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Tips on digital marketing you can apply today.

How to Hire an SEO - Google Says it Best!

Kristen Lindsey - Thursday, February 16, 2017

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of our core products here at Thrively. We hear a lot of stories from clients about previous challenges when trying to find an SEO agency that works for them.

How to hire an SEO Agency? Google put it so well, we thought we'd let them tell you!



Summary: Panel on the Future of Marketing

Kristen Lindsey - Thursday, October 13, 2016

I had a great time today participating in a panel of experts sharing with Alaska marketers about the future of marketing. My fellow panelists were Nick Coltman from the Anchorage Press and Melissa Moody from Google. For those of you that were unable to make it or did not hear about it, I thought it might be useful to have a summary of the bigger topics we covered. 

1. What do you see as the next big disruption in marketing and communications?

There are going to be bigger, better ways for marketers to really hyper-target audiences. Nick described it as sniper-style targeting. As part of that, Melissa made the great point that internet access is already happening more on mobile devices than desktops and computers, and we all agreed that mobile is here to stay and that new disruptive technologies will be primarily happening in the mobile sphere. 

I chimed in that it is critical for marketers to really hone in on target audiences and their needs, pain points, and what else empowers and engages them, then apply the targeting tactics that resonate with each of those audiences. With so many new tools, there is a lot of bad content out there that is turning off consumers. If you can create an authentic, engaging experience with your customers, you are going to cut through the clutter. A great online resource that breaks this down is the Content Marketing Institute.

Nick also pointed out that with this targeting comes much more effective measurement and analytics. It is much easier to learn quickly what works and what doesn't and focus your budget in the right places.

2. As a small business without a marketing staff member, how do we make the most of a limited budget?

Melissa: Start with online local listings and reviews - free and impactful!

Nick: It depends! On the industry, target audience, etc. But if you have $300 to spend there are a lot more inexpensive options out there to take advantage of, from an ad in the Anchorage Press to Facebook ads. 

Kristen: We counsel small business owners to keep the fast-cheap-good triangle in mind when deciding on marketing spend - you can only have two! That is a quick check to prioritize quickly. Also, as the owner with many hats, it is also important to consider how your time is best spent - using that $300 for hiring marketing professionals when your time could have a bigger impact on the business success elsewhere is an analysis of the risk of lost opportunity.

3. How do you see virtual reality playing a role in future marketing tactics?

Melissa: Virtual reality will be a huge opportunity for industries with experiential products and services as it gets more mainstream. She pointed out the important difference between 360-degree photos and Virtual Reality. 360 photos are basically a 360-degree photograph taken with a special camera or else stitched together from a number of pictures. Virtual Reality is an immersive experience that requires some sort of headset. (Incidentally, Scott at our office picked up a Google Cardboard, which allows you to experience virtual reality with some simple app downloads. Check it out!)  

It is becoming easier and more affordable to create 360-degree images and load them up on your site of social networks. She mentioned the Android SprayScape app, which allows marketers to create them quickly with their mobile phone. her advice for small businesses is to start with the 360-degree photos, then more forward from there.

Kristen: I mistook augmented reality with Virtual reality and mentioned how quickly Pokemon went mainstream, but regardless there is a point in there somewhere that even as people grasp augmented reality, it makes it easier for our potential consumer markets to understand Virtual Reality, and that is when the technology is going to become useful to us as marketers. The other point I made was that regardless of what disruptive technology comes down the line, Virtual reality included, that we still need to execute the fundamental ,marketing task of identifying those micro-audiences and understand what content and experiences engage them, THEN apply the technology.

4. How can the big Alaska businesses find marketing opportunity in the current economic situation?

Melissa: there are definitely opportunities in other markets. I was at the Alaska Travel Industry Association convention last week, and hearing Governor Walker talk about the huge cuts in the state marketing budget was hard to hear. But that is completely the wrong way to go, because tourism is an Alaska industry of opportunity.

Kristen: Since we are all dependent on oil and gas to create the business economy here, all industries need to evaluate their opportunities. Just like the state is losing an opportunity by cutting back on the tourism marketing budget, individual businesses must continue to double down on knowing their customers and taking advantage of these new marketing trends. One important way for marketers to do this is to restructure their work process to be able to respond more quickly to consumers with the tactics available, learn what works and what doesn't on the fly, and more forward with what is successful.

Nick: Obviously, marketing is not going to help oil and gas. They need more production and volume. But all the rest of the businesses cannot hide in the sand - their competitors will take up that lost space.

5. One word to sum up the future of marketing:

Nick: Targeting

Melissa: Mobile

Kristen: Agile






The Best Recipe for a Successful Website Redesign

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

As a business owner, successfully designing or revamping your website can be a daunting task.

Why is it so tough?

Outsourcing it can be overwhelming, with options ranging from moonlighting college students to huge national agencies; prices range from one thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. And, even if you have the skills, doing it yourself may not be the best use of your time. It’s enough to give you indigestion.

Good news! We have the perfect recipe for a successful website design project that will leave you satisfied and content (and get results!).

Ingredient #1: Strong Client Vision


I know, I know. You were expecting me to share everything a web agency should do for you, but guess what: you have complete control over one of the most important ingredients -- your vision for the site!

Taking time before starting a redesign project to map out a) your organizational goals, and b) how your web presence will support those goals is THE foundation of the entire project. Plus, if you are working with a good web company they are going to ask for this anyways.

Other important things to think through:

  • Who are your primary audiences?
  • What calls-to-action should be on the site?
  • What is your desired look and feel?
  • What content needs do you have?
  • Where will you obtain photos?
  • What other websites you like or dislike and why?

By answering these questions you can gain a clear vision of how your site will differentiate you from your competitors. It will also be easy to communicate this vision quickly to potential web partners. (We actually have a nifty project questionnaire with all these questions we give to prospective clients - you can view it here)

Ingredient #2: Strong Agency Strategic Input

You are responsible for the vision ingredient. But a good web agency should be able to interpret that vision and provide strategic input, apply current technology and use clear processes to offer “right-sized” technology recommendations. If you meet with an agency that pushes latest technology trends or makes recommendations that don’t seem in alignment with your business goals or target audiences, steer clear. Find a company that offers web solutions in a way you can understand and feel confident about, as well as ones that reflect your company brand and focus on the needs of your potential customers. a

Ingredient #3: Communication

Our web project recipe calls for a double portion of the “communication” ingredient. Even more than technical skills, good communication at every step of your project is critical to its success. If a web agency provides a scope of work that doesn’t clearly define the project goals and deliverables, they have failed to deliver this ingredient. Technical knowledge is not required to read a proposal and determine if it will deliver the site you need at a price reflective of its value.

Getting internal stakeholder buy-in is another example of the importance of good communication. If you are a one-person company and can make all the decisions, great! But most of us need input from co-workers or higher ups to make sure the new website will work for all departments. Getting internal participation and feedback, then clearly communicating that to your web agency will help the process go smoothly.

Some other examples of how both an agency and a client can contribute the communication ingredient:

An agency should:

  • Provide a clear, simple to understand proposal without jargon
  • Speak and write in layman’s terms 
  • Provide tools that help the client communicate their needs
  • Provide a simple, clear process for the project -- make it easy!
A client should:

  • Provide the agency with clear vision and direction
  • If you don’t understand something -- ask!
  • Use tools made available to you by the agency -- they’ve done this a lot

Ingredient #4: Client Leadership

Sorry, we’re back to you again. You thought you could outsource all of this, didn’t you? Well, at each stage your leadership is necessary to keep the website project on track. How can you lead? Some examples:

  • Make sure you understand the scope of the project right from the start
  • Give feedback on the agency’s approach -- is it supporting your vision?
  • Use the skills of your design partner -- they are technical professionals; it’s what you’re paying them for.
  • Expect timeliness, clear communication and solid solutions from your agency. If you don’t get these, speak up right away.

Ingredient #5: Digital Agency Skills

Yup, finally. Something the agency needs to contribute. Maybe you initially thought this was the only ingredient. But these technical skills, while extremely important, are pretty useless without all the other ingredients.

Your agency has very specific skills such as strategic thinking, graphic design, programming and coding, search engine optimization, user experience design, effective project management and more. These skills combined with all the other critical ingredients above are truly the best recipe for a successful website.

I hope this will help you feel a little more empowered and in control when starting a new company website. Pairing your vision and leadership with the right, results-driven agency will result in a powerful program that will grow your business.



Alaska Tourism - How Can You Thrive With Minimal State Marketing

Kristen Lindsey - Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The state of Alaska's budget woes have reached the tourism industry. Despite near record visitor numbers and a thriving industry, critical state marketing support for the industry has dwindled from upwards of twenty million dollars to to a mere 1.5 million dollars.

Many of our clients are asking about how they can retool their own marketing programs in response to this situation. Here are some digital strategies to consider:

1.  Do you have the right business intelligence?

Of course, businesses look at overall revenues, profit margins, etc. but there are other important ways of tracking your marketing program. Evaluating which analytics you review to support your marketing objectives is an important first step. 

You need a fuel gauge in your car to know if you're running out of fuel, right? Just looking at miles traveled will not tell you if you are in danger. Are you looking at mere website traffic to determine your digital success? Rethink your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and find the ones that give you actionable information. Some examples of KPIs we use with some clients are engaged visitors (sessions of x page views or more), shopping cart abandonment rate, average order value and more.

2. How is your website conversion rate?

Is your site optimized to maximize bookings? An incremental increase in your conversion rate is one of the biggest ways you can improve your digital marketing performance. Analysis tools like heat maps, exit surveys or landing page optimization testing can help you find areas of opportunity. Google Analytics has multiple ways to measure conversion, and spending a little on development to get this information can pay big dividends.

3. Are you spending your digital advertising in the right places?

U.S. department store merchant John Wanamaker is credited with the quote, "I know half my advertising is working; I just don't know which half." With digital advertising & marketing, this is no longer the case. Conducting an ad cost analysis (i.e. cost per conversion by advertising medium) can prevent you from throwing money at a poor performing tactic and underspending on something really valuable. For example, when executed properly, paid search advertising can have the lowest cost per acquisition of almost any other type of advertising. If you have an effective paid search program but not maximizing your spending, you are losing cost effective conversions.

4. Is your site mobile optimized?

So many travelers are making decisions on where to eat, what to do and even where to stay once they have already arrived at their destination, and they are mostly using mobile devices to make these bookings. If your site is not optimized for mobile yet, it is time to bite the bullet and make the investment. Yes, it is a capital expense that may feel like a lot, but is the most important part of conversion optimization you can undertake.

5. It is time to professionalize your social media presence.

Playing around with social media and seeing if it can contribute to your marketing program is a thing of the past. The size of audiences on social media now easily rival audiences in other areas, such as search. Developing a coordinated social media strategy in alignment with the rest of your marketing as well as exploring paid social advertising options will enhance your overall program and increase its impact. As with all marketing, with digital, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Synergy and consistent message among all tactics - search, display, email, social - can have a disproportionate impact and huge bang for the buck.

So, if you are looking for ways to leverage your marketing program further to make up for State of Alaska marketing program support, here are some ideas to start with. Do these resonate with you? Any other comments on digital opportunities you see? Please share in the comments!




Apokrisis is Now Thrively Digital!

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Introducing Thrively Digital! Tah Dah!

Every business should self-evaluate and determine if their customer proposition, brand values and core mission are in line with public perception and outward presence of the company. Am I right?

Well, after 13 years, our partners did just that. And while our core services and mission were strong, we realized our business name and perceived brand promise were no longer in alignment. So after careful thought and invaluable assistance from our community, we are proud to announce we are changing our name to Thrively Digital.


Our new name and logo better reflect our services and the transformational business growth we strive to provide. They also embody unique benefits we offer as a boutique, digital-only marketing agency providing right-sized business solutions that empower clients to make strong business decisions.

And let’s be honest -- we know it was really difficult to pronounce Apokrisis! As partner Monica Whitt said so well at the onset of this endeavor, “How can we deliver on our promise of results, approachability and good communication when it’s so hard to say our name?”

The rebrand transcends a new logo and name. Extensive research with colleagues and clients honed our brand values and vocalized our approach to solving clients’ digital marketing challenges. And we plan to better “live” these at every level of our business:

  • Approachable
  • Proactive 
  •  Productive
  •  Respectful
  •  Communicative
  •  Professional
  •  Transparent
  •  Nimble
  •  Experts
  •  Knowledgeable

Why Thrively?

We sought a name that would embody client success. Extensive customer interviews and testing pointed to a simple yet key outcome we provide for our client base -- we help them thrive.

About the Logo

We are grateful that MadDog Graphx leveraged their talent to express our new Thrively Digital brand identity. They did a phenomenal job creating a visual expression of our values and purpose.

"Thrively came to us looking for a mark for their new name which would reflect the services they offer and enforce brand values. Thrively applies their core values of approachability, warmth and responsiveness in addition to the professionalism and tech-savvy required in the constantly evolving digital field. Their mission is to provide digital solutions that will grow their client’s results—and from that, the Thrively mark started to take shape.

The icon combines the ideas of growth and communication, while the wordmark supports approachability through the soft edges, spacing and lowercase letter forms of “thrively,” paired with with clean professionalism and data-driven results in “DIGITAL.” The icon was designed to be used in a variety of different spaces, including the square icon prevalent in social media and online presence." - Aurora Hablett, MadDog Graphx Art Director




About the Brand

We were very lucky to have Ruth Rosewarne Kimerer, a hugely valuable member of our team, in her RK Consulting persona assist us in bringing the Thrively brand to life. While many brand components had been floating out there for years in our communications, Ruth really drilled it down to a core essence and provided us with the tools to consistently live our brand moving forward. Her branding process is exceptional and we highly recommend it.

Finally, we hope you, a valued partner in our success, will interpret this rebrand as a strong statement of Thrively’s confidence in Alaska’s businesses and people. Regardless of the economic climate, we are here for the long haul and committed to helping you not just survive, but thrive.

Last but not least, we would be remiss if we send a huge shoutout to everyone who was involved in this project. Thank you! We are deeply indebted to you and appreciate all your time and feedback.



Website Feng Shui - Five Elements of a Website

Kristen Lindsey - Sunday, November 01, 2015
I had a great chat with a client last week. In the middle of it, she asked me a great question: "What are the types of things I need to expect from my web person?" It reminded me of this article I wrote a number of years ago. It seemed to answer her question pretty well so I thought I'd repost. Thoughts? Comments? Experiences to share? Please chime in!



As with the practice of Feng Shui, understanding five principle elements can help marketers and small business owners build better, more profitable websites.

Feng Shui is a practice of bringing balance to one's living space based on five elements of ancient Chinese philosophy: Water, Metal, Wood, Earth, and Fire. Whether huge and complex like Amazon.com or only four or five pages like a small bed and breakfast site, all websites have their own five basic elements:

  1. Infrastructure
  2. Design
  3. Functionality
  4. Content
  5. Marketing

Understanding each element, the skill sets required to produce these elements, and how they interrelate can help a business make the best decisions about how their site should be constructed, maintained and promoted.

Element #1: Infrastructure


Infrastructure is the backbone of your website. Purchasing your domain name, setting up hosting for your site, email set up, etc.  are tasks that establish the physical structure on which your site will reside.

Any type of web contractor, whether it is a one-man show like a webmaster or a full-service development firm, can handle this for your business. Though contractors may be overseeing infrastructure items on your behalf, make sure you have copies of all records and receipts of hosting agreements and domain purchases. Contractors only need the technical access info, but you need the account and billing information, in case you ever need to change contractors in the future. Plus, you're the boss! That info is mission critical business info and should live with you.

Element #2: Design


The next element of a website is design. Design is the look and feel of your web pages: Is navigation across the top or to the left? Where are the optimal locations for photos, graphics, and text? How is the copy laid out? What is the color scheme?

Design can be one of the most frustrating challenges when building a website. There is such a large number of designers out there with considerable price differences, and it is difficult to determine where there is a value for the money.

Companies or individuals marketing design services today can range from graphic designers versed in print who are trying to add web to their skills to technical people who write code in HTML but have limited artistic training. Neither of these offer the best bang for the buck.

A web designer who has strong artistic ability yet is also well-versed in common web "best practices" like optimal web page file size, usability concerns, conversion optimization and information architecture is the best option. Though you may not need an award-winning creative designer, you do need a professional, credible site. Try to shop around and find someone with these skills in your price range.

For design, the final price is less important than knowing exactly what you are getting for the price. Decide how much you are willing to pay and look for someone with the skills mentioned. You can definitely find inexpensive designers out there, but beware. You may pay less for the design, but you will lose money in the end if visitors consider your site unprofessional or untrustworthy.

Element #3: Functionality


The third element of your website is functionality. Some common examples of website functionality include online forms, site registration, email newsletter sign-ups, and shopping carts. It is sometimes common for business owners to consider design and functionality to be the same thing, but they are actually two entirely different disciplines. Functionality is executed using programming languages or scripts, whereas a design is done with tools that create, edit, and lay out photos, graphics, and text.

Knowing the difference allows you to effectively determine what skill sets are necessary for your site and find that talent, whether hiring in-house or contracting to outside consultants.

Think about the website experience you seek for your visitors. Does it involve a lot of functionality? Is it a central aspect of the website, like a shopping cart? A web designer may be able to provide some simple functionality like a request form or a simple shopping cart, but for anything more substantial you will want to hire people with web programming experience.

Element #4: Content


The fourth element is website content. Content is the most basic element around which all others revolve. This is the meat of your site - what your visitors are coming for. Infrastructure, design and functionality provide the medium for content to be provided to site visitors. Content includes text, photo, graphics, multimedia, or video. Unfortunately, content is often the most neglected element of many websites, despite its importance. Many websites suffer from outdated content. For small business owners and marketing departments, writing and updating web content seems to drop to the bottom of the priority list. Other businesses have their site maintained by their webmaster or design shop, and though the site owner is diligent about changes, the 
contractor doesn't update in a timely manner.

Current, fresh content is what keeps visitors coming to your website. Some sites may not need new content weekly or monthly, but all businesses have new happenings that need to be posted on a website, such as press releases, new products or price changes. Review your site quarterly if it is a relatively non-changing site and daily if it is highly active.

Element # 5: Marketing


Last but not least, the fifth element is web site marketing.

Infrastructure, design, functionality and content make up the actual site structure, but marketing is vital because it gets the word out so that visitors actually come to the site and find what they need there. All efforts in the other four areas are basically irrelevant if no one visits your site.

Some common forms of internet marketing include search engine optimization, permission email marketing, search and social media advertising, and re-marketing. Tactics for building productive in-house email lists or designing landing pages for potential visitors who click on advertisements can make a huge difference in marketing effectiveness.

Many firms are starting up that specifically provide internet marketing. It often requires a unique blend of marketing, design, and technical skills which design shops or advertising agencies are not always able to cover. For example, ranking well in search engines requires skills in marketing, copywriting, design, and programming to be successful. A design shop may have the technical and design skills but not the marketing and content writing abilities. An ad agency's skill set may be the opposite. Often neither have all the skills. 

Finding a digital agency that has talent in all these areas can help you produce an online program that delivers concrete results.

Now that you've broken down your site into the five website elements, think about your online business needs, and identify what tasks are necessary to produce the best web site possible.

For example, you can:

  • Develop an effective Request For Proposal (RFP) for web contracting.
  • More effectively and proactively manage your consultants.
  • Provide better information to web consultants so they can produce a better product.
  • Save money if you identify tasks that are currently being handled by an outside contractor but can be done internally, or vice-versa.

Knowing the five website elements enables you to make good business decisions without a lot of technical knowledge. 


The Best Recipe for a Successful Website Design

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, October 14, 2015

As a business owner, successfully designing or revamping your website can be a daunting task.

Why is it so tough?

Outsourcing it can be overwhelming, with options ranging from moonlighting college students to huge national agencies; prices range from one to tens of thousands of dollars. And, if you have the skills, doing it yourself may not be the best use of your time. It’s enough to give you indigestion.

Good news! We have the perfect recipe for a successful website design project that will leave you satisfied and content (and get results!)

Ingredient #1: Strong Client Vision

I know, I know. You were expecting me to share everything a web agency should do for you, but guess what; you have complete control over one of the most important ingredients -- your vision for the site!

Taking time before starting a project to map out a) your organizational goals, and b) how your web presence will support those goals is THE foundation

Other important things to think through:

  • Who are your primary audiences?
  • What calls-to-action should be on the site?
  • What is your desired look and feel?
  • What content needs do you have?
  • Where will you obtain photos?
  • What other websites you like or dislike and why?

By answering these questions you can gain a clear vision of how your site will differentiate you from your competitors. it will also be easy to communicate this vision quickly to potential web partners. (We actually have a nifty project questionnaire with all these questions we give to prospective clients - you can view it here)

Ingredient #2: Strong Agency Strategic Input

You are responsible for the vision ingredient. But a good web agency should be able to interpret that vision and provide strategic input, apply current technology and use clear processes to offer “right-sized” technology recommendations. If you meet with an agency that pushes latest technology trends or makes recommendations that don’t seem in alignment with your business goals or target audiences, steer clear. Find a company that offers web solutions in a way you can understand and feel confident about, that reflect your company brand and will focus on the needs of your potential customers.

Ingredient #3: Communication

Our web project recipe calls for a double portion of the “communication” ingredient. Even more than technical skills, good communication at every step of your project is critical to its success. If a web agency provides a scope of work that doesn’t clearly define the project goals and deliverables, they have failed to deliver this ingredient. Technical knowledge is not required to read a proposal and determine if it will deliver the site you need at a price reflective of its value.

Getting internal stakeholder buy-in is another example of the importance of good communication. If you are a one person company and can make all the decisions, great! But most of us need input from co-workers to make sure the new website will work for all departments. Getting internal participation and feedback, then clearly communicating that to your web agency will help the process go smoothly.

Some other examples of how both an agency and a client can contribute the communication ingredient:

An agency should:

  • provide a clear, simple to understand proposal without jargon
  • speak and write in layman’s terms
  • provide tools that help the client communicate their needs
  • provide a simple, clear process for the project -- make it easy!

A client should:

  • provide the agency with clear vision and direction
  • If you don’t understand something -- ask!
  • Use tools made available to you by the agency -- they’ve done this a lot

Ingredient #4: Client Leadership

Sorry, we’re back to you again. You thought you could outsource all of this, didn’t you? Well, at each stage your leadership is necessary to keep the website project on track. How can you lead? Some examples:

  • Make sure you understand the scope of the project right from the start
  • Give feedback on the agency’s approach -- is it supporting your vision?
  • Use the skills of your design partner -- they are technical professionals; it’s what you’re paying them for.
  • Expect timeliness, clear communication and solid solutions from your agency. If you don’t get these, speak up right away.

Ingredient #5: Design Agency Skills

Yup, finally. Something the agency needs to contribute. Maybe you initially thought this was the only ingredient. But these technical skills, while extremely important, are pretty useless without all the other ingredients.

Your agency has very specific technical skills such as strategic thinking, graphic design, programming and coding, search engine optimization, user experience design, effective project management and more. These skills combined with all the other critical ingredients above are truly the best recipe for a successful website.

 

I hope this will help you feel a little more empowered and in control when starting a new company website. Pairing your vision and leadership with the right, results-driven agency will result in a powerful program that will grow your business.

 



Finding the Right SEO Company for Your Business

Kristen Lindsey - Friday, September 25, 2015

So you are thinking that your site could and should get more traffic from search engines. Where do you start? Many businesses hire a dedicated SEO company to help them do so, but a quick search for agencies can make you feel immediately overwhelmed.

Why? Well, frankly the SEO industry has a reputation problem. You have probably received dozens of those SPAM emails saying your site is behind on rankings or that they did a test of your site and it was performing poorly. We also hear horror stories of businesses who spent thousands of dollars a month with some SEO company with no results to show for it.

There are typically two types of SEO firms - those that work within search engine terms of service (white hat agencies) and those that don’t (black hat agencies). There are also gray hat SEO firms as well; those who might be inexperienced or aggressively using SEO tactics to attempt to bring the desired results. When you work with an aggressive gray hat or black hat firm, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have results, but you do run the risk of your domain being penalized from the search engines for lack of compliance. Who can afford that to happen? And it isn;t as rare as it sounds. We’ve seen two or three cases right here in our local market where companies had to start their web presence over with a new domain name and new branding efforts - an expensive proposition.

So ruling out black hat operators and finding an SEO company that will provide stable, long-term results helps narrow down your choices. But how to do that?

Learn a Little About SEO

A little education about SEO goes a long way. You don’t have to know how to do it - but if you know enough to be able to understand how it fits in your marketing mix, then you are well on your way to finding an SEO outfit that can help. The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz is a great place to start.

Is SEO Necessary?

Ask yourself - do I really need SEO? On the whole we find that for most businesses it is an excellent tactic, but did you know that for very competitive industries we have counselled clients not to bother? It is really all about your industry, your competition, and where we think you can achieve the largest ROI. If you hear a potential consultant or telling you that if you don’t do SEO you are ruined, then be wary. A more educated answer by potential practitioners about the “why” will give you a lot of information about their approach. There should also be discussion about the degree of SEO effort is a good fit for your business and your competitive niche on the Internet.

Ask Around!

Get references and case studies, or call some clients on the SEO company’s website and speak with them. Ask what is really good about the agency and also ask where they can improve. Find out what size companies they generally work with - you don’t want to be the biggest or the smallest. Talking to current clients give you a lot of information about whether or not the agency is a good fit for you, even if the company you speak to is a completely different sort of business.

Are They Black Hat or White Hat?

Ask about their philosophy and approach. You want to know if they will work within search engine terms of service. Also be wary of anyone who will guarantee rankings. This is simply impossible for any SEO agency to do.

Expect Transparency and Good Reporting

Get very concrete information about how the company will demonstrate results and make sure you are comfortable with their approach. Automated reports monthly with data overload will not tell you much. Custom dashboards, personalized status reports or regular meetings do.

Some specific things you will want to hear from a solid SEO agency:

  • They will ask about your business goals, marketing goals and target audiences
  • They will ask why you want to optimize your site
  • They will talk about building a keyword universe based on #1 & #2.
  • Efforts to integrate SEO efforts with other digital marketing channels such as pay per click advertising and social media will be made
  • They will talk about site infrastructure, on-page content, and the importance of a good user experience for your customers
  • There is a genuine brand behind the SEO agency’s online presence

Examples of things that should raise concern:

  • Guarantees of #1 rankings
  • Is their site or brand name no more than a city or state name + SEO? Is their site a cookie-cutter template that is copied across multiple areas of the country?
  • Is there a lack of transparency about who they are?
  • Tactics that involve “doorway” or “landing” pages
  • Link building strategies that focus on quantity over quality, link buying, or link exchanging
  • Do they generate pages or sites that are written for search engines and not people?

Finally, simply have a conversation with your potential agency and see if they are a good fit with your values and mission. Since SEO is an ongoing process, a good agency should be a partner you want to work with for the long term, so it is important that both your value systems are in alignment.

Well, good luck! We hope this article makes you feel a little more empowered to seek and find the right SEO practitioner to help you grow your business.

 

The Case for Responsive Design

Scott Thomas - Thursday, June 11, 2015

For some Alaskan businesses, the hype and news surrounding the Google Mobile Algorithm update and the fear of a pending Mobilegeddon may have caught them by surprise. While some organizations have already made the change to responsive web design, we know of many other sites functioning pretty well without any mobile friendly pages. In response to some recent conversations we've had with clients, here is a basic guide outlining why your business should consider making the change to a responsively designed website.

What is Responsive Design?

 From the all-knowing Wikipedia:

Responsive web design (RWD) is an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing and interaction experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones).

1) Think About the User First.

Providing the answer to a question, or the product or service a person is looking for should be your organization's first priority. Many people in the U.S. are connected to the internet constantly, and moving between devices. If your site is not mobile friendly, and your competitors' sites are responsive, you are likely missing out on leads and customers. Can someone find your business on a mobile device and complete the conversion action(s) you are aiming for? Can your business afford to ignore 10% of your website visitors? 20%? 30%?

2) Searches on Mobile Devices have Exceeded Desktop Search.

Earlier this year, Google acknowledged that the volume of search queries on mobile devices exceed those on desktops in 10 countries, including the U.S.  You have probably noticed significant growth in mobile traffic -and while for some sites -that percentage may be 20% or less of your total website sessions (visits), not many business can choose to ignore or give mobile users a poor experience. A recent study by Nielsen noted that US adults spend more time on the Internet via Smart Phones.

3) Responsive Design is Preferred by Google (and better for SEO).

Since 2012, Google has recommended that websites use responsive design. While it's still a viable option for websites that use separate desktop and mobile sites, choosing such a set-up requires extra web development and content maintenance, as well careful SEO settings to highlight the two separate sites properly.

4) Flexible Formats that Adapt to the Device.

Responsively designed websites are fluid, and adapt the size of the screen. The templates used in responsive design are based upon screen size, not device. If a new technology is developed (or a new screen size) and the existing responsive templates don't work with the new device, one could update the templates for the new device(s).

5) Social Media: It's a Mobile First World.

The majority of social media consumption and sharing occurs on a mobile device. If one is attempting to share website content that isn't mobile-friendly, that will decrease the likelihood of your content being shared. Active social media campaigns can help bring in more mobile traffic, and get your website liked or shared on social media channels.

A Case Study: Denali Zipline Tours

Denali Zipline Tours This spring, we helped Denali Zipline Tours launch a responsive website. Previously, Denali Zipline Tours' site was a non-responsive site without any mobile friendly pages. Their site takes online reservations for their Zipline tours, so we can compare user engagement metrics and online ecommerce revenue for the first 90 days with a responsive design.

Comparing year over year data for this 90 day period, the Denali Zipline Tours website saw the following improvements from their mobile users:

  • 20% Reduction in Bounce Rate
  • Average Pages per Session Doubled
  • 28% Increase in Online Reservations
  • 114% Increase in Revenue


Google's Mobile Update: No Time to Panic

Scott Thomas - Thursday, April 16, 2015

Starting on April 21st, Google will increase the use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal on mobile devices. This change may take days or weeks to roll out, it will affect mobile searches in all languages, world-wide. At this time, it's unclear if the impact will boost mobile-friendly pages or work as a demotion for non-mobile friendly pages, but the intent is to promote mobile-friendly pages up higher in the search results. While there are still some unknowns as to the impacts, we do know that website that are not mobile friendly will not be removed from the search results. 

It appears that the upcoming algorithmic change will not impact desktop search rankings. We also know that the mobile friendliness update will work on the page level, and run in real time. This means that after you update your site with mobile-friendly pages, Google will quickly see that and respond to the change (no long-lasting suppression or site-wide penalties).

Remember, Google's goal is to provide the most relevant search results to it's users. What can your business or organization do to adapt?

Assess your Website Visitors' Experience: What percentage of your website visitors are using a mobile device? For example, if only 20% of your visitors are on a mobile device, and those visitors have similar engagement as your desktop users, then perhaps it's not necessary to quickly develop a new responsive or mobile site. On the other hand, if you are a local, brick-and-mortar business, and you get 30% or more of your current web visitors via mobile devices, then it's likely vital to update your site to include mobile-friendly pages as soon as possible. 

  • For your website, what percentage of pages are visited by Google organic search visitors, from a mobile device?
  • Are these mobile users looking for specific information, such as map or location information?
  • Would it be possible to create a small sub-set of mobile pages, to give these users what they need?

Check and Improve your Mobile Friendliness: Even if you already have a responsively design site, or a combination of a mobile and desktop sites, it's important to do a mobile SEO audit and see if Google is actually serving your mobile pages. Test your site with Google's Mobile-Friendly Testing tool, and see what usability issues, if any, must be addressed. From Google Webmaster Tools, use the Google smartphone crawler to see if there are problems with crawling your site. 

Competition Level in your Niche: Finally, how well does your site stack up to your top competitors? Is your website the only one that isn't mobile friendly? If you are in a very competitive field, then use mobile rankings tools to discover the keywords that your competitors are out-ranking you for on mobile devices. 

Don't Panic, but Create a Plan: While some Internet marketers, designers, and domain registrar companies might be exaggerating the impacts of the upcoming change, it's important to make your site mobile-friendly in the near future. Google representatives have publicly stated that they expect the volume of searches from mobile devices to exceed the volume of desktop-based search during the 2015 calendar year.

If your users are primarily desktop-based, then perhaps you can wait until the next planned website redesign to incorporate mobile-friendly pages. Examine your situation closely by using your analytics data, Google Webmaster Tools, and the mobile friendly testing tool to determine the potential impact of the upcoming mobile friendly algorithm change. Once April 21st rolls around, keep a close eye on the volume of Google organic traffic (especially from mobile devices) and compare it to past performance.

Think about the mobile user first, their experience your website, and when you'll have the budget to update your site for mobile-friendliness. Perhaps you have overlooked those users, and you should update your website for mobile friendliness as soon as possible; but if the impact is low, then you might be able to wait.