If you own a website, hopefully, at minimum, you’ve thought about SEO, or search engine optimization. With Google’s latest search engine update called, Panda, the rules of SEO have changed. In my opinion as a designer, it’s a change that brings a huge sigh of relief, because it more closely resembles the way I’ve been evaluating websites for years. But to the rest of you, it probably brings some anxiety and frustration because some of the things you thought you knew about SEO may have changed, leaving you even more uncertain how to get your website to the top of the list.
Fear not. Google’s Panda release makes SEO less of a “game” to play and more of a true reflection of if your site is informative, easy to navigate, and all-around a good site that viewers want to visit and return for more.
One of the biggest things that Google has transformed over the last several years is the degradation of using keywords to determine a site’s ranking. Yep, you heard me right – keywords. If you’ve been online for any length of time, you probably had it drilled into you that you needed to pick keywords and focus lots of attention choosing and analyzing the right keywords for your site. Well, take that mindset and flush it! A couple of years back, Google stopped using keywords in its algorithm and today they have little to no value in ranking your site. What’s more important is what is in the title meta tag in the code of your site and to a lesser degree, the description tag.
And that’s just the beginning. I’m going to save you hearing this twice and just direct you to this excellent video by Rand Fishkin, CEO & Co-Founder of the web’s most popular SEO Software provider; SEOmoz. It’s a very good explanation of the basic concepts that Panda employs and not too much techy-speak. Don’t get overwhelmed by the little technical things he discusses, just listen to the big picture.
- A good portfolio. This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important to know what makes a portfolio a good one. Be aware that depending on what type of client the designer worked with, their contribution in a design may be varied. They may present a major ad campaign from a huge corporation like Target, for example. You find yourself thinking, Wow, you designed an ad for Target! However, when you dig a little deeper you discover that Target’s branding guidelines are so strict that the ad design was actually conceptualized by a senior manager, laid out roughly by an art director, and trickled down to the designer, who only decided to nudge the text (which, by the way, color and font were already chosen by another executive) a couple of centimeters to the left. Lesson: It’s important to ask the designer how they contributed to the design, in what capacity they worked on it, and how they came up with the idea. This will help uncover their strengths and will lessen the surprises when something they design for you is vastly different from what they showed you in their portfolio.
- Portfolio items match the project you’re hiring them for. Again, this isn’t rocket science, but it’s important they have experience designing the type of project you’re asking them to design, as well as experience in the same industry you’re in or style similarities. Designers often excel at one particular type of design or style. If you want a super-feminine swirly swoosh pattern (don’tcha like that ultra-technical description?!), you’ll want to find someone that designs for other female business owners. This type of designer often dabbles in stationery and invitation design. They’ll probably have fewer corporate clients, because corporate design often calls for a more serious, cleaner style. Lesson: Spend time thinking about your desired style, find some words to describe that style, and find someone with a portfolio that matches that style and type of project you’re hiring them for.
- Communication skills. Like I was saying before, designers tend to live in a world of free-flowing ideas and endless possibilities, so getting them to hammer down exact details and be excellent about follow-up and be pro-active about communication is not going to be their instinct, but that doesn’t mean that all designers are poor communicators. You just have to search for them. Lesson: Be very clear about your expectations in the project and don’t be afraid to request specific communication practices. Search for someone who already has good communication, but give them a little slack if they’re not up to your standards. It’s very rare to find a truly excellent designer that has perfect communication skills. It goes against the way they were created.
- Find out what they know and don’t know. Don’t just assume that designers have studied marketing. I think this is the most common mis-conception when mompreneurs hire designers. The reality is that most designers have never taken a marketing course in their life! Find someone, or a firm, that has a background in marketing. Understand how to separate the design (art) aspect from the strategy aspect of the project. So many designers claim to be branding experts, but when I study their work, it’s obvious that to them, branding means they know how to create a color scheme and how to make everything coordinate well together. It does NOT say to me that they know how to make my image convey the true spirit of my business and how to speak clearly to my audience. I’m not sure they will keep my business goals in mind when creating my logo, but I can be sure that it will match my new coral handbag that’s in style this season. Be sure to convey your business goals to them and if they don’t have marketing background, remind them of those goals and your audience over the course of the project. Lesson: find out if their strengths lie in the art aspect, or the business aspect of design. Ideally, find a designer or agency that has both, but don’t assume that just because they say they are branding experts, that they really know what that means. Make them prove it!
- Find a good fit. I see mis-matched designers and clients over and over again. The way to get the best result when working with a designer is to make sure you are compatible with the designer in the first place. Some people just mesh well together and that creates the best synergy for creating the best design. Design extends beyond a tactical job you are hiring someone to do. It crosses the boundary of order and organization and requires someone to intimately try to search inside your brain and pull something out that you are not able to pull out yourself. You are often unable to speak the words that convey what you want to appear on the page. The designer has the complicated task of magically translating your unspoken ideas and to do it in a way that appeals to the customers you are trying to reach. They often make decisions based on a “gut feeling” and those feelings are often right. Lesson: Find someone you trust because you have a good feeling about them. Give them a little breathing space and trust them. Try to make their life easier by being as clear as you can be about what’s inside your head. Don’t make them pull something out of thin air.
The thing I’m going to leave you with when it comes to hiring a designer is to remember the unattainable project triangle. Are you familiar with the concept? Think of your project as a triangle of good, fast, and cheap. You can achieve two of the three points of the triangle, but can never achieve all three without one suffering. This leaves you with three options for your project:
- Quick design, with high quality, but it will not be cheap.
- Quick design that is cheap, but will not be high quality.
- High quality design that is cheap, but will take a long time.
As a designer, I wish all clients that came to me would remember that all three are unattainable. It’s really important to determine which two you want and focus on those two, rather than constantly trying to achieve all three.
I hope you checked out my last post that introduced my series about marketing for mompreneurs. Now that we know we’re all on the same page with our marketing basics, let’s talk about how to accomplish getting your business out there to the world. I find that one of the most challenging parts of being a Mompreneur is knowing when to DIY and when to hire someone else to do the job. If you’re like me, you may want to be a DIY’er. We’d all like to add that to our list of titles we carry. I think that because we’re Moms, we’re programmed to feel like if we don’t do it ourselves, somehow it won’t get done or up to our standards. Believe me, I’m the guiltiest of them all when it comes to trying to DIY. I’m also blessed to have a husband who is equally guilty. I’ve tried it all, from literally building a retail store interior with a hammer, nails, and some paint, to avoiding hiring legal counsel because I could research things on the internet and make my own, smart decisions about business situations.
Hey all you Mompreneurs out there! Do the words Marketing, Graphic & Web Design make you dizzy? Maybe you’re like me and think you have some great ideas, passion, drive, and a little bit of stubbornness that tells you to carve your own path in this crazy world. You can’t stand the thought of some company telling you how to spend your day – AND how to raise your family. You want to do it all: create a business empire that will rise to the top as the saving grace that this pitiful world needs, seek world peace, financial freedom for all, cure disease, advance technology, all while having your own little corner of the world that is clean, organized, on schedule with laundry done every day, a hot meal on the table at dinnertime, while you win an award for top volunteer at your kids’ school…all without having to put hundreds of miles on your minivan each week, while getting enough sleep to make you look like a beauty queen, and with enough time to get weekly massages and start up a new hobby! [Cue a choir of "ahh's" and bright, shiny sparkles swirling around you standing on top of a throne.]
I’m here to bring you good news! You CAN figure all of this out. Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic formula – otherwise we’d all be millionaires because we’d be marketing the heck out of our businesses! – but I do have the basics, broken down for you in ways I hope will help wrap your head around the art and science (because, yes, it’s both) of making your business stand next to the likes of those corporate companies on your shoestring budget. It’ll take some work and a lot of thought, but you’ll be better for it both in the eyes of your customers, and in your own feeling of having all of your ducks in a row.
Here’s how I’m going to break down the topics:
- Marketing vs. Sales vs. Advertising
- DIY vs. Hiring out: One size does NOT fit all
- The Professional Design Process
- Your Graphic Identity
- Your Brand Identity
- Your Website
- Social Media
- Your Marketing Strategy
- Bootstrap Marketing
- Pulling it all Together
I just finished designing a logo for my nephew’s Autism Walk team. He’s a little cutie – turning 2 next week – with Autism. We’re going to the ND Autism Center walk for Autism 2010 on May 15 to be a part of his (and sister Taytum’s) teams. YAY KULLEN’S KREW!!
By Cinda Baxter, Founder of The 3/50 Project
No one needs to tell storefront retailers times are tough; truth be told, we were the first ones to see the mysterious tea leaves, being the closest connection to consumers. As early as last June, stores began seeing serious drops in revenue.
In the words of Erin Burnett, business news anchor for MSNBC (and my new favorite media voice), “I do think a lot of this is psychology,” referring to how determined the media seems to be to make things sound as hopeless as possible. “I’ve been collecting words the media has been using to describe the crisis: carnage, apocalypse, bleeding, hemorrhaging, crash. There is something to be said for a loss of perspective and a sense of hyperbole that’s taken over.”
Folks, it’s time the message changed, and if the media’s not going to do it…well…. who will? Yup. You.
Enter The 3/50 Project.
In a nutshell, The 3/50 Project is built on a simple concept—consumer loyalty to independent storefront businesses equals stronger local economies.
Pick 3. Spend 50. Save your local economy:
- Pick three locally owned stores you’d miss if they disappeared, then return to them. Say hello.
- Pick up a little something that will make someone smile. Those purchases are what keeps those businesses around. If just half the employed US population committed to spending $50 in locally owned stores each month, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. Imagine what would happen if 3/4 of them did that.
- For every $100 spent in locally owned stores, $68 returns to the local economy through payroll taxes, property taxes, sales tax, payroll, and other business related expendatures. When purchasing from a chain or franchise, that amount drops to $43; if it’s spent online, nothing comes home.
Since the idea first popped up in a blog post mid-March, The 3/50 Project has taken off like a rocket.
To learn more about The 3/50 Project, visit http://www.the350project.net/.
It’s that time of year again… wedding season!
We will be hosting an Invitation Workshop in the store Thursday, February 19th at 6:30 pm and Saturday, February 28th at 10 am. No matter what your style or budget, Ekcetera can help you create wedding stationary to match your personal, creative style. This free, informational workshop will feature tips and tricks on creating the perfect first and final impressions for your wedding, including advice on creating your own invitation, cost-saving tips on how to make your invitations fit your budget, invitation etiquette and working, design ideas, and coordinating your wedding stationary.
RSVP by Monday, February 9th to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ekcetera will also be at the Bridal Expo this Saturday at the Maplewood Community Center. Please stop in and check out our new spring invitations including fabulous invitation label wraps and envelope enclosures! The Maplewood Bridal Expo is from 1pm-4pm on Saturday, February 7th. For more information, please visit http://www.maplewoodcommunitycenter.com/.
It’s time for Minnesota Bride’s annual “Best of…”. If you love Ekcetera as much as we do, please take a minute to vote for us for “Best Invitations” and/or “Best Overall”. It’s easy, just go to http://www.mnbride.com/, click on “Vote for the best of 2009.” Then you will need to vote for your favorite vendors in at least six categories. Voting ends March 1. Thanks!
We are getting excited to be a part of The Twin City Bridal Association Wedding Fair! The event will take place on Sunday, January 18th from 11am to 5pm at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Visit twincitybridal.com for more information. Come check out some of our new Spring and Summer Wedding Invitation designs!