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!


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.


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.