Well-Designed Websites Add Value to Your Marketing Mix

By Megan Full

Billboards, radio spots, digital campaigns, and print ads are all key components of a strategic marketing plan. They create brand awareness and pique interest among your audience – but where does a great website fit into the mix?

A well-designed website can be a valuable stand-alone marketing tool and serve as a solid foundation for designing your overall marketing strategy – but how? What value does a well-designed site really add to your business?

It Serves as a Central Marketing Hub

The price tags attached to custom-built sites often deter business owners from taking the plunge. Yet when you view your website as a central hub for your marketing and selling efforts, a functional, user-friendly site starts looking like a wise investment.

Consider the mediums in your marketing mix. Whether digital or traditional, all of them likely have a call-to-action – often encouraging audiences to “learn more” by visiting your website.

Even without an explicit call to action, the very FIRST thing an interested customer is likely to do is find you online. You don’t want a potential customer stumbling onto your site and passing judgment based on the homepage – which leads me to benefit number 2.

It Enhances Your Credibility

An astounding 93% of business purchase decisions begin with an internet search. Your website is likely the initial point of interaction a consumer will have with your business – and your one chance to make a positive first impression.

A well-designed website has the power to solidify your brand and build trust in the eyes of your consumers. Not convinced? In a 2011 study where participants were asked to provide their initial impressions of health websites, 94% of the factors related to “mistrust” of a website were related to design.

You Have Greater Online Visibility

Needless to say, without a website, you’re missing out on a ton of new business altogether. But believe it or not, the quality of your website also impacts online visibility.

Proper use of HTML tags and titles, well-written content, a succinct sitemap, and dynamic webpages all affect how Google’s bots crawl and rank your website – and ultimately determine where you appear on search engine results pages.

The Importance of Branding

by Megan Full

What is “branding”?

“Branding” is a buzzword in the marketing world – but what exactly is it? The easiest way to describe a company’s “brand” is with a simple analogy:

Branding is to a business what reputation is to an individual.

Piece of cake, right?

Unfortunately, defining a company’s brand takes more than designing a memorable logo or drafting a tagline. To establish an enduring brand identity, be prepared to carve out a substantial amount of time researching and questioning your customers and employees to truly understand what defines your company.

What makes a great brand?

A company’s “brand” is a collection of the thoughts and emotions that come to someone’s mind when they see your logo or hear your slogan.

Think Apple – the word innovation comes to mind immediately. What about Disney? They’re known as “The Happiest Place on Earth.”  It’s no surprise that both companies landed spots on Forbes’ list of the world’s most valuable brands – but what makes them so great?

What comes to mind when you think Disney?

A great brand is one that is broadly-known, highly-respected and stands the test of time. Meanwhile, a poor brand is one that’s little-known, not respected or doesn’t have any lasting value.

How do you begin to define your brand?

Deciding on a company brand can be a daunting task. Your reputation has the ability to make or break your business – so how can you possibly land on one idea that completely defines your organization?

Start by digging out a pen and paper for a brainstorming session and ask yourself questions like:

  • Why do people choose us over some other product or provider?
  • What characteristics make us stand out? What do we want to be known for?
  • What is unique about our customers? How do our products or services compare to competitors’?

The Ancient Greeks were onto something with the aphorism “know thyself”: only after you’ve determined your meaningful differentiators can you begin communicating your brand identity.

The Importance of Your Company’s Brand

People gravitate towards companies they perceive as being high in quality and character. A great brand acts like a magnet for attracting customers and creates a lasting emotional connection with your audience. Brands have the power to encourage customer loyalty and attract the employees committed to carrying out the essence of your brand each and every day.

When embarking on a brand strategy, aim for a brand that is malleable enough to evolve with society, yet reliable enough to maintain your unique identity. As they say, perception is reality – before settling on a brand identity, do your research and be honest with yourself to make sure it leads to the perception you intended.

Native Advertising

by Megan Full

Native Advertising: Baking Ads into Content Cookies

Native AdvertisingA few months ago, British comedian John Oliver regaled his audience with his personal take on native advertising:

“Ads are baked into content like chocolate chips into a cookie… except it’s actually more like raisins into a cookie, because no one wants them there.”

 

I took the artistic liberty of cleaning up Oliver’s language, but his colorful simile offers a great explanation of native advertising.

Native advertising aims to assimilate an advertisement into a website’s content, layout, format, and design so well that it appears to be native to that website- and it’s all the rage in content marketing.

Native and Display Advertising

Display advertising is a cash cow for websites and when implemented correctly, can effectively drive traffic to your website. In fact, a recent study conducted by Edelman and IAB concluded that an overwhelming 86% of consumers find online advertising necessary to receive free content online.

Despite the overall acceptance of digital advertising, the study also found that 60% of consumers are more receptive to online ads that tell a story, a finding that corresponds perfectly with one of the key principles behind content marketing: consumers crave relevant, interesting content.

Native advertising allows marketers to provide that quality content in a non-disruptive fashion – but how do you know what’s native and what’s not?

Blurred Lines: Editorials, News, and Advertisements

Native ads typically appear on news, business, or entertainment sites formatted as articles or widgets – think Buzzfeed’s enticing “10 Things You Need to Know” headlines promoted by big-name brands.

Oftentimes, the only thing distinguishing native content from non-native content is a small disclaimer informing you it’s sponsored by another company. By presenting advertisements in a format consistent with a website’s design and content, advertisers are essentially “disguising” their advertisements.

Critics of native advertising claim that native ads mislead consumers by blurring the lines between news, editorials, and advertisements; but studies show that native ads are typically well received and easily distinguishable as “sponsored content”.

Types of Native Advertising

Native ads come in countless forms; in-feed ads, recommendation widgets, and promoted listings are all forms of native advertising. Websites are legally obligated to distinguish native ads from their own content and they will always be coupled with commonly used disclosure terms such as:

  • “Promoted”, “Sponsored”, or “Presented” by
  • “Suggested Post”
  • “Featured Partner”
  • “Recommended by” or “Recommended from around the web”
  • “You might also like”

Going Native

If you choose to integrate native advertising into your marketing strategy, it’s important to remember that consumers are more likely to trust advertisements that:

  • Appear on trustworthy sites
  • Are sponsored by trusted companies
  • Fit naturally into the form and function of a website
  • Tell them a story in a non-intrusive way

As with all forms of advertising, effective native ads require a thorough understanding of your target audience and their preferences as consumers. Before launching into the world of native, make sure to have a strategy: you don’t want to be known as the advertiser serving your customers raisins when they’re expecting chocolate chips.

Motion Graphics & Animation

by Edward Sargeant

Where can motion graphics and animation be used, and what are the benefits to my business?

Many people think the idea of motion graphics and animation belongs either in Hollywood movies or the latest video games. The truth is, animated content is everywhere these days. Not only this, it’s also becoming the norm, and something we expect to see. With so much information vying for our attention, animation is a great way to catch your viewer’s eye and have them engage with your content.

So where might we see animation and motion graphics being applied in our day-to-day lives? We see this content in commercials, as a great way to bring branding to life and breathe interest into the messaging. Web technologies are rapidly expanding, meaning that both 2D and 3D visualization are frequently a part of websites, helping to engage the user and keep them coming back. We see animation used in the training of all ages, from employee processes and procedures, medical simulations, construction and even educational games for children. Consider demonstrating your latest product in a fully interactive 3D world, where users can preview, engage and even test the product in a virtual environment.

So what are the benefits to this approach? Motion graphics and animation allow us to bring content to life that may otherwise be ignored. Animation applies to users of all ages and can be tailored to suit. It allows us to display content that may otherwise be impossible to demonstrate and even helps to simplify information by breaking it down into bite-size pieces. Additionally, the tools and procedures for this type of work are becoming increasingly cost effective.

Avoid having your audience decipher your message and instead, show them what you mean. Stand out and bring your identity to life.

Businesses Using Internet Remarketing and Consumer Privacy Concerns

If you’ve ever used Google or another search engine to browse the web for a product or simply to satisfy your curiosity about a question, you’ve probably noticed advertisements related to your past search queries popping up on seemingly unrelated websites. Concerns about internet privacy run rampant in today’s society and it can be alarming to see ads persistently follow you around the internet long after you’ve left a website. The thought of being “tracked” can be unsettling for those concerned about privacy issues. As you peruse the web, you may be asking yourself questions like:

  • How much information do these websites really have about me?
  • Is my personal and financial information in jeopardy?

Fortunately, internet users shouldn’t be concerned about personal or financial information being threatened. The practice of showing recurring ads to consumers is an internet marketing practice businesses use to increase sales known as remarketing or retargeting.

What is the purpose of remarketing?

Remarketing uses information collected by a company’s Google or other advertising account to present relevant advertisements on a collection of websites that partner with search engines called The Display Network.  Businesses use remarketing advertisements to:

  • Remind customers about their past interest in a product
  • Keep products or services at the forefront of a customer’s mind as they browse the internet
  • Encourage customers to return to a previously visited website and complete a purchase
  • Suggest additional products or services that may interest customers

Amazon, for example, uses remarketing to advertise to shoppers who have “abandoned” their shopping carts. Oftentimes shoppers will place items in their virtual shopping cart and leave Amazon’s website before completing a purchase.  To prompt customers to return, Amazon uses remarketing strategies to display advertisements that remind customers about forgotten products. Below is an infographic from Legal Remarketer that explains the business value of remarketing campaigns.

Remarketing

How do businesses collect remarketing information?

Companies collect browsing information that can be employed in remarketing campaigns targeting previous website visitors by placing a small piece of code on their webpages. This information is stored in the form of a “cookie” on a user’s browser. These cookies or small files of information do not include personal data, but rather information about browsing history on a particular website. This information is stored in a string of encrypted alphanumeric characters that businesses can access and use to determine what pages you visited on their website, not to steal and misuse personal information.

Remarketing and Consumer Privacy Concerns

Businesses that chose to collect browsing information for the purpose of remarketing must include information in their privacy policy that informs users about:

  • How they plan to remarket
  • How they use cookies to advertise
  • How users may change privacy settings to opt out of Google or another search engine’s use of cookies

While malicious cookies do exist, websites that utilize cookies to employ a remarketing strategy are not looking to take advantage of the customers that make their very business possible- they’re just hoping to make a buck.

What’s the Word? The Importance of Keyword Research

With a reported 1,025,109 known words in the English language, trying to find the right thing to say and the right way to say it can be quite the challenge. Keyword research is the first and most crucial step in developing high quality on-page content. Keyword research can help you to streamline and cater your written content in a way that reaches and resonates with your customers and allows you to place higher on search engine results pages.

Why is keyword research important?

  • Allows you to discover which words are frequently picked up by search engine algorithms
  • Enables you to enhance your customer’s experience by creating appealing written content
  • Helps you effectively speak your customer’s language as they peruse your site

Where do I begin my research?

The web is full of keyword research tools that provide statistics for the search volumes of keywords and related phrases based on a specific industry as well as generate new ideas for related keywords. Employing these resources such as Google Adwords or SpyFu provide valuable insight into answering the following questions:

  • What are customers looking for?
  • What keywords are customers most likely to use in search queries?
  • What words or phrases are the most effective at producing results that include your webpage?
  • What keywords are your competitors employing?

Keyword Research

The first step in beginning your research is to create a seed list, or a long list of one to two word phrases you THINK describe your website’s product or service.

Once you have this list generated, you can employ the tools provided by Google Adwords or another research tool to expand and build on your list.

Using Keywords in on-page optimization

Incorporating high-quality keywords into your website creates credibility in the eyes of Google’s Googlebots and allows webpage users to easily identify relevant information. Believe it or not, Googlebots don’t just take into account what words comprise page-content, but also how content is presented and organized.

No matter how effectively they employ keywords, long paragraphs of text rarely impress website viewers or Googlebots. People rarely read site content word for word and instead quickly scan the page searching for keywords that point out relevant information.

To help speed up this process for your users, your website should employ keyword rich features that promote content organization and website hierarchy such as:

  • Headers
  • Headlines
  • Subheadings
  • Navigation menus
  • Succinct Paragraphs

How NOT to use keywords for on-page optimization

In the past, websites would flood their pages with keywords in an attempt to increase search engine rankings. Google soon caught on to these sneaky tactics that comprised what is known as Black Hat SEO and now discount the credibility of webpages that suspiciously repeat the same word multiple times.  To maximize the incorporation of keywords into your webpage focus on the quality of your content and webpage structure by incorporating keywords for the benefit of your customers instead of trying to outsmart the Googlebots: they will always be two steps ahead of you.

Helpful Resources

Choosing the words that are most effective in capturing and retaining the attention of your customers can be a difficult task. Keyword research will ensure that your content is targeting the right market and engaging customers with your product. To generate new keyword ideas, try checking out these FREE keyword research tools.

WordStream
KeywordSpy

Search Engine Optimization 101

What is it?

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a collection of tactics and strategies that when used correctly, can help your website rank closer to the top of search engine results.

Why should I do it?

According to a 2013 study conducted by Chitika, an online advertising network located in Massachusetts, a webpage ranked number 1 on a Google results page receives a whopping 32.5% of total traffic;  the webpage ranked 2nd receives a respectable average of 17.6%. As would be expected, the percentage of traffic decreases the further down the results list a webpage appears: a page ranked number 11 on the elusive “page 2” of Google’s search results receives a measly 1% of all traffic.

Ranking high on a list of Search Engine results generally leads to increased webpage traffic, higher conversion rates, and an expanded pool of potential clients, all of which translate to more business for your company.

How do search engines work?

GooglebotIn order to provide “Googlers” with the most relevant information, Google uses a complex set of algorithms in order determine a website’s rightful standing in search engine results. These algorithms are calculated using information collected by their “Googlebots”, which continuously “crawl” the web searching for website features that indicate high quality information that best relates to a user’s search query.

How do I Optimize?

The terms “algorithm” and “optimization” conjure thoughts of complex calculations and formulas replete with symbols and letters that are better left out of the number system: simply hearing these words can ricochet you back to the dreadful days of college calculus. While the methods for determining search rankings are mathematically complex, optimizing your website’s search rankings is feasible for any business and doesn’t require in-depth knowledge of mathematics.

Thorough keyword research and on-page optimization are just two basic but powerful strategies for optimization and are crucial starting points for any webpage delving into the world of SEO. In the coming months, MABU will be exploring the finer details of these two strategies and how they work together to produce high quality content.

The Number One Rule of SEO

People using search engines are hoping to discover information that meets a need or answers a question; it is Google’s job to explore the web and suggest possible resources for finding that information

While Search Engine Optimization is a key principle to keep in mind while designing your website, your page’s content should ultimately be designed for the purpose of satisfying your customers, not to appear first on Google’s search results. Search engine optimization simply helps provide Google with the tools necessary to suggest your page’s content based on a user query; it is your job to deliver on that suggestion.

Webpage Design Trends in 2014

For the average consumer, the concepts of using a phone book to find contact information or a catalog to place a product order have long disappeared: websites have become the go-to place for information and allow companies to maintain leverage in today’s business world. Businesses that fail to harness the marketing power of a superbly designed, aesthetically pleasing, and up-to-date webpage are placing themselves at a huge disadvantage in today’s cut-throat market. The world of webpage design experiences notable trends from year to year and in order to maintain a competitive advantage, businesses must be in the know about “what’s hot” in the world of web design.

For 2014, be on the lookout for:

  1. Simplistic layouts and color schemes
  2. “Flat design” to portray graphics
  3. Responsive webpages

Less is more: The Value of Simplicity

Simplistic color schemes and basic but functional layouts have taken center stage in web design. With so much information floating around on the internet, keeping things simple help individuals weed out stylistic clutter and access important information. In addition to flat design, a major player in today’s simplicity trend, websites are using features such as slide out menus and minimal text with a greater focus on images to keep things short, sweet, and succinct.

Flat Design vs. Skeuomorphism

Flat DesignThe concept of “flat design”, a minimalistic way to portray graphics, has recently gained popularity and directly contrasts the design style of “skeuomorphism”. Skeuomorphism aims to bring ordinary objects to life through the use of shadowing and 3-D techniques while flat design takes a more symbolic approach by representing graphical objects simplistically.  The differences between the two design approaches are easily observable in comparing the look of Apple’s iOS6 and iOS7 software. iOS7, which was released in September 2013, uses flat design to portray Apple icons functionally and honestly as opposed to ios6, whose skeuomorphic design portrayed graphics realistically and ornately.

Responsive Web Development: A focus on mobile

In today’s fast-paced world, people have the capability to access the internet from phones, tablets, or other portable devices: webpages can no longer be designed with the assumption that they will be accessed from a full-sized computer, which led to the concept of responsive web development. This concept evolved out of necessity; webpage content that is of appropriate size and specificity for a desktop may not function well with a cell phone. Responsive web development remedies this problem by automatically detecting the method through which you are accessing a webpage and adjusting text size, font, color, or content accordingly to best complement your device.

Designing a web page that is both appealing to the eye and provides viewers with readily accessible and pertinent information is no easy feat. While the design of your webpage is a personal preference, you may find it advantageous to employ some of the key trends in webpage design for 2014 that focus on simplicity and functionality. We live in a society that thrives on instant gratification. Having a webpage that distracts customers with flashy colors, ornate embellishments, and paragraphs of texts may cause you to lose viewers, or worse: go the way of the phonebook and catalog.

4 Ways to Amp Up Your Marketing in 2014

2014New year, new beginnings, renewed intentions. Sound familiar? This year, make a resolution that will give you a bigger bang for your buck. Streamline your digital marketing efforts and make this the year that you reach your organizational goals.

1. Dig into the data. Nearly everyone sees the benefits of Google Analytics and digital marketing data, but more hits and “likes” doesn’t necessarily translate to more customers. If you are seeing your digital data numbers grow but they aren’t translating into sales growth, it’s time to get a plan, set goals and measure your marketing effectiveness. Make sure your digital marketing efforts are tied to your overall marketing goals.

2. Hone in. Who is your target market? If you answered “Men and women ages 25-54”, then you need to tighten your marketing scope. Know who your primary customer is, which may include age, gender, geography, education level, income bracket, hobbies, if they have children/pets/snowmobiles/lake cabins, you name it. A tight definition of your target market (and secondary market) will help you hone in your marketing strategy.

3. Get visual. Do you have professional-grade images of your business, your staff, your product or service? What about a video that tells everything your prospective customer needs to know about you a minute or less? Consumers respond strongly to digital imagery – make sure you are using photography and video to your advantage.

4. Be responsive. Does your website respond appropriately to mobile devices? To check, if you are on a desktop, pull in the corner of your browser to a smaller screen. Does the content placement shift around? That’s a responsive site. Go ahead, try it on this screen – this blog site is built responsively, so you can see how the content layout changes for different screen sizes. Mobile is quickly outpacing desktop usage – make sure your customers have a positive experience on your website when using smartphones and tablets.

A MA-BOO Halloween

The MA-BOO crew came up with another round of great, creative costumes this year. We welcomed a scarecrow, a huntress, a Ninja Turtle, the Sesame “Streets” duo, Laser Cat, Despicable Me minion, Chiquita Banana, Miss Demeanor, and Kaylee Frye (Firefly‘s mechanic). We had a wonderful potluck lunch and some great laughs for the photo shoot.

Be sure to stop by our Facebook page and vote for your favorite costume by tomorrow at noon. A prize (or at least year long bragging rights) will be bestowed to the winner!

Remember the MABU Halloween costumes of the past? Check out 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009

Now as always, enjoy a few more photos from the day.