All posts by kristy

In-house or Outsourcing?

By | Business Intelligence, Strategic Planning, Tips and Tricks, Web Design, Westward Strategy | No Comments

Does a website created by in house IT or “graphics” people save money or cost money? Using your in-house people to create your corporate website could save a couple thousand dollars. It can also cost you tens of thousands of dollars in lost sales.

Many CEOs think that the worst thing about having their website created in-house is its appearance. Most likely, a poor appearance is the least of your worries. Chances are your in-house people don’t know how to address your target audiences, incorporate your marketing strategies, emphasize your areas of specialization or worst of all, fail to recognize your unique selling proposition or competitive advantages.

Even if your in-house people consider all these points, do they know how to optimize the site so it can be found in a search engine? Do they know the latest techniques to make your site search engine friendly and optimized? Do they know how to properly market your website on the internet?

Will they employ the latest web standards when they build your site? Do they know web industry best practices to developing a site? Do they know the best information architecture for a website?

You should ask yourself, “Is this beyond the scope of their job requirements”? It is understandable to have employees wear many hats, especially in a small business, but having someone design or build your website in-house when this is not their primary function not only harms the final project outcome, but also devalues your employee.

Having experience in web design or search engine marketing is not the same as being a web designer or internet marketer.

Another aspect to consider is time. You’re asking an employee to split their time between their regular job duties and this new project, which can greatly hinder their ability to launch the site in a reasonable time frame. How many potential clients or sales can you afford to turn away while your website sits incomplete or displaying an “Under Construction” message?

A website that has an unprofessional appearance and doesn’t deliver your marketing message to your target audience can lead your prospective customers to think that your company is unprofessional and unable to deliver quality, cost, delivery and technology solutions. A company with a well-designed website that has relevant and well written content seems like a much better choice.

RFP – Random Friday Post

By | Business Intelligence, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized | No Comments

I attended a web seminar earlier this week where the presenter actually used the image below in a slide. I don’t even remember what he was trying to illustrate and quite honestly I ducked out of the webinar early because, well, it was bad. I mean bbaaaaddd.

I think it may have been to illustrate sales process flow.

Too Complicated Sales Process Image

1) If your sales process is this complicated you might want to hire someone to help you fix it.

2) Never, ever, ever use an image like this to illustrate anything… ever. Period.

Have a great weekend!

The Struggle Within – Selling SEO Inside Your Own Organization

By | Business Intelligence, Natural Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Tips and Tricks | No Comments

We had a client approach us recently who was very interested in natural search optimization and search engine marketing. They are a mid-level marketing manager who recognizes the benefits and advantages of implementing an SEO strategy. However, they also recognize their own limitations in knowledge and time. Knowing they couldn’t effectively manage this internally, they began seeking our help. The problem was they needed to sell our services to the C-level execs. More than that we needed to sell SEO to the C-level execs.

We knew we could go in there with all the facts, figures, and evidence to support what we do, but we also knew it wouldn’t benefit us and it wouldn’t benefit our contact. We would be seen as an outside source with just another pitch and the contact would be seen as inept by their supervisors. Prior to meeting the executives we worked closely with the marketing manager to help them sell SEO as a critical marketing initiative to the executives. What we provided them with is more or less included in the following boiled down list.

Do Your Research (or have someone do it for you)
You’ve got to be able to talk the game if you have any hope of selling it. Even though it is time consuming, find as many authoritative SEO sites as possible and do your reading. Visit forums and blogs to find other people in situations similar to yours. Put yourself out there and ask questions.

Show and Tell
Within your organization get out there and talk to people about SEO. Some times people’s eyes glaze over when they hear that term so soften it up by talking about internet or search marketing. Talk to the people that matter outside of a formal meeting – water coolers, coffee makers, all the usual places they might hang out.

List the Advantages
Create a list of all the advantages a search marketing campaign can give your organization over your competitors. Initially you will use this list for your own information, however later you will use this in formal meetings with your execs. There are numerous benefits of SEO, but keep your list under five items.

Understand Management’s Pain Points
Do every thing you can to understand management’s objectives and find the pain points that relate to the advantages list you created previously. They probably will not talk about those points in the same way you might so listen carefully. Where applicable interject with the benefits of SEO as they relate to those pain points.

Don’t Give Up
People are resistant to change and fear the things they don’t know. Through education and repeated discussion you can break through their fears and show them the benefits of a strong SEO strategy so by the time you bring in an outside company to manage your search engine optimization campaign the execs are comfortable making an informed decision.

Expense or Investment?

By | Business Intelligence, Westward Strategy | No Comments

How you view your website and other marketing initiatives from a business perspective may determine your return on investment before you even begin. Many corporations view marketing as an expense albeit a necessary one. Marketing budgets are often among the first to be trimmed and more often than not web marketers are the first to be shown the door.

In truth marketing is an investment in your company. What you put into it determines what you get out of it or your return on that investment. When things are not going well, for whatever reason, the last thing you should be doing is trying to bury your head in the sand and make your company as small as possible.

With that being said, sometimes it is difficult to know where or with whom you should invest your marketing dollars. It can be even more difficult when you begin to investigate online marketing initiatives and companies. The web is largely the wild west of marketing. It has very few rules and even fewer lawmen (or law women if you prefer). If you put your project out there, whether it be a complete website redesign or a natural search optimization campaign, you’re likely to get all kinds of people knocking down your (virtual) door. You might receive bids for $500 and $50,000 on the same project for the same work. So how do you tell the snake oil salesman from the real deal? First thing you can do is eliminate the outliers, the extreme lows and the extreme highs.

If you are requesting a redesign of your 10 page website and they are telling you it is going to be $60,000 turn tail and run! Otherwise you’ll be taken for a ride. Same thing for the $200 bid – you probably won’t get the quality you’re looking for. Other than that go with the company you feel the most comfortable with.

For more information I invite you to review this post from Forty Media on setting your web budget. The most valuable points are the bullets at the bottom.

  • In the current market, $5-10k is a good price range for a simple, custom-designed website. If you have unusual needs requiring custom software or configuration, that might get up into the $10-15k range. (If you’re on a tight budget, you may be able to get a decent site from a talented freelancer for a good amount bit less, though you’ll be trading one set of risks for another.)
  • If you’re looking to build a custom web application, expect the final pricing to land in the tens of thousands of dollars. The exact pricing will depend on the scope and nature of the project itself.
  • Logo design and web design can be two very different things. If you don’t have a logo already, consider getting that designed by a corporate identity designer before starting the web project.
  • Remember that you get what you pay for. Set your budget, and then find the best possible firm that can work within your budget. The bigger your investment is, the better (in theory) the return will be.

Tables are Dumb (part II)

By | Business Intelligence, Uncategorized, Web Design, Westward Strategy | No Comments

So in the first part of my little rant here, I discussed the training, or lack thereof, of designers and developers and how it has ingrained in them the techniquess more often than not used in today’s coding of websites and applications. Today I will cover the argument that they do not have enough time to learn new ways of coding.

This argument comes up more often than the first. Interface developers always complain they never have enough time to learn new standards of practice. Let me put it this way – are you saying you don’t have the time to give your clients a greater return on their investment? You don’t have time to advance your skillset to make your job easier, less time consuming and more consistent? If you answered yes to these questions send all your clients to us and stop reading now. (Hey, it’s worth a shot!)

In all seriousness though, if you could be guaranteed of the above benefits, why would you not want to start learning these techniques? How many times have you had to wade through dozens if not hundreds of pages to change all the font tags or scoured nested tables to find all of the content to update? On average our sites that are built using structured markup and divs use just 200 lines of markup and that could easily be cut by a third if we weren’t so damn picky about the format of our code. Mind you, that is just the markup and does not include the content.

Need to change a heading style – no problem! Just load up the CSS and change it in one place! Put your waders away and stop straining your eyeballs, one change in one place and you’re done!

Now is it easy learn these new rules and syntax? Hell no! But it’s not rocket science either. Just like anything it takes practice and dedication to get it perfect. My suggestion – start small. Start by stripping out all the presentation markup for your content. Take out all the deprecated font tags and spans that have no structure. Replace with paragraphs, headings, and unordered lists. Create a simple stylesheet and link it to your page. There you go! You’re on your way to becoming a css guru. Call me when you’ve reached zen master level and we’ll do battle.

Next time I will discuss all the benefits of your new skill set and where to go to get information on your path to enlightenment. Join me!

Tables are Dumb (part I)

By | Business Intelligence, Tips and Tricks, Web Design | One Comment

This is a bit of a soapbox rant aimed at other designers and developers, but one the general audience of our readers should enjoy as well.

Ok, maybe that’s a little harsh, but tables for layout is stupid. It’s hard to believe four years after that little diddy was published this conversation would still be relevant. Why have we, as designers and developers, become complacent? Stagnant if you will. Has the internet become boring? Sure, if you had the wads o’ money Mark Cuban does the internet might be boring. I’m sure thousands of businesses, designers, developers and marketers would disagree (strongly), but I digress.

So why is it taking so long for web standards to become the standard? I think for many interface developers it comes down to two problems – training, or lack thereof, and time. I believe these are ridiculous, petty arguments when viewed in the grand scheme of the benefits to client and self of implementing and coding to a modern standard.

Many, if not the majority, of the code jockeys out there learned to write html haphazardly through chance and circumstance by choice or by force round about the time of the big bubble, when the internet was in her infancy and many didn’t know better. They knew they could beat the browsers and create any kind of layout they wanted by changing the columns, rows, and cells of a data table. Accompanied by abuse of the transparent gif image and border=”0″ they beat the purpose and semantics out of each and every html tag until they were satisfied with their pixel-perfect layouts. The browsers never complained. They took everything these tag slingers could throw at them and figured out some way to display it. And so their methods were ingrained and passed on to other code jockeys for replication in their haphazard tradition.

Slowly the browsers became aware of the poisoned tag soup they were swilling. By then it was too late to abandon the millions of malformed, nested tables out there.Only when the jockeys began to realize their good intentions had created document after document with no hierarchy, no meaning or semantics, did some begin to look for a better solution.

Creating a table layout is easy, systematic, and not complicated for the brain to process. Not to say I haven’t seen some pretty complicated table layouts, but for the majority of the time to process transforming a graphic to a grid begins in the top left corner and works across the columns of that row to the end and then moves down to the next row and so on and so forth. A standards or “div” layout shatters that thought process and blows all the years of training and know-how of the jockey out of the water.

They’re now required to think about blocks or groupings of elements, how those elements build relationships with other blocks and the hierarchy of each, not in a graphical perspective but in a coding perspective. Why not in a graphical perspective? Because we have a new boy wonder, a super hero he-man to solve all of our presentation pixelation problems – Cascading Style Sheets.

Many jockeys cannot make this leap of gray matter marvel, for the old process is so ingrained in the fleshy folds of stuff between their ears. It’s natural for humans to fear the unknown, to fear change, but only through the admission and conquering of our own fears can we become better humans and therefore better jockeys.

So I stand with many others and humbly make this sermon. Stand up fellow jockeys, shed your shields of transparent images and your swords of colspans and join us in a new battle to build a better web.

Join me tomorrow as I beat down the argument of “I don’t have time to learn new ways to code”.

Increase Your Return on Advertising Spending (ROAS)

By | Business Intelligence, Definitions, Search Engine Marketing, Strategic Planning, Uncategorized, Westward Strategy | One Comment

Types of Advertising that Cause US Consumers to Visit Web Sites, by Age, February 23, 2007-March 6, 2007 (% of respondents in each group)Types of advertising that cause US Consumers to visit web sites, by age

Advertising or Marketing Vehicles that Provide Highest Return on Investment (ROI) or Advertising Spending (ROAS) according to Advertisers Worldwide, December 2006 (% of respondents)
Advertising or marketing vehicles that provide the highest return on investment or advertising spending

Print and Digital Need Not Compete
AUGUST 27, 2007

How to get search engines to pay attention

By | Business Intelligence, Natural Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Tips and Tricks, Westward Strategy | One Comment

The Northern Nevada Business Weekly thought our SEO whitepaper – “Back to Basics: Top Ten Tips to Improve Your Natural Search Optimization” was newsworthy enough to run as a how-to in the August 20th edition of their weekly paper. I’ve taken the liberty of posting the article in its entirety below. You may pick up a hard copy at numerous locations around town or read it on their website.

How to get search engines to pay attention
Kristy Crabtree with Chris Gandolfo

The days of putting up a Web page then waiting for it to show up on the first page of any search engine are long gone. Today it takes time and effort to see your site in the first couple pages of results.
However, most site owners and webmasters do not know where to begin. By following these 10 steps you can increase your Web site’s natural search optimization and get the search engines to take notice.

1. Optimize for keyword content
To get listed correctly in the search engines, each page of your site needs to be optimized to the best of your ability. Since the keywords that you decide to target will be used throughout the optimization process, choosing the right keywords is essential. If you choose the wrong keywords you will not be found in the search engines. If you are not found in the search engines how will anyone find your site? Pick one core term for each page and write the optimized text around it. To brainstorm top phrases for your industry try reviewing your competitors’websites.

2. Write unique title tags
The title tag of your page is the most important factor to consider when optimizing your web page for the search engines. This is because most engines place a high level of importance on information found in your title tag. The title tag is also what the search engines usually use for the title of your listing in the search results.
The title tag appears as the description of the page at the top of your browser’s window. It should be a complete sentence that includes your term(s) for that page. Do not overstuff these tags or your website will be penalized in the search results!

3. Implement quality Meta content
Meta is a part of the page html code human visitors to your site rarely see. It is used by search engine visitors (robots or bots) to help them determine what the page is about.
Description Meta should be one or two core-term enriched sentences that do not exceed 250 characters.
Keyword Meta is a space-separated list of terms relating to your page. The core term should appear at the beginning and end of this list. Limit the number of characters to 1,024, including spaces.

4. Content is king
The page content is one of the most important factors to letting visitors and the search engines know what it is you are offering.
Improve your content and you will improve your listings in search engines. Each page should have at least 200 words of copy and include your keyword terms. The most important aspect of writing for the Web is that you write for the human visitors, not the search engines.

5. Use image alt text wisely
Each image on your page can include a keyword phrase that relates to the image. This text will also help those that may have their images turned off when visiting your site. This text can be included in the alternate or “altâ€Â? attribute of the html code for an image. The important thing is to describe the image first and then try to work in key terms.

6. Use a robots.txt file to tell search engines where to go
This simple text file is a roadmap of your web site. It should be placed in the root directory of your site, and it tells the search engine spiders which sections they should go into and which ones they are not allowed in. It is one of the easiest tactics you can use to help ensure your site gets crawled. It’s also one of the most overlooked opportunities.

7. Use a Sitemap.xml file, and keep it up to date
A sitemap file is a source of information for the search engines, like your robots.txt file. It tells them the location of all the sections and pages of your Web site, how important each of those sections are to your site, and most importantly when those sections were last updated.
Most importantly, when you change your content, update your sitemap file!

8. Get rid of duplicate content
It’s easy to use the same content for multiple pages on your site, especially if you’re a retailer and the manufacturer has already provided lots of content for you. However, every time you use the exact same content you are taking a chance that the search engines will throw your site out of their results, thereby negating all of your hard work to get there in the first place.
Take the time to rewrite content for each page, regardless of how similar it may be to another page. Get rid of mirrored sites or completely rewrite these as well. Also, rewrite an article two or three times for use in article marketing or syndication.

9. Create custom error pages
If a visitor accidentally stumbles into a section that does not exist anymore, their browser’s default “Page Not Foundâ€Â? message does not give them a way to get back into the content of your site.
However, it is very easy to set up custom error pages that have the same look and feel as the rest of your site. They will help keep visitors and therefore search engine spiders from reaching a dead end in your site and leaving.

10. Get validated!
First, validate your code for well-formed HTML. The rules of HTML have changed quite significantly over the years, and it is no longer optimal for you or your webmaster to generate messy, broken mark up.Although not a requirement from the search engines, both Google and Yahoo mention it in their guidelines for Webmasters.
Second, validate your entire Web site through Google and Yahoo. This is a simple task that involves uploading a file to your Web site’s root directory or adding information to your meta tags.You can find more information on this process in the search engines’ Webmaster guidelines.
This tip also serves to build a level of trust with the search engines and lets them know that your site is a current and active. This is a major component in determining how often your Web site is visited by the search engines.
The 10 tips presented here are just the beginning of a well-optimized Web site. The depth of a successful natural search optimization strategy is beyond the scope of this article, but we hope this guide will help site owners and Webmasters improve their natural search optimization.

Kristy Crabtree is the owner of Westward Strategy & Design Group in Sparks, and Chris Gandolfo is a marketing and design specialist with the firm. Contact them at (775) 720-3521.

Get Your Free Marketing Wisdom for 2007 Special Report

By | Business Intelligence, Strategic Planning, Tips and Tricks | No Comments

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