Thursday, October 3, 2013

Web design and branding case study

The blog on Bear Creek Web has a new post up on branding and web design.  We've syndicated here for our readers on Blogger to check out. The post is a short case study with one of our clients on the simple process we went through to create a logo and website that best serves the clients needs:

Skyline Maintenance Services came to us with an existing brand and website design that had multiple challenges in terms of engagement and brand awareness. Among the many challenges: their logo was too generic to be memorable, and the website was not optimized to engage their target audience. You can see where they were at this stage below:
Bc _skyline _blog _home _1
In addition to the design challenges, there were technological issues as well. The old site was running on a slow and unreliable server, leading to slow page loading times which negatively impacted their SEO efforts.
With a huge sense of urgency, we updated that website and brand to the one below:
Bc _skyline _blog _home _2
Fast forward to today. They are growing aggressively, taking on bigger and better clients, and broadening their market and services offered. With a new focus on growing their market share, it was time to start fresh.
The first step was to change the name of the company to be more in step with today’s focus. Skyline Maintenance Services became Skyline Mechanical, and it was time to begin the formal branding process.
The next step was to create buyer personas to identify who we were trying to attract and what we wanted the brand to convey to them. We then looked at their competition, and discussed the effectiveness of those brands.
Lastly, we looked at brands in other industries until we really understood what they were looking for, and what they wanted to communicate. That information was then used to create a brand blueprint that serves as a guide for our design team. The initial brand presentation is below:
Bc _skyline _blog _logos
We talked through the attributes of each, and what our thought process was when creating. They fell in love with #1 and #3, and asked for a few tweaks to them. Below you will see the results of those tweaks:
Bc _skyline _blog _logos _2
They fell in love with #2, and the brand was born. Here is a sample business card and electronic letterhead:
Bc _skyline _blog _letterhead
Now that the brand was solidified, it was time to start on the website design process. We looked at their top three competitors’ websites and discussed what they liked and disliked about each. We also asked more questions to better understand how they are positioned vs. those competitors, and what makes Skyline Mechanical remarkable and unique.
Lastly, we talked about their sales process, and what we wanted their buyer personas to do once they arrived at the website. Just like with the brand, we then created a design and development blueprint that leads our process. Here are the design concepts that were presented:
Bc _skyline _blog _home _3
Typically at this stage we get comments such as I really like design concept 1, but prefer to have the phone number at the top. Or I really like design concept 3 but love the orange bar element on conept 2. In this situation, they loved #2 as is, and were ready to move forward. Next step was to select two more stock photography images to use, and then begin the coding.
The new site is currently in development and is on target to go live in the next week or so.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Umbraco vs. WordPress – Which is Better for Your Business Website?

While many people who spend time online have heard of Wordpress, very few have heard of Umbraco.  Unfortunately, this may be their loss.  Umbraco similar in some ways to Wordpress in that it is a user-friendly CMS and therefore, a relatively easy entry into the world of web design.  In a recent post from our blog, we compared Wordpress to Umbraco:

What’s the difference between traditional web development and a site built with Umbraco, WordPress, or any other content management system? Websites built on Content Management Systems (CMS) generally have their functionality divided into three components: content, design, and programming.
The separation of these three components allows anyone with basic online proficiency to make changes to the content of a website built on a CMS without compromising the look and feel of the site. This creative flexibility makes the use of CMS ideal for SMBs and professionals who perform regular website updates.
There are several obvious advantages to using a CMS versus traditional development:
  • Consistent look and feel across multiple sections, regardless of internal ‘ownership’ of pages
  • Faster development time as core functionality is pre-installed
  • Companies can update the site themselves, without waiting for a development team
  • SEO-friendly URLs are easy to generate and maintain
  • Increased content security (when the CMS is properly configured)
Because of its perceived ease-of-use, many SMBs and professionals turn to WordPress first when deciding on a CMS. However, there are many compelling reasons to choose Umbraco over WordPress, particularly if you do not have in-house developers.

Umbraco vs. WordPress: Site map and Structure

Deciding on website structure – how pages link to one another as well as the overall hierarchy of the website – is the first step when developing a website. These linking structures are critically important, both from a usability standpoint and an SEO standpoint.
Website visitors will be more likely to find what they are looking for if the website structure and menus follow an intuitive and logical progression. Through the use of keywords in URLs, companies can see a boost in their search engine rankings and overall “findability” on the web.
To create this overall website structure requires development on the back-end of the website, and that’s where things can get complicated. Ideally, a good CMS should offer the ability to manage all content in one section and all media in another, regardless of the actual location of the content within the website itself.
When developing the workflow of a CMS, a developer will create a separate form for each type of content that is to be entered. This is so they can control the fields shown to the user as well as dictate how the server will display the content that is entered.
Umbraco and WordPress handle website structure in completely different ways:
WordPress has two basic content types, Post and Pages. To create any more, the developer needs to install a plugin or write additional PHP code.  To add, edit, or delete content, users are required to go to separate screens where the content is listed. This can lead to confusion and frustration in larger sites where there are often many posts and pages that must be updated.
Managing the menu in WordPress starts out as a straightforward process. Create an item and a menu item is created for you. But what happens when you need to have the menu item name shorter than your page title? Or you need your menu items to appear in a specific order? Or have a blog category or even specific blog post, appear in the middle of your dropdown menu?
For these very common scenarios, WordPress offers a menu manager, which is again in a separate location from pages, posts or other content you create. Each menu then requires its own separate entry in the manager.
Umbraco takes a much simpler approach. All the content, regardless of type, is listed in the content tree. The type of content is chosen at the time of creation. The menu order is determined by the order of the content in that tree.  The menu items, including titles and location, are handled by filling out the content form.
In addition, Umbraco automatically creates URLs that are based on website structure. While this feature is available in WordPress, it must be manually activated, and requires mod_rewrite on the Apache server where WordPress is installed. In addition, it requires tweaking the .htaccess (security) file in order to function.

Umbraco vs. WordPress: Scalability

A small business website may have dozens or even hundreds of pages, especially those that have a catalogue of products or services. As your website grows larger and more complex, the speed and stability of the underlying platform becomes even more critical
Google includes website speed as one of its ranking factors. Human website visitors are also accustomed to speed – most will only wait a few seconds for a website to load before moving on.
With WordPress, when you add more plugins to increase functionality it can bog down your webpages with additional code in the form of .CSS or JavaScript. This additional code negatively impacts page load times. Use too many plugins, and your website may slow to a crawl, making it unusable for website visitors and search engines alike.
One WordPress plugin in particular is often installed to aid in search engine optimization. The purpose of the plugin is create site maps (both human and search engine readable), add meta tags, and connect various 3rd party applications like Google Analytics. Umbraco doesn’t need this kind of plugin. Both types of site maps can be created automatically

Umbraco vs. WordPress: Practical Considerations

Overall, one of the biggest selling points of Umbraco is its simple user interface.  People who are used to filling out web forms and surveys can intuitively grasp the nature of content management within Umbraco. And because the developer has greater control over how the input forms are laid out, it can be customized to suit business needs in almost any situation.
Business owners in the midst of choosing a CMS should take into consideration all of the factors – features, functionality, scalability, etc. as well as price.  While WordPress is great blog software that can be used as a CMS for very small sites, its core functionality just doesn’t stand up to the offerings of a dedicated CMS such as Umbraco.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What Makes Good Web Design?

What truly makes good web design?  There is a lot of talk about quality, image, text, coding, etc., but when you are looking to hire a designer or make a website yourself, what are the fundamentals you really need to take into consideration?  From our blog:

Good web design is about more than just pixels on a screen. The best web designs focus on UX first and foremost, but where to start? Here are our top four considerations when it comes to making solid web design choices:


People are no longer content to access your website from the desktop – mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets now make up more than 23% of online browsing, and the numbers continue to climb.
Your website must be accessible to website visitors in multiple formats, and you need to plan your web design accordingly. Styles that look good in a typical desktop format will need to be adjusted for tablet and cellphone screens. Likewise, certain design elements will have to be sacrificed in order to make up for the limited visual real estate for these devices.
For example, a large hero image may look great on a larger desktop, or even some tablet screens. But large images with no functionality are a waste on even the largest cellphone screens, where minimalist designs should be the rule and not the exception.
Bringing in more “mobile friendly” design elements is a notable trend in web design of late. Recently, the email marketing company MailChimp redesigned their entire user interface to make it more accessible to mobile users, merging the desktop experience and tablet experience into a single design.

Ease of Use

The harder it is for a web visitor to use your site, the more likely it is that they will look for answers (and take their business) elsewhere. Even if you are selling a relatively complicated product or service, don’t make it difficult for users to find what they need.
Areas where web design can excel in ease of use include creating an intuitive sitemap, having readily visible (and consistent) navigation, and using images to effectively communicate instructions and concepts.


Poor functionality is one of the biggest frustrations that can cause users to abandon your site in droves. Website visitors expect certain conventions to be followed – for example, if text is underlined and blue, it’s generally accepted that this will be a hyperlink.
Break that convention, and you will have web visitors who think that your website is broken instead. This reduces trust, and can make it difficult (if not impossible) to drive conversions. When it comes to mobile devices, functionality is even more important. Users who are on the go won’t waste time trying to get your site to work, and a negative mobile experience translates into a negative perception of your company as a whole.
Successful functionality in web design can be summed up in two simple points:
  • Stick to established design conventions
  • Offer full functionality based on the platform – desktop or mobile


You can have the best website around but if visitors don’t return, your investment is wasted. That element of web design that encourages repeat visitors – “stickiness” – is harder to quantify than the others. It is part of the iterative improvements that all good web designers must make.
In terms of the basics, you want to be sure that:
  • Your social media campaigns are successfully merged within the website design to encourage social interaction
  • Updates such as blog posts or new products are given proper prominence on the site
  • User-generated content is showcased effectively
  • Your web design encourages participation and a sense of community
While color choices, fonts and other elements are important in good web design, these aesthetic choices must be guided by the above elements in order to ensure your website attracts and retains your target audience. What’s the one biggest web design question you have? Let us know and we’ll publish our answers to your questions on the blog or in future newsletters. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

How to Develop Personas for Your Online Marketing

In a post from the Bear Creek Web Blog from July, we discussed cultivating an effective and high quality personal in order to best represent your business brand online.  Read it below or check it out on our blog:

Earlier this year we discussed ways to build a winning online marketing plan. The first part of that discussion included a brief overview of developing personas and using them to customize your messaging for your target audience.
Today we take a deeper look at personas and show you exactly how to develop realistic personas that will help your messaging resonate with your best customers and prospects.

Start With Your Data

If you keep track of demographics and other customer traits within a CRM tool, then you’re already ahead of the game when it comes to developing realistic personas. Look for trends that you can readily identify by answering these types of questions:
  • What demographic traits do my customers share? (If you sell multiple services/solutions/products then separate out the demographics accordingly
  • (For B2B) What role(s) does the customer have in his or her company?
  • On average, how many touch points does a lead require before they become a customer?
  • What do these touch points involve?

Analyze Behaviors

If you don’t have a CRM solution, there are still ways to get solid background data for your personas. Customer and lead behavior can be tracked through email campaigns, web analytics, social media engagement and more.
Analyzing the behavior of website visitors who convert into customers will give you a clearer picture of who you need to address in your messaging.

Buying Cues

Step backwards through the conversion funnel and look for common traits. What actions early in the funnel predict a successful purchase or sale? For example, are most of your clients also newsletter subscribers? Which actions do they take most often: downloading whitepapers and case studies, or chatting with a sales rep?
Making a purchase takes trust, and trust has to be built gradually through many interactions. If customers are consistently downloading materials before purchase, you can be sure that they are conducting research before they buy, and the same can be true of conversations with sales reps.
The difference is in the types of questions they want answered. A case study for a particular industry may be highly valuable to others in that same industry as it answers questions about how you’ll work with others in the same niche. A chat with an online representative zeros in on specific needs and has more immediacy. Also, a real-time chat may be used to gauge your responsiveness and expertise “on the fly”. All of these interactions are glimpses into the needs of a particular persona when properly aggregated by the type of purchase that is ultimately made.

Conduct Interviews

Interviews are the most effective means of getting the information you need to build a proper persona, but they are also the most expensive and the most time-consuming.  One way to integrate persona interviews into your current online marketing plan is to make them a part of your typical sales meetings and discussions with prospects.
This works remarkably well because many of the answers you need to build a successful persona are the same as those you need to close the sale. Instead of focusing solely on demographics and other “basic” information, take the time to dig deeper with value-based queries such as:
  • Why is the person or company looking to make a purchase right now?
  • What problems/challenges does this lead face?
  • Why are the solutions to these problems/challenges important?
  • What are the consequences of not having the right solution?
  • How will they select the vendor/provider to provide the solution?
  • Why were the selection criteria chosen?
  • How do they prefer to interact with the vendor/provider?
  • What do they absolutely not want in a provider/vendor/solution (i.e. deal breakers)?
Pay particular attention to the answers to the “why” questions, because these will give you the reasons behind their needs, which are reasons you need to address when marketing to each persona.

What’s Next?

After you’ve conducted all the research, analyzed buying trends, and gotten answers to your interview questions, what do you do with all that research? In a word: categorize. Start grouping customer profiles based on the kind of solution they need, the kinds of problems they have, their goals, or any other common factor that makes sense for your business.
Once you have your customer profiles in specific groups, start looking for commonalities – not only in demographics, but in other traits as well. For example:
  • Do these customers rank their problems in a similar way? (i.e. 85% of customers who purchase X are looking for an answer to problem Y)
  • Which factors most influence the buying decision?
  • What questions do these customers ask, consistently?
  • Why are these customers choosing us over the competition?
Your persona will initially look something like this:
Persona: Janie Doe – 35 years old, works in customer acquisition, management role
Chief problems/pain points: Client needs a fast, simple way to keep track of lead interactions, past conversations, and sales for previous customers. Because of constant travel, client must have an integrated mobile access to any solution.
Ideal Solution: Mobile application that provides seamless integration with web and desktop apps. Triggers alerts for specific lead statuses as selected by the client.
Preferred Method(s) of contact: Social media – Twitter – or email
Most likely to purchase when: Quarterly sales numbers are coming due – two to three weeks prior
This is a solid starting point for both sales conversations and messaging for your online marketing. Already we see that this is a potential client who thrives on mobility. This means several things:
  • The mobile website for your company needs to be easy to navigate – chances are, this client isn’t going to be doing research at her desktop
  • Marketing copy needs to focus on the benefits of your app’s mobility, and custom alerts.
  • Your online outreach needs to include social media (Twitter specifically) and your email marketing campaign needs to demonstrate clear value.
Over time, as you get a more nuanced refinement of each customer persona, you will likely find other important details that can make or break a sale. It’s up to you to address these details both in person and in the marketing copy you use to attract leads.
Building personas takes serious effort and attention to detail, but the end result is a tighter, more effective marketing campaign. When you reach out to your leads, do you have a specific persona in mind? If not, it’s time to create them!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Incorporating Social Media into Your Workflow: Four Steps to Success

Can you imagine a world without social media?  These days everything is becoming integrated with social media - even your real world (in the store) shopping.  But how do you efficiently manage incorporating this into your daily routine?  On our blog at Bear Creek Web, we covered some basics:

For many small business owners, the first hurdle to overcome is finding the time to engage via social media. While there's no one-size-fits-all solution for the perfect social media workflow, that doesn't mean you can't develop a solution that's perfect for your business. Follow these four steps for a smooth start to your social media campaigns:

Step 1: Confirm Your Processes

In our first post we discussed the importance of coming up with a plan for your social media marketing campaigns. Now is the time to take another look at your plan to be sure you didn't forget any critical details. Be sure you have answers to these questions (at minimum):
  • Who will monitor social media conversations concerning your company?
  • What are the policies in place for what is acceptable for social media posts?
  • How will you handle misinformation or mistakes? (Tip: Mistakes are less important than how your company handles them. Prompt responses will leave a good impression.)
  • What are the policies in place for dealing with legitimate complaints?
  • What about compliments?
  • Whose responsibility will it be to compile the data from your social networks and report back on your goals?
To make it easier for everyone to be on the same page, set up a flowchart or some other visual depiction of how you will handle responses. This community management flowchart created by David Armano shows various process flows based on user sentiment in the conversation.  An organized strategy ensures both efficiency and a consistent response from the people handling social media engagement.
For acceptable social media use policies, you don't need to get complicated. A list of common sense guidelines, such as this social media policy from Best Buy, can work well to ensure that employees are informed about what is allowed, what isn't, and the consequences for breaching company policy.

Step 2: Integrate and Centralize

For Posting:
Even if you are starting with our recommendation of 2 or 3 social media channels, it can quickly become tedious having to log in and out of each one separately to make your posts. A social media management platform such as HootSuite or Viralheat can drastically cut down on the time you spend switching back and forth.
By adding your company's social media accounts to one platform, you get a more holistic view of how well you are engaging with your audience. Since many of these platforms also come with analytics, you can even pull together basic reports quickly and easily.
For Content:
If you intend to focus on content curation, you can apply the same concept to finding interesting articles and resources to share with your audience. You probably have various online resources and websites that you use to stay informed and current on topics relevant to your business.
Use a feed reader or press aggregator to pool all of these sites into one centralized location. Feed readers such as Google Reader will even allow you to search out new feeds based on your topics of interest, letting you uncover new sources you may not have realized existed.
Scanning a list of headlines and summaries for the most interesting articles takes much less time than surfing from website to website in search of engaging content. If your social media platform has posting capabilities integrated with your browser, publishing interesting links for your audience will take only a few clicks at most.
When it comes to content production, you can save time by thinking of ways to repurpose content you already have on hand. To be clear, repurposing does not mean serving up the same content again and again – that quickly gets boring and you will lose your audience.
Rather, you should think of different angles and ways to create new content around data and resources that you already have. For example, a company that specializes in skincare products could create a blog post about winter skincare. The same research that goes into this blog post could be used to extract salient data points for use in an infographic depicting the most common skin problems in winter. And the same research could be also be used to inform a podcast or video review about specific products designed to treat winter skin ailments.

Step 3: Incorporate Organically

Most people have a typical routine that they follow during the course of the business day. Add social media to your routine tasks such as checking email and responding to phone messages. By thinking of social media as a conversation and grouping it with tasks that are similar, you will be more productive.
When there are multiple people responsible for social media, try to create a flexible schedule that allows for staggered social media engagement. This ensures that someone is always monitoring online conversations around your brand, and that someone "owns" the social media channel throughout the day.
Employee contributions through official channels such as blog posts, whitepapers and eBooks can provide a boost to social engagement while still providing a measure of management control. The key to safely engaging this way is to be sure that all content is reviewed by management before it is posted publically.

Step 4: Be Flexible

Social media moves quickly, so flexibility is essential to maximize your engagement. Timely responses to questions, prompt posting of new and interesting content, and linking to new and potentially viral content may require that you step outside of your set scheduling from time to time. Don't be afraid to do this if the information or conversation is relevant and timely.
It is just as important to keep in mind that you are speaking with real people. Politeness can go a long way to building fans:
  • Thank people for their questions and set a timeline for resolution.
  • Ensure prompt customer service and tech support follow-up for legitimate complaints.
  • Let your followers know when you need to end the conversation for the moment.
You don't need to be too detailed. It can be as simple as posting: "Thanks for all the great questions. I'm going to take this back to the team and get you some answers in the next week."  Letting people know that they've been heard, and then following up as promised will help you to gain a loyal following.
Our next social media marketing post will focus on building your audience, and how to ensure that the interactions you have through your social media channels put your company in the best light possible.
Do you still have questions about social media marketing integration? Our team of experts is always ready to assist. Get in touch with us, and we'll help you to create a workable plan to reach your social media marketing goals. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Grow Your Social Media Audience: Building Successful Brand Interaction

How do you run a successful Social Media campaign, or even, build an interactive community for your business?  Social Media can be time consuming and a dead end, but it can also be a great way to manage your brand online.  In a post from our blog at Bear Creek Web Design, we go into some basics to help you delve deeper into the world of Social Media:


There are two types of social media users that you need to attract in order to see the biggest gains in ROI for your company's social media efforts: social influencers and potential customers. Social influencers are just that – people with large followings or fan bases that can influence how other users perceive a brand. Combine these with people who are a good fit for what your company sells, and who are interested in what you have to offer, and you have the basis for a social media audience with a solid ROI.
Ideally, you also want to gain brand advocates among your social influencers. Brand advocates are the "super fans" of social media, spreading positive messages about your company's products and services to their online audiences.
However, even those followers who aren't brand advocates can be worth more than the typical customer. American Express conducted a study last year on social media and customer service and found that customers who use social media are willing to spend 21% more on companies that provide great service. Customers who don't engage through social media are only likely to spend 13% more on average.
These same customers will tell nearly three times as many people about their positive experiences – 42 on average versus only 15 for those who are not socially engaged.
With that in mind, we've come up with the following 5 tips to help you grow your social media audience:

Always Listen First

Think of starting out on social media the same way you think about going to conferences or other public gatherings. Rather than talking to everyone around with no context, take the time to listen to the conversations going on within your target audience and find a place where your company will fit well.
In particular, pay attention to complaints and questions – especially if they pertain to you or your competition. Complaints are a goldmine of information that can tell you not only about what customers don't like, but about what they need and expect.
For example, if you notice a lot of customers venting about slow customer service or poor response times, you know that in order to create a great experience you need to be faster and more responsive than the competition.
Likewise, pay attention when people are asking questions about how a particular product or service works, and take note when there is not a lot of available information. Put together a guide on your website to answer those questions and you've taken an important step towards becoming a trusted resource that social influencers can refer others to when they need answers. 

Establish Trust

Effective listening makes it much easier to build trust in your target audience. Start interacting by offering ideas, answers, and questions of your own once you have a feel for the community.
If you decide to engage by soliciting feedback from customers and potential customers, be prepared to respond to any valid criticism in a positive, proactive way.
Trust is built gradually in online communities. You can help the process along by always being transparent in your communications. Follow-up and follow-through are particularly important. Always get back to people within timeframes promised, even if the conversation has moved to a private channel such as email. Always deliver on your promises and provide clear reasons for any delays or setbacks.
You can be sure that your followers and potential customers will be watching to see how you interact with current customers as they decide whether or not to engage with your brand. Give them a reason to trust you with their business.

Take Advantage of Tagging

Here's a brief, but important tip: Use tags to help you get found by people who are interested in what you have to say. This can be anything from hashtags on Twitter to the keyword tags on your blog posts. By consistently and thoughtfully tagging your posts, you can help your company grow an audience of interested users.
That being said, don't overuse tags on third-party social media as it can be perceived as spamming. Choose only a few relevant tags to include on those social media sites that support the practice.
For blog posts, you may want to include more tags to help users find related posts that will increase engagement. How many will vary based on the topics you cover, but choosing 3-5 relevant keywords will help boost visibility, especially if website visitors are able to search for posts via tags.

Be Genuine & Unique

Your customers come to you because your company offers something unique when compared to the competition. Keep true to your brand in your social media messaging, whether that is upscale and professional, quirky and fun, or anything in between.
A consistent company voice across all marketing channels – blog posts, tweets, Facebook and Google+ posts, etc. – will help you to gain more followers, and to come across as more genuine than the competition.
Another way to look at being genuine is to treat your followers and fans like "real people". Say thank you for positive feedback and mentions. Apologize and offer assistance when customers aren't happy. Offer feedback and suggestions for improving their experience with your products and services, and always be ready to go the extra mile to resolve issues before they become major incidents.
Being genuine in your social media interactions will do more than grow your brand, it will grow your business – 83% of social media users walk away from bad service.

Always Provide Value

It's important to realize that some people will follow your brand across multiple social media platforms. You can easily lose followers if you are careless about the way you post.
Don't mass-publish the same information on every platform. Keep your content fresh and your posts insightful and relevant.  However, this doesn't mean that you can't include posts on the same topic across multiple social media channels.
For example, you might announce a surprise sale through your Facebook page and via your newsletter. As the sale is winding down, you might tweet a reminder to your followers that they only have 24 hours left to take advantage.  Although all of these posts are promoting the same sale, your followers and fans will still gain value from each one. If you keep in mind the idea of providing value with each post, you'll be well on your way to establishing your company as one worth following in the social media sphere.
We'll wrap up our social media marketing series with a post to help you understand social media attribution and what you should track to determine the ROI of your social media campaigns.
If you still have questions about social media marketing, we're always happy to assist. Contact our team of social media marketing experts, and we'll help you to create a workable plan to reach your goals. 

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Take the Step from Passive to Active Thought Leadership

On our blog, the most recent post from last week deals with thought leadership in the digital marketing world.  What makes a thought leader in online marketing?  Read more here:

It’s one of the golden rules of online marketing: Establish yourself as a thought leader in your niche. With so much content being produced on a daily basis, it’s inevitable that a few essential “best practices” tend to get repurposed and repackaged over and over.
How then, do you establish yourself as a leader in your field, when most of the so-called “experts” are saying the same things across every online platform? The answer lies in becoming active in your thought leadership approach. Specifically, it’s the ability to demonstrate your expertise in a way that is unique, accurate, and quotable by others in the field.
With that in mind, here are our top four recommendations for becoming an active thought leader and a “doer” within your field.

Conduct Research & Share Reports

Everyone loves to quote statistics, and those numbers have to come from somewhere. If you have a sizable number of clients, web traffic, or other actionable data, you can put it to good use by crafting insightful reports.
Even if you don’t have data on hand, you can put together a questionnaire that will allow you to gather data that is relevant to your niche. Remember, the best reports:
  • Help to solve problems
  • Provide actionable insight
  • Are easy to understand and digest
  • Are easily sharable
  • Provide data that is relevant

Analyze Trends

If you don’t have a large audience to poll or a statistically significant amount of data to rely on, you can still generate very effective and insightful reports by analyzing trends. Think of this as a “meta” report – you examine data from multiple credible sources, combine it with your own expertise and draw relevant conclusions for your audience.
The same rules apply when analyzing trends – you want to provide analysis that provides actionable insight and is readily sharable/quotable by others in your niche.
Additionally, you want to make certain you cite all of your sources and back up your conclusions with the data you’ve used. In this way, you ensure that your analysis is considered highly credible and valuable to others in your field.

Share Original Tips and Tricks for Success

Your personal expertise is the foundation your brand is built upon. Capitalize on that by sharing what you’ve learned with others. While it doesn’t pay to share all of the innermost secrets that make your business a success, providing tips and tricks unique to your industry is a sure way to be noticed as an innovator in your field.
If you want the best response, you have to move past the typical “best practices” that most other companies share. Instead provide anecdotes of your own experiences and things that have worked for you, personally. This brings us to our final tip…

Be Engaged & Share Success Stories

One thing that thought leaders have in common is that they are more than the “company”. Thought leaders have a distinct personality and are always ready to share the passion for what they do with others. They tell stories and they engage with their audience on a meaningful level.
When talking about your success, stay away from the bland generalities and move into specifics. Talk about the time you helped a client figure out a complicated problem, and you demonstrate that you understand your niche and that you care about the success of your customers – two very important traits of leadership in any field.
What are some of your best success stories? Let us know in the comments about how you’re becoming a thought leader and we’ll pick some of the best stories to share in future posts and newsletters.
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Friday, July 5, 2013

5 Steps to a Winning Online Marketing Plan

Recently on the Bear Creek Web Blog, we wrote a post on best practices for online marketing.  While there are many approaches to take, we outline 5 steps for success.  Here's the original piece from the blog:

The most successful approach to online marketing is one that starts with the customer. Here is our five-step strategy for creating a winning online marketing plan that will bring in more leads and sales.

Step 1: Identify Personas

Every marketing plan has to have a focus. If you want to market your products and services successfully, you need to understand the pain points of your typical customer. While you may have hundreds or even thousands of customers, effective messaging must be focused on a single individual for maximum impact.
Building out one or more specific personas allows you to balance the concerns of authentic messaging that appeals to a large group, while still speaking directly to your consumers based on their individual needs. Go beyond demographics and think about:
  • How your product/service fits within a typical workflow
  • Major pain points your product/service addresses
  • Secondary/Tertiary benefits specific to each persona
  • How your UVP directly benefits each persona
Creating distinctive personas is an essential part of any online marketing plan, and we will be delving more into this topic with later posts.

Step 2: Evaluate Customer Needs

As you build out your personas, you will likely develop a list of challenges that each persona faces and how these challenges can be solved by your product or service. At this stage, it's important to realize that your intended customers have any number of options to solve these challenges.
It's not enough to explain how your product can help; you must also explain why they should choose you over the competition.
To do this, create a hierarchy of problems. Which challenges are the most pressing? Which problems are most likely to drive your individual personas to take action?
For each problem, build out a statement that encompasses not only your solution, but why your solution is the best option for that persona. Take for example a cleaning product targeting new mothers. There are many challenges a new mother may face with regards to this product:
  • Concerns about product safety
  • Concerns about allergies in infants
  • Concerns about how long it takes to clean
As you work on your messaging for your new mom personas, you want to address these concerns, while also placing your product as the optimal solution. For example, you might mention that your product is the only environmentally safe cleanser that is 100% hypoallergenic and works in less than five minutes.

Step 3: Action Tie-Ins

There are many moving parts to any online messaging strategy, and while the ultimate goal is to gain a sale, there are many other "mini" conversions along the way. As you plan your marketing strategy for each section of the conversion funnel, plan deliberate action tie-ins that move your prospects down the path to a sale.
Each piece of marketing collateral you create should provide your target audience with next steps to take. Base your call to action on the area of the conversion funnel that the marketing piece targets. For example:
  • Discovery/Research Phase – CTAs should focus on building trust, getting users to sign up for newsletter and social media updates, etc.
  • Evaluation Phase – CTAs should focus on differentiating your product/service from the competition, including case studies, whitepapers, webinars and live demonstrations
  • Closing/Sales Phase – CTAs should focus on initiating a sales contact if the lead has been qualified
  • Follow-up/Customer Nurturing – CTAs here should focus on gaining relevant feedback, and addressing any customers or concerns. Surveys can be useful, but follow-up emails can also be used to solicit feedback.

Step 4: Timing and Reach

After you have created your messaging, the next challenge is finding your target audience at the right times during the sales cycle. This can be accomplished in many ways:
  • Email newsletters
  • PPC & Retargeting
  • Social Media
  • Mobile Marketing
  • Webinars and Online Conventions
No single approach will work in all cases. You will need to consider where your audience "lives" online and come up with ways to reach them in the places they most often frequent. This may mean PPC advertising, or sponsored blog posts on various websites. It may also mean conducting demonstrations at online conventions and webinars.
Your outreach will most likely be a mix of various efforts, including:
  • Blog posts
  • Social media posts
  • Newsletters
  • Brochures, whitepapers and other marketing collateral
  • Prospecting emails and calls

Step 5: Execution and Evaluation

Putting your marketing plan into action will require both time and resources. As people respond to your messaging, you will likely find that marketing based on certain personas has better results than others in terms of leads, conversions and sales.
This is the time to make adjustments to your messaging strategy based on what your target audience is telling you. Areas where there are high conversions should be allotted a greater share of the marketing budget. Areas that do not perform well should be evaluated to determine if the problem is the messaging, the design, or some other factor.
Incorporating elements of campaigns that were successful in the past may boost these underperforming areas. In general, it's best to test to improve engagement before you eliminate underperforming areas of the marketing plan. Of course, if a particular piece of marketing has almost no traction you may decide to conserve resources and move on.
While there is no magic formula that guarantees success, taking a structured approach to your online marketing can help you to create marketing campaigns that fully address the needs of your customers. This in turn will create additional opportunities for conversions and sales.
If you need assistance with your online marketing plan at any stage – whether planning, execution or evaluation – we can help. Get in touch with us today and speak with one of our online marketing experts to learn more about how we can help you to increase conversions and sales. 
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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Best Web Design Practices for Law Firms

In a recent post from the Bear Creek Web blog, we examined a specific client vertical and key points to consider when designing a new website.  Law firms need accurate and quality representation online, and a quality website is a large part of this.  Here is the post from the blog:

Lawyers and legal firms have unique needs when it comes to web design. Like other professional service providers, law firms have to sell an intangible product – their experience and expertise in the legal field. However, lawyers also face the unique challenge of not being able to provide guarantees to their potential clients. Overcoming these obstacles requires careful web design and content decisions that put clients first.
Here are our top five tips for law firm web design to showcase your expertise and bring in more leads:

Law Firm Web Design Tip 1: Design for the User

When potential clients come to your website, you want them to be able to find the information they need, fast. With the competition literally only a click away, you can't afford to waste the time of your website's visitors. Gain their attention and build trust by:
  • Designing your homepage to provide immediate information about how you help your clients
  • Creating website navigation that is easy to use and is labeled logically
  • Organizing your website in a way that is intuitive to laypeople (and not legal experts)
  • Adopting a client-centric focus for both design and copy

Law Firm Web Design Tip 2: Answer Questions the Right Way

Chances are good that when someone needs legal help, they have questions about their situation. As a legal professional, you probably have heard many of the same questions repeatedly. While it can be tempting to put all of these questions into a FAQ section on your website, you risk missing out on a major opportunity to connect with potential clients if you go that route. Instead, consider:
  • Creating blog posts around each topic/question – this allows you to provide a thoughtful response that will boost SEO, demonstrate your expertise, and give potential clients an avenue to respond
  • Creating whitepapers/ebooks around common issues – if you collect information from people who download, you can follow up to answer questions and offer your services

Law Firm Web Design Tip 3: Localize & Specialize

Having a great user experience and helpful information is only part of the picture. You also need to think about how your website appears in search engines. If you are creating good content around the topics that your potential clients are searching for, this will help your search engine rankings. Other ways to be sure you show up in search are:
  • Create your Google+ page and include location information for your law firm to help you get found in local search
  • Include your location information on your website, both on specific contact pages and in other areas such as the footer
  • Include individual pages on your website about the specialties you cover, both for SEO and informational purposes

Law Firm Web Design Tip 4: Show & Tell

Trust is an important deciding factor in choosing a law firm and one that you must capitalize on to grow your client base. While the majority of trust may come from initial consultations and one-on-one interactions, there are many things you can do in terms of web design to build trust:
  • Professional Affiliations (when they pertain to your legal expertise)
  • Accreditations
  • Relevant Awards
  • Client Testimonials
  • Describe successful legal outcomes (with the proper disclaimers)
  • Educate potential clients on what to expect during the legal proceedings
  • Link to places where potential clients can find more information
Law Firm Web Design Tip 5: Invite Contact Explicitly
Contacting a lawyer can be a stressful proposition, and potential clients likely have different preferences for initiating that first conversation. Don't limit your contact information to your contact page – having a simple web form on multiple pages can increase the chances that your website visitors will reach out when they need help.
Likewise, tell your website visitors to contact you, and encourage them to ask questions via your blog or social media channels (if you have adequate support that will monitor those areas). For mobile websites, enable click-to-call functionality so that people can call you on the go and don't have to fill out a form.
When potential clients have an easy way to contact you and are told exactly how to do so, this reduces hesitance and can increase leads.
Putting the pieces together for successful law firm web design can be complex, but if you take it a step at a time and remember to focus on the needs of your clients, you will see greater ROI from your online investment.
If you need help designing a web site for your law firm, we're here to assist. Get in touch with us and one of our helpful design experts will be happy to walk you through the first steps.
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Thursday, June 20, 2013

UX Design Tips – 3 Tips for Designing Websites for Real People

When designing a website many businesses forget the most important part:  The visitor.  Here is an in-depth post from our seattle web design blog on how to avoid skipping this key ingredient to your web presence:

Positive user experience is an essential component of successful website design. However, designing for end-users can be challenging because of the multiple methods that people use to consume online media. In today's mobile driven world, people expect UX designs to be fast, responsive, and intuitive. Meanwhile, business objectives demand that users successfully engage and convert regardless of actual design elements.
Meeting these (sometimes seemingly divergent) expectations requires diligent planning and execution based not only on best design practices, but on a thorough knowledge of the platform that will be used to present your information.

Design Challenge 1: Ensuring People Remember Information

At their most basic, websites are designed to convey information that people can act upon in some way. Therefore, the biggest goal of successful UX design is ensuring that people get the information they need to take an informed action.
For business websites, the informed action is often a conversion – filling out a contact form, completing an order, signing up for newsletter, etc. – and how the information is presented directly affects conversion rates.
There are several ways that design can positively impact conversion, and help people to remember vital information:
  • Relevant images/media – rather than using standard stock images, well-crafted UX design includes images of the actual product being offered, or demonstration videos.
  • Charts and graphs – for numerical data, visual representation can help people remember the most important aspects, and focus on the areas that your company wants them to remember.
  • Font and color choice – highlighting your call to action or other key information makes it easier for users to zero in on the content that is most valuable and take the appropriate next step.
  • Menus and sub menus – the organization of the website itself will help users to find what they need. Consider how to best present information within your main navigation and sitemap.

Design Challenge 2: Keeping Users Engaged Throughout Process Flow

There are multiple situations where users are expected to engage in a process flow on a website. Some pertinent examples include surveys and order forms. Many businesses have drop-offs in conversion rates that can be directly traced to poor UX design in the process flow. When designing a process with multiple steps, keep these things in mind:
  • Set expectations early – this is important for processes such as surveys and sign up forms. Users should know how much time they will need to invest to complete the task at the start. This will reduce abandonment in the middle of multiple-step processes.
  • Provide visual cues – tooltips, icons, and other visual indicators help users to understand what type of information they are expected to provide. Additionally, visual cues can be used to clarify instructions provided elsewhere.
  • Indicate progress consistently – this can be done with a 'step x of y' approach or a '% complete' approach. Whichever method you choose should be prominent enough for users to be able to tell at a glance how far along in the process they are. For some instances, brief instructions can be incorporated in this indicator.

    Example:  Step 1: Shipping Information; Step 2: Billing Information; Step 3: Order Review

  • Provide visual confirmation of completion – after submission of the form, make the confirmation prominent in order to avoid duplicate submissions and user confusion. This is especially important when the confirmation is for product orders and sales.

Design Challenge 3: Meeting Mobile Expectations

Mobile UX design provides its own challenges in that there is a limited amount of screen real estate available for all of the information that needs to be communicated to the user. Users expect a certain level of functionality when it comes to mobile websites, and often expect features that are mobile-only in design (for example, tap to call).
When creating a mobile version of your website, or building a mobile application from the ground up there are several areas of UX design to consider:
  • Buttons and layout – when designing for mobile, buttons need to be large enough that they are easily tapped with a single finger without causing mis-clicks and user frustration. This means that layouts will need to be simplified and only essential menu items included.
  • Font and color choices – because of the smaller screens on many mobile devices, the font you choose must be highly legible and the colors must provide adequate contrast. Avoid light colored text as well as pastel backgrounds.
  • Mobile functionality – when designing certain elements such as maps, keep in mind the additional functionality available to mobile users. For example, instead of a static map, link to Google maps in order to provide immediate directions and navigation instructions. Account information should update across mobile devices and web applications seamlessly and simultaneously.
Great website design is about more than just great content, or an attractive look. You must design the individual elements of your website to provide the best user experience for website visitors on both desktop and mobile. Proper UX design is important if you want your users to successfully engage with your website and complete the multiple conversions that lead to sales.
Understanding the details of UX development can be complicated even for seasoned business owners. If you need help in optimizing UX design on your website, we're here to help. Get in contact with one of our experts to discuss how we update the design of your site to meet user expectations and increase conversions and sales.
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Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Art of the Website Content Audit

A recent post for the blog on our website, this post deals in depth with important points to consider when auditing your website - for design, function, and usability.

Blog posts, whitepapers, social media posts, infographics, – it's easy to get caught up in the curation and production side of content marketing.  This is especially the case when you have a small staff working on tight deadlines to produce content for multiple online marketing channels.

However, if you truly want to maximize the value of the content you offer to your audience, you also need to implement regular content audits.

The Content Audit as an Optimization Tool

Targeted content is a powerful inbound marketing tool, and it is most effective when it aligns with:
  • The needs of your audience
  • The interests of your audience
  • The typical sales cycle of your business
  • The structure and flow of your website
There are many types of evaluations that may rightly be called a content "audit". For our purposes, what we mean is a thorough examination of how well your current content production has addressed the areas above.

Performing the Content Audit

The typical content audit happens in three phases: gap assessment, flow assessment, and analytics assessment. Afterwards, additional content may be needed to address any areas of weakness found in the audit.
In terms of scheduling, most small businesses should consider having a quarterly content audit. For companies with a very small staff, a biannual content audit is still useful and can help to shape the direction of both content production and conversion optimization.

Gap Assessment

The first step in auditing your content is the gap assessment. This assessment uncovers areas where you may lack relevant content for your target audience and it follows a four-step process:
  1. List the questions prospective customers are most likely to ask at each stage of the sales cycle (Awareness, Research, Evaluation, Purchase).
  2. List the content (blog posts, social media posts, etc.) you currently have that addresses each of the questions in your previous list.
  3. List the multimedia & downloadable content (webinars, whitepapers, presentations) you currently have that addresses each of the questions in your previous list.
  4. On a scale of 1 to 5, rate how accessible this content is for the average user. For example, a blog post that is displayed prominently on your website might have a rating of 5 for accessibility, while a whitepaper that requires full registration and email confirmation to download might be a 1 in terms of accessibility.
Ideally, you will have content for each section of the sales cycle, with content for the top of the funnel being highly accessible. "Gating" your content – requiring registration or an email address to download an ebook, for example – should be tested in other stages of the sales cycle. You want to find the optimum mix of maximum exposure while still being able to capture information on your high-value leads for sales follow-up.
Don't Forget SEO: Another aspect of the gap assessment that you may wish to incorporate into your own content audit is Keyword/SEO optimization assessment – how well your content is optimized for the types of searches that occur at various stages in the sales cycle. This will help to ensure that your content gets found by those who need it most.

Flow Assessment

The gap assessment will expose any areas where your company needs to produce additional content in order to cover the entire sales funnel. By contrast, the flow assessment evaluates your current content, and how well it guides potential customers towards a purchase.
Because every website is laid out differently, your flow assessment will be unique to your company. At minimum, you want to answer these questions:
  1. How well does my website guide users to related content? (Example: If you have a blog post on dog grooming techniques, are there links to other content such as how to choose grooming supplies or shampoo?)
  2. How well does my website guide users to deeper content? (Example: If you have a whitepaper on best practices for online security, does it include links to your online demos or webinars for users who want more detailed information?)
  3. How well does my website help users to find what they are looking for? Is the information presented logically so that someone who comes to my homepage is able to find the information they need with minimal effort?
  4. How well is my online content integrated with other channels such as social media and email marketing? Can users who come to my website via these channels readily find additional information on the topic that brought them to the site?
Here, you want website visitors to be able to find information easily, and be guided logically towards conversion. If you have minimal links to internal pages, or very few references to where people can learn more, you may be losing visitors in the research and assessment/evaluation phase.

Analytics Assessment

This last component of the content audit helps you to match up your findings in the previous two assessments. By taking a look at which pages of your website are most popular, you can uncover trends in visitor interest that can be used to develop additional content.
Just as important is tying in your content flow with current results. A highly relevant content page on your website may be "unpopular" or it may just be hard to find. Once you've optimized the flow for your website, check back to see if interest in these relevant pages picks up.
SEO optimization is also a role in the analytics assessment – take a look at the search queries that brought people to your site, and any internal search queries that visitors have performed on your site.
Which queries led to the most conversions? The least?
Which queries led to the highest engagement? The lowest?
Provide the answers that your website visitors are looking for as you build out additional content throughout the sales cycle.
Performing a regular content audit will help you make sure that your content is working as hard as you do to drive conversions. Take the time to respond to the needs of your audience and reap the rewards of greater engagement, higher conversions, and more sales.
If you need help performing a content audit for your website, get in touch with us. Our team of professionals will be happy to walk you through the process step-by-step, providing objective information that you can use to maximize the results from your content marketing efforts.
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Adaptive Web Design vs. Responsive Web Design

Great post from the Bear Creek Web Blog on Adaptive vs Responsive Mobile Web Design.  Very thorough:

It's official: the Age of Mobile has arrived. Last year, 58% of smartphone users engaged in multiple online sessions per day on their mobile devices. With so many people using their smartphones to access mobile content repeatedly throughout the day, businesses no longer have the luxury of asking "if" they should implement a mobile website.
Instead, the question becomes "how" to implement a mobile website, and the best way to do so successfully. There are two main strategies when it comes to mobile website development: adaptive web design and responsive web design.
While there are some who view these terms interchangeably, in reality they are quite different from one another, each having its own pros and cons. In this post, we'll explore the basics of good mobile web design, and how adaptive web design and responsive web design handle these fundamental requirements.

The Goals of Effective Mobile Web Design

It goes without saying that effective mobile website design is user friendly, but what do we mean by that? At its most basic, effective mobile design must accomplish three broad goals:
  1. Informational: It must provide the visitor with the expected information.
  2. Navigational: It must provide the user with expected options.
  3. Usability: It must provide the user with expected functionality.
The ways in which to accomplish these goals may vary, but the desired end result is always the same – an easy-to-use site that gives the visitor the right information and the ability to take meaningful action once the information is found.
The Responsive Web Design Approach
Responsive web design is so named because it "responds" to the browser the website visitor is using. By defining various breakpoints in browser size, the layout will change to suit the available space. Responsive web design is best-suited to informational pages, and is often used when website owners need a fast way to make their site mobile. 
The Adaptive Web Design Approach
By contrast, adaptive web design requires the use of server-side technology and is a bit more complex. The adaptive website will detect the user's device, and present different versions of the site based on the type of device being used – for example, a cellphone versus a laptop computer.
This approach requires a greater investment of resources, but provides additional benefits over responsive design such as:
  1. A faster experience with loading optimized for the device
  2. Better functionality integration, such as use of touchscreen gestures and common apps such as mapping or click-to-call.
For adaptive web design to be most effective, developers need to conduct careful planning around the needs and expectations of users who are browsing the site from different devices, and create sites that address these needs directly.

Which to Choose?

While both responsive design and adaptive design provide a better mobile experience to users, adaptive web design offers a tighter integration between user expectations and available functionality. If the resources are available for adaptive web design, it is our recommendation that companies take the time and effort to create mobile-specific versions of their website.
For those businesses with large sites that have extensive amounts of content, or businesses that cannot afford to invest heavily in web development, responsive web design offers a viable means to give website visitors a satisfactory mobile browsing experience
If you need help deciding between adaptive web design and responsive web design for your own site, get in touch. We have experts waiting to discuss ways to help your business tap into the mobile marketplace.
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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Critical Business Metrics for Your Website, part 3

The final installment on Critical Business Metricsw from the Bear Creek Web Blog:

Today, we wrap up our look at critical website metrics by discussing the bottom of the funnel. The best conversion optimization strategies don't stop at the moment a purchase is made or when your team closes a deal. Total optimization must include both your ability to acquire customers, and your ability to retain them.
When it comes to retention, the two key metrics for the bottom of the funnel that we are going to discuss are churn rates and customer lifetime value (LTV). We tie these metrics back to what we learned in our first post – specifically, cost per customer acquisition (CPCA) and cost per lead (CPL). (If you missed our earlier business metrics posts, you can catch up here with part one and part two.)
While churn rates and customer LTV are not numbers you will find directly in Google Analytics, they are essential to understanding the sustainability of your business model and whether or not your inbound marketing is delivering a solid ROI.

Churn Rates

If you've ever swapped cellphone service or changed internet service providers, you have been a part of what is known in the subscription business model as the churn rate or attrition rate. Simply put, the churn rate is the percentage of users who leave or cancel a service within a set amount of time.
Example: For the month of March, you have 100 current subscribers. By the end of the month 20 of those subscribers have cancelled their service. In this example, your gross churn rate is 20%.
Churn Rate (%):  # of subscribers lost ÷ # subscribers at the start of the month.
In the scenario, you would need to have acquired at least 21 new subscribers in March in order offset your losses. Factor in the CPCA for those subscribers versus the cost of the subscription and you have a clearer picture as to whether or not your subscription model is sustainable.
In the long term, if your churn rates are increasing over the course of several months, this can be an indication of growing competition in your niche or customer dissatisfaction – both key areas to address in order to keep your business profitable.

Customer LTV

The lifetime value of a customer is trickier to calculate, and requires some historical data to estimate accurately.  Let's go back and take a look at the example in our first blog post in this series. Assume that the CPCA is $5.00 and the average cost of a product sold is only $4.00. On the surface, this would seem to be a losing proposition, as we are losing $1.00 for every sale we get.
But let's take it a step further and also assume that on average, a customer makes 10 purchases from our store over the course of one year, and that our business does not see many repeat buyers after a year's time. In this instance, the customer LTV is $40.00 – well above the $5.00 spent on user acquisition. If we can find a way to encourage larger purchases or more frequent purchases, then the ROI improves even further.
We can use a similar method when discussing the cost per lead. If we assume that the average project billed to a new client has the cost of $1000 and that clients hire us for at least 4 projects, we have a customer LTV of $4000. Again, the profit is much higher than the cost per lead of $5.00 or the CPCA of $6.25 that we calculated in our first post.
Addressing Problems with Customer Retention
There are often many underlying causes of poor customer retention. Areas you will want to investigate include:
While pricing is often not the sole factor influencing a purchase, it can be a deciding factor for some customers. If you are competing solely on cost, customer churn can be expected any time a competitor has lower prices than those you advertise.
Value can be tangible, such as providing additional products or service offerings. It can also be intangible – superior customer support, better expertise, more experience, etc. How your customers perceive the value of your offerings when compared to the competition can contribute to churn.
Customer Nurturing
What you do after the sale is just as important as leading up to the sale. Many companies like Sears and ThinkGeek offer incentives for customers to continue shopping at their website. Points, membership perks, suggested products and services – all of these allow you to maintain contact with your current customers and encourage new sales. Customers who are not invested in your brand are more likely to shop elsewhere, leading to retention issues.
Understanding the best ways to optimize your online business requires a holistic view that incorporates metrics from every area of the funnel. By focusing on those areas that directly impact your bottom line, you can improve customer experience and profitability. If you need help understanding essential website metrics for your business, talk to us.
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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Critical Metrics for Your Business Website, part 2

 Second part of the critical business metrics series from the Bear Creek Web Blog:

In our last blog post on business website metrics, we talked about the top of the funnel. Metrics like Cost per Acquisition and Cost per Lead help companies evaluate whether or not their inbound marketing efforts are performing as expected.
More importantly, top funnel metrics offer a clear way to understand if an inbound marketing channel is viable from a financial standpoint – i.e. making sure you don't spend more money to acquire customers than you earn when selling to them.
For this post, we're moving further into the funnel to discuss additional metrics on your business website that can reveal problems in conversion and conversion flow. We'll also talk about some of the methods for optimizing mid-funnel metrics to ensure the greatest ROI.

Essential Mid-Funnel Metrics for SMBs

Problems with mid-funnel metrics are all about "the one that got away" in terms of conversions. Understanding where, how, and why users don't complete the conversion flow is critical to both improving customer experience and your bottom line.
The key mid-funnel metrics for business websites are bounce rates, abandonment rates and the time to purchase or project close.

Bounce Rates

Bounce rates measure the percentage of website visitors who visit only one page and then leave your site. Bounce rates are seen as an indicator of engagement – the more people who visit multiple pages on your website, the better your engagement. High engagement equates to better user experience and a greater chance for conversions.
Generally speaking, you want to get your bounce rates as low as possible. However, high bounce rates are not always indicative of problems with engagement.  For example, it is not uncommon for visitors to read a single blog post on a website – particularly when the visitor is in the research stage of the buying cycle. Focus bounce rate concerns on areas such as landing pages, where users are expected and encouraged to move deeper into the site. High bounce rates on these types of pages indicate that you are not aligning messaging with user expectations.

Abandonment Rates

Abandonment rates can be calculated as a whole across the entire conversion funnel, or for individual pages. The overall abandonment rate measures the percentage of website visitors who leave your conversion funnel at any step before completing the conversion. The abandonment rate of a page measures the percentage of website visitors that leave your conversion funnel at that specific page.
Note that visitors don't have to leave your website to abandon the funnel. For example, if your conversion process requires filling out a 3-step contact form and a user clicks away from the form on step 2 in order to view your services webpage, that user has abandoned the conversion funnel.
Your goal when analyzing abandonment rates is to pinpoint any areas where there are significant drop-offs in the number of users who continue through the conversion flow. Pages that have high abandonment rates when compared to other pages in the funnel most often indicate a need to adjust messaging and/or design.

A Word about Conversion Funnels and Google Analytics

Google Analytics can provide valuable information on the performance of your conversion funnels, but you have to set them up, first. Google created this helpful post that explains how to set up goals in Google Analytics. It's important to note that Google Analytics will only track conversion funnel metrics going forward – meaning you won't get data on conversions that happened before you set up your goals.

Time to Closing/Sale

As you look at conversion rates for your website, it is helpful to take it a step further and look at the conversion timeline. The time to closing/sale is the average amount of time it takes from the first visitor interaction to a completed conversion or sale. This is typically broken down along inbound marketing channels. For example, you may want to compare the time to closing or sale between website visitors who first reach your site through organic search versus pay per click advertising.
The amount of time it takes to close a sale can be a powerful indicator as to the effectiveness of your conversion funnel. Website visitors that are targeted with the right information at the right point in the sales cycle are more likely to convert. Additionally, if you notice that it's taking your sales team longer (or shorter) to convert leads into sales, this is an important indicator about the quality of your inbound marketing efforts.
Ideally, you want to have a time to closing/sale that is within a reasonable time frame for your business. If you notice sales cycles getting longer, you may need to adjust your messaging, your delivery, or both.
Optimizing Mid-Funnel Metrics
If you do notice a significant drop-off at a specific stage (or stages) of the conversion funnel, how do you fix it? The first option is to consider the necessity of the steps in your funnel. Can you eliminate those one or two areas that are causing users to abandon the funnel? If so, you should test a new conversion funnel that removes those steps and see if it performs better than the original.
If you find that you do need to keep all steps within your conversion funnel, there are still ways to optimize:
Message Alignment
Make sure that the messaging for each step is consistent with the expectations of the user. Some steps may require more information to make users feel comfortable with proceeding. Others may require less information to keep users from feeling bogged down. Try to give visitors only the amount of information they need to progress through the funnel, no more and no less.
User Experience
Design is also an important factor in mid-funnel metrics. Are your calls-to-action (CTAs) clearly defined and readily visible? Does your site layout help users find what they need to proceed? Are images relevant and helpful? All of these questions come into play when optimizing a conversion funnel.
A/B Testing
Sometimes, problems are readily apparent once you start looking at your conversion flow from the perspective of a potential customer. However, it is often the case that it is unclear what changes would make for a better overall user experience. This is where A/B testing comes in. This form of testing focuses on making one major change to a page within your conversion funnel. For example, you may change the headline and body copy for one landing page to see if the change in wording improves conversions. In A/B testing, you would direct a certain percentage of web traffic to the new page and a certain percentage to the old page and compare conversion results between the two groups.
By testing two different versions of the same page, you can determine if the changes you make to your webpage are having a positive or negative impact on overall conversions.
Multivariate Testing
Changing multiple areas of a page in order to optimize performance is called multivariate testing. When using multivariate testing, many areas of a page can change. For example, you might change not only the copy, but the colors for the font and the images used on the page as well. Testing is handled in a similar way to A/B testing, with a certain percentage of web traffic seeing the new page and results being compared between new and old pages to determine which is best.
Testing and optimization of your conversion funnel will reduce bounce rates and abandonment rates, but the time it takes to close the deal is still very much dependent on the sales team.  Establish guidelines for follow-up, and if you notice a lot of unqualified leads to your site, it may be time to adjust your inbound marketing efforts as well.
If you need help understanding what to optimize or how to optimize your mid-funnel website metrics, let us help. Our team of online marketing experts will be happy to help you optimize and grow your business.
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