Sterling VA - WebSubstance - Web Design and Search Engine Marketing

2018 Digital Planning for Local Businesses in Northern Virginia

The end of the year is a busy time for any company -- and that's definitely true down by the nation's capital in Northern Virginia, where the Christmas season supercharges the usual flood of consumer traffic and ramps up activity in preparation for the new year.

With that in mind, how do local businesses gear up for their digital planning strategies for the year ahead?

Here are some solid ways to make sure that your business is ready for 2018 with good investments in marketing technology and strategic use of data resources.

Audience Targeting for 2018

As technologies evolve, audience targeting changes. Businesses are getting many more new tools and resources to figure out who their customers are, and how targeting works. There is a more granular ability to create classifications and constructs that help marketers to go out and do their jobs well. In 2018, sale is going to be backed by more automation -- from Salesforce to open source projects that take business data and give it to the people who make things happen. Make sure your business is on the vanguard of the local community's effort to enhance this type of targeting in 2018. Consider a Plan for New Upgrades

Considering a plan to move workloads to the cloud? What about a move toward container virtualization? There is also the idea of machine learning and artificial intelligence automation on the rise. What all of these things have in common is that businesses thrive from taking deliberate steps, and sometimes fail by taking giant leaps of faith.

When you want to do an important upgrade, do the research first. Make sure you have a plan for data. Make sure you know how you will train all levels of staff. Make sure you have looked in detail at subscription pricing and everything else. This is a huge component of digital planning -- because how you use any tool depends on how you prepare to use it.

Evaluating Web Footprints

Another great big part of digital planning for 2018 is figuring out how you will reach customers where they are -- and increasingly, that's online. Visitors have to always be vigilant in planning and re-planning their interfaces for laptop and desktop computers, as well as smart phones. That's why we talk so much about responsive design and why it's important.

In general, companies can get more bang for their buck with marketing online than they can through a lot of traditional media formats. But again, good planning increases that return on investment. You'll want to know exactly how new investments in your website are going to pay off.

WebSubstance is a premier Northern Virginia marketing company that is dedicated to helping client businesses in the area to really compete in today's high-tech digital world. We specialize in the modern-day marketing technology and know how to provide all of the marketing consulting and IT support to help a business upgrade its web presence and make sure that it has a competitive model in place. Talk to us early in the new year to get started moving forward and set goals to achieve in 2018.

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Glitzy, But Not Trashy -- Balancing Page Sophistication and Load Performance

Companies want their websites to be attractive and engaging to web users. They often feel that adding a lot of neat visual features and other extras is going to help accomplish this goal. But in reality, there is a careful balancing act to be achieved here. Too much of this stuff can clutter a website and need to underlying crashes or slow load times, so that a large significant portion of an audience either isn't able to access the site, or becomes irritated or distracted and leaves.

Here are some critical things to think about when contemplating overall web design.

Evaluating Video

Want to have a high-powered video as part of your sales pitch on a landing page? Make sure that it can load well on a variety of browsers, and on a mobile screen. You'll also want to evaluate questions about bandwidth.

One way to solve some of these problems is by hosting the video on a separate site. YouTube is probably the most common choice. Instead of posting a video on your web server, you can simply embed a YouTube video on your webpage. This gives the customer easy access, but it also ensures that they will be able to easily load the video on YouTube's robust infrastructure.

Multilayer Forms, Big Graphics and Other Extras

It's also important to evaluate any other extras that you put onto a website.

Remember the early days of the Internet? While experimenting with what worked for web users, webmasters got carried away with some pretty funky designs. For instance, a lot of webmasters thought it would be great to play music in the background as part of a landing page -- it's easy to code a song into a webpage in HTML, but you almost never see that anymore. Why is that? It's because, in the vast majority of cases, it became an annoying nuisance for users to deal with. They had trouble turning a song off, or they couldn't load it right, or it got in the way.

That's how it is with many other parts of today's websites, whether it's multilayer forms, extensive CSS coding, or big banner graphics and slideshows that slow download times or crash a page.

Get the Content Front and Center

What you want to do in web design is get the most important content right in front of the audience. You don’t want them to have to do a lot of work to get where they want to go.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is with smart menus. Make a landing page simple and spare, and lay it out so that people can easily navigate the rest of the site. Hide some of those glitzy extras so that people can click into them if they want, but they're not confronted with them right away. Make sure that the signposts along the way are clear and easy to understand -- and you get a lot more enduring web traffic and visibility for your business.

Let’s forget, many a times, “Less is More”!

Talk to WebSubstance about how to set up your online footprint with most logical design, information architecture and content. We help our client companies to stand out in the crowd and get results they can depend on in a competitive and ever-changing online and e-commerce world.

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What do you do about SEO when Google algorithms have changed?

Over the last few years, many business owners have been pretty confused about how to tackle online marketing -- and we’re not surprised. The average business owner faces a real uphill battle in understanding how quickly changing Google algorithms have affected page ranking and visibility for online efforts.

History of Google Changes

Google's algorithm changes started early on with updates like Cassandra and Dominic early in 2003, but didn't get a lot of media attention until much later. When Google instituted the Panda algorithm in February of 2011, lots of marketers and others noticed. In fact, the set of animal and bird named updates that went on through 2011 through 2014 have been some of the most famous changes that Google has made -- some of them characterized as ‘crackdowns’ on prior marketing practices.

Within that time range, Google acted to enforce algorithm updates discouraging:

thin content

high ad-to-content ratios

keyword stuffing

improper back-linking

In addition, Google promoted positive efforts such as the use of rich media, data and profile integration, the promotion of recent content, website security, and indexing systems.

The SEO Revolution

In a very general sense, Google told businesses that they couldn't expect to get good rankings just by throwing keywords everywhere in text and metadata. Along the timeline of changes that Google put in place, one big thing that was stressed was the need for organic SEO or keyword and linking use that makes sense to the reader, not just to a web crawler. Trying to game the system with keyword use became known as a ‘black hat tactic’ that was considered off-bounds by Google and the rest of the conscientious online marketing world.

Toward a Diverse and Mobile-Friendly Future

Another big change was a move toward mobile-friendly web design.

When you ask what you can do to boost results in a new Google environment, a major part of that is making your website responses mobile-friendly. Another major plank in the platform is to create thoughtful, authentically profound content in your industries or markets, to organically attract readers and make your site more of a real resource for the community.

That's the take away for a lot of marketers -- adding good content and mobile functionality to a site. Of course, there is more to it than that, but that really gets to addressing some of these Google changes in a nutshell. Google wants to see businesses that are dedicated to really offering Web users something they can use, whether it's a relatable narrative, a data-rich virtual tour of a business, or other valuable resources that don't include clickbait, ad-heavy landing pages and empty, dense paragraphs of text filled with random keywords.

Want to know more about what works with modern day SEO? Talk to WebSubstance. We help our clients to conquer the new landscape of Internet and SEO environments. Go to market with a state-of-the-art web footprint and let a professional firm guide you toward the results that you need to increase market share and boost up your top-line.

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Telling a Relatable Story

In the online marketing world, it's tough for companies to stand out. In many industries, competitors are elbow to elbow -- not only on the street, but also on the Internet, where millions of users type in the same keywords to look for product or service providers.

How Do You Beat These Online Marketing Blues?

In the earlier days, companies used strategies like keyword stuffing and detailed SEO page ranking implementations. They prayed their pay-per-click advertising that would pick up more web traffic than their competitors.

These days, more companies are investing in bigger, better and more professional websites to present a better face to their audiences. This can help a business to gain market share in its local community and reach out to a more distributed audience around the world.

Who Are You?

One of the big questions that anyone asks when they research a company online is 'who's behind this company? Where did it come from?' Of course, they're looking for what it's selling, as well -- which is why it's a good idea to have specific product pages and other technical information available to easily access on the site for these experienced shoppers. But beyond that, people want to have a sense of they are buying from, and what the company stands for.

Too many businesses shrug off this responsibility and talk to customers from behind a rather anonymous web portal. It's better, however, to see this as an opportunity to really get your message out and distinguish yourself from a flood of other businesses in your industry.

Building the Narrative

Some of the smartest online marketers know that personal narratives drive engagement and, ultimately, acquisition.

Think about a doctor who posts his or her bio on the provider website. Why would you do this? Why not just show what you're selling, explain treatment, and be done with it?

The reason is because the doctor's own personality and personal profile and philosophy of care are tied to what he or she is selling. You're not just selling a service -- you're selling that person's experience and skill and authority … and his or her bedside manner. Think about it -- what do people say when they pass on business recommendations through word-of-mouth? Do they talk about the products and services -- or do they talk more about the business owner?

So the next time you see a developed personal bio on a doctor's website, or you see a lot of really specific company history on a retailer's website, keep in mind this is a deliberate strategy that works out in that business's favor.

Want to Tell a Better Story for Your Business?

WebSubstance can help. We've extensive experience helping clients to innovate on the web. We can craft your business story that your prospects will love to read and share with others. Building relatable narratives for readers is a smart way to convert them as customers.  

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What Do You Do?

It's a question that individual people ask each other at dinner parties, on the street or in any kind of informal meeting. But it's also something that web visitors ask companies every time they go online and eventually end up on a landing page.

People want to know what your business is about. From the very first mouse click they want to get a rough idea of products and services, as well as the philosophy of the business. They don't want to see a cryptic business name and some vague images -- they want real information so they can get about the business of making shopping choices.

Companies that understand this principle are well-positioned to do business on the Internet – which is the primary channel of business today. They invest in storytelling and narrative that makes a difference and set their websites up for success.

Don't Wait for "About Us"

One big trend that you'll see in web design today is that most landing pages have a concise and transparent summary of what a business is all about. It's essentially an elevator pitch, boiled down to its essentials and placed in a prominent spot where web-surfing eyes can see it.

The old strategy of doing a more elaborate presentation on an 'about us' page is pretty much dead. Companies have woken up to the idea that people aren't going to do a series of page navigations just to get to a basic description of a business. They're going to expect that upfront, so that they can choose how to navigate the site based on that information.

Smart Menus

Smart web design also extends to menu options. Instead of just tabs that say 'services' or 'products,' many companies are putting much more detailed labels on menu tabs in order to guide customers in a better way. Another related strategy is to actually put product images and specs in small, accessible boxes on the landing page -- that way there is another single-click strategy in place where companies can direct visitors straight to product information, or even to a shopping cart.

You'll see a lot of these trends in website content and design from the smart businesses on the internet. Some of these stuff might cost money, but other similar methods can be done on a shoestring budget.

At WebSubstance, we help our clients put together comprehensive web strategies that work. We understand how to get your message out to people quickly, and how to make your web footprint a more effective ambassador for your business. Ask us about everything related to your company website to get a new and improved outreach strategy in place and drive leads and profit. Let an established, professional agency of Northern Virginia help you touch up your website, and you'll see the positive differences soon!

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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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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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21800 Town Center Plaza, #266A-281
Sterling, VA 20164
(703) 470-0808
Jenny Le - President