Category Archives: Strategic Planning

Marketing Testimonials&References Matter Most

By | Strategic Planning, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized, What Are People Saying | No Comments

How do you convert a business prospect into a believer that what you are selling holds the true value regardless of what your competitors are selling? It boils down testimonials, referrals and real data to back it up.Testimonials are and should be considered true marketing if they are written honestly, with real facts and the ability for new business to contact your references direct if needed. They provide the much-needed ‘proof’ for waivering prospects and can be used to convert more easily if given the ability and access.It’s easy to sell myself and make the promise that I have your businesses best interest in the forefront of my mind but it can be an up hill battle to sing my own praises when I have competitors that might brow beat me simply by price.Inorder to be able to compete in such a saturated and competitive marketplace here are four tips for how I make honest and competitive use of testimonials:1) Westward doesn’t over-edit. Our testimonials work best when they are in real people language. The real written language helps our readers connect which demonstrates that we are an honest company looking out for our clients each and every day.2) Westward uses testimonials that fit. We place appropriate testimonials along with a particular point that we are trying to make and back it up with facts. Call us on it if you want. We’d be happy to deliver the information.3) Westward never fakes it. While testimonials are crucial, we don’t take the risk to fake them. We figured that most people have well-trained ‘this is a crock’ detector and they can smell a fake a mile away. If you would like a list of our references – contact me direct: info@westwardstrategy.com.4) Westward always encourages specifics. Whether a client gives us a testimonial on their own or whether we ask them for one, we do ask our clients to be specific on how Westward helped them. Wouldn’t you want to know exactly what we did as far as specifics for the client rather than a bland – yeah Westward Strategy was great cause they just were!Read ‘real‘ accounts of how Westward Strategy has been an asset to clients by visiting the testimonials page, my Linked in page or any of my local associations: Better Business Bureau, eWomen Network, Sparks Chamber of Commerce or the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce.

Why Do You Blog?

By | Business Intelligence, Natural Search Engine Optimization, seo, Strategic Planning | One Comment

Over the last couple of days I have spent quite a bit of time reviewing business blogs and compiling business blogging recommendations for several of our clients. Because many of our clients are local, a large portion of my time was spent reviewing the local business blog scene (including many of our competitors) and I quickly found that there are really only two types of blogs – cornerstone blogs and self-serving blogs. Cornerstone blogs are educational, useful blogs of quality with real and implied value in their posts. Self-serving blogs are marketing/seo driven blogs with little valuable content for users. Let’s take a look at both types below.

Cornerstone Blogs

For many businesses blogging has become the cornerstone of their web marketing efforts, a way to disseminate information and reach their target demographic/potential client base in a new way. It allows for dialogue with their clients, albeit still in a top down fashion. The business pushes content down and the masses respond. They could respond in many ways including comments, linkbacks or tweets and retweets. Many businesses use it as a test bed for customer service and/or marketing messages, but there is one overriding characteristic of these blogs. They all add value to the company’s brand image by being useful and providing quality information to their users.

At Westward Strategy we strive to add value every single time we post something. Sure, sometimes we post our own business successes, but more often than not we post the successes of our clients over our own successes. We do research and find supporting and/or opposing arguments to the topic we are writing on. We even publish articles that could be useful to anyone looking for search optimization or web design resources. And we do all of it with the readers/users of our site at the forefront of our minds. If you’re shopping around for a web design firm we hope you can use and/or educate yourself a little bit more with our “10 Questions You Should Ask a Prospective Web Design Company“. It does not matter if you choose to contact us about your project or not.

Now I know what you are saying…

“Chris, if a company uses a blog to publish quality content and that in turn garners more market share and value for the company, isn’t that self-serving?”

The answer – sure, in a way. The difference is cornerstone blogs focus on the customer first and the business second.

Self-serving Blogs

The other type of blog is the self-serving blog. The blog that gets added to an existing website and updated maybe once a month with posts that read something like this:

Reno Car Wash has the best reno car washes in Reno. We use only the best car wash soap and reno car wash equipment at Reno Car Wash. You should stop by Reno Car Wash and see our brand new car wash equipment and get a car wash from Reno Car Wash while you’re there!

Or even worse, they look like this with a bazillion links in them:

Reno Car Wash has the best reno car washes in Reno. We use only the best car wash soap and reno car wash equipment at Reno Car Wash. You should stop by Reno Car Wash and see our brand new car wash equipment and get a car wash from Reno Car Wash while you’re there!

Ok, that may be a little exaggerated, but trust me it’s not by much. It should be painfully obvious, like a frying pan to the skull cap, what the difference is between a cornerstone blog and self-serving blog. Sure the self-serving blog will manage to get information to the user that may be of some use, but really is that the way you talk to your customers? Is that the way you should talk to your customers? The answer to both is NO.

Self-serving blogs are like cheap furniture. They may have a nice wood veneer, but one scratch will reveal the shoddy construction and cheap materials underneath that thin cover. At that point it doesn’t matter what you put into the blog, you or your company will be seen in a not-so-friendly light.

So, the question is, why do you blog? Are you adding value for your clients, customers and website users? Are you helping educate them? Are you freely giving information and knowledge? Or are you posting for your own perceived benefit? Are you blogging to dominate the search results? (See SEO Myth: Blogging Means Top Rankings) Are you adding value or just creating white noise?

Why do you blog?

How Westward Strategy Builds Client Trust

By | Client Successes, Portfolio, Search Engine Marketing, seo, Strategic Planning, Web Design, Westward Strategy, What Are People Saying | No Comments

You can advertise in many ways, from web based to print to word of mouth, but how do you actually get customers and build a clientele? How are your marketing strategies working for you? Do you constantly have to followup to get clients?

Here are just some ways that Westward Strategy Builds Client Trust

1: Testimonials
Westward Strategy encourages all prospective clients to call our current and past clients for a testimonial of our work. You can ask questions that we may be impartial to answer. We also feature testimonials on our website and our brochures.

2: Knowledge
We continue to stay educated in all of our online marketing services. We also continue to only work with professional contractors who are proven in their field of expertise.

3: Examples of Our Web Design and Internet Marketing Work
We show all prospects our portfolio and are happy to show examples of our work or situations that we have been in to be sure to put the prospects mind at ease of what we have experienced.

4: Passion
We believe that passion plays a key part in client trust. We love what we do and believe that a client will feel more comfortable working with a business who has fun.

5: Telling the Truth
We always tell a prospective client the truth – maybe to often. If we can’t do the job, we don’t take it. We believe that it’s better to be able to deliver the BEST JOB rather than a subpar job.

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Contact Westward Strategy & Design Group, LLC.
If you are interested in the services we offer, please contact us at (775) 626-8330.

The Questions You Should Ask a Prospective Web Design Agency

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

After having met with several discruntled and frankly over promised and under delivered small businesses, I thought it would be best to re-distribute a helpful post from 2007 that still holds extreme value during these slower economic times: Top 10 Questions You Should Ask a Prospective Web Design Agency.

1 ) How long have you been in business?

Think about what type of company you are comfortable working with before you meet with them. If they give an answer outside of your comfort level tell them immediately. Some businesses don’t mind working with startups or individuals with lesser experience if the price is right. Everyone has to start somewhere, but if this is a risk you are not willing to take just tell the designer upfront.

2 ) Can I see examples of your work?

This is a must have for any designer or web agency. Make sure they have actual websites you can review on your own computer at any time you want. Avoid designers that only show you their work in a PowerPoint presentation or only on their computer.

3 ) Do you have testimonials from other clients?

Good designers and companies will happily provide a list of satisfied clients, both past and present. We even make them publicly available on our website.

4 ) What is the experience level of your team?

While almost every company has a few noobs (pronounced newbies) there should be some senior members on the team. Again, this is a comfort level thing on your part. Don’t get caught up in sales pitches and listen to your instincts here.

5 ) What programming languages and development tools do you use?

Even though you may not care about the answer to this question, it is important information for you to know. At the very least they should be able to hand code html. Other acceptable languages are PHP, ASP, XHTML, CSS, AJAX and javascript.

For development tools look for names such as Adobe or Macromedia (although Adobe now owns Macromedia).

6 ) What is your process for designing and developing a website?

A well outlined plan or process ensures you and your vendor know each other’s respective roles in the design and development of your website. It also will help you gauge their level of experience. Beware of companies that don’t have a plan!

7 ) What is the change process after the website is finished?

At some point your website, no matter how great it is, will need some changes or updates made. Find out what the process is for having these changes made. One way to avoid having to work with your vendor for content updates is to see if they will implement a content management system on your website.

8 ) Do you provide hosting?

Ask very specific questions about where the site will be hosted. If you need to, review our August 2007 post: Protect Your Website and Domain!

9 ) What other service solutions can you provide?

You never know what other services they may be able to provide unless you ask. It is often easier on you and can build a stronger brand identity if one company or designer can handle multiple aspects of your marketing. Ask them about direct marketing, email marketing, and natural search optimization services.

10) Who owns the website in the end?

There is only one acceptable answer here. No matter what, the client owns the website including all graphics and content. The only exception is if your website uses a content management system. Often the CMS is outlined in your contract with the vendor as belonging to the vendor as their intellectual property.

Online Marketing and Economic Downturn Discussions are Hot Again

By | Business Intelligence, Email Marketing, Natural Search Engine Optimization, Pay Per Click Marketing, Search Engine Marketing, Strategic Planning | 5 Comments

We talked about it back in July (with a bit more of a green tint), but the discussion of how beneficial all forms of online marketing can be in an economic downturn has definitely raised its head again. Rand at SEOMoz.org touches on search engine optimization in a downturn in his post today and the latest issue of Search Marketing Standard has an article by Laura Callow asking, Is Search Marketing Recession-Proof?

Rand’s article raises some valid points about the SEO industry. Now that other forms of advertising and sales channels have slipped up a bit due to their high costs or lower ROI, online marketing – including SEO, is taking more of the marketing budget pie in a lot of corporate environments. Internal marketing departments and external marketing agencies are having to prove their worth more, now that budgets are getting stretched and squeezed to their fullest. If a channel isn’t accountable for spending vs. sales then the likelihood that it will survive this downturn is unlikely.

Also, SEO is coming out of the shadows. As myths get debunked and education is expanded to business owners and marketers, true SEO is gaining ground as a viable marketing initiative. Of course there are still gamers, hacks and snake oil salesmen out there and until our industry grows up a lot more and sets some standards the fight will rage on between white hat and black hat SEO.

On the other side of the fence Ms. Callow discusses the benefits of search marketing or PPC advertising. Which is one arena where we have seen tremendous growth in the last several months. Of course a majority of this growth can be attributed to the holiday season, as we handle pay per click advertising for several online retailers. However it is not just retailers looking to leverage this channel over traditional advertising – many of our b2b customers have been asking about it as well. I believe Ms. Callow nails the reasoning for this perfectly in her article.

Often marketers are attracted to PPC advertising due to its inherent benefits such as advanced targeting, accountability and cost effectiveness. With PPC advertising you can start or stop ads at any time, run them only when you know people will be looking for your product or service, target by geographic region (down to the city level) and attract customers using their nomenclature at the exact instance of their interest and query. With advanced web analytics you can track click to conversion metrics to further account for each dollar spent vs. each dollar generated.

There is also a “safe” factor to PPC advertising. Marketers know that they can invest a minimal amount upfront and give it a test run. If they feel it is not working for them they can stop all ads and outgoing costs instantly or they can retool ads and spend more time doing keyword research to find better converting terms. Right now these are especially attractive features.

Don’t Stop at SEO and PPC Advertising

The only thing both of these articles are missing is any mention of other online marketing initiatives, like permission based email marketing. Email marketing is still a tremendous way to market on a very cost effective platform. It literally costs pennies, and in most cases fractions of pennies, to leverage an internal customer or lead list that may be gathering dust and turn it into a powerful customer relationship management channel and sales tool.

So if you are not already involved in online marketing, you better get your move on! You are already losing ground, market share and revenue to your competitors if you are not actively working the online channel. In all market conditions it is a powerful marketing tool, but especially during an economic downturn.

Humboldt County, Nevada – Job Search Website Now Available

By | Client Successes, Portfolio, Strategic Planning, Web Design, Westward Strategy | One Comment

The Humboldt Development Authority has recently launched a new website service to help local businesses find employees. WinnemuccaWorks.com – A free service that lets all local employers create an account and then post job openings.

“We think this new site will be a state-of-the-art platform for getting employer’s and job seekers together. One of the largest challenges we face in growing the local economy has been the difficulty that our businesses have had finding the employees that they need. This new site will potentially allow us to have a global scope in our recruiting efforts. The site will be a resource 24/7, every day of the year, and have a reach that traditional advertising and job fairs simply do not provide.” – HDA Board Chairman Pat Gray

Why Should a Humboldt County-Nevada, Employer Sign-Up and Use the Job Posting Tool – WinnemuccaWorks.Com?

  • It is a free service.
  • It will give an employer the ability to advertise for employees 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year.
  • This method of advertising can reach not only a local audience, but across the entire globe.
  • Should help to attract more tech savy candidates, something every business needs these days in nearly every job position.
  • Postings can be displayed when you want, for just as long as you need them. When not in use they can be archived, then retrieved, updated and reused.
  • Using the most up-to-date search engine optimization technology, WinnemuccaWorks will continue to refine the content and update the site to maximize its rankings on Google, and all the major search engines.
  • This is a case of us all being stronger if we work together. The more content we have, and the more postings that are made, the more powerful and effective the site becomes in attracting workers searching the internet for Nevada jobs.
  • There are many, many job search sites out there, but what will set us apart is that this site will only post jobs for local employers. People looking for jobs in Northern Nevada will find us, and not have to sort though a pile of listings concerning work at home schemes, and jobs that are located elsewhere.

The site was the brain child of the HDA’s Workforce Attraction and Development Committee, and has been designed and created by Westward Strategy of Sparks, Nevada. The funding for WinnemuccaWorks.Com was provided by the Humboldt Development Authority along with a grant from the Nevada Commission on Economic Development.

If you have any question about the site or how to use it, call Bill Sims, Coordinator, Humboldt Development Authority, at (775) 623-1064 or use the “Contact Us” form at www.winnemuccaworks.com

Also featured in the THE HUMBOLDT SUN: July 18-21, 2008
Volume 39, Issue 58. Read the Full Article Local Employment Website Now Avaialble

Humboldt Sun Newspaper

Featured in the Las Vegas Review Journal

SEO Myth: Having a Blog Means Top Rankings

By | Business Intelligence, Natural Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, seo, Strategic Planning, Tips and Tricks | 18 Comments

Webmasters and site owners everywhere are looking for the holy grail of search engine optimization. They’re looking for that one thing they can do to get top rankings in the search engines. They want SEO to be easy. They don’t want to invest in time-consuming link building, article marketing, social media marketing, or website usability improvements. Worst of all they are still under the assumption that one thing will get them to the top of the search engines – blogging.

Enough websites, business periodicals, and newspapers have written about the benefits of business blogging that business owners and marketing managers with little to no experience with internet marketing have latched onto it as the holy grail of search engine optimization. Those in the business of web development and SEO have not helped matters at all. They continue to push the easy sale of business blogging on every client that walks through their door even though some businesses just have no reason to blog. Other businesses simply have no time to blog. Believe me blogging is time consuming as is often the first thing in our office to get neglected when we get outrageously busy. If you don’t have the time to manage your regular website do you think you will have time to blog as well?

Beyond the question of whether or not your business should have a blog lies the fact that blogging is not the holy grail of search engine optimization. There is no holy grail of SEO. There is no one thing you can invest minimal time in to achieve top rankings. It takes a considerable investment of time, either your own or that of an internet marketing consultant, in all of the items mentioned at the beginning of this article – link building, article marketing, social media marketing, website usability improvements, on-page content optimization and more in order to get top rankings for your chosen keywords.

Many web designers tout blogs as automagically having search engine optimized structure and code. This is a flat out fallacy. On-page optimization is dependent upon the SEO knowledge of the developer and/or designer. I have seen plenty of blogs with horrible on-page optimization. Even prepackaged free templates can suffer from under-optimized structure and leaving the blog engine’s default settings in place is virtually always an SEO killjoy. (Even our blog is not as optimized as it could be. Feel free to comment on it.)

Are we completely against business blogging? Of course not!! If we were, would we have a blog? We know that blogging can be a very powerful tool in any business’s online marketing arsenal. It is a great way to communicate directly and openly with your customers and potential customers. Blogs can give clarity as to what you or your product does and they can help greatly with online reputation management and customer service. They can even help garner good rankings for long tail terms and phrases related to your main keyword list, but it is not the only thing you, as a site owner, should be doing to create a powerful online identity. Most importantly, business blogging is not the holy grail of search engine optimization.

Green Marketing in an Economic Downturn

By | Business Intelligence, Email Marketing, Natural Search Engine Optimization, Pay Per Click Marketing, Search Engine Marketing, seo, Strategic Planning | One Comment

Altered BambiEveryone wants to go green. It’s become hip to be environmentally conscience. At the same time we’ve hit very uncertain economic times. Every day we read headlines on record setting gas prices and more housing foreclosures. With things looking so uncertain many businesses are searching for ways to utilize their greenbacks more effectively, but also want to jump on the carbon-free, tree-hugging enviro-bus. So if this describes you, what can you do to accomplish both?

You can shift your marketing dollars away from traditional print and direct marketing to internet marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and PPC advertising. As we say on our solutions page, your website is the core to all your marketing initiatives. It is the only marketing tool that gives you direct, almost real-time, feedback of marketing campaigns. No more guesstimates as to how that direct mail campaign went or how many people even saw your ad in the yellow pages, let alone called you because of it.

With the tracking and analytics capabilities of the internet you know almost instantaneously how well your marketing collateral, ad buys, or email campaign was received. You get real numbers allowing you to understand where you should invest more or curtail other initiatives. If you are not receiving statistical data from your web development company, internet marketing firm, or email marketing agency you should probably seek additional vendor help in those areas.

Now more than ever it is critical to be strategic with your marketing dollars. It’s time you know exactly where your marketing dollars are going and exactly what you are getting for them. Return on your investment (ROI) can be determined almost immediately and there is no guessing. Can you say the same about your last print ad campaign?

Not only can you be more strategic with internet marketing, but you can also claim you’re going green! By not running print ads your business is not using the paper to print the direct mail pieces or using the toxic and environmentally unfriendly inks used in printing those items like postcard mailers or newspaper ads. Some people in the print industry or more traditional graphic design agencies may want to argue the validity of that statement, but stop and think about every aspect of creating and delivering a single direct mail piece. If you compare the total process from creating the ink, making the paper, printing the item and then delivering the item,with the alternative of using electrical energy to keep the ad servers up and running you can see the environmental impact for online marketing is dramatically lower than many other advertising options.

With online marketing, not only can you feel warm and fuzzy inside about doing your part to save the planet, but your wallet will also feel good. Because online marketing does not use those physical, natural resources it does not carry the same high cost as print advertising. When you hire an internet marketing firm you are paying for their time, energy, and effort to create your digital ad. You do not have to pay for the ink company to create the ink or the paper company to create the paper or the printer to print the creative piece – all those items that get built into the cost of doing direct mail. Instead your budget can be put towards what is most important – creating powerful ads that drive real customers to your door! Isn’t that the point of marketing in the first place?!?

When things look to be getting tougher many businesses immediately start to slash and burn their marketing budgets – one of the worst things to do in these times. You don’t want to bury your head in the sand and wait out the storm while your competitors expand their branding and advertising online. Instead you should contact an internet marketing consultant to help you put your marketing dollars to better use.

Westward Strategy: E-marketing Enhances the Bottom Line

By | Business Intelligence, Client Successes, Email Marketing, Portfolio, Strategic Planning, Web Design, Westward Strategy, What Are People Saying | 2 Comments

Sparks Tribune – BUSINESS
Jun 12, 2008
by Jessica Garcia

It’s the axiom of the Internet versus standard paper mailing: Technology has become the predominant source of information. Can two forms of advertising and marketing co-exist?

Kristy Crabtree Westward StrategyThey can – and they should, local businesswoman Kristy Crabtree said.

But making the transition to e-marketing might just give a business the edge it needs to attract new customers as well as retain current ones, she emphasized.

Crabtree’s company, Westward Strategy and Design Group, has been busy the past few months. With the launching of six Web sites for Reno and Sparks businesses, Crabtree spends her time consulting with businesses and showing them how a Web site can enhance their services.

“We try to be a full-service for online (needs),â€Â? said Crabtree, who opened Westward, her first business, two years ago.

Crabtree, along with marketing and design specialist Chris Gandolfo, consult with their clients to understand their advertising objectives and design Web sites to target their desired demographics, increase traffic hits and optimize Internet searches so their companies are found more easily.

Web marketing, Crabtree said, offers businesses som things that traditional methods of advertising doesn’t: the ability to evaluate results and effectiveness.

Westward can report to their clients how effective their sites are through analytics, which is the tracking of information about a Web site’s user: their location, how long they spend on the site and even what they’re interested in by the pages they visit.

Such background information helps Westward and other e-marketing companies determine whether the Web site’s information is effectively helping the company achieve its goals.

“With analytics, you can see an impact has been made to the bottom line,â€Â? Gandolfo said.

E-marketing has potential for businesses of any size. Westward is now focusing on rural clients, such as businesses in Winnemucca, for whom they are now building a site similar to www.monster.com for rural employers and job seekers.

Crabtree said having a site geared specifically on the local level allows these businesses to have more control over what they’re posting.

Westward’s clientele is a variety of businesses in different industries, all with different needs. One of the six companies that recently had their Web sites launched by Westward, ACS Business Insurance Services, Inc., had its former site redone to become more user-friendly, said ACS President Andy Perwein.

“We created more of a user-friendly site that would involve interaction from a quoting perspective,â€Â? Perwein said. “Prospective clients can go in and obtain quotes for themselves and family members on medical and life insurance.â€Â?

It creates easier access for the potential client, who can then call the company to talk to an agent further about their options. Hiring Westward Strategy was a good move for ACS, he said.

“I’ve known Kristy a long time and the e-marketing side of the equation was important to be able to get more traffic driven to our site,â€Â? Perwein said.

Still, ACS will continue using its traditional mailings and print advertising to promote its services, begging the question: Will e-marketing replace traditional means of advertising?

Carol Wenzel of Nevada Presort and Mail Marketing, said she doesn’t think so.

The Sparks-based business that sorts and meters individual and mass mailings hasn’t seen a significant decrease in services due to e-marketing because some people prefer the old-fashioned method of receiving materials in their mailbox, Wenzel said.

“I think people still prefer … to look at a pretty picture of something they might need instead of getting it in their e-mail,â€Â? she said. “I personally delete it (from my e-mail) because I don’t know I need it.â€Â?

Wenzel said if there has been a decrease in advertising mailers, it’s because of the slumping economy, not necessarily because businesses are taking their marketing online.

“You never know from day to day,â€Â? she said. “It goes back and forth.â€Â?

Crabtree said e-marketing is often cheaper than mailing out postcards and purchasing advertisements in local newspapers. She said designing a site, in general, often ranges from $500 to $25,000, depending on how sophisticated and complex the clients’ needs are.

“If it’s a site for an entrepreneur or sole proprietor, it’s cheap for them,â€Â? Crabtree said. “The rest are just bells and whistles.â€Â?

Regardless of price, Crabtree said if companies want greater success at bringing in customers, e-marketing is becoming the way to go. They might do well on traditional means of advertising, but without an online presence, “you’re missing out,â€Â? she said.

More information about Reno Web Design and Marketing
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Photo by: Tribune/Debra Reid – Kristy Crabtree of Westward Strategy and Design Group poses with her photo of balloons at the Sparks Marina during Star Spangled Sparks.

Reviewing SEO & Web Related Topics from the Past

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

Every now and again a day comes along where posts pop up all over the web on topics we’ve covered here on this blog before. Today is one of those days. Below are the new articles and our previous take on the topic. Enjoy!