am yet to see who they are. If you are a business, or anyone seeking to establish an online presence, I have found these options tend to be just as much work, with significantly less payoff.

Still not sure what’s right for you? Drop us a line in the comments and we can help steer you in the right direction.

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Website Woes: What Not to Do

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Whether you’ve just launched your website, looking to redesign, or perfectly content with it’s current performance, it still requires continual maintenance and should evolve over time. Sometimes though, best intentions can actually be bad practices. We’ve compiled our list of website woes to guide you on what NOT to do.

Colin Smith

Don’t over-complicate your website. While keeping up with trends in web design and user experience are positive and keep your site looking fresh, it can easily be overdone. Trying to include too much can lead to clutter, confusion and chaos. Make sure your site is easy to use, looks up to date, and delivers your content in a clear manner. This will keep your visitors happy, and they will be more likely to stick around or visit again. You’ll also be happier in the long run, and avoid a month’s worth of headaches if something goes wrong.

Gretchen Ardizzone

Designing for desktop only. You’ve heard us say before that if you think your visitors are only using a traditional desktop for viewing your site, you need to reconsider. 50% of people use mobile as their primary Internet resource. I can tell you personally, the experience of trying to purchase a product from an eCommerce site that is not mobile compatible is painful. And if you’re driving traffic from a social media source (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) often viewed on mobile, your visitor is going to expect a seamless transition from the platform to your website.  You don’t need to go to the extent of developing an App, but at least consider making your site responsive to mobile and tablet users.

Also, make your message clear on your homepage. Think of it as a cover to a book. You wouldn’t want multiple titles to confuse the reader what the book is really about would you? You may have the flexibility to communicate a couple messages with a call to action on your homepage, but don’t go overboard. If you’re presenting ten different messages all speaking to the visitor at the same level, something important is bound to get overlooked. Prioritize your key messages and have those drive traffic further into the site.

Lastly, it’s easy to think everything is working fine on your site until someone tells you otherwise, but put yourself in their shoes, navigate your site, test buttons, links, and forms every once in a while to make sure things are working as they should be. It’s not every day that someone will take the time to tell you something is wrong, they may just walk away in frustration. Spot the problem before they do.

Luke Pierce

You know what really grinds my gears? Moving chat boxes. When I am a first time visitor to a site and I have to play “hit the tiny little ‘x’ to close the chat box moving target game” I immediately get annoyed and often times leave the site right away. Don’t get me wrong, live chat can be great. I love how useful live chat can be when I actually have some questions to ask, but when your chat box is moving back and forth across the screen blocking my view of the content I actually want to read it drives me nuts.

Instead, utilize a tab that can easily be clicked upon to open a chat dialog or place it somewhere else in the site that is easily accessed. Just don’t force your chat feature on every visitor. Focus on creating great content that gets people excited to talk to someone first. When someone wants to chat, make it easy for them to do so and they will.

Shannon Blair

Please, I’m begging you people, STOP asking me for my email address and other information before you even let me see what you can offer me. There is a rather well-known website that offers you good products (clothing, home decorations, health items, etc) for good prices and the one thing that drives me absolutely insane is that every time I go there I have to log in to see what they offer. I understand the need for information but there is a time and place to ask for such things. Acting like a private club isn’t going to get you far in the online world, and it is definitely not going to help you gain an audience.

Photo Credit: MarcDubois

What To Consider When Selecting Your Website Typeface

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There are plenty of ways to make your website stand out from the crowd. The overall look of your site is a reflection of your company, brand, and overall personality. The typefaces you use are a big part of your site’s feel, but there are some things you have to take into account when choosing your type. First, not every typeface will appear on every computer. Each computer has common system fonts that most users will be able to see when they go to your website, but that list is short and limits your ability to be expressive. Luckily, there are several ways to include the font you want on your website which will allow users to view your site the way you intended them to.

Fonts can be embedded in your site, which allows them to stay consistent even if a user doesn’t have the font you use downloaded on their computer. They are also compatible with the major browsers your viewers might be using. There are a variety ways to embed or link your fonts to your website, allowing a browser to access them and show them in your site. Before embedding a font in your website, make sure that the license for that font allows it. If it doesn’t you may have to get an extended license to do so. That being said, each way of embedding has its drawbacks.

sIFR (Scalable Inman Flash Replacement)

sIFR uses Javascript and Adobe Flash that enables text on HTML webpages by replacing them with Flash replacements. It mimics normal HTML text, meaning it can be resized and copied relatively easily. Some downsides of this method are the requirement of Flash and Java make it vulnerable to things like ad blockers and any platform that doesn’t support Flash. It also affects the load time of webpages, but its biggest drawback is that it wasn’t intended for body copy, making it one of the more dated methods.

Cufón

Cufón also uses Javascript, but unlike sIFR it converts fonts into vector images. It’s easy to use, has small file sizes, and doesn’t require Flash which eliminates some of the issues sIFR has. One problem Cufón runs into isn’t new to embedding fonts, and that issue is with Copyright.

Both Cufón and sIFR include the font files making it possible for people to steal the fonts. These methods use JavaScript, Flash and PHP to embed fonts. Something to be aware of about sIFR and Cufón is the conversion of the font into another format (flash and javascript). Some fonts that are free, even for commercially distributed uses, prohibit the conversion of the font file into another format. If you still want to convert them you will need explicit permission from the author of that font.

@font-face

@font-face uses a CSS rule allowing you to download a particular font from your server to a website, allowing a visitor to see that font even if they don’t have it installed. Unlike sIFR and Cufón, it doesn’t embed the font on the site. Instead it tells the browser where to find the font.

As it has progressed, there are now a host of sites that provide Web Fonts that utilize CSS and/or Javascript to embed in your site for use. a web font is a file downloaded from a web server and used by a browser to render the HTML text. Your webpage accesses it using the @font-face rule. Most font files will include each type of file needed to make sure it is compatible on every browser and platform (.eot, .ttf, .otf, .svg, .woff). Every font is controlled by an End User License Agreement (EULA) which will tell you what you can, and can’t, use that font for. Here is a list of a few sites where you can find great web fonts to use on your site:

Fonts.com is a subscription font hosting service with CSS and Javascript embedding available and +3k free fonts to choose from.

YouWorkForThem offers one-off per font licenses you can embed using CSS. With many big name clients, YWFT is a great resource for beautiful fonts.

Typekit is a resource brought to you by Adobe that offers subscription plans, as well as plans through the Creative Cloud to bring you a large collection of fonts which can be embedded using CSS and Javascript.

Fontsquirrel is a great site for typefaces that are %100 free for commercial use. They can be embedded using CSS.

Google Webfonts is open source with 501 free fonts that are available to embed using CSS.

With some options of how to embed font on your site, and some resources to find your typeface, all that is left to do is find the font that fits your company best! With so many to choose from, take your time and find what reflects your brand’s personality. Be creative, but make sure its legible at various sizes and on different platforms.

Photo by: Kyle Van Horn

Someone Was Listening

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So a couple of weeks ago we blogged about social listening and it’s power to help connect with people. Well it works, or at least it worked for Liquid Web. Last week our major hosting provider Bluehost had a major outage and we Tweeted about it to our clients and followers.

Well, lo and behold, about 3 minutes later we got a follow from Liquid Web and a request for us to follow and get a direct message. They had “heard” our Tweet about the Bluehost problems and were asking us to give them a try. So we have. We set up our first Liquid Web account and are trying it out to see if it’s a possible alternative.

For the record, we think Bluehost has some of the best support in the industry, but this was their second major event in a year and even great support can’t overcome issues with reliability.

At any rate, Liquid Web was listening and this is just meant to be a very quick example of how this all comes together to create new customers.

Photo Credit: Philippe Put

broom

Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Business

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In business a new year often means new goals and a plan to achieve them. Next thing you know, several months go by and sometimes that means things get a little cluttered or you might even find yourself slightly off track. Spring is always a refreshing turn of the season, because it not only signifies that you have survived the less than desirable winter, but it’s an opportunity to organize your enterprise. From the collective crew at Shout Out, here are a few Spring cleaning tips for your business:

Nathaniel Seevers

When a company has a product or service they’re passionate about they want to tell the world; tell them everything, every feature benefit and scream it from their homepage mountain. It’s understandable but what can often result is a bloated, busy, confusing first impression when someone hits your site.

For a spring clean homepage purge consider:

  • Reducing the number of slides in your slider. Online attention spans are short. Few visitors stick around to see more than 2, 3 slides at the most. Getting more concise with your benefit statement helps you in other areas as well. Even challenge yourself to reduce to one static main image. Get really good at being captivating.
  • Attracting your visitors to specific click-throughs for diving deeper into content versus telling the whole story in one spot
  • Implementing a heat mapping tool like Crazy Egg to see what people are clicking on, hovering around and ignoring. This can help you better understand what’s working and what you can cut.

Gretchen Ardizzone

To many businesses a customer email address is like a golden ticket. But how much is that ticket worth if it’s extremely out of date? My tip is take time to clean up your email lists. Why waste time and energy communicating to a vast group of people who hardly even read your stuff, can’t remember when or why they subscribed, or frankly they may question how they ended up on your list to begin with. Spend your time communicating with those who want to read what you have to say or see what you have to offer.

If you have an old list, don’t start re-engaging by sending them a promotional email, instead consider a quick reminder email to make sure they remember who you are and want to continue to receive your communications. And if it’s been a little while it doesn’t hurt to include an opportunity to opt-in again. Give them a couple of chances to opt-in before finally removing them.

If your email list raises some questions to begin with, you might want to check out this MailChimp article titled “Is my list ok to use in MailChimp.” While this may be intended for importing lists into MailChimp, I think many of the questions they ask are still applicable in evaluating the quality of your list. If you’re anything like us, you’ll enjoy the humor and appreciate the advice.

Shannon Blair

Ah, Spring… you begin cleaning out cars and closets – but what about social media? Yep, there are quick and simple ways to clean that up too.

Twitter: Go through your Twitter lists and followings and clean those up by unfollowing the ones that are inactive or who aren’t posting content that’s relevant to you or your company.

LinkedIn: Have you updated your resume, done some networking, or moved positions in your company? Dust off those cobwebs and update all that information and connect with new contacts!

Pinterest: You can comb through your Pinterest boards and tidy up by creating new boards or deleting old, irrelevant ones.

Google+: Clean up those circles, people!

Facebook: Get on Facebook and check on your information and update content that needs it – also give your Facebook a facelift by adding a new photo or header.

Luke Pierce

This winter was a tough one in central Ohio. It is easy to let the clutter accumulate in that kind of weather, not only around the house, but digitally as well. For whatever reason, I let my desktop on my computer get overcrowded, hardly emptied my browsers cache, and let hundreds of things pile up in my downloads folder. This week I decided my spring cleaning was going to take place on my lap top. I cleared my desktop, getting everything in organized folders to where it needed to be. Emptied my browsers cache. And cleared out my downloads folder. Not to my surprise, my laptop started functioning loads better. It always amazes me how easy it is to make things better and it makes me wonder why I don’t keep up with it all the time. Next up: properly back up my laptop on a regular basis.

Do you have a Spring cleaning list of your own? Share your tips in the comments below.

Photo Credit: kaiton

Switchboard Operators

Online Customer Service

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Good customer service can make or break obtaining and retaining a customer online. It’s no different than in-store. Nordstrom has thrived for years as being the brand that is best known for providing excellence in customer service. The truth is that customers have those same expectations for your brand online, and as eCommerce continues to grow customer service is going to be the key differentiator for where consumers want to invest their money. It’s also one way that small businesses can level the playing field with big brands. Here are some things to consider in providing customer service online:

Real-time Resolutions

Make it easy for your customers to contact you should they have a problem or issue they need to resolve. You’d be amazed at how difficult it can be to find contact information or customer service resources on some sites. Make it clearly visible for your customers to find, you don’t want them leaving your site in frustration. If you provide a service that could need customer support 24 hours a day, consider a service infrastructure that will allow you take care of customers’ whenever they need you.

Warby Parker uses their Warby Parker Help YouTube channel to post video responses from team members to questions posted daily to Facebook and Twitter. Amazon offers on-device tech support through Kindle’s Mayday button to let you connect with an Amazon expert via video. And while those may seem like more sophisticated methods, consider service agents that are simply skilled to support your brand. Online retailer and mens fashion brand, Jack Threads, offers a live chat service provided by university students with a keen fashion sense.

Make Sure You’re Listening

Not all customer service issues come directly to you. Customers may utilize your social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to express their issue. Monitoring your social media platforms for this type of management is crucial to respond quickly. Use social media scheduling tools like HootSuite or consider other social listening platforms like Sprout Social or Meltwater to track customers talking about your brand.

Respond Strategically

Understand that you can’t please everyone though. You may have unsatisfied customers from time to time, but it’s best to have a planned response strategy. The key is not removing the content (unless it’s offensive to others), but managing the response. Sometimes people think the best thing to do is to remove negative comment or block the person, but that could actually add more fuel to the fire. If you’re at fault, admit the error and offer to resolve. You’d be surprised how many unhappy customers might be put at ease by being acknowledged for their complaint.

Take Notes & Pass Them On

I mentioned Nordstrom at the beginning of this post and while most of the magic of their customer service takes place mostly in-store, there is a great takeaway that can even be applied to managing customer service online. The fashion retailer collects customer service examples, “Nordy stories,” from their employees and publishes to share with other employees. It goes beyond protocol for instances of handling returns or out-of-stock product, but serves as a guide to teaching employees how to be the best at serving customers.

Follow Up

Yeah, you’ve made the sale, but one great way to ensure your customers come back is to show that their feedback matters. Encourage them to provide a review about the product or service, but reward them for sharing their opinion. Maybe it’s access to an exclusive product or a free product sample. If they’re a first time customer consider offering an incentive for returning, possibly a discount of their next purchase.

Truly Serving Your Customers

Your customer service should go beyond just managing issues or getting return visits. Use your customer service as a competitive edge; make your brand unique or memorable in the consumer’s eyes. Let your service be another story they share.

I still have fond memories of staying at the Soho Grand in New York a couple of years ago. Sure it’s a fantastic hotel alone, but the amenity that caught my attention was a simple goldfish. The pet-friendly hotel offers guests a “goldfish team member” at no charge to accompany guests for the duration of their stay. It was a thoughtful gesture to make my stay more enjoyable.

Want to hear more inspiring stories of customer service? Check out this amazing collection of 10 Unforgettable Customer Service Stories by Help Scout. It just might leave you asking what have I done for my customers lately?

Photo Credit: reynermedia

Why Do We Have A Website?

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Why do we have a website? Every-once-in-a-while it’s really important to stop and ask this question. It’s important to validate what we are doing as a company and make sure that we’re still on point with what we are publicly communicating about our organization.

I can tell you this, what we were when we started is not what we are now. Change is inevitable and we love it. Change is growth, learning, movement, adaptation, and natural, but we need to remember that our story and how we communicate it needs to keep pace with that change in all we do. This is the hard part. It’s so easy to just put something out there and leave it alone and have it be fine, and in reality, it’s what we all want, but in reality, it’s never going to happen. So what do we do? We stop and ask ourselves three key questions:

  • Why do we have a website?
  • What does it say about us?
  • What do we want from it?

It gets to be a little convoluted from time-to-time but here is how we handle it.

We have a website to tell our story. It’s not a sales tool it’s a tool that lets people see into our organization, what we do, how we do it, who we are, and what we’re like. If they like what they see we offer them opportunities to get to know us better and hopefully they will get some insights from our blog,—”Why do we have a blog?” is another topic for later—but we do not expect our website to sell anything…ever. We just think of it as a way to share, our knowledge, something about who we are and tell our story.

What our website says about us is important, not in the description of what we do, but in the words we choose and how we present ourselves. We want our site to reflect who we are as a company and what we are like as individuals. We like long-term relationships and that means we have to be really honest about ourselves. It doesn’t do any good to present ourselves one way on the website and actually show up and be different people. We are, for better or worse, unique. We are the only “us” there is and that’s what makes us different from every other firm in a very crowded space.

We cultivate that difference and work hard to reflect it in our communications. It took a long time and a lot of effort to find our genuine voice and eschew the standard marketing speak for real communication that people can identify with. We do not want to lose this and it’s incredibly important that our website says what we believe and reflects our culture as it really is.

Some companies just don’t care for what we put out there and think that it’s too informal or too “creative,” but that’s alright we are very comfortable with who we are as a firm and a team, and for the companies that can relate to that it’s usually a great place to begin our conversations.

Lastly, what we want from our website is interest. That’s it. We want our website to generate interest in knowing more about our firm. We want our website to generate interest in knowing more about our people and how we dissect and solve problems for our clients. We want someone who needs our services to visit our website and say, “I don’t know if this is the right team or not, but I’m crazy if I don’t meet with them.”

That’s why we have a website…why do you have yours?

Photo Credit: jonathan mcintosh cc

Building a Successful eCommerce Site – Part 3

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In parts one and two of Building a Successful eCommerce site, we talked about location and design, respectively. Those two aspects of eCommerce sites and brick and mortar stores are fundamental to success throughout the life of the business, but even if both those aspects are stellar the business may not succeed long enough to matter. Enter promotion.

First off, don’t confuse promotion for marketing. Marketing is something you should be engaging in at all times, through the life of the business to build and reinforce your brand. Promotion is a specific marketing campaign, in this case, geared towards promoting your new eCommerce site. It’s one of those “all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon” kind of things.

Business owners often understand the need to promote their new brick and mortar store but for some reason believe that the internet is a magical place that people instinctively know to flock to their new site. There are some familiar ways that people promote new brick and mortar stores like hanging a sign, doing a PR outreach to local publications, and hosted events. Each one of those promotional tactics has an eCommerce equivalent that is easy to do.

 Signage = Electronic ad space or splash page

A Nordstrom Rack recently opened in Columbus. Everyone knew it was coming months in advance because Nordstrom bought significant amounts of ad space on billboards and park benches downtown and elsewhere (some of which are still up). It sparked high levels of anticipation and word-of-mouth marketing. The same thing can be done online. Do your research to find out where people would be excited to hear about your store. Check specific facebook (or other social media) groups, search terms applicable to your product or service, and popular blogs.

Since most ads on the internet are pay-per-click you need to give them somewhere to go. That is going to be your splash page. It’s the equivalent of hanging your banner on the fence outside your brick and mortar store that is containing the construction going on. Make sure your splash page has some information about an opening and a place to opt for an e-mail communication.

 PR Outreach = Blogger & eMagazine Campaign

A press release is often sent out to local print publications about an upcoming brick and mortar store generating curiosity and buzz in the local community. On the web, you want to focus on bloggers, podcasters, and eMagazines to do much of the same thing. Reach out to them and offer a sample of an early product. See what it take to be a part of their content. Keep in mind most bloggers and magazines plan their content out very far in advance so you may not get in right away but planting that seed for a traffic pop down the line could pay off dividends for you.

 Parties & Events = Social Media Contests or Give Aways

Brick and mortar stores usually have some sort of grand kick-off party, sale, or giveaway. It is a great way to open your store to big crowds and generate word of mouth. These things usually include an offer of some kind although it doesn’t have to. Restaurants do it with practice nights where they give away free food to friends and family. Some stores offer big savings to their first customers. You can achieve the same thing with eCommerce stores with a focus on social media. Try doing a social media contest. Raffle Copter can be a great tool. Or maybe put an opening day discount code and share it on some Facebook ads. Social media can be a very powerful tool, but if you are waiting until opening day to start building your audience you have planned very poorly.

Building a successful eCommerce shop is a complex undertaking but the rewards for doing it right are infinite. If most people approach their eCommerce shop with the same considerations as building a brick and mortar store; good location, great design, and efficient promotion the chances of success are in your favor.

Photo Credit: jurvetson cc

three shadows in the street

Utilizing User-Generated Content in Your Content Strategy

880 461 Gretchen Ardizzone

Your content marketing plan likely includes a combination of a blog, eBooks, whitepapers, video content, social media, and possibly a few other mediums, but one of the most compelling forms of content is created by your consumers. It’s emotional, passionate and powerful. Businesses have a huge opportunity to leverage user-generated content, and here are a few brands seeing success with this strategy:

BaubleBar

BaubleBar’s Co-Founder Daniella Yacobovsky recently spoke at National Retail Federation’s annual Retail’s BIG Show and shared how incorporating user-generated content is a highly effective tactic for BaubleBar. The brand currently integrates selfie snapshots on their website with the customers sporting their various sparkly baubles in a shoppable slideshow. Customers simply share their pic on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #BaubleBar or upload it directly to the website. According to Yacobovsky, “A third of site visitors engage with it and the conversion rate for those who do is 2.5 times higher than those who don’t.”

What’s great about this approach is that it gives the consumer a realistic view of how the product might look on them and inspiration for how to style the accessory. Much more compelling than just seeing the product on a white background, and consumers are able to relate more by seeing it on an everyday person rather than a model. And giving the consumer even more reason to share, the brand also selects three of their favorites every month to win $100.

I’ve mentioned before the value Pinterest can provide for businesses, and BaubleBar is no exception here. What’s interesting is though, the brand realized that “pins posted by others drove 10 times more traffic than BaubleBar’s own Pinterest content, so to encourage shoppers to pin, they redesigned and emphasized the “Pin it” button on product pages.” Instead of just thinking about your Pinterest strategy as a separate entity, think about how you can make it useful in the shopping experience and integrate into your website. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited websites and pinned items to my style board to serve as a virtual reminder, and essentially a trail of crumbs to where I can buy the product when I’m ready.

Juicy Couture

To promote its new sports apparel product line, Juicy Couture has engaged with the photo-sharing platform, Snaps to get consumers involved. Snaps is similar to Instagram but allows consumers to edit and add graphic content to their photos. The app has a two-fold purpose for the Juicy Couture brand: to allow consumers to add Juicy graphic elements related to fitness and working out, and share with friends and family, as well as try on Juicy Couture Sports product to see how it looks on them via their mobile device.

The method is effective in branding the images beyond just a hashtag connection and gives the consumer the chance to virtually try on a product, but the user-generated content has potential greater than just the selfie.

Warby Parker

I’ve praised Warby Parker in previous posts for their genius marketing efforts, and this may not be the last. The online eyewear brand with a home try-on program wholeheartedly believes in word-of-mouth marketing has found a way to incorporate user-generated content. The brand encourages consumers to use their social network to help in the selection process of their perfect frame by posting a pic of themselves wearing the various options on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.  Warby Parker’s Co-founder and Co-CEO, David Gilboa, says, “Customers who post photos of themselves in frames are buying at twice the rate as those who don’t.”

It doesn’t have to be just about promoting the product when it comes to utilizing user-generated content, it can also benefit promoting the overall brand.

Nike

While I may be a marketer, I’m no stranger to my own contribution to providing user-generated content. In 2013 sports apparel brand, Nike carried out one of the most creative initiatives which I was lucky enough to be able to participate in, which resulted in a community of individuals sharing content like you wouldn’t believe…all for a great cause. Nike organized a Women’s 10k event to raise funds for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, oh and did I mention it was all virtual? Given the fact that there was no specific destination for this event to take place, you might think the participation would be low. Think again though.

So how did it work? Everyone had to register and pay the $40 entry fee. Each runner had to commit to running a 10k distance (6.3 miles) over a 2-day period (March 9th or 10th) whenever and wherever they chose—trail, track, road or gym—using the Nike running app to record their efforts. In true race fashion, each runner received a technical race shirt (Nike branded of course), with a blank space for runners to write in the various reasons why they run…for fun, for a cause, for those who can’t, just to name a few. Runners were then encouraged to share their route and run using the hashtag #letsturnitup.

Participants professed great satisfaction with running for a worthy cause, and over the course of the two days, runners logged 29,524 miles on the Nike running app, and filled Nike’s Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter news feed full of stories of individuals and groups participating in the run. Not to mention, raised almost $50,000 for LLS.

Many runners had never used the Nike running app and were exposed to a new run tracking method, at the same time feeling the reward of accomplishment. And while the event may have been virtual, that day connected thousands of individuals through social media. Well done, Nike.

While the brands I mentioned may have big marketing budgets, small brands and entrepreneurs can successfully utilize user-generated content without a significant investment, but with a sound strategy.

Photo Credit: The Real Estreya

dictionary

Digital Marketing Terms Defined

880 461 Colin Smith

If you’re new to digital marketing, you may find yourself in a world full of unfamiliar acronyms and jargon. It can seem intimidating, confusing, and even exclusionary. But, most of the time it’s a way for marketers to communicate with each other in the most efficient way possible. Knowing some of what it means can help you as your company enters a digital marketing venture. Below is a list of commonly used terms you will come across in digital marketing, and what they mean. By familiarizing yourself with these terms, you can feel confident moving forward with your companies marketing goals.

B2B:

Business to Business refers to business interactions that occur between two businesses. It is the way goods or services are exchanged between two companies. This is usually part of the development or manufacturing of one company’s consumer goods.

B2C:

Business to Consumer is similar to B2B. A business to consumer transaction is when a consumer buys a final product or service from a company for use.

CTA:

A Call to Action is a something on your company’s website that grabs the attention of a viewer and invites them to view another part of your site. It can be something like a banner or button, such as a “Learn More”  button at the end of a paragraph, inviting the viewer to continue reading. In other words, it is a lead or a prompt.

Bounce Rate:

This is the percentage of people who visit one page on your site but leave it without visiting any other page. It is better to retain a viewer’s attention and get them interested enough to visit more of your site.

Blog:

A blog is what you are currently reading. For a business, it is a chance to self-promote. You can put out original content, create site traffic, and grab the attention of potential clients. It’s a good way to interact with your audience by starting a conversation.

Brand: 

In marketing, a brand does not just refer to your logo or tagline. It is identifying what you want the target audiences’ perception of your company to be, and how your company’s voice reflects that image.

ROI:

Return on Investment basically comes down to getting the biggest bang for your buck. You want to see results, and developing a strategy geared towards providing ROI (Return on Investment) is the first place to start.

SEO: 

Search Engine Optimization is the visibility of your site in a search engine’s “natural,”  or unpaid, results. The better your site’s SEO is, the more views it will get from this “organic”  traffic.

SEM:

Search Engine Marketing is the promotion and SEO development to increase site visibility.

UX:

UX is an acronym for User Experience. In terms of digital marketing, this is the experience your visitors will have when they visit your site. User experience takes into account the actions you’d like the user to take and the information you’d like them to obtain. The more they enjoy that experience, the more likely they are to spend time looking at what you have to offer.

While this is not a complete list, it can give you a better understanding of what’s being discussed in digital marketing. In the fast-changing culture of the Internet, and therefore digital marketing, it is nice to have a base of reference to lean back on.

Photo Credit: MrPhilDog

Building a Successful eCommerce Site – Part 2

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In part one of building a successful eCommerce site, we talked about how the location of a brick and mortar store is the equivalent of the search engine results for an eCommerce site. The gist of what we were talking about is putting the business in the best position for high volumes of traffic. However, high volumes of traffic to your business, whether it be foot traffic or Internet visitors, isn’t going to do any good if the business can’t convert the sale. So let’s look at another consideration that applies to both brick and mortar stores and eCommerce sites; Design.

Brick and Mortar Interior Design = eCommerce Site Design

Quality design makes people feel at ease, it lets them know you are serious about what you do, and it adequately reflects your brand. Good design not only reflects well on your brand, it also influences how people buy. In a brick and mortar store, you have the advantage of employees to communicate the brand’s message to potential buyers, but eCommerce sites often don’t have the luxury of face to face communication. This is where design becomes even more important. Consider these things when you start to think about your site design:

Vet Your Designer

Do your research here. Look at their past work. Either ask them for references or look up contact info for someone they worked for and just ask them about it. Actually, do that! You might find that they were slow to work with but they communicated every step of the way, which is much better than someone who doesn’t communicate at all and gives you a finished product that vaguely resembles what you want.

Ask Them To Tell You a Story

So you found someone who designs some pretty slick stuff, great! But how are they at telling stories? If they are simply asking you what design choices you want and not at all about what makes your business unique and different, walk away. Just like that. Find someone else. There are hordes of people out there that have the technical skills to make a website work and look good, but most don’t possess the traits required to tell your brand story AND make it look good, which is what sets apart a successful eCommerce site and a mediocre one.

Set Yourself Up For Flexibility

We have written about why we love WordPress here before, but I can’t stress to you enough the importance to have your site built on a system that you can manage yourself. Most designers, and frankly people in general, tend not to be the best communicators, especially when you need something done urgently. The power to make changes yourself will be priceless over the life of your business.

One should place just as much importance on site design just as one places importance on the interior design, product placement, and customer flow of a brick and mortar store. In the end, good design will last the life of the business and pay for itself ten times over. Take your time and find someone who can help tell your story with finesse and efficiency.

Stay tuned for part 3 of Building a Successful eCommerce Site.

Photo Credit: xJason.Rogersx cc

Building a Successful eCommerce Site – Part 1

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Some people believe that having a successful eCommerce site for their business is as easy as putting it on the internet and flipping the switch. “If you build it, they will come”, right? No. The fact of the matter is that most people can easily see the need to put the work into building a brick and mortar shop but simply can’t wrap their minds around putting the same thoughts and considerations into building their business online. To put things into perspective, let’s look at the considerations required to build a successful brick and mortar store and put them in eCommerce terms.

Brick and Mortar Location = eCommerce Search Engine Results

Location. Location. Location. Even the most inexperienced entrepreneur knows the value of a good location. In the brick and mortar world it’s simple; if you want a busy shop put your store on a busy street or highly populated area of town. In the eCommerce world, search engine results are the same as that busy street. If you’re on the first page of results the busier the street is and in turn your shop.

The big difference between brick and mortar and eCommerce is the ability to choose your location. With brick and mortar, one searches far and wide for that perfect location. A location on that busy street is probably more expensive than others. Often you pay a premium for those truly exceptional locations. With eCommerce look at it this way; you don’t get to choose your exact location, but you can invest wisely to build your site optimized for that first page of results. It’s kind of like building your website on that busy street.

Make sure you are paying attention to keywords, meta descriptions, and page content. With a brick and mortar, one picks the location, builds, and is done. With eCommerce search engine optimization (SEO) is an ongoing thing. If you do it right from the start it makes it much easier to build off of through the life of your site. Set aside some money in your budget for this reason, just like you would pay that premium rent for that busy street location.

Stay tuned for additional insight into Building a Successful eCommerce Site with this three-part series.

Photo Credit: balleynecc

The Top eCommerce Sites We’re Addicted To and Why

1920 700 Nathaniel Seevers

You Better Shop Around

Getting started with eCommerce is a great way to prove certain business models these days. Resources like Shopify, WordPress with WooCommerce, Big Commerce and so on, make it fairly easy to get started selling your widget online. However, running an eCommerce site that allows you to sell your widget and running an eCommerce site that’s enjoyable for the user to buy from are two completely different things. So with that, here are the top e-commerce sites we’re addicted to and why we feel they’re doing it right.

Luke Pierce

Although I have never bought anything on the site, Uniqlo is one of my favorite eCommerce sites on the web and it keeps me coming back. I love that the second the page loads, you are already shopping. Although things are simply displayed in a grid format on all pages, it still looks natural as they incorporate just the right amount of white space to break things up. Aside from the looks, the shopping experience is straightforward and to the point. The quick look feature they have on every item is nice because you don’t have to leave the page you are shopping on to get a closer look and see the variety of colors and patterns they offer things in. Although I am still not a customer of theirs (and I have been aware of the site for years), their no-nonsense design and simple shopping will have me pulling the trigger soon.

Gretchen Ardizzone

While it just launched this week, the new Toms Marketplace eCommerce site has already captured my heart (and a little of my wallet too). The online site was created by socially conscious shoe brand Toms in an effort to support other like-minded brands and businesses. Consumers shopping the Marketplace now have access to more than 200 products (home goods, apparel, and accessories) from about 30 companies and charities that have been carefully selected and curated by the Toms team. Causes supported with this initiative include opportunities to assist children in need, educational funding programs, aide in basic health and funding for project research, job creation, nutrition via meal programs, and access to clean water. read more

Digital Marketing Horror Story

1920 700 Gretchen Ardizzone

Cue the blood-curdling scream…

It’s that time of year when the weather changes and we all prepare for the usual Halloween activities like trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving, horror flicks, hayrides and haunted houses. Given the seasonal timeliness, the subject matter of our marketing meeting yesterday ended with each of us telling our own Digital Marketing Horror Story. Please avoid these terrifying tactics at all cost.

Luke Pierce

You know that iconic vision of a haunted house? Those once beautiful Victorian homes that have sat lonely on a hilltop rotting and decaying for years? Well, the Internet is riddled with their website equivalents. It’s horrifying.

Some believe that a website is a one-and-done type of thing. They believe that once it’s built, it will sit in pristine condition until the end of time. The truth is, it is just like our haunted house. It decays over time without attention. It gets forgotten about. People stop visiting. It starts to inhibit ghosts of your copyright past. Frankly, there is nothing that scares the shit out of me more than when I log onto a website and see 2002 ©.

Marsh Williams

So… we’ve all been there. We’re looking for something and we click a Google ad and poof… we’re magically transported to the mystical land of landing pages. Once I’m there I resist the siren call to give them all of my information before I learn more about the product. I attempt to go to the corporate website and read some more, but noooooo, I’m trapped! I’ve fallen for the oldest of gambits, next to “Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line,” and there is no way to leave the landing page. No link to the company home page, no hidden link in the company logo, no link anywhere to other information the company would probably want me to know about. Yes, worse than a corn-maze with no exit, a landing page with no way out.

By the way, I’m still stuck on the page and can’t seem to find my way home. Send pizza…

Many thanks to read more

Great Marketing is About Storytelling

842 452 Marsh Williams

Once upon a time…

We met with a prospective client recently on another disaster recovery project. All the usual suspects were present in the form of the story: great company, great brand, incredible product and an unbelievable, crappy, digital presence.

But here’s the part we want to get into…

The owner has a friend who they referred to as, “a programmer who said that they could build the website.” Now at first blush, there may not seem to be anything wrong with that but after cogitating (word of the day) on that for a while it hit me. Websites are not about programming; period. They’re about storytelling.

So embrace that fact and think about the people you would want to create and tell your story; think about your reaction to someone who says I’m a programmer and I can build your website. Let us clarify right here that there are programmers who are great storytellers, but the primary skill for developing a great marketing program of any kind is the storytelling capability. That trumps technology of the delivery mechanism every time.

So to help if this happens to you we’ve put together a small list of things to ask anyone who says they can “build your website.” Top five things to ask someone who wants to help with your website. read more

Google Analytics Made Easier

1920 700 Marsh Williams

For those of you who know the power of the Google Analytics dashboard, you can skip to the next paragraph. For the rest of you, Google Analytics has the ability to create customized dashboards which provide a fast detailed look at any set of data you want. While it can be a bit “wonky” to create them they are well worth the effort if you’re trying to get a quick look at any subset of information and invaluable in understanding your audience.

Or if you don’t want to create your own, there are places on the webernet that you can also find pre-packaged dashboards which can be directly imported to your GA.

We have found a few of these to be especially effective and use them frequently…

Site Performance – Go get it

This is a great option for showing how your site is actually performing from a time-to-load standpoint. It also shows metrics for performance in each browser.

Click the image to enlarge. read more
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