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Marketing Stat of the Month

Marketing Stat of the Month

Marketing Stat of the Month: Blogs vs. Ads

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Did you know 70% of consumers learn about a company through their blog rather than ads
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Marketing Stat of the Month: Paid Search Results vs. Organic Search (SEO) Listings

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Did you know 70-80% of people ignore paid search results, skipping past them to the organic search listings? What are the implications for your SEO and digital strategy?
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7 Ways to Drive Results With Your Website, Print, and Email Marketing [Lunch & Learn]

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Join Delivra, The Jackson Group and Marketpath on Tuesday, June 20th for lunch, networking, and an opportunity to review best practices to increase your client engagement utilizing your website, print and email marketing campaigns.
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Children's TherAplay #HorsePower500 Supports Kids with Special Needs

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We had the privilege to attend the event and see IndyCar drivers face off (with their TherAplay Kiddo partners) in an adaptive tricycle race to raise funds and awareness for equine-assisted physical and occupational therapies at Children's TherAplay. Thanks to all the drivers that came out to support such a wonderful cause and thanks to TherAplay for all you do. And keep an eye out for the new Children’s TherAplay Foundation website, which will launch in the next few months!
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Top Blog Posts of 2016

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As the end of 2016 approaches, we’re looking back at some of our most memorable, interesting, and useful blog posts related to web design and development, SEO, social and content marketing. The following is a list of our top 11 most popular articles of the past year from our Digital Marketing Insights blog.
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10 Rules to Increase Engagement with Website and Email Marketing [Webinar]

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Are you looking for ways to increase engagement with your website or email marketing? Register for our webinar on October 18.
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Why You Need a Mobile Website - 7 Surprising Statistics (Infographic)

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In April of 2015, Google announced that it would use mobile friendly sites as a ranking signal. It labeled sites as “mobile-friendly”. This pushed nearly 85% of all websites to a responsive design. View our 7 surprising statistics. Infographic included.
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How To Use Google Analytics: The Basics

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Google Analytics is a powerful tool in helping you understand what people are accessing on your website. It can help drive the content and strategy for your website and overall marketing when you know exactly what the consumer wants. It can also point out flaws in a website if you notice users are never getting to the destination you want: conversion. But how the heck do you even access that data??
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Five Lazy Social Media Habits and Ways to Avoid Them

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Most small companies do not have a dedicated social media manager. Employees typically have other responsibilities than posting to their company’s social media sites. When taking on a social media role, you quickly realize how easy it is to run out of new and refreshing content so you fall into lazy habits.
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Why Blog? Statistics Show the Benefits

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Debating whether blogging makes sense for your business? Read the stats. Many show why blogging is one of the most effective content marketing strategies in use today.
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Best Practices for Effective Content Marketing

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Most marketers agree that content marketing is very difficult to do well, especially for small businesses with limited people and resources. To help I’ve put together a list of guidelines or best practices for effective content marketing.
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The Ultimate Driver in Traffic: Search Engine Optimization

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Search Engine Optimization is constantly evolving. It is critical to stay on top of trends and the latest algorithm updates. One way to stay informed is to track key statistics and learn from them.
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A Simplified Explanation of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

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Many business owners aren’t marketing experts, so they often only have a basic understanding of website optimization. When talking with them, I often try to give a quick overview of what SEO is and some of the main factors that can positively impact search results.
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The Habits of User Experience

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A simple mistake with a flashing yellow turn signal results in insights into how habit plays a substantial role in website user experience.
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Anatomy of a Web Request

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When you click on a link or type a website address into your browser's address field the invisible gears of the Internet get to work. When everything is working hunky dunky you probably give little thought to how it all works. But if you're like most people you become lost and helpless when a single piece of this massive orchestration fails. My goal is to help clear that up for you, at least a bit.
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Proprietary vs. Open Source CMS: Part 3 of 3

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Like open-source, there are many different proprietary CMS software, but the key factor is being comfortable with the company behind them. They must have the expertise to not only keep your website running, but be able to invest in the continual improvement of their product.
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Proprietary vs. Open Source CMS: Part 2 of 3

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In the previous article, I laid out for you what open source CMS and proprietary CMS software is. In this article, we'll get further in depth into open source CMS detailing the benefits and drawbacks of the system. 
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Proprietary vs. Open Source CMS: Part 1 of 3

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There are hundreds of content management platforms available divided into proprietary and open sourced software. So the question arises, what do you choose? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each so you can decide what is best for your business.
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CIO Review Names Marketpath CMS one of Top Content Management Systems

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Marketpath is honored to have Marketpath CMS named as one of the industry’s Top Web Content Management Systems by CIOReview Magazine. Last month, CIO Review selected Marketpath as one of their 20 Most Promising Web Content Management Solution Providers.
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2016 Digital Marketing Checklist

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As you’re finally getting over your holiday hangover and becoming excited about a successful and prosperous 2016, it's a good time to take a step back and make sure you have all of our ducks in a row regarding our organization's digital marketing plans and strategy.
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Images for the Web 101

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, you want to be displaying the sharpest, cleanest and best images to represent your business on your website. Graphics can transform an otherwise bland site into a striking and powerful communication channel for your brand. 
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Responsive Web Design & Social Marketing Elevate Indianapolis Cleaning Business

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Accent Maid Service is a professional cleaning service that has been around since 1982.  They offer home cleaning, condo and apartment cleaning, corporate housing cleaning, and commercial office cleaning. With a small team, Accent Maid creates a more personalized cleaning experience for the customer.  Accent Maid uses the best products including eco-friendly and green products. 
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Minimum Viable Website Marketing for a Small Business

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Small businesses have an especially difficult time providing their products and services while simultaneously marketing them. Day to day fires and calls to arms pull you away from important promotional activities that are the fuel for future business opportunities. 
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5 Blog Ideas to Kick off August

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Kids are going back to school and family vacations (or "trips" as  my wife refers to them) are coming to an end. Maybe the content ideas have flowed freely for you this summer, but like many, I seem to step away from the mode of being a creative writer for my day job. It's not until the school year calendar kicks in that I tend to get back on track. And that's when the writer's block really begins to kick in.
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Why Your Business Should Select Marketpath CMS for Web Content Management & Marketing

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Is your website successful? Does your site support your brand, drive business growth, and bring in sales Marketpath (Indianapolis Web Design, Development & Content Management)leads? If not, it’s time to consider upgrading your business website. In the age of technology an informative, appealing, and accessible website has a direct correlation to business growth and credibility.

Marketpath CMS is the web content management and content marketing solution that can convert your website from a static billboard into a valuable marketing tool that can drive business growth. Here are just a few of the reasons why your business should choose Marketpath CMS:

Great Tool Set-

Marketpath CMS provides the perfect toolset to manage your website updates and content marketing. Our software gives your business a stress-free way to manage and update your site even for non-technical people. All updates and additions to the site happen in one place, via the web! Whether one is updating text copy, adding images or videos to a gallery, or creating calendar events, Marketpath CMS does it all! Businesses have the ability to create event registration pages, to build surveys and web forms via our form builder, to work with SEO tools, to create and publish blogs, and more. With Marketpath CMS’s breadth of tools and ease, it makes confusing and tricky website marketing effortless!

Support-

Selecting Marketpath CMS means you’ve chosen one of the easiest and highest rated content management systems available today – one that is currently used by hundreds of other large and small businesses. But that’s not all; you’ll all receive the constant support of the Marketpath team. With your Marketpath CMS subscription, you’ll receive unlimited support for all your website and content management needs. You can call or email at any time and we’ll be eager to help with any questions or needs. Need help uploading a case study or document for the first time? We can walk you through it. Forgot how to add a video? We’ll help you out. But it isn’t only technical support Marketpath can provide. We’re also available to provide marketing assistance and guidance when desired. Need advice on creating a landing page or on how to optimize a new page for search? Just ask and we’ll gladly provide marketing advice. For many small businesses, with limited technical or marketing resources, Marketpath can be a valuable partner that supports your internal team. One of our strengths is our availability and dedication to our customers.

Website Monitoring and Hosting-

In addition to our support, Marketpath meets all your website monitoring and hosting needs. We track your site to make sure it is up and running and our alerted if any issues arise. We also monitor your website to ensure it is always working at an acceptable speed, so that your users have a positive experience. As a small business it can be difficult to have enough technical resources that have both the time and experience to handle your growing website needs. When you work with Marketpath, you won’t need any internal technical support - Marketpath manages it all.

Automatic Upgrades-

With Marketpath CMS your business doesn’t have to worry about keeping up with the latest technology trends and changes. We’ll add new functionality (new tools, enhancements, etc.) at least every quarter to your software. Your website will never get outdated technically because the Marketpath team works with evolving technology, constantly building it into our software, to improve your digital marketing capabilities. Any new functionalities or technology are automatically made available to your company, so you won’t have to worry about it. That's the benefit of Marketpath CMS's Software as a Servive (SaaS) or On-Demand platform.

Indianapolis Web & Digital Marketing Services (Marketpath,Inc.)Web/Digital Marketing Services-

Marketpath not only gives you a great software toolset and support, but also becomes your partner and expert in digital marketing strategy. Regardless of your online marketing needs, Marketpath is there to work with you. With expertise in web design (including responsive websites) and website development, content marketing, site optimization (SEO), and social marketing, the Marketpath team is there to give your business the online presence it needs.

Let us know how we can help your business or non profit or see how we helped other organizations like yours by visiting our website case studies or website projects sections.

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The Elusive Reality of Effective Website Marketing

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Improving website visibility requires more than a nice looking website. Most small businesses fail at driving traffic to their site and here's why.
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The Peters Group Re-Brands and Launches New Responsive Website

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The Peters Group, formerly known as Affordable Sprinklers LLC, launched a new website this week, to support their company rebranding and digital marketing initiatives.

The Peters Group Selects Marketpath for Web Design and Web Content ManagementA locally owned family business that has been active in Indianapolis for over 10 years, The Peters Group is a leader in Indianapolis irrigation and lawn care, landscaping, and outdoor lighting services. Chris Peters, the founder and president of The Peters Group, feels that the new site is a dramatic improvement over the company’s previous website and that it does a much better job communicating the organization’s strengths and capabilities  - to create and maintain beautiful and livable yards, lawns and outdoor living areas.

“I give Marketpath an A+ grade on their web design, development and marketing work. They helped to re-brand our company and also helped is develop an ongoing content marketing plan to showcase our leadership and expertise in irrigation and lawn care, landscaping, and outdoor lighting.”

The new site, designed and developed by Marketpath, Inc. is structured around The Peter’s Groups’ main service offerings:

Indianapolis Responsive Website Design (by Marketpath)The new site also features The Perfect Lawn Blog, which will provide home owners with tips and insight into lawn care, eco-friendly best practices, and ideas to help families get the most out of their yards and outdoor living spaces. The site was also developed with search optimization (SEO) in mind, so that The Peters Group receives greater visibility within Central Indiana for their irrigation, landscaping and outdoor lighting services. The new site was developed using a responsive (mobile-friendly) design framework, so that mobile users (phone, tablet, etc.) will have the best possible experience when viewing the site and interacting with the new Peters Group brand.

Finally, Marketpath worked closely with The Peters Group team to develop an ongoing content marketing strategy focused creating credibility for the organization and greater online visibility. The content plan leverages the new The Perfect Lawn Blog to highlight the company’s expertise, while also leveraging both written and visual content through multiple project galleries that feature imagery from Indianapolis area homes. Content syndication via new social channels (Facebook, Twitter) are also part of the plan. And because Marketpath CMS (website content management) is very easy to use, ongoing site updates and content marketing should be easy to accomplish for The Peters Group’s small internal staff.

Learn More

To learn more about The Peters Group, visit their new site at www.thepetersgroupllc.com and to learn more about Marketpath, visit www.marketpath.com. If you'd like to view additional responsive web designs and sites, visit our Mobile Website Project Gallery.

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To App or Not to App? That is the Question.

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I seem to have this conversation often. While meeting with clients and prospects to discuss their websites and general Internet marketing strategies they lean in and say with some degree of certainty, "we also need an app." My response, 9 times out of 10, is "no, you don't." Here's why:

Apps are expensive. Utilized primarily for the marketing and promotion of your products or services, an app will not yield a very good return on your investment. An app must be built for multiple platforms (iOS and Droid at the very least), requires developers who are currently very expensive and in demand, and then will require maintenance for bug fixes and operating system changes.

Apps are clunky. A user not only has to make a conscious effort to find and then install your app, they also have to make a conscious effort to open it. You might be able to lead users to the app store by providing a friendly link on your website but that still requires effort. Most people won't take those steps. I already have too many apps installed by my kids, like Math Puppy, Castle Doombad, and Celebrity Pimple (don't ask). I don't want more apps I don't plan to use frequently. The other issue is that you also probably don't provide enough regular content to hold users interest and keep them coming back for more. If you don't provide the content and it takes extra steps to open the app, it likely ain't gonna work.

With that said, however, there are many occasions where building a custom app could be very beneficial. Here are some examples:

Lots of great, engaging content. If you do provide a great deal of content through your website (i.e. blogs, news, white papers, etc) then you could benefit from an app. You'll need solid readership for this, though. If you don't already have a core group of followers who read and share your content, then build that first and then reevaluate your need for a custom app later. If you do, apps can be a great tool that your core users will have with them at the tap of a finger. You can push alerts for new posts and events, provide more integrated sharing methods (email, SMS/texting, facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc), and take advantage of some of the other built-in capabilities, like photos, videos, and GPS. 

Some examples of content oriented apps include Smashing Magazine, Marketing Profs, and our friends over at the Marketing Tech Blog.

Integration with existing applications. Let's say you're a manufacturing company or a retail operation, your app could allow users to place orders, virtually assemble and preview products, login to their existing accounts, or interact with your company's data in any number of ways. This reason alone is primarily why companies build apps. Integration with existing databases and applications provides a convenient and easy mechanism to conduct business with you and gives you a big advantage over rivals.

Some examples of apps that integrate with existing services: Amazon, LinkedIn, Chase, Google Drive, and realtor.com.

There are many considerations when deciding if you need an app but I can narrow it down to two:

  1. Will it help you sell a lot more widgets or land new accounts? If the answer is no, easy peasy. No more questions. If the answer is yes then the follow-up question is:
     
  2. How much are you willing to invest to make this happen and what is your minimum anticipated return? That's where a feasibility study comes into play and is beyond the scope of this post. But simply ballparking it would suffice.

If you can't justify an app, perhaps you should convert your site to a responsive/mobile website. This will improve the overall user experience for everyone who reaches you on a handheld device or tablet and is a great way to push off the need (or perceived need) for an app.

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Was Net Neutrality a Loss for the American Public?

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Will net neutrality block the InternetYesterday the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC's net neutrality rule. There are many pundits who are claiming this is the end of free expression over the Internet and the beginning of content censorship. With this ruling Internet providers now have the legal authority to block, slow down or speed up any content they want that is delivered over their networks. Imagine MSNBC paying Comcast and AT&T to speed up and prioritize the delivery of their content so that a rival like Fox News gets relegated to a slower speed or blocked entirely. Or perhaps Verizon went to Google and Facebook and demanded fees to allow their broadband subscribers access. Why not? Direct TV just did it with The Weather Channel. Comcast dropped the Big Ten Network several years back and I could no longer watch Hoosier basketball. It was a travesty!

This is not a fair comparison, though. Cable companies broker deals with networks to provide what they feel is the content their subscribers want. And cable companies pay those networks for access. In the case of the Internet, broadband providers don't pay websites for their content. They only pay to plug into the bigger global network and they get paid by their subscribers for access to that network.

What this Means

With the net neutrality rule struck down, broadband providers have a case to regulate the content delivered on their private networks and if they do, they have to tell their customers what they are blocking or regulating. In my mind, I feel this is fair. They own the physical network and equipment that connects people to the larger Internet. It is not a publicly funded infrastructure. 

They have already done this before, too. Several companies still block access to SMTP port 25 (SMTP stands for Simple Mail Transport Protocol). This is the standard port (or channel) through which email is sent. They did this because home users were getting infected with viruses that would scan their computers and consequently send email via port 25 to everyone on their contact list or use their computer as a make-shift email server to spam others. Most email users send email securely through other ports now, so this doesn't matter as much, but broadband providers were getting hammered with unauthorized virus-related traffic which affected everyone's Internet experience. So they shut it down.

Broadband companies have also blocked peer to peer ports where a lot of content pirating takes place. This consumes enormous bandwidth and much of the traffic, in my non-statistics based opinion, is illegal. They've also had a hand in limiting traffic from video services, such as Netflix, which consumes many gigabytes of data for a single movie. Once a threshold was met, they began to throttle, affecting the end user's experience.

Why it Doesn't Matter (so much)

First of all, I don't think you're going to see much more than we do already. If broadband providers begin to block access to certain websites then customers will move to another provider (assuming they have the choice). To begin blocking and throttling common sites regularly, though, providers will quickly encounter significant technical hurdles.

  1. HTTPS. Website traffic (which aside from video streaming traffic represents most of the traffic on the Internet) uses the HTTP protocol. Standard HTTP sends everything over network port 80 in plain text. It's easy to sniff network packets and see where a user is going. But then there is HTTPS which is the secure version of HTTP. It traditionally runs over network port 443 and all of its traffic is heavily encrypted with increasingly robust SSL certificates. In other words, it's nearly impossible to decrypt, so broadband providers can't find out where the user is going, except by the physical IP address (e.g. 64.255.250.10). Even with that they may know that CNN runs their web servers on the IP address 157.166.238.133 but CNN likely has hundreds of servers with varying IP addresses and can change most of those with just a few mouse clicks (yes, I'm oversimplifying here!). Bottom line, it is really hard to crack an HTTPS web session and keep track of the millions of domains and their rotating IP addresses. Using HTTPS keeps your sessions private and does not allow broadband providers much insight into what you're doing. The only caveat is that the website you're visiting must have an SSL certificate in place so that you can use HTTPS with their site.
     
  2. Proxy Servers. A proxy server is basically a virtual tunnel for Internet traffic. Within minutes, I can redirect all my computer's traffic to a proxy server in India or Hong Kong which then acts as the origination for all of my network traffic. My broadband provider only knows that I have a connection to some random IP address on some random port. If they block it, I can choose another and then another. I have a nearly unlimited number of choices through which I could direct my traffic and they will have no idea what I'm doing.
     
  3. New Protocols. HTTP and HTTPS are just two out of hundreds of protocols that define the delivery of data from its source to its destination. There are others that could be adopted in place of HTTP. If so, broadband providers would have to redevelop their snooping infrastructure to accommodate those new protocols.

Perhaps you're thinking that the average individual wouldn't take these steps and you're right... for now. With an entire world of people wanting open and free access to information they will continuously innovate to get around those evil corporations and easy to use tools will be developed for the average Joe Schmoe to do the same.

The only real leverage broadband providers have is to generally limit how much data people consume or throttle the speed at which it is delivered. Not where it comes from. We're lucky right now that we get fast, unlimited data but the idea of charging fees for heavier users has already been pushed around. And, as long as people have a choice of providers, they should be able to charge based on quantity and speed. But if they begin to do this you can bet your wallet that the backlash from their subscribers will be severe and harsh. Consumers found their voice online a long time ago and their message will certainly be heard.

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What are the Right Social Media Networks for Your Business?

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How does a business choose the right social media platforms? Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have been around for several years now. Pinterest and Instagram are gaining traction. But many businesses are still trying to figure out ways to leverage the technologies.

Social Marketing and Content Marketing StrategyThe first step in choosing the right social media platforms for your business is to identify your goals. Consider why you want to use a particular network. Do you want to increase customer engagement? Is your primary focus establishing an audience? Maybe it all comes down to sales? Take some time to work through the reasons your business could benefit from launching into social media.

After you’ve determined the triggers for your social strategy, you can then establish a process to reach those goals. Social media for businesses requires a plan to succeed, and that plan needs to be driven by content marketing. Regardless of the social channel, you need to determine what content provides value to your prospects and customers, while adding credibility to your business. You need time to build an audience, followed by studying analytics to determine ways to improve the plan.

Strategy in place, you can move on to choosing platforms. Below are some of the most prominent social marketing channels:

  1. Facebook – Whether it’s perfect for your business might be irrelevant. Facebook is the biggest network so your organization probably needs to have a presence, especially if your business is consumer focused. Internally, you must determine how to best leverage the system, and at what level.
     
  2. Twitter – Twitter moves quickly, so your audience will determine how effective it can be for your strategy. In terms of ease of use and efficiency, however, Twitter can’t be beat.  If your business has a lot going on (news, new products, events or promotions) Twitter is also a great way to communicate on a daily basis. Finally, Twitter is a great way to leverage a strong content marketing strategy, attracting new audience members to your blog, case studies, white papers, videos, etc.
     
  3. LinkedIn – All businesses need to establish a presence on LinkedIn. Professional relationships form the heart of this network. As a result, it’s the most business-to business (B2B) focused of the social networks. If you sell to other businesses (B2B), you should be on LinkedIn.
     
  4. YouTube – Video, along with blog content, is rapidly becoming the backbone of any content marketing strategy. In today’s business environment, an impactful one to two-minute video clip can deliver exciting results. If you have content that is conducive to video, you should develop a YouTube strategy.
     
  5. Google+ -- Though it’s still gaining audience, Google’s social network is important for one key reason: search engine rankings. Because of Google’s importance in how anyone finds your business, I’d suggest having both a personal and business Google+ page.  If the type of business you’re in is impacted strongly by “reviews” – such as a restaurant, having a Google+ presence will be even more important.
     
  6. Pinterest – Pinterest is getting a reputation as the social network for housewives, but it can be useful if your business features a strong visual component. Pinterest, for example, may be useful if you want to promote a wall of products. Do your products visually sell themselves? Are influencers such as designers or decorators involved in your business (remodeling, furniture, home products, art, etc.)? If so, then Pinterest may be a great way to visually promote your products and brand.
     
  7. Instagram – The photo-sharing network has become the go-to place for creating a visual diary. That alone doesn’t make it that valuable for business. But the recent roll-out of the platform’s short video capabilities adds a new level of applicability. Another short video network, Vine, was beginning to grab hold, so it will be interesting to see how the two battle it out for that segment. Instagram can also offer similar benefits as Pinterest for businesses with visual products or services.

Still not sure what the best social media channels are for your company? Marketpath can help you build an online marketing strategy to capitalize on these exciting technologies.

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Blogging – The Small Business (Not-So) Secret Weapon

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Small business owners may find themselves unsure where to focus their online marketing resources. Email endeavors, newsletters, and the plethora of social media options (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and so on) – the number of channels can be overwhelming. And finding the time to dedicate enough resources to those efforts adds another layer to the puzzle. That’s why the simplicity of business blogging – the not-so-secret weapon of a small business – is so appealing.

Blogging may seem unsexy compared to some options, but it works. Here’s how:

  1. Blogging - Small Business' Content Marketing WeaponBlogging creates credibility – Potential customers are looking for expertise. Blogging offers an easy way to convey your stature as a key thought leader in your industry. And those customers are likely to tell their cohorts about their new source of expertise.
  2. Blogging gives your company a voice – As an extension of building the perception of expertise, blogging enables you to position your organization. It also provides a channel to talk about services or products your company offers, the latest industry news, and upcoming events.
  3. Blogging allows you to begin conversations with potential customers – Marketers are always looking for ways to speed up the sales cycle. A blog gets that relationship started by increasing online activity. Companies that blog generate 55 percent more website visitors, 97 percent more inbound links, and 434 percent more indexed pages. In addition, 7 of 10 businesses believe blogging has led to an improvement in their lead generation success.
  4. Blogging on a consistent schedule builds a library of content to share across other social networks – Your social media audience is looking for valuable content. By pushing blog posts through these channels, you’re pulling people back to your company site and encouraging your network to share your blog posts with their extended networks as well.
  5. Blogging improves search rankings (SEO) – The more you blog, the more often Google will recognize the value of your content in its overall algorithms. As long as the content is of high quality, your ranking will improve.

Blogging is here to stay. More than one-third of companies now use blogs for marketing purposes, and those companies that do blog receive 55 percent more website traffic than companies that don’t. More traffic leads to more opportunities for sales. For the small business owner, ignoring the value of blogging as a marketing tool is a poor business decision.

Does your company need assistance creating a blog and putting together a content marketing strategy? If you are planning an upcoming web design or website development project, don’t forget to include a business blog.  Marketpath can help get you started. Contact us at our Indianapolis office today!

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What is the Value of Your Time? The Case against Open-Source CMS

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The debate has raged on for years now about the value of an open-source Content Management System (CMS) versus the on-demand Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) CMS model. Yes, Wordpress, which holds a large chunk of the market, is free. Anyone can pick a template and toss something up on the web. And everyone likes things that are free, right? Perhaps, but you also get what you pay for.

Marketpath CMS - Efficient and Effective Website MarketingThe concept of a free CMS is a bit misleading. Yes, it’s true that open-source code is developed by a community of people who offer it to users at no charge. But just because a technology is available doesn’t mean you’ll know what to do with it.

Suppose you get through the basic steps of getting a site up and running. Now what? Who do you turn to when you have a question? What happens when it’s time to update the source code? Free technologies don’t come with award-winning 24/7 customer service departments. Your likely options are suspect online documentation and Wikipedia. Not too comforting. How much time do you want to spend digging for answers? What’s that time worth to you?

Take the lack of help desk support a step further. Basic technical support is one thing; get hit by a virus or hacked, and you’re looking at a whole other set of problems. Security should be a primary concern for anyone carving out online real estate. Open source plug-ins can solve some security issues, but they’re not a guarantee. Worst case scenario, you get bugged, information is compromised, and the site comes crashing down. Again, who do you call? How much time do want to spend trying to fix the problem?

How about new functionality?  With open-source systems you can find free plug-ins that add new capabilities to your site.  But you’ll need someone to install them and hopefully understand them from a technical perspective.  With Marketpath CMS, upgrades are included with your subscription and you receive them automatically – no hassle. 

Take a few moments to consider the overall potential for frustration. If you’re a business owner, your focus needs to be building the company - and your website should be a strategic component of your plan to do so. You can’t afford to be bogged down in technical minutia. Marketpath’s on-demand, custom CMS eliminates these concerns so you make the most of your time, increase revenue, and reduce costs.

Contact us today to learn more about our content management, web design and website development services..

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Four Questions to Help You Select the Perfect Website Design Company

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Accent Maid ServicesSelecting the right web designer for your website can be a tough decision. Costs, levels of experience, and expected outcomes all factor into the pick. You’re not alone if it all seems a bit overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be if you keep your process simple and focused. Consider these four questions for selecting the perfect website design company:

  1. Can you show me some examples of your work? A simple question and one that should be completely expected by a design firm. Of course you want to see what prospective company has done of late. Do they specialize in certain industries? Are they incorporating the latest technologies? How would they build the site? Do their designs incorporate their clients’ business objectives and strategies? You’re looking for designs that speak to you and match your rough vision.
     
  2. How do you ensure I can track the data? Building your new website is only part of the plan. You need to be able to gauge whether you’re reaching the target audience and achieving your organization’s goals. Your design firm should understand the importance of website strategy and analytics to measure site results.  They should also be able to train you on the process for assessing your traffic and conversion data.
     
  3. Venture LogisticsWhat is your communications process? You’re investing not just in a firm’s design capabilities, but also in its ability to convey trust. Basically, you want to feel comfortable paying the bill. The firm you select should have a proactive plan to communicate with you about the status of your project throughout the process. At no point should you be wondering what’s going on with the creation of your website.
     
  4. What support and services do you provide? A new website is just the start of the relationship. You want a firm that’s going to be there to offer customer support, training, and a plan to help you make the most of your investment. A site is necessary to carve out your organization’s online real estate, but you need to feed it. Easy to use content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) solutions can go a long way to maximizing your website investment.

The four questions above will help you make the right decision when selecting your design and website development agency. Is your company in line for a new website? Marketpath can answer these questions and more, ensuring that your online presence matches your goals.

Contact us today at our Indianapolis office.

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Website Magazine Names Marketpath One of Top Content Management Platforms

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Marketpath is honored to have Marketpath CMS, our easy to use website content management system, named as one of the industry’s Top Content Management Platforms by Website Magazine. Last month, Website Magazine selected Marketpath CMS as one of their Top 50 Web Content Management Platforms (CMS), based on extensive evaluation criteria. 
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Startups Have it Easy, Sort of

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These days it's a lot easier to start a software company than it used to be. With the plethora of cloud services available at the click of a mouse companies can focus less on infrastructure logistics and more on their product. In this way, startups have it easy.

Before I continue I have a confession to make - Marketpath is not a startup.

Wow! That felt good! You don't know how long I've been holding on to that secret.

Ok, so maybe you read the about us page and you already knew that. We've been around since 2001.

We've claimed that we're like a startup but, in reality, that is far from the truth. We are established, healthy, and revenue positive. But along with being healthy we have our share of legacy systems with legacy problems. More specifically, we have a lot of old equipment running our infrastructure.

Wayback

In 2001, we purchased our first server. It was a Dell Poweredge 2500. I remember, because I bought it and was excited about the possibilities for that powerful server. General websites and web applications were a piece of cake. So, we added an email server and database to it. Then, over the next several years, we bought another server and then another. Initially, we only managed the servers. But then it changed.

In 2004, we moved to nFrame, a data center in Carmel, IN. Since then, we've had to buy all the firewalls, routers, switches, backup devices, metered PDU's, and all the other fun that comes along with managing a SaaS infrastructure. And that's just the hardware. There was a slew of software for everything from email to backups to databases.

For a small resourceful staff this was one heck of a burden, especially when things went wrong. We had to worry about single points of failure in infrastructure, server hard drives, backplanes, power supplies, fans, memory, SCSI cards, NIC's, and many, many other intricate and complicated devices going kaput. And then there was the software maintenance.

Me and other staff have spent many long nights standing above the air conditioning panel right in front of our rack. Luckily, in all these years, our longest outage for any website was limited to about 4 hours. And that's because when the you-know-what hits the fan, we got very creative.

Why Startups Have it Easy

Startups don't have to worry about infrastructure - at least in the same sense that Marketpath and every other software company that's been around for more than five years has had to. Infrastructure is a huge resource suck. Proper planning, implementation, and maintenance should be full time jobs. When everything seemed to be humming along nicely, some small issue was festering behind the scenes getting ready to rear its ugly face.

Startups can focus on building software and leave the infrastructure to the experts. Now there's Amazon Web ServicesMicrosoft AzureRackspaceBluelock, and many more infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) companies. These companies handle all the gory details and monitoring of core hardware devices. They provide virtual servers and other services that can be plugged into easily. 

Now, instead of having to high-tail it over to the local data center, customers simply jump on their iPad, launch the web portal and restart a server or provision more. Only the exact infrastructure necessary is deployed. In the past, we had to buy more hardware than we actually needed so we could scale up to meet demand. There were intricate formulas (that I never used) to calculate capacity needed now vs. capacity needed down the road.

Startups have this provisioning capability at their fingertips and can dedicate their time to building their business and building great software.

Don't get me wrong. Established companies have this too and often implement new projects in virtual environments. It's the legacy software that is the slow moving snail of adoption.

Virtual Marketpath

At Marketpath, we began our virtualization quest last summer. We implemented our internal project management and support system which was a simple database and web application. Not too bad.

Since, we've been 

 

 

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A Good Content Marketing Plan Will Keep You in Business

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The typical business owner has a fairly stable gauge for assessing success. Solid revenue, a strong sales funnel, and opportunities for growth. Sure, there are plenty of other metrics you can apply, but these form the core. How a business owner goes about establishing that foundation, however, is open for discussion. At the very least, passively waiting around for the phone to ring is a bad idea. You have to proactively get business.

Content Marketing improves credibility and SEO, while driving leadsFor many companies, hard sales tactics don’t work. Small businesses frequently can’t afford a dedicated sales team. In many cases, the owners know they’re just not good at it. But one way that any business, regardless of size, can create opportunities is through content marketing. As business models continue to change, a good content marketing plan may very well be the tool that keeps you in business.

Content marketing is the practice of brands developing and curating content that communicates a story which resonates with customers. Readers find the content useful or entertaining and worth sharing. As a result, the brand, product or service highlighted in the story reaches several audience layers. Decision makers who reside within those layers and have need for your services could then pick up the phone or contact you via your website.

Now, before you go throwing every random piece of content up on your website, you must first consider your audience and intent.

  • Who do you want to read your blog?
  • How would you define the ideal person you want to click on your video or read your email?
  • How and where will your audience find your content?

Beyond that, after your intended audience reads or views your content, what do you want them to do next? Share it on Facebook or Twitter? Pick up the phone and call you? Sign up for your newsletter?  You need to identify your strategy.  You should also make sure your content strategy is directly related to your search engine optimization (SEO) objectives – if done right, strong content is the best way to drive improvements in search rankings.

And, oh by the way, the content should be good. A house painter wouldn’t throw a sign in the yard of a home where he butchered the job with unclean lines and painted shut windows. A blog post with bad grammar, absence of style, and lack of thought gets you nowhere.  But a well written post might provide credibility and turn a prospect into a lead – a lead that looks at your company as an expert in your field.

Is your organization currently employing a content marketing strategy? If so, is it working? If not, what are you waiting for? Contact us today to find out more about the benefits of content marketing.

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A Tinker Toy Kind of a World

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I loved these things in my single digits. Heck, I would still love playing with them now if I had any because I truly enjoy building things. That is one part of my childhood I'm happy to say I've always carried with me into my (gulp) late thirties. Give me a bunch of sticks and I'll build something fun or useful out of them. And the name is perfect for these little guys, isn't it? Tinker Toys. Toys meant for tinkering. 

And that's what made them so great. The tinkering part. Try this, then try that, then combine them. Forget about long term goals, planning, or any of that other boring, time-sucking gibberish.

Yeah, that was then. This is now.

We are marketers utilizing a medium we can see but can't touch and one that doesn't take its real shape until we start receiving data. So, tinkering takes on a whole new meaning. It's easy to tinker when you can see the immediate results, but a lot more difficult to tinker when it takes days, weeks, months, or even years to see results. In our world of instant gratification this bites big time. And we're adults now, most of the time. We know that good things come to those who wait. Right?

Wrong! That philosophy is BS and better suited for a 1920's catalog campaign. Today, we have the keys to the BMW and we're wearing our dancing shoes. So don't get caught sitting around watching the cockroaches race (true story from my dad, seriously). We have the tools in hand, or easily available, to make an immediate impact and all it takes is a little old-fashioned tinkering.

Whether you're adjusting your on-page SEO, posting a racy blog, adjusting your PPC keywords and spend, remarketing to abandoned cart visitors, improving site speed, or any number of other maneuvers, you should be tinkering. I'm not talking about changing your most successful call to action for all of your visitors or sending a politically charged email newsletter to your entire prospect base. No, you can tinker with just a small segment of your site visitors or your subscriber list or those who abandoned carts to find out what does and doesn't work. 

There are a number of tools that offer A/B testing and your subscriber list can probably be segmented or sampled to your hearts desire. But there are so many options available for us to tinker these days that it's probably a bit overwhelming. Here are a few ideas to get you moving. 

  1. Take a few more tutorials for your current CMS or schedule a brainstorming session with your vendor. You can probably do 90% of what you want but you just don't know it. Don't have a CMS? You should get one.
  2. Work with a company who can help you segment and target with current data. Right on Interactive (http://www.rightoninteractive.com/) here in Indianapolis is a fantastic company who can help you do all sorts of great things with your data. They love to tinker and explore data.
  3. Remarketing with another great Indy company - Smarter Remarketer (http://www.smarterremarketer.com/
  4. Dive into Google Analytics more than you ever have. Here's a great list of resources from kissMetrics - http://blog.kissmetrics.com/50-resources-for-getting-the-most-out-of-google-analytics/.
  5. If you're not using a good email marketing toolset, start now: ExactTarget, MailChimp, Constant Contact
  6. Tame the social media frontier by using Hootsuite to manage all your accounts in one place

I'm sure you have your favorites too, so please leave your highly recommended tools in the comments for others to see.

Bottom line is that we are paid to tinker, even when our marketing tactics are working. Not enough to kill the golden goose but enough to prove we can do even better or prove that we can't.

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Happy New Year - Content Marketing 101 Refresher

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It's 2013, you've survived the zombie apocalypse, and with the new year comes an opportunity to inject fresh energy and ideas into your content marketing. So let's get back to the basics a bit and walk through the fundamental elements of a good content marketing initiative. I think it's a good idea to occasionally review the basics in any project, especially as the project evolves into a bigger, more complex animal. This ensures you don't fall off course and that you stick to the general guidelines.

Content marketing is the essential ingredient for Marketpath's three pillars of effective website marketing - Visibility, Engagement, and Conversion. It is creating high quality content to be read and shared by others in order to get them to do something. Content creates the foundation for all website marketing efforts.

Without good content you only have a framework. Not having good content in your marketing mix is like having a football stadium without the football games. So, how do you get started or back on track? You answer the questions below to formulate a plan and then you write, or hire a writer to do it for you.

What do you want your visitors to do?

Conversion is one of Marketpath's 3 pillars of website marketingBefore you write anything, you need to understand and define what you want your website visitors to do. Do you want them to call a phone number, fill out a form for more information, download a case study or white paper, purchase a product, make a reservation, join a group, attend an event? This is your conversion - when an anonymous visitor becomes a known visitor or a customer. This is the beginning of your relationship with that individual.

The first conversion, however, may not be the only conversion. It might be a series of small conversions that lead up to the conversion that actually affects your bottom line - a purchase or new project. Compare this to a man courting a woman. He didn't jump out of a cake and make a marriage proposal upon first sighting. There were a series of efforts involved in getting to that point. The same may go for your visitors.

Are you a professional services firm? Then you probably need to establish expertise and rapport with your future clients. This happens over many interactions. Are you a retailer of low-cost furnace filters? Then your initial conversions are probably a purchase by new customers. Whatever your business, you need to understand the series of events involved with how new customers engage and convert.

Equally important, you should evaluate how existing customers continue to make purchases, kick off new projects, or simply maintain their current level of business with you. This may involve ongoing content that keeps their interest and maintains your prominence and expertise in the industry. This takes me to our next big question....

How will you persuade visitors to convert?

This is the engagement portion of Marketpath's three pillars of website effectiveness. What sort of content should you provide to initially engage or maintain the interest of your constituents? Great content leads to great conversions. If you cannot capture the attention of your website's visitors then you're not going to convert them. It's that simple.

Engagement is one of Marketpath's 3 pillars of website marketingYou can maintain a blog about best practices, put together quarterly white papers, create a video series, or write how-to's that demonstrate your products. Content comes in many forms and you need to understand (and experiment) with what motivates your audience to read, watch, or listen to the content you provide. This will be an evolution and probably not something you'll get right the first time.

Your content can be educational, entertaining, inspiring, etc. Again, this depends on your audience and knowing what will motivate them to engage.

Once you begin pushing content you should check your website analytics and measure visitor counts (new vs. returning), time on site (narrowed down to individual pages), referrers (where visitors come from), and bounce rate (visitors who land somewhere in your website and then quickly leave). These are the basics that will lead you in the direction of providing better stuff. You'll want increasing visitor counts, increasing time on site, increasing referrers, and a low bounce rate. 

How will you get visitors to your site?

Oculus Rift is awesome and visibility is one of Marketpath's 3 pillars of website marketingYour content may be well written, highly engaging, and exude your expertise. But without people reading or watching it, who cares? This is where the visibility portion of Marketpath's three pillars of website marketing comes in. You must promote your content before you get followers. Eventually, if it is good enough, people will help spread it for you. But you should always include some content promotion in your plans.

If you haven't established a presence within social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc), then you'll want to do this as part of your content marketing efforts. I won't get into specifics regarding social media here but with established social media connections your content will reach the eyes of current and prospective customers. If interested, they may read your blog post, and even more important, if your content engaged them and provided some benefit (learning a new skill, laughing, etc) they may even share it within their network.

Other ways to promote your content may include adding it to a regular email newsletter, submitting to local news agencies, presenting it during seminars or webinars, or asking others in your industry to read it and share it. Regardless of the channels you use you will always need to promote.

Who creates the content?

You. Or Sam from sales. Or the CEO. Or everyone. Whoever you choose make sure they want to. A couple years ago I ordered everyone in our office to blog. Some were required to write a post only once per month, some twice a month, and others once a week. Most of my staff complied, some grudgingly, others never contributed a thing. I don't think it was because they were intentionally ignoring me but likely because they just aren't writers and couldn't tackle the job.

The point is, you need to have serious buy-in from whomever provides content. If they are on staff, volunteers will outperform those mandated. Some people just don't want to be public. They enjoy being behind the scenes. Others want that publicity, to be recognized, and to be a more visible piece of the company.

Don't cast aside the possibility of outsourcing your content creation. There are numerous online copywriting services and you probably have a slew of agencies in town happy to assist. Video writers, producers, and actors are also more and more available. These should be an option to individuals with little time. Just make sure the resulting content is representative of your organization.

When to start?

Now. Building visibility, engagement, and conversions takes time and consistency. The longer you wait, the longer it will take you to build and maintain your audience. And the longer it will take to see results, if any.

Good luck and remember, you survived the zombie apocalypse so you can conquer just about anything now, especially a non-threatening content marketing effort.

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Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf Software

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Business needs vary enormously from one organization to the next. So, naturally, continual improvement to processes and techniques to effectively run the business is a must. Business owners always have to step out of the normal day to day to evaluate whether or not we're being effective, how we can improve inefficiencies and how we can plan for the future. 

Because competition comes so strong and swift, we are in an age of process perfection. That is, we must understand our processes and constantly mine them for improvements. In many ways, we need to be like McDonald's where every small step has a predetermined sequence. This doesn't mean we'll abandon creativity and personality. With all their systems, McDonald's can be an amazingly creative force (e.g. Monopoly, kid's meals, play places). It's a common misunderstanding that boundaries limit creativity, but the contrary is really true (see "Creative Constraint: Why Tighter Boundaries Propel Greater Results"). Instead, we need to impose boundaries by tightening processes. One way to do this and track results effectively is with specialized software.

This isn't an easy task and choosing the right software to help you grow and adapt is crucial. The question often becomes "should I build a custom app that fits my needs exactly, or can I adopt off-the-shelf software to get close enough?"

Sometimes, this is an easy decision. Accounting software is used by just about every business, so there are an enormous number of flavors to choose from - Quickbooks, Microsoft Dynamics, MAS90, etc. Building custom software for your accounting needs usually doesn't make sense. The biggest issue arises when the business need is not a commodity, such as, a recycling company that needs to monitor pickups, drop-offs, sorting, and selling. Or a school district that wants to monitor facility usage and automatically adjust the HVAC system and unlock doors. 

But, even with non-commoditized needs, someone out there probably has fulfilled the need and built an off-the-shelf solution that you might be able to use. So, the decision ultimately becomes how good is the fit or can you do it better with a bigger bottom-line impact by building a custom application?

Here are some pros and cons of both. 

Off-the-Shelf Software

PROS:

  • Lower up-front cost
  • Contains many features, often more than you need
  • Support is often included or can be added with a maintenance contract
  • Upgrades may be provided for free or at reduced cost
  • If it's software-as-a-service (SaaS) there is no hardware or software to install

CONS:

  • Slow to adapt or change to industry needs
  • Your feature request may get ignored if it doesn't benefit the larger customer base
  • May require you to change your process to fit the software
  • Higher customization fees (proprietary software vendors often charge ridiculous hourly fees unless they provide an open API)

Custom Software

PROS: 

  • You can start with the minimum necessary requirements and add on later
  • Can be tailored to your exact business needs and processes
  • Changes can be made quickly

CONS:

  • Very high initial cost
  • All changes and feature requests will be billable
  • May incur additional costs ramping up new developers

Ultimately, you'll need to decide if you can use out-of-the-box software and fit a square peg into a round hole without too much pain or if you should build around the processes and systems you've worked so hard to develop. I suppose you could also do nothing and stick to the old way you do things but what's the fun in that?

I was once told by a business veteran that if there is a software solution that is good enough, then why incur the expense for custom development? I guess the answer depends on how fanatical you are about your business systems and how effective you believe yours to be over theirs. 

learn more

Do you have any questions regarding software? We are here to help! Contact us today. 

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Online Marketing Strategy is Changing

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I’m not all together sure there is a more dynamic industry than online marketing.  With new tools, networks, tactics, and things to pay attention to debuting every day, how can anyone keep up?  It is a full-time job just staying on top of the latest trends, let alone rolling them out into a marketing campaign.  Gone are the days of launching a website with some keywords in the title tag and getting results.  Gone are the days of paying an SEO firm to "magically" gain rankings.  Gone are the days where this stuff was, well…easy. 

Change is Coming
​Are you ready for it?

It has finally happened.  Consumers are becoming smarter each and every day.  Search engines are changing ranking factors every month (or so it seems).  Has your business taken a step back and accessed strategy lately?  If not, you’re behind the curve.  Consumers are well aware of what SEO is.  Just ranking highly for competitive keywords doesn’t cut it anymore.  What value are you providing?  Why should I buy from you or fill out that form on your website?

You see, even SEO firms are realizing the game has changed…the good ones anyway.  Tactics are changing.  The process is much more client facing and transparent.  And guess what…that’s a good thing.  It means that anyone and everyone can play in this space now, not just the guy with the deepest pockets.  Being the richest doesn’t mean you’re the best or that you deserve to gain customers online.  You must provide value.  You must provide content.  And most of all, you must do it often.

Stop worrying about linking strategy and start worrying about creating link-worthy content.  Stop worrying about ranking for competitive keywords and start worrying about ranking for more keywords.  Stop worrying about the technical side of SEO and start worrying about providing value to your potential clients. 

If you can do these things, you’ll be able to absorb changes in online marketing industry.  You won’t have to worry about dropping one spot in Google for your top keyword.  You can get back to doing what you do best…serving your customers.

 

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3 Solutions to the Same Project

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We met with a prospective client last week to discuss their upcoming website redesign & development project.  This prospect is your typical small business where the owners make all of the decisions without much input from the rest of the staff.  There isn’t a dedicated marketing department, nor is there a “techie” on staff.  If you’re a small business owner, this situation may sound familiar…and you can vouch that it’s not easy.

Any vendor selection process is an exercise in analytical skills.  The two owners that we met with aren’t website guys.  This whole process is new to them, and while they know they need a new site, they don’t exactly know how to go about getting the best bang for their buck. 

After talking with them about the project, we discovered that we were one of three companies proposing a solution.  After a bit more digging, it became apparent that the three solutions being offered were drastically different in nature, and in price.  The decision on which firm to use is going to be a difficult one, as I’m sure we have all outlined our value proposition, highlighted strong points, and helped educate the two owners.  Here are the three solutions that are common in this situation:

                                            Different Approach to the Same Problem

​Different Paths to the Same End Goal

A Company like Marketpath

Marketpath designs and develops websites with our website content management system on the backend.  We focus on enhancing the online brand, building an easy-to-navigate website, building an easy-to-update website, and creating the best “hub” possible for your marketing efforts.  There are a lot of companies like us, some with their own CMS’s and some that use open-source platforms like WordPress, but you can rest assured that these firms are the experts in useable website design and development.  There will usually be an upfront cost and an ongoing monthly fee for hosting/support.

An SEO Company

This option is similar to the firms listed above, except their sole focus is on gaining an ongoing SEO client.  A new website that is “finely tuned and internally optimized” is the first step in their service offering, as a lot of the smaller SEO firms will claim that they need to code the website to be successful in the long run.  After the website is built, there will be an ongoing, monthly “SEO Maintenance” fee of a few thousand dollars a month.  If you like this solution, make sure you know the red flags to look for when hiring an SEO company

A Full-Service Marketing Agency

This third option is the other player at the table.  These full-service firms are typically very large in nature and can bring a lot of value to the conversation.  They care more about overall branding efforts than rankings - they try to tie online and offline campaigns together.  They are out to build you the best message possible.  While they can build you a great looking website, often times these firms aren’t experts in the web.  If you’re not planning on using them for more services, it could be overkill to choose this option.

Our Advice

During the meeting, I tried to explain to the prospect that, a lot of times, these three types of firms can work together.  If you’re looking for a local presence (as these guys are), on-page SEO may be enough to gain the rankings you’re looking for.  If you build a highly-optimized website (as we do), and don't achieve the high rankings, then you can bring on an SEO firm to help boost the efforts after you establish a baseline.  Automatically assuming you need to spend thousands a month on SEO is one heck of an assumption.  Also, hiring the mother ship of marketing to build you a website if you’re not planning on tying it all together with a major marketing campaign could result in a sub-par website.  Full-service marketing firms aren't cheap, and they are looking for clients that take advantage of the entire offering.

It’s important, as a small business owner, that you ask questions and understand why there are three different approaches to the same problem.  Understand the product and service offerings and select the best option for your company.

Have you experienced this same problem?  What was your solution?  Sound off in the comments below. 

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5 Signs You've Hired the Wrong SEO Firm

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When the time comes to hire an SEO agency to help boost your online presence and rankings, chances are you’re going to have a lot of questions.  This is okay.  I’ve been in and around the industry for close to six years and I am no expert.  Whether you’re a novice, someone who knows enough to be dangerous, or a seasoned veteran looking for some help, these 5 signs will help you eliminate a lot of so called “experts”. 

Guaranteed 1st Page Rankings

No Guarantee PleaseNo SEO company can or should offer a guarantee for first page rankings for your keywords.  I don’t care what else they say, or what else they show you, this is impossible.  Guarantees are the biggest red flag for any company and should end the conversation immediately.

Bottom Line - none of these companies work for or “have a special relationship with Google.”  It just doesn’t work that way.  Sure they may have a great track record, but guarantees are impossible to make in this industry.    

Won't Share Past Results

Piggybacking a bit off the first point, any SEO company that refuses to share their results with previous or current clients should be shown the door as well.  Any reputable SEO firm isn’t afraid to showcase their successes, their process, and even their failures.  Nobody is perfect in this industry, so be sure to ask them for examples or each. 

Bottom Line – Just because a company isn’t perfect doesn’t mean they won’t work for you.  Understanding the successes, process, and any failures they’ve had will go a long way in building a trusting relationship.

Unable/Unwilling to Give Explanations of Service/Process

No SEO Has ThisIf you hear the words “Through our proprietary process, your site will see an increase in rankings”, make sure you ask exactly what it is they are going to do.  If they are vague, too technical, or just very brief, ask for clarification.  If you’re still unclear, it could be time to look elsewhere. 

Bottom Line – In today’s SEO world, the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t is out on the web.  No firm should have an ace up their sleeve, or a proprietary process that nobody else uses (if they do, chances are it’s not a white hat tactic).

No Discussion of Overall Business Goals

Today’s SEO firms should act more as overall Internet Marketing consultants more than just “We swear we’ll improve your rankings” consultants.  The days of improving rankings by implementing nothing but a technical SEO strategy are gone.  Today, it’s more beneficial to build a brand, generate content, and share it across the web.

Bottom Line – Make sure the conversation leads to overall goals for the marketing plan and the business itself.  Improving rankings on a SERP should be part of an overall plan to grow, not the only strategy.

Links to Your Site Start Showing up in Questionable Places

No Spammy Links, PleaseAdding to the last point, a red flag that your SEO firm is engaged in some naughty practices would be that links to your site start showing up in questionable places.  Make sure you have Google Alerts and Google Webmaster Tools set up.  The Alerts will help flag any event on the web that involves a keyword (your business name), and the Webmaster tools will allow you to see which domains are linking to you.  If you see a suspicious domain, don’t hesitate to speak with your SEO firm and ask what they are doing.

Bottom LineGoogle is getting better and better at detecting these poor SEO practices.  Unfortunately, SEO firms still practice them religiously, so they need to be monitored and called out when possible. 

Contracting with an SEO firm is never an easy decision, but hopefully these five red flags will help you eliminate some of the less effective companies.  Keep in mind that communication is key.  There should always be an open dialog between client and agency in the SEO relationship.

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3 Mistakes Your Corporate Blog May Be Guilty Of

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So, you’ve taken the plunge and launched a corporate blog.  Congratulations!  All of the people that have been telling you for years that it’s a must finally won out, right?  Now, the hard part is here…making it actually worthwhile.  If you just said “Wait, what?” I don’t blame you.  Nobody told you that it was going to be difficult and time consuming.  Nobody told you that it’s not just as easy as throwing up a random thought here and there.  So, if that was your strategy, think again.  Here are 5 common mistakes businesses often make with their blogs, and some tips on how to improve them.

Lack of Updates

Consistency is KeyFirst things first, if you have a blog, you have to update it.  No exceptions.  No taking weeks at a time off (hi pot, we’re kettle).  Consistency is key here, not only for readers, but for search engines as well.  Nothing can kill a little momentum like an extended gap of silence. 

Tip – Combat this by creating a lot of content at once and scheduling that content to be released on a set schedule.  Shoot for 2 blog posts a week starting out.  Sit down at the beginning of each month and map out 8 blog topics, content associated with those, and which images are needed.  This may be a full day’s work, but it’s crucial for consistency.

Lack of Original Content

Corporate blogs aren’t meant for just PR and news items.  Sure, adding some of those types of posts in from time to time can be beneficial to your branding strategy, but news and PR should not dominate your blog.  The truly valuable content comes from thought-leadership, interesting conversation, and new ideas.  Try to avoid reliance on the PR type of article, as that content is better used elsewhere.

Tip – Your corporate blog is your chance to showcase your expertise and explore interesting topics.  Utilize sales and marketing collateral, find and explain industry trends, or showcase case studies.  As a general rule, one case study can often times be broken down into multiple blog posts.  Focus on one specific topic per post and create a series.

Lack of Promotion

Promote your BlogYour blog is part of your website (hopefully), but it doesn’t mean that it will gain any traction without some amount of promotion.  Why spend all of the time creating this great, original content if you’re just going to publish and forget about it?  These posts need promoted if they are going to get any value whatsoever.

Tip – Social media is a great way to promote content and gain new readers.  Focus on popular topics (hash tags on twitter) and be sure to promote the post via a simple tweet.  Look for opportunities to guest post on other blogs and be sure to reciprocate as well.  Growing your following on social media can have a tremendous impact on your blogging. 

What are some other pitfalls for corporate blogs and how do you avoid them?  Sound off in the comments below!  



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Marketpath Featured on MTFW Marketing Podcast

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On June 20th, TJ Furman from Marketpath was lucky enough to join Lorraine Ball and Allison Carter of Roundpeg on their weekly small business marketing podcast, More Than a Few Words.  The topic was content creation strategies and why just having a blog might not be enough.

If you're struggling to come up with content ideas that are interesting, we urge you to listen to the podcast and formulate a plan.  You can listen to the full show here:
 

 

If you have any additional ideas or want to join the conversation, make sure to leave your comments below.

 

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Businesses Say They Want Brand Awareness - They Need More

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Brand awareness is one of those nebulous terms we marketers like to throw around. But what does it actually mean? Brand awareness is simply a measure of how many people could pick your brand out of a lineup or say "oh yeah, I've heard of them!" In a perfect world, brand awareness is rigorously measured using market research, customer surveys and a variety of other tools to find out just who knows you. Unfortunately, most small business owners I know don't live in a perfect world. However, they still want brand awareness.

According to our 2012 Small Business Social Media Survey, the number one goal small businesses have for social media is to increase brand awareness. This is a consistent trend in each of the last three years in which we've conducted our survey.

For this question, respondents were allowed to select all applicable answers so we can see the full range of social activities. In a close race for second place among desired social media outcomes are client contact, finding clients, demonstrating expertise and driving web traffic. As small business owners look for affordable ways to market their companies, social media seems to fill the void.

                         

While many small businesses are using social media, I worry most still aren't using the tools to their fullest potential. As we mentioned, good brand awareness marketing should involve a heavy measurement piece that explains just what's working and what isn't. But since they rarely have the tools to truly measure brand awareness we think business owners should demand more from their social media.

 
I often tell business owners that marketing is like another employee. You would never hire an employee and then not hold him/her accountable for results. You need to do the same with your marketing. And it has never been easier. From the standpoint of measurable results, social media is a marketer's dream. It is easy to draw a pretty straight line from a specific post to traffic to your website and submissions to your conversion form. Yet the majority of companies in our study are not following through the process from contact to conversion.
 
                       

Most of the companies in the study track connections (78%) and web traffic (76%) which is a loose indicator of awareness, but not interest or willingness to buy. The more valuable measures, the elements which require interest and action are mentioned has as often: email subscriptions (42%), form downloads (33%) or RSS subscriptions (14%).

As you build your social medial plan think about the actions you will take, but if you are going to invest the time make sure you get the results you want.
 


About the author:

Lorraine BallAs Creative Director of Roundpeg, an Indianapolis-based marketing firm, Lorraine is typically at the center of the managed chaos that makes the agency run. With more than thirty years as a marketing professional (lie, tell her she doesn’t look that old) Lorraine keeps Roundpeg popping with a never-ending stream of new ideas.

A native New Yorker, Lorraine is a Hoosier by choice, and is committed to fostering growth and entrepreneurship in her adopted city. Recognized by the Indianapolis Business Journal as one of the Most Influential Women in Indianapolis, she is an active member of the local Indianapolis business community.

When not at Roundpeg, Lorraine can be found sharing what she knows in seminars and presentations around the country. She has a BA from Queens College, City University of NY, and an MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas.

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Link Buying & Gaming the System

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So, here we are, a little over a year removed from the JC Penny link buying debacle, and another major SEO player has gotten caught with their hand in the cookie jar.  I won’t go into detail about the latest case of blatant link buying, as you can find the details somewhere else, but I feel like the issue is worth revisiting.

Cash Under the Table
The Equivalent of Buying Links

The Link Buying Problem

In case you’re unfamiliar with the tactic, some SEO companies out there purchase links on their client’s behalf to help boost rankings.  This black hat tactic has been around since the dawn of Google, since they were the first search engine to put such an emphasis on a website’s link profile.  It used to work as simple as more links = higher rank.  Since then, the algorithm has changed dramatically, now focusing more on content, social, sharing, quality, page load speed, etc, but links are still a factor. 

Google has always stated that buying links is against their rules.  Here is the actual language from their site:

Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.

Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such.

However, as long as links are a factor in the ranking algorithm, companies and SEO firms are going to do anything possible to gain more of them.

How to Avoid Being the Next News Story

If you want to stay on Google’s good side, content marketing is the way to go.  Creating great, unique, relevant, & sharable content will allow your site to gain traffic and rankings.  The best part about this, the links will come naturally if you’re good at creating content.  Your site will begin ranking for hundreds and thousands of terms if you’re good at creating content.  Your site can break free of the “Keyword Jail Cell”, as I like to call it, and truly become a marketing tool.  Best of all, you don’t have to worry about changes in Google’s algorithm – content will always be king.

No SEO Should Have ThisIf you can’t take care of content marketing with in-house staff and you truly want results from your Internet marketing, then you can hire out some help.  One last word of advice, however, is to make sure whomever you choose to help you knows that you’re strictly against paying for links.  Sure it may work in the short term, but Google, and other watchdogs, are getting awfully good at noticing suspicious activity.  SEO firms these days should talk to you about your business goals, content creation, social strategy and overall marketing plans…not technical SEO.  If you can’t understand what they are going to do for you, don’t break out your checkbook.

Remember, Google's always trying level the playing field.  No company should have an ace up their sleeve.  If a tactic sounds fishy, it probably is. 

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Zen and the Art of Marketing Maintenance

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Maintenance is a topic that has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Maintenance of my lawn, house, vehicles, finances, children, diet, relationships, hair, and clothing are just a few of the things that must be maintained on a regular basis. Marketpath also requires regular maintenance of our finances, infrastructure, culture, client relationships, custom software, and much more. The key to success is maintaining items in small doses on a regular basis (i.e. performing small tasks here and there). The more consistent I am with regular maintenance, the more likely major problems won't appear. Failure to maintain each item in my life leads to neglect, which leads to me having to spend a lot more time and a lot more money which leads to great frustration.

Website marketing requires regular maintenancePart of the reason I've been contemplating the importance of maintenance is that I've been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (yes, I stole the title for this post) - a philosophical novel that blends an attempt to define "Quality" and the importance of regular maintenance of our environment and our individual self.

Website marketing isn't all that different than anything else in our life. At Marketpath, we maintain our relationships with our customers and audience via our blogs, email blasts, social platforms, webinars, phone calls, and in-person meetings. I'm always pushing the importance of touch points and, if regularly maintained with good quality content, those touch points will result in a future sale or referral. Failure to regularly maintain  those touch points leads to a complete fall off of our audience engagement and an evaporation of sales and referrals.

Most marketers maintain a giant calendar with all the activity planned over the next few months. This is obviously important for the big items (trade shows and campaigns) but it is also import for the smaller, more easily maintained activities like blogging, social engagement, email sends, phone calls, etc. While these tasks may become slightly mundane or monotonous, they are still very important collectively over time.

If you fail to keep up your house it will fall into disrepair. Bringing it back to a normal state then requires more money, more time, and more frustration. Neglecting your website marketing efforts by not keeping a consistent schedule and constantly tweaking your message to keep your audience engaged will cause your marketing to fall into disrepair just as well. Then rebuilding the level of engagement you once had, or almost achieved, will require more time, more money, and more frustration. Keep it human, keep it consistent, and keep it meaningful.

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What is Content Marketing and Why is it Important?

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Traditional outbound marketing and advertising have taken a backseat to “Content Marketing.”  Instead of buying ads, banners, and search rankings, companies all over the web are turning to this relatively new form of attracting and gaining clients and customers.   

     Content marketing is the creation of unique content for use in
     blog posts, 
videos, white papers, images (infographics), how-to guides,
     case studies, to gain more leads and acquire more customers.

If the content is unique and interesting, the message can spread across the web quickly.  Users and search engines alike have begun to pick up on this trend, bringing their purchasing power or rankings with it, respectively.  Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Dedicate the Time

Just seeing the words “unique content” might make small to medium sized business owners & marketers cringe.  Creating something that is unique and interesting is the most difficult task of the entire process, so don’t try to skip over it.  It is important that your message is clear, concise and entertaining.

Repurpose Content

Once you have content to market, repurpose it in many different forms.  Often times a blog post can be turned into a short video.  Add more data to the blog post and turn it into a case study.  Take that case study and make it visual, via an infographic.  The same topic can be used throughout multiple channels, minimizing the time it takes to create new topics and content. 

Share it

What good is shareable content if nobody can find it in the first place?  None.  Don’t make the mistake of putting up a blog post and expecting people to get there.  Create an email newsletter and/or tweet out links to it.  Have a video?  Put it on YouTube and share it across your social channels.  Have an interesting infographic or image?  Pinterest and Facebook should be your targets. 

So, why is it important?

With the ever evolving search engine algorithms valuing different tactics, having unique and interesting content has always remained important.  Now more than ever Google is focusing on bringing these content creating websites to the top of their rankings.

More content equals more visitors which usually equals more leads (assuming your website isn’t a complete dumpster fire for conversions).   



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Why Marketpath Has Stayed Out of the SEO Game

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Marketpath is not an SEO company.  We have never tried to be an SEO company.  We will never try to be an SEO company.  Now, if you’re an existing client, you may be saying to yourself “Wait, these guys had an SEO phase during our project…what gives?”  If you’re an avid reader of our blog, you may be thinking to yourself “Two out of every three articles these guys post mentions SEO…what gives?”  Well, both questions would be warranted, but allow me to retort (said in my best Samuel L. Jackson voice, of course).

SEO is Notorious for the “Flavor of the Month”

Pinterest is this Month's Superman Ice CreamKeeping up with the changes from Google and the rest of the web in regards to SEO is a full-time job.  Whether it is Google Caffeine, the Panda Update, the introduction of the +1, Google+, Schema.org, or this month’s flavor - Pinterest, keeping up to date with what needs to happen from an SEO standpoint requires an army of people to do well.  It seems that not a month goes by where I’m not reading some article about X product that is “changing the SEO game forever!”, only to not really hear about it a month down the road.  Over the last two months, for instance, focus has shifted from “how to use Google+ for business” to “how to use Pinterest for business”.   We simply don’t have the staff, or the desire, to throw our hat into the ring of these larger SEO firms that do their jobs so well.  Our SEO recommendations go as far as Title Tag creation, help with Meta descriptions, and some content revisions…you know, the basics of what any site should be doing.

We’ve Always Preached the Foundations

Being a software company who creates an easy-to-use content management system, we’ve always preached that creating compelling content is the best way to attract traffic.  Stop trying to game the system by buying links and focus on content.  Write blog posts, build landing pages with links for white papers and case studies, and host webinars on your most popular topics.  Be social.

Lately, SEO companies have been slowly moving away from the secretive tactics they have employed and become more upfront with what works.  Content is once again becoming king, which is a good thing.  Create it, share it, and reap the rewards.

The Long Tail

Competing for highly-sought-after keywords can be extremely expensive.  The truth is, if you’re ranking well for 1-2 highly targeted, highly competitive keywords, you’re probably getting less traffic than someone who ranks for 400-500 highly specific, easy-to-attain keyword phrases.  Blog posts are great for this.  White papers are great for this.  Video is great for this.  A lot of people type in brand new, never before searched phrases into Google every day.  These phrases are the long tail and can really help drive traffic to your site.

The Long Tail of SEO

SEO is rapidly changing, and will always be rapidly changing.  It may be called different terms, like inbound marketing or search marketing, but at the end of the day the goal of a search engine has remained constant since the beginning of the industry.  Delivering the best, most relevant results for each search query will always be at the core of what search engines are trying to accomplish.  Become the expert in your industry by sharing your knowledge, and you’ll be rewarded.

 

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The Minimum Effective Dose for Improved SEO

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SEO PrescriptionSearch engine optimization, for many, can be an extremely daunting and intimidating task. Many of our own clients struggle with the very basics when we are building their sites, which is why we help them out in the beginning.  In an effort to help SEO newbies and first-time website owners, I am prescribing the minimum effective dose for SEO.  For anyone not familiar, the minimum effective dose can essentially be defined as the minimum amount of dosage or activity (i.e. change) needed to produce the desired effect. This term is often used in the world of exercise science or pharmacology, but I think that it applies to the world of search engine optimization as well.  Here are three "easier-to-accomplish", but very important tasks that will help the foundations of SEO for any site.

Create an XML Sitemap

This is the easiest task that I can suggest.  Simply put, a sitemap is a list of all the pages on your website that allows users and search engine robots alike to see the “map of your site”.  An XML sitemap is preferred by Google and actually allows you to assign importance for specific pages within your website.  Here is a hint, the homepage should be a 1.0 (the most important).  If you are utilizing an open-source content management system, you can probably find a widget that will create an XML sitemap for you…just beware of what you’re installing (like any widget).  Other content management systems, like Marketpath CMS, automatically create a sitemap for you, so chances are, you’ve already accomplished this step.  Nice Work!

Optimizing the Homepage Title Tag

Arguably the most important piece of on-site architecture, other than great content to support it, your site’s homepage title tag is your first chance to tell users, and Google, the topic of your website.  Implementing your keyword strategy here should be priority number one.  Do some keyword research and make sure that the first words in your homepage’s title tag are the most important for your business, not your company’s name.  Also, don’t exceed 65-69 characters (spaces included), as Google will begin to truncate the listing at this point.  For more information on creating a great title tag, download our free SEO guidebook

Content Creation

So you’ve just put in a bunch of hours designing and launching a website…congratulations! Now, it’s time to get to work.  You may be thinking “wait, what?  The company that built our site promised us 1st page rankings!”  Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s probably not going to happen without a lot more work on your part (especially if you have a brand new domain).  Why is this part of the minimum effective dose SEO prescription?  Because this is one of the least technical SEO strategies that exists.  While it’s not necessarily easy to create good content, you are the expert in your business, so share some of that knowledge and post it via your blog.  Commit to a content creation strategy and you’ll begin to see the desired results.

Tip of the SEO Iceberg

SEO is not easy, nor should it be.  Search engines like Google are designed to keep out the lower quality sites and provide the best user experience for their customers.  These three tips cover just the very tip of the ever-changing iceberg.  If you have any other basic, or easy to accomplish SEO tasks, feel free to leave them in the comments section.
 

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User generated marketing

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There is a certain level of pleasure that comes from making new connections about our history and the social web. Most people think this whole socialization thing on the Internet is new and sometimes it takes a short post by a well known Author to say otherwise. The only part that's new is the Internet. The socialization piece has always been around.

Seth Godin's post today is titled "The most important page on the web is the page you build yourself." It's about user generated content and the demise of mainstream mass media. Read it. It's short.

I recently had a meeting with an auto dealership and they discussed putting together a series of videos that would talk about the great features and conveniences of the cars they sell. After much debate and discussion about how much it would cost (tens of thousands) to produce and edit the videos, I stood up and suggested they have their customers produce the videos for them. First, it's free. Second, it's more honest and believable if someone other than the dealer tells the story. 

We're seeing this more and more in marketing where customers produce their own content. Whether it be interactions with others by commenting on a blog, guest blogging, writing product reviews, or producing videos, the job of the marketer is changing. No longer is their sole responsibility to write, design, and produce every bit of content to be puked out to prospects and customers. Marketers now have to build the playground where their constituents can voice themselves and then coordinate those interactions without intruding upon their freedom to contribute.

It's not simple, yet. It's a lot more work while we still hold on to the reigns of the past. The biggest challenge is designing and building the infrastructure that allows your customers and prospects to contribute and then making sure it gets used to its fullest. Once it is built, though, that job takes on a different shape. Customers interact, customers promote (if what you're selling is any good), and customers provide you a much deeper insight into your products and services than you would have ever had before.

Just don't expect that telling your customers what you want them to hear will hold water much longer. As soon as one of your competitors begins letting them into their social community, your legitimacy will begin to fade.

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5 Elements of Great Website Design

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A lot of times, before we can implement our content management system, our clients ask us to redesign their website.  While we are always happy to provide this service to our clients, I wanted to cover a few of the aspects of what makes a website design successful.  It goes far beyond pretty pictures and colors and dives into what truly makes your business work, focusing on your business goals, objectives and visitor behavior. Here are five items to take into consideration before and during your website redesign process.

Website Design is a Process
Website Design is a Hands-on Process

1. Clearly Branded and Aligned with Business Goals

All too often a website can become outdated and out of line with the company that it represents.  As your business grows, matures, and inevitably changes, your website should reflect those business goals immediately.  Keep the focus of your website on your primary offerings, which will help clearly communicate your position, your brand, and your value proposition.

Tips:

Your logo should be visible on every page of your site, preferably in the same location (and linked back to your homepage)

Each business goal should have a clearly labeled section of the website

Consistently use the same tag lines that are familiar to your brand

2. Easily Used by First Time Visitor

Using an analytics tool, such as Google Analytics, you should be able to see how many of your visitors are new, and how many are return visitors.  Keeping your websites design focus on simplicity and usability will help the first-timer navigate your website and hopefully find what they are looking for (contact info, product info, service offerings, etc).  When in doubt, subscribe to the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). 

Tips:

This can be difficult, but try to take yourself out of the day to day mindset of your current schedule.  You know everything about your company, but your visitor (especially first-timer) doesn’t.  Simple language, clearly labeled sections of the website, and easy to navigate menus can all help increase the value of the user experience.  If you can say what you need to say in a sentence rather than a paragraph, it might be helpful to do so.

3. Designed with Conversion in Mind

Today’s websites are more powerful than ever when it comes to increasing sales and leads.  Your website’s design is an integral part in getting people from “website visitor” to “prospective buyer”.  To do this, each page should have its own conversion element that allows a user to interact with your website and take the next step in the business relationship.

Tips:

Keep the conversion elements above the fold.  If they are in plain view, they are more likely to be clicked on.

Use big buttons and bright (complimentary) colors to attract attention

Keep your online forms simple (asking for too much info is intrusive)

4. Search Engine Optimization Kept At Forefront

On-page search engine optimization (SEO) is important, not only for search engines, but for users.  On-page SEO can be looked at as the foundation of organization of your site.  Clearly labeling pages with Title Tags and nicely designed H1 tags can help users flow through to their desired content, increasing the amount of page views and reducing bounce rate at the same time. 

Tips:

Utilize text based menus (not images)

Clearly label each page with Title Tags, H1 Tags, Meta Descriptions, and Alt Text

Don’t rely on Flash, as search engines and mobile devices don’t play well with it

Think of your website in an outline format and mimic that same page structure and hierarchy for your sitemap 

5. Professionalism

This should go without saying, but your website often times crafts the first impression of your company.  If you haven’t looked at redesigning your site in a couple of years, put yourself in a prospective buyer's shoes and visit your site.  Would you buy from you?  Your website should be impressive, clearly state your message, and be up to date with the latest information.  What does your current website say about your company? 

Tips:

Utilize a professional graphic designer, not your brother’s wife’s 2nd cousin that took a class one time.  Just keep in mind that you are going to get what you pay for.

Employ the use of a content management system that allows you to keep your website up to date without relying on a technical person



 

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Netflix: How Customers are the New Shareholders

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If you haven't followed the Netflix debacle, here's a quick overview:

  1. In July, Netflix announced it was raising prices on accounts that have both streaming and DVD rentals from $9.99 to $15.98. This actually reflected separate pricing for each service ($7.99 each). Customers were outraged.
     
  2. Netflix almost instantly lost hundreds of thousands of subscribers and was expected to lose a million total - mostly from the DVD-only side. By mid-September, the Netflix stock price was down 20%.
     
  3. Immediately following the stock sell-off and mass cancelation spree, CEO Reed Hastings sent a letter to all subscribers  explaining the reasoning behind the split. The company would be split into two entities, one for streaming (Netflix) and one for DVD's (Qwikster). That quelled some anger but others persisted.
     
  4. Today, amidst the continuing outcries, CEO Hastings announced that there would be no split and the Qwikster initiative would be killed off.

Now how's that for customer complaints turning the tides? Even ten years ago if a company made a major change like this you would have to assemble a small army of protestors and march on their headquarters to get a company to reverse course. Not anymore.

With Facebook, Twitter, blog comments, customer forums, and other social channels you can instantly create an army of a million or more who share your viewpoint. Protesting consumer brands can be incredibly viral. And Netflix' price increase and service changes are no exception.

Here are a few lessons to take away from Netflix' errors:

  1. Test, test, and test again. If you are a public company with a market cap of 5.8 billion dollars, test the Qwikster concept on a small segment of your subscribers. Keep it private and see how many from that group cancel their account as a result. It's insane to think that you would split your company with little input from your customer community. Granted, you're raising prices and that won't go over well anytime. But you never mentioned the split at the time so there was no correlation to the 60% price increase.
     
  2. Don't raise prices 60%. I used Netflix before they offered the streaming service and hung it up after I realized that I could only rent two movies every 8-9 days. That's three days in the mail, 2-3 days at my house, and another 3 days back to Netflix in the mail. Do the math and you can only get 4-6 movies a month. 

    About this time, Blockbuster offered their unlimited DVD rental plan for around $15 per month (2 or 3 DVD's out at a time). I could actually rent movies, watch them, and pick up new movies on my way home. I cut out six days between each change-up. Then they raised prices on this service to $24.99 per month. I dropped out. $15 of entertainment per month was worth it. A 60% increase to $25 was not. Perhaps Netflix should have read their business history books before they made the same change.
     
  3. Honest Communication. ​Netflix has been stuck in a reactive course of action since July. This would have been much simpler if they were more open and honest about their price increase and stagger the plan. Perhaps something like this:

    "Dear Netflix friend, we are working hard to provide you high quality entertainment at a competitive rate. While our costs have risen over the last several years we've kept your fees unchanged. I sincerely wish that we could continue these rates but for us to continue providing great service and great entertainment, we must raise prices to cover our increased costs. We won't do it all at once. Instead we'll make those increases over the next six months to a year and here's what they will look like....."


    See the truthful, planned nature in the response? It's proactive and addresses the issues honestly and straightforward. There will still be repercussions but you will have an informed customer base behind you. Those that love the service might even stick up for you.

With the new power of social media channels, and the potential of major influencers to raise a fuss more quickly than ever, I don't see why any company with an informed customer base would make major changes to their services without testing the waters first. The mass fury of Netflix customers could have been avoided  if they had an approach that was less of a "screw them, they'll deal with it" approach and more of a "hey, we need to make some changes and would like to hear your feedback first" approach. This is all goes back to the 2nd website marketing pillar, engagement. Talk with your customers through the most active channels and don't puke your plans all over them without expecting a backlash.

Customers are the new shareholders. Through social channels they can make your world an awful place to live if you don't provide a good return on their investment.

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The Sweet Life of a Website Cookie - Crumbles Revealed

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Most people probably don't know this but every time you visit a website a "cookie" is placed on your computer. Not the type of cookie shown in this picture (which is one of my favorites - white chocolate chip macadamia), but the type of cookie that helps website owners track information related to their visitors and improve the overall user experience.

Here's how they work

A cookie is simply a character string representing a key/value pair (e.g. "visitorID=23498EFDAB323"). These key/value pairs are sent back and forth between your browser and the website's server with every request.

Most cookies contain user preferences (i.e. language, local branch/store, layout, etc) as well as unique identifiers to track a visitor throughout the website.

Marketpath uses cookies frequently for tracking visitors, online customers and current orders, among other things. Upon my visit to marketpath.com the following visitor id cookie was added:

MPVisitorID=ed9f81ea-1d2d-451c-bc4f-f7352ed63ed9

MPVisitorID is the name of the cookie and the long ugly alpha-numeric string is the ID.

Cookies are safe

Since cookies are just bits of text they cannot be executed like a virus and are not considered to be a virus. But they can present other challenges by transmitting personal information in plain text if the connection is not encrypted.  

As is our standard practice, we never store or transmit personal information via cookies. The id shown above is a unique identifier that contains no information outside our system. It is the same as your library giving you an account number of "1232154". Outside of the library's internal database "1232154" means nothing.

Most websites share the same practices because nobody wants to be cited for privacy issues. There are poor developers out there, though, that unknowingly choose to store personal information in cookies which can lead to those cookies being readable by others. Any plain text sent to and from your computer can be intercepted by anyone on the Internet with the tools and know-how.

But most browsers warn you if you are at risk of passing personal information, so you should pay attention to this and let website vendors know if you see these messages. Website developers don't often test for every possible combination of pages, products, and results which may lead to an occasional misidentification of security issues. As long as developers don't store personal information in cookies and only pass that information in secure page requests, you will be ok.

Cookies are also only limited to the domain of the request. If you browse to marketpath.com/home any cookies created or retrieved from that request are limited in scope to marketpath.com. We cannot ask for cookies stored from google.com because the browsers (at least the big dogs - IE, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari) will not allow it. If you're still using Mosaic then you're on your own!

Third-party cookies

Third party cookies are cookies created by outside domains, often ad services such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo, but used on your website. These cookies help the ad services recognize the ads you've seen and potentially personalize the ads displayed based on your browsing habits. These adhere to the same safety concerns as regular cookies but aren't controlled by the website including them.

More resources

​Here are several sites where you can learn more about cookies.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTP_cookie

http://www.microsoft.com/info/cookies.mspx

http://support.mozilla.com/en-US/kb/Cookies

http://www.allaboutcookies.org/

Although cookies are a fairly simple technology, you may have some questions about them. If so, please post your question(s) in the comment area below.

 

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5 Lesser-Known Benefits of Software-as-a-Service

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Since the idea of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has been around for quite a few years, the benefits have become pretty well known.  The SaaS proponents stand behind the lower cost of entry, the speed of implementation and availability of the software (not installed).  I wanted to dig a little deeper and take a look at some of the lesser known benefits of the Software-as-a-Service model.

No IT Staff Necessary

No IT Staff NecessaryMany small to medium sized business don't have internal IT staff, which makes them a perfect candidate for SaaS adoption.  In the world of web content management systems, an often-used alternative to SaaS is the Open Source platform (Joomla, Drupal, Wordpress ,etc).  While these programs have their place in the market, they are often written for "geeks" by "geeks".  We have helped numerous companies and organizations migrate away from these platforms after they have become frustrated with their supposedly "easy-to-use" open source system. Without internal IT staff, simplicity should become a major factor in the decision making process.  

Frees Up IT Staff Time

If you do have the luxury of having an in-house IT staff, they are probably strapped for time and bogged down with multiple duties.  Off-loading some of the workload of maintaining a web hosting server and a website is a quick, and usually cost-effective way, to make your IT staff more effective.  Utilizing an easy-to-use, SaaS content management system allows your marketing staff to take control of the most powerful marketing tool at your disposal, your website.  Keeping your IT staff out of your marketing efforts is essential to your online success. 

Eliminates Frustrating Maintenance

SaaS products can be quickly and easily patched and upgraded by the company responsible for the software, eliminating time-consuming maintenance for the customer.  Because SaaS products are built around one central core, applying a patch to it remedies any problems that may be occurring for all of the users.  There is no need to worry about software versioning, expensive updates, or in-house hardware problems.   

Less Learning Curve (Typically)

Easier Learning CurveBecause SaaS products are web-based, users typically latch onto them faster than installed software.  We all use the Internet every day, whether it be for browsing, shopping, or connecting with people, we have all become accustomed to web-based interfaces.  SaaS products piggy-back off this familiar look and feel, making the learning curve much less intimidating.

Never Out of Date

Subscribing to a Software-as-a-Service platform grants you a free pass to each and every update that is released for the software.  You can rest assured that you are getting the latest technology each and every time that you log onto the system.  This allows you to focus on completing your tasks, not wondering if the system will work.

Which SaaS products do you utilize?  What are some of the pros (or cons) that you see in the service offering? 





 

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Marketpath Named 2011 Innovation of the Year Finalist

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Marketpath named Techpoint MIRA Award finalist for 2011 Innovation of the YearMarketpath is excited to be named as one of three finalists for the 2011 Innovation of the Year Award as part of Techpoint's 12th annual Mira Awards initiative. The Mira Awards, which recognize excellence and achievement of Indiana's outstanding technology industry performers, annually include some of the technology industry's leading companies and individuals.

Marketpath is being recognized this year for a comprehensive internet marketing solution for automotive dealers, developed in conjunction with DriveVelocity, a Marketpath partner who specializes in marketing automation for the auto industry. The solution, branded "Customer Relation Automation," seamlessly integrates a dealer's website, campaign management, and CRM into a cost-effective and measureable solution to dramatically enhance the dealer's communications and marketing. The groundbreaking system seamlessly integrates previously disparate systems and processes, to drive customer interactions and enhanced service, while more clearly measuring results. Customer Relation Automation communicates and gathers data at key touch-points, providing a personalized, multi-channel experience for a dealer's prospects and customers, adding value and enhancing their experience throughout the customer life-cycle.

Congratulations also to Exact Target and i2iConnect, the other finalists for this year's Innovation of the Year Award. Stayed tuned until May 7th, when the winner will be revealed at the Mira Awards Gala. Marketpath looks forward to developing more innovative web marketing solutions in the future.

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Steve Jobs: 1955 - 2011

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As a high school junior in 1985, my family purchased our first computer, a Macintosh.  Little did I know at that time that twenty-six years later, I’d be writing a blog (heck the word didn’t exist yet) about the Mac and the founder of the company that introduced it, Apple.  Since that time, Steve Jobs personally has had a hand in revolutionizing the world of technology as well as at least five different industries:

  • computers - Apple II (1977) & Mac (1984) personal computers, Mouse (1984) , iPad (2010)
  • phone – iPhone (2007)
  • music – iPod (2001)
  • retail – iTunes Store (2001), Apple’s App Store (2008)
  • motion pictures – Pixar (1979, purchased by Steve Jobs in 1986)

Steve Jobs was a visionary and one of America’s true innovators.  And whether or not you feel he should be mentioned in the same class as Thomas Edison or alongside great American entrepreneurs like Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, or Walt Disney, it is clear he had a huge impact on our culture and our world.  I know he had a significant impact on my life.

In the past decade or so, my own family has grown up on Apple products that have been favorites on Christmas morning.  But it is still fun to think back to my first Apple purchase.  I don’t remember a lot about that first product, but I do remember using that Mac to create fake IDs with my brothers and our friends.  We were shocked by how easy it was.  Thanks Steve.  

Steve Jobs In Tribute to Steve Jobs:

"Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."

- Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford Commencement

The Crazy One – Steve Job’s Tribute (1 minute)

Wired Video Tribute (3 minutes)

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Social Media is Not an Acquisition Tool

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Social media is not an acquisition toolI'm sure this topic is going to rattle the cages of some self-proclaimed social media gurus, or social media ninjas (as some call themselves). There was a time, just a couple years ago, when many of these social media consultants proclaimed that traditional marketing and advertising was dead and that social media was the new way to reach your target audience. They were wrong.

We've had several years to gain insight into the power of social media and the best way to use it. What we've learned is that it isn't about customer acquisition. It's more about connecting with and supporting your existing customer base.

We are in a world where big corporations can take on a more human role by distributing connections to customers throughout their company and not leaving this job to just the marketing department, or just customer support. If you've never read Jay Baer's blog Convince and Convert, you should. One of his most recent posts is about using social channels for engagement and not blasting out more spam that  will simply be ignored.

If you're using Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to only blast out deals and promotions, then you're blowing it. But if you're using these social channels to connect and interact with your customer community in a way that engages them as more than a customer then you are working the right angle. I'm not going to get into what you should be posting about but just keep in mind that your promotions and deals are ok as long as they aren't the bulk of your conversation. One quick way to get ignored or dropped is to come across as always trying to get the next sale.

Perhaps you're thinking, "But ACME Corporation (fill in the company name) gained 43 new customers with a social media campaign last summer!" ok, I doubt it, but let's say this was true. Just because your son has a swoopy haircut doesn't mean he's going to be the next Justin Bieber. Chances of that are next to nothing. And the chances of your company successfully acquiring a whole swath of new customers from your social media efforts is also as abysmal. Can it happen? Sure! But probably not in the way you hope.

Social media, more and more, is recognized as a powerful way to connect with your customers in ways never before possible. Use it as a way to engage people who already know and trust you and you'll get a whole lot more bang for your buck.

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Is Your Form Killing Your Conversion Rate?

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Simple Web FormThe purpose of most well-crafted business websites is to convert visitors into sales leads (or customers, if your site is ecommerce). There are many aspects that go into engaging your website's visitors and convincing them to give you their information. Some of these aspects are easy to modify and test, like the placement, size and color of call to action buttons. Others are a little more difficult and costly, such as an overall website design change.  However, the element that your site relies on to convert visitors to leads, the form itself, may be hurting your website's ability to do its job.  Is your form actually discouraging visitors from filling it out?  Here are a few elements of your web form to check.

Too Much Required Information

New visitors to your website don't necessarily trust you yet, so don't expect them to give you the keys to the castle.  Chances are you don't need to know all of the information about a potential customer to start a conversation about your product or service.  If you can get away with just learning their name and email address, perhaps a phone number, then go for it. 

Too Many Form Fields

Even if you're not requiring each form field to be filled out to submit the form, seeing a large form can be discouraging.  Does knowing a client's location really help you prior to speaking with them?  If not, eliminate the field all together and see if the amount of submissions increases.  Try this with other fields that may not be necessary (Fax number, address, multiple phone numbers, title, etc.).

Budget/Invasive Questions

Eliminate the "How much is your budget for this project" question.  Yes, qualifying leads is important; however, this goes back to the trust issue of your website and a potential client.  Chances are they don't want to tell you how much money they have until they've at least talked with you.  There is a good chance your budget question has discouraged a qualified lead from contacting you. Check out this case study done by ClickTale that shows a 20% form abandonment rate due to a budget question.

The takeaway from this article should be a desire to test new formats for your web collect forms to increase conversion rates.  Test, analyze, rinse and repeat until you have found the perfect balance for your web form. 

Do you have experience testing your web forms?  If so, what are your favorite tools?  Leave your feedback in the comments below.     



 

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Google +1 Coming to an Algorithm Near You

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Google +1Earlier this week, Wired.com ran a story about Google exploring the integration of the +1 button data into their search ranking algorithm.  While this is something that most of us in the industry have expected since the launch of the +1 button, it is the first time (to my knowledge) that Google has confirmed it.  


This isn't the first time, however, that Google has looked at social signals as ranking influencers.  They have already begun to use the data received from Twitter to help determine rankings for websites.  Facebook, on the other hand, hasn't allowed Google to have access to its data, which may be one of the reasons why the +1 button was created.  

So, is this Google's plan to force everyone to utilize the +1 button?

In a way, yes.  Google's never-ending search for data has led them to the social sphere.  With people constantly tweeting, liking, and +1'ing, Google can gain more insight into the quality of the websites they are ranking.  Hopefully, as the social influences show their importance, Google will begin to tweak the amount of importance they place on links, especially coming from lower PageRank sites that run rampant with link spam.  

Is this a perfect solution?

No.  Google will need to combat the creation of fake profiles used for +1'ing purposes.  They have already shown their intentions for their new social network, Google+, by allowing users to report fake profiles, but this system may need overhauled if the +1 button becomes a major influencer to their rankings.  Black hat SEO's will relentlessly attempt to scam the system, just like some link building services do today.

Lots of Ranking Factors
Keep in mind there are lots of ranking factors, not just the +1

Where does this leave you, the site owner?

Google changes their algorithm all the time.  Most of these changes are minor, but some aren't.  At the end of the day, you always know that Google is trying to rank the highest quality sites for the terms they deserve to rank for.  Add relevant content to your site, interact genuinely through social media, create landing pages for marketing campaigns, and make sure your website can convert visitors to customers.  Remember, you are the expert in your industry, act like it...but in the mean time I'd go ahead and add Google's +1 button to be safe.

Here are the instructions on how to do it: http://www.google.com/webmasters/+1/button/         

 

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4 Reasons You Need a Mobile Website

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Mobile Websites from Marketpath CMSA mobile website or mobile ready website is simply an internet site optimized for viewing on mobile devices or smartphones such as the iPhone, Android or Blackberry.  Because mobile gadgets are smaller than computers (with smaller screens), full websites are often difficult to view and navigate via mobile devices. 

Mobile websites provide a better way for consumers to learn about your organization when they’re on-the-go and typically consist of a “stripped down” version of a website, with less information, prioritized or more important to the mobile user.

Visit the Internet Marketing Dictionary for a detailed definition of a mobile website.

 

So why should your organization develop a mobile site?

1) Because your current site doesn’t work well or look correct on mobile devices

I mentioned this briefly above.  And while it may be obvious, it is also the most significant reason you should consider a mobile site.  Maybe the fonts are too small, or the images too large, or the navigation and layout are too complex or awkward.  Roll over menus that work and look great when viewing from a computer, might be tedious or impossible to use via mobile.  Or, possibly, the site downloads painfully slow on a mobile device.  Regardless of the reason, if your prospect or customer can’t easily use your site or find what they’re looking for (without getting frustrated), they may just try your competitor’s easier to use mobile site!

2) The needs & behavior of a mobile web user are different from a traditional Internet user

While it is critical that your site be easy to view and navigate via mobile, it is also important to realize how mobile users are different from traditional computer web users.  Phone or mobile users are often away from their home or office (or at least away from their computers), with less time to spend surfing or looking for information.  Many times, they have a goal in mind and are looking for very specific information such as a location, news or event, contact, map, product, or schedule.  And often, they only have a few minutes to find what they want.

Because of these differences, your mobile design needs to focus on simplicity, presenting prioritized content that is relevant for the mobile user.  The Mobile Marketing Association suggests a less-is-more design philosophy for mobile web sites, focusing on the 3-5 most important reasons someone will visit your mobile site, and making those items visible upon entry, at the top menu level.  Eliminating side-scrolling and reducing down-scrolling also enhances ease-of-use via mobile.

Mobile Websites and Mobile Marketing3) Mobile internet use is growing rapidly!

Whether you like it or not, more and more people will be accessing your website via mobile devices.  In fact, as of last month (July 2011), 50% of all connections to the internet are from phones and mobile devices.

Microsoft Tag recently developed the infographic to the right to summarize the explosion of the mobile web, which is already a large market, but growing more rapidly by the minute.  If you are still skeptical as to the importance of the mobile web, I’ve included a number of interesting statistics.

  • 70% of the world’s population now have a mobile phone; 87% in the U.S. (per Experian)
  • U.S. children are now more likely to own a mobile phone than a book, with 85% of kids owning a phone as to 73% having books! (National Literacy Trust)
  • 55% of US consumers who purchased a new phone in 2011 bought a smartphone, up from the 34% last year (Nielsen)
  • 38% of US consumers owned a smartphone as of May 2011
  • Daily internet usage via handheld devices jumped from 29% in 2009 to 43% in 2010
  • In the last year Google has seen a 400% increase in the number of mobile searches
  • The #1 access method for local information is now the mobile browser

Despite the growing importance of mobile, less than 5% of businesses have mobile enabled websites today.  In fact, 50% of small businesses have never even checked the appearance or functionality of their site on a Smart Phone!

4) It’s fairly easy to create a mobile website

Assuming the functionality and content from your current site are up to snuff (you know what they say about ASS-U-ME), creating a mobile website is reasonably easy.  This is especially true with tools like Marketpath CMS, or other web content management solutions, that allow you to leverage both your existing website content and content management processes, without having to start from scratch or add new processes to update your mobile site.

Marketpath allows you to easily manage your mobile websites within Marketpath CMS, updating content for both your regular and mobile sites at the same time, while delivering to traditional and mobile formats.

So why not give mobile users what they want and enhance your brand equity and reputation at the same time?

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