Carpenters are admonished to measure twice but cut once — a reminder that good decisions flow from good data. Getting things right at the outset means less time and money spent fixing things later — or rebuilding from the ground up.

So what’s carpentry have to do with the web?

Think of Google Analytics as a virtual tape measure. It helps anyone — from Web pros to business owners like you — understand how your site is performing. It also helps you identify where “remodeling” is needed to improve the user experience or boost sales.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Google Analytics reports — generated by installing the Google Analytics Tracking Code — tell you how many unique visitors you have, how popular certain pages are, and how much time people spend on certain pages.
  2. From there, the data can be interpreted to tell you more about your site performance. For instance, are users visiting a page in droves but scurrying away just as quick? High “bounce rates” for seemingly popular pages could mean that the page is failing to meet users’ expectations, perhaps because of poor design or outdated content.
  3. Additional Google Analytics featuresCustom Reports and Advanced Segments —allow you test the effectiveness of certain types of landing pages. The Google Analytics blog highlights these tools by taking us through a fictional e-commerce website that sells empanadas, and showing how to encourage each visitor to purchase as many treats as possible.

By using Google Analytics to measure what you’re doing now — and test what’s working and what’s not — you can create a structure solid enough to build on in the future.

Want to learn more? Contact us any time.

What if you developed a website based on a content management system optimized for one or two browsers? And then found out that your client is using neither — and can’t access your system or tools?

Say “buh-bye” to your new business.

Or, what if you sign a contract with a new online vendor for a key business process — accounting, for instance — only to find out that the application runs on an outmoded browser, forcing your entire team to ditch their upgrade or run two different versions of the same browser, one to work with the application, and one for everything else?

Say “buh-bye” to your sanity.

The new choice in browsers — with Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Google Chrome challenging the still-dominant Internet Explorer (IE) — is forcing us to change the way we think about and choose browsers.

A central question in evaluating Web browsers is this: What, exactly, does your business — or your customers — do online?

Do you rely on Web-based applications for many of your business processes? If so, picking a compatible browser is vital — as is making sure it remains so even as new versions of the application are released.

Many Web-based applications will run on almost all browsers, but exceptions abound. Constant Contact, the well-known Web-based email marketing tool, supports some browsers but not others (one of its rivals, Vertical Response, also works best in Firefox or IE). As eWEEK recently noted, other applications will run on most browsers, but may not perform optimally in each.

If you are developing online products or experiences for your customers, are you assuming everyone will gain access using the same browser? If so, you might be making a big — and costly — mistake. More and more people are attracted to different browsers for different reasons, so taking the time to find out where they are — um, browser-wise — might go a long way to establishing good customer relations and generating repeat business.

A single solution for picking the best browser probably eludes us, but here are a few tips:

  1. Evaluate what you’re doing most online to make sure your choice of browser won’t conflict with your online applications, slow you down, crash your systems, or frustrate your staff.
  2. Investigate and test browsers to see which one — or which mix of two or more — works best for certain tasks.
  3. Read all the different reviews, stay up on the latest evaluations, and know the impact of any upgrade on either application or browser performance.
  4. Learn what your customers are doing online and don’t make assumptions.
  5. Choose vendors and developers that understand browser technology, features, compatibility, customization, and performance and can match you with a system that meets your needs.

Do browsers still bewilder you? Contact us for more insights.

When we talk with our customers about search engine optimization, one of the biggest things we emphasize is that SEO is not a one-time task.

Rather, it’s a progression – a series of steps taken over time to ensure that your site is continually performing as well as it should.

The tricky part is that there are so many things that can be done to improve search – some more important, and some less important. To sort them all out, you need to set priorities for your site and figure out which SEO tasks need be tackled first, and which can be pushed back to a rainy day.

Those priorities will be different for different sites, depending on a variety of factors, like how your site’s performing now, and how your customers are interacting with it. If we were pressed, however, we’d say that just about any website should have the following three tasks on their shortlist.

  • Enrich your content. As we’ve written in previous posts, the most important factor in getting people to visit your site is providing valuable content – unique, regularly updated content that readers can’t find elsewhere. Ultimately, nothing else will generate ongoing interest in your site.
  • Leverage keywords. Choosing the right keywords is critical for any website. Researching them, picking the right ones, and incorporating them into your text and navigational structure can make all the difference in how many qualified customers find your site.
  • Optimize your site structure. Google is a prickly beast that likes sites built in a certain way, using a certain type of coding. If you alienate Gooogle by using outdated coding, you’ll be closed out of search results in a flash.

In addition to these “top three” tasks, there are tons of second- and third-tier steps that can be taken to continually better your search results. An optimal SEO strategy will prioritize these steps and set up a targeted plan to get ‘em done, month after month – and get your rankings jumping higher month after month in turn.

Wanted to take a minute this week to talk about one of our favorite web tools, StumbleUpon. We like StumbleUpon because, like so many social media tools, it can be good for business. We also like it because it’s a darn fun way to find new websites related to your interests.

When you join StumbleUpon, you get to pick from a list of items that are of interest to you. We chose Web Development, PHP, and Search, for example. (As well as Science Fiction and Action Movies. But that’s another topic.)

After you pick your interests, StumbleUpon displays related sites that other users have rated highly. Each time you look at a site, you can give it a positive or negative rating. Over time, sites that are consistently ranked highly move up in StumbleUpon’s search results. Sites that are ranked poorly move down.

StumbleUpon enthusiasts argue that the site’s search results are more useful than Google’s because they’re based entirely on user rankings – rankings from real human beings, in other words. Google’s results, in contrast, are based on algorithms that can be “tricked” by unscrupulous or overly aggressive webmasters.

That’s why we recommend that our customers incorporate StumbleUpon into their SEO campaigns. Achieving high rankings in StumbleUpon can be a real coup for your site – and can have a serious impact on your web traffic.

So when you have a minute, stumble over to our office. We’ll help you get StumbleUpon working for you .

We’re excited to be participating in a new campaign, mentioned in the Dayton Daily News yesterday.

It’s called Get Up Montgomery County, and its mission is to improve the health of kids ages 2 to 12. The project involves a variety of media efforts designed to encourage parents to make healthy choices for their children — choices like serving five fruits and vegetables daily, cutting out sugary drinks, limiting TV time, and helping kids get an hour of exercise each day.

We’ll be building the Web site for the campaign, getupmc.org. The site will feature health information for users and list of events people can attend to help them stay fit.

Ryan and I, the head honchos here at Atomic, both have growing kids — and we both know how hard it can be for working parents to make healthy choices for their families. It’s all too easy to stop at McDonald’s on the way home from work — or skip a trip to the park in favor of crashing in front of the TV.

We’re thrilled to be participating in this new program, and thank Public Health Dayton, and the CareSource Foundation for giving us an opportunity to help with this important cause.

In our previous post this month, we talked about usability – the importance of making sure your site is easy to use and navigate.

Just as important as usability is persuade-ability. Designing a persuasive site goes beyond making sure users have the ability to perform certain tasks. It involves creating a site that encourages them to perform those tasks.

Persuasive design expert Andrew Chak, in his oldie-but-a-goodie Submit Now, discusses one of the most important elements of persuasive design – ensuring that your site addresses customers at all phases of the buying cycle. Chak categorizes these folks as either browsers, evaluators, transactors, or customers.

Mega-retailer zappos.com owes its huge success ($1 billion in 2008 sales) in part to how well it addresses these four unique audiences.

  • Zappos makes life easy for browsers by letting them sort shoes using a huge variety of filters – so you can view only wide shoes, for example, or animal print shoes, or Mary Jane-style shoes, or clog-style shoes with 2 ½ inch heels … you get the picture.
  • They help evaluators by providing detailed information about each shoe a customer is considering. You can view a pair a shoes from 8 different angles; find out if you should order your standard size, or a half-size up; review 8 to 12 additional specs about the shoe, such as weight and composition; and read extensive customer reviews (often as many as 60 or 70 per product).
  • They helps transactors by making the buying process simple – and the return process simpler, as Zappo’s loyal customers love to rave about.
  • Finally, Zappos helps customers with services like providing an online catalog of past orders, stretching years back – and sending personalized emails a year after your purchase asking if you’d like to order a fresh pair of the same shoes.

Many elements influence the persuasiveness of your site, but a good place to start is by asking this question: Is my site talking to my four critical customer groups?

Want our opinion? Contact us anytime.

Most people know that including keywords in your website helps improve searchability.

For example, if you sell backyard playsets, you’d want to include terms like swingset, gymset, and playhouse throughout your site – terms that customers might use when Googling your products.

What most people don’t know is that you should include keywords in the structure of your site as well as the text.

Why? Because when Google “reads” your site, it doesn’t start with the text. Instead, it starts the same way you would – with the title of the site, the navigational structure, and the names of the pages. If your keywords aren’t included in those elements, Google won’t understand and classify your site as well as it could. And your search results won’t be as good as they should.

At Atomic, we work with our clients before planning or building their site to decide on the right keywords. We use a four-step process:

  1. Our clients brainstorm several keywords for their site
  2. We research those terms to find out if customers are actually using them in searches – or if they are using alternatives or derivatives of those terms
  3. Together with the client, we pick the best keywords
  4. Finally, we build the site structure around those keywords, embedding them in important elements like the title tags and heading tags.

For clients who are serious about optimizing search, we revisit their keywords regularly, helping them evaluate their effectiveness and pick new ones as needed.

Wondering if you’re using keywords as effectively as you could? Contact us anytime for a free consultation.

Quick quiz: What’s the difference between SEO and SEM? (You know, search engine optimization and search engine marketing.)

Not sure? Join the crowd.

In a nutshell, SEO and SEM are strategies used to help companies create effective websites – websites that attract qualified, prospective customers. Customers who hopefully – to put it bluntly – buy lots and lots of stuff.

The strategies take different forms.

SEO can be thought of as things you do within your website to optimize your organic search rankings. That means increasing the chance that a potential customer will find your site using a search engine like Google. It includes things like:

  • Embedding keywords in your body copy, headings, hyperlinks, and tags
  • Building a navigational structure and page structure that can be easily indexed by search engines
  • Using clean code so that search engines can “understand” your content
  • And, of course, including great content that matters to your customers

SEM can be thought of as things you do outside your website to drive web traffic, and customers, toward it. An SEM campaign might include:

The key thing to know about SEO and SEM is that they work best when they work together, with SEO “pulling” traffic to your site and SEM “pushing” it there.

That’s the point of having a website, after all – to help customers find you, learn about you, and buy your goods or services.

Want to talk with us more about the world of SEO and SEM? Contact us anytime.

Google “Twitter for business,” and you’ll instantly find about a zillion articles on why companies, politicians, and nonprofits around the world are using this tiny tool to talk with their customers. Not to jump on the bandwagon . . . but we agree.  Twitter is indeed an easy-to-use,  low-cost way to create a dialogue with your customers . . . let them know what’s going on with your business . . . and hear their concerns, complaints, and cheers.

If you don’t know what Twitter is by now, here’s the deal. Twitter is a social messaging app that lets you post short, 140-character updates about your life or business. Friends and customers can sign up to “follow” you, and get your updates on their phone or computer.

We wrote recently about how lots of companies don’t get how social media relates to their kind of business. We think that when used strategically, social media, and Twitter particularly, can be a great part of just about any company’s marketing program. For example:

  • A manufacturer could Tweet about new technologies they’re checking out at a tradeshow
  • A publisher could Tweet about new titles hitting the market
  • A retailer could Tweet about items on sale that week
  • A restaurant or bar could Tweet about its daily specials
  • A construction firm could Tweet about cool new projects it’s working on

And Twitter isn’t only being used for marketing and PR. Companies like Comcast and Dell are effectively using Twitter to help with customer service . . . finding another way to connect with users and answer their questions quickly and simply.

Once you start thinking about all the ideas, facts, and tips you could share with your customers daily . . . in snippets of only 140 words . . . the possibilities get really exciting really fast.

Want to follow us on Twitter? Go to http://twitter.com/atomicgroup. Promise we’ll follow you back.

(And of course, if you want to talk with us about using Twitter for your business, don’t hesitate to be in touch.)

Recently, a lot of our customers have been hedging about using social media to promote their business. Many of them have the idea that social media is only for youth-oriented businesses . . . like selling energy drinks to college students. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Traditional companies are using social media like crazy to publicize their business and services. And because it costs so little to use relative to other advertising venues, the ROI can be impressive.

Here are just a few examples we’ve noticed recently:

Youtube – Blendtec, a plain ol’ manufacturer of home and commercial blenders, has been the darling of YouTube for the past few years because of its low-budget, high-impact series of Will It Blend? videos.  Even stodgy medical journals are using YouTube as a venue to publicize their surgical training videos. (We would put a link here, but TRUST US, you don’t want to see this stuff.)

Twitter – Traditional media outlets like NBCNews are using Twitter to push out their headlines quickly and succinctly to their audience. And politicians on both sides of the aisle – folks like Ohio’s John Boehner – are using Twitter to communicate daily with their constituents.

Facebook – Only cutting-edge companies on Facebook? No way. The Washington Post has a Facebook page. The Red Cross does. Here in the Dayton region, the tiny Tipp City Library has a page, and regularly pushes out notes to its fans about library happenings – events like the annual book sale, mystery book club, and storytime for kids.

We think the lesson here is that social media isn’t only for “certain companies.” It’s for finding new ways to interact with your customers . . .  get them information. . . build deeper relationships, and create more meaningful conversations with them.

And that stuff’s good for any business.

Curious about how social media could help your business? Contact us anytime. We’re not here 24/7 . . . but sometimes it feels like it.