Sandstorm Blog

Google has been rolling out changes one after another, with a new (but not that different) homepage design, the +1 button, and a social network in the trial phase. Here’s a quick, easy-to-digest breakdown of what these search engine and social media updates are all about: +1 Button This little button is yet another factor in search engine optimization, bringing more recommended sites higher in the search results. If someone you are connected to in your Google account recommends a site with the +1 button, you’ll see that they did. This is simply a tool to tally recommendations, and that’s it. The social aspect is just that you can see which of your friends have recommended a site. You should definitely be leveraging the +1 button in your search engine optimization and online marketing strategy. Google+ In plain English, Google+ is Google’s new social network (although they're not saying that). It’s in a trial phase right now, and isn’t open to everyone just yet. Here are its key features:

  • Circles: Similar to Facebook Groups, Circles let you put different people in different circles, allowing you to interact and share with each circle separately.
  • Sparks: This is a feed of content based on specific interests you have selected. From Sparks, it's easy to share with Circles, and create a thread of conversation around a piece of content.
  • Hangouts: Video chat with multiple friends at a time.
  • Mobile: There are a couple features that will be available for what Google calls a “pocket computer,” or mobile. Instant uploads let you instantly upload photos from your phone, and Huddles creates a chat-room style text conversation with friends.

What people are saying They’re saying a lot...Facebook already meets these needs...If Buzz didn’t have great success, why would Google+?...And while it’s nice to have our world tailored to our interests, don’t we need something to balance us? Something to remind us that there are alternative viewpoints we should consider, and our world isn’t the only world that matters? Eli Pariser raised some of these concerns this past February in a talk about The Filter Bubble. The gates through which we enter the Internet are changing. It will be exciting to see what happens in the not so far off future. And of course, we'll keep you up-to-date on how it will effect your search engine optimization and social media strategy.

This blog was posted by on July 1.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Chicago is a booming city with a robust pool of developers—web developers, software developers, application developers. We’ve got them all. (Chicago even hosted DrupalCon this year.) So we are pleased to see our government agencies taking notice and utilizing the city’s developer resources by challenging them to “build apps that solve problems and improve services in Metro Chicago” with the Apps for Metro Chicago Illinois Competition.

While our Chicago web design firm focuses on user-centered design, we'd like to give kudos to the City of Chicago, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Cook County, and the State of Illinois for taking a user-centered approach to government and working to build useful tools for Metro Chicago. Bravo! Now, while we're pleased to see Chicago building useful apps, there are some pros and cons to the competition method, also known as crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing has become very popular, even as a tool to leverage as part of a marketing strategy. But even with the possibility of benefiting from the talent that fills Chicago, in the end, there is just less creative control of the end product. Instead of choosing one dedicated team that builds a relationship with you, learns your business needs, and provides a customized solution to your problem, you end up hoping someone in the crowd finds the right idea.

But what if none of the entries solves your problem? During the two month entry period, how do you feel about sitting in the dark, unable to truly guide the direction your solutions are headed? And what do you say to all the unselected artists and programmers who put in dozens of hours creating an app for you and get nothing in return for their hard work? However risky their methods, we are still very excited to see Chicago focusing on technology! At Sandstorm we do custom quality work, gathering requirements to make certain that the end product meets the clients’ specific needs. Let us know what your needs are!

This blog was posted by on June 27.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Aaron Equipment's creative marketing

Some people like to put their brand identity on business cards and letterhead, others prefer choppers. That’s right—choppers. One of our partners, Aaron Equipment, got a custom branded bike from Orange County Choppers and appeared on their TLC show American Choppers. The bike now sits proudly at their Bensenville headquarters. Of course, after visiting their office and seeing the bike, we had to take pictures. And who wouldn’t? This is really a great example of creative marketing—getting your brand out there by connecting with your audience on their interests. Now that summer is in full swing in Chicago and the festivals have taken over the weekends, it’s a perfect time to get creative with your marketing. And “creative” could be anything from a custom chopper to a clever sidewalk chalk stencil. If you need a little help brainstorming some creative marketing ideas, let Sandstorm Design give you hand!

This blog was posted by on June 9.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Your logo is not your brand. This is a common refrain from designers that combats the common misconception that all you need for a brand is a logo. Our Creative Director, Janna Fiester, shared an article with the rest of the team recently that talked about building an unforgettable brand outside of the logo. It makes a great point that we wholeheartedly agree with. Now this doesn’t mean the logo isn’t important (it is!), but there are definitely other factors to consider when it comes to your brand identity—copy being one of them.

A recognizable voice and tone is as important to the brand identity as the logo. Think about Allstate, for example. You always know an ad is theirs long before you see their logo. That’s the brand in the copy. On your web site, blog, brochure and other marketing materials, the copywriting should capture your differentiator in the marketplace. Your content should reflect any marketing objectives and initiatives currently in place. (Are you reaching out to new audiences or offering new services? Is your voice changing to speak more directly to these new objectives?) And, of course, the voice and tone should be consistent.

To insure we build a complete brand, our copywriters are vital members of the marketing and creative teams here at Sandstorm Design. They work directly with designers during the branding phases, giving each company’s unique identity a unified presence—in the visual elements, the marketing copywriting, and everything in between.

This blog was posted by on May 20.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

MIT has challenged students all over the world to give their best elevator pitch with the YouPitch Contest. This is the first year they've taken the elevator pitch competition to YouTube, requiring students to upload 60-second elevator pitches to compete to win $2000 and international glory. The winner was announced on Facebook, and will receive their award at the grand finale show on May 11 at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium.

So, what makes an elevator pitch good enough to win a contest—or for many of us, good enough to win business? First off, it should be conversational. It should clearly point out the need you are filling, the competitive solution you are offering, and how the solution will be carried out. And it should be short, sweet, and to the point. The student competition at MIT called for 60-second pitches. At Sandstorm Design, we do ours in 30… but maybe our elevators are just faster here in Chicago!

You never know what opportunities could be opened with the right pitch. Whether the challenge is a competition or a new client, this part of marketing is always fun and exciting. Learn more about our take on marketing strategy.

Check out our favorite marketing elevator pitches from MIT’s YouPitch contest:

This blog was posted by on May 10.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

I’m not here to report how a particular ad campaign went. I want LinkedIn to view this as free user research – they need to improve the user experience and usability of LinkedIn Ads.

The ad campaign setup consists of what seems to be three simple steps. But as the user moves through the experience, what initially felt simple becomes rigid and constrictive when trying to make changes, update, or delete.

The top three key items LinkedIn Ads could fix to improve usability and the user experience:

  1. No delete? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve heard this complaint within other areas of LinkedIn before, so I wasn't surprised to find it in LinkedIn Ads. Once created, there is no way to delete an ad campaign or ad variation. You can hide them, but not delete them. Users should always be allowed to delete anything they create (just make them confirm it's really what they want to do).
  2. No “Save” option. If you leave the ad campaign setup process at any time, LinkedIn saves everything you started. This is great, except they don’t tell you they’re going to do that. So if you leave before finalizing a campaign, you would assume you're losing what you started. Upon coming back to find it's still there—you might be surprised, and also annoyed you didn't know it would be saved in the first place. If the functionality is there, tell the users upfront so they can plan for it.
  3. Cannot add new ad variations. I love that LinkedIn gives users 15 ad variations per campaign. But after you go through the initial three steps, there’s no way to come back and simply “Add a new variation.” You have to use a workaround where you duplicate an existing variation and just make changes to that. Users should never have to use a workaround for something that should be basic functionality. In fact, they should never have to use a workaround, period.

Despite my rant here, I love LinkedIn, and am very pleased to see it growing so much (100 million members as of March 2011!). As they grow, usability and the user experience is definitely something they'll want to put more focus on. For now though, these few items would make a nice improvement.

Don't forget to follow our usability and user experience design agency on LinkedIn!

This blog was posted by on April 27.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Drupal 7 Developers Share Lessons from Conference in Chicago

This time a month ago, Sandstorm Design attended DrupalCon Chicago. Since then, our team of Drupal developers have been sharing with the rest of the company the key takeaways from the conference.

Over sandwiches and soda, our Technology and Usability Director Michael Hartman talked to the team about new possibilities Drupal 7 features open up and how we can use them to continue to provide exceptional content management solutions. We were inspired enough to keep discussing Drupal long after the last bite had been eaten. In fact, we're still talking Drupal this and Drupal that. And the conversation isn't likely to end anytime soon!

This blog was posted by on April 14, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Sandstorm at DrupalCon Chicago

It has been an amazing week for our development team at DrupalCon Chicago 2011. We absorbed Dries Buytaert’s keynote, mingled with other Drupal 7 developers, danced to a song about Drupal (not kidding!), and attended session after session on topics like theming, design, user experience, implementation and configuration. We had a blast and learned a lot!

We’re so proud that Chicago got to host the Drupal conference this year. And we’re so grateful to all those who made DrupalCon Chicago a success. Most of all, we’re looking forward to the future of Drupal, which is only looking brighter and brighter!

Check out our pictures from DrupalCon Chicago!

This blog was posted by on March 11.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Back in September, Kevin Thau, Twitter’s VP for business and corporate development, announced that Twitter is not a social network. This got a lot of buzz in the blog (and micro-blog) community, but clearing up the labeling of Twitter is most relevant for people not familiar with it. They're the ones who don't know what it is. And if you come into it with a social network/Facebook mindset, you’ll only get frustrated and feel disappointed. Only Facebook can do Facebook. You have to approach this part of your social media strategy with a Twitter mindset.

So, what is the Twitter mindset? What do you DO on Twitter? It's very simple:

  1. Share – Facebook is about sharing who you are, Twitter is about sharing what you’ve found. Use bitly, tinyurl or any of the other little link web sites to share the articles, blogs and web sites you like, and add a little comment about why.
  2. Reply – While it might not be a social network, Twitter is a social place. Engage in conversation. It’s fun and easy!
  3. Retweet – If you simply want to pass along a tweet you found interesting without adding a comment, click the retweet option. You can also retweet the traditional way, by copying and pasting it, and adding “RT @(insert author’s username)” in front. In the few characters that are left, add your own commentary.

The best advice is to just dive in. Once you see how others are tweeting, you’ll get it. And don’t forget to follow our Chicago marketing firm @SandstormDesign!

This blog was posted by on January 26, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Twitter has reached almost 200 million accounts, and has just added its seventh language – Korean. As Twitter expands worldwide, so does the opportunity for you to grow your business just as far.

Twitter will become increasing vital for networking and maintaining relationships with your overseas contacts, just as well those in the States. On top of that, it offers another valuable (and free) avenue for marketing your brand online (in seven languages, perhaps?). As you know, we kind of have a thing for marketing and branding.

If your company doesn’t already have an account, get one. And if you have one but you’re not using it, start now. If there were ever a time to jump on a bandwagon, this is it.

This blog was posted by on January 20.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

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