Web and Hosting Tips
Written by Taylor Hawes
Monday, November 25th, 2013
Mobile Internet has desktop usage in its crosshairs. According to Smart Insights, mobile Internet will surpass desktop usage in 2014. This is good news for Apple and Android, but bad news for all those hard-working web developers who painstakingly created a desktop website worth its salt. But let’s be honest, in an age when innovation moves at light-speed, no one expects a silver bullet solution to last very long.
The unique characteristics of mobile devices require special considerations all their own. Smaller screen resolutions and unique interfaces present challenges to the typical 1280 by 720 click-and-type model. Because of smaller resolutions and tactile, gesture-based controls, navigations, layouts, and content need to be simplified for proper viewing. To further complicate matters, the diversity of mobile devices means that a single resolution or interface solution may not display correctly on other devices or platforms. Fortunately, there are options, each one with its own challenges and assets, to help solve this truly complicated puzzle.
Mobile Specific Websites
The first potential solution is a bit of an antique at this point, but has its benefits. The mobile specific website builds a dedicated set of code and assets around the unique context of mobile web. This option can allow for coding of mobile specific capabilities and features, but ultimately the cons largely outweigh the pros.
The first issue is load times. The mobile Internet is fast and responsive. The mobile only website is not. Because the mobile specific code is necessarily housed under a separate URL, a series of redirects based on the detected platform are needed to point phone browsers in the right direction. This dramatically increases load times and, should any of the redirects fail, unnecessary and unappreciated pain in access.
The next problem is consistency. Updating code on one version of the site requires updating of code on the other site, and failure to do so can lead to embarrassing and glaring issues in format and content. In addition, successful execution of two separate code bases complicates the already arduous design process in the case of implementation of additional features. This is without mentioning the manpower needed to police both versions and maintain a coherent web experience.
The final problem is search engine optimization. Because of the separate URLs of the two sites, the indexing and search rank of one does not benefit the other. For this reason, mobile users may not even be able to find your mobile site should they look for it.
The short story is: don’t use a separate mobile site. At one time, Google actually recommended them before responsive web design practices became prevalent. Save yourself the headache and consider more flexible, intuitive, and convenient options.
Device Specific HTML
Device specific HTML represents one of these intuitive solutions. The backbone of this approach is the Vary HTTP header. In its implementation, the Vary command signals to Internet Service Providers to consider the encoding preferences of the user when determining which format to serve. In doing so, two sets of HTML code can be utilized with some common assets and displayed based on the needs of the user.
In addition, the shared URL of the two versions has positive search implications. Common indexation and search rank of both versions means that the appropriate format will be readily accessible through regular search channels, thus alleviating the confusion presented by a stand-alone solution. Furthermore, the Vary header helps Google more easily crawl both formats by indicating which Googlebot to use. The end result is faster crawl and site discovery.
Responsive Web Design
With myriad platforms and devices, even device specific HTML is no guarantee that site presentation will be consistent. For that reason, web designers have adopted a solution entitled “responsive web design“. The method adopts a doctrine referred to as “device agnosticism”, which aspires to create a homogeneous experience regardless of the specific viewing context.
On a practical level, this means a more coherent experience for viewers and less frustration for web developers. By utilizing common assets, fonts, and layouts, platform agnosticism permits cross-platform branding and design that plays a strong part in developing brand association. By applying catchall code, updating one asset updates the asset across all contexts, thus saving manpower and embarrassing inconsistencies.
Between these options, you should have be able to make an informed decision regarding what is best for your businesses specific needs. Consider your available manpower and aspirin when accepting the headaches of each method and employ the best advantages of each when constructing your web experience. In time, your users will appreciate your mobile accommodations and your mobile site will become as much a part of your identity as your sterling reputation and charming demeanor.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Thursday, November 21st, 2013
2014 is set to be the year that two truths bear themselves. The first is that Internet users are tired, bombarded with content and desperate to separate the chaff from the wheat. The second is that old methods of marketing simply are not effective anymore. This combination has lead to the rise of engaging content and emphasis on a relationship with customers, regardless of the specific market you find yourself in.
The verdict is in, and people are saying that they want quality, value, and creativity. They want information, media, and brands that enrich their lives in tangible ways, in conjunction with their values and belief structures. If you’re keeping score, you can imagine that reaching such lofty heights through iPad giveaways and banal taglines is a near impossible task.
Making a Connection
The reason old marketing tactics are no longer working begins with the fact that they do not connect with customers. Discerning consumers are no longer swayed by catchy phrases or theme songs. Inundated with media and cheap ploys for sales, they have begun to demand more sincere, legitimate content and engagement that recognizes them as more than simply another sales lead.
This is where voice plays a part. Voice gives a face to your organization, which is exactly what consumers want to see. Too many people have waded through phone menus and automated replies. Now those same people want to know that there is a person on the other end of the line. Voice forges that precious connection that new, smarter, more discerning customers are looking for.
At its core, the importance of voice demonstrates prevailing attitudes toward large organizations. We’ve entered an era in which people talk to other people every day through social media, and, for that reason, expect the same personal level of attention and interaction from businesses. But while a human touch encourages positive association with brands, it is not enough to create the sort of image and perception that brands hope to accomplish. Thankfully, voice solves this problem too.
Telling a Story
Voice connects with customers on a deeper level; a connection ingrained in us for thousands of years. Namely, voice tells a story. Since the dawn of man, humans have been hard-wired to interact, convey messages, emotions, and concepts, and build community around stories. Developing a unique voice for your organization takes more than putting a nametag on a customer service response. It takes an emphasis on this millennia old practice.
Good content marketing achieves exactly this; leaning on your expertise and providing engaging information that your audience wants. By constructing a narrative of your knowledge and sharing it with individuals, you build a shared perception that establishes a valuable brand image. Furthermore, you do so in an efficient, understandable, and effective manner. Searching for a better method of communication than storytelling would be a fruitless endeavor indeed.
The reason for this more profound impact stems from the involvement of something universal in all of us: emotion. Bullet points, tips, tricks, and instructional videos can help brands seem knowledgeable, but in order to gain the sort of emotional and psychological association you are looking for, you need to dig past hard numbers and slideshows. A good narrative that connects on a human level creates a sort of dynamic partnership that not only helps brand image, but establishes channels for communication that aid both the customer and the organization.
And these are not empty platitudes. Uri Hasson from Princeton has observed that the brains of individuals reading or listening to the same story actually synchronize. Narratives that call upon particular emotions or experiences actually engage the same parts of our brain that would see utilization in those situations in real life. The conclusion is unavoidable: stories are effective, we are hard-wired to consume them, and the emotional impact of stories is greater than facts can achieve.
Time for a Change
In this context, it is time for brands to recognize the power of voice. An infographic by HubSpot documents the fall of social media and marketing tactics from the days of increased engagement to a time of senseless spouting. As stated, customers have noticed this, and it’s time for a change. Gone are the days when yelling “hashtag our company name!” at Twitter followers got any semblance of response, but savvy marketers can harness this change and use their powers for good.
Begin with your social media strategy. Are you throwing promotional materials at the wall or are you using these tools for their intended purpose: engagement? According to the aforementioned infographic, customers expect prompt responses to comments on social media. Use this opportunity to reconnect with your customer base and provide personalized, prompt service.
Leverage your knowledge and re-shape your content. Know your strengths and ask your readers what they want to hear. Use that expertise to give the people what they want. Take advantage of the ubiquity of communication in our modern day and construct a narrative that builds positive brand association through real, tangible value. Know that your customers are not stupid; they expect smart content tailored to their needs. The good news is, you can give it to them.
Brands are no longer monolithic emblems blazing in the city sky. Savvy customers expect brands to be respectful, personal, and intelligent. Your voice, your story, and your human assets can deliver this in spades, to the benefit of your bottom line. These days, brands without voice are little but logos. Do not miss the opportunity to be people: let your voice be heard and become a part of the conversation.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Tuesday, November 19th, 2013
It’s never a bad idea to play nicely with Google’s search standards. Frankly, doing so can lead to real, tangible benefits, including, now, having in-depth articles featured on the world’s most ubiquitous search engine. Despite the cheap tie-in with Google+, the search engine’s new results offer a real opportunity to establish your authority, should you choose to play by the rules.
What Are “In-Depth” Articles?
In-depth articles are a new format of search result that feature an article title, thumbnail pulled from the piece, logo of the host website, and snippet of the content being presented. But those are just the specifics. On a deeper level, in-depth articles represent a new effort to accommodate the more robust search needs of complex topics, queries of such nature reportedly comprising as much as 10% of daily search traffic.
If you are a large website, in-depth results present an opportunity to further your reach. If you are a small website, in-depth results present a chance to gain recognition for your knowledge. In either case, catering to the requirements of Google’s new search result can offer a boost to both traffic and reputation.
How to Be Included
The first requirement is utilization of Schema.org’s article markup syntax. By delineating meta-data within an article, Google’s search index can better identify the necessary components of your work when constructing the in-depth article result. This step may create some headaches, but implementing schema as a standard practice will ultimately make your site more responsive to future search developments as it establishes itself as an industry standard.
Next comes the obligatory Google+ tie-in. Despite a user-base dwarfed by Facebook and Twitter, Google’s platform is pulling out the big guns to ensure relevance and in-depth articles are not exempt to this. By signing up for authorship through Google+, their platform will provide additional analytics regarding how your content appears in search results. Accordingly, in-depth results will use this data to help identify your profile as a source of authority.
Formatting is the next concern, particularly for multi-page articles. In this case, usage of rel=”next” and rel=”prev” will help clarify the relationship of paginated articles to Google’s search index. The association is not obligatory, but any measures that can clarify presentation of content in search results is worth a few moments of your time. In addition, close care should be paid to rel=canonical declarations for the sake of clarity.
The last component, appearance of your site’s logo, is handled through schema markup language as well. This step deserves a measure of priority since the brand association that can be established through in-depth articles is worth the time spent coding. Your site’s logo can be specified using the information found here.
Due to the heavy utilization of Schema in the implementation of these articles, the uninitiated would do well to familiarize themselves with the language. Before implementation on the Internet, Schema was used as a database tool that made indexing and retrieval of so-called “micro-data” a less arduous task, alleviating the need for algorithms that depend on standardized structure to extract such information. By explicitly declaring authors, responsible agencies, and publication dates, those wishing to see their work included in the new search context will have greater control of its display.
The specific category of schema in use, Article markup, provides sufficient tagging options for even the most scrupulous of organizations. From the basics, including author, copyright year, and citation, to the more nuanced, including audience, URLs of relevant discussion, and keywords, implementation of the robust markup language presents a bevy options for control, searchability, and display of authoritative works. In a sea of information, this control is an irreplaceable asset.
For more ambitious and diverse sites, Schema’s implementation provides additional benefits. Attributes of people, organizations, products, books, movies, and others can be specified, taking the guesswork out of search indexing. For this reason, ubiquitous use of the code affords a level of “window-dressing” that plays a key part in hooking visitors perusing search results. Thankfully, Google provides a markup helper and data testing tool to guide newer users along the way.
And that, as they say, is that. Positioning your website as a source of authority through in-depth articles can establish your authority. With a little coding and maintenance, Google’s rules have given organizations and outlets large and small an opportunity to answer the deeper questions of the Internet. Take advantage of this new advent of “in-depth” articles and let your customers and your readers know that you’ve got something important to say.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Monday, November 18th, 2013
Business has never been about “keeping up”. If you intend to simply pace the pack, then you are in for a rocky 2014. Innovation never rests and content marketing is home to a great deal of innovation as businesses discover its ROI and long-term potential for audience engagement and sales conversion. The question on everybody’s mind as the year draws to a close is, “what’s next?”
The simple answer: more. But how much more? More of what? How will consumers respond to more? These are all questions receiving a great deal of analysis by industry leaders and professionals. Through their insights and some knowledge of our own, 2014 can be the year where your business sees the value of content marketing.
Content marketing shows no signs of slowing down. According to a recent study, as many as 27 million pieces of content are shared every day. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to determine that this is a pie worth grabbing a piece of. But the equation is not as simple as doubling the number of Instagram pictures your company produces. Savvy consumers are looking for more rewarding content that enriches their lives.
The axiom “quality over quantity” remains just that, an axiom. As a bevy of content marketing pieces flood available distribution channels, separating yourself from the background noise with high-quality, engaging content is paramount. Regardless of your marketing strategy, engagement metrics, and ROI, failing to recognize the importance of quality content in the New Year will be met with disappointing, though expected, results.
The issue with this, of course, is that quality is not something that is capable of measure. The intangible characteristic can be frustrating for data-driven businesses, but hiring quality writers should be your guidepost. You run a business with aplomb and they carry that same acumen to their respective arena, so trust their instincts and skill.
While “quality” itself is intangible, the range of topics emphasized by your business is not only understandable, but also malleable. Whether you are a B2B or B2C organization, data has shown that current trends in content topics are not cutting it anymore. B2B blogs are guilty of proffering generic industry profiles and parroting industry trends, while B2C organizations are on the hook for pandering based on engagement metrics instead of value.
Luckily, either case has a straight-forward solution. For businesses, utilize case studies that examine the sources of success that propelled industry leaders to their lofty position. In addition, hold live, area events that focus on the consumer instead of the characteristics of your business. Customers are less interested in what makes you tick than they are in what insights you have to give from your position of authority.
For B2C companies, focus on value. If a customer cannot identify what they stand to gain by reading your publication or viewing your video, then you have fallen short. Consumers are inundated with media. Viral videos, news reports, texts, phone calls, and music barrage eyeballs on a constant basis. This scarcity of time should play a part when you shape your content topics. An article can be deemed “useless” before the first word is read, and this would constitute an unfortunate loss of opportunity and a sometimes costly waste of time.
Content receives the bulk of emphasis here due to its importance. However, the method of distribution of such content is as important as ever. Furthermore, understanding the changing trends in distribution can help once again differentiate your marketing from the chaff that fills Facebook feeds every day.
Most importantly, businesses will need to determine how to track their ROI on content marketing response in the year 2014. Research has shown that as little as 25% of marketers actually measure this key metric on their efforts, effectively blurring the line between discussion and noise. The actual return on Facebook likes, shares, and comments will be an area of intense development in 2014, and businesses that adopt this technology will see dividends as a result.
Beyond tracking the return on marketing efforts through analytics, businesses will need to understand the changing distribution platforms of the New Year. Until recently, businesses placed emphasis on “destination” sites; central hubs of interesting content that could deliver value and engage customers. However, this method puts a lot of eggs in one basket. The new model? Integrated, distributed content across earned, owned, and paid properties. Developing marketing efforts across all of these avenues will see better results than the consolidated approach largely due to the distributed nature of our digital lives.
This distribution does not lie simply in the formats through which we consume our content, it also resides in the platforms we use for access. According to data, mobile web will overtake desktop traffic in only two years time. This involves changing screen resolutions, readability, and access that necessitate creating content that spans all platforms gracefully. In all content, consider how the page, material, and layout will be viewed across myriad platforms and utilize practices that bridge the gaps.
By emphasizing quality over quantity, basing content ideas on customer needs, and exercising the appropriate technical practices for seamless distribution, your company can see improved sales, engagement, and customer relationships in the New Year. Content marketing has become an inarguably powerful medium, and failing to utilize it to its full potential would be an exercise in corporate seppuku. Fortunately, a little knowledge, created and used, can go a long way in 2014.