The ABCs of SEO

wordpress-seo1So, your busi­ness has invested a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time and money in its new web site. Are you sat­is­fied with the traf­fic it’s getting?

If the answer is no, think about this: it’s now com­mon­place for con­sumers to turn to search engines first before con­tact­ing local orga­ni­za­tions or mak­ing buy­ing deci­sions. According to a sur­vey from Pew Research, 92% of Internet users use search engines, with 59% doing so on a daily basis. Your web site’s vis­i­bil­ity on the web is more crit­i­cal than ever, and if it’s like most com­pa­nies, it’s got a lot of com­pe­ti­tion out there.

To increase your site’s per­for­mance, you need a search engine opti­miza­tion (SEO) plan. SEO is a series of ongo­ing tasks that help search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing find and index your site. This process helps to raise your site’s rank­ings on search engine results pages (SERPs), allow­ing more peo­ple to find your site. Organic SEO — what we focus on most — is a process that works to achieve a nat­u­rally high place­ment on SERPs, as opposed to SEO that relies on paid placement.

Need to under­stand the basics of SEO? Let’s break it down to the sim­plest concepts.

In gen­eral terms, search engines rank sites accord­ing to three basic attrib­utes.
They tend to reward sites that are:

1) RelevantHow aligned is it with the key­word search?
2) Popular How much traf­fic does it have?
3) Current How much recent con­tent does it have?

It’s com­mon sense, when you think about it. To effec­tively pro­vide answers to the mil­lions of queries they receive every day, search engines want to serve up what most peo­ple care about: the most rel­e­vant, pop­u­lar, and cur­rent infor­ma­tion out there.

There’s a lot of com­plex­ity that goes into opti­miz­ing a web site organ­i­cally so that search engines will rank it highly. But to boil it down to the basics, organic SEO involves just a few core concepts:

Keywords. The name of the game in SEO is key­words. These words, and strings of words, work like glue to con­nect search engines to your web site. A good SEO strat­egy iden­ti­fies key­word phrases that are actively searched for by indus­try and geo­graphic area.

Content. Content devel­op­ment and main­te­nance is one of the most impor­tant things you can do to increase your site’s per­for­mance. Fresh, high-quality con­tent attracts search engines and dri­ves traf­fic to your site, but watch out — the mis­use of key­word den­sity can result in penal­ties from search engines. So it’s impor­tant to fol­low best prac­tices when it comes to your web content.

Tags / Meta Data. Tags are another way in which your site talks to search engines. Much of this “meta data” is incon­spic­u­ous or invis­i­ble to users, but don’t let that fool you into think­ing it’s irrel­e­vant. It’s crit­i­cal not to ignore this SEO detail.

Links. One of the most impor­tant met­rics that search engines use to deter­mine the pop­u­lar­ity of a web site is the num­ber of cred­i­ble and pop­u­lar sites that link to it. These exter­nal links are the hard­est to obtain, so Google rewards them highly. Other types of links also help in site opti­miza­tion, so we work to include as many appro­pri­ate links as possible.

Off-Site Activity. To drive tar­geted web traf­fic to a par­tic­u­lar site, some SEO work is per­formed else­where on the web. Social media and online adver­tis­ing are exam­ples of this off-site activ­ity. Other mar­ket­ing efforts that are com­pletely off-line can help increase web traf­fic as well, such as the use of tra­di­tional mar­ket­ing media and incen­tives that encour­age web site visits.

Patience. Organic SEO takes time — often up to three to six months to see the full results of your opti­miza­tion efforts. Adding Pay-Per-Click (PPC) to your SEO strat­egy can boost your results and allow them to show up sooner, but it can be an expen­sive endeavor that requires addi­tional expertise.

If your site’s online per­for­mance is less than ideal, an SEO assess­ment may be in order. Just give us a shout — we can help with as much or as lit­tle as you need to help give your web site the vis­i­bil­ity it needs.

SEO: Winning the popularity contest

Groschopp-Inc.-4-Simple-steps-gearmotor-Popular

Think back to high school for just a minute. You may not want to, but give it a try. Remember the pop­u­lar kids? The ones who drew a con­stant crowd of friends around them? They tended to be good-looking, well dressed, artic­u­late, out­go­ing, and in shape. Am I right? The pop­u­lar kids had a col­lec­tion of qual­i­ties that made them stand out and attract oth­ers to them.

On the flip side of this were the “uncool” kids who strug­gled to get noticed. Some sim­ply didn’t make the effort to acquire the qual­i­ties that attract oth­ers. Others did, but they had a tough time attain­ing those qualities.

Fast for­ward to today. The rules that dic­tate high school pop­u­lar­ity are now what apply to your web site. It’s got to win the attrac­tion of search engines (and in turn, vis­i­tors), and it needs a cer­tain col­lec­tion of qual­i­ties to do that. It’s got to look good and be in great shape. It needs to be well con­nected and have an out­go­ing per­son­al­ity. And it’s got to have qual­ity con­tent that draws a crowd.

How can your site com­pete in this online pop­u­lar­ity con­test? It needs a strong search engine opti­miza­tion (SEO) strategy.

At Stride, we build in a basic level of organic SEO into every web­site we launch. But that’s just the begin­ning. To have a web site that ranks well on Google and other search engines, you can’t just “set it and for­get it” — you need a plan for reg­u­lar opti­miza­tion and main­te­nance. We col­lab­o­rate with many clients on strate­gies for SEO that improve and main­tain a high level of vis­i­bil­ity, and it works. For busi­nesses that rely on a con­stant stream of new vis­i­tors, espe­cially those using generic key­word searches, this ongo­ing work is absolutely critical.

So how does your site rank? If it’s strug­gling to get noticed, it might be time for an SEO strat­egy. I’ll explain more about this process, and the basics of search engine opti­miza­tion, in my next blog post. Stay tuned!

World-wide web of WordPress

wordpress-logo-680x400Here at Stride, we love design­ing and build­ing full-featured web sites for our clients. This year alone we’ve cre­ated nearly 20 web sites for clients from Vermont to Alaska. We cre­ated the major­ity of those sites using the WordPress plat­form, and we’re now start­ing to con­vert some of our clients’ older HTML sites over to WordPress. Wondering why the big change? Read on to find out!

What exactly is WordPress?
WordPress is a free and open source blog­ging and con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem (CMS) started in 2003. It’s a set of down­load­able files that is uploaded to your web host and forms the back­bone of your web­site. There is, how­ever, a lot more to WordPress than just files.

The open source nature of WordPress is key to its awe­some­ness. There are hun­dreds of peo­ple all over the world work­ing to make it bet­ter every day. What’s more, there is a com­mu­nity of mil­lions of web devel­op­ers, design­ers, busi­ness own­ers, and blog­gers using the tools, shar­ing their expe­ri­ences, and offer­ing ideas to the peo­ple who are actively devel­op­ing the plat­form. This results in a level of refine­ment and sophis­ti­ca­tion that was pre­vi­ously unob­tain­able within the bud­gets of small– and medium-sized businesses.

Amazing fea­tures
This same group of users and devel­op­ers has also con­tributed to WordPress by devel­op­ing apps — called ‘plu­g­ins’ — that run on the WordPress plat­form. There are many (cur­rently 27,791) free plu­g­ins avail­able on wordpress.org that can add all sorts of fea­tures to your web site, from sim­ple Facebook inte­gra­tion to a full-fledged eCom­merce shop­ping cart.

Easier main­te­nance
One of WordPress’s key fea­tures from a busi­ness owner’s per­spec­tive is how easy it is to cre­ate and edit the pages and posts of their site with­out need­ing to pay a web devel­oper to do it for them. For the most part, if you can use a word proces­sor, you can edit the pages of your site!

Better for SEO
WordPress sites in gen­eral have a very high level of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Here at Stride, we build all of our sites so that the code is clean and easy for search-engines to crawl, and we make sure that non-technical users can main­tain up-to-date SEO infor­ma­tion like keyword-rich title tags, head­lines, links, meta infor­ma­tion and more. We also inte­grate Google Analytics into every site, so you can tell what key­words and con­tent are dri­ving the most traf­fic to your site and fine-tune your SEO based on real traf­fic data!

In addi­tion, Google and other search engines pre­fer regularly-updated, “fresh” con­tent. WordPress makes it as easy as pie to add new arti­cles, com­pany news, links to rel­e­vant indus­try arti­cles, and other timely con­tent to your site. Gone are the days where a site sits stag­nant because it’s too dif­fi­cult or costly to add con­tent quickly and eas­ily. WordPress empow­ers you to be a pub­lish­ing powerhouse!

WordPress by the num­bers:
WordPress is now the most pop­u­lar plat­form for build­ing web sites. Here are just a few of the sta­tis­tics that demon­strate how dom­i­nant it is:

  • Today, WordPress pow­ers 1 of every 6 web sites on the Internet, nearly 70 mil­lion in all, with 100,000 more pop­ping up each day.
  • As of August 2013, WordPress was used by more than 18.9% of the top 10 mil­lion web sites in the world.
  • Approximately 22 of every 100 domains cre­ated in the U.S. are run­ning on WordPress.
  • Among con­tent man­age­ment sys­tems, WordPress has a mar­ket­share of nearly 60%; the next clos­est CMS holds less than 10% mar­ket­share! (http://w3techs.com)
  • Of the top 10,000 CMS sites indexed by BuiltWith.com, nearly 39% use WordPress.
  • According to Alexa, wordpress.com is the 16th most pop­u­lar web­site in the world, ahead of jug­ger­nauts like Bing and eBay!

The fol­low­ing is a chart of Google searches for WordPress and a num­ber of its pri­mary com­peti­tors. Note how WordPress has pulled away from the com­pe­ti­tion since 2008.

Prominent com­pa­nies using the WordPress platform:

Ford
UPS
Logitech
GM
Best Buy
Volkswagen
General Electric
OnStar
eBay
Intel
Samsung
Pepsi
Xerox
Tech Crunch
TED
CNN
The National Football League
NBC Sports
CBS Radio
Nikon
Adobe
The Wall Street Journal
Yahoo!
Dell
Nokia
People

Sources:

  • http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/19/wordpress-now-powers-22-percent-of-new-active-websites-in-the-us/
  • http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_management/all
  • http://leaderswest.com/2013/05/28/infographic-wordpress-has-66-of-the-cms-market/
  • http://wp.smashingmagazine.com/2011/11/29/wordpress-cms-crown-drupal-joomla/

9 common copywriting mistakes:
Are they holding back your business?

Do you ever find your­self ask­ing why your ads aren’t bring­ing in more sales, or why your web con­ver­sions are so low? If you’re tar­get­ing the right audi­ence and the visual aspects of your brand are decent, it could be a prob­lem with your messaging.

I work with a lot of clients on mes­sag­ing strat­egy and copy­writ­ing. Over the years, I’ve seen the same mis­steps again and again across a wide spec­trum of indus­tries. Regardless of whom you’re writ­ing for, if you can avoid these com­mon copy­writ­ing mis­takes, you’ll get more peo­ple read­ing… and buying.

Mistake #1: You don’t have a roadmap. Start a jour­ney with­out a map, and what will hap­pen? You’ll soon get your­self lost. Don’t trip up on the first step toward great mar­ket­ing copy. Create a well-defined mes­sag­ing strat­egy that will guide all your copy­writ­ing. An effec­tive mes­sag­ing strat­egy pin­points your unique sell­ing propo­si­tion and helps you stay focused on your key mes­sages. Get off track and you’ll lose your way, and your reader’s interest.  

Mistake #2: You’ve lost your voice. Or worse yet, you never had one. I’m talk­ing about a brand per­son­al­ity. Who are you? What makes you dif­fer­ent? Your mes­sag­ing should reflect a dis­tinct per­son­al­ity that attracts your ideal tar­get cus­tomer. People are drawn to like-minded com­pa­nies for rea­sons that go beyond prod­uct fea­tures; they bond with brands that give them a feel­ing of trust and com­pat­i­bil­ity. Figure out who your tar­get cus­tomer is, then speak their language.

Mistake #3: You’re too focused on your­self. When peo­ple visit your web­site or come across your ad, they have one ques­tion in mind: “What’s in it for me?” If you don’t answer this ques­tion in a mat­ter of sec­onds, they’re gone. Don’t start out talk­ing about the fea­tures of your prod­ucts or the his­tory of your com­pany. Focus on the ben­e­fits to your cus­tomer. Can you make their life bet­ter? Tell them how, and tell them quickly.

Mistake #4: You for­got what you learned in English class. Be hon­est: are you a decent writer? Nothing makes a prospect bounce from a web­site faster than a poorly writ­ten page, so take a moment to assess your writ­ing before you go live with it. Bad gram­mar, mis­spellings, tense shift­ing, and overuse of acronyms (OMG!) are instant turnoffs and causes of con­fu­sion. Evaluate your writ­ing and use resources to fix your mis­takes. And if writing’s just not your thing, that’s OK. Better to use your time more effi­ciently by focus­ing on the things you are good at, and hire a copy­writer or edi­tor. The small invest­ment will be worth it.

Mistake #5: You think too much about what you learned in English class. Maybe you’re the type who got all A’s in English. Congratulations! You’re just as much at risk of writ­ing inef­fec­tive copy. Why? Because great mar­ket­ing copy doesn’t fol­low the strict rules you learned in school. Its goal is to evoke an emo­tion, often by draw­ing on brand atti­tude, so it’s most effec­tive when it sim­ply feels right. And that means some­times break­ing the rules. Like this. Copy that’s too for­mal can make your brand quite blah, so learn to loosen up from time to time, and you’ll go from ho-hum to red-hot.

Mistake #6: You try too hard to impress. Confucius said, “Life is really sim­ple, but we insist on mak­ing it com­pli­cated.” Many famous writ­ers echo this sen­ti­ment and preach sim­plic­ity. Ask your­self if you’re try­ing to show off your smarts when you write. Most peo­ple don’t use big words and fancy lingo when they speak, and nei­ther should your writ­ing. Write like you have a prospect in front of you, and let the words come naturally.

Mistake #7: You don’t give ‘em a break. Most peo­ple scan a page before decid­ing if they want to com­mit to read­ing it. Are you putting up a wall, or invit­ing them in? If your web pages are filled with end­less para­graphs, you may be turn­ing away prospects in a mat­ter of sec­onds. Too much copy sim­ply looks like too much work to read. Say less if you can, and break up your copy into smaller chunks with sub­heads and visuals.

Mistake #8: You’re too vague. Do you have a legit­i­mate claim to fame? Something that adds value to your customer’s life that you can express in real num­bers? Don’t hold back. Concrete specifics are more com­pelling to poten­tial buy­ers than vague claims and abstract words. Be spe­cific, and you’ll be remem­bered when it’s time to buy.

Mistake #9: You don’t tell them what to do. So you’ve writ­ten some great copy. Now what? Do your prospects know the next step they should take to do busi­ness with you? Don’t expect peo­ple to know what to do with your information—include a call to action. Tell them to click, ask them to call, give them an incen­tive. Whatever it takes to get them to make the next move should be your next move.

Good luck, and happy writ­ing! And, if you need help with your next copy­writ­ing project, feel free to give us a call.

Scrunchies and Mullets: How to tell if your website is out-of-date

With a lot of things in life, you can tell when it’s time to move on. When food goes bad, the smell – or a trip to the ER – will let you know it’s time to throw it out. When your shoes are worn out, you get a hole in them. But how can you tell if your organization’s web­site is out of date?

There’s no one sim­ple rule that will allow you to deter­mine if it’s time to upgrade your web­site, but you can ask your­self a few sim­ple ques­tions that might steer you in the direc­tion of the near­est web design firm… or put you at ease for another year or two.

Is your site easy for users to nav­i­gate?
Your site should be orga­nized in a man­ner that makes it sim­ple for a vis­i­tor to find the infor­ma­tion they’re look­ing for very quickly. Clear, user-friendly nav­i­ga­tion is an expec­ta­tion — not a bonus. Ideally, a user should be able to get to all your impor­tant pages within 1 to 2 clicks. If that’s not the case with your site, it’s prob­a­bly time to upgrade.

Are there a lot of images that con­tain text on your site, such as but­tons or head­lines?
Search engines like Google can’t read text con­tained within graph­ics, so key­words or impor­tant phrases appear­ing on top of pho­tos, or as fancy graph­ics, aren’t indexed by search engines. Even more prob­lem­atic, text con­verted to graph­ics requires spe­cial soft­ware and extra steps to mod­ify. With the recent devel­op­ment of web  fonts, it’s now pos­si­ble to achieve through search-engine friendly code what could only be done by sta­tic graph­ics a few years ago. Whenever pos­si­ble, your web pages should ren­der as much text as pos­si­ble in search­able, styl­ized html code. Time and effort spent now will pay off in eas­ier main­te­nance and bet­ter rank­ings later. 

Does your site dis­play nicely on mobile devices and desk­top com­put­ers?
A large and grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple will access your web­site on mobile devices. If your site doesn’t dis­play well for these vis­i­tors, they may move on to your com­peti­tor. Mobile-responsive web­sites have gone from a lux­ury to a require­ment in just the last few years. It may require a small invest­ment to make this upgrade, but it’s one that will really serve you well in the long run.

Is your site achiev­ing good search-engine place­ment?
Old sites tend to suf­fer when it comes to search engine rank­ings. Bad or out­dated code, lack of fre­quent con­tent updates, con­tent that’s invis­i­ble to search-engines, or secu­rity issues are just a few of the pos­si­ble prob­lems that cause sites to suf­fer with search engine place­ment. If your site isn’t achiev­ing, it’s prob­a­bly time to make some upgrades, or even rebuild your site.

Is your site easy for any­one to update?
Now more than ever on the web, con­tent is king. Your site will undoubt­edly ben­e­fit from reg­u­lar doses of fresh con­tent, which will not only engage your audi­ence, but pro­vide active search engine opti­miza­tion. You shouldn’t have to enlist a web devel­oper and pay hun­dreds of dol­lars to make your con­tent changes. These days, it’s com­mon­place for a non-technical per­son to update vir­tu­ally all con­tent on your site with­out the urge to put their foot through the mon­i­tor. Not pos­si­ble with your site? It’s time to give your site, or your web devel­oper, the boot.

Does your site allow vis­i­tors to sub­mit infor­ma­tion to you eas­ily?
One of the most valu­able fea­tures of a web­site is the abil­ity to col­lect infor­ma­tion from your vis­i­tors, such as their con­tact infor­ma­tion or ser­vices they’re inter­ested in. Depending on your indus­try, this could be a crit­i­cal way for you to com­pete for cus­tomers. If there is no way to eas­ily gather help­ful vis­i­tor infor­ma­tion from your site, per­haps it’s time to kick it to the curb.

Does your site match your company’s brand­ing?
Most suc­cess­ful orga­ni­za­tions spend a con­sid­er­able amount of time and effort devel­op­ing and main­tain­ing their brands. In a world clogged with com­pet­ing adver­tis­ing, brand con­sis­tency is extremely impor­tant — so your web­site should reflect your other mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als as much as pos­si­ble. If you’re unable to eas­ily apply your company’s brand to your web­site, it’s def­i­nitely time for a makeover.

Does your site look like it was designed in the 90’s?
Sure, the 90’s were great, but if your web­site looks like it was designed then, we’ve got prob­lems. Some tell­tale signs that your site design is out-of-date include ani­mated intro pages, glossy-effect but­tons, skinny 640-pixel-wide lay­outs, flash ani­ma­tions that make words move like Jumanji magic, or a “hit-counter” that dis­plays how many dozens of vis­i­tors you’ve had since leg-warmers were pop­u­lar. Like scrunchies and mullets…your 90’s web­site is bet­ter left in the past!

Do you have social media inte­gra­tion on your site?
As annoy­ing as Facebook can be at times, the nearly 1 bil­lion peo­ple who are using it sure would look great as your cus­tomers. So, if your orga­ni­za­tion has an active account on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest or the like, you should con­sider upgrad­ing your site onto a plat­form that inte­grates eas­ily with these social ser­vices. Otherwise, your site could end up in a lonely place.

Still not sure if your site is out-of-date?
Contact us. We’ll be happy to help you deter­mine if your site is ready for prime­time, in need of a lit­tle love, or des­tined for the trash bin.

Capturing your brand: Why professional photography matters

Chances are, you prob­a­bly own some kind of cam­era. Maybe you even have one that’s not also a phone and ten other things — you know, a real SLR cam­era. And chances are fairly good that you also have a friend or rel­a­tive who’s a bud­ding photographer-on-the-side who took a great one of your kid at last summer’s barbeque.

Photography is all around us. So, when it comes to the photo needs for your busi­ness, it’s easy to think of ways to cut this cost in your mar­ket­ing bud­get. I mean, it seems so easy. Why the heck should it cost so much?

As a designer, I can tell you first­hand how qual­ity pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy brings your brand to life, and how mediocre pho­tog­ra­phy makes that effort incred­i­bly harder. It truly can be the crit­i­cal dif­fer­ence between suc­cess or fail­ure, the ele­ment that draws in your audi­ence, makes your mes­sage believ­able, and con­vinces cus­tomers to buy — or not.

We’ve all been moved by a great pho­to­graph, but most of us don’t under­stand the fun­da­men­tals behind it, the intan­gi­ble ele­ments that sep­a­rate it from an every­day shap­shot. We don’t think about the specifics of com­po­si­tion, color, sharp­ness, and light­ing, and the years of train­ing it took to per­fect those things, when we look at a photo. But we know a great one when we see it. A truly effec­tive photo can draw us in and pen­e­trate our mem­ory, allow­ing the mar­ket­ing mes­sage behind it to stick with us. When we’re moved by a photo, we tend to become believers.

Now, you prob­a­bly know that there’s a viable option to reduc­ing your pho­tog­ra­phy costs: stock pho­tog­ra­phy. There are mil­lions of pro­fes­sional pho­tos avail­able online at a frac­tion of the cost of hir­ing a pro­fes­sional, and often this is a solu­tion that works just fine in cer­tain cir­cum­stances. The upside of stock pho­tog­ra­phy is that it’s inex­pen­sive and instan­ta­neous. There are mines to dodge when using stock pho­tog­ra­phy, how­ever, so it’s impor­tant to tread wisely. First, stock often looks like stock. In Vermont this is espe­cially true. The stan­dard white-shirted ‘busi­ness­model’ in a white high-rise build­ing doesn’t look very believ­able in our casual, rural state. Stock pho­tos are also not pro­pri­etary, so the photo you choose for your home­page could also end up in some­one else’s ad, web­site, or brochure. So the trick to using stock pho­tog­ra­phy is not rely­ing on it too heav­ily, as it can eas­ily kill your authenticity.

My sug­ges­tion is to make the invest­ment in a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher when you can. If you can’t afford one for all your photo needs, at least con­sider the invest­ment for the pho­tos you rely on most — the ones you need to really sell your unique mes­sage. Your pho­tog­ra­pher should have exper­tise in the type of pho­tog­ra­phy you need, as the skills and equip­ment needed to cre­ate great food pho­tog­ra­phy is very dif­fer­ent from, say, sports pho­tog­ra­phy. We work with many tal­ented local pho­tog­ra­phers in a vari­ety of dis­ci­plines, some of which are listed below, and their work has helped our clients to ele­vate their brands and enjoy long-term success.

If your photo needs are exten­sive, don’t for­get about the impor­tance of photo shoot plan­ning and direc­tion. It’s a crit­i­cal com­po­nent that pro­tects your invest­ment in pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy. At Stride, we work closely with our clients and pho­tog­ra­phers, and some­times styl­ists and mod­els, to plan each photo shoot, cre­ate detailed sched­ules and shot lists, and then direct the shoot to ensure that the pho­tos work flaw­lessly in the lay­outs we’ve designed. It’s a cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tion that pro­vides the best pos­si­ble results, and very happy clients.

Thankfully, there are many tal­ented pho­tog­ra­phers in our area. Here’s a sam­pling of some of the pho­tog­ra­phers we’ve worked with and highly recommend:

Andy Duback                       www.dubackphotography.com
Jim Westphalen                   www.jimwestphalen.com
Glenn Moody                        www.glennmoodyphotography.com
Rick Levinson                       www.rlphoto.com
Daria & Andy Bishop            www.dariabishop.com
Mike Riddell                         www.mikeriddellphotography.com
Natalie Stultz                        www.nataliestultz.com
Andrew Wellman                  www.andrewwellmanphotographer.com
Hilary Hess                           http://seenive.com/u/907762792885530624
Brian Mohr                            www.emberphoto.com
Alex & Kathy Pintair              www.ambientphotography.com

A (Half) Day in the Life of Zoe Ink

I recently attended a half-day let­ter­press work­shop – partly to keep the cre­ative juices flow­ing, but mainly because I’ve admired the work of Zoe Papas of Zoe Ink for years, and wanted to expe­ri­ence the process first-hand.

My friend Lisa and I arrived at Zoe Ink and started with an overview of the his­tory of print­ing and the evo­lu­tion of this age-old tech­nol­ogy. We picked up and exam­ined antique let­ter­press art­work and let­ters, and mar­veled at the thought of hand-setting in row and rows of type, one let­ter at a time. We learned about dif­fer­ent presses Zoe works with, and were awed by their power and pre­ci­sion. Soon we were geared up to dive into work on her large press!

Opening draw­ers and draw­ers of neatly orga­nized art­work, Lisa and I finally agreed on our first design – an array of dahlia flow­ers. We painstak­ingly set up the press with clips and guides, and mea­sured and cut paper for folded note­cards. We mixed up cheery orange ink by hand and applied the tini­est amount to the press. Finally, we set up the art­work place­ment and trans­ferred it to the block. A lot of work just to get to the start­ing line!

I went first. Holy smokes … it was quite intim­i­dat­ing at first. Zoe’s large press is an impres­sive and daunt­ing machine, with mov­ing wheels and rollers, a rotat­ing wheel of ink, and a big gear to pull when you’re ready to press the inked plate into your paper. The tim­ing is crit­i­cal … get the paper lined up on your clips and guides before the machine clamps down and poten­tially takes a hand with it. Zoe watched patiently while my heart raced. We fine-tuned the press so the depth of the impres­sion was just right – not too light so it appeared like tra­di­tional print­ing, and not so deep that it trans­ferred to the other side. By the end of my first batch of cards my heart had stopped rac­ing, and I was almost get­ting the hang of it.

Over the course of the next four hours, we made mon­u­men­tal progress – com­pleted a few dif­fer­ent sizes and styles of cards, cleaned the press, changed ink color, hand scored the soft­est folded cards, machine-scored the more for­giv­ing ones, hand trimmed the final folded cards so they were absolutely per­fect, selected match­ing envelopes, and pack­aged them all up in tidy cel­lo­phane wrap­pers. (Oh yeah, we did a fair amount of snack­ing over the course of the after­noon too!)

All in all, I have a new­found appre­ci­a­tion for crafts­peo­ple like Zoe who com­bine an artis­tic eye with a stan­dard of absolute per­fec­tion in their craft. I was stunned by the amount of hand­work she puts into every card — the type of work we take for granted when so many auto­mated processes exist today. It was a refresh­ing change of pace to step away from a com­puter, and cre­ate a piece of art, one step at a time, by hand.

I couldn’t rec­om­mend her work­shop enough. You can learn more about Zoe Ink and her let­ter­press genius at www.zoeink.com

2013: The Year of Responsive Web Design

“Day by day, the num­ber of devices, plat­forms, and browsers that need to work with your site grows. Responsive web design rep­re­sents a fun­da­men­tal shift in how we’ll build web­sites for the decade to come.”
– Jeffrey Veen

The term “respon­sive web design” – also known as RWD – is a rel­a­tively new term coined by for­mer Vermonter, and cur­rent Bostonian, Ethan Marcotte in a May 2010 arti­cle in the mag­a­zine, A List Apart. Responsive web design is a fun­da­men­tal change in the way web design­ers cre­ate web­sites. Instead of being designed and built for a set-width screen, a respon­sive web­site is designed to adapt to the width and capa­bil­i­ties of the device on which it’s viewed.

In the past, vir­tu­ally all web­sites were designed to work well on a typ­i­cal desk­top or lap­top PC, but were often dif­fi­cult to see and nav­i­gate on a mobile phone. The solu­tion was to develop a sep­a­rate web­site or appli­ca­tion designed to work on smaller screens. This was more expen­sive and harder to main­tain than hav­ing just one site for all vis­i­tors, but it worked well for many large retail­ers. In 2011, Amazon.com hit $2 bil­lion in sales through smart­phones and tablets world­wide; that was up 100% from $1 bil­lion in 2010.

Small-scale retail­ers found it less cost-effective to build a com­pletely dif­fer­ent web­site to accom­mo­date what was still a rel­a­tively small amount of mobile traf­fic. But, times are rapidly chang­ing, and now even the small­est com­pa­nies can ben­e­fit from jump­ing on the respon­sive bandwagon.

Web surfers shift­ing toward mobile devices
While sales of mobile devices were grow­ing expo­nen­tially, 2012 was the first year since 2001 that showed a decrease in the num­ber of PCs sold. Not coin­ci­den­tally, roughly 120 mil­lion tablets were sold in 2012 – com­pared to 66 mil­lion in 2011 – with world­wide sales esti­mated to reach nearly 370 mil­lion units by 2016!

Mobile web surfers: A whole new class of cus­tomers!
• 87% of American adults have a cell phone
• 45% of American adults have smart­phones (107 mil­lion peo­ple!)
• 26% of American adults own an e-reader
• 31% of American adults own a tablet com­puter
• 31% of mobile web-capable phone own­ers use them as their pri­mary means to access the Internet.
• 1+ bil­lion smart­phones in the world
• Mobile inter­net usage is pro­jected to over­take desk­top inter­net usage by 2014
• 46% of con­sumers are unlikely to return to a mobile site if it didn’t work prop­erly dur­ing their last visit.
• 66% of those ages 18–29 own smart­phones
• 68% of those liv­ing in house­holds earn­ing $75,000 also own them
• In the U.S. 25% of inter­net users are mobile only

Myths about respon­sive web design
• It’s a pared-down, bor­ing expe­ri­ence com­pared to a web­site viewed on a desk­top com­puter
• Mobile web devel­op­ment is too expen­sive for small and medium-sized businesses

Mobile web­sites can have most, if not all, of the bells and whis­tles of their desk­top coun­ter­parts. RWD prices are com­pa­ra­ble to tra­di­tional web­sites, but com­pare even more favor­ably when the addi­tional rev­enue from the improved reach into the mobile mar­ket is taken into account. They can be designed to be just as impres­sive as their desk­top coun­ter­parts, and often far more impres­sive on smaller screens.

Some exam­ples of excel­lent respon­sive web­sites
There are some amaz­ing respon­sive web­sites out there, and more being built every­day. Take a look at some of the best in the list below. Adjust the size of your browser win­dow to see how these web­sites adapt.
bostonglobe.com
smashingmagazine.com
greygoose.com
webdesignerwall.com
jessicahische.is/awesome

Responsive web­sites devel­oped by Stride
• Trek Store Alaska – www.trekstorealaska.com
• Barber & Waxman – www.barberwaxman.com
• Green Mountain IP blog – greenmountainip.com

Exciting respon­sive web­sites in the works at Stride – stay tuned!
• Sweetwaters American Bistro
• Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA)
• Vermont Community Garden Network
• Maine Integrative Healing
• Sheehey Furlong & Behm
• Vermont Oxford Network

Sources:
Pew Internet
Gomez
http://alistapart.com/article/responsive-web-design
http://bgr.com/2012/04/10/tablet-sales-to-double-in-2012/
http://www.slashgear.com/pc-sales-to-decline-in-2012-for-the-first-time-in-11-years-10251339/
http://www.internetretailer.com/2011/09/30/amazon-conquers-mobile-universe
http://johnpolacek.github.com/scrolldeck.js/decks/responsive/
http://www.accuconference.com/blog/Cell-Phone-Statistics.aspx

When creating your print materials, think like a softball player.

Pretend for a moment that you’ve agreed to play in a com­mu­nity soft­ball game. You’re not an excep­tion­ally good player, but you’re inter­ested in hav­ing some light­hearted fun. As you step up to the plate, the pitcher stares you down, and with­out warn­ing starts her windup. She deliv­ers a fast pitch over the plate, then another and another, and before you know it you’re back on the bench, plan­ning your polite but speedy exit from the game.

Now pic­ture your­self walk­ing up to the plate again. This time, there’s a pitcher on the mound who smiles, gives you a nod, and then starts a slow-pitch windup. The pitch comes in arc­ing up and then down right into your strike zone, giv­ing you time to find a con­nec­tion and hit the ball. As you run the bases, you’re fully engaged, never doubt­ing that you’ll stay in the game till the final out.

These two sce­nar­ios are like the dif­fer­ent ways in which com­pa­nies com­mu­ni­cate with their cus­tomers through their print col­lat­eral. Printed mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als, such as sales brochures, cat­a­logs, view­books, and some direct mail, are expe­ri­enced dif­fer­ently than other forms of media. They often demand what we call a pac­ing strat­egy. This method starts out like a slow pitch, allow­ing the reader to approach the infor­ma­tion slowly with low-density, com­pelling con­tent. The mes­sag­ing then builds to pages filled with high-density con­tent once the reader is con­nected and engaged.

If soft­ball isn’t your thing, you can also think of a pac­ing strat­egy as you would dat­ing: to be suc­cess­ful, you’ve got to entice your prospect and draw them in slowly. Only then can you unload your life story and the fifty rea­sons you’d make a good spouse.

Pummeling your read­ers with too-much-too-fast may be a bud­getary deci­sion to squeeze as much infor­ma­tion into as lit­tle paper as pos­si­ble, or it may be that you’ve got a mes­sag­ing pri­or­i­ti­za­tion prob­lem. Either way — inten­tional or not — an effi­cient, fast-pitch approach often leads to a dis­con­nect with your audi­ence, and the few bucks you’ve saved on paper or mes­sag­ing isn’t enough to cover those missed sales oppor­tu­ni­ties. New or ambiva­lent prospects aren’t ready for a bar­rage of infor­ma­tion from the first turn of the page. They often need an emo­tional con­nec­tion to your mes­sage before they’re ready to fully engage. That emo­tion doesn’t come from the details; it comes from things like a great photo, a cap­ti­vat­ing head­line, white space, and eye-catching color. Once engaged, your reader will hang on — and read more.

Next time you need to cre­ate a crit­i­cal mar­ket­ing piece, take a moment to con­sider how it will be paced for the best audi­ence engage­ment. Determine if a slow-pitch approach and a pac­ing strat­egy will make your mes­sage more per­sua­sive and effec­tive. Chances are, it will result in a home run.

Social media trends: who’s doing what out there?

We recently read an inter­est­ing study about the state of B2B mar­ket­ing trends, and found this info­graphic par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing about cur­rent social media use:

The State of Content Marketing InfographicSo, what about B2C mar­ket­ing trends? We found this info­graphic as well:

B2C Content Marketing Trends Infographic

The take­away point? The most pop­u­lar social media out­lets for B2B com­pa­nies ver­sus B2C com­pa­nies vary some­what, but the major­ity have a pres­ence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube. Is your busi­ness active on these sites?

Sources: Marketo.com blog post “The State of Content Marketing” and Content Marketing Institute blog post “2013 B2C Content Marketing Research: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends”