Recent blog posts - WebSubstance - Web Design and Search Engine Marketing

It’s All About Pictures

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words -- and while things tend to work a little differently on the web, images are still important.

It's true that online text is the meat of what web users interact with. In some ways, photos are just window dressing. But the quality of photos that you put on your website makes a big difference. Even in subliminal ways, readers tend to see these pictures and associate them with a certain level of quality, which influences your thought leadership impression. Pictures tell an important story about what you are trying to convey to your chosen audience and about the character of your business.

With that in mind, it really makes sense for companies to think about the ways that they use images. Your online image strategy shouldn't be limited to trying to work on a shoestring budget. This has led to many companies into the weeds of online marketing, and really diminished the effect of their online  campaigns.

Scraping By with Generic Images

Too many companies make an early decision not to invest in image selection for the web. Their rule is that they will only use free stock images, or ‘whatever is out there’ -- too often, they put the burden on freelance independent contractors, interns or entry-level marketing people to source images, and simply request that they be free of licensing limitations.

What these companies inevitably end up with is either extremely poor quality generic stock photos, or pictures that actually do have licensing requirements attached. That's because there really is no such thing as a large, free repository of high-quality images online. There’s a value attached to pictures – and the Internet has figured that out, even if many top-level business managers haven’t.

The Effects of Poor Image Strategy

One of the first things that companies will notice when they employ this losing strategy is that the images on their site will look bad. They'll have excellent writing with lackluster pictures attached, which makes the whole page look shabby and honestly, boring.

They can also experience quite a bit of turnover. Writers and web designers will become frustrated with this unachievable task -- the task of finding the perfect picture for free. They may drop projects due to the legal liability of trying to comb images from the web and crop them to utilize them on a site. Anyone without their own home studio and an endless cast of characters available for portrait taking is not going to have the ability to turn in excellent images without a budget.

The Solution -- High-Quality Stock Images

There is an easy solution out there -- again, it's one that a lot of companies shy away from because they don't understand the investment. But it is easy -- and it is reasonably priced.

High-quality stock image companies are in business for a reason. They play a vital role in web design -- arguably even more important than some of the other design component of a web site.

Simply put, companies need to sign up for a reputable stock image account. They get a real, valuable archive of pictures, and they get to stop worrying about how to get quality images on a site.

WebSubstance understands the trade-offs between budget and necessary investment. We will help counsel our clients on how much to invest in stock images, which images to choose and when this kind of investment is truly necessary. Let our professionals help to build you a website that works and doesn't lack any of the fundamental features that will help you compete in your field and markets.

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URL: Why Does It Matter for Your Business?

Lots of smart business leaders know that a website URL can have a big impact on customer response.

It's important to have a domain that is easy to spell, that sticks in the viewer's mind, and something that's easy to navigate to. But beyond that, there are other questions about domain name purchases that can get a bit more tricky.

The Traditional Generic Approach
Throughout the early days of the Internet, many companies chose to buy up Internet real estate that matched generic search terms. They wanted top-level domains that were roughly the same as their keywords. A soap company might purchase soap.com. A pencil company might purchase pencils.com. You get the idea.

This idea made sense for a while -- and some people still argue for it. But there are two strikes against the traditional system of picking generic URLs. One is that in these domains are getting harder to come by, because we're not in the early days of the Internet anymore. The second point has to do with specific market research that shows some companies can get further using a branding approach than they can with generic top-level domains.

Taking a Brand Path
A lot of SEO people and marketers would agree that the brand path is more difficult, at first.
Having a branded URL can require a bit more work. At first, the domain is more obscure.
However, what happens is that the branded domain forces the company to build muscle. The company has to supplement its core website with social media campaigns, e-mail marketing and more, all of which ties back toward the brand name. Slowly, over time, this builds more power into the site and people start looking for that brand name everywhere, including on the web.

The Case for Transparency
In a way, branded domain names allow companies to more clearly see who's looking for them, and why. Instead of getting floods of visitors who are just looking for a generic product, they are getting people who made a deliberate choice to see their site and view their products and look at their approach to their industry. All of this is valuable when the company is really making a commitment to building a better web footprint.

At WebSubstance, we understand that the slow branding approach can provide a much better foundation for a company. We work with our clients to develop a long term digital strategy and help them find the best way forward in web design and development -- and that includes the domain choices that they make, as well as the site structure, and the core elements as well. We take a comprehensive approach to helping our clients to succeed on the Internet, and bring state-of-the-art marketing practices to their brands, in order to drive better conversion and visibility over time.

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Three Useful Types of Audience Targeting

Is your business doing a good job of reaching out to specific customers, or just putting out a generic message on the web, hoping that people show up?

The idea of tailoring a message to a customer is extremely important today, as businesses do a lot more with valuable business intelligence that they get through cloud services with other vendor options. Businesses of all sizes will want to be profiling and targeting their customers, because it can save a lot of time and effort, and generally improve conversion and profit.

Here are some ways to take advantage of your valuable data to get better results on the web.

Target by Customer Status

One of the most fundamental kinds of audience targeting is targeting a customer according to their relationship with the business. Bigger companies have big, fancy customer relationship management (CRM) platforms that help them to do this -- but that's not specifically necessary. Even a very simple database can easily keep track of whether a particular customer has bought from the business before -- and that makes a big difference. You're going to want to send a different message to a returning customer than you would to a new one, making this one of the most common ways to define customer audience.

Target by Role

Both B2B and B2C companies also tend to target by role. If it's a retailer, they may target customers by their age and demographics, or whether they are the head of the household or not. Just this simple key factor can make a lot of difference in efficient messaging in how you reach your customers.

For a B2B company, businesses will often target customers by their job roles. There is a lot of talk about gatekeepers, and how to get to the right decision makers involved with business messaging. Again, a CRM platform can help with this, but you can also ‘go DIY’ and keep track of people's job roles by hand, or with other electronic tools. In fact, LinkedIn provides options for such role targeting for B2B marketing.

Target by Positive Interest

Another type of audience targeting is as old as business itself -- companies want to identify customers according to their hobbies and what they like, to try to sell them the right products. What’s brand-new, though, is the flood of data that businesses now have about customers, due to the big data revolution and the digital age. Your in-house business data can be a treasure trove of information that can help you to sell better and sell more -- but somebody has to do the research and make that happen.

At WebSubstance, we understand the importance of audience targeting. We know that the research that goes on behind the scenes helps to make web sites and marketing campaigns even better. Let us work with your company to perfect the art of audience targeting, bringing in higher ROI for your marketing.

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Content Marketing for Local Business

At WebSubstance, we've often talked about how valuable good content marketing can be. We know that we want to inject excellent content into the structure of a corporate website. But how does this work?
Here are some of the aspects of creating great content that local businesses can use to compete in today's digital world.

Brainstorm Before Jumping In

Too many content projects start with a hastily written list of topics and a green light for a race to the finish line. We're not suggesting that writers need handholding -- but there should be some creative process serving the creation of valuable content. It shouldn't just be a keyword and a knee-jerk reaction. Planning is important, and that's why writers need to do a bit of research and understand what's needed for a particular client.

Go Companywide

It's also important to have content writers and creators connected to your local business as a whole. This might look different in any given company -- writers may be interviewing suppliers. They may be talking to internal department managers. They may even be talking to customers. All of this collaboration is useful when it comes to creating a vibrant content platform.

Get Sharing

It's also important to have a sharing program for content. For example, many companies now link content to Facebook either with short-form social media blurbs, or with an actual link to a blog post. This is just one model, and companies can feel free to innovate and brainstorm their way to sharing success. One rule of thumb is that it's not a good idea to try to ask content writers to post business  items on their personal Facebook pages. Instead, a dedicated business Facebook page can be a central way to get this social data out to customers. Having a sharing plan that’s equitable and well-supported can make a huge difference in readership and return on investment.
 
Test Content

When content is out in the world, local businesses can go further by quickly looking at the metrics, and figuring out what works. Did a certain post net an extremely high volume of traffic and spike your page views for the month? That's valuable data that so many companies overlook. Just a few minutes of analysis can make a huge difference in managing an editorial calendar to reach more customers on an ongoing basis.

Talk to WebSubstance about setting up a great content marketing programs for your business that works. We’re specialized in content marketing for local businesses in Northern Virginia and can take care of everything from the initial ideas to the quality finished content. Make your website more competitive in the age of organic search and thought leadership.

 

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The Value of SoLoMo for Web Marketing

Maybe you haven't heard of the “SoLoMo” model, but it's all the rage these days when it comes to digital marketing practices.

SoLoMo isn't brand-new -- in fact, it's been around for few years. But it's still a good guideline for upgrading your marketing techniques and building modern webpages that lead your business toward success.

Linguistic experts call SoLoMo a “portmanteau” -- which is a fancy name for a collection of words abbreviated into their individual syllables. In the case of SoLoMo, the term combines the three words: social, local, and mobile.

Social Marketing

To many people, the value of social marketing is as evident as the nose on your face. We tend to think of Facebook first, just because it's such a primary social platform. It's not just because everybody uses it, either. Facebook started accommodating business with items like the Facebook Open Graph, and specific builds for business profiles. Now it's considered kind of negligent for small business to not have a Facebook page. The Facebook enterprise profile is also a great way to reach out to customers and offer coupons or discount deals. Many businesses tie the Facebook page into the website, for instance, posting blog posts on Facebook.

However, Facebook isn't the only social media platform that's very useful in digital marketing -- companies are flocking to LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter and many other platforms to get their message across to target audiences.

Local Marketing

This one can be pretty straightforward, too, but there is often a digital element that companies hire professionals to work with. Geo-targeting and related practices can be tricky with digital media. Professionals may tag parts of the website, use specific keywords, or otherwise target content or digital media toward a local audience. Then there’s also organic local marketing. With organic SEO and social, you're simply writing about things that are going on in the community, relevant for the local audience, which can also have a powerful impact. When you have localized content on a web site, that can really drive interest and a bigger readership.

Mobile Marketing

It's important not to leave out the concept of mobile marketing. We've always stressed mobile-first design and responsive design for websites, because we know that so many customers end up viewing business webpages on a smartphone.

True mobile-first design can require extensive graphic design and web design work. That's why WebSubstance employs the right people to renovate a website to get that mobile-friendly aspect applied.

Ask WebSubstance about getting professional results that will help your business soar to new heights with a combined Social, Local and Mobile strategy. We’ll take care of all of the details, and consult on how to re-brand with a fully functional and appealing web footprint, to boost profits and visibility, as well as your business reputation. Don’t wait to utilize the power of the Internet to achieve more with your business.

So next time your hear SoLoMo, think of WebSubstance.

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Landing Page Responsive Design: What If Your Visitor is Using a Smartphone?

With so much business going on over the Internet, companies are rushing to expand and upgrade their websites. But not enough of them are realizing that responsive design is a very important element, and that it has to be applied in practical ways.

Even company websites that do cater to smartphone users might not do it efficiently or effectively.
For example, one of the most important places to have smartphone-friendly design on the website is on the landing page.

Extensive research has found that high numbers of smartphone users are likely to leave a site if the landing page doesn't seem responsive. If they don't see a menu, if they can't click into other parts of the site, or if they have to scroll too much to find key information, they're probably leaving, and not coming back.

With that in mind, here are some specific responsive design elements that companies are now putting into their landing pages, to keep first-time smartphone visitors engaged and coming back.

No-Border Lists

A lot of the practice of making a landing page smart phone friendly involves using the small available space to your advantage. That's why a lot of companies are doing away with the drop-down list boxes that dominated the desktop age, and instead going with borderless lists on one side, usually the left side, of the screen. Getting rid of the need to table a list gives designers a little more space to work with -- and each pixel is important when it comes to smartphone UX design.

Expressive Graphics

On desktops, you have room to tell a whole story on the landing page. But with responsive design in play, that task gets a lot harder.
Many companies are going with a simpler approach, based on the old saying that “a picture is worth 1000 words.” In many cases, we’re talking about creating a simple line drawing cartoon or a vector graphic that shows the value proposition of a product or service. Sometimes the company uses a speech balloon attributed to a cartoon character to try to get some message out without taking up too much space.
These in-page graphics are another way that companies shrink the landing page footprint to make it easier for smartphone users to navigate.

Usable Forms

Web forms are one of the most sophisticated forms of visitor engagement and lead generation that you can find online. But making them fit a responsive landing page can require some unique design principles.
The web form has to fit the small screen of a smartphone, but it also has to be readable. It doesn't take much to make a web form too large to be rendered well on a smartphone screen.

One of the best fixes for this is simple -- companies will take an entire form on a desktop site and split it into consecutive forms of one to three fields per piece. This way, the smartphone user starts out filling out the first few fields, maybe ‘name’ and ‘e-mail,’ and goes to a subsequent screen for more detail, for example, demographics like age and gender and location. Another option, if that’s feasible, is to make smartphone form much simpler and shorter to grab only the essential information.

Responsive Icons

Responsive icons are a huge issue in landing page design for smartphones.

Icon design works differently in a responsive design environment. Icons have to be simple, often with specific small numbers of line contours. For example, a “home” icon, rather than an elaborately drawn house, will be something as simple as a square and a triangle.

All of this design work builds landing pages that will attract and retain smartphone users. Ask WebSubstance about how to create a company website that works for everyone, and for every device. We’ve designers, engineers and consultants who specialize in user experience for smartphone devices. You'll see your brand visibility and customer engagement follow

 

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Customer Experience Without CRM

Many companies are realizing that they need some way to create a better experience for customers online. They want to analyze customer behavior and figure out what customers like, so that they can tailor their sites to those preferences. Doing this is likely to bring better visibility, more customer loyalty and retention, and eventually, a bigger profit for a business.

Many established companies, especially larger ones, may use a customer relationship management (CRM) platform to build customer relationships and figure out more about customer likes and dislikes. But that's not the only way to generate this kind of information that's so useful to a business.

What is Customer Relationship Management?

A customer relationship management or CRM tool is a platform that houses information about individual customers. It's useful in a number of ways. First, companies can put a name with a face for each customer, and compile elaborate dossiers on each person who has interactions with the business. On the other hand, companies can also mine the customer relationship management dashboard to figure out some of the above issues -- what do customers like best, and what are they looking for on the site? They can get a clear visibility of a customer’s journey on their web properties.

Alternatives to CRM for Business

As mentioned, though, having a comprehensive CRM platform is not the only way to track customer behavior and figure out how to build a better experience for the people who are visiting your website. Also, many CRM platforms can be prohibitively costly for smaller firms.

Just evaluating an active website can tell you a lot about what customers like. There are free tools like Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools come handy. Accessing data like page views and bounce rates shows you what types of on-site content get read the most, and which ones get the most engagement or where your audience drops off. Over time, if you pay attention to these signals, and create more engaging content, you're bringing more value to customers, and building a more loyal customer base.

At the same time, you can use the same approach with visuals and special features. Given the right kind of site set up, you'll be able to see how often people view a certain video, or what part of the site they gravitate to.

This is just one more reason why extensive website work is so important. Companies may be able to get by without CRM, but increasingly, they can't get by without an optimized website that really reaches out to customers through an inbound marketing model, and makes them feel comfortable, so that they spend more time on the site and get more interested in what the business is all about, and finally buy.

WebSubstance can help your company to build one of these professional, interactive websites. We understand the principle of customer experience and how it brings companies big dividends. Talk to us about how to structure your site to make it customer-friendly. Figure out how to bring your website visitors a better online journey that can result in real business for you.

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Contact Us

WebSubstance
21800 Town Center Plaza, #266A-281
Sterling, VA 20164
(703) 470-0808
Jenny Le - President
contact.info@WebSubstance.com