3 Big Tips For Relaunching Your Website

In the second part of my writing about working on your own agency brand, I’m really excited to share the news that Caliber’s new website is launched!! Go check it out when you get a chance and let me know what you think.

CaliberScreenGrab1Personally, I think the design rocks, thanks to Zach Weiner of Tandem Multimedia Partners. I’ve known Zach for 15 years dating back to the first agency we worked at together, so I feel very lucky to still have terrific relationships like the one I have with him. If you have the opportunity to work with Zach and his partner John Bauman, you’re in very good hands. I highly recommend them.

OK. Now let’s talk about you. How do you get your own agency’s site up and live in a timely fashion when you’ve got so much other client work to do?

Start with two things:
1) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You have to see your own agency as a client.

2) Get a solid strategic partner to help you divide and conquer, especially on the things you don’t do best, have time for or internal resources to spare.

Granted, I’m coming from this in refreshing an existing site with a new look rather than launching a site for the first time. That said, that can be even more of a reason why you might be putting off your own work. “Eh, it’s the next version of our site. We’ve got something up there at least. Nothing to worry about.” Wrong.

Even if you have a web designer and programmer in-house, it’s very challenging if not impossible to ask that person (or team) to focus on the website exclusively. So they have to balance it with other client work and…here we go again, the other clients get the priority. Over and over and over again.

So what’s the harm in working with contracted talent you trust? Whether you want your in-house designer to work on the agency brand project or you want them to work on other client work, you don’t have to put it all on one plate for the sake of keeping it in-house.

Your Data Can Help Too.
People have all kinds of words and phrases they use to find you via search engines. WordPress is great for not only telling you these terms but helping you understand which pages and posts are the most viewed on your site – and that can play an important role in navigation. For example, when I viewed some of the top viewed pages of my previous site, I found it ranked in this order:

1)   Portfolio

2)    Contact

3)   What Makes Us Different

4)   About Us

5)   No BS Pricing

6)   Content Marketing Services

What’s interesting about that? Well, for one thing, half of these were secondary links underneath the top main menu. What if I moved a couple of them up into the main navigation, like Portfolio and No BS Pricing, to make it that much easier on the audience? So I did that in the new rendition of the site. The other point is that while I had had product-style pages, most people followed a logical order of wanting to see these “about us”-type of agency pages first before they dove into the actual offerings – even though those offerings were seen high enough on the home page.

The takeaway is that sometimes through the stats your audience is going to speak loud and clear about what they want to see and share first on the site. Give the people what they want. Make it easier on them to find. Don’t bury it (I can’t tell you how many companies make the mistake of assuming all their stuff is so easy to find on their site. “What? It’s on the home page!” Yeah. But if it’s sharing space with 20 other links, you do the math on the likelihood of visitors going there).


Let’s get back to the data. When I then took a look at the search terms, a couple popped up that were intriguing, which I might not have thought about:

“Brand Catapult”
“Dan Gershenson Caliber Pricing Range”
“Recommendations For Rebranding”

Brand Catapult is our main product for brand strategy. So while it wasn’t the top page viewed, it was one of the top searched for that leads people to our site. Then I noticed that rebranding was ranked high too. These actually go hand in hand, because as I thought back to why people often need a Brand Catapult conducted, most of the time it’s for a rebranding effort. So the language within that page is and will continue to be tweaked to reflect that.

The other interesting term? The one about having a pricing range.

Now, there’s a fierce debate among people about whether or not to list your pricing on your website. My opinion is this: It’s a conversation you’re going to have at some point anyway if things progress the way you’d like. And clearly here, the audience is telling me it’s something they want more information on, which justifies creating a page for it.

Here’s the other thing about that term you’ll notice though – it’s a pricing range they’re asking about.

That works well for me, since a lot of what I do is custom, so the prices will vary. But I can still give a decent range in the verbiage I write for a pricing page, which should guide people into one of three options for their budget. Again, it’s giving the people what they want – a little more clarity in advance. If they’re kicking tires on price and they can’t afford it, fine. If they can afford it, that makes our first conversations all the more efficient.

So to recap, 1) Think of yourself as a client. When you get into that mindset, think about how you can divide in-house talent with 2) a strategic partner to help share the load. And as you plan around where you want the audience to go, don’t forget to 3) “listen” to what they want through what the data has already told you during their visits. You don’t have to blindly design everything according to what they want – if you want to steer them through a process they’re not familiar with, gently guide them in that direction in your design – but like so many things when I’m creating a brand strategy, you have to get outside your own walls to know how your audience views you and what they value most. That might help you get on the same page. Literally.

Now don’t put your own agency brand to the side a moment longer. If that involves content or strategic thinking on where to take it, let me know if I can be of help to keep things moving along for you – dan@chicagobrander.com.

With Emanuel’s crowdsourcing, do we need as many Aldermen?

Around the time Rahm Emanuel took office in Chicago, news began to permeate throughout the press that the new Mayor was considering trimming the number of City Council seats in half, from 50 Aldermen to 25 Aldermen. With a city facing a mammoth budget deficit of $635 million, Emanuel had mentioned along the campaign trail that many people had wondered aloud why Chicago needed 50 Aldermen when similarly large cities such as L.A., Houston and Philadelphia operate with far less.  Chopping the Council in half won’t solve all of the city’s financial problems. Yet a new online outlet set up by City Hall made me ask what might amount to a silly question to some, but so be it:

If an online forum set up by City Hall, Chicagobudget.org, enables Chicago’s citizens to voice their ideas right to the source where those ideas can be effectively heard, shared and responded to, why do we need as many Aldermen whose primary job it is to do that? 

In case you aren’t familiar, in late July, the Mayor launched a budget idea website called Chicagobudget.org that enables residents to engage with City Hall by providing suggestions on how the city can save money. The rest of the online community can see these ideas and vote them up or vote them down.

Not long after, many people whose ideas were submitted were shocked to pick up a phone and hear, “Hello, this is Mayor Emanuel,” with the Mayor eager to discuss their ideas in greater detail. Skeptics may call this all a show, but legit or not, let’s not pretend there isn’t a degree of showmanship in politics anyway. It fueled enthusiasm and credibility for the site that yes, the Mayor is reading and if your idea is worthwhile, he’ll be calling you.

While the site focuses primarily on financial ideas, I believe Emanuel has uncovered an excellent opportunity to expand the crowdsourcing application of the website to other areas of Chicago – crime, park development, housing, transportation, volunteering and more. This Summer, I wondered in another post why Chicago couldn’t become the country’s most connected city between City Hall and its constituents, at least in a social media sense. Emanuel’s effort here is a great step in that direction and provides a crowdsourcing model for other cities to follow. It’s so successful in my mind that it begs the hard but viable question about the city government outlets in Chicago that may not be as relevant to the people as they once were. A study late last year by the Better Government Association suggests that cutting the City Council in half would save a little over $7 million alone, before we even get to the positive impact on savings it would have for operations and election expenses. It doesn’t erase $635 million, but it’s a start.

At the moment, a law drafted in 1941 says Chicago must have 50 wards. But I think a few things have changed in this town since 1941. Including the latest ward boundaries and the advent of the Internet as a communication tool.

Who knows, perhaps going around the Council straight to the people is the Mayor’s endgame all along. I haven’t had a a conversation with him and it’s not like he would admit it anyway. But let’s face it. What you have here is a social media mechanism in which people can not only express themselves straight to City Hall but in front of the city in general for great exposure. Sure, maybe it’s still their style to ring up the Alderman or trot down to his or her office. But come on. Even if they get a response, the stage here for their ideas and questions is bigger. It’s a smart political move to open up the dialogue in this manner and it’s a smart social media move to bring the community that much closer. We don’t have to point to things we don’t like in this town and say, “Somebody should really do something about that.” You don’t like it? Here’s the site. Type away. Get it front of the people who can do something about it.

The phone’s ringing so I’d better take this. Might be the Mayor calling.

SEO trumps social on driving traffic? Not so fast.

A post today in Crain’s comes from an SEOer who claims that SEO is what drives traffic above all else, not social media.

I certainly don’t disagree with him on the power of search engine optimization to be a big traffic driver, but I’ve got at least one case study that says social media can be a primary traffic driver, even over SEO: My own.

First and foremost, let me add one gigantic disclaimer: Everybody’s website and blog is different, with different audiences that behave in various ways. Some people are more searchers and have a great idea of what they’re looking for. Some don’t and stumble upon something they like, then share it with others.

My audience is a little more of the second variety. They find a post of mine, hopefully like it and share it. This isn’t to say my SEO isn’t good because it is. It’s to say that my results from social media have been even better. How so? I’ll list my top traffic drivers over the last 90 days, as thankfully with your help, this blog has continued to go up and up in readership. So for that, I sincerely thank you. Now to the list:

#1 Traffic Driver: Facebook
For me, Facebook is by far the best referrer of traffic to this blog. It’s not even close. It’s like Mark Zuckerberg called up a bunch of fans of mine, put them in a semi-trailer and drove them to my site. Then he turned around and did it again the next day.

Facebook isn’t just tops in referring people to my site but in share-ability of posts.

#2 Traffic Driver: LinkedIn
Again, this is where you need to pay attention to where your audience “hangs out” online. While it seems obvious, I really have to wonder if people factor this into their equation. It’s why I cringe whenever someone says, “You need to be on _____(insert site here)” without ever sitting down with the customer and getting a feel for who their primary target is. Not just demographic stuff but real behavioral targeting. Would you give a potential bride any old wedding dress off the rack without talking to her, getting to know what she likes, understanding what her budget is and taking her measurements before you know what you can recommend? Since many in my audience are businesspeople, it’s no surprise that LinkedIn is a popular place for referring traffic and sharing posts.

It’s right around here that my search engine optimization traffic comes in as a #3 referrer for various terms used. It’s very close with LinkedIn, but L.I. does edge out my traffic from Google slightly. Even so, Facebook crushes it – almost triple the amount of referring for all search engine terms.

Again, before you run into your boss’ office saying, “we need to be on Facebook and LinkedIn” remember that this is the way MY audience is behaving. Yours may be completely different and very search engine oriented.

Other strong Traffic Drivers: E-mail and Inbound links

Behind these three but still very valuable to me in terms of traffic are e-mail and inbound links. You know e-mail, that supposedly ancient method that continues to keep on giving. When a company has interest in a post and wants to share it, they may or may not be a company where social media is widely used. So the next best path is, naturally, e-mail. I’ve had many posts shared this way with traffic coming back to the blog. After Facebook, e-mail is the second highest way my posts are shared among others.

Inbound links have been kind to me as well. I’m referring to sites that picked up my posts and linked back to my site in their own posts. If those sites have high traffic themselves, I get high traffic. This is practically tied with e-mail for refer-ability.

Of course, as the tools of social media are always evolving, I’ll be interested to see how Google Plus plays into the mix as I revisit this list over the next month and quarter. I only expect it to gain more traction over time.

The point of sharing all this is simply that in the case I’ve just outlined to you, both social and SEO are working together to play a fundamental role in increasing traffic and sharing for me. The audience data tells me so. To suggest one or the other is always the go-to method for people is a blanket statement that doesn’t often apply. For some, SEO may be #1 and for others, social may be #1. But rare is the case where both shouldn’t be high on your list. They certainly are on mine.

25 days to go: Chicago Mayoral candidates still have online work to do.

Now that the Rahm Emanuel Question has been officially answered – in case you’re unclear, he’s officially on the ballot to stay – we can take a look at how our selection of candidates are faring in terms of educating voters in the online world. Sure, shaking hands at an El stop is great PR, but if there’s one thing that the Obama era has taught us, it’s that you can’t underestimate the power of social media in terms of spreading the word about your position on the issues. So I decided to judge our primary candidates – Rahm Emanuel, Gery Chico, Carol Moseley Braun and Miguel del Valle – on how well they are leveraging the online universe to accomplish this goal.

Now let’s check out the results.

Easiest to find in a Search Engine: Miguel Del Valle and Gery Chico.
There’s no reason their campaign site shouldn’t be the first result when a search is done for “(name) for Mayor.” Del Valle and Chico passed the test. Moseley Braun and Emanuel did not.

Blog Champion: Rahm Emanuel
This is the most glaring difference I see between Emanuel and his competitors — some will say Emanuel has more resources and a “Machine” behind him but this is a weak excuse. Blogging consistency can be achieved by just one person if motivated enough and you can’t tell me that Del Valle, Moseley Braun and Chico can’t identify one individual to blog on their behalf. Emanuel (OK, his staff) pumps out posts on a daily basis, often multiple times per day. When given the opportunity to educate or take a position in real time on an issue, Emanuel has succeeded by far.

In contrast, take a look at the other candidates on blogging frequency –Del Valle’s last blog post was 12 days ago. Carol Moseley Braun’s last post was wishing Chicago a Happy New Year on January 4th. The worst offender here is Gery Chico – if he has a blog at all, I missed it and a lot of other people certainly have too. If anything, this group should be keeping pace with Emanuel’s blog frequency. Instead, they’re not even close.

The I-Want-To-Be-Like-Obama Award: I can’t resist. From the color scheme to the font selection to the style of video on his home page, everything on Emanuel’s site feels like an homage to his former boss, President Obama. Regardless of your opinion of the President, I downgrade Emanuel on this point for not looking like his own brand. I understand the direction he takes from a positioning angle – where else could he visually get away with playing up his ties to Obama so closely than Chicago – but I think his site goes overboard in this regard.

Catering to the International Community: Gery Chico
All candidates have Spanish versions of their websites, but give Chico credit for remembering the second largest community outside of Warsaw by enabling his site to be read in Polish. Carol Moseley Braun does the same, but I give Chico the international tie-breaker by having his website able to be read in Chinese as well.

LinkedIn: Nobody.
This makes little sense to me. If the President of the United States could make his LinkedIn address available when he was running for office, why can’t any of these candidates? If all are for improving local businesses, large and small, a LinkedIn badge to the candidate’s page would not only be of benefit, but it would also provide credibility from one business owner to another as they were connected to the candidate — endorsements mean a lot, but I think the candidates have forgotten that it’s not just the ones that get coverage on the 10:00 news that matter.

Mayor of Social Media: Rahm Emanuel
Most have the Facebook/Twitter/YouTube trinity covered but his prolific blogging, Flickr channel and RSS Feeds make Emanuel the best choice for providing his prospective voters multiple ways to stay connected to him after visiting his website. If we’re realistic, most people won’t return repeatedly to a site for information but may agree to receive that information on their terms. Emanuel caters well to all avenues in this manner.

We still have 25 days before Election Day — I have Gery Chico’s countdown clock on his website to thank for reminding me. That means there’s still time for the candidates to make the necessary tweeks online as they press the flesh and kiss babies (really, does anybody still do that?). Emanuel is ahead, but everybody has room for improvement. While some of the channels of social media are in place, the fuel for continuous content is not being supplied as consistently as it should. Or the sites are not being found as easily as they should. It’s incumbent on these candidates, particularly those trailing in the polls, to make sure these areas are tightened up as soon as possible if they want to get comfortable at City Hall.