Posts about web design, site structure, coding, etc.

Biggest User Experience Problems with Ecommerce Sites

This post was originally published in early 2017, but we’ve updated it with new information to reflect current trends in ecommerce user experience design.

Designing an ecommerce user experience that pleases the customer is hard. Besides creating a gratifying ecommerce layout design, you need to craft a seamless experience from landing page to purchase. We’ve created a list some of the common failings ecommerce sites fall into–and your site should attempt to avoid. By focusing on your ecommerce UX and avoiding these pitfalls, you can succeed.

ux problems infographic 2

Limited and Missing Product Info

Website users want straightforward information. They want sufficient details that explain what your product is and how it can help them. Your ecommerce site should have multiple pictures of each of your products from various angles, presented excitingly. Don’t use stock images either; customers prefer images you’ve created or photographs that were taken expressly for your product. Follow this advice, and you can be successful on your site, and have images ready for Google’s Shopping Platform, newsletters, and more.

Lack of Mobile Optimization

It’s impossible to ignore mobile–it’s growing and becoming a larger segment of ecommerce activity each year. People shop from their phones and tablets a significant amount of the time, especially around the holidays. Your ecommerce website should be responsive and easy-to-use on mobile, with large buttons and a simple checkout process. Developing your site for mobile can lead to increased conversions and draw in new customers.

Long or Confusing Checkout Process

A quick check out process is integral to the success of your ecommerce site. If your check out takes too long and isn’t smooth, it can dissuade buyers and lead to abandoned carts. A one-page checkout, with multiple options for payment–including the option to sign in with Google, Amazon, or PayPal can increase your conversion–and success.

Bad Site Search

You hopefully already have a site search function for your ecommerce site–but how well does it work? It should include filters and advanced functionality to help your customers find what they need. Give them options to search by category or feature. Purchasing and enabling quality software will make the search process easy and functional for your customers.

Missing Contact Information

This piece of advice is simple–don’t hide your contact information. You should provide multiple forms of communication: phone, email, chat; the best methods for your ecommerce website. The more expensive the products you’re selling, the more easily reachable you should be. Place this information prominently in your header or footer and include easy links to a contact us page.

Engaging Content: Videos, Etc.

To create a successful ecommerce site, you need to engage your buyers. That means creating exciting content for them to watch or read, including videos, infographics, case studies, and original information about your products. Your content should enhance the user experience, explain your products, and reinforce why your company is the right choice for the customer.

Poor Social Sharing Buttons

Social media is a vital aspect of ecommerce and ignoring it can be the downfall of any ecommerce site. A successful ecommerce site allows customers to share items they wish to or have purchased. Social sharing can result in additional conversions, and by making this process easy, you can increase your web presence as well.

Creating a seamless user experience for your ecommerce customers is one of the keys to your success.  Avoiding these pitfalls and focusing on ecommerce UX design will ensure your product shines and customers return to your site and recommend you to others. By following these ecommerce UX best practices, you can see increased conversions and higher revenue over time.


If you’re looking for some help with the user experience on your ecommerce site, Leverage is here to help you. We have experience working with ecommerce businesses and can tailor an approach to your company. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you.

Enhance Your Ecommerce Marketing Strategy with Leverage Learning

95% of Americans make an online purchase at least once a year, and 80% have made at least one online purchase in the past month. And, as the Washington Post recently put it, about a third of consumers now buy something online at least as often as they take out the trash (once a week). As online shopping becomes increasingly popular, it may seem like there’s never been a better time to own an ecommerce business.

However, growth-focused ecommerce businesses still face plenty of challenges, especially when it comes to attracting shoppers (who may be inclined to start their search on Amazon) and converting those shoppers into paying customers.

Build Your Ecommerce Marketing Knowledge

At Leverage Marketing, we want to help online businesses address these challenges with actionable ecommerce marketing ideas. We’ve been doing this for years with our digital marketing services, and now we’re taking what we’ve learned and sharing it in a free educational email series called Leverage Learning: Ecommerce.

The goal of Leverage Learning: Ecommerce is to help online business owners find digital marketing ideas to reach more customers and increase sales. The series is broken into 11 lessons on the following subjects:

 

content marketing for ecommerce email preview

  1. Branding
  2. Search Engine Optimization
  3. UX Web Design
  4. Content Marketing
  5. Influencer Marketing
  6. Facebook and Instagram Marketing
  7. Paid Search Advertising
  8. Email Marketing
  9. Online Customer Service
  10. Mobile Marketing
  11. Measuring Success in Google Analytics

 

When you subscribe, you’ll receive a new email lesson twice a week until you’ve received the full series. The emails offer best practices for ecommerce marketing, quick tips that business owners can implement right away, and recommendations for free or low-cost tools to streamline marketing efforts.

If you’re ready to use digital marketing to drive sales for your ecommerce business, you can subscribe to our Leverage Learning: Ecommerce series by clicking here.

SEO for ecommerce email preview

And if you enjoy this series, stay tuned: we’ll be releasing our Leverage Learning: Content Marketing series next!


As always, we’d love for you to contact us if you have any questions about our Leverage Learning series or the digital marketing services we offer!

Which Web Design Company Should You Choose? 8 Things to Consider

Freelancers, web design specialists, full-service marketing agencies… how do you even begin to choose the right web designer for your business? There are a lot of factors you’ll need to consider based on your goals and the scope of your web design project, but we recommend starting by looking for a web designer who demonstrates these eight important qualities.

A Diverse Portfolio

Checking out several agencies’ portfolios will probably be one of your first steps when choosing a web design company. Pay close attention to the different brands and industries represented in each agency’s portfolio: has the agency worked with a diverse group of clients, or are they creating similar-looking sites for businesses in the same industry? You’ll want to work with an agency that can adapt their design aesthetic to match your brand and make your site stand out, rather than just coasting on a similar style across sites.

Quick Tip: Visit some of the sites the agency has designed rather than just looking at screenshots in the portfolio. Pull up the sites on your phone as well as your desktop to make sure they look great across all screen sizes.

An Understanding of Your Goals and Audience

target market for web design concept

A web design agency might not be an expert on your business or industry from the get-go, but they should do their research so that they understand your goals and the audience you’re trying to reach with your site. When you first meet with them, they should give you the opportunity to talk about your business model, sales cycle, customers, and pain points. A good agency will recognize that they need to combine your industry knowledge with their design expertise to succeed.

The Ability to Design a Site That Scales with Your Business

telescope long-term marketing concept

It’s probably not much of a wild guess to say that you want to grow your business—that’s why you’re redesigning your website (or creating a new one), right? To that end, you should look for a web designer who can help you set up a site that can scale with your business. A top web design agency should recommend a web host that has enough bandwidth as your site begins to get more traffic and a CMS platform that allows for add-ons as your website evolves.

A Big Picture Marketing Approach

You’ve probably heard the expression “can’t see the forest for the trees.” Keep that in mind when choosing a web design company. You don’t want to work with a designer who is so caught up in the initial site design that they don’t consider your long-term marketing goals. Ideally, you should look for an agency that does more than just design. By partnering with an agency that offers branding, SEO, and content marketing services, you’ll have a new website created with an integrative marketing approach.

Quick Tip:
It’s especially important to work with an agency that can build a search engine optimized site. After all, your site needs to rank for relevant search results to drive organic traffic.

A Focus on User Experience

Your agency shouldn’t just rely on the latest design trends. They should focus on design strategies that improve the user experience and lead to more conversions. To get a sense of their UX design skills, go back to the websites of several of their past clients. Are the sites easy to navigate? Are the calls-to-action clear and easy to find? If you’re looking at an ecommerce site, is the checkout process straightforward and painless?

A Willingness to Stick with You Post-Launch

toolbox site maintenance concept

Before hiring a web designer, ask them about the services they can offer you after your new or redesigned site launches. One of our top tips for hiring a web designer is to choose someone who can provide troubleshooting and maintenance assistance after your site launch. That will save you from having to find a new vendor and bring them up to speed.

Awesome Communication Skills

It’s probably too much to expect your web designer to pick up the phone at 11 pm on a Saturday, but they should provide reasonably prompt responses to your questions and feedback (at least during business hours). When interviewing web design agencies, ask if there will be a designated point person you can reach out to for help. Also, find out how the agency plans to keep you updated on project developments—can they set up recurring meetings and walk you through exactly what they’re doing.

Quick Tip:
Contact several of the agency’s past clients to find out what their experience has been. Be sure to ask how well the agency communicated with them.

Data-Driven Decisions

When investing in a website redesign, you don’t want to go with an agency that makes all their decisions based on gut instinct. The best web design agencies will be able to show the results of past projects by looking at KPIs like bounce rate, site traffic, goal completion, and conversion rate. Your web design agency should perform an audit of your current site, make recommendations based on your site’s performance, and provide transparent reports once your new site goes live.


We can’t tell you which web design agency to choose, but we CAN recommend checking out Leverage’s web design services! Give us a call to learn more about what we can do for your site.

How To Increase Your Lead Form Conversion Rate

For a lead generation business, a lot of pressure rests on the humble online contact form. It’s responsible for collecting the information the sales team needs to follow up with qualified leads, and if it can’t convince site visitors to submit their information, the flow of leads can quickly dry up.

Fortunately, an underperforming lead gen form isn’t a lost cause. The beauty of online forms is that you can regularly tweak them and track their performance to see what contact form version gets the highest conversion rate.

So where do you start when you want to improve your contact form conversion rate? If you’re relatively new to form creation and inbound marketing, we recommend checking out our blog post on lead form best practices. If you’re already using simple forms on your website but want to get more out of them, check out our tips below (think of this as Lead Form Best Practices 201).

Make Sure You’re Tracking Lead Form Conversions Accurately

Before you start tinkering with your lead gen form, make sure you’re tracking your lead form conversion in Google Analytics. The easiest way to track your conversions is to set up a Custom Goal that registers as completed after a visitor fills out your form and lands on a Thank You page. To do this:

  1. Create a Thank You page for people who complete your form. (Make sure it’s a unique thank you page, not one you’ve used for other forms or purchases.)
  2. Go to Admin in Google Analytics.
  3. Go to Goals and click +New Goal
  4. Give your Goal a name and select Destination as the type.
  5. Set the destination as equal to the URL of your confirmation page.

Goal Creation step in Google Analytics

With your new Goal set, you’ll be able to view the contact form conversion rate by going to Conversions–>Goals–>Goal URLs in your Google Analytics Reports.

When setting up your Goal, you can also turn on Funnels. You’ll be prompted to enter the URLs for the funnel steps, i.e. the path through your site you expect users to take to get to your lead gen form. You can then start using the Funnel Visualization report, which makes it easy to see if users are dropping off at certain points of the funnel.

funnel visualization in google analytics

Example of Funnel Visualization report in Google Analytics

Try a New Location for Your Form

If your lead form has a lower conversion rate than expected, it could be because it’s not getting a lot of visibility in its current location (you can use Google Analytics to check traffic to the page with the contact form). Test out your contact form in a new location to see if traffic and form fills increase. You could also try creating a pop-up form using a tool like OptinMonster. You can set up the pop-up form so that it’s triggered by a specific user action (such as scrolling 50% of the way down the page or staying on a page for a certain amount of time). That way, you’re presenting your form to users after they’ve had some time to engage with your site and familiarize themselves with your products or services.

lead gen form pop-up

Pop-up lead gen form on OptinMonster’s site

Earn Trust with Social Proof

Site visitors may be wary about sharing their information unless they know they’re getting something of value in exchange, and one way to prove the value of your offer is to use social evidence. If you’re trying to get visitors to fill out a contact form to receive a downloadable asset, tell them how many people have already downloaded it. Consider having your web developer add a counter above the form so that visitors can see the number of downloads updating in real time.

When asking site visitors to fill out a form to receive any offer or service, you can build trust by displaying short testimonials from happy customers. If your customers give you permission, consider displaying small photos with each testimonial so that site visitors can see that the testimonials are coming from real people.

lead gen form with social proof

mHelpDesk uses customer videos as social proof.

Incorporate Autocomplete for Location Fields

According to Google, adding autofill attributes to forms allows users to complete those forms up to 30% faster. When forms take less time to fill out, users experience less friction and contact form conversion rates go up.

Autocomplete is most useful for location fields (such as Country or Street), where users might otherwise have to choose an option from an extensive drop-down menu or type out their full address. When you add autocomplete, the user should only have to type in a few letters before seeing a drop-down with the most likely options. You can add autocomplete for locations with the code for the Google Places API, which you’ll find here. If your site is built on WordPress, you can simply install a plugin that doesn’t require any coding.

Keep Your Design Minimal

If a lot of site visitors are making it to the page your contact form lives on but failing to get any further, you may need to take a look at your page and form design. If there are too many buttons and graphic elements on the page, visitors could be getting distracted and drawn away from the lead gen form. You can remedy this problem by redesigning the page so that there’s more white space. This will cause visitors’ eyes to go to the contact form immediately and will make it easier for them to scan the form fields.

Zendesk uses a simple, professional design to keep eyes on their lead gen form.

You’ll probably still want to include some visuals—such as branded graphics or product photos—on your contact form page. Just make sure any visuals you include fit seamlessly with the rest of the page and draw the viewers’ eyes toward the form, not away from it.


Want to know more about website improvements that can increase your conversion rates? Set up a call with the Leverage Marketing team—we’d love to talk to you about how our digital marketing services can help you meet your lead gen goals.

In the meantime, subscribe to our newsletter for more actionable marketing advice.

How to Build a High-Quality Landing Page that Converts

When considering top landing page designs, most industry experts will tell you that every landing page is unique and has its own requirements. They’ll tell you that landing page elements will differ depending on whether you’re promoting a service or a product, and what that service or product does will also change what’s on the landing page.

Yes, of course, every landing page will differ. Landing page best practices dictate that each page should provide unique value to consumers. That’s absolutely true.

But there are nine essentials to a perfect landing page that nearly every one ought to feature. Include the following nine elements on your landing pages to tap into the deepest parts of marketing psychology and help your consumers learn why your product or service is the ultimate.

Essential Elements of the Landing Page Format

Each item includes a description underneath the mock landing page below.

To describe the elements of high-converting landing pages, we have created a fictional robot butler that specializes in cooking breakfast. We’ve optimized a landing page to solve a problem for consumers searching for phrases such as “no time for breakfast” or “robot that cooks.”

high quality landing page example using constructicon malcom robot

Information-Rich Heading – 1

Your heading, styled using the <h1> and </h1> HTML tags, should:

  • Summarize the purpose of your product or service
  • Capture attention with witty or clever copy

Your heading is the first thing the customer will see and will determine whether he or she stays to look at the rest of your landing page or bounces. Aim to sell your product or service in less than six words.

Visual Media – 2

Not every customer is a reader, so to appeal to the visual type (almost everyone), add large visual media to your landing page format that’s easy on the eyes. Images, animations, and videos should:

  • Demonstrate the action or purpose of your product or service
  • Evoke an emotion that will provide inspiration to continue down the landing page

Keep your visual media compressed but beautiful. Use tools like TinyPNG after resizing your images and animations to their appropriate size. This way, your landing page loads fast and doesn’t keep your customer waiting.

Explanation – 3

As the consumer scrolls down the page, he or she is building an understanding of your product or service and determining its value step-by-step. The explanation is your opportunity to influence the consumer’s thoughts and build onto the skeleton provided by your headline and visuals.

A good landing page explanation should:

  • Offer hard facts about your product or service
  • Highlight what makes your product or service different than that of your competitors

Before you begin explaining the benefits of using what you provide to customers, make sure they have all the information they need to apply benefits to real features you offer.

Benefits – 4

The benefits section of a high-converting landing page takes the raw facts about your product or service and shows the customer how those apply to his or her problem.

A successful benefits section should:

  • Concisely list how your features help
  • Begin the process of convincing the consumer that your offering is superior

Negative Impact (Problem) – 5

One of the most poignant elements of a good landing page is an appeal to emotion that stems from a problem the consumer is having. We can address the problem and its toll on the happiness of the consumer by identifying a negative issue that calls an unpleasant response.

The negative impact should:

  • Help consumers recall the problem for which they are seeking a solution
  • Stir the consumer’s emotions and concerns so you can appropriately address them

The purpose of the negative impact is not to upset the consumer. It is only to make him or her aware of the problem for which you are providing the solution.

Positive Impact (Solution) – 6

Pull your consumer back from the negative and introduce a positive solution in your landing page copy. Use language that conjures thoughts of pleasure and happiness.

The positive impact should:

  • Remind customers that your product or service is a viable solution to their problem
  • Restore emotions to a level at which consumers are prepared to purchase

The positive impact makes you look like a hero. After presenting the problem and your unique solution, most customers will be ready to dive into what you offer.

Testimonials – 7

Best practices for landing page conversion dictate that your customers have to trust you. Even if they love your product or service and are convinced that your solution is perfect, there is still a threat of loss.

Too-good-to-be-true merchandise and high-expectation, low-value service exist in droves in the real world. You need the backing of pleased customers to convince those with a lot to lose that they have nothing to worry about.

You can do so with testimonials, which can come in text, image, or video format. Testimonials should:

  • Provide real insight from actual customers about your past performance
  • Build undeniable trust with your potential customers

Contact Info – 8

Don’t forget! Your customers can’t get in touch with you to ask questions or request service without the essential contact info. Your contact info should:

  • Include a sales or service email address for corresponding directly with customers, a working phone number, and the address of your headquarters
  • Be easy to find – phone numbers at the top of the page are well-loved by customers, as are email addresses.

Make sure your logo is easy to find as well so that new customers begin building an image of your company’s brand and what they offer.

CTA – 9

Follow up your testimonials with a last call to action. Avoid impersonal or threatening CTAs such as Click Here or Submit. Instead, relate on a personal level with your consumer.

An effective CTA should:

  • Tell the customer how easy it is to get started with your company
  • Reassure the customer that you’ll guide him or her through the entire process.

The Rest Is Up to You

Landing pages can include more, but usually should not include any less. You can structure your landing page to fit the flow of information better for your particular product or service, but ensure that each element is in your landing page and is easy to find.

What makes customers click through landing pages is a cohesive, uninterrupted experience that fully explains and promotes your product or service. Don’t cut corners on your landing pages, and follow best practices each time to achieve consistent, high-converting landing pages across the board.

Creating high-converting landing pages is one of our specialties at Leverage Marketing. If you’re having trouble getting conversions, try making your landing pages the Leverage way!

What Encourages People to Complete Online Forms? [UPDATED]

We originally published this post back in 2015. Since a lot can change in the online world in two years, we’ve published an updated version for 2017. 

The purpose of an online form is to collect information from site visitors, so it’s always baffling when websites make it difficult or confusing for visitors to share their information. If it requires a Herculean effort for your users to fill out a form, they’re not going to do it, and you’re going to lose out on a conversion and/or valuable customer data.

So how do you cut down on user effort and make your form super appealing? You could deploy robot assistants to fill out the form while customers dictate… or you could use the tips below to improve the user experience.

Make Benefits Clear

Nobody’s going to fill out a form just because they think it will make employees at your company happy—you need to make it clear that the user is getting some direct benefit that outweighs the cost of submitting their information.

If space allows, briefly outline a few reasons someone should complete the form. For an ecommerce site, these might include a faster checkout process or exclusive email offers. For a B2B site, these might include access to original research and industry insider information.

Online form outlining clear benefits of ebook download

Foundr Magazine gives readers a preview of their ebook and explains how it will be beneficial.

Keep Fields to a Minimum

What sounds better: filling in 3 fields, or filling in 15? Unless you’re the rare online form enthusiast, you’ll want to fill in as little as possible, and so will your customers. If your online form currently rivals War and Peace in length, it’s time to look at what you can cut out.

Avoid optional fields whenever possible. Very few users are going to fill in more than the bare minimum, so anything optional tends to be a waste of space. Stick with only the fields you need in order to meet your goals with the form: in some cases, this could just be a name and email address.

 

Simple email form for free trial

Podio keeps it simple: users just have to enter their work email to start a free trial.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. For example, if you’re using a simple form for lead generation but find you’re getting too many unqualified leads, you may need to add several fields and ask more targeted questions to hone in on the right audience.  
If you do have a complex form that you can’t cut down, try grouping fields into subsections like ‘Account Info’ and ‘Contact Info’ in order to make the form less daunting. You can also break the form up into manageable steps, but if you do this, make sure you use a progress bar so that users know exactly how many steps they have to complete.

Use Real-Time Validation to Reduce Errors

Have you ever completed a form only to hit the submit button and see a message in red text saying you’ve made an error? It’s a frustrating experience and one that can be easily avoided if you use real-time validation.

With real-time validation, a user is informed that they’ve made an error as soon as it happens. For example, if they enter their phone number with dashes, they might get a notification next to the field telling them they need to remove the dashes. It streamlines the form fill process and saves the user from hunting down a single error after they’ve completed the entire form.

registration form with real-time validation

Source: Ire Aderinokun, Bits of Code

Avoid Boring Call-to-Action Buttons

A call-to-action button that just says ‘Submit’ doesn’t tell a user much, other than that they’re sending their information off to your company’s database. Give users a reason to click that CTA by customizing it so that it tells them what they’re getting.  If they’ve filled out this form to access your new eBook, the CTA might say ‘Download Your Free eBook’.

It’s also important to make the CTA button easy to see. It should ideally be a color that’s distinct from the other colors on the page and surrounded by plenty of white space.

Online form with creative CTA button

Treehouse makes it personal by inviting you to “Claim Your Free Trial”

Keep Mobile Users in Mind

Over three-quarters of American adults now own a smartphone, so it’s more important than ever to think about mobile users when designing your forms.

To make your form as easy as possible to fill out on a mobile device, use smart defaults whenever possible. If you need a user’s location, you might be able to populate that field based on GPS data. If you need their language, populate that field using their browser’s default language.

Labels should be directly above each field rather than to the side. On a narrow smartphone screen, left-align labels leave less space for the field itself, and users may not be able to see their entire input (making them more likely to make errors).

Remember that mobile users are working with a touchscreen. Leave enough room between fields so that a user can easily touch and activate one without accidentally activating another element of the form.

A/B Test Your Forms

Think your online form looks good? There’s still room to fine-tune it using cold, hard data. Choose a variable to test (such as the CTA button) and then create two versions of the form, changing only this one variable. Your digital marketing team can help you run both versions so that you can see which gets more submitted forms. Keep testing other variables one at a time in order to hone in on your optimal form.


Need help with your online form design? Our Leverage team offers web design services for ecommerce and lead generation businesses, and we’d be happy to talk.

40 Questions To Ask Before Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

Maybe you’re planning to hire a marketing agency for the first time. Maybe you’ve been burned by a black hat SEO agency and have sworn you’ll be more particular about the next marketing partner you choose. Whatever the case, you know that when hiring a digital marketing agency, you need to do your research and ask all the right questions.

Not sure if you’re covering enough ground with your current list of questions? We can help with that. We’ve come up with a list of 40 questions to ask before hiring a digital marketing agency. Many of them are questions that our clients have asked us—or that we wish would come up more often!

No time to read the list right now? Save it for later:

40 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

Jump to a section:

SEO

  1. How will you improve our search engine rankings? Get the agency to talk about their process. Watch out for agencies that use black hat techniques (such as buying low-quality links) or promise that they can get your page to rank number one for certain keywords.
  2. What’s your process for earning high-quality links? Does the agency have a database of relevant placement opportunities and a process for reaching out to bloggers?
  3. Do you follow Google Webmaster Guidelines? Your agency should always follow the Webmaster Guidelines to help Google find, index, and rank your site. Following these guidelines will also help your site avoid penalties.
  4. Have you ever helped a site recover from a penalty? Can you tell me about that process? Hopefully, the agency hasn’t gotten any of their clients penalized, but they may have had new clients come to them needing help recovering from a Google algorithm penalty.
  5. How long will it take to see results? The agency won’t be able to give you an exact date, but effective SEO campaigns should start positively affecting your site in about three to six months.
  6. What will I need to do to make the campaign successful? Find out what information you can give the agency to make your SEO campaigns as successful as possible.

Content Marketing

  1. Can you show us some writing samples? Any agency that offers content marketing services should be able to show you examples of their writers’ best work.
  2. How will your writers familiarize themselves with our business and industry? You need to know your agency can handle the amount of research needed to produce authoritative content for your business.
  3. How do you optimize your content for readers and search engines? Learn about the content team’s process for connecting with your target audience. Find out how closely they work with the SEO team and whether they optimize their content for relevant keywords.
  4. What types of content do you produce? Find out if the agency has experience producing not just website copy and blog posts but also infographics, video scripts, short animations, email campaigns, eBooks, and more.
  5. How many internal and external content pieces will you create per month? If your goal is to stay top-of-mind with your audience by publishing a new blog post every day, you’ll need to make sure your agency has enough bandwidth.
  6. Will you be publishing new content on our site? Find out if the agency can add images, format content to appeal to online readers, and publish the final product to your site. If the agency doesn’t handle publication, you’ll have to assign an in-house team member to stay on top of it.
  7. What metrics will you report on? The agency should go beyond just vanity metrics (traffic, social shares, number of comments) and measure how their content assists in conversions.

Paid Search

  1. Do you have a Google Partner Badge? If your agency has a Google Partner Badge, it means they have employees who are certified in Google AdWords, have access to their own Google Agency Team, and keep up with the latest AdWords innovations.
  2. Do you offer services across multiple PPC platforms (not just AdWords)? While Google is the most widely used search platform, it may be worthwhile to find out if your PPC agency also uses Bing Ads (especially since Bing has a 22% share of desktop search traffic).
  3. What tools do you use to optimize your paid search campaigns? The agency you’re interviewing might use paid search tools that would be too expensive for you to bring in-house. They may also have proprietary tools that you can’t get anywhere else.
  4. Will we be able to see actual spend within AdWords? Your agency should be transparent about how they’re spending your ad dollars.
  5. What metrics are included in your standard reports? CPC, CTR, ad positions, conversion rate of keywords and landing pages—your agency should deliver easy-to-read reports that make it clear how your paid search campaigns have been performing.
  6. Do you have experience managing paid campaigns on Facebook and LinkedIn? As organic reach on Facebook and LinkedIn decreases, it’s becoming more valuable to hire a marketing agency with experience in paid social media.

Social Media

  1. What social channels should my company be on? Chances are, you don’t need to be on every social media network in existence. Your agency should be able to recommend the channels that are most relevant to you based on your audience and business goals.
  2. What is your process for community management across platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.)? A good social media team should be prepared to respond to comments and facilitate conversations on all your social channels—and to look for ways to connect with customers across those channels.
  3. How will you ensure our social media presence reflects our brand? Your agency should be thinking of social media strategies that are consistent with your brand rather than just resorting to tactics they’ve used for other clients.
  4. What is your content development strategy? Find out how closely your agency’s social media and content marketing teams work together when it comes to producing social content.
  5. How do you measure ROI on social media efforts? Your agency should be able to describe how they’ll track campaigns and measure the results in relation to your goals (e.g. conversions, revenue, customer acquisition).

Web Design

  1. Can you show us some of the websites you’ve designed? Although your website obviously won’t look exactly like the others your agency has designed, it’s good to get a sense of their aesthetic before you commit.
  2. Do you custom-design websites or use templates? If you have a limited budget and your website isn’t a major source of sales, a template site might be enough. However, if you need a unique site that will generate leads or sales, you should talk to agencies that offer custom design services.
  3. How much input will I have in the design? Find out if you’ll be able to see the website and provide input as it’s being created. You should also find out what the agency’s process will be if you don’t like the initial design.
  4. Will you use responsive design? Any good web design agency knows that websites need to look good on all screen sizes, from smartphones to desktop monitors.
  5. Will my website be able to scale as my business grows? Your agency should design your website so that more products, services, navigation options, and other features can be added as needed without a complete site redesign.
  6. Do you offer ecommerce services? If you have an ecommerce business, you’ll want to work with an agency that can handle shopping carts, support for multiple currencies, updating prices to reflect discounts, and more.
  7. Do you offer ongoing maintenance once the site goes live? Will the agency be able to handle troubleshooting post-launch, or will you have to find another vendor to maintain your website?
  8. What role does SEO play in your site design? Will your web design agency also be able to produce keyword-optimized content, add title and meta tags, implement a crawlable link structure, and use other strategies to make your site SEO-friendly from the start?
  9. Do you set up Analytics tracking when designing a new site? It’s important to get Google Analytics tracking set up with your new site so that you can begin viewing behavior and performance metrics.
  10. What kind of security features do you offer? It’s a good idea to make sure your agency can set up a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate to establish a secure connection for traffic between the web browser and server.

General

  1. How will you help me stand out from my competition? Your agency needs to understand your target audience and what you can deliver to your audience that your competitors can’t.
  2. How will you improve my site’s conversion rate? The agencies you interview may talk about how they can improve your visibility and increase traffic to your site, but they ultimately need to increase conversions/sales to make your investment pay off.
  3. What experience do you have working with businesses in my industry? It’s nice to know if your agency has experience with other businesses in your industry, but it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if they don’t. You could also ask: What steps will you take to become an expert on my business and industry?
  4. How will we communicate? Find out who you’ll be working with on a regular basis and how often you can expect to talk with them.
  5. How will you report on our progress month-over-month? Will the agency deliver an easy-to-read report and summary every month? Will they walk you through the report in a monthly meeting?
  6. How do your different marketing efforts fit together? Ideally, you’ll find a digital agency that sees all its departments as working together towards big-picture goals, rather than existing in separate silos.

We hope these questions will help you in hiring a digital marketing agency. And don’t forget: Leverage offers all the services described above. Contact us to learn more, and subscribe to our biweekly newsletter to have helpful marketing advice delivered to your inbox.

How Do Customers See Your Brand?

It doesn’t matter if you think your brand has the potential to be the next Apple or Nike—what matters is what your target audience thinks of your brand.

Understanding brand perception is essential to succeeding in a competitive marketplace, according to Brian Woyt, founder of the branding agency Wolf & Missile. “Ultimately, your brand is what the marketplace says it is,” Woyt says, “Not what you think it is.”

To be long-lasting, your brand must form a connection with your audience. That connection is based on trust, and your brand earns trust when it remains true to what your audience expects of it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to remain true to your customers’ expectations when you don’t understand those expectations in the first place.

You need to research how customers view your brand so that you can develop resources that meet your audience’s expectations.

Brand Discovery: When You’re Starting from Scratch

If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ll be able to use real customer feedback to understand your audience’s perception of your brand (more on that later). But if you’re new on the scene, you won’t have any marketplace feedback yet. Instead, Woyt recommends performing a brand discovery exercise:

  1. List the attributes or features of your product or service. (e.g. The FidoVac 5000 has a power rating of 8.5 amps.)
  2. Determine the consequences of the attributes (With the power of FidoVac5000, pet owners will be able to suck up pet hair from all surfaces).
  3. List the benefits of your product or service. (FidoVac5000 owners will enjoy the appearance of a cleaner home and won’t have to worry about pet hair getting stuck to their clothes when they sit down.)
  4. Determine the value of your product or service to your customer. (FidoVac5000 owners will enjoy greater peace of mind in their clean home.)

This exercise should help you move from the features of your product (which you already know) to the value of your product (which is what customers care about). Once you’ve identified the value your product or service offers, you can use this to define your brand. Your value should stay front and center of your traditional and digital marketing branding.

Positioning: How Your Customers See You vs. Your Competitors

Your brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Like it or not, most of your potential customers are weighing you against your competitors. To stand out, you’ll need to determine what makes your brand different from similar brands. Ask yourself: What does my audience want that I can deliver but my competitors can’t?

Woyt suggests taking the following steps to position your brand:

  1. Research the competition.
  2. Create a four-quadrant map of the competition’s positioning, as in the example below.
  3. Add your brand to the positioning map.
  4. Ask yourself what you need to do to minimize overlap or set your brand apart.

Next, you should write a brand positioning statement. This can be a sentence or two that states your brand’s unique value in the marketplace. To write this statement, ask yourself:

  • Who do my products/services appeal to and why?
  • What are the people at my company passionate about?
  • What promise is my brand making to the customer?

Understanding Brand Perception

If you’re an established business, you should be talking to real customers (and potential customers) to better understand how they see your brand. Conduct surveys by phone and email, and organize focus groups if possible. Questions to ask your customers include:

  • What attracted you to our brand instead of a competitor? Or, if you chose a competitor, why did you go with them?
  • What are the biggest frustrations you experience when trying to do business with companies in our industry?
  • Have you ever recommended our brand to another person? If so, who? And why?
  • What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear our brand name?

In addition to interviewing customers directly, you can also use social monitoring tools to see what kind of online reputation your company has on social media and review sites.

There are dozens of social monitoring tools on the market, and you’ll have to do your due diligence to determine what’s best for your business. Here are just a few of the most popular tools:

  • Google Alerts: Lets you set up email alerts for mentions of your brand and other keywords in online publications
  • Hootsuite: Lets you view brand mentions (on social channels, blogs, and news sites) in real-time and gauge brand sentiment
  • Talkwalker: Lets you track mentions across all major social channels, print publications, and TV and radio broadcasts globally
  • Buzzsumo: Lets you view social shares of your brand’s content and identify specific users who have shared your content

Pay attention to both positive and negative sentiment. Looking at negative sentiment can help you identify what you need to change to improve your customers’ perception of your brand.

Your Customers See Your Brand Differently Than You Thought—Now What?

If your research reveals that brand sentiment is largely negative, it may be time to rebrand. As part of your rebrand, develop buyer personas. Identify buyer needs and pain points. Think about how your messaging can better connect with your customers. Work through the brand discovery exercise (if you haven’t already) to make sure you’re focusing on the value you bring to customers, not just the features of your products or services.

If brand sentiment is largely positive, but your customers think of your brand differently than you do, it’s still worth making some changes. Ask yourself if your brand’s actions and interactions are aligned with your positioning statement. If they’re not, think about how you can better tailor your marketing resources to your audience’s expectations.

Need help positioning your brand in a crowded marketplace? Leverage now offers digital marketing branding services—contact us now to learn more.

And don’t forget to subscribe to our biweekly newsletter to receive our latest blog posts in your inbox.

SEO Trends and Predictions for 2017

The beginning of 2017 may be a fresh start for you, but for Google, progress in the sphere of optimizing Internet search won’t slow for a second. The preference for mobile Internet consumption, the desire for quicker and denser content, mounting pressure to increase ad revenue, and the unstoppable development of digital assistants and voice search point to a new golden rule for search engine optimization (SEO) trends:

Make it for mobile.

Mobile-First Is Undeniable

chart of hours spent daily on mobile devicesSEO experts have been predicting the latest SEO trends as part of their jobs for years, and there’s one that keeps making an appearance in the latter 2010s: mobile is the future of Internet and search. Major search engines are putting mobile at the forefront as trends in SEO continually point toward the indomitable strength and convenience of mobile consumption.

More Americans are spending more of their free time watching the screens on their smartphones and tablets, according to comScore. If the amount of activity on social networks is any indication, it’s likely that most of those hours are spent scouring Facebook and Twitter feeds for images and videos. Social apps and mobile search are in line to become some of marketing’s biggest targets for paid advertisements and organic efforts. Changes in the way that search will respond to mobile users as well as desktop users point to an almost certain future of mobile takeover.

Mobile-First Indexing

In the latter half of 2016, at the beginning of October, the first iterations of mobile-first indexing became a reality. Mobile-first indexing resets the priority of Google’s indexing bot to read through a site’s mobile version when determining how a site should be indexed. That means Googlebot looks at the relevance, speed, and technical organization of mobile sites over desktop sites when it decides where your page goes on the search engine results page (SERP).

Desktop SERPs Match Mobile

December also saw a UI update for desktop search engine results pages that helped them match the appearance and function of mobile SERPs. Specifically, desktop users see more specialized cards such as featured snippets and maps when they perform searches that trigger those cards. Of course, in such early stages, the desktop experience isn’t quite optimized for desktop searchers:

how long does google take to index serp with mistake

As of 2016, producing cards for desktop searches runs into trouble when wording is ambiguous. In our example, it seems that Google understands our query to be something closer to “How long does it take, Google, to [get to] Index, [WA]?”

Fortunately, development of semantic search promises to inch ever closer to matching the meaning and understanding the context of searches and the searcher’s intent. Consistent improvements in machine learning allow more of your searches in 2017 to reflect the intent of your search rather than the face value of the words you have typed into the engine. While returning relevant search results has long been a goal of Google search, the rise of digital assistants and voice search has lit a new fire in the quest to teach machines to parse language in the same way as humans.

Progressive Web Apps

Google has created a streamlined way for business owners to build progressive web apps, mobile applications that integrate the in-app experience with web capabilities. In many ways, they are web pages that look and act like apps. The intent of progressive web apps is to keep users engaged with apps by:

  • Provided online and offline service
  • Drastically decreasing loading times
  • Eliminating the need for purchase and installation
  • Offering an app experience without the maintenance of an app

Progressive web apps are perhaps the first step toward creating seamless product and service shopping experiences without the need to download apps. Users can keep progressive web apps on the home screens of their mobile devices and load them instantly.

The goal is customer retention. According to Smashing Magazine, users are three times more likely to reopen a mobile application than a website, especially after receiving push notifications. If integrating the app experience with the web experience can make purchasing easier for users, SEO experts will need to focus efforts on driving more customers to those progressive web apps organically.

Video and Images Are Next

The Content Is King mantra is steadfast, but SEOs need to consider more than ever that content has a greater reach than text articles. Major search engines, too, are looking for ways to read and organize all types of content. The term content includes video, animations, and images as well as text. Quality videos and images are proven ways to increase customer engagement and retention, and SEO experts will need to find ways to optimize videos for search in 2017.

Multimedia works in all parts of the marketing funnel and matches the goals of SEO:

  • The intent to purchase of users who enjoy video ads increases by 97%
  • One-third of all online activity is encompassed by watching video
  • 87% of marketers are using video content

These incredible facts from HubSpot make the user preference for video and image content clear. Check out some of the ways marketers are using video content in 2016:

Branded Video Content on Social Networks

titanfall advertisement with video on facebook

Autoplay pushes social videos straight to the brain. When advertisements combine exciting content with beautiful presentation, customers watch – and buy.

Live Streaming

new york times live stream video facebook

Anyone can instantly live stream a video on lots of social networks. Companies can get on-the-spot engagement by sharing stories, information, or just entertaining audiences.

Background Video on Home Pages and Sales Pages

life of pi home page background video

Companies can capture attention instantly with moving backgrounds, then entice users to stay with text overlays or an in-video call to action.

GIFs everywhere

giphy home page with trending gifs

GIFs resonate with young audiences, and marketers are learning how to pull on their heartstrings with simple animations that celebrate their favorite people, movies, shows, and music.

Closer Ties for SEO and PPC

Ad-heavy search results mean that competition for top rankings in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising will likely push advertisers to improve the quality of their paid content. SEO experts must be ready to focus on improving quality scores for ads in 2017 as Google search moves toward a role as a PPC giant as well as an organic search engine giant.

Voice Search and Digital Assistants

The artificial intelligence that governs the functions of voice search and digital assistants is the focus of research for many of the companies developing such technologies, including Google. Digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant use artificial intelligence to attempt to understand natural language and harness that knowledge to produce useful information and resources for live people.

If they weren’t already, SEOs should look to improve relevance, usability, and permanence of content so that digital assistants and voice searchers can utilize the real language contained within the content to find the highest quality information.

What Should We Focus on in 2017?

In anticipation of an even more quickly changing search landscape, SEOs should focus on:

  • Crafting all SEO strategies and making design decisions based on mobile use
  • Building a video strategy that integrates with other marketing solutions
  • Sharpening PPC and paid search knowledge to keep customer rankings high in the paid sphere
  • Optimizing organic content to be found by digital assistants that understand real language

Don’t be afraid of change, be ahead of it, and remember: Make it for mobile.

Leverage Marketing can take you every step of the way through the SEO process – but we also do so much more. If you’re thinking about changing the way you market your business, let us guide you through it. Start by getting your hands on our 2017 Digital Marketing Budget Guide and find out what it will take to pull your marketing into 2017.

The Best and Worst of Call to Action Marketing

Writing call to action phrases for your website can be a tricky task. It seems like it should be simple to throw together a few quick words for a call to action to engage customers on your site, but call to action marketing is more of a science than most people think.

If you’re not sure what an example of a call to action (otherwise known as a CTA) would be, chances are you’ve clicked on one at some point before. A call to action phrase is a lure that turns site visitors into leads that your company may eventually nurture into customers. Whether it’s the button asking a reader to commit to that newsletter signup or the red letters asking an online shopper to act now for the lowest price, the best call to action will invite a lot of value with only a few words.

On the other hand, a bad CTA can act as a barrier in front of your leads. Having poorly written or badly designed CTAs hanging out on your site is sometimes the only thing preventing success, and you may not even know it.

We’ve put together a list of a few great and terrible CTAs that are sprinkled across the internet. Beware – this may convince you to step up your website’s game. Read on!

Worst: “Submit”

Submit Button Call to Action

Using almost any call to action phrase is better than using this word. Short of including no CTA at all, using the word “Submit” is the lowest you can go. No one gets particularly excited about submitting something – it makes most of us think about paying bills or filling out long forms, and no one wants to do that more than they absolutely must. There are better ways to compel a customer to follow through. Essentially, you need to come up with a better way to say “Please hit this button.” Such as…

Best: “Sign Up Now” or “Get Your Free Estimate”

Get your free analysis call to action

Instead of using formal, tedious language that simply states what the button is for, use purposeful language. Good call to action phrases tend to accomplish at least one of these goals:

  1. Tell the customer exactly what to do.
  2. Tell the customer what they’ll be getting when they commit.

A command such as “Sign Up Now,” “Take a Virtual Tour,” or “View Our Top Models” explicitly tells the customer to take action. And “Get Your Free Estimate,” “View Our Free Whitepaper,” and “Claim Your Tickets Today” are CTAs that offer both a command and a promise of value to the clicker.

Worst: “Buy Now” or “Join Now”

Buy now call to action

This command is not ALWAYS a CTA no-no. If placed strategically on your site, a “Buy Now” as a call to action phrase can be surprisingly powerful. However, placement is everything. You can’t ask too much of your customers too soon. You should consider the buyer’s journey as they browse your site or look through the search results. Commanding users to “Buy Now” on your homepage or a search engine result page can sometimes be overkill, as customers may not be ready to make a commitment at an early stage of product or service exploration. This is especially true if what you are offering is expensive or if the purchase commitment is otherwise high. In other words, if you sell $0.99 kazoos, asking them to “Buy Now” is asking a lot less of the customer – and is likely to be slightly more effective– than asking someone to buy your $60K car immediately.

The type of customer that usually comes to your site is also a factor to consider before adding the words “Buy Now” as your call to action. Do your shoppers tend to browse a lot, do a lot of research, or consume large amounts of information before converting? Or do they tend to navigate straight to what they need and buy it right then? Check Google Analytics to get a better idea about what customers do and search for on your site.

Best: “Get Started” or “Learn More”

Learn more call to action

If your customer requires a little more convincing than a colorful button, there are still lots of good ways to incorporate call to action marketing that is more appropriate to their stage of the shopping process. Use informational commands, such as “Learn More,” to draw your customer further into your site without implying any serious commitment. If you offer a free service or benefit, such as a rewards program or consultation, draw customers towards a profitable conversion with call to action phrases such as “Get Started,” and follow up with a simple option such as a free sign-up. You’ll still be able to glean some vital customer information without asking for as much of a commitment from the shopper.

Worst: Mobile Unfriendliness

What’s worse than trying to do something quickly on your mobile device, only to find that the web page to which you’ve navigated requires messy zooming? Or that the site has confusing navigation options that are difficult to click on a touchscreen? It’s annoying, it’s a hassle, and research shows that mobile unfriendliness will cause around 60% of browsers to bounce off your site. These kinds of statistics have been out for a while, and if you’re familiar with Google’s search algorithm, you’ll know that sites that haven’t been optimized to fit mobile devices have seen heavy organic search ranking penalties as well as high mobile bounces.

As far as call to action marketing goes, it doesn’t matter if you have the best call to action on earth is if your site isn’t responsive – the game is over before the user even sees the CTA. Not sure if your site is mobile friendly? Google has a handy mobile friendliness tool that you can use to check and see if your site is good to go. Even if your site is mobile friendly, it is all too easy to stuff your CTAs in sidebars, headers, and footers, which users may not always be able to see or access on mobile devices.

Best: Responsive Formatting

In an age in which Google incorporates your site’s mobile friendliness into search rankings and users refuse to browse on mobile unfriendly sites, it is truly imperative that you convert to a responsive format. This may require you to switch to a new theme, template, content management system, or ecommerce platform, but the time and investment will pay off in better organic rankings and conversions.

Confident that your mobile-friendly site has no problems? Don’t get too passive– your site may be mobile-friendly, but it is still critical to make your call to action marketing efforts work for mobile formats. Make your CTA large, central, and colorful enough for every shopper to see. Try incorporating them strategically at the ends of content blocks to provide users with a seamless transition from information to conversion.


Have more questions about how to incorporate call to action marketing into your digital marketing strategy? Stressed about implementing a user-friendly site design? The Leverage team is here to help. Sign up for our newsletter or contact us directly, and we’ll be in touch with the latest and greatest for your site.

 

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