We’re at a place in history unlike any other when it comes to access to such a large amount of information at the tips of our fingers. So much of what happens in our real lives, in our communities, in our classrooms, in our town halls, and in our boardrooms is affected by or has the power to be shaped by the information that we get first online. Unfortunately, technological illiteracy is a real problem and those of us who work every day online and with technology often forget how overwhelming it can all seem to those that don’t. Teaching everyone how to use, manage, evaluate, and understand technology and information online is as critical a subject as reading or math. I believe that we have a civic responsibility to make sure that not just our students but other demographics that are routinely marginalized online have the tools they need to access information and engage in the conversations that will shape our collective future.
YEC Next is an invitation-only community for the world’s most promising early-stage entrepreneurs.
Vancouver, WA (February 4, 2019) — Kristine Neil, Owner & Creative Director at Markon Brands, has been accepted into YEC Next, an invitation-only community for the world's most promising early-stage entrepreneurs 45 and younger.
Kristine was chosen for membership in YEC Next based the success she has already achieved with Markon Brands, as well as the selection committee’s analysis of her potential for future growth.
As a member of YEC Next, Kristine will have access to a curated network of influential peers, personal brand building and publishing opportunities on top media outlets, volume discounts on business services, and VIP events. Kristine and others in YEC Next also benefit from the mentorship of members of YEC (Young Entrepreneur Council), which counts among its ranks some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs.
“I’m honored to have been invited to join YEC Next and look forward to sharing with and learning from my fellow entrepreneurs,” says Kristine Neil. “The coming year is poised to be a standout year for Markon and I look forward to the opportunity to further solidify our footing as Squarespace web design & development experts.”
Scott Gerber, founder of YEC Next, says, "We are honored to welcome Kristine to YEC Next. Our goal is to provide the most promising up-and-coming entrepreneurs around with the opportunities and connections that will accelerate their path to every business milestone.”
For more information about YEC Next, visit yecnext.com.
Be Authentic. The quickest way to get people to zone out is to show them exactly what they see on everyone else’s accounts. You’re not keeping up a robust posting schedule and all that goes with it to blend in! Users are quick to notice when someone isn’t being real. When faced with an endless scroll of pretty, polished, manicured personas, offering an authentic picture of who you really are as a person (or as a brand) can be a breath of fresh air. Brands and influencers alike shouldn’t be afraid to put themselves out there; I’ve found that the messy behind-the-scenes posts usually generate the most engagement. If you’re hesitant to post anything less than perfect to your grid, that’s what Stories are for! You can be silly, speak directly to your followers, play with fun features like gifs, polls or questions and still maintain the picture perfect main profile we all strive for.
Take a look at the brand guideline documents for some of your favorite companies, and you’ll find rules about everything from packaging to permitted verbiage for retail displays, all outlined in great detail. Brand designers agonize over every little pixel when putting guides like these together and define usage rules for every type of scenario imaginable. It makes sense to have guides like this if you’re Starbucks or Apple; with thousands of employees spread across the country and the globe, brand guidelines docs are the best way to get everyone on the same page and ensure brand consistency. They cover everything from the expected (color codes, fonts) to the mundane (signage templates, letterhead layouts).
But what if you’re a small business or a business that doesn’t have a location at all? It can be easy for online-only brands to think they can forego brand guidelines altogether and just wing it when creating new brand assets. Unfortunately, without defined parameters in place, it’s all too easy to get busy and settle for “close enough” instead of “on brand.” Getting your brand assets organized is super important, and it doesn’t have to be as rigid or complex as the big guys; after all, the strength of most small businesses is that we’re way more nimble and adaptive than large corporations. Here are our best tips and resources for online brands:
1. Have more than one logo
Right away, I know what you’re thinking: I thought you said this was going to be less work. And now you’re saying I need more things?! Yes, but hear me out. We often see clients that have invested in a logo design. A logo design - as in, ONE logo. And then we see them use that logo on everything. Good intentions, sure, because at least they are being consistent! But it’s nearly impossible to have one modern logo that works for all applications, scales, and sizes so we recommend that at a minimum, you should have at least three versions or variations or your logo. This is true especially for online brands and even service-based companies because, for you, exposure to your brand depends entirely on a great online experience! You don’t have a storefront or in-person employees to help make up for an inferior digital look.
The three versions we recommend are:
A version that is taller than it is wide
A version that is wider than it is tall
A version that works cropped into a square or circle (i.e., for social media profile pics)
If you feel like being an overacheiver, here are a couple bonus variations that can come in handy:
An icon or submark
A text-only version
In the olden days, we used to say that people also needed to include logo variations that are suitable for all sorts of various print applications, but if you’re an online business, chances are you aren’t printing much. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to make sure your logo does work well as one color (in both white and black) so that when you need to, you can have that ready to go. What’s most important now is not so much the number of colors in your logo (used to be a huge factor in determining printing costs) but that your brand can be identifiable in very small situations at a glance (i.e., while scrolling on social media).
2. Understand web colors
Speaking of social media, this is where color can make or break you. We’re all exposed to so many brands online every day that our brains can barely process them all. To take it all in and attempt to make some sense of it, our minds use color as a shortcut. Just seeing Starbucks green, or Coke red or Facebook blue can trigger you to pull up all of the associated feelings you have with those companies - good, bad, or otherwise. This is why it’s so critical for online brands to define their exact brand color palette and never deviate from it.
Color tip: define exact colors using web-based color codes (HEX codes) and not just general colors. This is the difference between saying our brand color is #052d52 and our brand color is navy. One looks like this:
And the other looks like this:
Using a close approximation isn’t good enough when it comes to color. At best, you’re diluting your own brand identity, and at worse, you’re risking people confusing your brand with another altogether.
3. Don’t go bananas with fonts
One of the things we love about working with online brands is that there’s a little wiggle room to adapt and fudge some of the design “rules” that we wouldn’t have the freedom to do when working with a larger company. The downside to this is that it’s pretty easy to adapt and fudge some of the design rules and end up with a brand asset that looks nothing like the brand. 🙃
The rule when it comes to fonts should really just be: “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” and that’s a pretty easy rule to remember. Just like color, your fonts need to be consistent so that people can see it and know that it’s you. It’s not enough to say that your font is “cursive.” Cursive is not a font. Adorn Smooth is a font. For website design projects, we usually define up to four fonts: H1, H2, H3 & body but most of those are usually just variations of one or two fonts. For example, we may use an all caps version of the brand font for an H1 and a smaller, sentence-case version of that same font as an H3, etc. For most online brands, we recommend defining your primary brand font (the on that is used the most) and one or two “accent” fonts that can be used sparingly as headlines, callout text or as an embellishment to the primary font.
4. Have a photographic style
We were so excited when Squarespace announced last year that it would be including our favorite stock photo site, Unsplash, as a built-in integration. With a massive library of gorgeous photos that are free to use, Unsplash images are a great way to flesh out a website if client’s don’t have many pictures of their own.
Stock photos can also just be used as a nice background to set the “mood” for a site while your content takes center stage. We know that photos have the power to shape the way we feel about what we see online - bright, colorful images can make us feel happy; dark, moody photos evoke a more serious feel. Including both on a website - confusing!
When it comes to photos, we suggest letting your web design team work with you to pull just the right selection. Visual communication is our strong suit so if you tell us that you need to convey to your visitors that you’re sophisticated, or funny, or an expert in your field - we’ll find photos to do just that. It’s often difficult for clients to disassociate from their own feelings about the visual elements enough to understand how someone that’s never experienced their brand (or maybe even their industry) sees things. For example, what you see as a photo showing a specific type of tool or technique or technology, visitors see as “someone who does what you do.”
Keep in mind that these photos can also be used in blog posts, social media promotions or even digital advertising so building a library of on-brand photographic assets is super helpful!
5. Put it all together - Canva for Work
If you’d have asked me, a serious graphic designer, a couple of years ago if I would use Canva more than I do Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, I would have laughed at you. That’s because I was caught up in the idea that Creative Suite was for “pros” and new, web-based products like Canva were for amateurs. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Canva for Work is a fantastic way to keep your brand assets organized and quickly pump out on-brand social media posts, blog headers, Facebook ads and more. Here’s the thing: you gotta spring for the Canva for Work option. It’s $10 a month, but as an online business, you’re not paying to erect a monument sign in your front yard so I think you can handle it.
With Canva for work, you can define all of your brand fonts and colors, make templates that you can quickly use and re-use and organize all of your assets like photos and logo variations, so they’re always ready to go. No more excuses that you just picked the closest color you could find or used a font that was close-ish to your own. This is not a paid endorsement of Canva for work, and the link above is not an affiliate link. This is just us telling you that this is the best tool we’ve found to help online brands get their act together when it comes to managing their identities.
As an online brand, you may not need to worry about things like signage or employee uniforms but taking the time to get your brand assets organized will help you start building brand recognition and save you time in the long run. Whether you’re posting on social media, writing a new blog post or creating a landing page for a new product or service, it’s essential that you have the assets you need right at your fingertips. Brand consistency is what helps build trust and confidence in your business, and an organized aesthetic can easily turn casual fans into dedicated devotees. Done right, your brand will be ready to compete with the big guys in no time!
Below is our recent interview with Kristine Neil, Owner and Creative Director of Markon Brands:
Q: Kristine, can you tell us something more about the company?
A: Markon Brands is a small, creative studio based in the Pacific Northwest. We specialize not just in designing websites but in helping brands tell cohesive and compelling brand stories online. We are first and foremost, communication experts and it just so happens that in 2019 nearly all communication is digital! Our best clients are small to medium businesses or nonprofit organizations that want to communicate better with their target demographic. They may not realize that poor messaging or inconsistent logo usage or an outdated web design layout is costing them money; they may only feel that something is off about their current site or know that they can do more. We also do a lot of work with new companies that are in the startup phase so for those clients the goal is to anticipate the needs of an audience that doesn’t entirely exist yet and build in room for growth and adaptation.
Q: Can you give us insights into your services?
A: Of all the projects we work in during the course of a year, I would say that 70% of them are website rebuilds and the remaining 30% are entirely new sites. Whether we’re working with a client that has an existing site or not, our process remains pretty much the same. After working on so many websites over the years, we’ve honed and refined a method to make things easy for our clients who may not be as familiar with technology or the ever-changing demands of search engines like Google. Our services are designed to be holistic treatments of the entirety of a brand’s digital footprint, with the foundation being a beautiful, user-friendly, modern website. We also provide ongoing website support services for clients whether we built their original site or not. For us, it’s not just about getting a client to launch day; it’s about allowing them to have a website that can grow and change for them as their business does.
Q: No one in your studio has ever taken a dedicated UX design course? Is that true? Why?
A: This is true! That’s what happens when you’ve been at this game for as long as we have; what used to be taught under several different disciplines has now been modernized under the singular “user experience” banner. So even though neither of us has ever taken what is now billed as a UX design course, we’ve unintentionally been training and building our UX knowledge and skillset over decades of real-life education and experience. User experience as we define it is really just an amalgamation of the theories and teachings of many different fields. From understanding things like buyer psychology and color theory to what actions convert and how environmental conditions affect buyers, user experience design has been given life through all the new ways we interact with brands – online and IRL. Creating great user experiences pulls equally from the fields of psychology, art, economics, design, information sciences, and linguistics, and these are all areas we’re lucky to be able to translate into a digital medium such as web design.
Q: What is the best way to create readable web pages, and why is it important?
A: Most pages need to be way more straightforward and simple than the average business owner imagines! Most of us can probably differentiate a great website from a mediocre one when we land there as a visitor ourselves, but the problem we see most business owners have is that when it comes to their own site, they get bogged down by their personal knowledge and passion for their industry. They forget that visitors don’t share their same level of skill or expertise in their field and end up providing too much of the wrong information when, in fact, pared down copy with a highly targeted call-to-action helps create a highly readable web page and more enjoyable experience. Putting yourself in your client’s shoes is the best first step in this process. Try to understand what they know, what they don’t know and when it’s appropriate to share different types of info with them. Clearly defined sales funnels like this convert at higher rates and have the side effect of being more readable by search engines as well!
Q: From your perspective how can search engine optimization change a business owner’s life?
A: SEO is a very tangled and complicated topic, and there are definitely people who consider themselves “experts” in this field that see things differently than we do at Markon. We tend to feel that there’s a lot of over-promising and under-delivering that happens in this segment and it’s unfortunate because many of the victims of sometimes predatory practices are otherwise pragmatic business owners that are just trying to improve their web positioning so that they can stay open another week. Search engine optimization best practices change faster than most companies can afford to respond to so, at best, most businesses are just playing catch up in a game that they are never going to win. We would recommend that for SEO to be truly “life changing” that business owners should focus on organic content creation that builds relationships and reinforces their position as an expert in their field. All of the fundamental elements (things like proper page or content formatting) should be taken care of as part of your web design experience. To us, great design is the foundation of great SEO. Growth happens as a result of the everyday activities that come after launch.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: In 2019, we plan to focus more on creating intentional user experiences and integrating more personalized elements into the sites we build for clients. This means being even more thoughtful about the placement of essential items on the page and increasingly conscientious about what motivates people to connect. On the personalization side, we’re discovering new apps and integrations every day that are at very accessible price points for even the smallest of businesses, and we’re excited to see how those features help our clients better connect and engage with their own customers. Designing for a great experience and staying ahead of trends is what sets us apart from ordinary web designers.
Stay True to Your Passion
In many ways, it’s easier than ever to start your own business but many people quickly realize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the CEO desk. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart! There is a lot of romanticized content out there (especially on Instagram) that makes it seem like a dream to be your own boss; from the #digitalnomads who claim to only work four hour weeks while traveling the world and blogging from the back of their camper van to the always perfect snaps of #workathome life, it can be tough when your reality doesn’t seem to match up to what you’re seeing online. My biggest tip for succeeding as an entrepreneur is to stay true to yourself and not compare your version of success to anyone else’s. Being an entrepreneur can be risky and unpredictable enough without feeling like you haven’t figured out the “magic formula” for success yet. If you’re bold enough to step out on your own, stay true to that passion and success will eventually follow.
Innovative ecommerce retailers will push the current limits of personalisation in 2019. This means going beyond passive product recommendation models by integrating conversational features that actively recommend products to consumers based on demographics, purchase history, locality and any other actionable data.
“The idea will be to create an online shopping experience that feels like it comes with the support one would find from a human associate in a store. Imagine logging into a favourite clothier’s website and being greeted by a bot that knows your dimensions, colour and style preferences, and can actively assist you in shopping for a new item.
We may primarily work in web design these days but our roots are in brand design and building cohesive identities for small to medium businesses still lies at the core of what we do. The best part is that a website offers so many ways to expand and really have fun with a brand; underscoring our belief that a brand, like a website, should never be a static thing. It needs to grow and evolve as your business does. The problem that we find most small business owners having when it comes to this concept is wanting to infuse too much of their personal aesthetics into their branding, and therefore their websites. But here’s the thing - your branding isn’t about you. It’s about what you can do for your target demographic, or what your products and services will do for your client and it’s about how to compel them to take action and connect with you.
What does this look like IRL? Let’s take a look!
Our job as designers is not just to make pretty things but to make functional (pretty) things. We know that design has the power to appeal to the emotions, desires, and psychology of your potential buyer and we select design elements like colors, fonts, and photos with intention because they can all convey very different emotions. If a client tells us that they want to look sophisticated and upscale, we’ll most likely want to stick to things like muted tones, classic serifed fonts & very refined photos in a complementary palette. Pragmatic business owners know to put their personal aesthetics aside and go with what the experts say works, even if their own preferences would be to go with bold, primary colors, crazy script fonts, and bouncing illustrations. Nothing says sophisticated like a carnival!
We all have preferences when it comes to how we interact with our technology. Some people love hamburger menus (those three little stacked lines indicating a menu is available to pop out on mobile), and some people despise them. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter how you feel about these elements because what we know is that they work. You may not like a button in a specific place or how a form has been positioned on a page, but the way you feel about it (sorry for the tough love here) doesn’t matter. You are not your client. When considering how to position items on a page, designers think about things like where the user's eye will be drawn to first and what motions and actions are most likely to get visitors to convert.
Any designer will tell you that they are notoriously their own worst client; even the best graphic designers out there often have a colleague take over working on their personal branding for them. It’s because sometimes we’re just too close to the work to be able to see things objectively. We know that the jargon, insider information and technical knowledge we have is likely to negatively affect our ability to see our own work the way a potential client would. The same is true for pretty much anyone in any industry. It’s like how sometimes having a sympathetic friend to talk to when you’re having a tough day is just what you need; they are able to see your situation separated from the emotions you’re feeling. As web designers, we’re that sympathetic friend. Our job is ultimately to make sure that you feel heard and that all of your best ideas are communicated in the most effective way possible to your target demographic - separated from the emotion of the day-to-day involvement in the business.
This isn’t to say that your personal aesthetics can’t creatively be weaved into the design solutions we provide. They may be more subtle or gentle than you would have done if left to your own devices but let’s just say that with the additional revenue generated by appealing to your client’s desires instead of your own, you’ll be able to afford to have us design you your very own carnival-themed personal website.
Here at Markon, we love this time of year because it’s time to forecast what trends we think will define the shifts in branding, web design and marketing in the year to come. In 2019, we are expecting subtle, yet significant, changes in web design. The new year is a time when many businesses are thinking about new goals, so if updating your website is on your list here are some trends to keep an eye on.
First, a note on why it’s important to pay attention to trends – even if your business has a more traditional aesthetic and you don’t plan on implementing anything too crazy or boundary pushing. We don’t need to remind anyone with internet access that things move fast in the digital world and some of the trends we see are actually indicative of more profound, fundamental shifts in how customers are changing the ways they react and engage with online content. Right now, there’s a real push and pull between all of the tools that are becoming increasingly available to personalize experiences, for example, and also helping people feel that their information is secure and their privacy respected.
Other trends are rooted in just how much time we all spend staring at our screens and understanding just how overwhelmed consumers are by the massive amount of new content that’s published online every hour of every day. The reality is that consumers take just a few seconds to determine if the website they are visiting will be of value to them. That’s an eternity, and barely a blink all at once, and in that timeframe consumers are scanning for keywords and calls-to-action to help them decide whether to stay or go. They just have too much to look at.
With those things in mind, here are four simple aesthetic and structural trends that we believe will improve the design and function of websites in 2019:
Simplified Content & Navigation Structures
In 2019, we’ll see content concentrated on as few pages as possible, each designed to be easily skimmable so that consumers can get to what they need quickly. In the past, we often saw content spread thinly across numerous pages (and clicks!) to make a site appear “meatier” than it was. The truth is that this is not only cumbersome for the consumer but potentially damaging for overall site performance.
Concentrating content onto highly targeted landing pages with clear CTAs (calls-to-action) helps send a clear message to visitors that the real magic happens once a personal connection is made. This simplification will also affect top-level and secondary navigation in a big way. Large, multi-tiered navigation structures (i.e., drop-down menus that have drop-down menus) just expend more of the consumer’s time and eat up space at the top of every page. We’re not sure why this navigation style was ever popular but are looking forward to seeing sites with simplified content organization and plain language to improve user experience.
Speaking of CTAs, favorite page layouts of the past often meant that they got lost in the shuffle, despite often being the most crucial element on the page! To increase the usefulness of websites, we’ll see a renewed effort to intuitively place calls-to-action where they make the most sense from both a design and a user experience perspective. Web design experts are combining their understanding of attributes such as color, typography, and even animation, with studies that show us where visitors are most prone to move their eyes on a page, meaning that a great CTA really is part art and part science. This trend is heavily impacted by that idea that people are feeling very fatigued and overwhelmed by information online. Improving CTAs on your site is the first step in helping visitors feel like your job is to make their life easier, not harder!
Advances in machine learning and AI mean that incorporating personalized functions, like a chatbot, more accessible than ever. What that means for business owners is that some of the initial interactions with leads on your site (or social media accounts) can become automated, allowing you to focus on other things while potential customers consider your services. Customers are coming to expect instant personalization whether that’s that your bot knows their name or is able to look up their order history or understand their shopping preferences. The trend here is that consumers will continue to expect more and more of these interactions and businesses that fail to implement systems to manage experiences will quickly feel outdated. In the long run, we also see the creation of highly personalized on-page content that caters, if not specifically to a person, to at least a specific buyer persona to make them feel like your site exists to speak only to them. We’re expecting to see a focus on micro-interactions like these to help sites feel even more engaging and less static.
Bold, Monochromatic Design
Will this be the year that soft, subtle Millennial Pink finally dies? Maybe! We see some hints that the internet’s new favorite colors will be much bolder in 2019. What takes bright colors and bold typography from shocking to amazing is that this aesthetic will be paired with a considerable simplification in the amount of content and other design elements on the page (see trend one!). Creating evocative experiences through the use of color and type is not a trend, of course; but we’re expecting to see designs that feel fresh by focusing on monochromatic palettes that make minimalism feel luxe. Crisp, bright colors won’t feel overwhelming when balanced with plenty of white space, simple shapes and subtle animations.
Even if you’re not looking to make any significant shifts with your web presence in the coming year, it’s always smart to understand what updates and changes are fueling the trends so that you aren’t caught off guard by what you see in your analytics panel. These trends are indicative of a modern need to build simple interfaces with gentle user experiences, allowing consumers to learn more about businesses and find the things they need in environments that are pleasing to the eye and straightforward in their organization. You may not see your business as a trendsetter or follower, but adopting the trends described here are what will make your website successful in 2019.
For business owners, taking time off during the holiday season can be challenging. For one thing, you risk losing income if you’re not working. Second, it can be hard to find someone else to manage operations during this busy time of year.
The good news? Most of your customers will probably be taking a break, too. So with a little planning and a lot of communication, you can actually relax and enjoy the holidays yourself. Here are tips to giving yourself some rest and relaxation over the holiday season:
Your holiday planning should start weeks—if not months—before your scheduled time off. Give your customers, clients and staff as much heads-up as possible, and then remind them of your plans at every opportunity. When Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of marketing firm Mavens & Moguls, took a month off to travel to Italy recently, she made sure colleagues and clients had months to prepare for her absence. “I told them about my plans, reiterated the dates as we discussed timelines for projects, and put it in emails, proposals, invoices and pay stubs,” she says. The best part: By creating that sense of urgency, clients pulled the trigger on some projects that had been lingering so they could launch before she left town.
If you have staff who can cover for you while you’re away, have more than one person trained to handle key tasks, advises Jamie Cunningham, with SalesUp! Business Coaching. Also document all of your critical systems. “There are usually only a handful of mission-critical systems in a business that, if failed, would cause irrevocable damage,” he says. “These are the ones to focus on.”
Technology and IoT (Internet of things) have made it easier than ever to be out of the office without being out-of-pocket when clients need you. Kristine Neil, owner and creative director of Markon Brands, lets automation take care of routine tasks when she’s not in the office. She creates workflows in Dubsado, her customer relationship management (CRM) platform, to automatically respond to leads, follow up on proposals or even track down anyone who may have missed a scheduled payment while she’s out of the office. Ruby Receptionists will route calls to her cell so she can answer them from anywhere in the world. “If I’m truly trying to disconnect, they can answer basic questions or route callers to helpful resources until I’m back in the office,” she says.
The rise of virtual assistants has been a game-changer for many entrepreneurs. As their name implies, virtual assistants are contract or freelance workers who perform basic executive assistant tasks while working from home. They can answer your phone, respond to emails, manage projects or maintain your social media presence while you’re away. They can be hired by the hour, by the project or by the week or month, depending on your needs.
The reality is that you may not be able to completely sever the line between work and home during your days off. So if you do need to check in, set boundaries around your availability. Let your staff and clients know that you’ll be checking messages or emails once or twice a day, and leave an emergency contact number on your voicemail. Also set your email to out-of-office mode and leave a message letting them know you’re on break and how to reach your business if necessary.
“While I’m not a fan of a business owner being on call during their holidays, it can give both you and your team peace of mind knowing that if an absolute disaster happens, there is a way to connect with you,” Cunningham says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, these disasters never come to pass, but the fear they will often prevents business owners taking the length of holiday they really should.”
In our years of working with businesses to build successful online experiences, the projects that have presented the most friction are the ones where clients try to micromanage the design process despite having little-to-no experience or authority in the world of design. As designers and UX professionals we bring our best to every project, so when a client is attempting to steer the project in another creative direction that we don't think will help them achieve their goals, it can grind the project to halt. It's an unfortunate scenario considering the client has paid for our expertise. In these cases, our job becomes helping clients see beyond their own design bias to what is best for their target audience.
A quick Google search on “key metrics to track for your website” yields a plethora of resources on everything from bounce rate to conversion rates by traffic source and from authors as diverse as the well-respected Hubspot to some random guy online who decided he was an expert on this topic.
Metrics are important because in many ways having a website is like opening a retail store on Main Street, leaving the front door unlocked and walking away. Without them, you don’t really know who’s coming in, who’s interested in what inventory or who’s getting frustrated and leaving before making a purchase. You’d never leave your shop unstaffed, and website analytics are the online equivalent of watching what customers do to figure out how to give them more of what they want and (hopefully) get them to eventually become your customer.
I’m definitely in favor of making well-informed decisions backed by data and tracking and analyzing all these metrics can absolutely help you understand some of what’s going on when people visit your site, but the real truth is that the metrics never tell the whole story. The data, unfortunately, is lying to you.
Not intentionally, of course. But at best, it’s at least not telling you the whole truth. As much as the left-brained people in the room would love for us to be able to chart and graph our way to understanding what motivates people as they explore and discover our content online, there are just some things that are nearly impossible to map. Here are five things to consider when looking at your metrics that might help you understand the rest of the story.
Understanding Behavioral Economics & Buyer Psychology
I believe that any good post on metrics or analytics has to start with at least acknowledging that there’s an entire field of study devoted to understanding why people make irrational purchasing decisions that routinely defy economic theory. The long and short of this when it comes to thinking about how users experience your website is that sometimes we, as humans, simply do not act in our own best interests. We’re dumb like that. Your site may logically outline the benefits of your product or service, provide social proof in the way of user reviews and testimonials, ethically appeal to the emotional triggers that motivate a purchase… all the things. And users still may not buy. Well, what does this do to that neat little traffic funnel you’re analyzing? Right - it makes it look like for some reason you have control over why this person has opted out.
The truth is that while traditional economics would have us believe that we all always fairly weigh all options presented to us and make rational purchasing decisions based on facts that this is just not the case. People may be distracted, they might have other personal things going on, they might have had a few too many glasses of wine at happy hour, they may have some deep, psychological block that is preventing them from seeing the value in your work.
I find this especially true for service-based businesses (like Markon and so many of our clients are!). We know we could help people improve their web presence, better showcase their brand, get noticed for how amazing they are and… they just may not be ready for that. They aren’t not purchasing from us because they don’t recognize the value we offer, they’re not purchasing because they don’t feel that they are worth it. Maybe they’re suffering from impostor syndrome. Maybe they lack confidence in their ability to succeed in business. Whatever it is, it’s not your fault, and the metrics aren’t going to fill in these blanks. The nuances of purchasing behavior aren’t something inherently graph-able. You’re not a psychiatrist, and your website isn’t a failure because someone else just isn’t ready yet.
The Art of Perfect Timing
At a conference in Boston last year, I had the pleasure of listening to Daniel Pink speak. He gave a wonderfully informative presentation about timing, based on the findings he outlines in his book. It was all brilliant, scientific, rational stuff. But, as we said, we don’t all always perform rationally, and a lot of our success in business comes down not only to what but when. I’m not talking about timing when it comes to when to get into a particular business or industry; I’m assuming that as a smart business person that you’ve researched and studied the trends relevant to your field and are getting into the market at a time that makes sense for profitability. I’m talking about timing when it comes to interacting with the right potential clients at the right time for them.
Metrics assume that all visitors are at the same place on their journey and that they are all in a position to buy right now. But unless you’re doing some sort of exit polling as people click away from your website (and wouldn’t that be annoying?!) you have no idea why people aren’t doing what you want on your site right when you want them to. Say you offer a service only for businesses that have been open for three years or more, but a visitor saw you on social media, loves your work and is aspiring to be your client one day. If they are just starting out, it may take years for them to convert. They may visit your site periodically because it helps motivate them towards what they are working for. You may see their visits in your analytics panel as another lead lost, but they’re just waiting for when they’ll be qualified enough to work with you. The perfect time.
Asking the Right Questions
Metrics are great at providing answers but are you sure you’re asking the right questions? Because so much of looking at analytics is us both trying to make sense of past data without full context and trying to guess at what future user actions might be without being mind readers, there’s a ton about the numbers you look at every month that is 100%, completely and entirely arbitrary. That can be a bit unsettling if you use those numbers to make significant business decisions regarding staffing levels, pay raises, inventory holdings, budgeting, etc. Setting targets is great but what if you pick the wrong target? Your numbers will either look really great or super crappy as a result of your lousy target picking. Maybe you didn’t under- or over-perform; perhaps you did just fine, and you’re just really bad at picking targets. The whole thing is a crapshoot if you look at data within a vacuum and fail to make sure you know what you’re asking the numbers to tell you. Vanity metrics are like vanity sizing; at the end of the day, the only person you’re fooling is yourself.
Leading with Heart
In business school, we spent some time debating whether leaders are born or whether they can be made. Is there an innate sense of what it takes to be a great leader within some people, and do other people just have to work really hard to train that sense? For me, the answer was always a mix of both. It takes a little bit of intuition and a whole lot of experience to be able to lead a company (even if you’re a company of one!). The trouble is that we tend to give a ton of credit to that which we can measure and objectify and downplay the ability to make decisions just because they feel like the right thing to do. These decisions may seem subjective and may go against everything the numbers tell us to do, but they are still the right decisions.
A great example of this can be seen when looking at online shoe retailer Zappos. The company is well known for going to extreme lengths to take care of customers. From spending hours on the phone, to sending flowers to grieving clients, to taking back discontinued shoes - the company routinely makes decisions that fly in the face of “good metrics.” But they’re asking the right questions (see what I did there?), and they know that the things that truly matter (i.e., customer loyalty, brand devotion) may not be measurable in a traditional sense. And if you’re still on the fence about whether it’s worth it to pay a call center employee hourly to spend an inordinate amount of time being helpful to your customers, here’s a number that may work for you: $928 million.
Quality vs. Quality
I was chatting with one of our search partners the other day and not to get too Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on anyone but we ended up having a conversation about what quality really means. It was deep. Unlike traditional search which weighs potential matches and returns a ranked list, what we were looking at with this partner was a matching algorithm that instead was trying to provide the one best match to every searcher. This logic is similar to that used by your voice assistant (Alexa or Siri or whoever); in a world of virtually endless possibilities (quantity), voice assistants seek to return only what they deem to be the best match (quality).
What does this have to do with metrics? A lot, really. As we start to see a more significant number of users shift to search methods that are seeking quality over quantity, some of us may see a dip in related metrics. Without understanding why this may be happening, we may falsely attribute the apparent reduction in traffic or click thru rates to something we’re doing wrong (asking the wrong questions). What we should really be thinking about is whether it matters to us that we have a high volume of irrelevant traffic or if, just like the customer, we’re actually seeking out our one best match. Personally, I don’t care if one thousand people see our site if they aren’t the right people. I would rather have one person check us out and think This! This is exactly what I’m looking for! These are my people!
So what to do about this?
I’m definitely not saying to abandon the analytics panel. Metrics have a strong role to play in business decision-making and can help guide us towards understanding some of what’s happening on our website or in our social feeds. We just need to be aware that the numbers and targets we’re looking at can only be as good as the context in which we frame them. Spending time trying to understand the motivations and challenges your target demographic may face can help you fill in the blanks when the charts seem mystifying and guide you towards the rest of the story. If you find yourself too bogged down by what look like dismal numbers on the surface, take a step back and think about what else may really be going on. If you’re playing the long game, you’ll care more about the 10,000-foot view than any one day’s worth of data anyways.
AKA Don’t Blame the Button
It was the Sex and the City episode turned Hollywood movie title phrase that caused many of us of a certain age at a certain time to do some real deep introspection: He’s Just Not That Into You. It was a real jaw-dropper to be told so bluntly that no, they aren’t just busy, aren’t just wanting to play hard to get, aren’t waiting a certain number of days to call. They just weren’t that into us. Maybe it was revolutionary at the time (or perhaps I’ve just grown up), but in retrospect, this seems so obvious. If someone likes you, especially if they are attracted to you, they’re going to find a way to connect. They’ll call. They’ll DM you. They’ll track down your next of kin on Facebook and send them a DM. (That last one is actually probably a huge red flag, but you get the point.)
Well, here’s the business owner version of the same concept: They’re Just Not That Into You. As in, the visitors to your website that aren’t converting. The truth is that in business, just like in love, if someone wants to connect with you, they’ll find a way.
If your site features a nice, color-contrasting button in the header navigation, some decent CTA text over the hero image and another link to “connect” in the footer of the site maybe there are other reasons why they aren’t clicking. Is your copy dull? Could your social media branding be more consistent? Are you just not giving them enough motivation to click. the. button? The answer could be in tightening up your branding or working on refining your messaging. It’s probably not in adding more buttons.
Other Ways to Fix Things
DON’T BLAME THE BUTTON
If people aren’t clicking, it’s rarely (if ever) the button’s fault. The button is there on the page, clear as day. The truth is that it could be a giant, blinking, Vegas-style neon sign with arrows pointing at it and they still wouldn’t click it. Because you’ve not given them a compelling reason to do so. Sure, we can A/B test a few landing pages to help us understand things like which color button converts for your site visitors most or play around with placing CTAs strategically in the hottest parts of a page, but these efforts will be in vain if you don’t pull your weight when it comes to content creation.
FOCUS ON CREATING GREAT CONTENT
All of this is to say that we can do a lot with a beautiful page layout, our understanding of buyer psychology and various UX/UI design strategies to help move people towards the action you’d like them to take on your page or site but design isn’t a cure-all. If you focus on creating compelling, authentic copy that lets people know why you do what you do, how you can help them in ways other people in your industry can’t and that helps them understand what it’s like to work with you, they’ll be knocking down your door to become your customer. Even if there’s only one button on your page asking them to get in touch.
MORE ISN’T MORE
Again, just like in dating, customers can smell desperation, and there’s nothing that will send visitors running in the other direction than someone begging to be hired. More isn’t more when it comes to CTAs. In addition to looking desperate, it contributes to the visual clutter on the page and can actually make it harder for visitors to see what you’re asking them to do. Make things as simple as possible. The web is a crowded, often ugly, loud place. Distracted visitors don’t have the time or mental energy to sift through your junk drawer. Explain what you do clearly, give it a little heart and point them in the right direction: ideally one, easily identifiable way to get in touch with you. From there, whether they convert or not is entirely in your hands, but at least you’ll know they’re genuinely interested in loving, adorable, unique little you. 💋
Instagram is a great platform to gain traction when you sell online and are a new brand in the marketplace. Find a few hashtags you can gain traction around and then gear your content to fit the content being shared around those hashtags. Post to both your grid and via stories. Be sure to include those hashtags in your story posts too. By doing so, you’ll become part of a larger story around that hashtag and increase your reach. The link in your bio can drive people back to your store, or you can check out how tools like the SHOPPABLE feature on Planoly can help make selling from Instagram easier.
Encourage User Generated Content
Brands that want to leverage social media and the power of word-of-mouth marketing should aspire to craft an ingenious way to encourage user-generated content. When you can get your audience to post content about your brand, you are turning each of those persons into micro-influencers for your brand. People within their own social networks will be exposed to content about your brand and may even generate their own (or at least visit your website). This is marketing that leverages the power of human networks facilitated by technology, and it’s really the best of both. Each post is another link living on the web about your brand, so encourage users to include a link back to your website and to tag your company, of course! People will never stop craving for good stories.
Any business can put together a media kit, whether they want it to represent their enterprise as a whole, or cover a specific topic or event. The key [is] to bundle all of the necessary components in a neat, consistent package.
At Markon, we recommend the following:
Short descriptor of your company/event with key stats
Images optimized for digital use
Video 30 seconds or less, this way it fits well into a news clip, article, or social media post.
Quotes pulled separately from a press release
Press Release single page
Contact Information Have all of these items live on a web page on your website. That way they’ll be safely accessible (not attached to an email), while the content also gets to live on your website (so it can be crawled by Google).
You can also combine all of this into a well-designed PDF that individuals can receive upon request. Or you can make it downloadable as a single file from your website, or some other space.
Go Where The Audience Is
A brilliant, ageless tip for photographers is to have their work featured in media that matters to their audience—be it a website, magazine, Instagram account, etc. Those features are leads that can take potential clients back to the photographer’s website, which better be branded and ready to go when they land! Some photographers make the mistake of treating their website as a visual flip board of images and nothing else. While showing a portfolio of work is vital, so is personality. Whether the photographer wants to work with individuals or brands, both parties are typically looking for a photographer they can feel comfortable with. Making sure your website has personality and a solid sense of brand is key to creating that sense of compatibility that could ultimately lead to a new project.
Know What Your Long Game Is
B2B businesses need to take a long game approach to their Twitter marketing strategies. The platform itself moves quickly and prioritizes brevity, but the decision-making process for a B2B customer tends to be drawn out and nuanced. In a B2B environment, the focus should be on providing value and building relationships and not on sales or conversion rates. Implementing a robust content calendar that exposes followers to consistent messaging over time is an essential first step as it will take repeated exposure to the same content to gain attention. Build relationships by sharing information or tips to potential clients by getting involved in organized Twitter chats or following trending hashtags relevant to your industry. It may take some time but done right, incorporating Twitter into your B2B marketing strategy will eventually pay off.
Local businesses can use content marketing to draw attention to their store or wares by positioning themselves as a local authority on a topic. They can even go a step further and create digital and brick-and-mortar spaces to host conversations about that topic. For example, a local bee keeper could found a Facebook group about the value of locally raised food. The bee keeper would have simultaneously created a forum around a topic vital to their business, while also creating a direct line of communication to the people most likely to purchase their product, locally raised honey. Such an activity not only allows the local business owner to raise awareness of their brand, but the accessible content and contact to the brand often inspires trust among customers, which in turn, often leads to brand loyalty.
Email marketing isn’t for everyone
We often work with clients that assume email marketing is a requirement because they hear other entrepreneurs talk about building lists and growing a subscriber base. The hard truth of it is that email marketing isn’t for everyone. You need to have something to say (not just something to sell), and you need to be able to send quality, branded content consistently. If this is something that you can commit to and you have a real audience that has opted in to receive information from you, spend time crafting themes well in advance. Plan how your other digital marketing activities such as social media posts, online ads, and blog will serve to reinforce the messages in your email. Preparing in such a way also ensures that readers have someplace to land when they click out of your email and hopefully onto your customer list!