It Started…

Remember the name-change can of worms I mentioned last week? The brand insanity has started! I got a request for letter head first thing this morning, which forced the issue of the plans for a web presence. Since the letter head requires a website URL, I mentioned that a URL required some content. The problem is that, as I mentioned last week, the Parent Company’s website doesn’t really have a place for the new company’s information. I’m currently trying to create a website within a website, and it’s a little complicated.

The “Contact Us” page in the main navigation bar gives the information for the Parent Company’s employees. But, since those employees don’t handle New Company’s endeavors, we need a contact page for New Company. So, I’m making a link to the contact page for New Company that will live on the homepage for New Company.

The top-level navigation also proves difficult, because we’ve got an “About Us” tab, “Portfolio” tab, and a “News” tab. Where should New Company tab go? It needs it’s own tab, so that visitors can quickly find the information, but technically, it’s part of Parent Company’s portfolio. And, this will be the only tab in the top-level nav bar for New Company, which will probably confuse visitors that end up on pages that are linked from New Company’s homepage.

So, I’m currently mucking around in some website code, trying to figure out the best way to create, link, and organize all this other information. I’m also trying to either use content that was supposed to be for the Child Company that we originally branded, or create new content out of thin air. Top that off with a tiny little deadline off…. oh, whenever they send the letter head to a customer, and this is making for a crazy day! Tips for on-the-fly page creation are much appreciated!

Before Internet…

How did we work before the internet? After a storm last night, the internet is down at our office. This means no email, no network, and no web. So, I’m sitting around with nothing to do. I could send some mock-ups for approval… oh, wait, no I can’t. Oh! I’ve been meaning to book a dentist appointment…. but the number is in my email inbox. Since I live close, I was finally sent home to the internet, but since the servers at the office are down, I can’t even login to the network from home!

So, how did we work before the internet? It’s such a game-changing innovation that we can’t even function without it. But, there was a time when people did work via phone, fax, and, gasp, face-to-face! A real live handshake to get deals done, and real human voices hashing out the details. I do think there’s some merit to doing things face-to-face, as it’s much easier to get things finished over conversation. It’s also much more likely that you’ll stumble on a new idea when you’re talking, instead of typing.

In short, I can’t really work until I get my internet back at the office. Who remembers what like was like BI? (before internet).

Bing Yourself

I decided to Bing and Google myself last week, and scrolling through the results was pretty hilarious. Here’s what I found:

– The internet still highly associates me with my husband. The first hit on Bing is a link to our old personal website, (the link redirects to this site). There’s nothing bad about that site, but I’m a little annoyed that with all my blogging on this site, my LinkedIn profile and Twitter feed, and my posting on Forbes and The Daily Muse, it’s the first thing that comes up. This site hasn’t been updated in over a year, and there’s no linkbacks to it (that I know of, anyways!) Come on, internet, I’ve got my own identity here! I think I need to do some SEO for myself, just to make sure that ConsciouslyCorporate pops up before

-The web never forgets. I came across a really old interview video that I made back in college, a cast list for last year’s A Christmas Carol, and an article about a play I did in California. Fortunately, these links are several pages back, but keep in mind that when you post stuff online, it never goes away!

– The internets have a mind of their own. I came across one link that took a few random key words from the resume on my blog, and strung them together to come up as a result for the phrase “Starbucks SWOT Analysis”. So, as much as I’ve tried to manage my web presence by putting out content that I deem acceptable, sometimes the internet and internet users will take the information you put out, and twist it.

– There’s more of me than I thought. “Faus” is not a particularly popular name, and since my husband and I are both very active on the web, results for our last name generally link to one of us for the first 2-3 pages of results. But, apparently, I’m also a junior high student and I live in Mount Holly, PA. Of course, we know that these results are not me. My maiden name, “Howard”, was much more common, and several people with my maiden name have committed crimes, posted naughty photos of themselves, or written really terrible comments online. Most of us have at least one person in the world with our name, and we don’t always want our “twin” to pop up when trying to cultivate a professional online identity.

I write this post to ask, “What comes up when you Bing your name? What comes up when you Google your name?” Some people think that it’s better to just stay off the internet altogether. Others think they don’t need to monitor their presence, because they already know what’s out there. I reject both of these thoughts, particularly from a professional standpoint! Potential employers, clients, and business partners will plug your name into a search bar as one of their first means of investigating. Don’t you want to know what they’ll find? More importantly, don’t you want to control what they’ll find? I’m not even a big internet sensation, and my blog is miniscule in relation to the whole web universe. But still, I want to know what happens when you do a search on my name.

So, what crazy results come up on your name? Share your funny links in the comments!

Terrible UI

Let’s talk about a horrible user interface. You know, the kind that makes you wonder if you’re just completely stupid, because you can’t find the “buy now” button? I recently tried to pay my water bill online, and the UI was awful, and my water bill is still unpaid!

First, we thought we could pay online because they let us opt for electronic statements and online bill pay. We can go online and view the statement, so I was looking for the “Pay a Bill” button, directly beneath the total. No such button. I found it odd, but then I thought that maybe I’d missed something on Account homepage. So, I’ll just click on the “Account” link, right? Wait… where’s the “Account” link? Ohhh, maybe “Home” and “Account” are the same thing, since I’m signed in to my account. I click the “Home” link, and it puts me on the homepage for the company, not my account. And, apparently, now there’s a link for the account page? Ok, fine, I’ll click that so that I can find the “Pay Bill” button. Upon clicking the “Account” link, I’m prompted to sign in again. But I never signed out! After signing in again, I see my bill, but STILL no place to actually pay it. I go back to the company homepage that has a button to “Pay Bills Online”. But the description above the button is a sales pitch for apartment managers on why they should buy the online bill pay product to make it easier for tenants to pay. This makes me think that we don’t actually have the ability to pay online, and they’re just showing electronic statements for… fun? CSR? Branding? At this point, I’m thoroughly confused, so I think I’ll just try one more time, because surely, I’m smarter than UI in 2011. After diligently searching for a few more minutes, I give up, and decide to sign out. But, there’s no “Sign Out” button. So, wait, how do I get out of my account? Now I’m just frustrated and annoyed. I can’t even sign out of the stinkin’ account, so I use the broken method of going to the company homepage.

In short, these people need a serious sit-down with a UI professional. The whole site was ridiculously confusing and unhelpful. If my apartment isn’t signed up for online bill pay, can you at least tell me that, so I don’t click all over your whole site trying to find a way to pay you? Can you put some descriptive buttons in a few key places? Don’t be this company, confusing and frustrating your customers, and losing a sale!

Go Live!

I just had a thrilling first in my career… managing a website go live! I’ve been on this project for almost 4 months now, working with a third party programmer and an internal team to get the final product, a brand new website, pushed out. It’s been a long time coming, and I was excited to push the “go live” button. So, a few things I’ve learned from my first go live…

Glitch-free? Yeah, right! Things will go wrong, no matter how much testing and editing you do prior to the release. There’s a few things you just can’t know until you release the site out into the world. Being married to a software development engineer, I know this logically in my head, and I know that problems on the live site do not indicate total failure. However, it’s hard to combat the failure feeling when links are breaking on a site that’s out in the real world.

Your on-site programmer is your best friend. Due to the afore-mentioned glitch problems you are sure to encounter, your on-site programmer is your best friend! My IT guy helped me work out problems as I encountered them on the fly, which was tremendously helpful and comforting. He was just a chat window or quick walk away, meaning that any issues we faced could be fixed in real-time. I highly recommend maintaining a strong working relationship with your IT personnel, as they are invaluable in today’s technology-driven world.

Your highest priority is not everyone’s highest priority. I’ve been heads down on this project for several months, and I was just sure that my mass email about the new live site would result in an onslaught of feedback. Simply untrue, as my highest priority is not everyone’s highest priority. Again, I know this logically in my head, but it’s a little deflating when only a handful of people share my enthusiasm about the culmination of this HUGE endeavor. This is also important to remember when thinking about your on-site IT/programmer… his schedule doesn’t automatically prioritize my website go live! I made sure that he was going to be available to make on-the-fly edits, and that for the few hours immediately following go live, my priority became his priority. Again, I highly recommend planning for second or third place, and making sure that you inform the key personnel about when you’ll need them at the drop of a hat!

It’s been a crazy week, and it’s only Tuesday! I’m still soliciting feedback from my team and other external users (a big thanks to my husband, for instance!), but I’m proud of the work I’ve done on this project. It’s been a great learning experience in project management, software and technology, and cross-functional teamwork, and I’m excited to turn my attention to the next website overhaul on the docket.

SEO “Magic”

Can we just talk about the frustration of SEO “magic”? Maybe I’m the only one that finds this frustrating, but the insane amount of spam that’s been on my blog recently triggered my distaste for SEO link-building campaigns. I know that spamming it a black-hat version of SEO, but it does contribute to the overall view of SEO in general. Most people who know nothing about Search Engine Optimization think that you just pay some company a fee, and you end up at the top of the search engines the next day. It’s like magic! This, in fact, is not the case. Search engines are optimized using a number of criteria, including amount of relevant content, quality of content, links/trackbacks, and “secret algorithms” formulated by the search engines to offer the most useful results. In theory, companies can manipulate a lot of the factors, with the exception of the “secret algorithms”. The problem is that now EVERYONE is using optimization techniques, so there’s much less advantage to including key words and meta tags today than when SEO first gained popularity.

However, now that it’s mainstream, everyone seems to want it. And, since most people aren’t educated about how to get it, they end up with companies employing black hat techniques like spamming random bloggers for “link-building” campaigns. Others will advise putting a whole block of keywords in the footer of every page, so that the algorithms will think you have more relevant content. I’m no SEO expert, but I do know black hat when I see it. So, here’s a few quick guidelines when determining whether a certain SEO provider might be a profitable partner:

1) What kind of timeframe do they promise improvement? SEO is a long-term strategy, so any company that promises quick results may not be the best provider. I usually budget 6-8 months for maximum results.

2) Do they promise to make you #1 in all search engines? I’ve found that most reputable providers can promise improvement, but rarely promise to make you the first result, all the time, on all search engines. Because search engines use “secret algorithms”, it’s nearly impossible to influence all results all the time. Be wary of a company that over-promises.

3) How do they do link-building? Are they setting up a special website for the sole purpose of trackbacks? While this isn’t the biggest red flag, it might raise concerns. Imagine, if a friend or family member ONLY recommended one brand for EVERYTHING, wouldn’t you begin to wonder if they were paid to endorse that brand? And, wouldn’t it make you a little less trusting of their opinion if they were endorsed? It’s a similar feeling with link-building… if all links on a site point to the same website that is selling something, potential customers might not trust the “recommendation”.

4) Do they recommend on-going services, or just a one-time outlay fairly often? SEO is an ever-evolving process, so most reputable companies will offer some sort of maintenance plan. You might want to dig a little deeper on companies that offer a one-time “foundation”, and then require a huge payment to “update” it every few months. Again, SEO is a slow and steady race, not a series of sprints to the #1 spot on a search engine.

As I said, I’m no expert, but I’ve had enough experience to know poor SEO when I see it. The “link-building” attempts by spamming my blog sparked my frustration once more, so I hope you will use the afore-mentioned guidelines to ensure that your company is not employing black hat SEO techniques that result in angry bloggers!

Clicks and Conversions

Prior to my arrival in my position, the company set up some ad campaigns for Google AdWords and Yahoo AdCenter. Yahoo AdCenter has since been converted to Microsoft AdCenter, and we’ve been having some issues with our number of clicks. We can’t really determine if the migration caused some issues, or if our clicks are just down this year. I think it’s some combination of both. In addition to attempting to track our actual ad clicks, we’re also having issues tracking the conversion from clicks. Why? Because, sad to say, we don’t have any call to action associated with our ads! I’m working on correcting this problem, but the ads have been running without any type of call to action for about a year already! There’s no “visit our website” or “call us and mention this ad” anywhere. We’ve also been lax in asking people about the referral source when the sales team follows up with customers, so we have little or no information about how effective our ads are. I’m on an information crusade for 2011, complete with surveys of every customer to ask, “How did you hear about us?”, analytics on any emails we send, and updating all the ads we’ve got running.

The lesson that’s been further confirmed? Measure, measure, measure! You can’t forget the measurement piece when you’re creating and implementing Marketing campaigns. It’s more costly to try to add this key information hind-sight, so take time on the front-end to effectively implement measurement tools for your campaigns.

Bounce Rate Blues

I’ve hit somewhat of a dilemma in my research for a website overhaul… what are the bounce rates telling me? As a Marketer, I’m not only interested in the numbers, but I’m also very interested in the behavior BEHIND the numbers. Currently, I don’t have much data about the “why” of the behavior. I see people are landing on our site and then bouncing in under 30 seconds, which could be a sign of either finding the information they need quickly, meaning we’ve done our job, or realizing immediately that they don’t want to work with us, meaning we’ve failed at our job on the website. I’m also trying to find ways to get more information about how and why people are using our website. Is it just to find a phone number? If so, the high bounce rate and minimal time on the site means that we’ve successfully provided them with the information they need, and we’re receiving phone calls and business from them. However, if could also be a sign of a poorly designed site that tells the customer that further exploration is not required, as we’re clearly not going to offer helpful information. I’m looking for ways to mitigate the bounce-rate blues, but I’m finding it difficult, as I still can’t explain WHY people are bouncing.

This short little blurb to say that I am a huge proponent of research and digging into the customer’s head to figure out the best way to move forward. The numbers don’t tell the whole story, so it’s always best to start asking about the people behind the numbers.