Our SEO Adventure, Part 3: ALL STOP!

After slogging through the lengthy process of pricking vendors and generating keywords (which turns out to be an amazingly intricate process. I learned a lot from Rob Sanders of RSO Consulting), it was time to apply what we’d done and start down the magical process of content and inbound marketing!

Wrong.

At this point our new Business Development God, Jeremy, pokes his head up and says, “you know, I think our homepage sucks and we’d convert a lot more with something more modern and exciting.”

The awful thing about this is that he was right. So FULL STOP. Redesign the home page and try to use as much of the rest of the existing site to save some time–which turns out to be reasonably easy to do.

And NOW, finally, we have the page designed and in the process of programming and SEOing it as much as we can, and we should be ready to launch (if the coding gods are with us) next week.

So, watch here for more news and our new site and let us know your feedback! We’d love to hear about your loves, hates, comments, ideas, or any other thoughts you may have.Image

Our SEO Adventure, Part 2: Picking Vendors

As I wrote in our last entry, we are a design company in the SF Bay Area, and have finally decided–after putting it off for too long–to dive into really CMSing and SEOing our site with the intention of producing a greater influx of inbound leads.

After deciding on the WP platform, it was time to start what turned out to be a rather involved process; picking our vendors. This turned out to be a challenge on several levels. As we started interviewing vendors we realized that although we are a professional web site design firm, we still had a lot to learn about the intricacies of WP and get a lot more knowledge on the recent developments in the SEO world (we used to offer SEO as a service, but it got so time-intensive that we dropped it to focus on our strengths, strategy, creative, campaigns, that kind of thing).

For those of you following this same CMS and/or SEO path–whatever business you might be in–beware! There are a LOT of folks out there claiming to be experts in the varied intricacies of these fields, and only a select few of them really have the knowledge, drive, and vision that is needed to have expertise in this area (both CMS migration and SEO). Oh, and are taking the time to stay up to date in this rapidly changing field–just take a look at the google webmaster’s blog (if you haven’t already), to see the velocity of change in just the SEO world.

So, after extensive reading, studying, and careful examination of lots of information to develop trusted sources, we put up a posting at one of the specialized groups to which we belong and get the flood of responses we were expecting.

Several rounds of weeding later we come up with the medium list; those people or companies we want to actually speak with. And, amazingly, we find that even in this group there are people who come into our offices or call for a conference and immediate nose dive into the muck.

Because of the business we’re in we know that vendors who come in with an already developed plan and start diving into the details are too tactical for our needs. We need someone to take the time to know us, who we are, what we stand for, and work from there. Obviously, this is especially important in the SEO realm. And, as we wanted, essentially, to do our own SEO, we were really looking for a coach more than a company or contractor to just come in and do it for us.

It also turned out that there were some really high-quality people out there who were clearly honest, of high integrity, and well-informed on the latest details of WP and SEO, both of which are surprisingly complex. Even though WP claims to be easy, it is  only if you want stay with one of the masses of predesigned templates which, as I mentioned in the last post, we can’t do since as a design agency we need to be highly designed and clearly unique.

The final decision came when one of the WP developers made us an offer we couldn’t refuse (he’d develop our site and if, at the end, we don’t like it, we can just walk away from it with only minor costs), and when one of the SEO vendors said that he would love to enter into a coaching relationship with us, and possibly partner  with us on future business.

And with those choices, we’re off and running! I am delving into the details and (sometimes) tedious work of keyword development and my partner is overseeing the look and feel of the WP site.

But the details of those are for the next installment.

Our SEO Adventure; Part 1

Well…we finally decided it’s time to eat our own dog food; move our site under a CMS and vastly increase the effectivity of what little SEO we’ve had–which up until now was the very basics–with the intent of attempting to radically increase our inbound lead generation during the year.

This blog is going to follow our adventure from day one to day n, where we’ll see just how effective we have been. Feel free to leave questions, tips, or where you feel we’re totally on the wrong track!

There are a few challenges here; first, we’re a design company, so our site can’t look like a template in any way, it needs to be completely unique, great-looking, provide great functionality, and easy-to-use nav; second, we really like the design we have now (other than for some flash elements, like the home page banner, which we want to redesign and replace with a more generalized technology); third, we know that we need to update the content rather massively, which is my job; and, fourth, we have a bunch of new stuff that needs to go into our portfolio. But, overall, the changes we want to make to the brand–the look of the site–are quite minor.

The very first decision we need to make is to pick a CMS. There are a LOT of them out there now and just about everyone has their favorite. Some the developers we work with like simplicity, some like depth of functionality, and others like something in between. Opinions on the ‘net are, unsurprisingly, even more all over the map.

Our needs turn out to be pretty basic. We need  employees (especially myself and my partner) with varying levels of technical sophistication to be able to perform basic tasks; change content, add pages, review comments, and add functionality to specific pages, as needed.

So after much research, some debate, and discussions with our internal team and some outside resources, we make the decision to go with…tada!…WordPress. (if you’d like to hear our thinking on all of this, just post a question, and I’ll be glad to answer it) SquareSpace was a close contender (we have used that for some clients recently, and it worked really well), but the deciding factor was really that the WP community is a great asset.

Next step; on to designing, choosing a developer, coding the actual move, and choosing a partner for our SEO.

But that’s in Part 2.

Corrupt Reviews at Amazon; What About Elsewhere?

In a recent article at Webguild (for the sake of honesty, one of my favorite web analysis sites) John Dvorak writes about a recent academic study of the reviews on the Amazon site. You can see the actual study here: http://www.freelunch.me/

The results are nothing short of shocking. While their sample is admittedly not as large as it could be (166 of the top 1000 reviewers), 85%, yes EIGHTY-FIVE PERCENT of those reviewers had been approached with free merchandise and other goodies. Frankly, I find this highly disturbing, because it causes me to be highly suspicious of a source of information that I considered to be (as Fox would say) “fair and balanced.”

Now, call me naive, but I am willing to bet that most of us don’t even think about the possibility that the reviews we read on Amazon have been influenced by the very companies selling the product being reviewed. But, of course, we all know that this is possible and happens in the offline world frequently.

My larger question is this; just how pervasive is this? Mr. Dvorak seems to think that Yelp is a better model, because you can (as he says) “deconstruct” the reviewer to see if they have tastes similar to yours and Yelp has nothing to sell, other than the reviews themselves–although that seems to be changing with their offerings of coupons and things like that that actively help the businesses reviewed on their site.

But, there are lots of supposedly objective review sites out there; as consumers we need to wonder just how pervasive this practice is. And, to me, the larger question is, is this kind of thing going to pollute a bourgeoning (and, I would argue) valuable service/business well before it even reaches anything like it’s peak of utility?

The next piece I would argue is that all of these sites need to come up with some kind of system that makes this transparent. After all, financial reporters have to be clear on whether they have any interest in the companies on which they report; perhaps we need some kind of similar system here. Wouldn’t you rather know whether the review you are reading came from someone who profited in some way from the actual writing of the review?

Again, you can call me naive, but I sure would like to know this kind of thing before I make any kind of purchasing decision that was influenced by a supposedly object review.

And, Amazon needs to come WAY clean on this one. They need to tell us all just who is being recompensed for what on their site, or all of their reviews become suspect. As we become more savvy buyers, the marketers are simply going to have to up their transparency. To quote Pete Townsend, “We won’t get fooled again!”

At least, I hope not.

#Hashtag

In a recent New York Times article Ashley Parker delves into the burgeoning use of hashtags (#) both online and offline. I will be clear; I love this article. Besides being well written and sharp, the topic is incredibly fun. Ms. Parker is doing nothing less than noting the evolution of the English language and, for a writer, there is nothing quite so fascinating.

While some will bemoan the “death of the language” due to changes like this or new spelling methods deriving from texting (watch the Weiner jokes, now), this use of hashtags, I would argue, represents something entirely new.

Far from bastardizing standard spelling, this is a new addition to our language, a new symbol that carries its own meaning and isn’t derived from any of the roots of our known language. In addition, here we have something that is easier to communicate in writing than it is in spoken form. Obviously, the pound sign has been used for years, but with different meanings. But no, this is something new–now we’re not only seeing the language evolve, but also the symbols that are attached to it.

This use of the # sign is almost a metalanguage–it provides classification to what comes just before or after. I’d say that this is just the beginning; as more written electronic communication becomes closer to verbal communications, we’ll see more of these popping up, shorthanding even emoticons. Then finding their way into everyday conversation.

No one has come into my office yet and said anything like “I’m having a hashtag bad day,” but I’m looking forward it. And, I can’t help but wonder, what’s next?

Product Naming — The Art of Choosing a Name

Ever wonder how companies go about product naming or naming themselves?

The Vistage online community is called “Vistage Village.” Nice product naming, I like it. There is a place where you can see a list of members both existing and new. It’s called “Vistage Village People.” As I clicked on the icon I half-expected to be treated to a chorus of “YMCA,” but was disappointed. I think Vistage is missing a great opportunity.

So, as a naming specialist I have to wonder how this product name came about — curious as I am.  I have visions of a bunch of 50-somethings (Boomers) sitting in a conference room with a six pack of Heineken and someone blurting out, “I know, let’s call it “People.”  It will be the Vistage Village People and we can create an icon with a group of “people” each wearing a unique hat. One hat could be a police cap, one could be a hardhat, and the other could be an Indian chief headdress! Far out!”

THIS is how great product naming comes to be…..in case you wanted to know how it is done.

But, alas, the truth is more likely to be that some Millennials came up with the name and thought it was a great fit because it makes sense. And, it does. Then, they probably ran it by some Boomers who smiled and said, “Village People? Really?” They then had to explain to the youthful set who the Village People were. After looking at the blank stares reflected back, the Boomers gently suggested a slight modification to the name might be appropriate.  Thus, “Vistage Village: People” was born — and it was good.

If you are a Vistage member I invite you to visit Vistage Village: People. There is a wealth of information about Vistage members. But, alas, don’t expect to see profiles of your favorite police officer, Indian chief, cowboy, biker, construction worker, or GI. Nor are there embedded sounds files to entertain you, with selections such as Macho Man or In The Navy.  For that you will have to get your Village People fix here: http://www.youtube.com/user/villagepeople.

Predictions and Things That Go Bump In the Night

I attended the annual Top Tech Trends event last week, put on by the Churchill Club. The panel included some of the top VCs from ’round here as well as Aneesh Chopra, the CTO of The United States. This year they had a team from SRI–a group of smart people, if there ever was one–put together 10 trends they see becoming large in the next three years, and Curt Carlson (SRI’s CEO) read them and got reactions from both the panelists and the audience.

What surprised me most was how most of the audience and panel disagreed with most of the identified trends most of the time. Yet, these 10 trends were put together by smart people in the center of it all.

It makes me wonder why do we try so hard to do this? What is 0ur fascination with predicting the future, especially when it comes to technology? After all, history shows us that mostly, we’re wrong. Who could have predicted the sheer mass of Google in 1990? Or Facebook in 2000? Or any other number of companies that have thrived, failed, or crashed and burned years before they did so?

Even though history shows us to be very poor prognosticators, we continue to try–and try hard.

Well, there’s the obvious answers; getting ahead of other supporters and investors in these trends can vastly improve our reputations as well as our wealth. But that’s too easy–of course everyone wants that. But my sense is that there is something more here, something more basic to humanity.

And, what I’ve come to, after some thought and research, is that the future is inherently unknown and unknowable, and that is scary. It frightens the old, reptilian, part of our brains, so we make predictions as a security blanket. Something to hold on to, to give us some sense of surety, and to help keep at bay the things that go bump in the night.

So, in the end, the accuracy of our prediction may be much less important than that calming effect. Because, I don’t know about you, but I sure want something that helps me deal confidently with the monsters that we’re all sure are out there in our crazy, accelerated, and rapidly shifting world.

Short-term Memory and UI Design

Not too long ago, I attended a talk by Jeff Johnson hosted by BayCHI. He introduced his new book Designing with the Mind in Mind, which reveals the psychology behind user interface design. His lessons covered everything from Gestalt theory to blind spots, but what I found most interesting was the influence of memory.

Short-term memory is best described as the conscious mind. It is what is happening right now. Is it how many numbers you can remember, which is 3-5 unrelated items (e.g. a zip code) or more if the items are related (e.g. 3-5 random words vs. a sentence of words). The latter uses the brain’s feature detection, which draws on connections from previous experiences—more neurons fire and trigger recognition.

A scenario of this is if I am typing a collection of words into a search engine and those words are out of sight once the search results are presented, I may become frustrated as a user because the task has distracted me from recalling what words I entered into the search field. To help the user recall what words were used, some search results have the words highlighted. Providing cues like this will help the user focus on the task and aid in the recall of information.

What I walked away with was that asking a user to keep track of features in his/her short-term memory is work. Good design is invisible and UI/UX is no exception. Intuition is based on experience, so the more unified and consistent and experience is, the more likely a task will seem effortless.

Short-term memory does have its faults as seen here in this video. While entertaining in a prank sort of way, it also shows how task and distraction can blind us from what is literally right in front of us. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYeJ1BHHDIg

Change is good

Change is good—or so the saying goes. Our namesake Oya is the goddess of change, a force of nature that creates the turbulence needed to wipe away the old stuff to make way for new growth. Thus, in that spirit we embarked on a journey which breathed new life into our own story.

On a lazy Sunday morning while walking the dog, I decided to get curious about a small “For Lease” sign that I had been passing for the last 6 months. Each time I passed it I was curious, but not THAT curious.  Finally, we had been in our office on Los Gatos Blvd. for over 8 years and I was itching for a change of scenery.

I am a seasoned mover. I have lived in more places than I can count and I can pack boxes like the pros. Aside from the hard labor, I must confess I really like to move. It’s a great way to clean out the clutter and freshen up the environment.

So, on that lazy Sunday, we took a look at the space for lease and knew we had found our new home. It is located in the bustling downtown of Los Gatos, above a clothing boutique called Nuance and directly across the street from the Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Co. We have the best address EVER!  One University Avenue! How great is that?

The space is funky, artsy, and cozy. It is the “it” and “happenin’” place!  Everyone who is anyone is meeting across the street for coffee or being served cocktails at Val’s. We even have front row seats for Jazz on the Plazz. It all happens right outside my office window.  And, now we have BRICK!  Everybody knows that to be considered an “it” agency you simply must have brick—and now we do. We have arrived at our new home and it’s all good.

Drop by and see us. I’ll buy the coffee.

Letterpress Printing

I recently completed a series of workshops at the Center for the Book in San Francisco in order to be certified to rent their letterpress printing equipment. After spending so much time on the computer designing complex interfaces and using programs to layout pages of content, it was refreshing to get back to good old ink, paper, and type.

Each of the three workshops lasted for 8 hours, totaling 24 hours worth of press time. The instructors were experts on the Vandercook press and taught us the mechanics of the machines as well as printmaking techniques. We started each class with a task (usually laying out a page of a small chapbook), which involved choosing a typeface and handset it on a composing stick seen here.

Composing Stick, Letterpress printing

Composing Stick, Letterpress printing

California job case

California job case

This often took the most time to do since you had to find each character in the giant California job case (a drawer segmenting the individual letters from one typeface), place the letters on the composing stick spelling the words backwards, and use leading plus spaces (solid metal parts for filling space) to lock up any loose areas. Once the type was all set, it was transferred to a galley (a metal tray), then onto the bed of the press. Blocks of wood called furniture were placed around the composition then locked into place with a quoin.

From there, ink was mixed by hand and applied to the rollers of the Vandercook press. Letting the rollers run for a bit helped distribute the ink so the color and density of the ink was even across the composition. Next, the rollers were set on ‘trip’ to ink the composition and the paper was aligned to the printing area.

Test runs were then done to determine the impression or bite the type had into the paper, the density of the ink, to check if any of the characters were damaged, and to check the registration of the page. Once all adjustments and corrections were made, it was a repetitive process of inserting paper, rolling the rollers over the bed, and removing the printed piece to dry. After the print run was completed, type was removed, cleaned, and sorted back into their cases, and the rollers were cleaned in a very process driven way so none of the ink we used was left over for the next print run to pick up.

Other details like adjusting the impression in the paper, printing multiple colors, using photo polymer plates, and printing on damp paper were taught in the second and third workshops. Now, it is remembering it all and doing it on my own.

Letterpress I, a book of overheard sayings

Letterpress II, posters

Letterpress II, posters

Letterpress III, Chapbook of false truths

Letterpress III, Chapbook of false truths

Letterpress III, Chapbook close up

Letterpress III, Chapbook close up

Here’s a great short documentary on how letterpress printing is done and why it is so appealing:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iv69kB_e9KY

Here is an interesting description of what a chapbook is, its origins, and where my inspiration for my composition came from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapbook
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wise_Men_of_Gotham

Here are photos of the prints currently on exhibit at the Center for the Book. After going through all three workshops, I truly appreciate how much of a craft this is and how exceptional these prints are—a must see!
http://www.aardvarkletterpressfinearteditions.com/editions.html

Take the classes and learn the craft of letterpress printing! Students ranged from computer programmers, to graphic designers, to Telsa engineers!
http://sfcb.org/workshops