Sandstorm Blog

Emily Kodner
Top 4 Reasons You Hate Managing Content on Your Web Site

Some content managers love their jobs. Some content managers hate their jobs. If you are in the second category, maybe it’s because of these reasons.

1. You have no strategy.

You are just updating the same old copy that somebody originally wrote fifteen years ago. Maybe you’re babysitting a “helpful links” page. Stop filling orders rather than seeking and producing content with a defined purpose.

Take time to make a real content strategy. Involve key stakeholders for their great ideas (and more importantly, their buy-in). Identify your target audiences. Define your users’ goals and your organization’s goals for the site and figure out how you are going to use your site’s content to meet those goals. Select topics that will bring you the right traffic. Establish your site’s voice. The strategy is your filter. It tells you what to spend time on and what to say no to. It tells you what content to cut and what content to create.

2. You have no style guide.

You (and other people) are always finding style inconsistencies throughout your site. Where does your company stand on the Oxford comma? Are page titles in sentence case or title case? Depending on the reviewer or writer you seem to be constantly fixing or unfixing things.

Select a style guide. Preferably one aligned with your industry and intended for web writing. Create an organic style guide to keep track of all of your industry and company specific terms.

3. You have no content governance plan.

Every time you make a content change you have too many, too few, or just the wrong people review it.  This means it takes forever to make changes or you end up with sub-par (maybe even inaccurate) content on your site.

Create a governance plan that makes it clear and transparent who is responsible for each section of the site. After much experimentation, I have had much success with an adapted version of this model.

4. You are looking at the wrong analytics.

You spend hours and hours each week (or each month, or just when somebody asks) putting together reports, but you’re just making reports for the sake of making reports.

Are you reporting average time spent on site? How are you evaluating that? Is it a short time win or a sign that your site is impossible to navigate?

Isolate the site’s goals and define key performance indicators that align to each goal.

Create dashboards or custom reports where possible to reduce your time manually manipulating your Google Analytics data pulls in Excel. Review the reports with other people regularly AND isolate improvements you can make. Identify the things you should do more of because they’re working so well.

Take a step back and take some time to improve your process. The steps outlined above can improve your personal workflow and make sure you’re aligned with the rest of your team.

This blog was posted by Emily Kodner on February 28.
Emily Kodner

About the Author

Emily Kodner

Emily is our Senior Director of Client Delivery. She consults with clients, leads projects and works alongside our team of creatives and developers to provide solutions to complex business challenges.

Jason provides a great user experience at the front desk

What makes for a great front desk experience? As someone who has been the face at that desk and the first voice on the phone, it’s a combination of empathy and information. I’ve never had a full-time position where I just sit and wait for people to show up. The front desk person always has other priorities and goals.

People coming in the office don’t need to know that, it’s not really relevant to them. All they remember is if I helped them when they came in. In much the same way visitors to your website don’t know and don’t care what your other priorities are, they just care about what you can do for them.

Greet Them

The greeting when you walk through the door is quite important. Friendly and attentive is by far a must. You wouldn’t have your front desk person stand at the door and loudly yell at potential clients as they walk in “HEY! We’ve got a great deal for you, let me show you right now!!!” while blocking their entrance and view. Pop up ads, loud music, animations, and the like, go over about as well.

Anticipate Their Needs

I think we’d have trouble landing business if when a potential client walked in the door for her first meeting, I shoved a hot cup of coffee down her throat, yanked off her coat, and tossed her into the bathroom. I would certainly ask her if she’d like something to drink, if she’d like to hang up her coat, and if she needed the bathroom, but I let her decide what she needs.

Your users know what they want, and it may not align with what you want them to do. Error on the side of walking in their shoes, worry about your goals on the back end. Ultimately this will more effectively accomplish your goals.

Keep Them Updated

If the guest is here to see someone, I make sure that both that person is notified and that the guest is aware so that the guest is not waiting and wondering what’s going on. When an action is completed on your website, do you give a clear confirmation? If a visitor runs into a problem, does your 404 page or other error messages give that visitor any direction on what he can do next? In the real world, he can ask, or just glare expectantly. On the web, your visitors will just go to your competitors.

Learn and Repeat These Five Words

Businesses have a front desk for very much the same reasons they have a website. It’s another channel for interaction and if done well, can enhance and build relationships. If done poorly it can make sure they never come back. It all comes down to 5 words :

“How can I help you?”

This blog was posted by on February 13.
Jason Dabrowski

About the Author

Jason Dabrowski

Jason is one of Sandstorm’s designers and also helps keep the office running smoothly. As a veteran of the theatre—from acting to directing, lighting to set design—he knows the value of hard work and a positive attitude. Look for his unique voice on the blog.

Crowds cheer for Sandstorm social media strategy

The big game is this Sunday. It’s going to be cold. There will be a lot of parties. It’s sure to be a great matchup between the Seahawks and the Broncos with a number of memorable commercials. But between cold brews and bowls of flamin’ hot nachos, fans will use this major media event to get their thoughts out on social media.

Both teams are supported by very outspoken fanbases, on the field and in front of TVs across the country. These are true blue fans who are constantly advocating their team (or should we say brand). Even on social media, their fans are constantly liking, commenting and even defending.

So they’re football teams, what does that mean for you? You too can create superfans for your brand. It takes time and effort, but these four points will help direct your initiative to the endzone.

1. Make a Conversation NOT a Speech

It’s all about social engagement. Think about it in terms of a party (not a football party, one with more mingling). What are the most memorable experiences? Ones where you are involved in a conversation or where you’re forced to listen while someone expounds? It’s probably the former, and chances are that you were so involved that you lost track of time, too.

Why not replicate that with your social media presence? If you create something that asks questions or welcomes discourse, you’re putting forth a memorable experience for your users.

2. Be Fueled by Your Focus

Do what you set out to do. If your goal is to sell a service or product, be sure that your interaction supports that. Your social media presence should be positioned to support your business, not just to support itself.

If you are posting just funny pictures, comics, or non sequiter posts, what does that do for your business? They can relate to you with some copy, but you need to make sure that what you put in front of your users is reflective of your business. [If you want to read more about making sure your content fits your brand, I wrote a post on Voice and Tone.]

3. Make a Game Plan

You don’t find social success by luck. You need to examine the field, size up your competitors, and find out what makes your users tick. Success comes from practice and preparation. By setting up a strategy you have a plan to keep your momentum. A well executed Social Media strategy can assist with how you respond to user comments as well.[To learn more on the importance of thinking, check out this post from Laura.]

4. Keep It Personal

The social aspect of social media is the instant human connection. Traditional media created campaigns that presented ideas, feelings, products with a passive connection to the user. Content, ads, articles, commercials, were seen and read.  Social media is interactive. Whereas with a commercial, a user might be part of an invisible conversation based on the business’ assumptions. Now you can promote and present useful content on a platform ready for consumer reaction.

As opposed to having your brands message as part of a TV program or in a magazine, your content is within your users feed of personal information. So, you’ll be interspersed with personal contacts, family photos, and old high school crushes. With that their likes and comments are open for their network (and yours to see). Ensure you are creating a conversation where your user would be open to comment and like in an open, personal forum.

What’s Your Next Play?

After 10 years of Social Media, it’s a mainstay of our lives and businesses. With some preparation and thoughtfulness you can mold your brand’s online presence into an important part of their social media experiences. To create super fans, you have to first create something super. If you can get them cheering, the eventual results will make you cheer, too.

This blog was posted by on January 31.
Will Biby

About the Author

Will Biby

Will wears many hats at Sandstorm. From writing web content to executing social media strategies, he is quick to act and insistent on a job done right. Will enjoys writing, so expect to hear from him often on the blog.

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Five steps to better SEO & SEM campaigns

Launching AdWords campaigns can be a frustrating, pocket-draining initiative if you’re not careful. However, it can also bring in traffic and conversions that quickly make the whole thing worthwhile. Here are five quick tips if you are just getting started and don’t know where to, well, start.

1. Plan ahead

Work with your internal team and your agency to define what your expectations are and create some realistic goals. A good way to do this is to assess what you are doing now. How much are you spending for leads and conversions using your existing marketing tactics? How much can you allocate to AdWords campaigns? What are your customers or clients really looking for when they turn to a search engine for help?

2. Optimize

Dedicate some time and resources to optimizing your web site’s landing pages to increase the Quality Score of your ads. Google is successful because it thinks about its users (and this focus keeps users coming back for more and more). In regards to AdWords, Google wants to make sure that it is sending its users to the places where they can actually find relevant content.

Google rewards you for sending people to right place. Having better content helps bring you a higher ranking and can lead to a lower cost-per-click. It’s worth the upfront costs and effort to create a great experience for users on your web site and landing pages before bidding on ads.

3. Play Chess, Not Battleship

While there is some guessing when it comes to the auction process, you can make educated bids. With high keyword limits, AdWords allows 20,000 per ad group, it seems like the options are endless. Why not have every variation of the terms related to your business and see what happens? If this is your approach, I’m not surprised if SEM is the bane of your marketing existence.

Instead, do research, be relevant. Imagine what your customer is thinking and searching for, then use terms and phrases they would naturally use or what they will be looking for in the future. You are paying for each visit, make the most of them. Tactically, if your product or service is commonly misspelled, use the broad match keyword approach and let Google’s mechanics take care the rest. You can cast a wide net to improve your ad’s impressions but focus a majority of your resources on high-quality keywords that will bring the right customers with real conversions.

4. Be Patient

While this process can seem laborious and not yield immediate results, stick with it. SEM is an ever-evolving marketing tool. You won’t run perfect campaigns every time (I’m not sure that such a thing even exists). After a month or so of running ads, take a look under the hood and see what’s working and what’s not. This will help you learn more about what Google AdWords and your users are looking for with your ads. Remember, one click could be the conversion that covers the cost of the entire campaign.

5. Have Flexibility

After reviewing what’s working, investigate why. Is it bid amounts, budget, keywords, ads? AdWords is full of analytics, use them. If it’s not working, do something different. This platform is one of the only marketing tools available that can quickly be changed with little or no cost.

AdWords allows you to amend your account as frequently as you want, or if you are a data-lover and want to be able to examine trends, make less frequent, measured changes. Study the board, do your research and be willing to adjust your game plan.

Ads in the Right Place at the Right Time

Unlike some other marketing efforts, AdWords allows customers to see your information when they expect to see it, at the time when they are actively searching for what you offer. It’s a worthwhile program to boost your business, but it requires attention and upkeep for success. Stay focused and watch the clicks turn to conversions.

This blog was posted by on January 24.
Megan Culligan

About the Author

Megan Culligan

Megan knows the importance of picking a winner. With a background in politics and PR, she knows that a successful marketing campaign requires coordination of many moving pieces and a team focused on achieving a great goal. You’ll see her analytical point of view on the blog, providing insight and tactics for success.

Taking time to create great brand strategy

I enjoy comedy, and I’m a big Monty Python fan. It’s no surprise that when I found a lecture by John Cleese on creativity, I was excited. He’s incredibly funny, smart and hard-working. What surprised me was how his 1991 talk resonates with me today.

What’s the path to creativity?

No matter how hard one tries, you can’t put creativity into a box or a process. The road to results is non-linear. In the talk, Cleese lists, not attempted process, but the conditions under which creation can happen. They are:

  1. Space
  2. Time
  3. Time
  4. Confidence
  5. Humor

All of these steps make sense. I really like that he mentioned ‘Time’ twice. An emphasis on time is crucial. Creating something innovative from scratch takes time to steep. Time is the secret ingredient that allows creative brains to make unique connections.

There are no shortcuts.

People are in awe of the beauty of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, without thinking of how Michelangelo dreamt it, designed, planned and painted it. This took time. A lot of it. This is true of any major creative undertaking; sculpting from clay, writing a novel, composing an opera.

Effective marketing takes time, too.

The importance of time goes even further: design and development of a web site, strategic marketing plans, content strategy, social media strategy, usability, user research. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was any reputable web site.

So, when preparing a request for proposals, and eventually statements of work, keep in mind that to create something great, you’ll need to allocate an appropriate amount of time so your creative partner can build something impactful. Find a partner you trust to assist you with the appropriate level of effort so you get the maximum ROI.

Great things can come to those who wait.

Dreaming, Planning, Preparation, Research, Thinking, Designing, Execution: they all take time. So the next time you visit a blog you enjoy or walk past a sculpture in the park, consider who created it, and more importantly how.

[I encourage you to watch Mr. Cleese’s lecture, too. There is a shorter and full version available.]

This blog was posted by on January 17, 2014.
Will Biby

About the Author

Will Biby

Will wears many hats at Sandstorm. From writing web content to executing social media strategies, he is quick to act and insistent on a job done right. Will enjoys writing, so expect to hear from him often on the blog.

User goals come first in user experience

I recently conducted a usability study for a Fortune 50 company. It was for an internal portal for managing employee health benefits and programs. This included testing both the desktop and mobile experiences. Results of the study showed users were frustrated by irrelevant content or that they missed content important to them because it was buried in the experience.

Stakeholder goals came first

The project stakeholders built the portal around their needs and the users needs were secondary. Throughout the portal, surveys, promotions for internal programs were brought to the front instead of presenting the key health benefit information users wanted. Users found this particularly frustrating on their mobile devices, where they wanted to quickly access specific information on-the-go.

User goals should be priority

If the users had access to the information they wanted first, they would more likely take the time to read the promotions or surveys. Since it was in the way beforehand, users found it annoying. At best it was ignored.

A soapbox I often stand on when speaking with clients goes like this:

  • You have business or organizational goals
  • Your users have goals
  • Sometimes these are the same, sometimes they are not
  • Meeting your users goals first greatly increases your chances of meeting your business goals

Everyone wins when the user succeeds

Often, there are business goals your users don’t care about at all. If you prioritize your users’ goals, you’ll have the opportunity later to meet those business goals that aren’t important to your users. If you make it difficult for your users to meet their goals, it’s unlikely they’ll stick around to help you meet yours.

Each user has a goal in mind specific to their need and situation. By successfully meeting this need, they will return to your site, app, and even brick and mortar store again.

This blog was posted by on January 2.
Michael Hartman

About the Author

Michael Hartman

As Sandstorm's Technology and Usability Director, Michael leads our developers and usability researchers in creating web sites and applications—both desktop and mobile—that embody our favorite blend: intuitive user experience and dynamic Drupal development.

Trust in the age of big data

Big data isn’t new, but it has been on our minds for the last several months. So, we thought now was as good a time as any to talk about it.

Big data in the news

In September, the New York Times ran an article that piqued our interest. In short: Acxiom Corporation, one of the world’s largest marketing technology companies, had launched AboutTheData.com – a website that lets consumers see what information (or ‘Big Data’) the company is collecting and analyzing about them.

The pitch was simple: If you want to get the best advertising delivered to you, based on your actual interests, start here. Tell us who you are so we can show you the information used to fuel many of the marketing offers you receive from advertisers using Acxiom’s digital marketing data.

What information is out there?

More and more, companies are beginning to invest in Big Data solutions as a means of achieving a more effective reach, but investing in this kind of data is not without its challenges. For example, here’s what some Sandstormers had to say when they registered with AboutTheData for a look behind the data mining curtain:

“Characteristic data was spot-on except for the child I didn’t know I have. Household vehicle data: only insurance renewal, nothing about past vehicles I’ve owned (10!). Household economic data: accurate, but light.”

“The only thing accurate about my home was the year it was built. There was absolutely no data found on our cars. For household interests, they had gourmet cooking which is really quite funny since we order most from Pizza Hut… None of the data they had on me felt invasive, probably because the most personal pieces of data were simply not us.”

 “The results were disturbingly specific and correct in many cases. In other cases they were completely wrong. They knew everything about my condo purchase, which isn’t hard info to get. They know when my condo and car insurance policies are up for renewal. They knew my age (down to a two year window). Were close enough on my profession. They were pretty far off on my household income and purchasing habits.”

A constant work-in-progress

As our Sandstormers and media outlets have reported, Acxiom still has a few kinks to work out, and chief among them may be accuracy.

“One point I want to make is that this is the first release of the website,” says Nicholas Meshes, an engineering lead at Acxiom who oversees a team of developers who work on the AboutTheData.com project. “There will be subsequent releases that mean more information, improved usability, and more resources and control around how data is being used.”

It’s for more personalized relationships

He adds: “The fact is, corporations want to have more personalized relationships with consumers, and what we’re trying to do is create trust among consumers by letting them see and specify what information is being shared. People who use the website have places to go to give direct feedback, and can opt in or out of most elements we have on file about them. There are also features in the AboutTheData that direct you back to the Acxiom website to show you how we are using your data. Whatever you specify becomes our highest priority.” Whether you opt in or out, you are likely going to be marketed to regardless, “so it may as well be relevant to you.”

One of many tools

Okay. It’s a good idea driven by well-meaning intent, but the Acxiom project and the skepticism with which it has been met underscores one of the biggest challenges faced by marketing companies whose success continues to be influenced by big data: You can’t have trust without accuracy. Even if the data is accurate, it’s just one tool in your marketing toolbox.

Addressing the challenges

Big data is not the marketing panacea, but it can be a fantastic tool to create better experiences for your customers. Using big data effectively requires thoughtful decisions about how you want to engage your target market and providing them with the appropriate control mechanisms to build trust. This is a process and a large component of utilizing big data effectively to address marketing challenges.

This blog was posted by on December 12.
Meaghan Glennan

About the Author

Meaghan Glennan

Meaghan is a storyteller. From the Granite State to the City of Broad Shoulders, she's created impactful true-life tales about people, places, businesses and events. As she guides Sandstorm's story by directing our marketing communications, you'll see a lot of her unique perspective and style.

Creative inspiration from Rodney Mullen at PopTech

So I am writing this the morning after Nelson Mandela has left us. An example of “piercing the barrier of disbelief,” if there ever was one. Nelson Mandela is probably as far from the skateboarding community as one can get, but he shared many of the same commitments to creativity, perseverance and the power of acceptance. This is not a post on Nelson Mandela, but a reflection on a powerful and inspiring talk I saw at PopTech 2013.

Rodney Mullen is a professional skateboarder, company owner, inventor and also known as the “Godfather of Street Skating.” In his talk he said, “piercing the barrier of disbelief,” which continues to resonate with me. This is something that we, as creative individuals, have to do everyday to help our colleagues and clients solve their challenges in ways they never thought about.

Rodney emphasized the importance of culture to inspire. The importance of a supportive culture cannot be written off as a touchy-feely, nice-to-have when collaborative problem solving is critical for business success.

As creative professionals, we create something out of nothing everyday, in a way “jumping off a cliff.” It is important to acknowledge that surrounding yourself with people that uplift your beliefs, and “catch you,” is critical to sustaining creative momentum. Sustaining a culture that believes collectively to “pierce the barrier of disbelief,” is the not-so-secret ingredient to your business success.

This blog was posted by on December 6, 2013.
Laura Luckman Kelber

About the Author

Laura Luckman Kelber

Chief Strategy Officer, Laura Luckman Kelber leads Sandstorm's team of strategists with wisdom from her 20 years of marketing experience. Combining seemingly disparate ideas to solve a problem, Laura unearths unexpected insights to help clients’ fuel their success.

Creative user interface design inspiration from PopTech

Laura recently attended the PopTech conference in Camden, Maine. We’ll hear more about her experience in the coming weeks, but here’s a sneak peek of all the inspiration that abounded that weekend, much of which Laura brought back with her.

Need a bit of magic for your workday?

Artichoke is a creative company that works with artists to invade our public spaces and put on extraordinary and ambitious events that live in the memory forever…

This was one of the most inspirational talks of my PopTech experience. Artichoke creates magic and inspires individuals, who don’t usually have creating magic in their job description, to embrace magic without hesitation. The people at Artichoke remove the debate about risk and reward with their government and community partners, and replace it with a camaraderie and shared belief in the power of something bigger.

As a creative professional, I found the construct shift not only inspiring but immensely valuable to assisting my clients on their journeys to rethink the possibilities of their businesses, and in embracing the sheer power of a creative idea.

Hope you are as inspired as I was, and that this gives you the much-needed energy boost to continue moving your creativity forward.

This blog was posted by on November 20.
Laura Luckman Kelber

About the Author

Laura Luckman Kelber

Chief Strategy Officer, Laura Luckman Kelber leads Sandstorm's team of strategists with wisdom from her 20 years of marketing experience. Combining seemingly disparate ideas to solve a problem, Laura unearths unexpected insights to help clients’ fuel their success.

Can we stop saying "click here"?

You’re going to click here. Of course you’re going to click here. How could you not? The link says “Click here”!!

  • Click here to register
  • Click here for a list of services
  • Click here to learn more
  • Click here to go find that thing that should be right here where we’ve placed the words click here

The web is all about clicking. Users know what a link is and how to click on it (or press it if they are on a touch device). I think it’s safe to abandon this tired phrase and just get to the point. Why not just say:

  • Register
  • Our services
  • Learn more
  • [put that thing that should be right here]

I think this would make the world a better place or at least a place with better online user experiences.

This blog was posted by on November 6, 2013.
Michael Hartman

About the Author

Michael Hartman

As Sandstorm's Technology and Usability Director, Michael leads our developers and usability researchers in creating web sites and applications—both desktop and mobile—that embody our favorite blend: intuitive user experience and dynamic Drupal development.

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