Geoff is our fearless leader – President & Owner of TKG, a role he’s held proudly for the past 15 years. He likes to talk “big picture” online marketing trends and strategy, and how/why businesses can use the web to achieve their goals. He’s also a passionate Steelers fan; we felt you should know that.

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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.

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.

Don’t Do Anything to Your Website for this One Reason

One would think that Google’s own team of experts would know how its search engine works, right?google

While they probably know how their engineers envision it working, it’s apparent that there are aspects that even these leaders in tech can’t reliably explain.

As you can see from Jon’s post regarding subdomains vs. subdirectories, real world tests don’t play out as Google says they should.

Over the years we’ve seen numerous examples where real world tests don’t always match up with stated outcomes.

Another good example is the flurry over responsive design and how it relates to search engine rankings. Our industry–TKG included–is really good playing into the hysteria. If you’ve followed the industry conversation, you’d think that all websites that are non-responsive would have been removed from Google’s index by now.

The reality is that most sites are not responsive; Google, however, still has to return relevant results to satisfy its users.

Don’t misunderstand me. I believe sites need to be responsive, but for the right reason: because human beings are accessing sites on mobile devices.

We have said for years to our clients, “Don’t do anything to your website just for Google.” If you’re doing it just because Google or your online marketing agency said so then it’s probably not the right move. Make changes to your website because it makes sense for your users and the search engines will have no choice but reward you.

Besides, it’s clear that even Google doesn’t always know how Google works.

The Return of Frames

20 years in the web design business has allowed me to see a lot of change.

So, who remembers frames? You know that clunky, multi-document approach to leaving branding and navigation in place while the user scrolled?

I have fond memories of heated debates I had with our team years ago about frames. Believe it or not, I was a fan of the evil technique. I always felt that leaving navigation and branding in place for the user had some real value.

Navigation is essential for guiding users through a site’s content, and an effective and useful navigation must be accessible and intuitive. Frames allowed essential website elements, like branding and navigation, to stay in place while the rest of the website content moved around it. This made it easy for users to find what they were looking for, no matter where they were on a site.

Of course, I was never a designer or developer, so I didn’t have to deal with the nasty details of making a frames site work.  Let alone the mess that they made for the search engines if not done properly.

As it turns out, a little over a decade later, the concept has returned.  Today it’s done by setting a fixed position of elements from within the CSS.  It’s fair to point out that it’s much cleaner this way and doesn’t require the multiple html docs that frames did.

I’d be willing to bet that many who argued vehemently against frames years ago, if they are still web developers today, have either built or will soon build a site with fixed navigation and branding.  They don’t even realize that they are helping to bring back an old technique they once fought so hard against.

Have additional thoughts about the return of frames? We’d love to hear them!

Are We Thankful? Absolutely.

thankfulIt’s hard to decide where to begin when it comes to the things we are thankful for. There are so many things that I even considered a spreadsheet to keep track. But here’s an attempt at offering an idea of the many things we have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving:

Our Country:
There’s a lot to worry and complain about in our world today. There’s also no doubt that there is no other country in the world that has spread freedom and opportunity like the USA has. To a very large degree, we have those who serve in our military to thank for that. We often take for granted our ability to do things like get to our jobs safely. Their impact is huge and we are grateful.

Our Families:
I realize it’s a bit cliché to mention family in this context. However if you know anyone at TKG, you know we mean it.

Opportunities We’ve Been Given:
Of course our jobs are a result of the opportunities we have been given. We have many friends, clients and organizations in the community to be thankful for. We’ve been blessed with many years of opportunity to grow, learn, do good work and earn a living because of them.

Our Team:
We aren’t perfect. We are constantly working to become better at every level in our company. I am personally thankful for a team that is working so very hard make that happen.

Of course this isn’t everything we have to be thankful for. These are just a few of the things that when we step back for a moment, we are very thankful God has done for TKG.

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An SEO Friendly CMS is a Must

It’s hard to believe that this day and age, we would still be coming across recently built websites on content management systems that are not SEO friendly.  You’d be surprised how often we do.

It is our opinion that this should be a minimum standard by now.  Frankly a current CMS should go beyond being SEO friendly, making integration easy with CRM systems, email marketing service providers, social properties etc., simply because effective SEO really means a well-built website and a good content marketing strategy.

CMS + SEOIf you are evaluating a new CMS, it’s critical that you consider the following bare bones:

  • Human friendly, and search engine friendly URLs
  • Does not create duplicate content
  • Output of CMS is consistent with standards compliant markup
  • Individual page properties and meta data are separate fields in the CMS
  • Reorganization of content as the site grows is easy and clean, redirects applied as needed

Ideally you’ll be able to find a CMS that has been heavily influenced by true online marketers.  It’s true that software developers are very good at making very efficient content management systems that do generate web pages efficiently.  Your goal should go further than that though.  It should be efficient of course, in every way.  Time and skill needed to add pages should be minimal, server resources need to be considered etc.  Equally important are the needs of the online marketers who want to be able to effectively run an online marketing campaign.  Their goals are most often focused on growing the business of the customer, so their needs are important.

What it boils down to is most websites serve a purpose: To generate business.  If your CMS does not give you and your online marketing team the tools to meet that objective, then no matter how inexpensive, or how efficient it is, it’s a waste of time and money.

Why Manufacturers Should Consider E-Commerce

Our Northeast Ohio location means we are near thousands of manufacturers.  It’s hard to believe all the things that are made right in our backyard.

manufacturing ecommerceThis has given us a fantastic opportunity to work with dozens of manufacturers over the years building sites that generate leads or actually sell products via e-commerce.

Honestly, until recent years, the vast majority of manufacturing websites have been lead generation sites, but the tide is starting to turn.  We’ve been counseling our clients for years to at least start getting comfortable with the notion that they are going to end up selling direct someday.  Not all of them of course, there are many businesses where a distribution network will always be needed.  But so many manufacturers make products that are easy to ship and sell.  They need to consider leveraging e-commerce to help grow beyond what their distribution network can support or to diversify channels of business.

Concerns many manufacturers have about e-commerce:

  • Upsetting their current distributors by “competing”
  • Shipping very small quantities
  • We don’t hold inventory
  • We don’t know how to market or deliver that way

Top reasons manufacturers should consider it:

  • Margins – do you really need more reasons than that?
  • Distributors and stores are staffed lower, carrying less inventory, relying more on manufacturers anyways
  • Strategy and pricing can be adjusted to protect your distributors
  • E-commerce allows coverage where you don’t have distribution

We have helped several manufacturers, even some large distributors, dip their toes into e-commerce.  They often start out small and hesitant, because of all the concerns I listed above.  However, once they get a taste of that new revenue – at greater margin – rarely do they ask us to slow the faucet. The reality is most manufacturers that make consumer products, whether it be candy or plumbing supplies, don’t have the kind of distribution network that they need.  E-commerce often makes their products readily available to consumers who are seeking an opportunity to buy.

If you own or run a manufacturing company and are struggling with that decision, or even if you’ve dismissed it already, I urge you to give it a second thought. We’re here to help, contact us with any questions.

Solve it on the Golf Course!

So, say you are in a huge golf tournament with a lot of money on the line. You know you need a great set of golf clubs. But you’re not a pro golfer, so you want someone else to swing the club for you.

Now let’s say that your company is the one in the tournament, basically trying to get leads and win business. Your clubs are Apoxe (our awesome CMS) and your web development team. The question is: Who do you want to swing your clubs? Your internal staff? Or a professional marketing team that you can trust to come in and (since we’re talking golf), put it in the hole under par?

Solve it on the Golf Course!It’s no secret we like to golf at TKG. Guilty as charged. And while our actual golf skills may be less than stellar, our clients trust that we know how to hit a hole-in-one every time on the web.

So we’re inviting folks to join us on the golf course this summer to talk out your web problems … we’re calling it “Solve it on the Golf Course!”

Have you been thinking about hiring a web development and marketing partner or just thinking about an online marketing problem? This is a great way to talk it out – on the golf course ­‑ with a member of our TKG team. If there’s something we love (even more than golfing), it’s discovering how we can help people leverage the web to their best advantage.

If you’d like to play a round or two, let us know. If we think we can help, we’ll set a date. We look forward to hearing from you!

The Real Deal: Why You Should Ask Your SEO Firm for Their Case Studies

Why should you ask an SEO firm for some case studies before hiring them?

Well, there’s the obvious. You want to see their successes, and how they were achieved. But more than that, you want to know if they really know what they are doing.

For example, it is not all that uncommon to see case studies posted on an SEO firm’s site, but it might be a little vague. It doesn’t mention the company by name or some other irregularity. This could be a red flag for you. So a few questions you should ask:

  • What company was the subject of this case study? (Then follow up on your own – make sure it is a real company.)
  • Who is your contact at the company in question? Can we call for a reference?
  • Was the work done in house or contracted out?
  • Does the case study list the tactics used to generate results?

These questions should give you a pretty good idea of whether or not the firm is up front about their business practices, if they really know SEO, and if they really know their client.

Take a good look at their case studies and do your own homework. Look up the company, even the contact. You want to make sure both are real. You never know ‑ we’ve come across more than one phony case study while doing our own research.

Asking for a reference is always a good idea. Most firms will want to provide you with the chance to hear about the great work they did. It goes without saying this will ensure that the SEO firm actually did the work and that the company was pleased, or at least satisfied.

Determining whether the SEO work was done in house or contracted out is a bigger deal than it might seem on the surface. You want to know that the firm/person doing the work understands the goals of your business. Hopefully, if you have a web presence, you have a goal for your site and have a pretty good idea of what you want to achieve. If the work is contracted out, some of that gets lost in translation. It also could mean that the same person or firm who did all the great work on the case study company won’t be the person doing the work for your company.

If you’ve been engaged in the web long enough, you know that there are SEO tactics that are good ideas and some that aren’t so great. Make sure that the SEO firm you hire has outlined how they approach SEO, and that they don’t make any kind of huge promise of traffic, sales, etc. No one can promise those things; but good, solid SEO and all that entails will certainly get you headed in the right direction. A good case study will tell you what tactics were used and what impact they had.

In the end, due diligence here will serve you well, just like in every other aspect of your business. Read up on the case studies before you decide on a firm. Take a look at some of TKG’s case studies.

Do you have a great or phony case study that you’d like to share? Post it in the comments ‑ we’d love to see it too!

Too Damn Many Websites

As industries develop and go through their normal business cycles, we often see consolidation.  Usually, larger more successful companies in an industry gobble up the smaller niche businesses or simply the weaker ones to gain their client base.

We are seeing something similar right now in our business, in a different way though.  Many companies are realizing that they have too many websites.  They are victims of how cheap and easy it can be to “throw a quick website together” and are now coming to their senses.  I can’t tell you how many companies we come across that have 4, 6, 8 websites, none with a real strategy behind them to create success much less measure it.

One can only guess at the causes for this, here are a few of my favorites:

  • BudgetAd Agency Web Strategy: multiple websites = limitless opportunity for creative.  Fun, yes.  Profitable no.
  • Nephew Marvin syndrome:  It’s exciting to experiment with a few different open source solutions, why not try them all, they are free after all?
  • Budget:  When it’s time to expand, it can seem cheaper to add a second site rather than fix the core problem.
  • Good Domains:  Sometimes you register such a great domain, you just have to do something with it!

I’m not suggesting that there is never a strategic reason to have 2 or more websites for a given company.  I’m just suggesting that you should never start that next site without a strategic reason.  And “It’s cheaper, It’s easier, etc.” don’t count as strategic reasons.  The internet has more than enough bad websites.  Don’t become part of the problem.

It has always been my opinion that you shouldn’t build a site for the sake of having a site.  There should be a strategic reason to build the site and a plan for ROI, no matter how low the perceived cost is.

We are currently in the middle of at least 4 strategy projects where we are helping – primarily manufacturers – consolidate their web efforts.  Most of them have 3 to 6 sites, one for each “brand” they manufacture.  Almost all of those sites are out-dated, un-finished and lack strategy all together.  But boy is the creative nice.  In almost every case, they will be much further ahead within a year with one professional site and online marketing strategy that is actually executed and measured on an ongoing basis.

If you’ve fallen for one of the issues above, and have 2 or more half-hearted websites, we’d love to hear your story.
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