Archive for the ‘Web and Technology’ Category

Hiring the right firm for your new website (an only partially biased article)

March 17, 2010

Most of the problems that we see when it comes to how people hire website companies comes from a lack of clarity from the person doing the hiring regarding what they want out of their website.

There are three primary types of website companies.

1. The IT company.
2. The Design Company.
3. The Marketing/Advertising company.

There is nothing wrong with any of the three; they each have a specific niche.

The real problem is that all three say they are fully capable on any front when they aren’t. The issue is compounded when a client doesn’t know the difference or doesn’t know what to look for when hiring the firm.

The IT guys.
There are many levels of Information Technology (IT), web development starting from the company whose main work is fixing your computers all the way up to the enterprise level company that solves large technical problems. You can easily spot an IT firm at presentations because they focus on the technology first and the marketing communications second. These providers can be the right solution for the smaller level companies without large budgets. However, in many instances, organization assume that all websites are technical tools which should automatically go to an IT firm when modern websites are usually marketing tools that an IT firm isn’t best suited to build.

The Design Shop
You can spot the design firm presentation because they will focus heavily on their past designs or showing you designs of what your new website might look like if you hire them. Assuming it’s a good shop, a design firm can help your web image look fantastic. There are many mid-level design firms that can get you on the web at an affordable price. Often times design focused firms will hire out freelancers to actually do the technical work on the site while they focus on making you look pretty.

The Marketing Guys
The Marketing or Ad Firm can be the best or worst decision among the group. Usually, they are most expensive due to high overhead (i.e. employees, buildings, offices, etc.). You can spot the Marketing Agency because they will talk about results first with design and tech as simply parts of the solution. The trick is being able to separate the good firms from the poor, as well as managing expectations. A good firm can deliver impactful change for your organization on the web. A weak firm may leave your wallet empty and you wondering what happened.

Here are some steps to help decide and make your new website experience more fruitful.

First, start at the end.
Define what it is you want from this website: What do you want it to do? More sales? Better image? More awareness? Provide a service? Once you know what you want to provide on the web, the type of firm you should hire will become much more clear.

Ask about Time, Project Management and Process.
A website is a multi-part process that can vary in production time due to a multitude of factors. The agency you hire should be able to clearly demonstrate how they will mange the project, as well as give you time estimations based on your particular variables. This point goes for every type of firm. Ask questions. At what stage of the project will we see what? Will they just disappear and show up with a “finished” site three months later? What work are they outsourcing? What happens with maintenance and support after the website goes live? Many firms will not show a design until the site is built. While for some this is okay, most organization like to see an illustration or sketch of what the end product before hundreds of hours are spent building it.

Define Deliverables
Because some clients are uncomfortable when talking about the web, they fail to ask for specific deliverables from their agency. Not defining deliverables or having them defined for you can lead to an open ended relationship where the web people are delivering what they think you want or the minimum they think they can get away with. But building a website is like building a building or any other product. You need to know what to expect. So, at the start of the project, outline specific functions of the website (i.e. timelines, content, etc.). If you can’t define these deliverables, ask them to define them so there is no inconsistency in expectations.

Where’s the beef? (Content)
Content is overlooked consistently but it’s what fills up your website, it’s what visitors will be looking at, and it’s what Google uses to rank you in searches. Is your content going to be text, pictures, video, some combination, or something else? Does the firm develop the content for you? Do you want them to? The IT Firm typically doesn’t develop content. The Design Firm usually subcontracts it out. And the Marketing Company does it at a premium.

Education
Do you want to be educated on the possibilities of the website and have a relationship with the firm so they always keep you on the cutting edge? It’s a good idea to look for a firm that talks about the present and the future.

How much money you got?
Figure out what your budget is going to be for this website because that will determine the level of service that you will receive. Spending more does not necessarily mean you will get more. But, like your father said, you get what you pay for in life. You don’t necessarily need to share your specific budget with the firm, but try to determine the amount you could conceivably budget on the project keeping in mind your goals (if you want a site to make you millions, you probably should spend more than $500). Different agencies charge a really wide variety of prices based on factors like expertise, location, staff size, and more. Websites can range from $1,000 to $200,000 and its a good idea to know what priority you give your site.

Check the References.
This gets overlooked more often than we like to think about. Ask and check references because it can save you time, money and sanity. If you call ten references and eight had amazing experiences, it’s much better than if none or one did. Think of it like you’re hiring an employee or accepting a tenant. You wouldn’t hire or let someone live in your house without checking their backgrounds. Why should hiring a web contractor be any different?

One other thing to keep in mind if you’re really small or have a super tiny budget: There are services out there that make building your own website (within templates and without any custom functionality) fairly easily. Companies like SquareSpace.com and Moonfruit.com are resources for this type of project.

And, finally, no questions are bad questions. So ask your firms the most basic of questions because, once your site is complete, it will always be more about you than it will be about them.

Even Ad Age Says Traditional Marketing Is Dying

April 8, 2009

We believe that, while some traditional media has its place, social media and the web is the best way to reach many demographics.

But it’s not as simple as just buying online ads or setting up a Facebook organization page. You have be genuine and authentic – and have something original to say. The good news is that, if you have the goods (i.e you know what you’re talking about or have a really good product or service), you stand a good chance at success because Earned Media is overtaking Paid Media in terms of impact.

Check out this article from Ad Age that helps prove that point.

So What Is This Social Media Stuff Anyway?

March 18, 2009

A lot of people talk about Social Media (or Web 2.0) – but not everyone knows exactly what it really means.

That’s okay. Like your mom told you when you were 13, it’s okay to be curious.

Web 1.0 was the first decade of the web, where the internet was a place to look and read. The information flowed one way: from a website to the user. Think of it like reading a brochure that happened to be online.

Social Media is a completely different beast. Over the last half-decade, the internet has changed from a one-way conversation to an active conversation between multiple parties.

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Blogs. e-Newsletters. Twitter. Facebook. Myspace. LinkedIn. Wikipedia. They’re all ways for anyone and everyone to take AND contribute information.

Since Social Media is where your customers, clients and donors are spending their time and money, it’s smart business to get in on that conversation with Permission Marketing.

It takes time and effort. Web 2.0 and Social Media tools require fresh, relevant and changing content all the time. But it’s worth it to stay connected with your market.

Twitter Analysis of Budweiser vs. Magic Hat

February 25, 2009

It’s interesting to see how companies of various sizes are handling Social Media and e-Marketing as part of their Brand Management strategies.

One small part of this that I always pay attention to is how they react – or don’t react – to Twitter activity about them. (If you’re not familiar with Twitter, click here or here.)

For example….

I like to homebrew beer and also try to taste as many different microbrews from small breweries around the country. (From our neck of the woods, I’m a fan of Saranac, Ithaca, and Ommegang, among others).

While I usually stick to the smaller guys, I’ve been curious for the last few months hearing Budweiser’s endless plugs for its new American Ale on NPR and This American Life. So I finally picked up some at the Giant by my house over the weekend. For the record, I enjoyed it – though for my follow-up beverage, I switched over the Magic Hat‘s Roxy Roll seasonal brew, which is a personal favorite.

Budweiser may have the fancy packaging and Super Bowl ads, but Magic Hat leads a Tribe.

Budweiser may have the fancy packaging and Super Bowl ads,but Magic Hat leads a Tribe.

Then I posted my comments about Budweiser and Magic Hat on Twitter.

When I checked in a day or two later to see if I had any new Twitter Followers, I was excited to see that Magic Hat was following me. They earned an even more loyal fan. Seth Godin would say I’m in their Tribe now.

I heard nothing from Budweiser. Now, I’m still impressed that their new beer wasn’t bad. But they missed an opportunity to permission market to me.

The point? Sometimes small, nimble, authentic companies do a better job of working new Social Media and e-Marketing tools than giant corporations that spend literally hundreds of millions of dollars every year on marketing. And, in today’s marketplace, that’s a smarter and wiser investment of time and resources.

Want To Get Found On The Internet?

February 12, 2009
SEO doesn't have to be a blind shot at the target.

SEO doesn't have to be a blind shot at the target.

Is your website really optimized?

Good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) means that your website is ranked highly by Google, Yahoo! and other search engines when your clients or prospects look up keywords.

Being found by a third party site like Google is great for business. It positions you as an expert in your field before you’ve even said a word.

So how do you get your website optimized? Here are three simple tips to get you started….

1. Update your website regularly. The days of set-and-forget websites are over. Google wants to see websites updated regularly because that’s what Google’s users want to see.

2. Link, link, link. Being linked to other websites or blogs increases your relevancy. So contact your sister organizations, clients and vendors and link to each other on your sites.

3. Put up video. Websites with video have a higher retention rate for visitors. So they get ranked higher than sites without video. Does your website have any video on it?

Remember that Google, Yahoo! and others change the rules every few months. So it’s important to always be working hard to make sure your website is optimized.

Burning Permission ESPN-style

December 20, 2008

I’m out of the norm at GrafiQa. I love sports. Really, really love ’em.

The NY Mets dominate my April through September (I’d be happier if it was April through October but it just doesn’t seem meant to be lately). It made 14 year old Bijoy’s decade when they located their AA team, the Binghamton Mets, in my hometown in 1992.

Sadly for me, the Cincinnati Bengals dominate my – well, not very long each fall since they perpetually stink.

Anyway, I get ESPN The Magazine because I read ESPN.com several days a week and want to get the latest baseball buzz in the middle of winter by seeing the pay-section Rumor Central (to see what #5 starter the Mets will settle on). Along with signing up for The Insider, I get a subscription to The Magazine.

I received my latest issue today. It’s all about how EVERY BOWL GAME MATTERS (as in college football bowl games).

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Now, I’m not a huge fan of college football. But I’m such a sports dork that I know what games matter and what don’t. Just about every b0wl game DOESN’T MATTER because of the asinine BCS system.

I also watch enough SportsCenter to know that ESPN carries nine million bowl games over the next few weeks.

So it’s clear to me as a professional marketer that The Magazine is pushing for ratings – not pushing to interest me as a sports reader.

That’s disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand that ESPN (and ABC, it’s parent company; and Disney, ABC’s parent company) are crazy serious marketers.

I just hate that my guilty pleasure on such a base level has been tarnished. The stuff I want to read about because it’s important in the sports world has been encroached on by less meaningless stuff that ESPN wants to promote for ratings.

Whoever is in charge of ESPN The Magazine is burning the rest of ESPN’s Permission with me.

Advertising and Social Media

December 18, 2008
the Brooklyn Museum's ArtShare application on Facebook allows users to share art and connect with museums.

the Brooklyn Museum's ArtShare application on Facebook allows users to share art and connect with museums.

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a good article about the current state of advertising on social media sites. The upshot: the average person goes to a social media site to be social, not to consume advertising or befriend laundry detergent.

I think one thing that is frustrating traditional “advertisers” is the fact that social media works much more on the old PR model, and that marketing/advertising/PR are becoming less and less distinct disciplines in this environment.

For real though – who is going to be an active contributor to Tide’s corporate page? Who has the time? The challenge for brands is being creative and delivering – yes, I’m going to use those two magic words again – valuable content. Apparently that doesn’t include a gallery of “America’s Favorite Stains.”(ps it’s a work-safe link.)

On the other hand, it will take a while, but behavior on Facebook will likely include shopping one day. I came very close to shopping at the Met’s store for a Christmas present because of an ad on Fb. I clicked through to the site and browsed. For me, that’s as much of a conversion as they’ll ever get because I am, at the end of the day, very cheap. I’ll go back after the holidays and buy ornaments for gifts for next year. I’m in that, much reviled-by-my-own-profession demographic.

And while Tide’s stain-o-rama page has fewer than 500 fans, the Met’s page? More than 35,000, including me. And I get valuable information about events and exhibits right there in my notifications, without having to search it out.

And if you want to talk about being really valuable to your constituents, look at the Brooklyn Museum’s ArtShare application, which allows people and museums who are passionate about art to share it on Facebook. It’s that kind of thinking that will win you a Groundswell Award, as well as distinction as an innovator in your field and exposure to an audience that might never have heard of you otherwise.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to share some Hopper with friends.

Tweet, tweet…it’s your brand flying across the park on Twitter

December 18, 2008

Is Twittering going to work for business and marketing? Still yet to be determined in a meaningful way. There are lots of opinions on it out there. Here’s one now.

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We like Twitter. Want to know what we’re up to? Sign up to follow Chris’ tweets by clicking on his photo here.

Is Online Writing Real Writing?

December 11, 2008

Seth Godin had a really interesting post today about how the Pulitzer Prize committee is finally getting (sort-of) hip to the fact that online writing is making a huge difference in the world – and is, therefore, worthy of being recognized with their fancy-schmancy award. The screwy part is that only writing associated with big outlets will be considered.

The web is a huge place. A lot of the content on it obviously isn’t associated with those big outlets. And a lot of important work is happening outside those big outlets.

Here in GrafiQa Land, a lot of our clients are having great success positioning their businesses or not-for-profits as the leading experts in their fields through business blogs or e-news tools. Some of them have experienced such success that we think they should get an award. I guess it just won’t be the Pulitzer.

The First Step to Good SEO: Have Good Content

November 14, 2008

A lot of our clients here at GrafiQa regularly ask us how to get ranked as high as possible by Google, Yahoo! and other search engines.

Their motivations are pretty obvious: get seen by more customers, get more qualified leads, get more business.

Many people think that Search Engine Optimization is about manipulating or tricking search engines into ranking your website higher. That’s dead wrong. Why would you want to trick Google or Yahoo? That means you’re tricking your potential customer (who isn’t really your potential customer anyway since he’s probably not really interested in what you’re selling if you tricked them).

Trickery isn't nice. And it's not real Search Engine Optimization either.

Charlie Brown knows that trickery isn't very nice. But it's not good Search Engine Optimization either.

The first step to effective SEO is actually having relevant and useful content about your product, issue or whatever it is you’re marketing.

Sounds simple, right? It is.

Think about it: if you want to buy small-scaled steel kettle drums, you want Google or Yahoo to direct you to the best, most relevant dealer for that type of specialized equipment. You don’t want them to direct you to some random music equipment dealer in Tacoma who’s really selling indian tablas but “tricked” the seach engines into thinking his selection was broader.

Successful search engine companies are smart. And they know that finding the best, most relevent sites for their customers is what is going to keep those customers coming back.

So, if you’re thinking about SEO, start by understanding that the first step is being honest about what you’re doing.

(Of course, there are a million more advanced things to do after that. But that’s a whole other post….)