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!