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Darcy Grabenstein Jan 26

A marketing must: Make a good first impression


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When we think about first impressions, it’s usually in the context of a job interview or a first date. As the saying goes, “First impressions are lasting impressions.”

Make a good first impression

This holds true for marketing as well. Here, we’ll look at the importance of first impressions in digital marketing.

Unless the prospect knows your organization’s URL or enters your organization’s name directly into a search engine, chances are the first online impression will be a banner ad or search ad. It’s not only the ad itself that will impact that first impression, but how that ad is served up and who sees it.

Who sees your ads depends on how you target your audience. For example, you can target your audience via different demographics. Want to attract a diverse audience? Serve up ads, with appropriate imagery and messaging, to women and minorities. Want to drive traffic to a brick-and-mortar location? Target your audience geographically. Looking to hire someone with X years of experience? Target your audience by age.

Why bother targeting, you ask? Why not try to reach the largest possible audience? When you target, you will attract quality leads. You also will be delivering relevant content to viewers.

Digital marketing is both an art and a science. If you’re doing it right, when prospects click on a banner or search ad, they won’t go to the home page of your website. Instead, they’ll be taken to a carefully crafted landing page. You should have a separate landing page for each ad campaign. That way, there won’t be a disconnect between the ad and your site. Again, think relevant content. Make that your marketing mantra.

Keep in mind that the landing page cannot — and should not — include every single aspect of your product or service. It should include just enough information to pique the prospect’s interest. A key component of your landing page is the form capturing prospect data. To minimize distraction and encourage form completion, your landing page should have no other outbound links besides the form itself. You need enough form fields to capture data but not so many that the prospect is overwhelmed. A lengthy form can create an unfavorable first impression among prospects. And a strong call to action (CTA) will boost form completions.

For those who do go directly to your website by entering the URL or searching for you by name, your home page will make the all-important first impression. You want an attractive home page, but you shouldn’t sacrifice content for aesthetics. Make your site “sticky”; that is, include content and links that will keep visitors on your site longer.

Your entire website should include keywords that you (and your competitors) are bidding on in search marketing campaigns. If you’re not sure what keywords to use, free online tools such as Wordtracker can help you get started.

Timing is everything. Your sales cycle may or may not coincide with the buying pattern of prospects. There certainly will be overlap, such as at Christmastime for a gift retailer, but this will vary among your prospects. That’s why you should schedule ads throughout the calendar year. And that’s why you should constantly refresh your creative. If you have outdated ads, that first impression won’t be a positive one.

The first impression is just the first step in terms of marketing. While first impressions are important, it’s the continuing dialogue with your prospects and customers that will build your brand — and your business.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

 


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Darcy Grabenstein Aug 20

The Importance of Thank-You Pages


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When an online lead-generation campaign is launched, many organizations obsess over the banner ads, the keywords, the landing page content and, of course, the form used to capture data. However, the online marketing doesn’t end the second your prospect has dutifully filled out the form and clicked “submit.”

The prospect should then be directed to a thank-you page that includes even more information about your product or service. Keep in mind that, on the landing page itself, extraneous links are discouraged. These will only draw attention away from the form and its call to action, which is your main goal here: generating leads.

On the thank-you page, however, you have the opportunity to redirect the prospect back to your site. You also can provide additional details about your product or service.

Here are a few examples of content you can include on a thank-you page to keep the prospect on your site — and engaged with your brand:

  • Your logo. Chances are, the prospect is just becoming familiar with your organization. Reinforce your brand by including your logo prominently at the top of the page.

  • Links back to your site. Omit these, and you’ve lost the prospect for good. (At least, until you follow up via email/phone/letter on the lead generated from your landing page form.)
JHU thank-you page

The Johns Hopkins University EMBA thank-you page includes a strong call to action and links back to the site.

 

  • Images. This is an optional element, but who says a thank-you page must be text only? If other pages on your site have a header image, include it here for consistency.
    Disney Thank-You Page

    Disney does a great job of using images and brand reinforcement,
    but falls short when it comes to links.

     

  • A video. Even better than an image, include a video to engage the prospect. It doesn’t have to be long (in fact, the shorter the better).

  • Downloads. If a digital brochure is your incentive for filling out the form, then you’ll obviously have a link to the PDF on your thank-you page. You also can link to other brochures and downloadable information.
Seattle thank-you page

The Seattle EMBA thank-you page includes a link to view a digital brochure
and several other links presented in a graphic format.

 

  • Upcoming events. For an online retailer, this could be an upcoming sale. For an organization, it could be a webinar, in-person meeting or online chat. Take it up a notch and include a calendar widget that allows the prospect to register and add the event to his/her own calendar.
Illinois thank-you page

The University of Illinois EMBA landing page includes a calendar widget and links to its blog and social media sites.

 

  • Contact information. If the prospect wants to send an email or speak to a human, make it easy to do so.

  • Social media. Have a presence on social media sites? If so, include their icons and link to your pages.
VandyTY

Vanderbilt’s Americas EMBA thank-you page includes several links back to the site, a download link, and links to its social media sites.

 

  • A link to your blog. If you have a blog, consider linking to it (assuming that the content is fresh). This will give the prospect insight into your company and its “personality.”

  • Testimonials. The thank-you page is the perfect opportunity to include success stories, quotes and more. Remember, you’re still in the process of “selling” the prospect at this point.

  • A call to action. Don’t assume that your prospect isn’t ready to make a purchase or other decision. Include a visible call to action with the option to buy, sign up, apply, etc.
Arizona Thank-You Page

The University of Arizona thank-you page prominently displays its logo and includes a strong call to action.

Failure to include at least some of these elements on your landing page could mean missed opportunities for your organization.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


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Lester Traband Feb 3

I Love My Craft, and I Love My Job


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Throughout our lives, we aspire to do the things that we love. Since I started my first computer science class in college, I’ve loved software development. My favorite part is coming up with unique solutions to problems, whether it’s finding an API containing key data that could be used to improve a product or utilizing the code from a previous project to build the foundation for a new project.one. Following software best practices allows us to deliver quality products and use a minimal amount of time to complete.

heart-with-mouse

At Annodyne, we strive to deliver quality products inside and out. We make sure that the code written for our products is the best it can be before we ship anything out the door. This helps whenever we need to make enhancements, since we can write a little bit to affect a vast amount of a user interface (UI). The UIs also are built with a unique look and feel for each of our clients. Our creative designs are viewed and reviewed by many people as part of our process to ensure that we have the best possible representation of our customers.

Another thing I love about Annodyne is that I’m offered opportunities to work with a wide spectrum of technologies and platforms. I’ve been given the chance to work on websites, services, mobile applications and databases. Each one provides its own challenges and benefits. I also can express some of my creative talents as I’m given the chance to work with many unique designs and functionality ideas. Being able to work with creative technologies as well as finding time to learn new technologies is something unique that Annodyne offers its employees.

Lester Traband is a Senior Applications Developer at Annodyne

photo credit via Anthony Lee  /  Getty Images/OJO Images


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Oct 1

Cascading Style Sheets 101


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Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is what a web developer uses to make your code “look pretty” and to easily style multiple elements, pages or, sometimes, just a single element.

But why a single element? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? To understand this we need to talk about the cascade order. There are three main ways to implement CSS, the first being inline CSS. Inline CSS is applied directly to HTML elements on the HTML page using the style=”" attribute. Inline styling affects only the element it is applied to.

Second is embedded CSS, which is CSS in the head of the HTML file, marked with the <style> tag. Embedded CSS applies to the entire page, and uses CSS markup conventions to determine what styles apply to what elements.

External CSS is the same as embedded CSS, except that it is housed on a separate file. This separate file allows for a lot of variables, such as linking across multiple pages and caching. External CSS is the preferred use, as it allows the style to be cached so that the browser does not need to make as many requests, and so that pages can load faster.

The order of the cascade:

1. !important tags: These are the highest priority styles. The only way to override an !important is with another !important.

2. Inline style: An inline style overrides any other CSS declarations, with the exception of an !important declaration.

3. Specificity: Specificity works based on a weighted system to decide which styles are more important on a style sheet. When you declare a style, you can call an HTML element (body), a class (.body) or an id (#body) or any combination of such. Assuming you put in something like “h1.first #heading”, the style will look for any element of type h1 with the class “first” and look for an element inside with the ID “heading” and add a style with a weight. These weights are calculated such that an element is worth 1 point, a class is worth 10 points, and an ID is worth 100 points. If an element qualifies for multiple style declarations, only the most highly weighted are applied.

4. Order: Assuming that an element receives multiple styles that are all equally specific, the CSS defaults to the order a style is applied. If two styles are equal, then the one that was declared later in the sheet is applied.

This is the basics of CSS. Get out there and make stuff pretty.

Andrew Major is a junior web developer at Annodyne.


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Sam Saltzman Aug 4

Optimizing the Web


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“Why is this page taking so long to load?!” This is a common theme with Internet users — why is it that web pages take so long to load on one’s browser?

The reason for this is (unsurprisingly) complex and multifaceted. The Internet is richer in content and media than it was in yesteryear — there is more interactivity, larger bandwidth options by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and more web traffic. Web pages are filled with so much material, and the technologies driving these pages are becoming so much more complex.  “OK, I get it!  It’s technical. Speak English now.”

When someone jumps on the web (via a web browser such as Internet Explorer), a couple of things happen while accessing a website (e.g., http://www.google.com). The web browser says, “OK, you want to go to google.com. Let me check with the Internet to find the exact address for that link.” This process of identifying where to go — finding an Internet Protocol (IP) for google.com— could take a couple seconds to locate. Fortunately, countless computers request the IP for google.com; Internet servers cache popular sites like this for future requests to speed up the process.

“OK, so we found the site, now what?” Your computer will then ask Google’s computer(s) for a list of the content on the requested page (http://www.google.com/ has a couple of images and a couple of web files). One way this is optimized is by an acknowledgement between Google and your computer to identify which files have already been saved/cached on your computer (by comparing dates and file sizes). This comparison prevents re-downloading those files, thus reducing the total data to download from the site. For files that haven’t been previously saved, your machine and Google will determine if it is OK to save them for quicker future access.

Have I still got your attention? We went over the following: caching the IP address for a website and caching a web page’s assets (images and files). What else is there to be optimized? How else can we speed up the loading of web pages?  I’m sure you are asking yourself all of these questions in that exact order right now … right? Well, I’m going to start dropping some golden information on your collective consciousness now.

Other reasons for slowness involve rendering the content. Rendering is a fancy word that means your browser is trying to “display” web content using various tools. How will it display those images? How will it understand the code that the web page is written in (HTML)? How will it compute the JavaScript files that make it more interactive and dynamic? This is all taken care of by the rendering engine. Just like the engine and gas tank in a car, a browser engine performs a lot of complex processes and could explode with the slightest erroneous tap in the wrong place. In the past decade, browser rendering engines have matured a great deal (like those found with Internet Explorer, Firefox® and Google Chrome).

So, images are drawn onto the screen using format-specific algorithms that interpret image data. For example, bitmap files are processed and drawn differently than JPEG or GIF files. Some images are compressed more than others — this means they are smaller in file size (and likely image quality). One way to reduce image sizes (thus optimizing your web page’s load time) is to remove unnecessary color information (i.e., making the image’s color scheme “web safe.”) This reduction in information reduces file size tremendously, but can also noticeably alter quality; thus, it must be adjusted carefully.

SpeedThere are script files that also slow down the rendering of web pages, called JavaScript (JS) and Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) files. JS files provide communication between your browser and the web page — this is called “client-side interaction.” By enabling client-side interaction, actions like client-side form validation can take place prior to a bad form submission to the server.

JavaScript is used in many popular web applications, such as Gmail. Gmail is built upon thousands and thousands of lines of JS code. How does the Internet optimize thousands of lines of JS code? One way is to “minify” the code: removing unnecessary spacing and carriage returns, shortening variable and function names, and other ways to reduce the total file size.

There is also a way to reduce file sizes between computer servers and your computer by different forms of compression. The most popular compression is “gzip” or “gzipping.” When a file is transmitted over the Internet, it can be compressed via the gzip format, making the file size smaller and thus faster to receive on the client end. Gzip is similar to the zip” format, but for the Internet, and using it with the minifying process can optimize the transmission of large files by large percentages!

So, what have we learned today? The Internet is a place of wonderment and baffling processes. It is fraught with confusing terminology and scary server rooms. It also offers web designers and developers different tools to speed up the time to load web pages. This can be done by reducing the number of colors used in GIF images. Script files can also be “minified” to reduce file sizes. Developers can also send files to clients using special compression techniques like gzip. By reducing the number of files, images and file sizes, and by using complex processes, developers can optimize their webpages and provide clients faster load times.

 

 


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Sam Saltzman Jun 26

Software Is a Tool, Not a Cure


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In the software development industry, it is often the case that stakeholders will demand a software product to solve a problem without thinking about the “human factor.”  For example, users may ask for a new portal to keep track of form entries and user metrics.  These portals can be built, the form entries tracked, user metrics measured.

However, there needs to be a human element at the end of these software products — a user who is pushing the buttons and analyzing the data.  This is perhaps the most important facet of technology: Who will be manning the ship and steering it on a course to achieve a goal?  Who will take ownership of that product, ensuring that it is maintained and is properly addressing an ultimate goal that benefits various stakeholders?

In the agency world, client requests always take top priority. It is absolutely critical that we deliver a product that meets the needs of these users, and within an acceptable time range and budget.  The Information Technology department at Annodyne works closely to analyze and steer user requests in a direction that will both benefit the client and set accurate expectations.

Part of setting expectations is to ask the question “How will this system solve the problem?” to gauge what the end goal is for these users.  This question, more often than not, will open up a floodgate of additional requirements and needs for the project.

A common response to this question is: “Oh, we need to see who is using our site.”  We continue to ask these primer questions until we can fully establish the end goals.  It is at this point that we can determine the high-level requirements of these users.  We can answer the question “How will this system help the client?” At the point where we have gathered the requirements, we maximize client engagement and communication throughout the entire development process.

 For each screen, we can point to how it addresses a user need.  For each overall function, we can deduce that it helps the client in a specific capacity. If we are off the mark with a design or feature, the client can determine this issue early in the development process, and the course can be corrected sooner than later.  Most important, clients are gaining exposure and direction of their software tool as it is being built.  They gain vision into the system.

After the system is built, success can be determined by the following factors: end users know how to use the system, and the system helps them address their business needs and goals.  Software packages are just software; they are not intended to solve business problems.  They will, however, aid users in locating problems and determining better solutions.

A “Google” search probably won’t solve a medical question, but it will provide resources that share relevant information.  Google Analytics won’t optimize a company’s designs for form conversions, but it will provide statistical data to point that business in the right direction based on its current design and form conversions.

 Moreover, software should always be used as a tool first and foremost.

Sam Saltzman is tech team lead at Annodyne.


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Eric LeVan Aug 15

Strategizing the Perfect Web Solutions


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Are you looking to improve a website? Start a blog? Build a web application to ease daily overhead? Are you marketing a new product? Building up a member base?

Depending on your web development needs, it can mean the difference between WordPress and Joomla, Drupal and Salesforce. The Internet is a volatile place in which content comes and usually never leaves. WordPress, for instance, is the 800-pound gorilla for easy content distribution. But there are so many different content archetypes floating around the tubes that need to be considered.

WordPress is great for supporting a blog, but can it support a full website and all the different types of content and behavior held within?  The answer used to be no, but over time WordPress has matured into a product that has done its absolute best to meet the general needs of the public. But this isn’t the case with all software, and WordPress alone will not lead to victory.

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