Sep 02 2016
Sep 02

What are landing pages?

Landing pages are powerful inbound marketing tools. They have a simple goal: to convert incoming page visitors into customers of some kind. Landing pages fall into three general categories:

  1. Stand-alone examples: lead capture and generation pages and squeeze pages
  2. Microsites:  A small multi-page website (or sitelet) usually created as a supplement to the main website.
  3. Internal site pages:  Homepages and product detail pages.

Example: Lead generation landing page courtesy Unbounce (image source)

Each landing page type and category share a common goal; convert incoming visitors. Each landing page, by type, goal and otherwise will require it's own unique strategy and design to achieve respective goals. Perhaps the easiest way to think about how you can use a landing page is this: you can take virtually any marketing initiative or campaign, and consider deploying a landing page a pretty good solution.

Now let's take a look a few unsung benefits of adding a landing page to your web marketing mix.

Amplifies business and marketing goals

A landing page can serve several different purposes and goals, for instance, driving more people to subscribe to your email list or requesting a product demo. The core or, foundational goal is converting a target group of users or prospects into a customer. Other examples can include acquiring shares on social media, promoting products, or gathering data target prospects (perhaps using gated content of some kind). Landing pages work well with endless marketing campaigns. 

Protip: Maximize Versatility  -  Not all incoming traffic channels need to lead to the same landing page, and not all landing pages have to be designed with the same goal. Depending on the campaign and needs, you can deploy multiple segmented landing pages for a single marketing initiative. Segments can include criteria such traffic source, user demographics, location, etc.).

Protip: Create High-Level Strategy Plan  -  To help you start thinking about conversion strategies and landing pages, here's a high-level outline to build from:

  1. Start by building out a conversion funnel. This is an incredible way to build out your conversion plans from start to finish (conversion). The best conversion funnels touch on nurturing and loyalty efforts like brand advocacy. 
  2. Once you have your conversion funnel built, create a landing page that uses your funnel as a guide.
  3. Set up Your Google Analytics Conversion Funnel


(Image Source: "Paving the Path to Sales: The Conversion Funnel Explored")
 

Augments brand and product credibility

Landing pages should visually appeal and resonate with your segment user. In fact, some brands aren't afraid to bring the brand's personality forward (depending on the campaign and audience). The look and feel of your landing page should capture visitor's attention and interest quickly. How much is visually appealing, exactly? The key in the design of the page will be striking a balance between alluring and providing a distraction-free zone where you can focus on pitching your campaign and getting that conversion. A professional-looking landing page gives your website an air of credibility. Visitors are more likely to request a demo if you can convince them how it will make their jobs easier through a landing page.

Drives persistent leads

An intelligently built landing page can help generate qualified leads. Some landing page types don't require as much maintenance compared to other marketing strategies like email and social media marketing (SMM). Some landing pages can be left to do its magic for months at a time, working the background, generating leads for your business even when you're working on other things. 

Protip: Think Re-Engagement  -  Generally, you won't be working on your landing page on daily basis post launch. It's important to understand that even on well-optimized landing pages, prospects will come to your landing page without the intent to convert (yet). Think about who these folks are and how they might be grouped or categorized. And if they're not yet ready to convert, where's the next best place for them to go? The key is to create a persistent journey for folks who are yet willing to convert. One way to do this offers them the opportunity to go back to your site for more info. The page you choose should correspond to the landings page's topic. You'll also want to track these types of instances if you can. Think about re-engagement strategies to help move these folks towards conversion success.  Remember, landing pages should keep your prospects focused on goal-completion versus overloading them with distracting information.

Conveniently improves SEO

Landing pages help with search engine optimization efforts. The best landing pages have a keyword strategy in place largely informed by their unique segments. Google, Bing, and other search engines love landing pages because they act as a traffic magnet, and they're packed with high-quality content and keywords. Let's face it; they love landing pages for all the pay-per-click (PPC), and other advertising campaigns (Adwords) love they receive. Search engines thrive on delivering useful pages to people, and few things are more relevant than mission-critical content wrapped in an authentic-feeling, on-brand design. 

Wrap Up

Landing pages are a goldmine of potential leads. Their goal is simple, to convert qualified incoming traffic and re-channel other users who are not ready to commit. It's a powerful marketing tool to have in your digital mix. Landing pages come in different categories, and they can serve different audiences and needs. Remember, they're dexterous, in some instances, a single marketing campaign may have multiple landing pages. No matter the occasion to create a landing page, the unsung, foundational benefits include:

  • Amplifying business and marketing goals
  • Augmenting brand and product credibility
  • Driving persistent leads
  • Improving search engine optimization
Sep 02 2016
Sep 02

Previously on our blog, we discussed the five basics of content marketing. The first of these five basics of content marketing is understanding your audience, which we achieve by constructing personas. Once you know who your intended audience is, you can tailor your content to help encourage users to progress through each step of their individual buyer's journey.

The example we used to illustrate this point was a piece of software. The content you create will differ depending on if you’re selling a single-use license or an enterprise-level SaaS solution -- and if you’re speaking to an end-user or a CTO, respectively.

The Most commonly consumed content types

Eccolo Media surveyed over 500 B2B technology buyers who were responsible for influencing the purchase of technology solutions in the six months before the survey to find the most commonly consumed content types:

 

They found that white papers were the highest consumed with 49% of respondents reported to have used them to evaluate a technology purchase. Product brochures and data sheets (46%) were a close second, with case studies/success stories (36%), detailed technology guides/implementation scenarios (36%), and video/multimedia files (35%) following.

One of the more curious findings is that fewer respondents reported that they had consumed blog posts (29%), email newsletters (29%), social content (27%), infographics (21%), or tweets (19%) -- all of the more common content marketing efforts.

However, there also appeared to be a greater diversification in the types of content consumed by buyers.  Eccolo Media noted that the number of content types had expanded to 16 from as few as five in years past, indicating that buyers were more willing to spread their attention to other sources.

what content and when?

Pardot’s report, “The State of Demand Generation”, found that three-quarters of B2B buyers preferred to consume different types of content at the various stages of their buying process. That makes the next research from Eccolo Media even more compelling -- they analyzed six different content types and how useful the survey’s respondents found them during each stage of their purchase cycle:

 

Comparing the consumption of white papers, case studies/success stories, video/multimedia files, detailed tech guides/implementation scenarios, infographics, and blog articles across the purchase cycle led to the following conclusions:

  • During the pre-sales phase (“unaware of problem”), 32% of buyers found blog articles to be at their most helpful (blog articles were found to be equally as influential during the initial sales phase);
  • During the initial sales phase, white papers, case studies, videos, and infographics were at their most influential point;
  • At the mid-sales phase, detailed technology guides (31%) were at their most influential, while case studies (32%) were also important; and
  • None of the collateral types are clearly the most influential during the final sales process, although detailed technology guides/implementation scenarios (19%) are naturally of more interest during this stage.

And for who?

But perhaps most interestingly, the report also broke down the preferences into six different personas: small business influencers and decision-makers, mid-market influencers and decision-makers, and enterprise influences and decision-makers. Marketing Charts published the following highlights of when the different content types were considered to be the most influential by each persona during the stages of the purchase cycle:

Pre-Sales

  • Small business influencers consider detailed technology guides and multimedia assets to be at their most influential during this phase, while small business-decision makers see blog articles as carrying their greatest weight;
  • Mid-market influencers, mid-market decision-makers, and enterprise influencers don’t see any of the content types as being at their most helpful point during the pre-sales phase; and
  • Enterprise decision-makers find blog articles and infographics to be offering their greatest influence during this stage.

Initial Sales

  • Small business influencers consider infographics, case studies, and white papers to be at their most helpful during this phase, while small business-decision makers agree in each respect except for the case studies;
  • Mid-market influencers tend to see most content types – blog articles, infographics, video, case studies, and white papers – as being most helpful during this stage;
  • Mid-market decision-makers find that blog articles, infographics, videos, and white papers are more influential at this stage than at any other;
  • Enterprise influencers consider blog articles, infographics, videos, case studies, and white papers to be most influential at this stage; and
  • Enterprise decision-makers perceive infographics, videos, and white papers to be at their most helpful during this stage.

Mid-Sales

  • For small business influencers, this is the phase when blog articles are their most helpful, while small business decision-makers see videos and case studies as carrying their biggest influence during this phase;
  • Mid-market influencers tend to see detailed tech guides as being their most helpful during this stage, while decision-makers agree and add case studies as having their greatest influence at this point;
  • Enterprise influencers and decision-makers each consider detailed technology guides to be most helpful at this point, with decision-makers also believing that case studies are most important at this stage.

Final Sales Process

  • None of the personas considered any of the content types to be most helpful during this stage, as buyers appear to see each type of collateral as being most important during earlier phases of the sales cycle.

Conclusion

As a content marketer, delivering the types of content that your audience finds the most influential to consume helps to meet their needs. By relying on the personas you created previously, as well as tailoring the types of content you deliver, and when you can maximize your efforts and help them progress through to the next phase of their buying cycle -- and, ultimately, to convert them into customers.

Aug 31 2016
Aug 31

Drupal 8 includes more than 200 new features and enhancements for developers, and there’s been no shortage of information on the technical advantages of upgrading. But the benefits will extend beyond your business’ development team -- they will be enjoyed by your marketing team as well. 

Forrester outlined four imperatives to establish a new competitive advantage as your business progresses into its digital future, and how Drupal can help you develop them.  They are:

  • Turn big data into business insights.
    Data is important, but what’s more important is being able to analyze it to derive actionable insights for your business. Drupal 8 provides a stronger foundation for enabling companies to collect data and deliver better data-driven web, mobile, and social experiences.
     
  • Embrace the mobile mind shift.
    Providing targeted mobile experiences in the right context at the right time is critical, especially when cultivating customer loyalty. Drupal 8 is built with mobile-first initiatives in mind, enabling responsive experiences across devices and supporting mobile apps.
     
  • Transform the customer experience.
    Transformation is the process of adapting the user’s experience so that they get the most out of it when, where, and how they want to. Drupal 8 helps administrators make changes quickly, effectively, and efficiently to deliver engaging customer experiences.
     
  • Accelerate your digital business.
    How fast can you move in a world that’s evolving faster than anyone can anticipate? Having the ability to stay ahead of your customer’s needs is critical. Drupal 8 is an engine for innovation, not just a tool for building static sites and pages. It recognizes that digital is more than just marketing -- digital is your business.

In addition to the fundamental benefits of Drupal Core, Drupal 8 has many specific new features and upgrades “that make it a more user-friendly, responsive, flexible, and integrable platform” for your business.

  • Authoring is the cornerstone of the enhanced administrator experience in Drupal 8. In addition to a WYSIWYG editor, it provides in-line and in-context editing directly on the page. This is a huge advantage for people who need to manage content on a website, particularly simple edits, especially those who may not be technically inclined.
     
  • Drupal 8 is built to be fully responsive out-of-the-box. You can use the platform to deliver enhanced experiences on any device, or anywhere else that your business’ content and data need to flow -- today and in the future.
     
  • Flexible Content Delivery is another primary feature of Drupal 8. The power of using Drupal as your content management platform really emerges when it enables you to create and deliver content as a service to any channel, device, or application, or when you integrate content from other sources into Drupal. In the emerging API economy, Drupal is the engine that will empower businesses to maximize this currency.
     
  • Translation and localization are much easier with Drupal 8, as the platform natively supports options from the authoring side, and the customizable interface features dozens of languages. It can also support your business processes around language translation and localization -- for example, integration with external translation service providers.
     
  • In the growing ecosystem of connected digital services, integrations are increasingly important for both your marketing team and your business as a whole. Drupal 8 provides the foundation for content and digital experience management because it enables integrations with leading marketing technologies. It gives your business the freedom and flexibility to choose what technologies you want to employ, from marketing automation to email software.

Finally, and perhaps the most prominent and exciting feature of Drupal 8, is the Drupal community itself. It’s the hundreds of thousands of developers who contribute code and support to the community, ensuring that the open-source platform will continue to evolve to respond to the needs of your business.

Aug 26 2016
Aug 26

A squeeze page is a type of opt-in email landing page designed to do one single thing: "squeeze" email addresses and other information from prospective subscribers. 

Squeeze Page Designs

Squeeze pages typically do not feature a lot of content. Most feature a simple rectangular box filled with offering a free resource, download, audio file, ebook, etc. in exchange for an email address. Pages visually look similar to modal pop-ups or interstitial ads that appear a few seconds after a user lands on a page or when they start to scroll down the page. Most users find ads annoying. The key is to offer a valuable resource to right, target prospects and when you can, at the right time too. Time can be day week and time of day. 

Example Squeeze Page
(image source)

Creating a Squeeze Page Offer

Your squeeze page offer is your lure. It needs to present a significant "must-have" resource or, your bait. The best pages target segmented users and depend on knowing what kind of resources they need right now.

Protip:  With so much free information available, your offer needs to outclass the competition and stand out from the crowd with your audience. Try to keep the resource content to a usable digital format, preferably something unique your users can't even get from your competitors (this strategy works well for gated content and landing pages too). If and when you can, take a dive into personalization strategies that may help you get further ahead.

Keep a Highly Focused Page

Successful squeeze pages intentionally lack Google Ads and other forms of advertising. They also limit any outbound links except those pointing back to their primary website. What makes a successful squeeze page is the lack of distractions to the user; their sights are set on the offer presented and what to do next. 

Protip:  The offer should be clear and to the point. Try not to confuse a squeeze page is not a sales page, remember they're opt-in email landing pages. Adding too much text will lose your prospective user and defeat your page's objective. Present your offer clearly and make it apparent that their email address is required to receive it.

Make it Easy to Decline

There's no point in making it hard for people to decline offers. When you do, web users are quick to visit neighboring competitors to get more accessible information. Some squeeze page strategies make it too difficult to leave when users decline to take the offer or resource. Users will close the browser tab or browser itself then start over, looking elsewhere for similar, free resources (making it all the more important to double check your resource against competitor offers).  

Wrap Up...

When it comes to creating a rewarding squeeze page brevity is reigns supreme. The average squeeze page contains anywhere from 150 to 450 words, and they're easy; easy to consume and execute the single most important next step, entering an email address.

Last Protip:  look towards modules within your content management system. Drupal offers more than few modules to help you like Panels, Custom Landing Page Builder and  Squeeze Page modules.

Are you considering adding a squeeze page to your content marketing efforts? Share you questions with us!

Aug 26 2016
Aug 26

Previously in our blog, we discussed the five basics of content marketing. The first of these five basics of content marketing is understanding your audience. You can create all of the killer content you can, but if you don’t know who your audience is, what problems your business can solve for them, and where and how they’re consuming your content, then you risk it missing the mark entirely and falling into the internet’s ether.

Before you create any content, it’s important to understand who will be consuming it and why. You need to know your audience. Building a profile of your typical customer, both prospective and active, will help you to focus your content and better target your specific audience. These profiles are called personas.

 

Research conducted by MarketingSherpa found that only about 41% of B2B organizations have established buyer personas and that they “could benefit from learning best practices to either create or adjust existing personae as their market so that they can gain greater relevance for their communications strategies.”

To discover what these best practices are, they surveyed over 1,700 B2B marketers to find out which tactics were the most useful in constructing their business’ personas:

 

And once you know who your audience is, you can better identify what problems they may be looking to your business to solve.

Ok, but What is a Persona?

A buyer persona is “a composite sketch of a key segment of your market.” For content marketers, this is important to help inform the types of content that should be created and where in the buying cycle it should be presented to provide the most value to the audience. Without personas, this process is little more than guesswork and intuition; however, by constructing personas based on empirical research, content marketers can take an evidence-based approach to content creation.

So how do we build our personas?

Not Just Who, but What and Why

First, start to picture your ideal customer.

  • Who are they?
  • What is their job title
  • What industry do they work in
  • What might their typical day look like?

These are the basic questions to ask to start to build the foundation.

Next, if you have any performance metrics on your current audience available, pull them to help you paint a picture of what content they consume and how they consume it.

  • What device and platform did they access your website with?
  • What time of the day are they most likely to visit your website?
  • How much of the content on your website did they consume during their visit?
  • What journey did they take to visit and navigate through your website?

Then, consider what those answers might tell you about what their role is in their business’ purchasing process.

  • Are they doing preliminary research and presenting options to their management or do they make purchasing decisions themselves?
  • What challenges do they face most often and how might your product or service overcome them?
  • How far along are they in their decision-making process?

Finally, consider who or what else might influence their purchasing decision.

  • Who do they trust to deliver the content they consume the most often?
  • Are they more likely to place greater value on word-of-mouth from people they know personally or industry thought leaders?
  • Are there other events that might trigger or otherwise influence their purchasing decision?

How you answer these questions will help you to understand who your audience is, what content you can create to appeal to them specifically, and how you can best deliver it to intervene in their buying cycle as early as possible.

Know Your Audience

Now that you know how to build a persona, where can you source the information you need to do it? The Content Marketing Institute suggests the following seven ways to research your audience:

Conclusion

Remember that like the content you create, your personas should be revisited and refined as new information becomes available. Like your content marketing plan, understanding your audience is an ongoing process that benefits from being continuously refined. With each new piece of content, you publish, new metrics become available to you that help tell your audience’s story.

Aug 26 2016
Aug 26

So What Is Content Marketing?

Traditional marketing methods of the past have become outdated as audiences have lost interest and become more savvy in tuning them out. From browser-based ad blockers to streaming content online, ads have been relegated to the periphery at best, leading to low conversion rates, decreased traffic, and a lower return on investment.

With over two million blog posts being published on the internet per day and publishing powerhouses like the Huffington Post updating over a thousand, it’s easy to get lost in the signal to noise ratio.

To counter this, many businesses are choosing to implement more creative strategies that better engage their audiences. Delivering content that educates and informs helps to establish the company as experts in their field, increasing their credibility and shortening the sales cycle. And pumping out all of this content is no small (or cheap) feat either -- more time, money, and resources are being spent as:

  • 35% of businesses have a documented content strategy;
  • 42% of businesses will publish new content at least weekly; and,
  • 55% of businesses will increase their content marketing spend in the next year.

The most effective of these strategies is content marketing, but what exactly is content marketing? Content marketing is “the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” In other words, instead of pitching your products or services directly, you’re delivering information that provides value to your audience and that they, in turn, will reward you with their business.

Content marketing is a targeted strategy that involves creating insightful, engaging, and compelling content with the goal of increasing audience loyalty to create opportunities to convert them to customers.

The Five Basics of Content Marketing

We’ve recently explored some content marketing topics, including tools to automate your content production workflows and how to take advantage of Drupal’s content marketing modules, but none of the more advanced tips will help you if you don’t have the basics covered first.

The Content Marketing Institute outlined the five basics of content marketing:

1.  Understand your audience

Before you create your content, you need to understand who will be consuming it and why. To help answer this, many companies will create customer personas -- profiles of who their typical customer is, as well as who they want to target as new customers. And how are personas created? According to a survey conducted by MarketingSherpa, the most common tactics are:

  • Interviewing prospects and/or customers;
  • Interviewing sales teams;
  • Surveying prospects and/or customers;
  • Mining in-house databases to identify characteristics of best and/or worst customers;
  • Evaluating web analytics reports;
  • Interviewing customer service teams;
  • Using keyword research to identify topics of interest; and,
  • Monitoring activity on social media sites.

Once you know who your customer is, you can better identify what problems they may be looking to your business to solve.

2.  Map the content to the sales cycle

As a marketer, your job is not just to create content that appeals to the persona(s) you constructed in step one, but to tailor it to help them progress through each stage of the sales cycle.

For example, if your product is a piece of software, then the content you create to appeal to a prospective customer who is considering purchasing a single-use license will differ greatly from what you produce to appeal to a CTO who is evaluating enterprise-level SaaS solutions. Or at least it should!

This step is supported by data. MarketingCharts analyzed six different content types and how useful the survey’s respondents found them during each stage of their buying cycle:

 

Here are the specific types of content that their results indicated you should produce at each stage:

  • Awareness -- blog posts, white papers, educational webinars, and infographics
;
  • Evaluation -- case studies, product webinars, videos, and technology guides
; and,
  • Purchase -- implementation guides, free trials, and live demonstrations

Forbes compiled the following content matrix, mapping various content types against the stages of the sales cycle vis-à-vis general persona types (emotional versus rational):

 

3.  Create the content

Now that you understand who your prospective customers are and what type of content to deliver to them at the different stages of the sales cycle, you’re ready to create the content.

A report by the CMO Council and NetLine looked at the content types that are most valued by B2B audiences and ranked them as follows:

 

And another study, this one by serpIQ, looked at different content lengths and how they ranked on Google:

 

Longer content is also shared more often on social networks:

 

And finally, longer content will also help you get more inbound links, helping with your SEO efforts:

 

4.  Promote the content

Unfortunately, just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. You have the content, but you still have to market it!

At a minimum, you should be promoting your content on all of your social networks. And if your content resonates with your audience, then they’ll share it too. Of course, not all content lends itself well to the short attention spans of social media -- for example, a white paper may not translate well to 140 characters. In these cases, you may want to consider other amplification methods such as Google AdWords campaigns, paid promoted posts on social media, or email marketing campaigns.

Ideally, though, you’re creating enough content to appeal to your audience in the early stages of the sales cycle, which tends to be more easily digestible and sharable.

5.  Measure and analyze the content

Measuring how your content performs against your own success metrics will help you craft more engaging content that better connects with your audience in the future.

  • What types of content are shared most often?
  • What types of content are read most often?
  • What keywords or search terms did your audience use to find your content?
  • And most importantly, how many leads did your content generate?

As you learn more about your audience -- who they are, what types of content they consume, and how they consume it -- and you answer the questions above, you can continually refine any new content you create to better target them and convert more prospects into customers.

Conclusion

Your content marketing plan doesn’t have to be complicated, but neglecting it will result in you pushing random content to undefined audiences -- and wasting your company’s time and resources. But by understanding the basics of content marketing, you will be able to better identify who your audience is and intervene earlier in their buying cycle to establish your product or service as the solution to their problem -- even if they don’t know what problem they need solved before they engage with you.

Aug 20 2016
Aug 20

At its most basic, content marketing is about maintaining or changing consumer behaviour. Or more elaborately, it’s “a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience -- with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

The operative word here, of course, is ‘valuable’ -- it’s what separates content marketing from broader streams of advertising or marketing. How can you recognize the difference? If people actively seek it out and want to consume it rather than avoid it, it’s content marketing.

Your Customer’s Buying Cycle

Now that we understand what content marketing is, let’s look at why it’s important. First, we need to understand the four steps of a typical customer’s buying cycle:

  1. Awareness. Your customer may have a need, but they may not be aware that there is a solution;
  2. Research. Once your potential customer is aware that there is a solution, they will perform research to educate themselves;
  3. Consideration. At this point, your customer starts comparing different products for quality and price; and,
  4. Buy. Finally, your customer makes their decision and moves forward with the transaction.

Traditional advertising and marketing are great at responding to the second and third steps in the buying cycle, but content marketing works as an early intervention. It connects with potential customers before they may be aware of the solution to their need.

Your Customer’s Needs are Your Business’ Needs

The entire marketing process, including content, drives towards three goals:

  • Customer loyalty and retention;
  • Activating latent demand; and,
  • Driving conversions.

No single piece of content can achieve all three of these goals, no matter how compelling. Instead, all of your organization’s content must be planned and executed strategically to advance towards your goals as a whole. 

As David Zbar, Senior Vice President, Digital at Marshall Fenn Communications argues, “Content marketing will become increasingly more important for businesses. If you can change a person’s behavior, meet their needs, and provide value at every turn along their journey, you have a great chance of earning their loyalty and their business.”

And while it’s true that content marketing should prioritize your customer’s needs over your business’, it’s by meeting your customer’s needs that you’ll best meet those of your business.

For example, a brand is able to influence their customer’s behaviour by delivering content that recognizes and addresses their specific needs -- and that establishes their product or service as the solution. This happens by:

  • Building an emotional connection;
  • Inspiring feelings;
  • Building trust; and,
  • Giving a positive user experience.

Content Marketing Done Right with Drupal

Finding the right content management system (CMS) for your team can be a challenge at best. Some are limited in their flexibility, options, workflows, and in the types of content that can be created with them for your website. Balancing your needs with your CMS’ control is essential to empowering your marketing team to connect with your customers and execute your content marketing strategies online. 

In our experience, we have found that Drupal strikes this balance best and is the solution that we most often recommend. And the ability to expand the CMS by adding modules allows us to customize both the administrative and customer’s user experience.

Here are some of the modules that can augment and enhance your content marketing efforts on your Drupal website.

Content Analysis

 

The Content Analysis module is an API designed to help other modules that need to analyze content. It enables a suite of content analyzers to provide multiple views into the content on your website. The current list of compatible analyzing modules includes:

  • Quick SEO -- provides a quick and easy analysis of content to help your site rank better in the search engines for a specific keyword;
  • Scribe SEO -- provides advanced analysis of content to help your site rank better in search engines, as well as keyword extraction and guidance;
  • Readability -- designed to help copywriters and editors develop more consistently readable content by performing five popular automated readability tests that provide a grade level equivalency of the difficulty of a page's readability; and,
  • Keyword Research -- provides intelligence to help you explore, analyze, and select stronger keyword phrases for your content and enables you to quickly and easily organize your targeted keywords and tag pages.

HubSpot

 

HubSpot is an inbound marketing software platform that helps attract visitors, convert leads, and close customers. Their module integrates with Webform and the HubSpot API to submit directly to HubSpot's lead management system.

For example, a Webform-based contact form on your website can send its data to HubSpot, where you may already track potential clients and contacts; or a Webform-based e-newsletter signup could send the lead to HubSpot's targeted marketing system, letting you automatically deploy your pre-existing email campaigns.

Panels

Panels allows website administrators to create custom layouts for different uses through a drag-and-drop interface. The content manager then lets you enter content within your layout and integration with other systems allows you to create nodes, landing pages, and even override system pages such as taxonomies and nodes to enable finely tuned customization of your website.

SEO Checklist

 

Using industry best practices, SEO Checklist creates an actionable checklist for website administrators. It breaks the tasks down into functional needs like title tags, paths, content, etc. and next to each task are links to download any required modules from drupal.org and to the proper administration section of your website to properly configure the settings.

SEO Checklist tracks also tracks your progress by time-stamping each item as you complete it and generates simple status reports to share with your team.

Silverpop Engage

 

This module integrates Silverpop's tracking API and XML API to track your website’s users through various flows and levels of engagement. Engage offers sophisticated marketing automation product capabilities that leverage behaviors, maximize campaign effectiveness, help to and drive revenue.

Views

One of the most popular Drupal modules, it allows administrators and designers to create, manage, and display lists of content. Each list managed by Views is called a "view", and the output of a view is called a "display". Displays are provided in either block or page form, and a single view may have multiple displays. 

Some examples of how Views can help you include:

  • Re-sorting the default front page view;
  • Re-sorting the default taxonomy/term view;
  • Restricting /tracker to posts of a certain type;
  • Customizing the way the 'article' module displays articles;
  • Display a block with the five most recent posts of a particular type;
  • Provide 'unread forum posts'; or,
  • You want a monthly archive similar to the typical Movable Type/Wordpress archives that displays a link to the in the form of "Month, YYYY (X)" where X is the number of posts that month, and displays them in a block.

Widgets

 

The Widgets module enables you to manage and configure snippets of code, such as share and follow buttons, Twitter updates, and Facebook like boxes. It adds an interface that’s similar to core’s image styles, helping you to organize and configure various widget elements more easily. These elements can then be assembled into widget sets, which can be reused throughout the site via blocks and other render displays.

The Widgets module is primarily a user interface API, so it only includes generic markup widgets. You can add new custom widgets using the widget definition admin, or enable modules that provide widgets such as the Social Media and Service Links modules.

Workbench

Workbench provides overall improvements for managing content that Drupal does not provide out of the box. The module incorporates contributing modules, which must be installed separately to enable their functions:

  • Workbench Access -- provide hierarchical permissions across "Sections" of your website. You can use menus, taxonomy, or create your own hierarchical structure for controlling access to a piece of content;
  • Workbench Moderation -- a flexible system that provides default workflow states like Drafts, Needs Review, and Published, or you can change these states to suit your editorial needs; and,
  • Workbench Media -- adds a workflow for creating media just as you would any other content type.

As well as features on its own:

  • Hierarchical permission inheritance by ‘Sections’, not just content types;
  • Extensible workflow states;
  • Single repository for media management; and,
  • Modify live content without publishing changes immediately.

Engage Your Customers with Compelling Content

Consumers are increasingly avoiding traditional advertising and marketing, whether by browser-based ad blockers, DVRs or downloading ad-free content, or simply ignoring it. Smart marketers understand that there is a better way to engage their customers -- content marketing. By creating and curating compelling content that adds value for their customers, marketers can influence the behaviours of their now-captive audience. 

By its nature, content marketing is non-disruptive. Instead of pitching a hard-sell, content that educates and informs customers is delivered earlier in the buying cycle. To ensure that your marketing efforts are targeting your customers, integrating content marketing modules into your Drupal website will help build the platform to deliver the right message in the right way.

Aug 20 2016
Aug 20

Flat-lining content experiences and withering conversion rates can be the kiss of death to almost any website. When content experiences deteriorate one issue seems to make an appearance time and time again: the amount of time and resources required to produce and manage content marketing initiatives. Among the many best practices and strategies that will accelerate growth includes the all-powerful move towards productivity automation. 

Content Marketing: Productivity Automation

Automation is a powerful weapon when you're combating content production and management issues. The best ones reduce the day-to-day administrative minutia, and allow us to cache our time; sparing some and reallocating it towards say, exploring better lead generation and nurturing efforts. 

Luckily, there's a lot of tools (paid and free) available that will help you deliver better content experiences and achieve more efficient content marketing workflows. If you want to maximize your production workflows, consider intermixing content marketing tools into your content strategy plan. To help you along, I'll share and review some of my favorite content marketing tools:

  1. Affinio
  2. Swipe
  3. interakt
  4. OptinMonster
  5. Publet

Tool 1:  Affinio

Affinio will help you discover segmented groupings within your followers or subscribers. What does it mean for you? It empowers content marketing efforts by helping you learn your site's unique content engagement patterns using segments from your existing social communities. Affinio lovingly refers to these audience segments as 'tribes', and the platform will find them for you. Tribes are based on user interests, rather than focusing solely on some associated company. Affinio will help you discover how these tribes interact with your content and uncover the best distribution channels for your tribes. 

When you need insights based on audience segmentation or reliable data and unique analytics to help inform your content marketing plans, Affinio is worth a deep dive.

Affinio.com   |    Image Source: Affinio Sample Report

Core Features:

  • Audience Segmentation & Affinities
  • Content Insights
  • Twitter Advertising
  • Digital Media Planning
  • Monitoring & Reporting (Data)

Tool Pricing:

Affinio offers different plans and pricing levels based on platform edition. 

Tool 2:  Swipe

Swipe (not to be confused with the keyboard app Swype) is a presentation app, but don't be fooled, it's not just any prezzo app. Swipe lets you instantly screen-share presentations in real-time without any downloads. Instead, you share a simple URL link. 

This prezzo platform allows you to create responsive presentations and import different files from PDFs and images to Vimeo and Youtube videos. Swipe files are transferred and housed using an SSL (secure) connection, and they accessible to multiple team members in real-time. For example, Swipe gives presentation owners the ability to see who's opening files and how times it's been viewed.

Swipe.to   |   Image Source

Core Features:

  • Responsive presentations
  • Secure SSL accounts & uploads 
  • No downloads or installs
  • No limits on file sizes
  • Integrates with Google Analytics
  • Includes real-time features like interactive polls

Tool Pricing:

Swipe accounts are free, and they offer different packages and pricing based on your needs. Their base package is free, and they offer a Pro package at $20/month, and a Business package slated for launch this year at $50/month.  

Tool 3:  interakt 

This one's a favorite. We all deal with the issue of "too much" in some way.  In the world of content marketing and digital strategy, sometimes even the tools are "too much".  Enter interakt, an impressive and favorite content marketing and management tool. interakt provides a suite of powerful tools for content marketers and strategists. 

Image Source

The first and most important thing it will do is centralize data from third-party marketing services like HubSpot, MailChimp, ZenDesk and more. The data interakt provides you is a unified view of your digital properties and how it's all performing.  From there, interakt will help you track interactions, capture new leads, nurture existing clients and retain your marketing momentum.

interakt also consolidates other content marketing workflows and gives business more growth-forward features (or apps as iterkat refers to them) like the ability to send certain users different offers and notifications or, creating and sending email campaigns and deploying real-time customer support from your site to your website visitors. Instead of utilizing multiple third-party service dashboards to manage customers and evolving marketing efforts, you can use interakt's all-in-one platform to centralize popular content marketing tools and streamline workflows

Interakt.co   |   Image Source

interakt Apps:

  • Leads - discover, acquire, and segment leads
  • Users - collect user info and create data-rich profiles and segments
  • Email - create automated, commerce-enabled marketing campaigns
  • Live Chat - facilitate real-time engagements via live chat
  • Notifications - launch data-driven notifications
  • Helpdesk - introduce a customer feedback system
  • FAQ - connect customers with answers fast

Tool Pricing:

interakt offers a few packages. If you're churning out your own, personal project, interakt happily and thankfully offers a "Free Forever" plan otherwise you can choose from a few different cost-effective plans. Two constructive notes:  

  1. interakt offers a 14-day trial at not commitment and without sharing any credit cards -- so test drive it
  2. the company offers a few "Special Plans" for folks who might be out of the standard pricing structure (market verticals accounted for - check!).

Tool 4: OptinMonster

If you're interested in growing and nurturing sales leads and testing possible solutions, say hello to OptinMonster. This dynamic tool offers multiple resources including customizable lead generation forms, exit banners, customer segmenting tools, and A/B testing tools. OptinMonster works with considerable third-party services like Marketo, HubSpot, MailChip, and SalesForce, to CMS frameworks like Drupal, and eCommerce platforms like Shopify. 

OptinMonster.com   |   Image Source

Core Features:

  • Create best-practice based conversion forms fast
  • Launch engagement lightbox modals and timed pop-ups
  • Create aAudience segments and get new insights
  • A/B Split Testing with Data-Driven Reports

Tool Pricing:

OptinMonster offers packages starting at $49/year (you get unlimited OptIn forms and a ton of features for the price). If you need a professional-grade solution all the bell and whistles (including support) you're looking at $199/year; the ROI is worth it. 

Tool 5: Publet

Publet takes undiscoverable content stuck behind landing pages and gated PDFs and allows you to extract hundreds of snippets for social media or email. Readers can find and share parts of your B2B materials anywhere on the web. You exponentially increase discoverability of your content while converting more leads with smarter gates. 

Publet lets you turn mission-critical web content into discoverable tidbits like white papers, case studies, ebooks PDF files and more. Publet provides analytics and metrics on visitors so you'll  know exactly how your content is resonating with your audience. All Publet files are optimized for SEO, so you can increase your business' indexed content simply by integrating Publet into your content marketing strategy.

Publet.com   |   Image Source

Tool Features:

  • Generate leads
  • Monitor customer behaviors
  • Deploy responsive content
  • No HTML or Java or custom code required

Tool Pricing:

If you're interested in Publet, you'll have to schedule a demo to get more info on pricing.

Wrap Up

You can offer premium products or services, but if you're not completely focused on ongoing growth, your conversions are going to plateau. By using a few smart content marketing and productivity automation tools, you can increase the strategic and creative time it takes to launch profitable marketing initiatives.  Whether you want to double-down on lead generation or ramp up your SEO strategies, intelligent resources like those shared above can have a significant impact on your company's bottom line. 

Aug 19 2016
Aug 19

One of the most useful features of Drupal 8 is the migration framework in core, and there are already plenty of plugins to work with different sources that are available in contributed modules. 

When writing your own code, it must always be debugged. As migrations can only be started with Drush, the debugging can be a bit challenging. And it gets even more interesting when you develop your website in a Vagrant box. 

In this tutorial, we will go through setting up xDebug and PhpStorm to debug your migrations.

At a glance, the setup consists of:

  • Adding a PHP interpreter (Vagrant or SSH) in PhpStorm;
  • Download drush.phar to docroot; and,
  • Setup PhpStorm configuration for debugging and path mapping.

Let’s explore each item in more detail.

Interpreter

Beginning with PhpStorm 8, this IDE has the ability to set up remote interpreters. Navigate to Default Preferences → Languages & Frameworks; then, you can add new interpreter under PHP.

When you set up an interpreter, you can choose between Vagrant, SFTP Deployment, and SSH Credentials. We have had the most success with SSH Credentials.

Here is what the configuration screen of the Interpreter looks like:

IP address 192.168.56.132 is the address of our local Vagrant box. The credentials are usually vagrant / vagrant.

Drush

The next step is to set up Drush. You have probably installed Drush globally on your Vagrant box. What we need to do is to have Drush inside your docroot folder. It will be used as a script to debug in PhpStorm.

To do that, download drush.phar from https://github.com/drush-ops/drush

First, go to Releases:

And then download the latest version of the drupal.phar file:

Place the file in your docroot folder, next to index.php.

PhpStorm Configuration

Now we are ready to configure PhpStorm for debugging. To do that, create a PHP Script Configuration and point it to the downloaded drush.phar file:

An important note is to click on the “Fix” button in the bottom-right corner to choose our configured interpreter and set up path mappings:

Now you should be good to go! Add a breakpoint in any file involved in migration and start debugging.

For this example, we are using the CIBox setup of Vagrant.

ImageX has extensive experience in migrations to both Drupal 7 and 8. Connect with us below if we can help you with your next migration project.

Aug 13 2016
Aug 13

Optimization is the name of the game this month. I've been spending an extra amount of time across a few well-known optimization tools like Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) and now Google Analytics. One sure bet topic I often field is bounce rates. What are they? Are they accurate? Should we be concerned? In this post, we'll take on Google Analytics and create a tracking code to help your metrics platform deliver more accurate data. 

Bounce Rates Explained

Bounce rate refers to the percentage of site visitors who leave before viewing more than one page at your site. It's a good indication of how well you engage with visitors, and sites with a high bounce rate rarely maximize their revenues.
  
Too many talented content marketers pour their heart into their work. Some days might even leave you hazy. Taking a few simple steps to keep visitors engaging with their content and site long enough so the can secure a conversion. However, there are several simple steps you can take to stop people bouncing away into digital oblivion:

1. Be Realistic About Your Target Bounce Rate 

The first thing to note about achieving an optimal bounce rate is that each website will naturally have different bounce rates. For example, a well-constructed eCommerce store will tend to have a bounce rate around 35 percent. For ordinary bloggers, achieving a rate of lower than 70 percent is exceptional, so don't be too concerned if you see higher rates than that.

2. Learn How to Adjust Your Bounce Rate 

When you log into Google Analytics or other web analysis tools, at a glance you’ll see a basic bounce rate. Take this number with a grain of salt as it isn't the most accurate metric for website owners to make strategic decisions around. That's because many people visit a single page, read it at length and then convert by subscribing or signing up for further services. You need to weed those visitors out to separate them from genuine "bounces".
  
To do this, alter the Google Analytics tracking code on your blog site. At the end of the tracking code, you can add a line of code similar to:
 

setTimeout("ga('send','event','Qualified Engagement','time on page more than 40 seconds')",40000);

or 

setTimeout("_gaq.push(['_Qualified Engagement', '40_seconds', 'read'])",40000);

To give you an idea of where this line is added, here’s an example code snippet:

<script type="text/javascript">
  var _gaq = _gaq || [];
  _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-XXXXXXX-1']);
  _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']);
  setTimeout("_gaq.push(['_trackEvent',40_seconds', 'read'])",40000);
  (function() {
    var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true;
    ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' : 'http://www') + '.google-analytics.com/ga.js';
    var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);
  })();
</script>

This code tells Google Analytics to separate people who stay longer than 40 seconds (or 40000 milliseconds) from those who stay for a shorter period. It sets up a Google Analytics alert, which you can then find on your Analytics dashboard. The time used above is purely an example. This portion of the code is fairly flexible; you can adjust the time minutes to seconds, increase the number or, decrease the number. 

PROTIP #1:  The amount of time you’ll want to use should depend on your unique website and how long it may take your individual users to decide if they’ll stay or, “bounce.” Your new, adjusted bounce rate won’t paint a 100% precise picture of your bounce rate, in fact, it might be nearly impossible, but it will give you a stronger, more accurate representation of your site’s bounce rate. 

PROTIP #2:  Give this tracking event ('_trackEvent') a strong and relevant name such as: '_Qualified Engagement'. “Qualified Engagement” or “Profitable Engagement” are widely used naming conventions for this type of analytics tracking event.

Your adjusted bounce rate is the only bounce rate that matters (pending the discovery of a 100% precise method). If you need a little more background information on creating your setTimeout line of code, you may find the insights shared by Rob Beirne of Moz to be a convenient stop along your journey.

3. Uncover Where Your Low-Quality Traffic is Coming From 

You need to uncover why people are not staying for long periods of time. One common reason is who they are and where they come from. Check each of your traffic sources (such as Google searches, Facebook, ads, Twitter, other blogs) and find out whether any of them are underperforming.
  
You may have linked these traffic sources to the wrong keywords, in which case you might want to try a different keyword strategy for future campaigns. Alternatively, they may just be the wrong place to promote your blog. If so, don't be afraid to cut them loose.

4. Ensure Your Content Is Relevant to Your Users' Interests 

Sometimes, people leave blogs quickly because the content on the site doesn't match up to what they were searching for. Stuffing valuable keywords into text that doesn't refer directly to those terms is a sure-fire route to a high bounce rate, so try to keep your keywords tightly focused on the actual content.
  
If visitors come from the banner or pop-up ads that contain a call-to-action (CTA), make sure that the CTA syncs up with the content of your landing pages. If not, visitors are not likely to stick around to work out why they were sent to an irrelevant page.

5. Make It Easy to (Want to) Spend Time on Your Pages 

Usability is a key factor in reducing your bounce rate. If a site is well laid-out, visitors will be much more likely to click on other links and start to explore the site in general. It's also a good idea to draw visitors' attention to your own CTA, which could be anything from a signup form to social media like buttons. Whatever form of CTA you use, signpost it in your text and make the links or buttons clearly visible.
  
Make good use of graphics as well. Blogs with attractive, relevant photos, videos or infographics have a much lower bounce rate than those consisting of pure text. Formatting that text is also important. Break it up, with short paragraphs and plenty of white space. Use a font that is large enough to make your text readable, and place it on a background that doesn't make it difficult to read.
  
Optimizing your blog template for mobile devices is another must. These days, most of your hits will probably come from tablets or smartphone users, so consider implementing a responsive design.

6. Create High Quality, Sticky Content 

This is the key factor in achieving a low bounce rate. Fundamentally, if people don't like what they read when they visit your blog, they aren't going to explore your previous postings. You need to give them a reason to engage with your site and your business before they will convert, making it crucial to write fluent, relevant content that meets their needs.
  
Make sure that this content is also linked to other postings. That way, you can guide visitors to other parts of the site, allowing them to form a picture of who you are and what you have to offer. But don't link indiscriminately. Only link to relevant pages that add value to what users have already read. Tags are also useful in making sites easier to navigate.

7. Include Dynamic Feedback Systems to Analyze Your Results 

There's no point trying to make your site or page as sticky as possible if you don't collect data about whether your strategy is working. Google Analytics is useful, but it can only take you so far. It's also vital to get a sense of the user experience that your site provides.
  
One good idea is to add thumbs-up or thumbs-down buttons at the end of each posting. If users like what they have read, they can approve (or vice versa), and this info can allow you to make future postings more efficient. Comments forms also provide qualitative feedback that can be invaluable.
  
With these kinds of dynamic feedback systems in place, you can start to build a picture of how well your blog is engaging visitors. Instead of bouncing them back to search engines or social media platforms, you will soon be able to engage them in your work. Before too long, that engagement will result in profitable conversions.

Wrap Up

Don't just create content and rely on "what you see is what you get" bounce rate data. Create content smartly and help your bounce rate return more accurate data. Using a little analytical work and paying attention to web optimization, you can boost engagement and turn casual visitors into loyal users.

Aug 12 2016
Aug 12

Nothing in life is perfect (now there's well-known idiom). Depending on how you look at it, it can be an awesome thing. Take Google for example; they're continually innovating and improving services including Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools as of May 2015). This post provides an introduction to Google Search Console "Property Sets", how to set them up and a few insightful limitations.

An Intro to Google Search Console

The Google Search Console provides some free tools that helps webmasters and site admins ensure the search engine is aware of all their pages. It lets you check your indexing status and helps you optimize your site's visibility for better positioning on their Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs).

Google Search Console is a useful source of analytical data, but it comes with its limitations, like the fact that it could only report data on a property-by-property basis. A "property" is a website or app. Thanks to this extraordinary age of digital devices and web strategies like localization (geo-targeting),  some properties now come in more and more versions. Historically, site administrators would add properties individually, as a separate version of the site. It can be a stodgy and tedious process when your web property footprint spans a few city blocks (digitally speaking). 

Once all the properties identified, Google Search Console was unable to combine multiple sets of data (accounting for site variations) into a single report; it was quite an annoyance for admins. In May 2016 Google introduced a solution to the finger-breaking issue by releasing "Property Sets".

What are Google Search Console "Property Sets"?

A Property Set gives webmasters the ability to connect numerous properties into "sets" and provides combined, analytical data. In fact, you can combine up to 200 properties including apps and different versions of the same site.

How to Use Google Search Console Sets

Google has made creating a Property Set easy; here it is in 3 basic steps:

  1. First, you need to be logged in to your Google Search Console Account.  If you're new to Google Search Console, find help setting up your Search Console account here.
     
  2. Once you're logged into your Search Console account, find and click "Create a set" from the homepage. (image source)
  3. Site admins have the opportunity customize sets by adding name their new set and select all the associated properties they want it to contain. There are a few "basic rules" that apply to property sets such as, you must be a verified restricted user. You can find the rule here. One thing you'll want to take note of: your data won't appear instantly so don't worry if you're not seeing new data for the next few days, its normal.  
    (image source)

Limiting Features of Property Sets

  1. Restrictive Collaboration 
    It's impossible to share a set with someone else, say your team members. Each person will need to create their own, separate version which is particularly limiting for individuals who are not a verified user for all of the properties within a set.
     
  2. Narrow Visibility
    Property Sets only covers search analytics. Site admins who want to h to view manual actions like unnatural links from your site to keyword stuffing issues (see a list of manual actions). To get that data, you'll need to circle back to an individual property view and dive into its data. 

Wrap Up...

The present Google Search Console system certainly brings some much-needed features like Property Sets raising the bar and the ability to view aggregated data and avoiding the arduous process of checking individual properties. Google is constantly refining its products, no doubt new updates and features are on the horizon for Search Console giving us the ability to make more informed and persuasive content experience decisions.

Aug 11 2016
Aug 11

How you communicate with your target audience matters to any bottom line. Sometimes you need a rational message that will appeal to your user's sense of reason, while at other times, you may need to elicit an emotional response from them. Both “reason” and “emotion” are two important concepts in marketing communications, and both are equally persuasive. But did you know that text placement influences how your message is perceived? According to several studies like, "The Influence of Print Advertisement Organization on Affect Toward a Brand Name" by the Journey of Consumer Research (pdf), and a congruent paper published by the Association for Consumer Research, it truly does matter whether you place your text above or below the image in an advertisement.

Both “reason” and “emotion” are two important concepts in marketing communications, and both are equally
persuasive to consumers.

"Metaphorically" Speaking

Reason, or rationality, and emotion are abstract concepts that are large in scope and hard to describe. Using metaphors helps people gain context. In Shakespeare's writing, and even in work as early as that of the ancient Athenian philosopher Plato, characters will point to their head to show they are making a rational decision, and each time you recall someone putting their hand over their heart, they're communicating an emotion. I remember reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a child. The Tin Woodman thinks he's incapable of experiencing emotion because he lacks a heart. The Scarecrow thinks he lacks any intelligence because he's without a brain, and the Cowardly Lion was scared without his courage. Centuries-long use of these types of interpretations has led people to craft conceptual metaphors between head and heart. 

Here are a few more metaphors you've likely heard before:

  • Her voice is music to my ears.
  • Books are the keys to the imagination.
  • Time is money. 

The Association Game

People also use expressions such as "actions speak louder than words" or "don't judge a book by its cover." Several well-known phrases like these are down generationally. What these associative expressions demonstrate is people, historically, unify emotions (the heart) with something rational (the head) to help messages take root.

Protip:  In web, we know to craft messages intended for unique, user segments and some messages will need to target either the head or the heart. Association, to some degree, can still help. 

MARKETING PSYCHOLOGY

Digital marketers are putting a lot of time into understanding who their target audience is and how best to approach them. They're creating content and message that not only the right fit with what interests target audiences but also with how messages can be better absorbed, elicit action, and create optimal content experiences. One example is psychological pricing. It's well known that people prefer odd numbers versus even ones. 

SCIENCE ABOVE MUSIC

In a 2015 study, Cian, Krishna, and Schwarz experimented with the placement of different elements on a web page. Forty-seven participants were shown two different sections of a web page design. The content was about music or science. The participants were asked where on a blank web page they would choose to place that section if they could access the entire page. As it turns out, participants who had the music section put it in a lower position on the web page than the participants who had the science-oriented section. What this study shows, is people naturally associate science (or reason) with a higher position and music (or emotion) with a lower position.

Cian, Krishna, and Schwarz Heatmap study shows users regarding "reason" higher than "emotion"

WRAP UP

Consumer market studies are telling us that people associate reason (the head) with a higher position and emotion (the heart) with a lower position. In web, this means crafting clear, concise messages that get to the point with, the ability to persuade.  Front-loading content is a great strategy to use in ad campaigns, landing page design, PPC and lead generation. It puts "reason" type content first then allows supporting content to follow.

Aug 09 2016
Aug 09
Author:  
Darian Kovacs
Principal, Jelly Digital Marketing and PR

There’s a saying in the movie, Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”

Unfortunately, in the wonderful world of digital, that’s not necessarily true and an in-depth digital strategy is vital for having a successful website launch. Here are a few of the strategies we encourage brands to consider before launching their website to make, it shine in the light it deserves.

Analytics and Goals

Before your website is ready to launch, it’s important to have Google Analytics in place to know where your traffic is coming from, and what your audience is doing when they come to your website. It’s also crucial to have measurable goals in mind before you even begin on your website strategy. What’s the point in having a website without a purpose? Through the goals function of Google Analytics, you can track items such as phone calls, product purchases, newsletter subscriptions or session duration - all of which are great Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to monitor your digital success. Using Google Analytics can help you determine if your website is actually helping you achieve your goals and which marketing initiatives are providing you with the most engaged and converting traffic.

Online Advertising

Like any campaign, you’ll want to target people who are interested in your products and services when you’re ready to launch your website. Qualified leads can be achieved by having an amplification strategy using Google Adwords. Creating broad Adwords campaigns with the hope that anyone and everyone comes to your site likely won’t be helpful to your business, since the data and traffic won’t be hyper targeted or clean, so you’ll want to run a specific Adwords campaign using keywords that pre-qualify your visitors.
 
For example, you can send out a broad online advertisement that says, “New Town Homes in Langley”, which can send plenty of people to your website and generate tons of registrations. As a result, you may be attracting people who might have a different budget outside of yours or looky-loos. The problem with this strategy is the fact that you’re paying for each and every click. But, if the ad says “Town Homes in Langley Starting at $520,000” it pre-qualifies your audience before they come to check out your new website. The visitors that you’re pre-qualifying and click your ad will likely be those who have a budget over $520,000. You’ll then spend less your ads, get more conversions and find yourself with visitors that have genuine interest in what you’re offering.
 
Once you gain some traffic for your site, you can run retargeting ads. Retargeting means that anyone who comes to your site will start seeing ads on other websites that have opted into retargeting. These are also often referred to as “creepy ads”, or “follow me” ads. You can use these ads to remind people to take an action on your site that they might not have during their previous visit. You can even retarget your ads using video, and target one of your YouTube videos to a user after they’ve been to your site.

Public Relations

Another great component to a successful website launch is a solid Public Relations strategy - however, it’s not something that enough brands do, so it’s a great way to celebrate your milestones and successes, and stand apart from your competition. Adding PR to your marketing strategy is like adding a new arm of your business, and it’s something to get excited about!
 
There are numerous avenues for PR, but we always recommend a well planned, personal launch party with targeted press that are interested in your product and share the same values as your brand. Instead of looking at the shotgun PR approach, see it as more of a sniper rifle. Pick out the best outlets to reach out to, personally invite them in a unique way and be sure to give them a reason to be there. Give them something that they can celebrate with you, and give them a great story in return. The best part? Having some press wins alongside your website launch will do wonders for off site SEO, improving your Google ranking, too!

Social Media

With so many brands on social media, it’s important to make sure your brand shines and stands out. Since social media platforms are a hub for millions of users, you can direct traffic to your website through your social media pages. Quality content with great copy and clear, consistent and appealing photos help your brand develop its social media presence.
 
To become more visible online, search the most optimal hashtags for your niche and in the regions you’re targeting, and use them on Instagram and Twitter to increase engagement. Using hashtags allows users that identify with your brand’s voice and interests to find you, engage in your content and increase your following. Be sure to use them strategically and keep them to a small amount to avoid looking spammy. On Facebook, if you find a post is getting a lot of engagement, you can boost the post to increase its visibility. For example, if you’re a B2C company, you may want to boost your posts involving upcoming sales, contests, and promotions to increase page likes, and direct traffic to your website. When using social media, be sure to create good content such as how-tos and blog posts, as well as promotional material that will lead people to your website.
 
Speaking of good content, video content is incredibly supplementary to all other platforms, as it’s sharable on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, and is owned by Google so if you do a great job on YouTube, you look fabulous in the eyes of Google, and your organic ranking will improve. If your brand is able to make great videos that are searched often and engaging for your audience, you can reach them with a solid ranking.

Email Newsletters

Another element to have in place is an email newsletter strategy to let your audience know about what’s going on with your brand and website launch. You can also offer your best customers exclusive offers, and keep them ahead of the curve to make them feel special! Our friends at ImageX will make sure you’re on a great server, so that when people come to your site, it can handle all the new traffic an e-newsletter can bring!
 
Essentials for your newsletter include videos, plenty of valuable links and engaging copy for people to read. Keep your copy simple and to-the-point, so people can be directed to where you want them to be.
 
For e-newsletters, you can hook up Google Analytics with MailChimp, and start a drip campaign. Drip campaign emails are received based on user actions, and how they engage with your newsletters. The more times that someone opens your newsletters and clicks on the links, the more emails they will receive from your brand. In MailChimp, you can personalize emails by automatically inserting names into the greeting and subject line, making it more personalized.

In Review

These are some of the things that Jelly does to amplify a brand online. Let’s quickly recap some main points for you to remember:

  • Ensure that you have measurable goals that are set up accurately through Google Analytics
  • Google Analytics is your best friend
  • Target, and re-target your ads!
  • Throw PR events to celebrate your launches and wins in a big way
  • Get social and use video content
  • Use email newsletters to keep everyone updated

 
Learn more about what we do at Jelly:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_q9zZ8eJIw
 
Follow us at @JellyMarketing 

Jul 28 2016
Jul 28

Last week in higher education was all about technology impacting student outcomes and teaching methodology. This week, the buzz is around the almighty dollar. We’re seeing higher education become one of the focal points of the Democratic party’s 2016 U.S. Presidential election platform. We also found an interesting study that highlighted the usage of “open” textbooks and the impact they can have on student costs.

Did we mention higher education pays? Read on to learn more.

Open Textbooks Gaining Momentum, but Still Need Broader Adoption Strategy

As someone who can still remember the sting of purchasing textbooks every semester, the thought of open textbooks gets me excited. Semester after semester I would scour eBay, hunt classmates on Facebook who had taken the courses I had registered for the previous semester, and grudgingly make my way to the bookstore to pay for the books I couldn’t find used. It was an incredibly painful experience, as even the used books were $75+. And the most frustrating part? It seemed as if every other semester the version of the textbooks would be updated, meaning all of the used books available prior to that were useless, putting high upward pressure on the prices of used books that were in short supply. I often thought, “There has to be a better way than this.”

In a time when tuition prices and student debt levels are getting near constant attention in the media spotlight (more on that below), textbooks are the forgotten cost of doing business for students. It wasn’t uncommon for my books to cost $500 per semester, which was roughly 18% of my tuition.

A new report, “Opening the Textbook: Education Resources in U.S. Higher Education 2015-16”, shed some light on the usage of free or inexpensive “open education resources” (OER).  The study found that 58.1% of faculty members surveyed were not aware of the concept, or where to find alternatives to traditional textbooks. As one might expect, introductory courses offered the highest adoption rate of OER with rates dropping as the courses become increasingly specialized. Although a broader adoption strategy is still required to significantly increase usage rates, it’s exciting to see a more student-focused solution being discussed.

Student Debt: a Hot Topic at the Democratic National Convention

It was hard to miss the prevalence of higher education topics at the DNC this week. The stark contrast between the Democratic party’s view on student debt vs. Donald Trump’s failed “Trump University” initiative was highlighted early and often throughout this week.

We analyzed Hillary Clinton’s “Technology & Innovation Agenda” a few weeks ago, where she promised to lobby for free tuition for kids who come from household incomes below the $125,000 annual threshold. At the time, I openly questioned if the proposal was in direct response to the fierce socialist values that Bernie Sanders supporters were so vocal about, and pending the formal announcement of her nomination as the Democratic party leader, was perhaps Clinton’s way of bridging the gap with Sanders’ supporters and ensuring their votes come November. It would appear I was thinking small with this hypothesis; it was apparent from watching the DNC that the Democrats are going to use higher education, both past experience of the candidates’ and proposed policy, as a way of showcasing their value alignment with the middle class. Trump, on the other hand, is using fear to connect with America’s middle class, capitalizing on the civil unrest and international incidents that have occurred of late. Looking at his website, no mention of higher education appears on his positions page. Could higher education be a lynchpin of this election? We’ll soon find out.

Research Shows Higher Education Still Worth the Investment

The University of Ottawa published a study that reviewed income data for 620,000 graduates from 14 Canadian universities and colleges between 2005 and 2013. The results are what you would expect -- a strong correlation between higher education and both starting income of graduates and earning potential over time.

The study found the average university graduates from 2005 made $45,200 in inflation-adjusted income their first year out of school, with college graduates earning $33,900. By 2013 those salaries had increased to $74,900 and $54,000, respectively. The study shows that attending any form of higher education makes a positive impact on the income of Canadians.

The study did, however, highlight the ongoing wage gap between men and women. With starting wages in 2005 averaging $46,800 and $44,000 for men and women respectively, by 2013 men were earning $89,800 while women only $62,500. The study only reports the wage discrepancy and does not attempt to understand its causation.

Tuition Discounts: It’s on the Rise

U.S. News posted a very interesting read that aggregated several studies on the topic of tuition discounts throughout both private and non-private institutions. 48.6% is the average discount on tuition for first-time, full-time students at private, nonprofit colleges. That means that $0.48 of every $1.00 spent in tuition is returned to the student in the form of a discount, scholarship, or grant.

The article does a great job showcasing the impact of free-market concepts like supply and demand on higher education institutions, noting that the prevalence of discounts is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy with traditional full tuition paying students “rebelling” against paying the sticker price of tuition. Definitely worth the read.

Jul 22 2016
Jul 22

In our weekly roundup of higher education notes and trends, you can usually count on three themes being discussed by the academic community: student demographics, budget constraints, and technology. In this post, we'll expand more on these themes by sharing some of our own insights, and we'll cover a few unique and emerging technology trends across higher education and technology.

Virtual Reality on the Horizon in Higher Education

As a web agency specializing in building high-end websites for colleges and universities, anything technology related that has the potential to impact the sector is sure to get our attention. As a VP at our agency, imagine my enthusiasm when I read Inside Higher Ed’s article on virtual reality in the classroom!

The technology is still in its infancy. As such, it’s oftentimes expensive to produce and procure, so it will likely be years before we see it make any kind of tangible impact in schools. That said, the potential it may have in the future on learning outcomes is significant. Imagine complimenting a history lesson with a virtual reality tour, or studying rock formation in a geology class by seeing it in augmented reality. Expensive field trips? No need! Plug into virtual reality and tour the world right from your seat! Another hypothesized value will be the ability for a truly global classroom where virtual classes can meet “face to face” and work together on problem-solving. 

Technology has come a long way; I remember how excited the classroom would get when the teacher rolling in a bulky tubed-TV meant we’d get to watch a grainy, severely outdated educational video. Kids today - they have no idea how lucky they are.

Machine Learning -- Adapting Content To Complex Higher Education Websites

In a previous blog post, we reviewed an interesting new trend in higher education where learning management systems were starting to predict student outcomes by their usage patterns. That particular article noted the stats that showed that the more a student logged into the system during the first week or two of classes, the higher the probability they would succeed in the class. 

The concept of a “machine learning” has been prevalently used in the commercial sector for years now, with trendsetters like Amazon and Facebook serving up product and advertising suggestions based on your purchase history, “likes” and what websites you’ve visited. But the application for higher education is just as promising.

As a specialized web agency that does most of our work for higher education institutions, we’ve been introducing machine learning or “personalization” concepts to our clients for some time now (if you want to read more about personalization in higher education, check out this blog post we published last year). Higher education websites are what we call “content complex,” meaning they have a large number of distinctly different visitor types (what the web industry calls “personas”) frequenting them. Prospective students, parents of prospective students, enrolled students, parents of enrolled students, faculty and alumni is the best case scenario; often times our clients will have very different types of prospective students who require further segmentation (imagine international students vs. local). How does one landing page identify and speak to six unique types of visitors? Personalization technology, that’s how. 

When used, web personalization technologies can log specific user criteria and attributes such as age, location, purchasing behaviors, social media and more. With user attributes logged and indexed, businesses can deploy unique, adaptive content (even web pages) that are custom tailored to individual users. A sophisticated personalization strategy will have a unique web experience for each type of persona where everything from the content, images, colors and messaging has been tailored for them. As a person engages with the website, the technology “learns” more about what they are looking for and can serve up relevant content to them (just like Amazon suggests products to you based on your search and purchase history). 

Of course, this level of personalization requires a complex and thorough content strategy that many institutions simply do not have (yet). We often recommend simpler ways of personalization such as explicitly asking the user when they arrive who they are as a starting point. This basic framework can be evolved as the content strategy of the website becomes more refined. ImageX believes that personalization will be the foundation of user experience on the web moving forward, much like responsiveness for a mobile experience is today. Getting started on this trend now will make future adaptations that much more efficient.

Native Mobile Apps

It seems like every organization has or wants to have a native app; in some cases for good reason, while others, not so much. If an organization has a customer base that needs to interact with a large and often complex data set or tasks on a frequent basis, a native app is likely a good idea. Mobile banking on an app is a great example; the complexity of a banking website and the volume of content make the mobile experience cumbersome for specific interactions, such as paying bills or transferring money (what people generally refer to as “doing their banking”). A banking app immerses the user in that specific set of tasks, with a light set of complementary content and features. The business case for higher education is, in our opinion, just as strong as it is for mobile banking.

The obvious use case for higher education is current students managing their courses. Class schedules, assignment submissions, reminders for upcoming deadlines or events, test score notifications, paying tuition; you get the point. It wasn’t that long ago I was in University and the student portal my school had wasn’t even mobile responsive; if you couldn’t get to a desktop computer, you were in trouble. Another potential use case we parents here at ImageX often discuss is a parent app for those of us with children in post-secondary. Imagine if we could stay up to speed on children’s class schedule, assignments and grades? Oh, the possibilities…

Like to stay on top of higher education notes and trends? Subscribe to our newsletter below!

Jul 22 2016
Jul 22

In our weekly roundup of higher education notes and trends, you can usually count on three themes being discussed by the academic community: student demographics, budget constraints, and technology. In this post, we'll expand more on these themes by sharing some of our own insights, and we'll cover a few unique and emerging technology trends across higher education and technology.

Virtual Reality on the Horizon in Higher Education

As a web agency specializing in building high-end websites for colleges and universities, anything technology related that has the potential to impact the sector is sure to get our attention. As a VP at our agency, imagine my enthusiasm when I read Inside Higher Ed’s article on virtual reality in the classroom!

The technology is still in its infancy. As such, it’s oftentimes expensive to produce and procure, so it will likely be years before we see it make any kind of tangible impact in schools. That said, the potential it may have in the future on learning outcomes is significant. Imagine complimenting a history lesson with a virtual reality tour, or studying rock formation in a geology class by seeing it in augmented reality. Expensive field trips? No need! Plug into virtual reality and tour the world right from your seat! Another hypothesized value will be the ability for a truly global classroom where virtual classes can meet “face to face” and work together on problem-solving. 

Technology has come a long way; I remember how excited the classroom would get when the teacher rolling in a bulky tubed-TV meant we’d get to watch a grainy, severely outdated educational video. Kids today - they have no idea how lucky they are.

Machine Learning -- Adapting Content To Complex Higher Education Websites

In a previous blog post, we reviewed an interesting new trend in higher education where learning management systems were starting to predict student outcomes by their usage patterns. That particular article noted the stats that showed that the more a student logged into the system during the first week or two of classes, the higher the probability they would succeed in the class. 

The concept of a “machine learning” has been prevalently used in the commercial sector for years now, with trendsetters like Amazon and Facebook serving up product and advertising suggestions based on your purchase history, “likes” and what websites you’ve visited. But the application for higher education is just as promising.

As a specialized web agency that does most of our work for higher education institutions, we’ve been introducing machine learning or “personalization” concepts to our clients for some time now (if you want to read more about personalization in higher education, check out this blog post we published last year). Higher education websites are what we call “content complex,” meaning they have a large number of distinctly different visitor types (what the web industry calls “personas”) frequenting them. Prospective students, parents of prospective students, enrolled students, parents of enrolled students, faculty and alumni is the best case scenario; often times our clients will have very different types of prospective students who require further segmentation (imagine international students vs. local). How does one landing page identify and speak to six unique types of visitors? Personalization technology, that’s how. 

When used, web personalization technologies can log specific user criteria and attributes such as age, location, purchasing behaviors, social media and more. With user attributes logged and indexed, businesses can deploy unique, adaptive content (even web pages) that are custom tailored to individual users. A sophisticated personalization strategy will have a unique web experience for each type of persona where everything from the content, images, colors and messaging has been tailored for them. As a person engages with the website, the technology “learns” more about what they are looking for and can serve up relevant content to them (just like Amazon suggests products to you based on your search and purchase history). 

Of course, this level of personalization requires a complex and thorough content strategy that many institutions simply do not have (yet). We often recommend simpler ways of personalization such as explicitly asking the user when they arrive who they are as a starting point. This basic framework can be evolved as the content strategy of the website becomes more refined. ImageX believes that personalization will be the foundation of user experience on the web moving forward, much like responsiveness for a mobile experience is today. Getting started on this trend now will make future adaptations that much more efficient.

Native Mobile Apps

It seems like every organization has or wants to have a native app; in some cases for good reason, while others, not so much. If an organization has a customer base that needs to interact with a large and often complex data set or tasks on a frequent basis, a native app is likely a good idea. Mobile banking on an app is a great example; the complexity of a banking website and the volume of content make the mobile experience cumbersome for specific interactions, such as paying bills or transferring money (what people generally refer to as “doing their banking”). A banking app immerses the user in that specific set of tasks, with a light set of complementary content and features. The business case for higher education is, in our opinion, just as strong as it is for mobile banking.

The obvious use case for higher education is current students managing their courses. Class schedules, assignment submissions, reminders for upcoming deadlines or events, test score notifications, paying tuition; you get the point. It wasn’t that long ago I was in University and the student portal my school had wasn’t even mobile responsive; if you couldn’t get to a desktop computer, you were in trouble. Another potential use case we parents here at ImageX often discuss is a parent app for those of us with children in post-secondary. Imagine if we could stay up to speed on children’s class schedule, assignments and grades? Oh, the possibilities…

Like to stay on top of higher education notes and trends? Subscribe to our newsletter below!

Jul 22 2016
Jul 22

Of the many things that contribute to the success of a project, communication is the most important. While every project will differ in its requirements, team members, and plan, at the most basic level their goals should always be the same: to add value for the client. Open communication -- that is, the free exchange of ideas, collaboration, and ensuring clarity and direction is the lynchpin that holds a project together in the pursuit of that goal.

At ImageX, we believe in using the right tool for the job. And while “tool” usually means the specific software our staff uses to execute tasks, it also extends to the individuals themselves and how we bridge together teammates and project details. Among the many benefits of being one of the top-ranked Drupal agencies in the world is that we attract some of the top-ranked talent in the world -- and just like we don’t confine ourselves to a specific geographic area when we’re choosing which clients to partner with, neither do we for the teams we build to serve them. That team is based in our office in Vancouver, but it also includes those of us who help expand the depth and breadth of our agency -- remote employees, or as we affectionately call them, our “remotees.” 

For those of us who do work remotely, myself included, the benefits are vast:

  • We’re liberated from our desks;
  • Our morning commute is usually from our breakfast table to our den or workspace;
  • Or for that matter, our office is wherever we make it -- a café, library, or even on our travels; and,
  • We have the flexibility to set our own schedules and be more available for life’s demands (as long as we’re available for meetings, of course -- more on that below).

And for ImageX, the world becomes our talent pool and this allows us to hire the best people available for every position -- whether they’re in Vancouver, Toronto, Sweden, Ohio, Seattle, Taiwan, Florida, or the Ukraine (ImageX has remotees in all of these locations).

Working remotely also has quantifiable benefits to a business’ bottom line:

  • Two-thirds of managers reported that employees are more productive when working remotely;
  • 54 percent of remote workers reported completing as much or more work in less time because of fewer distractions;
  • 82 percent of remote workers reported lower stress levels;
  • Attrition rates fall by as much as 50 percent;
  • 68 percent of younger workers said that the option to work remotely would “greatly increase” their interest in a specific employer; and,
  • Businesses can significantly lower their overall operating costs.

And not to mention the environmental impact of fewer people commuting. When health insurance company, Aetna measured the benefits of their remote working policies, they found that their employees drove 65 million fewer miles, saved over two million gallons of gas, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by over 23,000 tonnes per year.

A remotee (me on the laptop screen) joining our weekly #toughcoders push-up challenge by webcam, via Google Hangouts.

But working with distributed teams isn’t without its challenges. Communication problems can surface easily, whether because of logistics due to time zones or something simply being lost in translation online, and it’s easy to feel isolated at a home office and disconnected from your team. Like any project, overcoming these challenges and adding value to your team comes from having a strong plan in place to mitigate them. Building your team with the right mix of individuals, having a structured communication plan in place, and using the right tools for each job can help you realize the benefits of working with a distributed team.

Building Your Remote Team

Managing distributed teams introduces some additional considerations to make when you’re recruiting for new staff. Outside of the core competencies of each position, we’ve found emphasizing these four qualities to be a good predictor of success:

  • Is the candidate self-motivated? Working autonomously and independently requires a very high degree of self-motivation, rather than the constant encouragement and motivation that can be expected in a traditional office environment.
  • Does the candidate have strong communication skills? With limited face-to-face contact, above-average communication skills become even more important. Can the candidate communicate clearly and concisely, regardless of the medium, and accommodate for the subtlety and nuance that can often get lost?
  • Is the candidate results-driven? In the absence of more subjective evaluations, it’s important that your team members set clear objectives and that they’re measured against them.
  • Is the candidate open, honest, and transparent? This one is often the most important because you’re relying on your team to pro-actively raise any problems or concerns that could otherwise slip by unnoticed if people confine themselves to communication silos. The more forthcoming and straight-forward, the better.

Building teams of self-sufficient individuals who are empowered to work autonomously will encourage open communication and collaboration between members, rather than top-down (micro)management.

A SMART Communication Plan

With a distributed team, it’s essential that all members unite around a clearly defined and shared goal or purpose. A strong project and/or client manager can act as the advocate for this goal or purpose when any gaps occur and be the face of the team to the client. 

When defining the team’s goal or purpose, consider the SMART framework:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Whether it’s included in a formal team or project charter, or more informally in how the project manager oversees the team day-to-day. 

Creating and fostering a results-driven culture is essential. Rather than tracking the team’s working hours (though we still track project hours for billing, efficiency, and accountability to the client), it’s more important that they’re able to produce results that drive the team towards their goals on a sustained basis. And it’s incumbent upon the project manager to ensure continued clarity on what those goals are.

Bringing your team together for regular meetings, either in-person or digitally, is the best way to make certain of this. Daily stand-ups for the project team where each member shares what they worked on yesterday, what their goals are today, and if there is anything blocking their progress shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes each morning, but will save exponentially more time in focus.

Weekly team-wide stand-ups allow department leads and upper management to share higher-level progress and help bring any remote staff out of their project silos and into the “office”. We don’t use these meetings to discuss the specifics of any projects -- rather, they bring the team together so that we can hear each other’s voices and see each other’s faces (even if they’re just on a screen), and it reinforces the bigger picture that each individual project is working towards.

The Right Tool for the Job

Once you have the right team members in place and a plan to facilitate communication, you need the tools in place to keep them connected. Using the right software can make communication seamless and effortless, and gives teams the advantage of having every project discussion documented, archived, and searchable -- far from the risk of impromptu drive-bys in the office. 

Every project needs a central repository that captures the tasks, responsibilities, and dependencies involved. While physical backlogs with Post-It Notes are great for the office, they don’t help distributed teams. Trello is an easy-to-use Kanban-style board that lets you drag-and-drop cards between lists to show progress in real-time. Or for a more comprehensive and collaborative solution, we like Basecamp and Jira.

For conversations between team members and clients, in-person meetings allow the participants to communicate verbally as well as non-verbally. There is no substitute for this, but web-based tools like Google Hangouts, Skype, and Slack are the next best thing. Their video functions help approximate in-person meetings and allow the participants to see each other’s faces to better detect nuance. And as a bonus, they have the added functionalities such as screen sharing that further simulate a meeting room setting.

Skype and Slack are particularly helpful for team members in different time zones who may be limited in the meetings they can attend. Because they archive the transcripts of any typed conversation, it’s easy for anyone to catch themselves up at the beginning of their day without the risk of anything being missed in a game of broken telephone. It also allows for easy searching anytime someone needs something confirmed.

Finally, document repositories and collaboration tools like Google Drive and Dropbox can centralize any templates, documentation, design artifacts, and project assets while providing versioning control as well as the ability for multiple team members to collaborate on the same file at the same time.

Final Thoughts

  • It can be difficult for a team to build a positive culture when its members are distributed -- it’s not as simple as grabbing a coffee or going out for lunch. But a strong team culture extends beyond being social. It’s also about “seeing a vision, aligning to a mission, creating a sense of community and belonging and having loyalty to a project that gets people excited about work.”
  • Get to know each other personally. Catch-up with before and after calls, take breaks and make time to chat, and build relationships that help bridges across timezones and cultural divides;
  • Take advantage of your communication tools and create spaces for team members to share off-topic, interesting, or funny content. We have Slack channels for #office, #kudos, #random and even #nhl; and,
  • Iterate. Like any project, test an idea and adapt based on what works and what doesn’t. Every team will have its own dynamic, and it’s essential that any plan adjusts to accommodate it. You won’t get everything right at first, but you can continually improve over time.

Does your organization have distributed teams? If so, what benefits have you realized, what challenges have you encountered, and what have you learned from the process? Get in touch below and let’s talk.

Jul 21 2016
Jul 21

These days, B2B and B2C organizations have a wealth of options that will help improve on-site conversion rates.  For the benefit of anyone who may need, conversion rate optimization (CRO), in simple terms, means unconvering conversion deficiencies (against web and business goals) then, improving them. To learn more about CRO, check out Business2Community's article, "Demystifying Conversion Rate Optimization". We’ll explore each of the 5 content marketing ideas above to help inspire stronger content conversion solutions. 

(Image Source)

Among the several conversion opportunities available, there are some usual-suspect options you can find across high-performing websites:

  • Defining Buiness, Marketing & User Goals
  • Investing in Web Personalization
  • Expanding Brand Authority & Trust
  • Conducting A/B Split and/or Multivariate Tests
  • Funneling Visitors Into Opt-In Consumers

Businesses across the globe are leveraging these tactics to help uncover what’s important to their web audiences, and to establish strategic conversion paths for target prospects. Luckily, nearly anyone with a website can use to help improve their own CRO (including user experience) too. 

Defining Business, Marking & User Goals

It’s difficult to measure achievement without first defining goals of some kind. This is as true with conversion rate optimization as it is with any other digital marketing effort. Goals give us an incentive to really discover the best paths to achieve stronger outcomes. Goals provide businesses a common method by which they can develop better results from their teams.

Rolling up your sleeves to create higher performing content is challenging work. They should describe a realistic achievement and should support the talents and skills of everyone involved. They shouldn't focus on one person's accomplishments while diminishing another's. Goals should celebrate the idea that once they meet their match, another set of challenges are there to push for stronger outcomes.    

Investing In Web Personalization

Web personalization is one of the most valuable, high performing strategies a business can leverage. Web personalization connects relevant information to the right audiences. By leveraging user consumer data we can deliver better, personalized content experiences through changes in content, distribution, even style and layout. The goal in personalizing websites is to achieve deeper audience connections while fostering higher conversions rates.  

Web personalization will take time, effort and strategy in order to execute successfully. Businesses will get face-to-face with their users via data, segmentation, content types and delivery. To get started with web personalization, I recommened folks get their hands on Marketo's Definitive Guide to Web Personalization. This is great resource intended to give you a 101 lesson on:

  • How web personalization helps marketers drive results
  • How to create a web personalization strategy
  • The types of web personalization
  • What content you need to support web personalization
  • How to test and optimize your web personalization
  • How to measure your success
  • The team and tools you need in order to implement web personalization
Source: Marketo

Web Personalization Tools

There's several industry-leading tools available business can research and use.  I've covered some of the best tools available:

  • Sauce.ly
  • Mently.co
  • Quibit.com
  • AtYourFunction.com
  • Storymail.nl/en

Expanding Brand Authority & Trust

Consumers don't want to see a reminder that their information has exposure to risk. They want to feel reminded that the solution for their troubles is right in front of them. This is why trust is so important. Trust provides an incentive for consumers to interact with an online business and become customers.

A great way to establish trust is through a well-worded, easy to read privacy policy. Consumers are vigilant about protecting their privacy and information, and many read these policies to understand what businesses do with their information. The privacy policy is great for placing any technology references like encryption used in purchases or what kind of malware checks businesses run on their servers. Privacy policies also establish how businesses store their information and what guards are in place to prevent a break in security.

When consumers feel their information is safe against unauthorized access, they are more likely to contribute, become members of the site, or buy goods and services. Trust brings in optimum conversions.

Conduct A/B Split and/or Multivariate tests

A/B testing is the practice of providing content differently to consumer groups and deciding what optimizes conversions. Changes to the content include the wording, positions for menus, links, pictures, or video, and the style of the layout like colors and fonts. What this allows businesses to achieve is great. It lets businesses understand how consumers react to changes in content which encourage participation and active conversions.

Changes as simple as one word can produce huge results. Instead of commanding customers with the word "Order", businesses can instead inform them that products are available with the words "Get" or "Receive". These changes help to reduce anxiety with consumers and lets them feel at ease, to have trust.

Web analytics can show just how much trust by giving specific metrics like page retention, click rates, or return ratio. These data give businesses important clues as to how consumers are comfortable with the offers that businesses have available.

Funnel Visitors into Opt-In Consumers

Knowing how consumers use a web site, businesses can design it to stimulate consumers into taking calls to action and becoming actual customers. By funneling consumers into customers, with the collected data, businesses can optimize their conversion rates by targeting consumers ready to buy.

PayPal’s guide for Checkout Conversion Optimization Best Practices (PDF) states that 37% of consumers who make it to checkout will leave the site to compare prices before making a purchase. Another 36% leave because they don't have the money at the time. While using A/B testing, a business could design an ordering or checkout page that include prices from other sources, or similar products with different prices. This might encourage those 37% to actually buy them.

That 36% who don't have the money at the time might respond if asked to sign up for a reminder notice to buy it later. Maybe they receive it as a text message on their phone or an email on their tablet or computer. It could also encourage more shopping by showcasing new products or discounts currently offered.

By providing a path for consumers to work through when browsing a site, businesses can place marketing cues which outline the attraction for buying products, creating accounts, or interacting on the site.

Wrap Up...

Businesses looking to optimize their conversion rates should consider these marketing tactics and how they apply. Clearly defined goals encourages employees to invest the time to achieve real, attainable goals. Creating trust with consumers eases their anxiety about taking calls to action. A/B testing provides methods that allow collecting important data for the use in designing better layouts. These layouts will funnel consumers into buying products and services or remind them that they can always come back again later.

Jul 14 2016
Jul 14

There’s never a dull moment in the higher education sector. This week, we had our eyes on a dozen interesting articles across higher education. As always, you’ll find an undercurrent of themes that generally revolve around revenue and student demographics. This week’s higher education notes and trends has topics ranging from wealth distribution amongst North American post-secondary institutions, “over-education” of millennials and enrollment staff becoming the next generation of corporate headhunters.

Does the “1%” of Wealth Distribution Apply to Higher Education?

Forbes published a very interesting read on wealth distribution in the higher education sector, drawing comparisons to the Occupy Movement’s “1%” argument.

The article draws on the 3,000 or so (depending on how you classify them) four-year college and universities in the United States, and how much annual endowment each receive. On average, each student in the United States equates to roughly $25,000 in endowment; however, top earning schools, Yale & Princeton average of $2,000,000 per student. Looking at the top 1% of schools (roughly 30 of the 3,000), total endowments equate to 52% of the total endowments for all United States schools. Long story short; the 1% of wealth distribution is very much a reality in higher education.

Millennials Expectation of Higher Education Not Aligned With Reality of the Job Market

The Ottawa Citizen reports a discouraging trend amongst the millennials of Canada; the disparity between over education and high expectations for the “dream job” vs. the reality of the job market. The article reports that 40% of Canadian university graduates aged 25-34 are overqualified for the jobs they have, with the numbers even worse for those under 25, with 65% being overqualified or unemployed.

The article does not quantify how these demographics are overqualified or by what metric(s) these statements were qualified. It does, however, speak to the problem being compounded by government and the higher education sector itself advocating for further education to solve the problem and the bias of those recommendations. Indeed the “over promise under deliver” sentiment is an issue in higher education, as we previously documented the sanctions now available in the US through the gainful employment regulations for institutions who have not or cannot validate the employment claims they advertise. These regulations were directly targeted at for-profit institutions whose aggressive marketing tactics have been known to misrepresent graduate outcomes; however, Inside Higher Ed is reporting that nonprofit higher education is not exempt from these sanctions.

Career Counsellors - The New “Headhunters?” 

The ability for businesses to find new ways to acquire revenue never ceases to amaze me. Our friends over at Inside HigherEd brought some unique insights into recruitment partnerships the higher education sector is now employing.

The article reports that prominent university and colleges are giving preferred access to students for organizations willing (and able) to pay for that luxury. On the surface, this seems like a win/win/win as the school gets revenue, the employer gets access to the best and brightest graduates and those graduates get direct access to the most prestigious employers (and theoretically, salaries). The school also gets the added benefit of having more graduates in “top employer” organizations, which brings prestige (and perhaps higher future alumni donations) for its graduates. The complaint of this approach is that less established organizations or those from the nonprofit sector who are not able to use such aggressive recruiting tactics are deprioritized.

With the constant report of reduced funding and other financial constraints, it should not be a surprise to see new and inventive ways to increase revenue.

Jul 12 2016
Jul 12

One of the greatest benefits of working in our field is the opportunity to connect with industry leaders who we might not have crossed paths with otherwise. Our clients span the gamut -- from higher education, to technology and beyond -- and Noe Marti from Verimatrix is one of those leaders. Noe was kind enough to contribute to our blog, sharing some of the insights that Verimatrix learned from a recent website redesign that they partnered with ImageX on -- and that ultimately transformed their online presence entirely.

Verimatrix is at the forefront of the global revenue security market for next-generation video services. As people continually change how they consume content, our security software protects content and its revenue streams for pay TV operators globally across any network, any device, and any platform.

Website Redesign Project

In June 2015 we partnered with ImageX Media to redesign our website in order to elevate the online representation of our brand and take our web presence to the next level. As the main touch point of our online marketing ecosystem, our main goals for the new site were:

  • Educate our prospects on who we are and what we offer in an easy way;
  • Position us as security leaders in the Pay TV industry offering a wide variety of thought leadership content; and,
  • Convert unknown visitors into actionable leads.

Taking a User-Centric Approach

We differentiated ourselves from our competitors by focusing on delivering the best user experience possible, making it easy for visitors to find the information they need with the least amount of clicks. We structured the site taking into consideration the different personas that would be using it. For example, instead of displaying our offerings by their commercial name, we show visitors different use cases, so they can easily identify our different solutions based on their specific needs.

 
Also, since our website’s visitors are mainly divided into prospects, customers, or partners, we made sure that we structured our menus to make it easy for each of these personas to find what they need.
 
 
For example, from our partners’ menu, visitors can find all the companies that are part of our vast partner ecosystem, access or sign up to our partner portal, and access specific partner training courses.

Making Content that’s Easy to Share

We wanted the website to be the central repository for our thought leadership content including white papers, solution briefs, blog posts, press releases, case studies, videos, etc., so ImageX designed, developed, and implemented a comprehensive resource library for us.
 
In order to expand the reach of our content, it was very important for us to make it easy for visitors to share it. ImageX implemented a design based on individual content tiles, where visitors can quickly share content by hovering over the tile and selecting their preferred social media channel.

The Importance of Going Mobile

In today’s world, people no longer navigate the web only using a computer, so we wanted to make sure our site looked great on both tablets and smartphones.  Mobile responsiveness became a key factor as mobile currently accounts for approximately 40-50% of recipient opens from our marketing emails linking directly to our site. In order to maximize conversions, we focused on making sure that our emails display great on any device. This ensures a seamless experience for users who start their journey from an email and continue to the website after clicking on it, so they can easily access the content they are looking for.

Redesign Success

As a direct result of the redesign, our conversion rates have increased to be consistently 40-50% for all of our lead generation campaigns. That means that out of all the users who visit a landing page for any given piece of content – like a white paper, for example -- half of them complete the web form to download the content. 

What’s Next? Personalization using Dynamic Content

Looking ahead, we expect that greater personalization – that is, the serving of content that is curated for the individual user based on their behaviours – will only increase our already positive results. The website(s) they visited previously, the search term(s) that brought them to ours, and what content they’ve engaged with on previous visits can all inform what content they’re shown. By guiding a user’s journey through the website based on their previously tracked behaviours, we can create a unique experience for them.

Jul 12 2016
Jul 12

One of the greatest benefits of working in our field is the opportunity to connect with industry leaders who we might not have crossed paths with otherwise. Our clients span the gamut -- from higher education, to technology and beyond -- and Noe Marti from Verimatrix is one of those leaders. Noe was kind enough to contribute to our blog, sharing some of the insights that Verimatrix learned from a recent website redesign that they partnered with ImageX on -- and that ultimately transformed their online presence entirely.

Verimatrix is at the forefront of the global revenue security market for next-generation video services. As people continually change how they consume content, our security software protects content and its revenue streams for pay TV operators globally across any network, any device, and any platform.

Website Redesign Project

In June 2015 we partnered with ImageX Media to redesign our website in order to elevate the online representation of our brand and take our web presence to the next level. As the main touch point of our online marketing ecosystem, our main goals for the new site were:

  • Educate our prospects on who we are and what we offer in an easy way;
  • Position us as security leaders in the Pay TV industry offering a wide variety of thought leadership content; and,
  • Convert unknown visitors into actionable leads.

Taking a User-Centric Approach

We differentiated ourselves from our competitors by focusing on delivering the best user experience possible, making it easy for visitors to find the information they need with the least amount of clicks. We structured the site taking into consideration the different personas that would be using it. For example, instead of displaying our offerings by their commercial name, we show visitors different use cases, so they can easily identify our different solutions based on their specific needs.

 
Also, since our website’s visitors are mainly divided into prospects, customers, or partners, we made sure that we structured our menus to make it easy for each of these personas to find what they need.  
For example, from our partners’ menu, visitors can find all the companies that are part of our vast partner ecosystem, access or sign up to our partner portal, and access specific partner training courses.

Making Content that’s Easy to Share

We wanted the website to be the central repository for our thought leadership content including white papers, solution briefs, blog posts, press releases, case studies, videos, etc., so ImageX designed, developed, and implemented a comprehensive resource library for us.
 
In order to expand the reach of our content, it was very important for us to make it easy for visitors to share it. ImageX implemented a design based on individual content tiles, where visitors can quickly share content by hovering over the tile and selecting their preferred social media channel.

The Importance of Going Mobile

In today’s world, people no longer navigate the web only using a computer, so we wanted to make sure our site looked great on both tablets and smartphones.  Mobile responsiveness became a key factor as mobile currently accounts for approximately 40-50% of recipient opens from our marketing emails linking directly to our site. In order to maximize conversions, we focused on making sure that our emails display great on any device. This ensures a seamless experience for users who start their journey from an email and continue to the website after clicking on it, so they can easily access the content they are looking for.

Redesign Success

As a direct result of the redesign, our conversion rates have increased to be consistently 40-50% for all of our lead generation campaigns. That means that out of all the users who visit a landing page for any given piece of content – like a white paper, for example -- half of them complete the web form to download the content. 

What’s Next? Personalization using Dynamic Content

Looking ahead, we expect that greater personalization – that is, the serving of content that is curated for the individual user based on their behaviours – will only increase our already positive results. The website(s) they visited previously, the search term(s) that brought them to ours, and what content they’ve engaged with on previous visits can all inform what content they’re shown. By guiding a user’s journey through the website based on their previously tracked behaviours, we will be able to create a unique experience for them.

Jul 08 2016
Jul 08

If you're still not paying attention to mobile and approaching it as an integral part of your marketing strategy, then you're missing out on an enormous amount of business. A few years further down the line, when mobile is even more ubiquitous than it is now, the consequences of failing to prioritize the small screen will be even more severe. However, there's a lot more to a mobile marketing strategy than simply having a website that makes a half-hearted attempt to look good on a smartphone. Mobile presents many diverse opportunities, allowing you to reach out to potential customers in ways that were once impossible.

#1. Consider Mobile as a Part of the Customer Journey 

Today, fewer and fewer people have desktop computers, and even laptop sales are falling as they make way for the unprecedented rise of smartphones and, to a lesser extent, tablets. Consumers are now more likely than ever to find new businesses when they're using the small screen, even if they still generally prefer to actually make purchases using a desktop device. In the case of local businesses, consumers often look online while they're on the move for venues in their area. As such, mobile is a critical part of the customer journey, both in the case of online commerce and local business walk-ins. In other words, it's become integral and inseparable from the whole customer experience.  

#2. Send the Right Message at the Right Time 

When it comes to mobile marketing, getting your timing right is critical, even if it takes a few attempts before you find exactly what works for your brand and its target audience. Because so many consumers have their phones with them wherever they go, you have the opportunity to reach out to them at any time. However, that doesn't mean you should use the opportunity to bombard your target audience with SMS's, push notifications and emails. It's essential to err on the side of caution so to avoid annoying your target audience. Obviously, you should avoid off-peak times when most consumers won't want to be disturbed. You can improve your timing by leveraging the potential of geo-targeting and the Internet of Things.

#3. Prioritize Content Relevance and Usability 

Any marketer should believe in the importance of content relevance and usability, but it's also important to consider the difference between consuming content on the small screen and on the large screen. For example, relatively few people would feel comfortable reading a lengthy blog post on a smartphone. Small screen users tend to prefer shorter pieces that make extensive use of visuals, such as images, videos and slideshows. Such content is much easier to digest on the small screen, so it's important to segment your content marketing strategy wherever possible so that you can improve the user experience across all devices.

#4. Make It Part of a Multi-channel Experience 

Although mobile marketing requires a separate approach in certain respects, particularly when it comes to delivering content and making website navigation easier, it should still be considered part of the multichannel marketing experience. Since mobile is nowadays deeply intertwined with the entire customer journey, it's important to think about the small screen in everything you do. Beyond simply optimizing your website, you'll also need to factor in mobile users when it comes to creating local business listings, creating your social media brand pages, optimizing your content for the search engines and pretty much anything else.

Final Words 

There's little doubt that mobile is here to stay, and all of the facts point to the small screen becoming even more important than it already is. In fact, according to a study conducted by KPCB Mobile Technology Trends in 2015 (see 2016 mobile marketing trends), mobile Internet usage among adults had already surpassed desktop usage. Nonetheless, this trend should not be seen is the doom of the desktop device. Instead, it reflects an increasing trend among consumers to stay connected no matter where they are or what they're doing. As such, there are now more ways to market your brand than ever before but, if you must prioritize one channel above all others, then it probably should be mobile.

Jul 08 2016
Jul 08

The landscape of higher education continues to shift toward changing student demographics, evolving different learning approaches and what seems like a perpetual shortfall of funding for post-secondary institutions. These trends mirror that of our client website aspirations which are now more than ever are focusing on engagement with key audiences such as prospective students and alumni due to greater competition in the marketplace with less dollars to spend. 

In this week’s higher education notes and trends, we spotlight higher education affordability recommendations, donation strategies targeting alumni students, and the unveiling of a new technology and innovation initiative sponsored by Hillary Clinton. 

New Policies for Affordable Higher Education 

Last month, we highlighted the University of Southern California’s commitment to student diversity has resulted in them leading all American post-secondary institutions in terms of percentage of students utilizing the Pell Grant, a funding initiative for low-income students. The Center for American Progress released an interesting report, “The Case for Federal Higher Education Affordability Standards” which outlined several challenges facing post-secondary students, with an eye toward solutions to the issues. This report shows similar data in that the grant is being more widely utilized, with the number of recipients growing from 6 million in 2008 to 8 million in 2015. However, the grant falls short of getting those same students to the end of their academic career, with only 30% of students total cost of attending a four-year public college covered. A summary of the report's recommendations are:

  1. Create a guarantee of no or low-cost public education for Pell Grant recipients;
  2. Create purchasing guarantees for middle-income students, where small personal contributions and small student loans will be enough to cover their education costs;
  3. Require states to meet affordability targets; and,
  4.  Hold post-secondary institutions accountable for excessive loan burdens

Universities Get Creative With Alumni Donation Solicitations 

InsideHigherEd published an interesting article documenting Northeastern University’s innovative approach to fostering the next generation of alumni, and the unintended backlash they faced. The approach was a mass-text message campaign sent to recent graduates that had student loans, offering a chance to win $1,000 toward their loan if they donated for the first time. The response was immediate and the backlash was felt on Twitter, among other social media platforms, comparing the initiative to a “lotto.” 

Interestingly, 2015 was a record year for charitable contributions to higher education institutions, with a total of $40.3 billion, but with fewer alumni’s actually donating, 8.4% vs. 11.7% back in 2007. 

The article makes it very clear that although recent graduates are not likely to provide large, substantial donations, this early engagement will pave the way for donation solicitations 10-15 years from now when that age group is more established in their careers. They also note the trend of small, recurring donations can be an effective long-term engagement strategy which over time provides a significant contribution from the donor. 

Image Source

Hillary Clinton’s “Technology & Innovation Agenda”

Recently, Hillary Clinton unveiled sweeping recommendations to the higher education sector as part of her tech and innovative agenda. The recommendations call for $10 billion in funding to encourage “21st-century” education in technology and startup/entrepreneurial incentives, amongst others. 

The talk of alternative teaching methods and the changing student demographic has been a recurring theme in our higher education notes and trends updates, but Mrs. Clinton’s recommendations is a good example of the shifting landscape of higher education and the policy that guides it. 

Students would receive funding when enrolling in coding academies, open online courses and other technology programs run by alternative education providers. Universities and colleges that accept those programs as credit toward graduation will also be rewarded. Entrepreneurs will also benefit by letting founders and their staff defer student loans penalty free for up to three years, giving incentives for both employers and employees to build businesses. 

We can only hope this is not just a campaign promise, as the shift toward “real-world” education is drastically needed, particularly in the technology sector. 

Jul 05 2016
Jul 05

Clutch.co, a research firm based in Washington, D.C. dedicated to identifying the leaders in a variety of digital industries, has named ImageX as their top Drupal development agency. ImageX was awarded this spot after nine client projects were reviewed by Clutch, with ImageX achieving an overall client satisfaction score of 4.8/5.

Clutch reviews project work by agencies using several scored criteria, including the prominent technology used, agency services offered, quality of deliverables, ability to maintain the project schedule, budget-to-value obtained and as a result of the project, and what the client's willingness is to refer the agency upon project completion. The nine ImageX client projects reviewed come from a wide range of industries including higher education, B2B organizations, and non-profits with project budgets ranging from $30,000 to $500,000.

"As an organization, we have mandated a dedication to our client's projects, from initial scoping exercises in the agency selection process through the delivery of the project and post launch support," said Brent Wilker, Vice President, Business Development of ImageX. "In a services environement you are nothing without happy clients, and seeing that commitment manifest itself into this top ranking validates our efforts. We could not be more pleased."

The Drupal developers leaders matrix on Clutch.co can be seen here.

"Drupal continues to be an ideal solution for organizations both large and small, regardless of the type of work they do," emphasized Joshua Margolin, Senior Analyst at Clutch. "But working successfully with a solution like Drupal takes more than just having it installed, it's also about having a reliable team at the ready when you need it customized, integrated, configured, upgraded, etc. And that's where ImageX comes in. There are only a handful of companies with the wide range of industry experience to draw upon and an adaptable management approach to fit all kinds of clients, and ImageX is definitely one of them."

About Clutch.co

Founded in 2012, Clutch.co's purpose is to identify leading software and professional services firms that deliver results for their clients. They do this through an innovative research process that melds the best of traditional B2B research and newer consumer review services. Clutch has become recognized as the go-to resource for buyers and sellers of app development services. With a successful track record under their belts, they are now expanding into other technology, marketing, and business consulting segments and have researched and reviewed 500+ companies covering 50+ markets. Visit http://www.clutch.co

About ImageX

Founded in 2001, ImageX has been a Drupal-exclusive web agency since 2006 and has delivered more than 250 Drupal sites to some of the world's most prestigious brands, including Apple, Samsung, Adidas, Disney, Adobe, The Discovery Channel, Arizona State University and Stanford University. To see more of our work visit http://www.imagexmedia.com

Jun 29 2016
Jun 29

This is the third in a series of posts recapping ImageX’s presentations at this year’s DrupalCon.

A content-driven framework is essential for any successful user experience. Content strategy and UX can no longer be considered separately, and to ensure that they work together to make your website its most effective, the following components must be considered: your audience, their interactions, SEO, content distribution, and finally, measurement. 

ImageX’s Senior Digital Strategist, June Parent, and Senior Business and UX Architect, Bjorn Thomson jointly presented on content-driven UX at this year’s DrupalCon.

Content Strategy and User-Centered Design

Content-driven UX is the confluence of two paramount disciplines: Content Strategy and User-Centered Design. A content-driven UX approach places content at the center, side-by-side with users. A website at it’s most basic, is just, well, content that users interact with.

Websites are living representations of brands, storefronts, and communities. They motivate, influence, and compel us into action. Websites are powerful and their requirements are becoming more and more complex. Meeting those requirements demands stronger research and increased synergy across adjacent disciplines like content and UX design. When you merge the two, something wonderful and powerful happens -- you’re able to enhance web experiences by leaps and bounds. 

As practitioners, we have to be mindful of the businesses we serve on a deeper level – what are its ‘mission-critical’ goals, how will growth be achieved then nurtured, what’s the process to govern lead-generation content, etc. Part of our job may include scoping lead-generation strategies or increasing qualified traffic -- all housed in a beautiful, bold, and modern design. So, let’s stop and think about how we might create a growth-positive experience that motivates, influences, and/or invokes action.

Of All Topics, Why Content-Driven UX?

June was one of those designers who was put off by code. She was passionate about design and content, but not necessarily the execution of front-end development. She saw the evolution of requirements in the business and understood that it’s important to deliver the best services possible. A content-driven UX approach put her at the front-end of projects where strategies around experience are shaped and formed. When you piece the information together a lot of exciting things start to happen. A story begins to unfold, creative ideas spring up, and conversations about digital strategy happen with more granularity. There’s also a growing momentum, industry-wide, for the role because helps to meet complex marketing requirements head-on and allows creative teams to streamline workflows.
 

These days the web is bigger and entirely more complex. For some, success hinges on delivering experiences that have the ability to eclipse competitors. For others, it could be about visibility or community. No matter what the site is for, every piece of content matters. Every page and section must serve a purpose. Every interaction is consequential. When users enjoy and trust rock-solid content, they’ll return time and time again. It’s called ‘content-loyalty’ and it’s a wonderful gift from users. When you add in strategies to identify, nurture and roll ‘qualified leads’ into bonafide ‘brand-advocates’, you've got pathways towards ‘brand-loyalty’. Now, wrap a beautiful, bold design around all of that (and more). 
-  June Parent

Your Content-Driven Framework

The presentation was designed at an intermediate level. June and Bjorn assumed that a majority of the audience would likely be creative folks with backgrounds ranging from content strategy and marketing, to the full gamut of web design. There was an opportunity to transfer insights and what a content-first framework looks like. The presentation included some attributes anyone can use to start looking at their own web projects through a content-driven UX lens. 

You can view the full presentation below:

[embedded content]
Jun 21 2016
Jun 21

Mobile usage shows no signs of slowing down. Many web design and development agencies encourage clients to deploy websites using a responsive design in place. For those in need a refresher, a responsive website is a design approach based on fluid grids and CSS3 media queries. A responsive site's layout will change based on the size (height x width) of a device. For example, when viewing a responsive site in a desktop environment, a user might see 4 columns of content. If the user looked at the same site on a tablet, the site will display the content in 2 columns or, a phone with a one column display. 

 

a Responsive site, or Mobile App?

It's more than fair to say that deploying a responsive website can help capture mobile traffic. However, recent studies about the way that mobile device users actually use their phones and tablets suggests that a responsive website may not be enough. GeekWire published a study on the way that mobile device users spent time on their phones and tablets: 

  • Average Americans spent 162 minutes a day using their mobile devices. 
  • Over time, this average has kept increasing by a few minutes each year.    
  • These mobile users spent 86 percent of their time with mobile apps and 14 percent of their time using an internet browser.
     
 

Consider a Task-Oriented Design Approach (it's UX TOO!)

To truly engage today's mobile device users, it helps to have a mobile, business-focused app. Business apps generally share similar trait, they're task-oriented. A task-oriented approach is different from responsive web design. A response approach generally focuses on a single solution that will scale to most device. In a task-oriented approach, the focus is placed on well, tasks and how the users engages and completes them. A task-oriented approach is an effective solutions for business apps. Experiences can be tailored and customized to the device in which digital experiences are being delivered. Naturally, depending on the scope and goals, each project will have unique needs and those needs will ultimately shape the end-solution.

If mobile device users spend most of their time using apps, doesn't it make sense for businesses to provide one? Indeed, business apps for mobile devices can help businesses grow by improving brands and giving a business a better connection with their customers. Nobody suggests that it's a bad idea to have a website that functions well in mobile browsers; however, it's fairly obvious that limiting a mobile platform to just a responsive site leaves a lot of opportunities untapped. 

Mobile Apps Build Brand Recognition and Brand Image

A mobile app can benefit a brand in several ways, such as:
 

Brand Visibility

Companies can increase exposure by including their apps in app stores and promoting them on their social media networks and company blogs. Apps help companies expand their mobile platforms and generate more content. 
 

Brand Image

The appearance of a branded app logo on a user's phone helps companies remind phone users about their brand. Every time a user sees the application's icon, a company gets to reinforce their brand. 
 

Brand Experience

A quality app that provides users with a good experience helps improve a company's image. Of course, companies need to provide user-friendly and useful apps that phone users are likely to want to use.

Mobile Apps Help Attract and Retain Customers 

Experienced developers are able to create applications that offer users a truly custom experience, and one that's difficult to duplicate with a mere website. Navigation, features, and appearance may all get tailored to a unique business and marketing strategy. Apps can also use all sorts of rich media to help engage people. The longer that people use the app, the more likely they are to buy from a company and keep buying from that company. 

Why Doesn't Every Company Have a Mobile App? 

Owners and managers of small businesses may believe that only larger companies need or can afford to develop their own applications. However, this perspective might be limiting the growth of those small businesses. Also, getting at least a basic application developed might be more affordable than small business marketers think. As apps have become so popular, they have also become faster and more affordable to build. In addition, companies of all sizes strive to increase their brand image and engage customers, and these are tasks that good apps can do well. 

In any case, businesses that don't have their own business app may be losing customers to competitors that do. These small businesses might ask if they can really afford not to develop their own apps. 

Jun 16 2016
Jun 16

In this week’s higher education notes and trends, predictive behavior technology comes to the education sector, for-profit schools see sharp declines and a closer look at how the University of Southern California is differentiating itself from other prestigious private schools by becoming a leader in recruiting minorities. 

Predictive Behavior Technology Starting to an Impact in Higher Education

Inside Higher Ed published an interesting article on how some firms are using predictive behavior technology to anticipate student drop-out and hypothesizing how that data may, in the future, reduce student churn. 

Civitas, an education technology company uses the data from learning management systems (LMS) and have correlated the relationship between the number of interactions with the LMS and success rate in a particular class. In English, if student’s login to the LMS for a certain class early in the semester and multiple times, they are far less likely to drop the course. This may seem intuitive but confirming a trend could be the start of strategies to proactively reach out to students who don’t log in frequently to offer assistance. 

Predictive behavior tactics (also referred to as “machine learning”) are finding its way into more and more industries as the application for the data is seemingly limitless. Ignoring the techy naming conventions, you’ve likely been exposed to this type of technology hundreds of times without realizing it. When you shop at Amazon, your browsing history is used to serve up recommended products. Facebook ads use data from your likes, affiliations and posts to serve up the ads that best meet your interests; these are both common applications of machine learning. 

It is great to see the higher education community apply this technology for more positive student outcomes and not just commercial application. 

For-Profit Schools Continue Downward Trend

Another for-profit post-secondary institution is feeling the heat. Education Management Corporation recently announced that 22 of the 26 Brown Mackie campuses are set to close after a steady period of decreased demand for its programs. 

For-profits have been under perpetual scrutiny for their aggressive recruitment strategies and low student completion rates in recent years. The introduction of the Obama administration's gainful employment regulations directly targeted for-profit’s and career colleges, designed to increase accountability by forcing programs to prove after graduation employment metrics align with tuition costs. Additionally, transparency on student success and improving student outcomes are principal areas of focus of the new regulations. 

Once a booming industry, it will be interesting to see how for-profits adapt their offerings and strategy; one thing is for certain, the old ways will not survive much longer.

University of Southern California Sets the New Standard for Diversifying Recruitment Practises

The Wall Street Journal published an excellent interview with UCS President C.L. Max Nikias on how the university’s outreach efforts have increased its enrollment of students who use low-income grants to 25% of its current base, bucking the trend of large, private institutions whose student base comes from predominantly wealthy, upper-middle-class homes. 

“We decided that we wanted to be very, very proactive in terms of recruiting students who are first-generation [college students]. That wasn’t the case seven or eight years ago,” said President Nikias. “We visit 2,000 high schools around the country and we promote USC programs. We do it twice a year, in the fall and spring. We’re not sitting back and whoever applies to USC, then we screen and decide. The second thing that we do is that we pay attention to the pipeline because American higher education will only address the so-called diversity issue successfully if we pay attention to the pipeline. Without doing that, we’re kidding ourselves.”

In last week’s Higher Education Notes and Trends post, I openly questioned how the academic world would adapt to the changing demographic trends of enrolling students, specifically larger, more prestigious schools. As fate would have it, UCS has shown one way it can be done, with very tangible results. 

Jun 16 2016
Jun 16

In this week’s higher education notes and trends, predictive behavior technology comes to the education sector, for-profit schools see sharp declines and a closer look at how the University of Southern California is differentiating itself from other prestigious private schools by becoming a leader in recruiting minorities. 

Predictive Behavior Technology Starting to MAKE an Impact in Higher Education

Inside Higher Ed published an interesting article on how some firms are using predictive behavior technology to anticipate student drop-out and hypothesizing how that data may, in the future, reduce student churn. 

Civitas, an education technology company uses the data from learning management systems (LMS) and have correlated the relationship between the number of interactions with the LMS and success rate in a particular class. In English, if student’s login to the LMS for a certain class early in the semester and multiple times, they are far less likely to drop the course. This may seem intuitive but confirming a trend could be the start of strategies to proactively reach out to students who don’t log in frequently to offer assistance. 

Predictive behavior tactics (also referred to as “machine learning”) are finding its way into more and more industries as the application for the data is seemingly limitless. Ignoring the techy naming conventions, you’ve likely been exposed to this type of technology hundreds of times without realizing it. When you shop at Amazon, your browsing history is used to serve up recommended products. Facebook ads use data from your likes, affiliations and posts to serve up the ads that best meet your interests; these are both common applications of machine learning. 

It is great to see the higher education community apply this technology for more positive student outcomes and not just commercial application. 

For-Profit Schools Continue Downward Trend

Another for-profit post-secondary institution is feeling the heat. Education Management Corporation recently announced that 22 of the 26 Brown Mackie campuses are set to close after a steady period of decreased demand for its programs. 

For-profits have been under perpetual scrutiny for their aggressive recruitment strategies and low student completion rates in recent years. The introduction of the Obama administration's gainful employment regulations directly targeted for-profit’s and career colleges, designed to increase accountability by forcing programs to prove after graduation employment metrics align with tuition costs. Additionally, transparency on student success and improving student outcomes are principal areas of focus of the new regulations. 

Once a booming industry, it will be interesting to see how for-profits adapt their offerings and strategy; one thing is for certain, the old ways will not survive much longer.

University of Southern California Sets the New Standard for Diversifying Recruitment Practises

The Wall Street Journal published an excellent interview with UCS President C.L. Max Nikias on how the university’s outreach efforts have increased its enrollment of students who use low-income grants to 25% of its current base, bucking the trend of large, private institutions whose student base comes from predominantly wealthy, upper-middle-class homes. 

“We decided that we wanted to be very, very proactive in terms of recruiting students who are first-generation [college students]. That wasn’t the case seven or eight years ago,” said President Nikias. “We visit 2,000 high schools around the country and we promote USC programs. We do it twice a year, in the fall and spring. We’re not sitting back and whoever applies to USC, then we screen and decide. The second thing that we do is that we pay attention to the pipeline because American higher education will only address the so-called diversity issue successfully if we pay attention to the pipeline. Without doing that, we’re kidding ourselves.”

In last week’s Higher Education Notes and Trends post, I openly questioned how the academic world would adapt to the changing demographic trends of enrolling students, specifically larger, more prestigious schools. As fate would have it, UCS has shown one way it can be done, with very tangible results. 

Jun 10 2016
Jun 10

This is the second in a series of posts recapping ImageX’s presentations at this year’s DrupalCon.

With so many testing methods available -- code static analysis checks, unit testing, functional testing, front-end performance testing, load testing, visual regression testing, etc. --  it can be difficult for a development team to choose which will work best for their project, particularly with limited time and budget available.

ImageX’s Lead Developer, Yuiry Garasimov, discussed the principles of these types of testing and the projects that they might be best suited for.  Specifically, what a development team should take into account when introducing automated testing to their projects and how they can maximize coverage most efficiently.

How can I make it?

One of the biggest challenges that development teams face when they begin implementing automated testing is that they often have limited time and budget, and delivering the project to scope takes priority.  

So how can we sell testing to our clients when no tangible result come from the budget?  

Clients expect high quality from the outset, not as a result of additional budget that isn’t allocated towards a specific feature.  It’s hard to sell what can’t be measured. But testing always brings the overall quality of the project up to a higher standard, so it’s in the best interest of both the client and ImageX to ensure that it’s included.

How can I break it?

Yuriy’s presentation discussed the different methods of testing, how much effort to allocate for each, and how development teams can maximize the value of their testing efforts by prioritizing them based on the project’s needs.

Some of the testing methods discussed include:

  • Code Checks -- the first and easiest testing method, automated, and ensures adherence to Drupal code standards and security checks.
  • Unit Testing -- individual units of source code are tested against sets of one or more computer program modules together with associated control data, usage procedures, and operating procedures.
  • Functional Testing -- this is based on how users will interact with your website.
  • Front-End Testing -- performance-based testing, primarily focused on front-end operations.
  • Visual Regression Testing -- testers will create screenshots of pages as a baseline and control for them, checking for false positives where something passes a test in one area but fails in another.
  • Performance -- testing of the speed and stability of the project’s infrastructure against predefined benchmarks in a production environment.
  • Pre-Flight Checks -- the final round of testing, which confirms the accuracy and completeness of URLs, page sizes, image sizes, etc.

When development teams are first integrating automated testing into their workflow, it’s a common mistake to be too ambitious and try to cover too many things.  A more efficient and economical approach is to identify those critical pieces of the project, focus on them, and allow for maintenance over time.

You can view Yuriy’s full presentation here.

Jun 10 2016
Jun 10

DrupalCon brings together thousands of people throughout the Drupal community who use, design for, develop for, and support the platform. It’s the heartbeat of the Drupal community, where advancements in the platform happen, learnings from its users are shared, and where connections are made that strengthen the community. 

The North American DrupalCon was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, this past May and featured summits, training opportunities, keynotes, sessions, and a week-long sprint. As a full-service Drupal agency, ImageX, was at the forefront of the conference reinforcing their position as a thought leader in the industry. 

Click below for recaps of ImageX's presentations:

Jun 10 2016
Jun 10

As a web agency that specializes in higher education, ImageX keeps its figurative finger on the pulse of the sector. Some weeks are busier than others for new data and studies being released, and this week definitely falls into the busy category. Let’s take a look at the week that was in higher education!

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released a compelling student demographic breakdown of what the higher education landscape looks like in America:

College Students Aren't Your Typical Highschool Graduates

The key takeaway from our team was the level of diversity within the student profile; the idea of a University or College being nothing but teenagers fresh out of high school paints an unrealistic portrait of today’s higher education landscape. Perhaps most surprising is the number of students with children of their own making up 28% of all post-secondary students, while the shifting learning environment continues to see the traditional “classroom only” style of learning lose ground to both online only and blended learning models that incorporate both online and classrooms. While we can’t prove that rising tuition costs are the cause, it would certainly be a strong hypothesis to suggest that 62% of students are either working full time or part time because they have to offset historically high tuition, which likely explains the rising part time and 2-year enrollment increases.

If nothing else, this research shows very clearly that schools must adapt and be flexible to non-traditional learning models.

 

Students are embracing "Learner-Centered Teaching"

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article this week, “How to Fix Higher Education.” It echoes several of the points made above that focused on the changing landscape of student profiles and their preferred methods of learning. Chief amongst the recommendations is moving away from “lecture-style” classrooms and toward “learner-centered teaching.” The article shares intriguing teaching examples from the University of North Carolina where students watch lectures outside of classroom hours and spend their in-class time working collaboratively to solve problems and engage in debate. The author, Carol Folt, Chancellor at UNC at Chapel Hill argues classrooms need to mimic the real world where varied perspectives and collaboration are used daily to solve complex problems. 

 

Faculty Credentials are not as important as student outcomes

And lastly, Forbes echoed the sentiments of the above but took aim at the way teachers are hired to solve the changing needs of students with their article, “How Better Job Descriptions Will Change Higher Education.” The premise of the argument is quite simple; traditionally, higher education professors are hired based on their credentials, not on their ability to impact student outcomes. An interesting point is made in that student outcomes, not the prestige of the faculty, will in the long term drive revenue growth from increased enrollment and alumni donations through rising program completion rates and the success of students making real-world contributions. This seems like a logical course of action for institutions that may not carry the “prestige” of an Ivy League school, but how will those types of schools, who attract students based largely on their brand and prestige of the faculty adjust? Can they, given their business model? It’s an interesting debate to have. 

Anyone working in the higher education sector won't be surprised by these trends; the data has been pointing toward a changing student profile for years, as well as the need for a more modern approach to how to students learn in 2016. The question we find ourselves asking is, how quickly will higher education be able to respond?

Jun 10 2016
Jun 10

As a web agency that specializes in higher education, ImageX keeps its figurative finger on the pulse of the sector. Some weeks are busier than others for new data and studies being released, and this week definitely falls into the busy category. Let’s take a look at the week that was in higher education!

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released a compelling student demographic breakdown of what the higher education landscape looks like in America:

College Students Aren't Your Typical Highschool Graduates

The key takeaway from our team was the level of diversity within the student profile; the idea of a University or College being nothing but teenagers fresh out of high school paints an unrealistic portrait of today’s higher education landscape. Perhaps most surprising is the number of students with children of their own making up 28% of all post-secondary students, while the shifting learning environment continues to see the traditional “classroom only” style of learning lose ground to both online only and blended learning models that incorporate both online and classrooms. While we can’t prove that rising tuition costs are the cause, it would certainly be a strong hypothesis to suggest that 62% of students are either working full time or part time because they have to offset historically high tuition, which likely explains the rising part time and 2-year enrollment increases.

If nothing else, this research shows very clearly that schools must adapt and be flexible to non-traditional learning models.

 

Students are embracing "Learner-Centered Teaching"

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article this week, “How to Fix Higher Education.” It echoes several of the points made above that focused on the changing landscape of student profiles and their preferred methods of learning. Chief amongst the recommendations is moving away from “lecture-style” classrooms and toward “learner-centered teaching.” The article shares intriguing teaching examples from the University of North Carolina where students watch lectures outside of classroom hours and spend their in-class time working collaboratively to solve problems and engage in debate. The author, Carol Folt, Chancellor at UNC at Chapel Hill argues classrooms need to mimic the real world where varied perspectives and collaboration are used daily to solve complex problems. 

 

Faculty Credentials are not as important as student outcomes

And lastly, Forbes echoed the sentiments of the above but took aim at the way teachers are hired to solve the changing needs of students with their article, “How Better Job Descriptions Will Change Higher Education.” The premise of the argument is quite simple; traditionally, higher education professors are hired based on their credentials, not on their ability to impact student outcomes. An interesting point is made in that student outcomes, not the prestige of the faculty, will in the long term drive revenue growth from increased enrollment and alumni donations through rising program completion rates and the success of students making real-world contributions. This seems like a logical course of action for institutions that may not carry the “prestige” of an Ivy League school, but how will those types of schools, who attract students based largely on their brand and prestige of the faculty adjust? Can they, given their business model? It’s an interesting debate to have. 

Anyone working in the higher education sector won't be surprised by these trends; the data has been pointing toward a changing student profile for years, as well as the need for a more modern approach to how to students learn in 2016. The question we find ourselves asking is, how quickly will higher education be able to respond?

Jun 08 2016
Jun 08

DrupalCon brings together thousands of people from the Drupal community who use, design for, develop for, and support the platform. It is the heartbeat of the Drupal community, where advancements in the platform are announced, learnings from its users are shared, and where connections that strengthen the community are made. 

The North American DrupalCon was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, this past May and featured summits, training opportunities, keynotes, sessions, and a week-long sprint. As a full-service Drupal agency, ImageX, was at the forefront of the conference reinforcing their position as a thought leader in the industry. 

Roaming Alone

When Trinity University faculty members took the initiative to build and maintain their own individual websites for each of their areas of expertise, they were bringing the classroom to their students in an accessible way. 

However, when these sites were designed and built, often by third parties, they took on an individual look and feel that was disconnected from both the Trinity University brand and the school’s own website. Despite the great content that their faculty was sharing, the school’s website wasn’t receiving any traffic as a result and, more importantly, students weren’t able to search for or access information from elsewhere in the school from each faculty member’s site. 

Trinity University identified the opportunity to help their faculty launch their own websites easily and quickly that were on brand, accessible from throughout the school’s web presence, and that better served the needs of their students by better organizing and containing the information they needed. 

But how could Trinity University, and higher education institutions in general, solve the challenge of giving their faculty enough freedom to build something unique that wasn’t an out-of-the-box product? The solution was to engage ImageX and leverage OpenEDU.

Trinity University and ImageX

Trinity University underwent a thorough discovery process, building internal support for the project, communicating the need for it up their chain of command, getting buy-in from the necessary stakeholders, and having broad and comprehensive requirements gathering sessions. They consulted with faculty, staff, and students to understand how any potential solution might be used, and what features should be included to maximize adoption. And following that discovery period, they engaged potential vendors to assess their capabilities and proposed solutions. And in the end, they partnered with ImageX Media, who are known for their successes in the Drupal and higher education communities.

Herding Tigers

The solution that ImageX proposed was a new website, which was to be made available at faculty.trinity.edu. It leveraged the school’s existing main website, code base, and Drupal installation as well as ImageX’s knowledge and prebuilt Drupal components to meet the needs of the project’s various stakeholders. 

Faculty are able to visit the new website and submit a request to build a new website for themselves. Once the request is approved, they are given access to a self-serve content management system that empowers them to design, build, and launch a personal website that they customize to their needs from a repository of approved design modules and prebuilt functional components.

Some of the highlighted functionality includes:

  • Panelizer is a drag-and-drop design tool that lays out the website’s pages;
  • Well-structured content types and out-of-the-box views, based on the OpenEDU installation profile;
  • Automatic creation of microsites from a single content type;
  • Organic groups, which allow administrators to facilitate and add membership to assigned own-group users and contributors;
  • Custom styles for individual websites, selectable through an improved WYSIWYG interface made possible by the Paragraphs module, that maintains Trinity University’s global branding; and,
  • Single sign-on using existing Trinity University accounts through LDAP.

And because Trinity University is already using Drupal for their main website and microsites, they were able to provide ImageX with their theme files so that they could be extended to fit the requirements for the faculty website templates. Individual user themes are based on a robust central theme, with subthemes extending the scripting for the base theme, and users have the freedom to create unique layouts without scripting.

Customizable and responsive themes that are based on a flexible template were designed and built using Drupal on the .edu domain. Design options available to users include:

  • Pre-defined font selections;
  • Pre-defined color palettes including backgrounds, panel colors, and accent colors;
  •  Header, footer, and page layouts;
  •  Research posts and listings;
  •  Blog posts, tags, categories, and listings;
  •  Google analytics for the site owner and the university; and,
  •  University brand media assets through the integration of our online repository, WebDam.

In order to satisfy a variety of personal tastes, colour palettes that could express cool and warm tones, along with a selection of accent colours to reflect variety, distinction, and personality were chosen. And for those who just love Trinity University, their brand colours were available for use too.

Because #TigerPride.

#TigerPride and OpenEDU

Jeanna Balreira, Creative Director at Trinity University had this to say about the initiative:

“As faculty are adopting their new site templates, they’re finding it easier than ever to build sites, keep them updated, and discover new ways to showcase their content to the world. We are able to then turn around and leverage their content through searches on the Trinity.edu domain, and position them as the University’s thought leaders within the broader academic community.

"Inspired by ImageX’s work with institutions of higher education around North America, we approached the team with our initial problem, and they 'got it' right away. Utilizing OpenEDU, we’ve been able to give faculty just enough control over their site and its content, but not enough to run wild or roam alone. 

What does the future have in store for our other Tiger web editors? Well, we’re excited to soon extend the platform to other user groups on campus: student organizations, alumni chapters, and lab groups -- to name a few.”

Jun 02 2016
Jun 02

Digital readers skim and scan web text. You can search for numerous research papers and articles on the topic including this one by the Washington Post “Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say.” When I first read the article, I became accutely aware of my own "web reading" behavior. I started by reading the first sentence. Seemed interesting, so my next step was was to scroll the page. I wanted to scan the subheadings to gauge the context of the entire article. I only scrolled half the page before stopping and closing the tab. Why did I automatically close the tab so fast? The first reason is lack of "chunking" which I'll cover in detailed blog in the near future. Briefly explained, chunking applies (mostly) to web copy and the use of headings, subheadings, lists, paragraph sizes etc. It breaks up huges bodies of text and "chunks" it up into more consumable bits. In the case of the Washington Post article, I felt a bit overwhelemed with the huge amount of body text and the tiny subheading so I left. The second reason I left was knowing I can get solid information by moving on - and quickly.

Headings are like way-points for users. If you remove all the body text and images and left only the headlines, they should be able to still describle what the article is about - albeit at 50,000 feet.

I am by no means isolated in this skimming and scanning behavior. So what does this mean?  It means you should spend most of your time writing your headlines and subheadings before even starting on the body of your article, blog post, or any web copy. You need to have a strategy in place that helps you create the type of compelling headlines that will generate higher click-through rates (CTR), again and again. This blog will focus on five headline tricks to inspire you and provide a starting to get your content stronger CTRs. 

1. Social Proof

Social proofing is one of the strongest forces in human psychology. I’ll repeat that again, social proofing is one of the strongest forces in human psychology. Social proof essentially means that when people see other people doing something, they feel more comfortable doing it as well. In fact, they often feel compelled to do it so that they don't seem like an outsider who is going against the grain. Everyone wants to be a part of the "in crowd," so take advantage of this in your marketing, especially in your headlines. If you’re into the TED series like I am, and you want to see it in action, check out Derek Sivers' TED presentation: How to Start a Movement

EXAMPLE HEADLINE:
Here's an example of a great social proof headline: "Learn How 10,000 People (and Counting) Received Series A Funding without a Venture Capitalist."

2. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

You've no doubt experienced FOMO before. Maybe it was the party that you ended up going to, even though you didn't want to. Maybe you purchased a product online because they were having a limited time sale and you didn't want to miss out. But FOMO is all about leveraging people's fear of “losing something” due to them not “acting” on it when they had the chance.
 

EXAMPLE HEADLINE:
Consider the following FOMO headline as inspiration for your own: "iMac Blowout Sale -- Only 7 left in Stock! Order within the next 2 hours and get it tomorrow with free shipping." 

I’m actually guilty of “acting” on these types of callouts. Amazon uses them and gets a sale from me almost every time. FOMO’s should draw out a strong desire to “must have it now”.  Take caution when crafting these types of headlines though - users are turned off by cheap, in-your face sales tactics. 

3. Mystery & Motivation

Few things are more exciting than mystery and intrigue. People love the feeling of positive anticipation. Tagging on some motivation like an offer can hyper-compel users to complete a click action.  So use this to your advantage and add in a little mystery and/or motivation into your next headline. 
 

EXAMPLE HEADLINE:
In 2015, PayPal ran an instant win sweepstakes: “Watch for a Chance to Win 5 Million Cents (That’s $50,000).” The mystery is the video and the motivation is the chance to win $50k.  Some of you might even recognize the man in front of all those pennies, Daymond John, CEO of FUBU and investor on ABC’s Shark Tank.

 
 

4. Self Reward

Let’s face it, most of us use the web to enhance something in our lives. It may be gaining new knowledge or expertise, purchasing the next best thing or filling in some gap. What ever the reason for coming to the web, your headlines must appeal to your prospect's self-interest. As the site owner and content producer, messages and headlines should of course align with your service or products. I've worked with clients who have incredibly unique products aimed to streamline some work-based arm. One headline and story I've used is playing on the idea of "getting folks home on time."  Use your headlines to play on their hardwired desire to reward themselves.
 

EXAMPLE HEADLINE:
 "Why Keep Running Out? Set, save, and forget."

5. Information Tease

One of the most powerful appeals you can make to your users is the promise of useful information. If you want repeat traffic and potentially, brand advocates, that information must be genuine, relevent and useful.

Sharing information is what the web is all about after all. So sere it up front in the headlines you craft. Hint at what kind of problem-solving and useful information that will preceed after a click and in the body of your article.

EXAMPLE HEADLINE:
"This Is The Marketing Research Process That Will Take Your Content To The Next Level." This title was actually taken from CoSchedule's Blog. This headline did well by me. Naturally in my profession, I help clients take their content to the next level. As a practitioner, I had to know what sort of marketing research process techniques I could be over (or under) looking. CoSchedule received a click and read through from me. 

Close

Headlines are critical to user experience and they’re often overlooked. My UX modus operandi is a content-first framework. It puts content at the center of my work. Jakob Nielsen of the acclaimed Nielsen Norman Group tested web writing styles and reported that concise, scannable and objective copy resulted in a 124% boost to better usability. If you were struggling to come up with powerful headline ideas before, you know have 5 psychologically grounded strategies to help you increase click through performance. These strategies are just the begining and, like the most successful strategies, you should always consider your audience and the voice and tone you're using. If you have more strategies to add to the list above, share them in the comments below!

Jun 02 2016
Jun 02

Vancouver, BC (PRWEB) June 01, 2016

ImageX is pleased to announce the launch of OpenEDU, a modular Drupal-based website framework built for higher education institutions. Developed over the past five years, and based on the learnings from dozens of higher education web development projects by ImageX, OpenEDU is now available for free download through http://www.drupal.org.

Out of the box, OpenEDU saves organizations and developers time and effort to create and launch a fully functional school website. Our base code includes a dynamic higher education taxonomy structure that seamlessly pairs complex relationships and dependencies between a college or university’s schools, departments, classes, and faculty. Hallmarks of OpenEDU include:

-Pre-configured relationships between schools, departments, faculty, courses and staff; 
-Multipoint content syndication - internally throughout schools and externally to interested parties and applications; 
-Customizable content governance controls and publishing processes; 
-Flexible authentication methods including social network accounts or your own custom proprietary tool; 
-Unlimited theming flexibility and layouts for each school, department, or specialized initiative. Each site is centralized into one system with robust autonomy in design and content types used; 
-Complete management over multiple events and notify relevant sites about what’s happening campus-wide; and, 
-A full API infrastructure allowing schools to integrate everything from mobile applications, RSS feeds, Learning Management Systems, and much more.

To experience how OpenEDU can empower your school’s web presence, please visit http://www.imagexmedia.com/openedu

“Since 2011 when ImageX built the first version of OpenEDU, we felt it could have a significant impact on higher education institutions who choose to run their websites on Drupal,” said ImageX CEO & Founder Glenn Hilton. “After a few dozen web implementations for some of North America’s most prestigious University and College’s, our original hypothesis was validated and we are proud to release OpenEDU to the Drupal and higher education communities.”

OpenEDU can be downloaded from https://www.drupal.org/project/openedu

About ImageX

ImageX has been a Drupal-exclusive web agency since 2006 and has delivered more than 250 Drupal sites to some of the world’s most prestigious brands, including Apple, Samsung, Adidas, Disney, Adobe, The Discovery Channel, Arizona State University, and Stanford University. To learn more, please visit http://www.imagexmedia.com.

May 24 2016
May 24

Phew! It's been a busy few weeks. I recently had the priveledge of presenting a session (Content-Driven UX) at DrupalCon: New Orleans 2016 with my teammate, Bjorn Thompson. The room was packed with collegues and professionals eager to learn about this emerging paradigm. You can find out about the best content sessions from DrupalCon this year (including ours).

Content-driven UX is constantly on my mind. My entire career is focused on practicing and evangalizing this framework. With DrupalCon winding down, I thought I would touch on the subject a bit more in this blog, and provide some additional strategies for creating and delivering powerful, user-friendly content.

1.  A Content-Driven User Experience (UX) 

 

Content is at the center of everything

What if I told you that by the time you read this, there will be over 1,012,089,457 billion websites on the web? Now, imagine how much content and data is generated every year. In the world of web, the one bonafide thing people consume is content. Some criteria that are at the heart of content-driven experiences are:

  • Message Quality:  Does the content’s “personality” match the target user? Yep content should have personality. One way it comes out is through copy, by voice, tone and style.
  • Front-Loading:  Is the most important content served upfront? The most important content is the conclusion. Your users want that first, not last.
  • Chunking:  Do headings, lists, UI patterns etc effectively organize content it digestible sizes? Users skim and scan digital content.
  • Pathways:  Does the content provide users access to complete goals and tasks? Make sure those goals continually align with the business goals too.
  • Access:  Is the content easily available across multiple devices? Content is meant to be consumed. Tip: find out where target users are and share relevant content there.

Content and design make a strategic whole. This digital superpower forces (or entices us) to address the entire digital ecosystem - from experience to performance. It also help us to ensure two important perspectives are up-front and center: target users and the business itself. What else can it do? A lot.  For one, as practitioners, it allows us to take a deeper look at how content should be written, visualized and delivered in order to drive content consumption or, end user experience. It also empowers digital strategists like myself to ensure on-page content is architected in way that will support the entire ecosystem. There’s a lot of content-driven resources out on the webs -  it’s worth doing some research and including the wisdom into your framework. 

design should support UX content Engagement

I’m frequently asked about the intricacies of visual design and it’s influence on content. It’s a subject I care deeply care about and find myself eager to discuss. Visual design is important. It should support stronger content-consumption (a.k.a. performance) experiences. 

Consider colors, typefaces, logos, emblems, and writing style as the skin that wraps around content. Visual design drives the desire to want to consume content.  Take a moment and think about your home. Imagine several rooms with furniture, electronics, colors, textures, patterns etc. Each room serves a specific purpose - just like web pages within a site. The furniture in each room also serves a specific purpose - beds are made for bedrooms - not kitchens. We spend a lot of time sourcing the right colors and material for our furniture, even digging into the tech specs for the tv we’re upgrading. In the world of web, the furniture, electronics, dishes, clothes - everything in your home - is similar to digital content. 

Design wraps around content. Good design helps draw in users to complete goals or take an action. Choosing the right interfaces and interactions are equally as important. My start in the digital world came from studying (and practicing) Visual Interaction Design (IxD). IxD is a UX design framework that focuses on UI interactions, user journey interactions and pathways. It’s great marriage of science, logic and creativity.

 

2.  Deploy a Multi-Device Friendly UI

People searching for local businesses will be doing so using various devices. Mobile Internet usage has already overtaken desktop usage, especially when it comes to local searches. After all, if someone is looking for a shop or restaurant in a certain area, they'll probably be away from home already, hence the likelihood they'll be using a smartphone or tablet. 

Fortunately, making your website mobile-friendly is easier than ever before, particularly if you're using a content management system (CMS) such as Drupal or Wordpress.

The easiest way to build a mobile-friendly interface is simply to use a responsive design theme that automatically scales to the size of the screen it is being displayed on. As a local business, you should prioritize mobile users and thoroughly test your website across a wide range of mobile devices. Always make sure your content is easily readable and navigable on the small screen.

3.  Invest in Localized SEO 

Local business websites should absolutely focus (and invest) in locaized search engine optimization (SEO). First, be sure to create a domain name that reflects your industry and, if possible, the geographical area it serves. If your business serves multiple locations, it is wise to have multiple domain names, since you'll be able to optimize each website for individual locations. The content of your website should also be relevant to a local audience and, while paying attention to locally relevant keywords and place names is advisable, you must make sure to prioritize user experience by offering value-adding content that your target audience will find genuinely useful. Localized SEO can drive serious qualified traffic.

If you're interested in more tips on localized SEO, check out SearchEngineLand's article.

4.  Use Persuasive Trust Signals 

Ttrust signals are particularly important for e-commerce websites, and they're also valuable for any business websites. Many of your potential customers will be looking for reviews elsewhere, so there's no harm in quoting some positive feedback on your own website, provided you ask for permission from the author beforehand. For example, if you run a guesthouse that has an excellent rating on Airbnb or TripAdvisor, be sure to mention this on your website with a link to the original source to prove its authenticity. 

If your small business also maintains an e-commerce store, consider deploying your own user-review system. This helps to show your target audience that their opinions matter. Trust seals, which are awarded to some businesses and their websites can also help to increase your conversion rate.

5.  Share a Relatable Company & Team Story 

Every business website, no matter what size, should have an 'About Us' page. This mission-critical page is the perfect stage for sharing your story and building a sense of trust with your target audience. Writing a compelling About Us page isn’t always easy, since it's important to capture your reader's attention with an engaging story that they can relate to. People love stories, and this page is your opportunity to tell the story of your business. Use an honest and friendly tone that captures the essence of your brand, rather than trying to be promotional. Your business might have had the humblest of beginnings, but this is something that you can and should proudly proclaim on your About Us page. You can further amplify your story by adding a high-quality image or two. 

Example About Us Page from Moz.com. The content is their team story and they've added some great interactions to really help bring that story to life. 

6.  Social Media Integration

Any successful business should already have an active social media presence in the form of a Facebook page and Twitter account at the very least. However, integrating social media on your business website is also important, since it helps to promote sharing and feedback and reach out to a wider audience.

One of the simplest ways to integrate social media is to have social sharing buttons for the major social networks on all of the main content pages of your website. These buttons allow your visitors to share pages they like on their own social networking profiles with the click of a button. It is also a good idea to promote your own social media profiles on your website and vice versa. As social media marketing continues to grow, it becomes increasingly important to integrate it with your overall digital marketing strategy.
  

7.  Keep Your Content Delivery Fresh & Relevant

Static websites tend struggle with achieving higher search engine results (SERPs) in the longer term. People want current information when searching the Web, so it is essential that all of the content on your website is kept up-to-date and relevant at all times. Things like outdated contact information, directions and price information will serve only to distract and annoy your readers. Although blogging and other forms of dynamic delivery content might not be particularly effective for a lot of small businesses, any business website can make good use out of a news and events page. Use this page to post information about things like new products, sales and any other current affairs related to your business and its target audience. 

Remember, a great business website is one that not only attracts new visitors, but holds onto existing ones as well.

8.  Display Contact Information Up-Front

One of the most common reasons for consumers to turn to the Internet before visiting a local business is to find contact information. Rifling through the phone book or phoning an expensive directory enquiry number is a thing of the past for the vast majority of people. Your contact information should be clearly visible throughout your website, preferably permanently located at the bottom of every page. However, it pays to have a dedicated contacts page as well that also provides directions to your venue. 

Another important factor to consider when adding your contact information is to keep it consistent with any other listings you have online, since this is crucial for the sake of exposure in local search results. In other words, your business name, address and phone number must be written down exactly as it appears on your Google Local listing (which you should also have).

Image Courtesty: MySiteAuditor.com "A Blueprint of The Perfect Contact Form #Infographic"

9.  Integrated Google or Bing Maps 

In addition to contact information, people also expect to find directions to your venue. Even if you haven't made a point of putting your business on Google Maps or Bing Maps already, it might still be there anyway, in which case you will have to claim and verify your listing to prove that you are the owner of the business. This step is one of the most important for increasing your standing in the search engines, and it also allows potential customers to locate your business without even having to visit your website. Google and Bing both allow you to integrate maps into your website simply by copying and pasting a few lines of code. 

You'll also be able to customize the appearance of your maps without having to get involved in any complicated coding. If you're using a CMS like Drupal or WordPress you can simply copy the code into a text/HTML widget.

10.  Use a Newsletter Subscription Form 

In spite of many people claiming that email is losing its popularity, it continues to be the favorite way for consumers and businesses to keep in touch with one another. In fact, email is actually growing, thanks in part to the increasing ubiquity of mobile Internet and the fact that most people are now more likely to check their emails while on the move. 

Given the importance of email, every small business should maintain an opt-in email marketing strategy, and your website conveniently serves as the number-one platform for collecting subscribers. Always make it quick and easy for your visitors to sign up to your newsletter by adding a subscription box in the sidebar of your website. You can draw more attention to it through the occasional call to action, but make sure not to ask for any more information than necessary.

It's a Wrap!

An excellent business website can't be designed in a day, but it's not as difficult as you might think to get started. Thanks to the rise of user-friendly content management systems, you can get a website up and running in a matter of minutes. Nonetheless, it will take time and creativity as well as a thorough understanding of common design practices and SEO for your website to become truly effective.

Do you have content or a site that seems to have stagnated? Have you revived or increased user engagement with your content? Share your content-first experiences in the comments below or get in touch and ask your questions!

May 19 2016
May 19

Inherent in the design process is the debate between subjective and objective quality. Can a design be called objectively “good” and, if so, what is it that makes it good? Or is the quality of a design entirely in the subjective eye of the beholder? However, implicit in this debate is the assumption that design is a single thing that can be viewed as a whole, rather than different elements that each play a role in the overall user experience. 

Designing a new logo for a client, for example, is largely subjective. The designer can educate the client on colour theory, typefaces, and how the mark can be executed across various applications; but ultimately, the key determinant of quality is how the design makes the client and their customers feel about the brand. 

Conversely, designing a user interface is much more objective. Usability data should inform the initial architecture, layouts, and patterns, and then collected, analyzed, and applied in an iterative process that continually refines the evidence-based design. We can then state with a high degree of confidence that one design is better than another.

This poses a challenge when planning your design sprints. Using the examples above, what constitutes “done”? If the acceptance criteria of your user story requires a logo, then it would make sense to plan for several rounds of iteration until the client is happy with the result. But if it’s that the user can submit a form with their contact info, then “done” may simply mean that the form functions as expected. Subjecting it to subjective client feedback may place design over function to the detriment of the latter.

So how can we structure the design management process to help overcome this? We must define a process that is flexible within rigid parameters. 

No One Has a Monopoly on a Good Idea

Before the process of writing user stories, it’s incumbent on the client manager or project owner to draft a clear and concise client brief for the design team to review and from which to base their creative brief. In addition to listing any client requirements and desired outcomes, the brief should also define the level of innovation that’s required -- you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel, so any existing design that can be refined or repurposed will help expedite the process. This is where an effective project manager will delegate to and help guide their team leads, deferring to their subject matter expertise. 

As a manager, listen to everyone. No one has a monopoly on a good idea. This means that you need to listen not only to the client and what they want and think they need, but also to your team. They will all have a valuable feedback to give you that will make your work easier in the future and that will help to optimize your project. Remember that your role in the process is to always advocate on behalf of the project -- not the client, not your teams, but the best interests of the project itself.

That said, never forward feedback emails. A manager’s job is to shape the needs of the client into actionable, concise directed feedback. Offer the original information if requested but still include focused feedback for the designer on top of that. They will be able to tackle the problem faster without wasting time or budget. If all that a project manager does is forward emails from the client, what role are they actually playing?

Running Successful Design Sprints

Successful design sprints are generally broken up into five phases: understand, diverge, converge, prototype, and test. And then after each sprint, design teams should use the data from their testing to iterate and evolve their designs. We’ll discuss each phase in more detail below.

Phase 1: Understand

The primary goal of the first phase is to bring the design team together, review the requirements of the project, and come to a mutual understanding so that you can explore possible solutions in the next phase. 

Create an agenda for this meeting and include items like reviewing research and discovery materials, goals and anti-goals, and an overview of the product and its competitors. Define the problem, and get face-to-face with personas to help focus the team’s ideas.

Phase 2: Diverge

Now that you have a clear definition of the initial problem, this next phase will explore possible solutions. We like to have our design teams make rough sketches as a group and iterate on the fly. It helps to pull out different ideas, and together the team can explore different directions to take them and determine what will be the optimal solution.

Again, create an agenda for this meeting and include items like brainstorming ideas, sketching activities, mind mapping, story boarding, and journey mapping. Then, think and critique as a team. Continue this process until a potential solution has been agreed to and its direction refined.

Phase 3: Converge

This phase puts design teams in the middle of the sprint. The problems are understood and potential solutions have been generated, so now it’s time to converge on all the information and select an actual solution that will be documented as either a wireframe, mockup, or prototype. 

Work in this phase generally focuses on wireframing and prototyping. With a well-established design team, it’s generally best to have them sketch a wireframe and engage in a “ritual dissent.” This cycle of sketch ? dissent ? sketch ? dissent is an internal iteration that the team proceeds through before any work is presented to the client.

When sketching, break the design team out into smaller groups and divide up the user journeys. At this early stage, we like to keep the process lo-fi and put pen to paper. Only after the ritual dissent and subsequent iterations do we move to a digital wireframing tool like Omnigraffle or, even better, Axure, which lets you wireframe and then bring the fidelity up to a prototype level.

Once the sketches are done, we engage in the process of ritual dissent and force the groups to tear apart and dissect their ideas. Each group on the team will have a lead who presents the sketches on their behalf, then the other groups break them down, identify any holes or gaps, and critique the ideas. This process continues until each group has presented to the team, and each idea has been broken down. This forces teams to remove any feeling of ownership or personal attachment and allows fresh perspectives to inform each idea before they’re further refined and presented to the client.

Phase 4: Prototype

The team’s solution is almost ready to present to the client. Using the sketches, wireframes, and/or storyboards, create a basic but functioning prototype (as opposed to a static mockup). Because content-informed UX is pivotal to solutions, a prototype will better help you visualize how your solution will function as you engage with the interactions without having to commit time or budget to development. Prototypes are living versions of your solutions.

Again, we recommend Axure for prototyping. It’s a tool that can transcend most design phases within a sprint, from lo-fi wireframes and mockups to prototypes. Our clients love it too because it helps our design teams present a deliverable that’s polished and professional, which reinforces their confidence in our team.

Phase 5: Test

Finally, test the solution before you present it to the client -- something that should be a must, but sometimes becomes a luxury when budgets are thin. This is another benefit of a prototype versus a static mockup, as it allows for more comprehensive usability testing.

A Taxonomy of Design Types

It’s incumbent on the agency to educate clients on the difference between subjective and objective design, and the values of each. Crafting clear and concise user stories that explain which parts of the design would benefit from subjective feedback and which are best left to data-driven iterations will help non-designers. 

Also, consider drafting a provisional taxonomy of design types and starting the conversation about which will benefit from subjective and objective feedback early on in your process. We like this example from Pivotal, from most subjective to most objective:

  •     Corporate/Brand Identity Design – “How should we design our brand?”
  •     Product Design – “What problem should we try to solve?”
  •     Visual Design – “Does this color scheme effectively direct the user’s attention?”
  •     User Experience Design – “Is this product a compelling way for users to accomplish their goal?”
  •     Visual Interaction Design and User Interface – “Does this design help the user do what they need to do?”

Finally, don’t hide your creative teams from the client. Always allow your leads to be in meetings and have a voice. Strategy and learning come from being in meetings and collaborating with the team and clients. The designer is going to be translating the problem into a solution and should be treated accordingly and they’re in the best position to translate and sell any subjective design. 

Apr 28 2016
Apr 28

ImageX’s front-end development lead, Trent Stromkins, brings a unique background to his role. As a former designer, he uses his love for good design to develop with aesthetics and user experience in mind by marrying form and function. We spoke with Trent to discuss his experience and his thoughts on where design and development intersect.

  Tell us a little about your background and the path you took to becoming a front-end developer?

I first started in development in 1997 working on static HTML pages, then moving on to PHP and database based sites. At the same time, I was working on a career path in architecture but realized that it wasn’t for me so I used those skills to get into design. I worked professionally in packaging design, all the while building my skills as a web developer on the side. I was getting tired of recreating the wheel on every project, instead of using components that could be efficiently repurposed, which lead me to join the Drupal community in 2007 just after Drupal 6 was released. In 2008 when the recession hit I was “economized” from my design job. This gave me the opportunity to change careers.

I merged those two experiences to fill what I thought was a weak spot in the Drupal community -- that you could often tell when a site was built on Drupal. It was there that I decided that front-end development was going to be my focus. Real-world web development situations, for the most part, are not easily defined as front or back-end work; we jump between both. I saw this as somewhere that I could add value, being that I had worked on many custom hand-built solutions along with graphic design in my past. 

  How does your experience as a graphic designer inform your approach to theming a website?

In packaging design, you can design in Illustrator to precise specifications. But in the actual execution, there are variances -- press gain, skidding on the press, shape of the container, etc. that aren’t exact -- so you learn to adjust your designs to match the output. 

Similarly, for the web, your designs should adjust for how actual content will flow which means you can’t always be pixel perfect. You have to understand the output and make adjustments based on what’s realistic. You need an understanding of the CMS’ output, limitations that may be imposed by browsers, screen sizes, etc.

As a designer, I’m very familiar with design tools so I can speak the same language with other designers. I understand that tools have quirks -- like how fonts render in design files versus on the web, for example. I’m also able to fill any visual gaps in cases where there is no design for a piece, and being a designer, I can make those decisions informed by both disciplines. 

  What are some common mistakes that people make when translating design to a theme?

It’s always best to work with the designer and the client to help them understand where things can and can’t be exactly accurate. An example is colour space in Photoshop versus browsers. 

When you’re looking at the design, everything looks controlled and ideal. But when you’re building it responsively, by definition it adjusts. Designers sometimes tend to be too uniform in their designs -- content isn’t always the same, so it will appear and render differently than in the designs. We can’t make all things on the web exactly accurate to the file. The flip side is that not all developers can notice the details in things like line spacing, white space, or visual flow. 

A lot of developers won’t push back on designers because they don’t speak the language, even when the designs aren’t built within the best practices for management, or within the limitations of the CMS.

  Given your experience as a designer and a developer, what advice would you give to a team trying to bridge the creative and technical disciplines?

The thing that’s important is getting the design team to communicate with lead developer ahead of time, especially ahead of the client. Have someone from every discipline at the table early on -- don’t work in silos, as it’s always best to collaborate. To be working best, teams should iterate through each discipline. This also helps keep teams from chewing through a project’s budget by the time it moves down the chain to development or QA. Work with your team and clients to help them understand best practices on the web. Our role should always include education. 

Narrow down the elements of the page, almost like a style guide; show the variations of the elements; and build them as components that can be reused elsewhere on the site (similar to application development) following a universal standard. Also, build tools that enable the layouts and components to be repurposable, and deployed more efficiently throughout the site.
 

  What best practices would you recommend to help improve the workflow between the two disciplines?

Practice componentized design. Design almost like a style guide where you create one design for the overall page and the rest show the variances of any different states. Make sure the components are cohesive and modular and then they become like template options. Working into this trend saves time for both design and development and ideally gives a realistic approach on how it gets assembled.

It also helps when the designer can show examples of how they envision an interaction effect to work on the web, so always give references wherever possible. Using them, developers can determine the specific execution as well as if it’s within budget. 
 

  What gets you excited about the future of development?

React.js has brought into the light some interesting concepts, such as that of using small components, one direction for data flow, and other techniques that make sites and web and mobile apps more modular. When you build websites in a way that allows the growth, evolution, and development of a site to take a componentized form, updating a component doesn’t break the site, it enhances it.

The concept of the web being an application interface and having your site interact like an application -- fast, responsive, and even offline has really got my imagination going. People don’t need to install applications any more, the web as an application is becoming more acceptable (Google docs, Slack, etc.). You can design and build what used to have to be a “native” application, but now have it cross-platform, for the browser, or a web interfacing native shell like Electron

Time will tell, but I see great things for the future of the web!

Apr 27 2016
Apr 27

Devising an effective inbound marketing strategy is vital for countless reasons, and is critical for the growth of business in terms of gaining exposure, building your brand, and truly 'connecting' with prospective leads and customers, members of your industry's target audience.  

There are countless reasons this type of marketing is so essential to your success on the Internet, including:

Outbound strategies simply aren't as effective as they once were.  Knocking people who may or may not be interested in your product or service over the head with flyers, cold calls, emails, or even 'snail mail' usually does nothing but irritate.  Today, consumers have become numb to these outbound strategies; essentially, they ignore your efforts.  People don't want to be sold to, but instead attracted to a product or service they want or need because of the value, information, or solution you offer that's unique or different in some way.

Which would you prefer - a cold lead, or one that's already warm?  Of course a warm lead is better!  When a potential customer comes to you rather than the other way around, you know he or she is already interested in what you have to offer.  When your inbound marketing efforts result in someone reaching out to you, it's a given that person is more likely to become a customer.  

Trust Building: Cold Leads vs. Warm Leads

Inbound content results in a cumulative effect.  While the content you create must be fresh, original, and provide value to the reader, it's always there.  On the Internet, content doesn't disappear, it accumulates!  With inbound marketing, the content is always valuable - and that only adds to the value of previous content or content you create in the future.  Ultimately, this type of marketing promotes long-term growth.

Building leads through inbound content creates a level of trust.  Potential customers have more respect for professionals who are knowledgeable and offer up useful content on a regular basis.  When a possible lead comes to you instead of the other way around, you have the opportunity not only to build trust, but a rapport that's critical for establishing a relationship and 'sealing the deal.'

Inbound marketing isn't 'interruptive' as outbound marketing can be (and usually is).  Bombarding your target audience with ads and emails simply isn't effective today.  People have become blind to blatant ads; they don't like them, particularly pop-up ads that are truly interruptive in nature.  Most promotional emails get deleted.  Instead of being annoying and interruptive, why not be magnetic?

Because leads are generated through outstanding content and persuasive offers in exchange for an email address, businesses don't have to pay a fortune for pay-per-click ads and other forms of advertising.  Through valuable, informative content and social media involvement, you can attract leads without burning a hole in your pocket.  Many inbound marketing strategies cost absolutely nothing, other than your time and effort.  What's not to like?

Content’s Effect on Warm Leads

Content is the lifeblood of the Internet.  Quality content that informs, educates, provides answers and value, and is unique ranks higher in search engine results because like people, search engines want value.  Essentially, because your content attracts your target audience, you're meeting prospective clients where they're at!  You're blending in with the crowd instead of coming across as salesy - and salesy is a huge turn-off to most people.

It’s a wrap

By now you should be beginning to understand that inbound marketing is not just important, it's critical to the success of your business online and making sure your brand is discovered.  Considering it costs less and requires far less effort than outbound marketing, if you aren't using this type of marketing for your business in 2016, you're truly missing out on the incredible benefits. If you find you need a leg up or have some questions connect with us!

Apr 22 2016
Apr 22

 John Kaczmarowski, CTO, brings over 30 (yes, 30) years of technological leadership to the ImageX team. His career spans many industries, including banking, insurance, finance, media, manufacturing, online retail, and public services, and the best practices learned from this diversity of experience is the strength that he offers to his teams and clients. 

We sat down with John to discuss his thoughts on technology, the future of the industry, and what advice he would share from his wealth of experience with younger CTOs.
 

   ImageX:  What does a good day at work look like for you?  What do you accomplish?
 
First and foremost, a good day gets everyone home in time for dinner, homework with the kids, or the party on the beach that everyone’s been talking about. That in itself is a huge accomplishment because it means that everything leading up to that point went well; or at least if it didn’t go well, it went well enough to leave it behind until the morning. Beyond that, a good day is when we learn something as individuals and as teams.  Whether it’s a technical trick or technique, a new business model (or more likely a new twist on a business model), or simply something new about a team mate, good days end with new ideas.
 
   ImageX:  What are the first decision(s) that a new CTO should make in their new role?
 
The most important things that a new CTO should assess when they’re new on the job are:
  1. Is the technical environment suitable for the job that it’s being asked to do? Many businesses essentially “make do,” not because of any particular business or financial reason, but simply because they’ve already made the decision and forged ahead. However, this may not be in the best long-term interest of the business and it’s incumbent on the CTO to evaluate this from a technical perspective;
  2. Equally important is whether your team is suitable for the job that it’s being asked to do. Clearly understand who the individual team members are, who they are as a whole, and can they do the job that they’ve been asked to do;
  3. Now, while looking at both of these issues, it’s important to determine whether the team and the technology have the organizational support necessary to do their respective jobs.  From a technology perspective, is there a strong operational model in place?  What value does the organization place on its technology and workers?  Is there structure in place to support the team that you have, or the team you want to have?
  4. If not, make moves to assemble the technology, tools, team, and support structure that can support the business today and its future aspirations, goals, challenges, and opportunities. 

 

  ImageX:  What’s your biggest advice for a young/new CTO?
 
Similar to the question above, every CTO must know and understand how to manage their team. Some of the best advice I received was to avoid dissatisfaction among my team members.  Dissatisfaction can come from any number of sources -- communication challenges, poor operational structure, bad planning, poorly managed execution, the structure of the lunch room, etc. 

While it’s true that folks in the technology world are being paid to deliver to a high standard, the CTO needs to be clear about what’s expected of them and to make sure that every “ask” is supported with the data, tools, time, and technique needed to make each individual and the team as a whole successful. 
 

   ImageX:  When it comes to technology, what does ImageX do differently?
 
First, we spend more time learning and knowing what an organization needs before we write a single line of code. We evaluate if and how any project can make money, save money, or address a well-defined competitive imperative for our clients. And if doesn’t meet one of those three criteria then we don’t do the job.

We also take the concept of the user very seriously. Foremost, our job is to understand users -- who they are, what they need, and to provide that to them. Regardless of any of our choices or preferences, we define user needs, choose the appropriate technology, and build a solution to suit them.

The technology is easy. What’s challenging (and exciting!) is understanding the uniqueness of the organization and the interests of the organization’s user population(s). We help connect the business world with the technology world by understanding users, how they interact, and how to bridge that divide. We make a positive difference for our clients regardless of the technology.
 

   ImageX:  How do you as the CTO come to a decision with your software? What advice do you have for those who are facing a roadblock or having a hard time developing a strategy?
 
Our approach, as defined in our sales materials and how we orient our work to our meet our client’s needs, is an iterative cycle from strategy to delivery to observation and re-strategy.  After explaining this to one of our newest clients, they told me about one of their mentor’s bromides: inform, strategize, design, and deliver, which is something I’m starting to use a bit more. 

To go on another tangent, Charles Kettering, inventor and businessman, is reported to have said “a problem fully defined is a problem half-solved.”  So, the first step in developing a strategy, be it to resolve a technical challenge or take advantage of an opportunity presented to you, is to clearly and unemotionally understand the challenge or opportunity you face. Understand the context, the market, any influencing factors, and any human factors first, then the strategy can be developed to address the issue. Once you clearly understand the issue and have developed a strategy, the technology itself (at least as it relates to computer technology) generally falls out onto the floor for all to see.  At that point, we simply pick it up, place it on the table, and call it a day.
 

   ImageX:  In a time when software developers are in higher demand than ever, how do you retain ‘superstar’ employees?
 
Good question!  We’ve recently encouraged a few superstars to join by being clear about our priorities. CTOs make mistakes – they think about financial health of their project portfolio, but it’s the people who are the hardest. We attract the best people by treating them like adults and we run people out when they don’t act like adults. If you have ten adults and one child in the room, you spend all of your time on the child.

And we respect the lives of our people by getting them home on time and ensuring that their voices are heard. 
 

   ImageX:  How do you manage and monitor your team? What advice can you offer someone who is struggling with management?
 
Nothing replaces management tools and techniques (time tracking, project tracking, Jira, DevOps standards, etc.) but at the end of the day I like to follow the “management by walking around” theory from the 80s. I don’t have an office. I like to hear and see our team on a daily basis and use that understanding to inform any judgement calls.

Work with your people, have empathy, understand their pain points, and know the process from front-to-back.  And when problems arise, don’t just push it along the chain – understand the process, the system, and how your team works through it.

I also like to encourage constructive conflict. There’s lots of folks that have an initial adverse reaction to that word, but time and again we see that conflict gets shit done.  Encouraging fearless communication, engaging in the conflict of ideas and not that of personalities, and helping my team realize that ideas should always trump feelings, tends to really take the sting out of the inevitable issues and conflicts that arise in any organization.
 

   ImageX:  What gets you excited about the future?
 
From a personal perspective, it’s ImageX’s continued ability to attract the right talent to our team because with the best team comes the best clients.

And from a technical perspective, the final word hasn’t been said on location-based services. Many services seem to have dipped their toes into the water, but the opportunity to deliver services that are targeted to who you are, where you are, and what you want is largely untapped. In neighbourhoods, small towns, local factories, schools, and merchants, localization is the great equalizer to globalization.
 

   ImageX:  Where do you see the biggest opportunities for growth in our business?
 
The top areas for growth that I see are:
  1. Mobility beyond responsive design – specifically, Drupal as back-end supporting mobile. Taking Drupal as a service end-point and connecting it to native mobile apps using the API set, etc. from Drupal, but deploying the final piece as a skinned mobile app. For example, one of our clients is a science and technology university who wants a mobile app.  When a student registers for a class, the instructor posts class info – exams, tests, lectures, etc. – and an app pushes notifications to the student’s phone;
  2. Expanding beyond Drupal. Service-side JavaScript is where the future is going;
  3. Extending the concepts of OpenMobile and OpenEDU to other markets – publishing, corporate training, learning management systems; and,
  4. Given the worldwide search for talent that’s ongoing in the high-tech world and the worldwide search for market opportunities, geographic expansion becomes not so much an interest as an imperative.

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