Moving Pictures: Storytelling on the Web

Humans are social beings, and we have an inherent need to connect with others to create a sense of belonging and acceptance. You may have not thought about it in this way, but a large part of Facebook-Videothat connection with others is telling stories – everything from your uncle’s hunting tales, to reminiscing with college [studying] buddies, and even the “I remember” conversations you get by looking at your old family photos.

All of these examples are stories that build history, value and connection between people. Stories are so ingrained into our existence as humans that no matter how far you look back into history, every culture’s beliefs, artistry and writings are really just a collection of stories about hope, fear and knowledge that are passed from one person to another over the course of time. Our need to use stories as a connection and communication tool has not diminished with the onset of technology – not by 35mm’s, or even a pixel. The film industry alone is at $88 billion per year, only rivaled by the essentials of modern existence – power, construction, medicine … and Wal-Mart.

Do you have a story to tell? Video is a format that changes how a story is told. We live in a spectacular time when the tools to create video are more accessible than ever before. You don’t need an $80 million blockbuster budget or a 30-person crew either. Quality cameras are affordable (every phone has one), and powerful graphics and animation software is cheap (or even free!). The audience doesn’t have to imagine what you are trying to say, because you are not just telling your story, you can show them. You can easily have your own web video channel about parenting, how-to series about car repair, watch product demos, or have your own web cartoon – and place it in the palm of anyone’s hand.

As our culture changes, the way we consume information and tell stories will follow suit. Thanks to the Internet and smartphones, your story is now only a click or swipe away. The days of text-heavy websites – overflowing with tables, paragraphs and bullet points – are long gone. Everyone is busy and on the go. Statistics say 40% of us are engaging other people on our tiny, handheld portals to the Internet. Since time and accessibility seem to be the issue, I know I would rather experience a story in 30 seconds, with full-screen video and audio, rather than try to absorb the same story across four screens worth of 10-point Helvetica. I certainly do believe in the power of the written word, being a creative writer (and now blogging here on TKGenius!).

Writing in general will always holds its value with expanded explanations, imaginative narrations and abstract thoughts. A novel will always have greater depth and details than its movie counterpart. Unfortunately, I can’t process the novel-version of that same story in the same hour and a half with my fourth-grade reading speed. Video lends itself to the modern web because you can use focused storytelling to rapidly engage audiences with a complete story that can easily be shared on any web page, social media forum, or sent through email.

If you have a very clear message to convey in a short timeframe, consider video. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but video is worth a thousand words twenty-four times per second – and has its own soundtrack. We all have a little time for a great story. How are you telling yours?

Who owns your content and why does it matter?

This shouldn’t even be a question right? Assuming your website or app is your own, it’s all certainly your content, right?

Not so fast.

Some platforms and approaches to websites or apps can rob you of the return you deserve for creating good content. Here are two very common examples.

First, we’ll look at rental websites. I can’t tell you how many companies have come to TKG over the years needing a new website with an urgent need to abandon their old one on a hard timeline. Often the reason for this dilemma is what I call “rental websites.” In other words companies that offer you a very low cost website for a minimal monthly cost. The problem with these solutions more often than not? The fine print. The provider is usually leasing you the platform and design, many times they even have rights to your actual content. They may sound fantastic: “fully hosted solution” … “turnkey websites” … “low-cost, do-it-yourself website.” They sound simple enough, but when it comes time to upgrade or move on, companies often find their hands tied when they realize they didn’t own their own website. That makes carrying your strategy forward much more difficult and expensive, especially if you’ve already gotten some traction.

Next, let’s look at subdomains. A subdomain is often used in inexpensive sites and some “apps.” If your site does not live at your domain, that can be a real problem. Let’s pretend you have a mobile site at a domain other than your own. It might look like “yourcompanyname.nameoftheappprovider.com.” From a search engine’s perspective, all of the content there belongs with the root domain it is associated with, which in this case would be “nameoftheappprovider.com.” So while you may legally own your content, the search engines don’t see it that way – and for good reason. This means that all the while that you think you are building, promoting, advertising and linking to all the great content in your app or website, you’re really just promoting content that isn’t ultimately associated with your brand. How much sense does that make? Some of these software providers may even attempt to tell you that Google and search are no longer relevant. If anyone tells you this, or you read it in their content, do yourself a favor and excuse them from your office and return to Google to continue your search for a digital partner.

I know no one wants to think about all of the geeky stuff that makes your online presence successful for your business. But it couldn’t be more important to get it right so you aren’t throwing your money away.

Feel free to contact me – or anyone on my team – if you have any questions about how it all works. We’re happy to talk geek, and can translate it to real English pretty well, too.

Programming Challenges are With Me Everywhere I Go

image_712016 is shaping up to be a big year in the life cycle of Apoxe.   After letting some competing technologies battle for supremacy its time to re-evaluate the winners, methods, and techniques and vet them against core fundamentals of what Apoxe is so that it can move to the next level.

Taking Apoxe down to the studs so to speak has me excited and anxious to get in there and get geeky.  This reminded me of an article I read a few years ago by Joel Lee that I feel is still relevant and at least for me – reaffirms that I’ve chosen the right profession.  If any aspiring programmers are reading this, I highly recommend you take the time to let the following points sink in.  Its ok, I’ll wait… http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/6-signs-meant-programmer/

Each point made in his article about why you shouldn’t be a programmer rings true for me on some level.  For example, the first point “You Lack Experimental Creativity” made me chuckle because I can think of a few times that I spent hours coding, only to scrap it later because some revolutionary thought came to me later in the day.  I wasn’t that sad to scrap it, instead I was excited to try a different approach.   Or, You Want Normal Work Hours.   Just this past holiday season I was on the couch programming away ideas for Apoxe while kids were watching TV, and I found it very relaxing. Even in church I may have wondered from the sermon thinking about a lingering problem I wanted to solve.  Programming challenges are with me everywhere I go, and most of the time, I’m OK with that.

As I approach 16 years with TKG, and 20 years (holy crap) since building my first websites –  I feel lucky that challenges that got me hooked on programming and web development have been replaced with new challenges to continue to grow – and that the thought of getting in there to solve them continues to motivate me.

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Running a Successful Facebook Contest—The Right Way

So you’ve finally decided to run a Facebook contest. That’s great! Social media contests can improve engagement and likes, and encourage your audience to interact with your brand. Besides, everyone loves the chance to win something!

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  1. Give away something people actually want to win

If you make consumable products, you have a built in prize. If not, try looking into branded hats, mugs, t-shirts, keychains, or anything that makes sense for your business. You might be surprised how excited people will get over a plastic cup or a notepad. If those don’t seem to be good options, you can always give away a gift certificate.

  1. Add pictures of the prize, if possible

Engaging content has swiftly shifted more and more to video and photo content and if your Facebook fans can actually see the prize they have a chance to win, they are much more likely to interact with your contest. This is your chance to get creative by arranging the prizes in a way that looks the most appealing.

  1. Create a strategy

What do you want to get out of this contest? More engagement? More interaction? More new likes? Take the time to think about what you want out of the contest and plan the terms around it. For example, if you want more engagement, you might want to ask your audience to like and comment on the post. Or if you want more new page likes, you might run a contest to get to your next milestone. Keep it easy and engaging, but somehow tied to your brand.

  1. Promote contest posts

This is important! You can’t just rely on word of mouth or shares for your contest to do well. In order to get the most engagement you need to reach the largest possible audience. As most of you may know, Facebook’s algorithms don’t show every single post to every single member of your audience. Even if you have a small budget, promoting your posts is definitely affordable.

  1. Stay involved

While the contest is going on, be sure to interact with the audience as they are commenting. You don’t have to like or comment on every single post, but some engagement is necessary. When you host a social media contest, you’re bound to get a variety of comments, so make sure you’re checking them regularly and commenting as necessary.

  1. Choose your winner fairly

It might be tempting to choose a winner who often interacts with your page or maybe even someone you know. Don’t. I use Fanpage Karma’s “Good Luck Fairy” to randomly pick a winner from likes, comments, shares or a combination. The best part? You can download a spreadsheet of everyone who interacted with the contest so you can have a hard copy of your winners.

  1. Notify winners and send prizes promptly

Don’t delay with notifying winners. They are excited to hear who won, and I’m willing to bet you’ll be excited to notify them after you’ve ended the contest. Facebook has recently allowed businesses to contact winners directly, but it’s also not a bad idea to write a post notifying the winner or winners.

  1. Study your analytics

Look at your engagement numbers and percentages to see how well you did and learn from it. If you didn’t get the engagement that you hoped, you might want to switch gears and go with a different strategy. Or maybe you want to spend more on advertising or give away a bigger prize.

At the end of the day, running a contest on Facebook should be fun! It’s exciting to see people get so pumped up over winning a prize. You users will be more engaged and watching you to see what contest you’re running next, which leads to more traffic to your Facebook page and eventually to your site.

Understanding Mobile First

Having spent nearly 20 years in the web development field, I was an early adopter and strong advocate of the “mobile first” approach that has recently came on strong.

It forces many good habits that, frankly, the industry should have been paying attention to all along. Prioritizing the right content for the visitor’s needs just makes sense.

Mobile first means exactly that – considering what is most important for smartphone and tablet readers to see when they reach your website from those devices. It is (and should be!) a different experience from the desktop.

As Geoff detailed in his recent “Mobile Only is Foolish” post, TKG definitely does not advocate the easily-confused idea of mobile only. Mobile only is very different than mobile first, and it’s easy to see where people may be fooled into mobile only.

Commonly, what happens in mobile only is that a desktop experience existed and then a completely separate mobile experience is considered. With this approach, the likelihood that the brand’s intended experience across devices becomes increasingly fragmented. What happens is you end up cramming all of the information into the smaller displays or just cut it out entirely. Just having a link to everything that you would on the desktop doesn’t mean you’ve successfully delivered the right experience.

Not to mention what it says to Google and your SEO rankings.

A mobile first approach takes more thought and time to plan, but the return is tremendous. Desktop displays afford much more space to play with, and typically require more bandwidth and technology to produce a desired experience. The beauty of a mobile first approach is that the core experience is maintained throughout the site, no matter what device your visitor is using. The mobile experience is delivered with the minimum required components and then is progressively enhanced as the display, bandwidth and technology allows.

Here’s your strategy for doing it right:

  • Goals: Mobile first thinking immediately brings to the surface the need for clear goals for the site. Most often a conversion is desired, whether that be a phone call, a lead form or an e-commerce sale. This usually isn’t a one-step path. And often, the goal(s) of a mobile user are different than a desktop user, so we must make accommodations for those realities. Some simple things are quick access to things like directions, hours or click-to-call. These are things you might keep available on a desktop experience, but likely tone down.
  • Content First:Again, with limited screen space, mobile first thinking forces our content to be focused on the most critical messaging. So, as your content is developed, key messaging should be separated from their expanded topic(s), while allowing both to be present for the visitor.  This decision-making typically bodes very well then for larger display experiences by allowing a great amount of flexibility when presenting content. Of course, to execute that focus on key messaging, the designer must have the actual content prior to design to properly present it for the varied experiences.
  • Navigation:Navigation menus can present a substantial challenge, particularly on large sites. Taking a mobile first approach again brings these challenges to the surface early on and facilitates the need (opportunity) for structural prioritization. When possible, simplify. Long lists of navigation are forced to be tucked away as a utility to the visitor to allow key messaging to remain in focus. Remember, out-of-sight is often out-of-mind. The saving grace is that if your goals are clearly identified and your content provides a supporting path, those navigation menus should be able to remain a utility (in non-commerce websites).

Contracting a reputable digital partner to redesign your website from a mobile first approach isn’t the quickest, but I know without a doubt that it’s the most effective. A side benefit is that you only pay to maintain one “website” instead of multiple, which means that Google stays happy too and you won’t get dinged on the search marketing implications of having multiple websites.

Invest in creating the mobile experience first, put focus on your goals and reap the rewards of a better experience for those interacting with your business. As with any change, it’s not easy, but it’s the right thing to move your business forward.

Digital Trends to Watch Out for in 2016

Digital Marketing WordsOnline marketing is a constantly changing industry, and with each new evolution comes a host of new challenges and opportunities. That’s why, at the end of each year, we take time to reflect on the year behind us, and think about where our industry is heading.

So as 2015 comes to a close, we’re putting together our list of digital trends that we predict will have the biggest impact in the upcoming year. Read on for an exclusive look into the digital trends projected to shake up 2016:

1. Increasing Need for Marketing Automation

Let’s be honest, most visitors won’t make a purchase the first time they visit your site. That’s because it takes time and repeat exposure to form the kinds of relationships that lead to conversions.

In order to facilitate meaningful relationships in 2016, it will become essential to filter content and tailor your messaging to meet your audience’s needs. Personalized follow-up content goes a long way in establishing relevant touchpoints with your audience, and could make a serious impact on your conversion rates.

2. Immersive, Interactive Content will be King

In 2016, interactive content will become necessary for a successful digital presence. No longer is text-based content enough to tell your story. Without immersive, visual storytelling, your content will simply not be as effective in 2016.

Here’s a particularly compelling example from BuzzStream: In 2013, the most popular pieces of content from both BuzzFeed and the New York Times had something in common. And it was not that they were well-researched, journalistic pieces. They were quizzes. And this trend is not going away. As we move into the New Year, effective content will need to actively engage your audience. Passive content simply won’t cut it.

3. Data Will Help Guide Digital Efforts

Consumer behavior has become increasingly complex in recent history, a trend that we expect to continue into 2016. More sophisticated data analysis will be necessary in the New Year in order to understand this complex consumer behavior and guide digital marketing efforts going forward.

If you’re not thinking about customer relationship management, usability or cross-channel marketing, you’re likely doing your audience and your business a disservice. By understanding the ways in which your users interact with your brand in the digital space, you are much more likely to be successful in your digital marketing efforts.

4. Mobile Marketing is No Longer Optional

The use of mobile marketing will continue to be one of key digital trends in 2016. In order for your website and supporting marketing materials to be effective, they must lend themselves to an easy, streamlined mobile experience.

Trust us; geo-targeting, social advertising and responsive design are not just passing fads. As marketers learn more about the ways users interact with their mobile devices, they will continue to push the envelope of mobile marketing – and it’s important that your business doesn’t fall behind.

From responsive design to social and content marketing, TKG has the skills and resources to help you prepare your online presence for the New Year. Contact a member of our team to discuss your digital needs for the upcoming year.

Have other predictions for 2016’s biggest digital trends? Share them in the comments!

Happy Thanksgiving

It’s that time of year again where everyone gives thanks. In actuality, our hope would be that people are thankful all year ‘round but it seems proper form to give thanks publicly at this time of year.

We here at TKG are no different.. We’re giving thanks Handpainted illustration of a Turkey and autumn gifts with a letter on Thanksgiving Day.throughout the year. At any given time in the year you can hear people at TKG declare thanks on such things as:

Thank goodness…

“for Johnny Manziel” – ok, kidding here.

“Rices Nursery came and made our main entrance look awesome”

“Shearer’s sent more chips over to “sample””

“our new shipment of Spangler candy Dum Dums has arrived!”

“Bonita is awesome and takes care of all of us around here”

“we have Military protection on staff”

“we created another month of great results for our clients”

You get the idea…

However, we also want to take this opportunity to convey some things at this time of the year we, as a group, are thankful for. The mistake the team made is that they appointed me as the speaker of the masses on this topic. So this did not go out for a vote or feedback. The team here just has confidence that I won’t let them down on this top 10 things TKG is thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Here goes (in no particular order):

  1. Our clients & their confidence
  2. The Interwebs
  3. Our team & their skills
  4. Search Engines
  5. Content
  6. Friends and Family (wait, that’s two!)
  7. Brains (ours individually and the pink squishy kind)
  8. Coffee (we go through a lot of it!)
  9. Good health
  10. A bright future & continued success

There you have it.. Certainly not everything we are thankful for. Possibly not even all the most important things we individually are thankful for. But things to be thankful for none the less.

From our entire team here at TKG to all who may read this:
Have a very Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!

Interactive Content is the New Content

What is interactive content? It’s content that engages your users beyond clickable links and calls to action. The 21st century website user demands content that he or she can digest, use and interact with. He or she is selective about which websites he or she engages with, and which websites ultimately get his or her business. While having those important written components on your website are absolutely crucial to pick up Google’s feelers, in order to add that extra “oomph” to your website, you should add some interactive content.

Let’s look at five ways you can add interactive content to your site:

  1. Photos/videos: They may seem so simple, but a good photo gallery of your projects (before, during and after completion) can go a long way. Add calls to action or invite users to submit their own photos of the work you’ve completed for them and you’ll have even more photos to add to your gallery.Videos also play a crucial role in developing interactive content. Use videos to introduce your company to website users, hold a contest (see below), demonstrate case studies, show your business in action or to empower your audience to take action.
  1. Social media: Your company should be have some sort of social media presence. Period. Whether you’re active among all social channels or just dipping your toes into LinkedIn or Google+, make sure you take the time to nurture your accounts and community management. Don’t take the power of social media for granted. On a smaller scale, social media allows you to easily handle issues with customers on a public forum. But you can also use social media to create interactive content. Invite your users to share their experiences with your brand. Ask users for recipes using your product or to submit photos/videos of them interacting with your product. If you’re a service-based industry, ask them to who their favorite person to work with in your office is. No matter what industry, there’s always a way to create interactive content for your users.
  1. Contests: Who doesn’t love to win something free? If your users see you giving away a gift card or product on your site or through social media, they will flock to your contests. This method has been very successful with some of our clients, especially those who give away branded or consumable products. Hold a contest online or through your social media channels asking users to “like” or “comment” or “retweet” your posts and just watch your engagement and brand trust grow.
  1. Challenges: Similar to contests, challenges pose another way to engage your users and to get them involved in your product. One of our clients, Clearwater Systems Ohio, a water softener company, recently held a “Drink More Water Challenge” that was met with great success. Users even took the challenge in a completely unplanned direction by boasting how much water they drank each day—something that wasn’t even written into the contest!
  1. Quizzes: If you’re appealing to the younger generation, a quiz is a perfect way to build brand trust and to interact with users. You can write your quiz to lead users to answers to questions like “Which product am I?” or you can write quizzes that are relevant to your industry, such as the quizzes we wrote for one of our jewelry clients.

Interactive content empowers your users through social media channels or through your website and helps them understand and interact with your brand. It doesn’t matter if you’re a “fun” brand like food or candy or an industrial brand, you can absolutely benefit from interactive content.

Life with Microsoft Edge

Let’s just get this out of the way.  Microsoft cannot make a browser that satisfies everyone.  If you remember a few months ago, I wrote about how the excitement around IE’s demise at the hands of a brand new browser was losing its appeal to me.   At that time a look at the touted new features and work Microsoft had put into IE over the last few years left me feeling ‘meh’ about Edge.

Windows 10 has been out for a little over a month now and as promised, Edge is front and center.  Technically it does what a browser is supposed to do – show you a webpage.  Its rendering feels snappy and its minimal interface falls in line with what other browsers are doing. Actually trying to use it however seems like it is a very 1.0 release to me.   Refinements found in more mature browsers are missing, and in some ways it actually falls short when compared to IE.

Let’s start with my biggest annoyance.  As a web developer, I often times have to copy/paste part of the address for a task. To do this, I simply put my cursor where I want to start, and click.  If I needed “/web-development-portfolio” below, I’d put my cursor at the ‘/’

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So, what happens when I do that? Edge suddenly fills in a lot more of the URL and my cursor isn’t where I intended. The start of the highlight below shows where my cursor was after the click.

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Next, I rely on “Home” to get me back to some starting pages I need often through the day.   See the address bar image above?  Do you see a home icon? Nope, it’s not there by default.   Granted, you can turn it on under the hidden ‘Advanced Settings’ but it’s pretty well buried for people like my dad so I’ll get the tech support phone call when he finally moves to 10.    Ok, so it’s turned on – you would expect it to take you back to the page or group of pages define in the “Open with” settings, right?   Wrong, you get a single URL option that is different from what you see when you first open the browser.

microsoft3Speaking of the Open With setting, which defines what you see when you start Edge, what a cheap ploy by Microsoft to get traffic to their online properties. MSN and Bing both get top billing for the ‘specific page or pages’ option with a sort of cryptic “Custom” option that allows you to enter a URL 1 at a time for multiple tabs.   I know this labeling of “Custom” will be another phone call from Dad.

Finally, remember Cortana – Microsoft’s digital personal assistant?  As I mentioned last time, it felt like Microsoft knew they had a hit, so they decided to put her into every nook and cranny if it made sense or not.   To find her, you highlight text on a page, right click and choose “Ask Cortana”   Below shows her response to my selection of “CMS” on a certain web development company’s website.   “Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services?   “Food and Drug Administration”?  Thanks, Cortana.

Why isn’t the fact that I’m on TKG.com, which Bing knows as a web-development website, taken into consideration for Cortana’s response?  I would expect then to see information about “Content Management Systems” which would be helpful in the context of the site I’m currently on.

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I tried, really I did, for a week or so to make Edge my default browser.  In the end it just has too many rough edges and no compelling reasons to stick to it.  For now it’s back to the dynamic duo of Google Chrome and Internet Explorer as my browsers of choice.

Mobile Only is Foolish

responsiveHas our industry done enough to convince you that a mobile friendly website is important?

In case we haven’t, it is critical.  Here are a few links to make that point clear:

Mobile Only however is foolish. While it’s critical that users can easily access your website on mobile devices, that doesn’t mean that desktops and tablets are not a substantial part of the equation.  Most of us use one or both of those device types every day.  It’s important to make sure your web presence is professional on all devices, not just phones.

When considering options as it relates to making your site mobile friendly, do it professionally.  Don’t let yourself be tempted by very inexpensive or quick and cheap solutions.  As with anything, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing it right.  Remember, this affects how most people will experience your brand for the first time.

Things to avoid when considering mobile site options:

  • Cheap or freeware apps and tools that cannot be customized
  • Tools that interrupt your messaging with their brand i.e.: load screens with the tool’s logo
  • Tools that hide your content behind their domain (yourname.productname.com)
  • Software that looks the same in every application – your brand should stand out

Potential problems caused by low end tools:

  • Branding often limited and inconsistent
  • User experience is poor across multiple device types
  • Content can be hidden from the search engines or associated to other companies. Many of these services also don’t offer you any way to optimize your content or do other marketing-related functions that help make your business successful online.

I understand it’s easy to get excited, want to move fast, and have to go mobile on a limited budget.  Believe me I have seen a lot of products come and go over the years that meet those needs. They go away for a reason.

If you have a solid business that you’re proud of and expect to be around for the long haul, you want to avoid short term mistakes that have long term implications.

Your site needs to be mobile friendly. That is true. But it should also be desktop and tablet friendly.  That’s why professional web designers and developers who understand the big picture leverage responsive design.

Our industry has gotten a bad name with these kinds of foolish apps that make big promises and ultimately cost the consumer. As a digital agency, I believe we have a responsibility to uphold professional standards and look out for the best long-term impact on our clients.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Give me a call at 330-493-6141.