Poor Christmas trees: They spend a whole season being decorated and adored; then, when the festivities are over, they’re left out by the curb.
This year, we say enough is enough, and look to answer one of life’s most overlooked questions. What do you do with your tree after Christmas? It’s time to consider the many ways Christmas trees can be used once the holidays are over. We will post a new video every day from Dec 4th-14th highlighting our holiday hijinks.
We get a lot of new clients whose first request is that we do something about their website.
They don’t like it any more. (Or they hated it from day one.) As we get started on transforming their site, we often discover common website mistakes that can hurt businesses.
If we were obnoxious snarksters, we’d tell clients “We wouldn’t have done that.” Fortunately, we’re not jerks, so we don’t say that. We know how hard it is to make dozens of decisions as you’re building a site. We know that even good decisions can become “mistakes” as the internet evolves faster than fruit flies.
Here are a few of the most common website mistakes. Think of this brief overview as a table of contents for future posts that will dig deeper into each topic. You might spot a problem your site suffers from—and maybe get someone to fix it. (Doesn’t have to be us—although, you know, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Many recommend us, including us.)
MISTAKE #1: THE STRATEGY THAT ISN’T THERE.
Some questions are so obvious that it’s easy to forget to even ask them. What is the purpose of your site? What do you want visitors to do once they get there? Any plans to measure results and adapt the site in response?
MISTAKE #2: THE NAVIGATION TO NOWHERE.
We’re not just talking about broken links. (That is a common problem, but one that can be addressed with a modest site maintenance effort.) We’re talking about (for example) navigation categories that are too clever for their own good. Or mega-menus so large they are verging on being just another website on top of the first one.
MISTAKE #3: ALL FROSTING, NO CAKE.
It’s important that your site be visually attractive, but don’t make the mistake of stopping there. True, some visitors are dazzled and converted by a beautiful surface alone. But cast a wider net by including meaty content, performing link optimization, and other traffic-generating methods.
MISTAKE #4: THE FUNNEL THAT’S ACTUALLY A CONE.
Poor conversion doesn’t necessarily mean your visitors never even entered the sales funnel. They might have dived right in but gotten stuck—perhaps because your funnel isn’t the frictionless ride it should be.
MISTAKE #5: PAGE LOADS THAT . . .
…take too long. And by “too long,” we mean “longer than a few milliseconds.” Yes, in the digital age, we have all become frantic toddlers. Keeping load times zippy is hugely important, and should drive decisions during the build phase. Once the site is up, clocking page load times and performing maintenance tasks should be second nature.
MISTAKE #6: FORMS THAT ARE BORING—EVEN FOR FORMS.
Nobody expects to be captivated by a form. They just want the chore of filling fields to be over with. Make it as easy as possible by keeping the number of required fields to the absolute minimum. And don’t be nosy—if you really want to know your prospect’s birthday or eye color, save it for after you’ve made a connection.
MISTAKE #7: THE DEAD STARES OF THE PHONY STOCK PEOPLE
Don’t get us wrong—we are not dead-set against stock photos. We’re dead-set against dead stock photos. The ones with people that are WAY TOO HAPPY about looking at a laptop screen with four of their friends looking over their shoulder, also ecstatic about the screen. We’re not fooled by the smiles, people!
If your site is suffering from any of these digital maladies, you’ll be happy to know that they are all solvable. We suggest not dilly-dallying — a lot rides on the perception your website creates.
B2B sales get easier with LinkedIn’s new lead generation ads.
Ever tried to fill out a long, boring web form on your mobile phone? We didn’t think so. One glance at a dozen boxes to fill out and suddenly you’d rather revisit that how-to video on using toothpaste to get rid of carpet stains.
LinkedIn has launched a new ad format that eliminates hassles and allows your prospects to get right down to business. We have been testing campaigns for a number of Red Letter clients, and the results are promising.
Here are the top 3 reasons to test Lead Gen ads now.
#1 B2B marketers can address the greatest hurdle to conversion: pesky lead forms.
LinkedIn’s new format drastically reduces the peskiness factor. Here’s how it works:
Grab the viewers’ attention through an eye-catching visual and compelling headline
Bring them to a form already populated with information from LinkedIn
Confirm their entry with Thank-You page, and an option to visit your website for more content
You’ve still got to have an engaging message. But once you’ve got their attention with a grabber, moving them along to conversion is a lot smoother.
#2 Tap into LinkedIn’s vast user base to expand your reach globally.
LinkedIn’s audience is huge, and they used the platform for important decisions:
LinkedIn has over 500,000,000 users to date
LinkedIn is active in over 200 countries and territories globally
4 out of 5 LinkedIn members drive business decisions
#3 Reach your best prospects and eliminate media waste through LinkedIn’s super-granular targeting options.
Here are just a few of the characteristics that we can use to focus your target:
Much less pesky. Much more targeted.
This new format is a huge improvement. Needless to say, you should always evaluate a new digital marketing tool in the context of your business goals and marketing strategy. If there’s a match, your business will be able to more precisely target prospects, and make it easy for them to express interest.
“So who is managing the back end of your web site?”
“Oh, we got a guy.”
And thus strike the gongs of doom.
More often than we’d like, clients come to us because they used “A guy.” It conjures images of a self-taught, one man shop working out of his basement to build websites on the cheap. He got hired because his price was way lower than other proposals. Turns out, there are reasons for that, and the client got what they paid for: too little.
One company asked us to fix their new website. It was less than 3 months old, but it didn’t provide a user experience that enabled them to get leads. After analysis to understand their business needs and how the site needed to deliver, it was clear the site could not be salvaged. They had to have a new one built from scratch, the way it should have been done the first time.
Another client built a site on the cheap and a year later the developer had disappeared, along with the access information.
Yet another client had their site hacked and the data was held for ransom because the developer was hosting the site on their own servers, which were not as secure as they should be. But his price was really low.
See a pattern here?
We don’t like seeing businesses suffer the consequences of shoddy website development or maintenance.
It reflects poorly on our profession. We’d much rather spend our time helping clients grow their business instead of fixing problems that should not have happened in the first place.
That’s not to say there aren’t some terrific one-man or one-woman shops out there who are highly qualified and professional. But they are not doing it on the cheap. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Imagine your company has outgrown its offices and the board has agreed it’s time to build new headquarters that will better serve the business. Do you cast about for Some Guy who says he can build it cheaply, or do you consult with architects who are experienced in designing buildings of just the type you need? Do you hire the cheapest construction company, or the one that will do the best job within parameters of cost, time and quality?
Websites are complex.
Behind even the simplest appearance is an extensive design process and array of code and plugins that are hard to imagine. Additionally, there are changes on the internet almost daily that can affect your site, requiring disciplined monitoring and ongoing updates. Good sites are not inexpensive. The only thing more expensive is a poor site built on the cheap.
Amazingly, some stock photography doesn’t suck.
So why hire a pro for custom shots?
There was a time when every single stock photograph in the whole universe was an embarrassment to the very idea of imagery. I am still haunted by the memory of disturbingly phony models posing stiffly, their unnaturally white teeth glaring like the fangs of deranged wolves.
We have come a long way since then. It is now possible to buy quality stock photos at low cost. Many talented photographers sell their work to stock houses. When companies like Red Letter buy those images, the license often allows unlimited use on websites, brochures and any other form of commercial communication including blimps and tattoos.
Startups and small businesses love stock—and who can blame them? These companies scrutinize every expenditure. When Red Letter proposes to a cash-strapped client that we hire a pro to shoot custom photos for their website or sales kit, it is so tempting for them to say, “You mean I can pay $25 per shot for stock but you’re suggesting I should I pay much more for new pictures? [Pause] Have you seen my office? Do I look like the Queen of England?” (None of our clients have stated the case in exactly those words but we have heard similar expressions of sensible budget stewardship.)
We totally get that. And we use stock photography for our clients all the time. Not just because some companies simply can’t afford custom photography, but also because hey—if you’ve got persistence and a discerning eye, you can find some excellent stock photos.
So should we just tell pro photographers to learn a new skill like quilting? Um, no. Partly because quilting pays squat and partly because there is still a vast gulf between even the best stock photography and custom images conceived and executed by a talented professional. A pro is engaged by the client company and its marketing partner to lend his or her vision to the illumination of a unique brand that no other company owns.
A top-notch pro brings not just technical expertise and visual flair but an irreplaceable understanding of what they are there to convey. It is literally impossible for a stock photographer to have this awareness, regardless of their talent. They don’t know how their images are going to be used.
Even competently-executed stock shots often exude phoniness. Did you see the movie Unfinished Business? Neither did I. But I heard about it. It was a major release in 2015 and starred Vince Vaughan as the head of a sales team. The promotional campaign for the movie featured images of the cast in blatant parodies of the stock photos we see all around us.
The producers knew that we would recognize the sheer vacuousness of so many business-themed stock photos. They trusted us to look at these fake pictures of office workers and think “Yeah, there is something creepy about these people. For one thing, who could possibly be that happy about typing?”
There are so many clues that give stock-ness away. Is there a team of suited businesspeople arranged in a “V” formation, with the Head Honcho front and center, arms crossed, glaring confidently at the camera? Is there a transparent attempt in a group shot to represent all ethnicities, with bonus points for models that could pass for two or three? Any handshakes going on? Are there mini-blinds everywhere? (Check out Huffington Post’s “This Week in Ridiculous Stock Photos” for more fun.)
And another thing: the good stock photos wind up all over the place. Good designers see a good shot and they buy it. If they buy exclusive rights, it is now off the market. But if they just buy the image and use it, there’s a chance your audience will view your marketing materials and realize they’ve seen the pictures before.
I’m not making that up. It happened to us. We were designing a brochure for a client and we did suggest custom photos but it wasn’t in the cards for this project. So we sifted through the available stock images (we needed pictures of trucks) and after looking at 999 bad ones, we found a really good one and placed it in the layout. Everybody loved it but just when we were getting ready to send the files to the printer, we discovered that one of our client’s competitors used the same image in their brochure! We thank the gods of marketing that we caught that in the nick of time.
Later, that same client decided to bite the bullet. We hired a talented pro for two days of shooting. I was there with our client, a smart guy who perhaps still wondered whether the expenditure was going to be worth it. After the first few shots I turned to him and began a question: “Do you see—“ He interrupted me: “Yes!” He has never looked back. We’ll be using that portfolio of awesome pictures for years—in brochures, trade show booths, websites and more.
Your company is unlike any other company. It deserves its own authentic imagery. If your small business needs a new HVAC system and you’ve got to choose—sure, get the air conditioning and use stock for now (with the help of an experienced designer to find the good ones). But recognize the value of custom photography that represents your company authentically and put it on your “someday soon” list.
This year, we present our observations on yuletide traditions that are mildly confusing.
All of us at Red Letter Marketing adore holiday customs and lore—even when we’re not really sure what they mean. Some traditions have been around so long that we in the 21st century find ourselves befuddled by them. Below, a review of some of the odder Christmas customs, which we still love despite our befuddlement.
We wanted to learn what’s on the minds of business executives in North Carolina when it comes to marketing. So we conducted an informal survey to discover common threads of thought.
If you’ve ever felt like the tidal wave of new marketing technologies and media is overwhelming, you’re not alone.
Among the items people mentioned as their biggest problem was just keeping up with marketing developments.
Businesses report their top marketing challenges are generating leads, brand awareness, budgets and staying current with marketing technology. Additionally they cited tracking results, keeping up with Google and determining the most efficient advertising sources. Sound familiar?
When asked what kinds of marketing they do, over 70% mentioned digital marketing. Within the digital category, social media and websites ranked prominently, followed by email. Interestingly, although over 70% of replies mentioned websites, less than 20% mentioned SEO, as shown in the chart below. PPC (Pay-Per-Click) and retargeting were less than 10%. We believe there are big opportunities for smart marketers to gain a competitive edge and capture more leads by practicing aggressive SEO and content development. Additionally, digital advertising is low cost and can be effective in driving quality traffic and capturing conversions.
The research also revealed that traditional media remains an important part of the mix. One of the challenges mentioned was how to integrate traditional media like print and broadcast with digital tactics. Companies need to understand how to integrate the various media types, and the role each medium plays in the purchase cycle.
Whoever was the first to coin the phrase “May you live in interesting times” may not have imagined the world we live in today, but it certainly captures the marketing world. Today, it’s almost a full time job just to keep up with the changes in technology and the digital landscape. It’s easy to be distracted by the latest hot tactic or trending social site. But the rewards are greater when businesses invest the time to make sure the fundamentals are in place. If your website looks nice but your SEO is lagging, you are likely missing business opportunities.
The Bottom Line
Companies that practice ongoing SEO and digital marketing garner more visits and leads than those who lack a disciplined, consistent program. But too many companies don’t have the time or expertise to manage the constant changes in a nearly real-time environment. If you find yourself experiencing similar issues, let’s talk.