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A Guide to Imagery: Seeing the Big Picture

3.30.2011  by WebSolutions

When it comes to your online marketing initiatives, the old adage is true—a picture really is worth a thousand words. Imagine, then, what imagery can do for your organization!

imageryYour web site is more than just a pretty face, and the images you use on it should be, too. Take advantage of the benefits imagery can bring your business by ensuring that each photo conveys the message you want to send. Carefully-selected images on your web site can offer visitors a visual overview of who you are. They can also evoke strong emotions that users will associate with your company and your products. Consistent use of imagery can bolster your credibility, motivate your target audience, and provide almost instantaneous recognition of your brand. 

Web Solutions is here to help with the core imagery of your web site, ensuring that your site instantly communicates who you are. As your organization continues to grow and evolve, you’ll find opportunities for building out your site further. For buying, using, and displaying imagery, here are some best practices to follow.

Making the Most of Imagery

  • SEO. Because search engine spiders can only read text, not graphics, they need more “clues” to help explain what the image is about. Embedding targeted keywords into image tags (generally known as "alt tags") and file names will increase the keyword density for the image, web page and the whole web site, which can improve search engine visibility for those keyword queries. This includes both search results across the web and image results like you'd find in a Google image search. Ask Web Solutions to help you optimize your imagery for search engines.
  • Photography Release Forms. Using your own photography will save you research, time, and maybe money. However, if you will be using photography of minors (anyone under the age of 18), there’s one extra step to take. A minor release form must be signed before the photos can be used in a commercial application. The child’s parent (preferably both parents) or legal guardian(s) must sign the form to give permission on behalf of the minor. You can protect your photos further via a members-only login area on your site, allowing you to control who can see which images.
  • Be size wise. Display your imagery at its best by resizing images before you upload them. Stretching and shrinking a picture rather than properly resizing it for web viewing can distort the image and reduce its quality. Many of Web Solutions’ Photo Gallery Apps automatically resize images. Otherwise, take advantage of one of the many photo programs that are available online for free.
  • Go iconic. Using graphic icons (symbols or representations) on your web site is a great way to seamlessly integrate imagery into pages of text. Icons can be custom made or pulled from files of clip art—your company's logo can even be used as an icon. These images can reinforce your brand, highlight important facts, boldly emphasize a call-to-action, or make a page more visually appealing—and won't distract from your content. 
  • Keep your image content fresh. Still using outdated photos of your products and staff? Give these images an upgrade with a professional photo shoot. Get detailed images of your products from multiple angles, professional portraits of your staff members, and even photos of your location and facility. These new images will help keep your site looking current, and will reflect your dedication to keeping your customers informed and updated. For high quality results, hire a photographer for these images, or call Web Solutions! Then, consider keeping your imagery archives organized and accessible by building online photo galleries.

Stock Photography: Before You Search

There are millions of stock images for sale by online distributors—you might be wondering how to know which photos are right for representing your organization. Narrow the pool by asking yourself these questions:

  • Who is my target audience? Consider how your target audience might be represented in imagery—think age and ethnicity, for example. Choose imagery that is relevant to and inclusive of those groups.
  • How do I want customers to feel about my brand? Imagery’s power lies in its ability to appeal to your customers’ emotions. Choose images that drive the emotions you want customers to feel.
  • What kind of imagery do my competitors use? You should take the time to examine your competitors’ online marketing materials. Compare their stock imagery to your own to ensure that there is no brand confusion being generated.

Stock Photography: Before You Buy

  • Make sure it’s really you. Your brand's imagery is essential to telling your audience who you are, and again, this is even more important for smaller businesses. Look at imagery as an opportunity to differentiate your brand.
  • Check Twice, Pay Once. If you plan on integrating a particular image into your brand or in any way using it more than once, it's a good idea to invest in Royalty-Free (RF) imagery. With this option, you pay a one-time fee for rights to the image, whereas you’d pay “royalties,” fees incurred for each usage, with Rights-Managed (RM) imagery.

The down side to stock imagery? Your fee doesn't give you exclusive rights to the image, which means the photograph or image can be sold again unlimitedly, including possibly to a competitor or other company which might obscure your brand.

Get Started

Whether you buy stock photos or take your own, imagery is a great tool for connecting with your clients and solidifying your brand. So what should you do first when you’re ready to take advantage of the all imagery has to offer? The best way to start is to make sure the imagery displayed on your site is still relevant. Has your target market changed since Web Solutions built your site? Or have you had new photographs of your products taken for a catalog? If so, it may be time to call us—Web Solutions can help you put your best face forward! 

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Email Etiquette: What to Know Before You Hit "Send"

2.15.2011  by WebSolutions

Start the New Year off with a refresher course in email etiquette.

email etiquetteSolid communication is a necessary tenet for building good relationships with your clients. If one of your company's goals is to generate more positive responses from your email efforts, it may be time to examine exactly what you're sending them when you hit "send." Here are some ground rules for e-communicating you should be sure to follow, whether you are sending to 1 or 10,001. The right email can make all the difference, especially when they represent the integrity of your organization.

Begin at the beginning.

Don't wait until the body of your e-mail to try to grab a reader's attention! The subject line is your chance to draw your reader in, so keep this relevant and appealing. Don't forget that proper grammar and style are just as important (if not more so) in the subject line as in the body copy. Using all capital or lower-case letters, multiple exclamation points, or URLs in the subject line not only makes your email appear unprofessional, but may cause it to be categorized as spam by your client (or their spam filter, in which case they won't even receive your message).

Make your message loud and clear.

Whether it's to an existing or a potential client, your email should contain a concise and easily definable purpose. Don't overload an email with too much information; lots of white space will ensure a "skimmable" message, one that won't overwhelm your reader. The average consumer will only spend an average of 15 to 20 seconds reading your email, so keep every paragraph short, to the point, and highly engaging. If necessary, break text down into subsections using headers to allow your reader to quickly and easily access the information they want.

Build your own audience.

Clients bombarded with irrelevant emails from you may eventually form a negative image of your company. Ensure your audience is highly targeted—if you send out regular newsletters, for example, offer a "subscribe" button on your website, or keep a sign-up sheet in a visible location, such as by your cash register. Don't buy or rent email lists, which not only cause consumers frustration, but are also simply inaccurate for finding your target audience. Compiling your own email lists may take a little more time and effort, but the process allows you to build more personal relationships with clients, and to control your company's image and reputation.

Respect privacy.

You can maintain the privacy of your email databases simply by avoiding giving out lists of email addresses to third parties. It's also advisable to protect the privacy of your clients when sending an email to a group, easily done with the Blind Carbon Copy feature. All recipients of a message can view the addresses entered into the "To" and "CC" fields, but any address entered in the "BCC" field will remain hidden.

Getting attached?

Sending email attachments might get your message the wrong kind of attention. Large files can potentially fill the recipient's inbox, and, depending on the user's internet service, consume a large amount of bandwidth or slow their connection. Instead, provide a link to the file hosted on your website or a file sharing site. This applies to mass or marketing emails as well: utilizing links rather than attachments will increase the chances that your message will be read, as it will load faster and appear more secure to both spam filters and recipients.

Size matters.

If you must send an attachment, consider the overall size of the email you'll be sending. In particular, for messages over 500KB, alert the receiver first and ask when would be the best time to send. Files of one megabyte or more should be linked to, rather than attached.

Sign off.

No matter what you're sending out, don't leave clients in the dark as to who you are and how to reach you. Your signature file, which should appear at the end of the message, is essentially an electronic version of your business card. It should contain your name and title as well as all relevant contact information—phone and fax numbers, mailing and email addresses, web site, and even your company's social media information, if applicable.

Need help sending out your company's message? There's never been a better time to contact Web Solutions to learn about our array of marketing services!

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Best Practices for Video Marketing

11.30.2010  by WebSolutions

Web Solutions Video Marketing: YouTube, Brightcove, VimeoAs Internet marketers, we are always searching for the latest and greatest techniques for spreading awareness and brand recognition. When you consider adding or expanding your reach with video, your video development strategy should include more than just the content of the video itself – it should also focus on the following elements:

  • Video Hosting Providers
  • Video Search Engine Optimization (VSEO)
  • Promotion
  • Tracking

Video Hosting Providers: The Players

The practice of uploading a video to your own website with your own embed code is going away. With the lack of Flash support on devices like the iPhone & iPad, it is important to put your videos in a place that can be viewed by as many browsers and devices as possible. Third party video hosting providers are an ideal solution to incorporating video within your website, allowing you to upload your videos to their platform and simply embed that file within your site. This technique minimizes both bandwidth usage and cost to you, and can often have additional benefits. Here are a few of our favorites along with an overview of each:

YouTube

As the second largest search engine and most popular online video community, YouTube has over 40% market share in this space.

  • Cost: Free.
  • Shareability: Has community with fan base and can embed videos onto any website, Facebook, MySpace, and blog with the embed code. Also allows for private viewing through invite.
  • Tracking: Publicly tracks views, likes and dislikes, geography, comments, favorites, ratings, embeds, demographics and honors.
  • Extras: YouTube Channels give you the ability to feature all videos under one username, with logo and color customization for added branding, ranks well in Google search and has mobile capabilities.
  • Limitations: 10 min. length limit, high competition, reputation as a personal, not professional site, subject to commenting, limited customization.

Brightcove

Only a media provider, not a community, Brightcove has the second largest market share and is the most widely-adopted software for publishing and distributing professional video on the web.

  • Cost: Starts at $99/month.
  • Distribution: Automatic creation of media RSS, pushes video to YouTube (can be disabled), indexes directly off feed for all major search engines, API allows video meta data for improved SEO, can disable sharing and embed code (other people won’t be able to steal your content and put it on their site), clean URLs for SEO and link shortening for sharing.
  • Tracking: Tracking is private and includes ability to track unique views, new viewers, geography, drop-off rates, attention span across entire library, social sharing, referring sources, and search (including keywords). Also integrates with Google Analytics, Omniture and more.
  • Extras: The most customizable player available, no length limit, allows live streaming with social interactions, chat and live DVR, allows advertising within your own video content, mobile capabilities.
  • Limitations: Cost, no community, API key requires web development team.

Vimeo

Media provider and community that ranks 6th among its peers, Vimeo is best known for its strong policy for preventing copyright violation, only allowing users to upload videos that they have created.

  • Cost: Basic is free with 500MB storage. Vimeo Plus is $59.95 / year.
  • Shareability: Strong community base and can share across major social networks. With user account, users can download each video.
  • Tracking: Publicly tracks views, likes and comments by day.
  • Extras: Strong privacy policy, supports HD video upload, no banner ads (with Vimeo Plus), mobile capabilities. 
  • Limitations: Strong privacy policy (no commercial video or marketing material), smaller audience, no auto distribution.

VSEO: How to Get Your Video to Show Up in Search

The same optimization practices apply for video as they do to your website. Keep in mind the following elements when posting videos and be sure to include keyword-rich content:

  • Optimize your content elements including title, description, tags, transcript as well as YouTube extras like favorites, embeds and inbound links
  • Add videos to Google sitemap: Works for embedded videos from YouTube & Vimeo.  Brightcove automatically submits to Google
  • Include a share button to help spread the content virally
  • Post videos to individual pages on your site and optimize the page itself with keywords

Promotion: Getting Discovered in New Ways

A big benefit to using third party video hosting tools is the opportunity to cross promote your brand and reach out to new audiences. With today’s technology, video can allow anyone to create promotional pieces, product demonstrations, trainings, public service announcements and more. Video can promote your brand to prospects and communicate your message in a new and meaningful format to existing clients.

Similar to optimizing your website, there are several websites out there that will help boost your link popularity. A few of our favorites are tubemogul.com which will mass distribute your video to the most popular video share sites and provide analytics for every site, truveo.com which is one of the world’s largest video search engines, metacafe, viddler and dailymotion.

Tracking: Interpret What Works

Once you put in all of the effort to develop a video, make sure you track your progress. Google Analytics allows you to track traffic to your YouTube channel and to your website and you should also use the media player’s analytics reports to understand how popular your videos are. Don’t forget to keep track of feedback as well. Take viewer comments to heart and look to produce future videos that are reflective of the comments you receive from viewers.

Along with the options presented, Web Solutions has a variety of video solutions that can be customized to meet your specific needs. Video marketing is a great way to spread your message and show the personal side of your business. For help with video marketing strategy, give us a call and together we can choose the best approach for you to get your brand in motion.

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Fresh Content in Minutes A Day

10.27.2010  by WebSolutions

PR in Minutes a Day

You've spent the time, money and effort to create a web site that gives your organization a virtual presence, supports your overall marketing strategy, and makes it clear to the world that you understand the power of the web as a tool for communicating your message. But when the content on your site appears outdated, it can tell site visitors a different story.

Keeping the content on your site fresh doesn't have to be an overwhelming task and ultimately boils down to keeping organization, product and service information up-to-date while incorporating regular news items and important information for visitors so they are engaged and have a reason to come back. Here are some suggestions for how to stir things up and get some fresh new content brewing:

  • Break it up: You can often create new pages using content you already have. Revisit longer narrative pages and break them up into multiple pages focused on individual products, services or ideas or reformat the copy from narrative paragraphs to bulleted, concise information.
  • Give it legs: Give readers as much information as you can about your products and services in a language that the prospect or customer will easily understand and avoid industry or internal jargon that may get lost on your audience. Use paragraph headings and bullets to draw the reader to critical areas of the page which can help customers make better-informed decisions and give search engine crawlers more text to index.
  • Assemble a team: Depending on the size of your site, keeping its content fresh can be time consuming, so sharing the responsibility with other knowledge experts makes the task far more manageable. Look to assemble a team of employees responsible for gathering new content and ensuring your site is updated with routine expectations that aren’t overwhelming. If your site has a blog, consider some posts that include guest bloggers, interviews or Q&As with relevant sources to further supplement content generation.
  • Make a date: It’s not necessary to add new content every day. Updating your web site every month, or even every other month, is sufficient. Make it a regularly scheduled task to avoid forgetting about it. Also, start thinking about other “happenings” in your organization for how they could relate to your site and provide you with new content.

There is no question that generating meaningful content is critical to the success of any website. It reinforces your credibility to site visitors while bolstering your efforts with the search engines.

While you can keep your site ahead of the competition through your own efforts, don’t be afraid to bring in support for initiatives that may seem daunting. Together, we can ensure that your site is filled with no tricks, just treats.

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SEO in Minutes A Day

9.28.2010  by WebSolutions

SEOLet’s be honest, search engine optimization (SEO) is a complicated topic. Most people agree it is important but few are confident it’s being executed as effectively as possible.

As search engines crawl your site, they take a lot of things into consideration for determining relevancy and ranking and getting the pole position requires attention to detail as well as streamlining your site’s structure and content. Tactics and strategies continually evolve as search engines improve the way they mine for information, but there are some tactics that you can take on in minutes a day to start improving your rankings right away.

Don’t be Content With Your Content

Your site’s content is a critical component of SEO. As search engine crawlers review the site they’ll rank your page higher based on the relevance of the content to a search query, so making sure each page contains keyword-rich, relevant content should be the first step in any strategy.

Admittedly, reviewing all the content on your site will likely take more than a few minutes, so break it up. Starting with your homepage, take 15-20 minutes to review one page every day until you’re confident that your content is strong.

As you review each page, take some time to add new content. Adding new content will entice return visits and more visits lead to more links and more traffic.

Target Key Words

Keywords are the words that potential visitors type into search engines so as you develop your content spend a few minutes thinking about what visitors to your site are looking for. Then, use tools such as Google’s Keyword Tool to see which keyphrases are being searched most often.

Don't select a keyphrase because it sounds right to you, or it’s the most popular phrase. Depending on your business, those keyphrases can have thousands of competitive sites in the search results. Instead, give yourself an advantage by focusing on niche keyphrases with some search volume but low competition.

Reciprocal Links

Once you’ve strengthened your content, spend a few minutes researching relevant, good-quality sites that rank well on the search engines, and try to get them to link back to your website. Most search engines rank sites higher if they're linked to by other, well-respected sites.

Getting links from other high-quality sites can be a challenge but you can start by adding a link to their site on yours posting regular comments in response to their blogs and news articles. They’re more likely to link to sites or people they feel they have a relationship with.

Blog

Because search engines like sites with new and relevant information, adding a blog to your site is one of the easiest ways to update your content on a regular basis and give visitors a reason to keep coming back.

Additionally, once you’ve posted a blog to your site, you can bookmark your entry on social bookmarking sites like Digg, Technorati, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Del.icio.us to increase the likelihood of other sites linking to you.

Track Your Progress

Now that you’ve put in all this work, make sure you track the results. In minutes a day, performance tracking tools can help you analyze your progress and identify specific areas for improvement. Go online and take advantage of tools such as:

  • Google Analytics
  • Yahoo! Site Explorer
  • Google Webmaster Tools
  • Alexa Rank Tool

SEO maintenance can be done in minutes a day. If you’re starting from scratch, reviewing and updating the site could take slightly longer but the payoff is undeniable, so stick with it. If you’re not seeing the results you want, take a few more minutes to give us a call to learn more about tactics and strategies that can impact your position.

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