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Tech Thursday: Read it…Later

You know when you see a cool article go by online and you just can’t read it now? We talk about some of the ways you can save those links for later that aren’t tied to a particular computer/internet device.

Do you have any link-saving techniques that we didn’t talk about?

Any tech/social media related questions you’d like to hear us discuss in future episodes?

Leave a comment and we’ll check it out!



Customizing Templates: Why We Do It

whywebuildwithtemplatesI hate it when I hear people talk bad about me. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often. In part, I’m sure, is because my friends know my ‘don’t tell me if it’s bad’ policy.

In reality, I’m a pretty sensitive person. But occasionally something does get back to me.

“She just customizes templates.” was actually someone’s idea of disdain for my work.

My response?

Uh, yeah I customize templates. But there’s no ‘just’ about it.

Hear that world? We customize templates! I admit it freely and openly in many blog posts even.

So why do we do this? Thought it may be good to clarify why!

Because templates save us time and, as a result, our customers money.

The whole ‘coding from scratch’ thing sounds pretty noble. Like having an architect custom design your house. Or creating your own recipe. Or building your own computer.

But guess what? Having a framework is helpful. That’s why we buy computers with already existing operating systems and software installed, plans to build our houses, and cookbooks.

Letting people figure out and test something then modifying it for our own uses is something we do in lots of areas in our life, why not websites?

I have actually tried build from scratch.

To the delight of parents of picky eaters everywhere trying to get their kids to try new vegetables, I’ve actually tried hand coding websites before I said ‘No thank you, more sweet potatoes please.’

I have hand coded exactly two HTML sites, neither of which are online anymore. It took long (don’t worry, I don’t charge customers for my learning curves, it was only painful on my end) and the results were lack luster compared to what is available today. So yeah, if I have the option of giving someone something better that I have the ability to do more easily anyway, I’m going to do it.

Because the amount of people who have gotten together and created a template is more than one (in almost all cases).

Kind of like how a composite photograph will always be more attractive than a photo of an individual person, a design worked on by multiple people is going to be better. It just is.

By working in collaboration, you can work out the bugs, get different points of view, and have a much better end product. And that’s what we’re starting with before our team even creates a custom design to go with.

(We even try to work with frameworks that are powerful and well known. If you really want to geek out on the difference between a template and a framework: https://cohhe.com/wordpress-themes-vs-wordpress-theme-frameworks/)

Because giving a customer something they can work with means that they are not stuck with us ever.

Because we use a standard system (Wordpress and Joomla) and follow the standard rules (creating child themes, putting design customization in the right file location, etc.) other web types can locate where to make changes in my code easily.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever inherited someone’s filing cabinet (when you bought a business or changed jobs) but it’s kind of annoying. A template means we’ve agreed on well labeled folders so when and if that handoff happens, it’s a smooth transition. Thinking of the person coming after you of course isn’t necessary but something I feel is the right thing to do.

And if you hear of a company that uses a ‘custom CMS’ please run for the hills.

Because templates mean when the customer creates new pages, they will look consistent. 

Do you really want to remember that you have to copy the menu on top, make sure the text is 18 point Helvetica and that the standard photo size is 450 pixels. What about headline fonts/colors, link colors, spacing, etc?

Even if you build something ‘from scratch’, you are going to end up making a page template so the site looks consistent as people browse from one page to another.

With templates you can set rules that all pages follow, when a customer creates a new page, I know that it’ll match all the other pages. Rather than restricting a customer to editing only certain elements of a page, I can let them go wild (I mean it is their website) and know it’ll still look pretty good at the end.

So we customize templates. And everyone who works with us gets a custom design that is unique to them. But we think this is a good thing, versus a bad one.

If I thought something was an inferior product, I wouldn’t offer it. Honestly. I live my life by the French proverb “There is no pillow so soft as a clean conscience”, in my business and personal life.

But as a company, I can firmly say we believe the collective wisdom and work involved in templates is a great start to a great website that is unique to each individual, company, or non-profit we work with.

I guess if this is the worst thing I hear about myself, I’m doing ok. But here’s hoping this clarifies why we customize templates versus building from scratch… and why we’ll keep doing this moving forward.

Gift Cards: In Theory, Easy. In Practice…

I have a funny story to tell you.

This May, my brother was having a tough time after his childhood pet passed away. He lives in Boston, and I wanted to send some sort of condolence his way. The new Mad Max had just started

The gift of the ultimate cinematic experience.

The gift of the ultimate cinematic experience.

playing in theaters, so I found a movie theater close to his apartment, and proceeded to order a gift certificate online. Instead of following through with my original plan of buying a card and having it mailed to his apartment, I decided to go paper-less and ordered a digital certificate, which would get sent directly to his email. He could go to the movies that night, and I’d basically be Sister-of-the-Year. Boom.

Unfortunately, there was some room for user error. Long story short, I ignored the multiple warnings to double check the recipient email address, and now some random person with Gmail has a e-gift certificate to an AMC in Boston. You’re welcome. 

Fast forward a few months, and my dad (successfully) used a similar strategy to order my brother’s birthday present (a gift card to a menswear store in Boston). He was looking for a gift of professional clothing, but didn’t want to be responsible for size, color, or even the article of clothing (maybe Stephen needed a tie and not yet another button down shirt), and it made more sense to get a gift card to a store in Boston rather than in Maine.

These anecdotes prove a few different things: a) that I’m an impulsive shopper, b) that my dad is better than me at online ordering, and c) that my brother gets a lot of email gifts. But let’s take a step back. What role to online gift cards play? In a), online gift cards helped fuel my spur-of-the-moment desire to send comfort to a loved one far away. In b), ordering a gift card online allowed dad to purchase something thoughtful that he was able to research, and remove any sort of responsibility in a clothing related decision making process. In c), my brother, who lives slightly more than a stone’s throw away, is able to receive gifts that he can use where he lives, not where we live. Dad and I didn’t physically have to go into a store in Boston, and it was awesome (well, minus the part where I wasn’t visiting Boston).



From a business and marketing perspective, this got me thinking about online gift cards. Why do people buy them? Why do businesses sell them? Here’s what I came up with:

Why give a gift card online?

Location. Maine to Boston doesn’t necessarily cover a lot of ground, but one of the benefits of purchasing a gift card online is location. Giving a friend in Colorado a gift card to their favorite local burrito place when you live in the Catskills is completely possible now. How cool is that??

Convenience. If my whole gift certificate debacle had been successful, my brother could have gone to see Mad Max. He could have also gone to see Pitch Perfect 2. He could have waited until November. He could have brought a friend or gone alone and bought a ton of popcorn and candy. With a gift card option, the user can cash in when it’s convenient for them. It’s different than buying him two tickets to the 9:00 p.m. Mad Max showing. What if he can’t go then? What if he’s sick, but feels the need to drag himself to the movies because of these tickets? Gift cards take off a lot of pressure from both ends.

Low-Pressure. Remember those old “Oh, you shouldn’t have…you really shouldn’t have” commercials? Well, the cool thing about gift cards (besides being “free money”) is that you take the pressure off yourself. Don’t know someone’s shirt size? Can’t remember his favorite color? With a gift card, you’re putting the ball in the other person’s court. The recipient can go out and get exactly what s/he wants, and it’s all thanks to you!



Should you sell gift cards?

Pretty much all the larger corporations sell gift cards on their website (whether through email, physical mail, or both). However, only 3% of small/local businesses sell their gift cards online. What?!? These businesses may offer gift cards, but you have to physically go into the store to purchase them. Honestly, sometimes I am just feeling a bit lazy and would rather order a gift card online than walk down the street, wait in line, purchase one, and walk back.

Another statistic that might appeal to businesses: 72% of customers will spend more than the value of their card (usually around 20% more). Over 50% of gift card recipients will make multiple trips to completely redeem their gift card, and who knows, they might bring a friend or two to shop with. The bottom line: you’re getting more bodies in the door and more money in the bank. 

Amazon offers gift cards to hundreds of business that are deliverable via email, print, or mail. But, what about the people who would rather purchase from a smaller business?

Amazon offers gift cards to hundreds of business that are deliverable via email, print, or mail. But, what about the people who would rather purchase from a smaller business?

If you do…

The good news: it’s really not that difficult to set up. You’ll need a few different things (we outline them in greater detail in this blog post, so I’m just going to gloss over them here).

First, you need a form that accepts payment and a secure certificate. You’ll also need a way to accept that payment, usually via a third party system. We use Stripe, but Paypal is common. Then, it’s a matter of putting the form on a page on your website, making it pretty, and making sure the instructions are clear. Clear enough that people won’t accidentally send a non-refundable gift card to a rando and still be bitter about it…

Alright, to be honest this was 90% user error.

Alright, to be honest this was 90% user error.

For “extra credit,” mobile friendliness is a huge bonus. Millennials are leading the way with online gift card purchases. Personally, I like the convenience of multi-tasking and if I’m in line at the grocery store, I can kill two birds with one stone by ordering a gift card on my phone while waiting. How’s that for multitasking?

Gift card sales online have been on an upward trend for the past few years, especially for small and mid-sized businesses. They’re easy to set up on your website, and are incredibly convenient for the donors and recipients. People love to shop local when given a chance, trust me! If you have any questions about selling gift cards on your website, feel free to email us or leave a comment on this post. Always happy to help!



Marketing Monday: Flavor God

I am in my usual ‘fall as new year’ kick and have been following the Whole30 for about 4 days. Last night, in an attempt to crisp up green beans so they would function even a little bit like the crunchy snack I actually wanted, I realized to get through the next month, I’d have to get a lot more into seasonings.

I’ve been following Flavor God, first on Instagram and then a few other places. I want to talk a little big about what is going right with this product:



Super Short Videos

Many videos are 15 seconds or less and can be watched with or without sound:

VIdeos are oftentimes short and look delicious. Vine (and share) worthy.

Videos are oftentimes short and look delicious. Vine (and share) worthy.

Creating Scarcity

FlavorGod often has flash sales. I even saw a Facebook ad (which I forgot to screenshot) telling me I had 13 minutes to act on a package deal.

flavorgod-creatingscarcityWhen things are constantly available, there is not incentive to act. By periodically retiring and re-releasing spices, Flavor God not only has new things to say but allows his customers to act.

Differentiation

I am pretty clear on Flavor God’s value proposition. His spices are larger, freshly made, endorsed by celebrity chefs/bloggers and otherwise seem different to what is readily available at the supermarket.

Part of the value proposition is the fact that Flavor God spices are larger than major brands.

Part of the value proposition is the fact that Flavor God spices are larger than major brands.

Flavor God regularly illustrates what is valuable about his products, which justify a higher price point and the hassle of having to order them.

Master Of The Feedback Collage

I’m going to say it, this is slightly cheesy but like most slightly cheesy things, people like it:

flavorgod-testimonialcollage

Flavor God regularly not only posts tweets but photos of his customers with the product. Not just celebrities but also normal people and tags them when possible.

Best Emoji Use/Overuse

What first stood out when I began following Flavor God was his borderline aggressive emoji use. Here’s a recent Instagram post to show you what I mean.

flavorgod-emoji

Attentive Of The Marketplace

This is the footer of FlavorGod.com:

flavorgod-diets

Did Flavor God have to go through extra trouble to make vegan approved seasonings? Maybe, maybe not. But by communicating they work with a vegan diet, he is attracting those customers to his store. By being attentive of the current popular eating trends (gluten free, Whole30, paleo), he is able to have a product not only make food taste better but address the needs of the different dietary communities.





He’s Not Afraid To Ask For The Sale

What I love the most about Flavor God? He asks for the sale. He regularly gives his online store’s URL, he asks people to buy, and even reminds people that he ships worldwide (and other potential barriers to sale) in just about every post.

He doesn’t ask once (like some of us writing this blog) and feel too embarassed to ask more than once in awhile. he asks, regularly. He answers the same questions over and over, with a patience and enthusiasm that’s admirable.

Flavor God, I’m going to buy some of your stuff. Your online marketing is certainly impressive!

www.flavorgod.com

https://instagram.com/flavorgod/

https://www.facebook.com/FlavorGod

 

 

 

What SEO Means in 2015

I get asked, at least once a week if we ‘do’ SEO. This is my experience with SEO:

seomeme

Typically, it’s used as a d-bag intimidation tactic to get people to simultaneously 1) feel stupid and 2) give them money.

To me, SEO is ongoing work that happens when you’re doing online marketing, maintaining a well built website, and mixing that in with other avenues (maybe a mix of paid ads, offline events, and more). Like how when you watch what you eat and exercise, you get more energy and sleep better. It’s a great byproduct but not one you’re necessarily concentrating the hardest on.



This is what I always want to say in response when someone asks what I think about SEO:

SEO means building a website correctly.

To me, most SEO problems can be prevented by building a website correctly. This means:

  • having unique page titles and descriptions for each page.
  • having words on the page people are looking for.
  • interlinking content so it’s easy to browse.
  • making items easy to share on social media.
  • more common sense stuff people shouldn’t have to ask me for as a professional.

I personally don’t believe in charging people $X to do things one mediocre way and a higher amount of $Y to do things the best way I know how. Part of building a website is doing the small things that add up and make a difference. It means building the site thinking about search engines.

(A note here: Do I think adding, say, a sitemap will make a crappy website rank number one in search for a certain key phrase? Not so much but having some things in place to make life easier for The Google usually helps your cause.)

SEO means thinking of mobile first.

A kind of big idea that summarizes SEO in the last two years is ‘mobile first’. So what does that mean?

More than 50% of website visitors are coming from a mobile device, which makes mobile visitors (for most websites) are the majority.

The mobile version of your website doesn’t get to be a crappy, pared down version of the desktop version of your website anymore. If you have to decide between a website that is mobile friendly and a website element that is pretty, you should be picking mobile friendly.

To overly simplify, thinking mobile first means:

A) a responsively designed website (one that looks good and works well on all screen sizes)
B) a fast loading website (we don’t all have five bars of cell reception 100% of the time). Don’t make your website visitor look at this:

loading

If you need examples of terrible websites: http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com



SEO means maintaining your website.

If you think once you’ve designed your website you never have to touch it again, think again.

Search engines want up-to-date software and new content. They want people linking to the website. If you haven’t looked at your website in three weeks, why do you expect Google, or the blogger you want to link back to you, to care more than you seem to?

A website, like your house, will constantly need cleaning, repairs, redecorating, etc…. because people are using it. And that’s what happens when people use things regularly: they find ways they want to make it better.

SEO means making choices.

So it’s very hard (ok, I’ll say it, impossible), on one website page, to optimize for ‘rental property’, ‘rental home’, ‘house for rent’, ‘residential rental’, etc. If you try to put all those words on your site, you’ll sound like a synonym generating robot. If you keep changing what term you are using, the page will feel inconsistent.

seokeywordstuffing(Ewww example above via: https://www.accelebrate.com/)

And this is where we get tough, people. You can’t be all things to all people. You have to pick. Who is your audience? What words do they use? What do you need them to get to on your website?

Doing SEO well means making choices. Bigger (and some smaller) websites are collecting data on us for a reason: so they can offer a customized experience. Amazon doesn’t try to design one website to make everyone happy: it selectively shows information depending on who you are.

Your website can be collecting information about visitors to some degree (check out the concept of ‘remarketing’ if this interests you) but most of us folks with smaller websites need to pick who we are, and who we are not, and think about attracting people via search accordingly.

As you see, I’m not telling you I don’t care about search engines or building websites that search engines like. I am just advocating for all of us stepping away from this idea of ‘doing’ SEO and instead thinking of SEO as a happy byproduct from good websites and online marketing campaigns.



Tech Thursday: Where Should I Blog?

This week, we’re discussing blogging! More specifically, we’ll discuss the “where”- that is, blogging on your own site or someone else’s. There are pros and cons to each option. Tune in to learn more, and as always, feel free to send us suggestions for future videos!



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