Why a CDN Is For Everybody In 2019: Fast Website Performance, Security, and Peace of Mind

Fast Website Performance

What's a CDN? Who Is It For?

CDNs or "Content Delivery Networks" used to be reserved for getting content delivered more quickly to distant regions of the world, often for higher-traffic sites. Today, it is an umbrella term, increasingly used for web and mobile performance acceleration, security, and peace of mind for all websites. You will notice that many of the leading providers distance themselves from the term a bit, calling themselves a "cloud platform" or "cloud network platform", but the term "CDN" persists as the only way to recognizably identify this layer of the internet ecosystem that makes websites faster and more secure.

Why a CDN Is For Everybody: Performance, Security, and Peace of Mind

CloudFlare was one of the most well-known pioneers in pushing CDNs far beyond simple content distribution, including performance enhancements like on-the-fly image compression, security enhancements like a Web Application Firewall (WAF), and peace of mind measures like "Always Online" that serves cached versions of the website in case the web server goes down. Companies like Akamai that used to be CDN-only have been catching up, but at a price tag and lack of agility you'd expect from an older, larger company.

What's Required To Enable a CDN? Why Is It Sometimes A Political Battle With IT?

For many providers, you have to change the name servers of your domain to point to those of the CDN company. Basically, it's a complex DNS maneuver that makes your average IT person unnecessarily nervous. You are handing over your DNS handling to one of these CDN companies, but that's no more risky (perhaps less risky) than using your current DNS registrar. Many IT folks are nervous about the risks of letting go of control of your DNS while completely ignoring the risks of *not* letting go: security, performance, increased risk without the "peace of mind" features, and ultimately business dollars and profit left on the table due to slower site performance. This is similar to the desire to host the website on-premise in the back closet (extremely risky) rather than relying on a 3rd party cloud computing company with more dollars, infrastructure, trained staff, and economies of scale. 

You need to find a way to be a CDN champion, or hire someone who can, to get your IT personnel to budge and let go of their unfounded worries. However, there are providers like Fastly that allow you to gain many of these benefits without changing your name servers, and CloudFlare does indeed allow you to use a CNAME setup (instead of a name server change) although it is only available on the more costly Business and Enterprise plans. Note that your root domain (i.e. https://domain.com) will not be protected – only subdomains can be protected, so you should redirect https://yourdomain.com to https://www.yourdomain.com ("www" is considered a subdomain). Although, unless you really know what needs to be done to protect and properly set up your name servers, it's usually best to use the name servers provided by these CDN companies.

Performance Improvements

Most of the CDN companies offer a variety of options to increase performance. Some examples of performance improvements offered by such CDNs are as follows:

  • On-the-fly image compression
  • Faster page loads through high-tech infrastructure 
  • Page caching and purging
  • Fast DNS lookups
  • GZIP compression, reducing file and page size
  • HTTP/2 Support

Take a look at the performance page on CloudFlare.com or the one on Fastly for more detail. 

Here is a recent benchmark of a site that we put behind a CloudFlare Pro plan with performance enhancements enabled (note that this site was already behind a CDN used by the Pantheon hosting platform, so this is really just measuring the performance enhancements) as tested on the reliable, less-noisy, and less-profit-driven site https://www.webpagetest.org/.

Before Implementing CloudFlare CDN Performance Improvements:

After Implementing CloudFlare CDN Performance Improvements:

High-level results:

  • A 1 second decrease in load time! 
  • 0.7 MB in bandwidth savings
  • Image compression!

On another site with a lot of technical baggage, we were able able to get a 2.5 second performance increase! Just by enabling CloudFlare. Do you know how many developer hours that would have taken?! Here are the results.

Before Implementing CloudFlare CDN:

After Implementing CloudFlare CDN:

High-level results:

  1. A 2.5 second decrease in load time!!
  2. A ~0.7 MB in bandwidth savings.
  3. Transfer compression (compressing everything that the web server sends -- was not working properly so CloudFlare fixed it)
  4. That "D" rating on First Byte is just noise. Also, ignore the incorrect "F" grade on the "Cache static content" on the "after" pic -- this was due to a technicality of the site architecture outside of CloudFlare's control, and static content caching still markedly improved:

The other metrics matter, too, for overall user experience. You may wish to research what they mean in further detail. 

Security

A Web Application Firewall (WAF) is more and more important, especially since you can implement one with such low cost and barrier to entry. I work in this industry, so I see hacking all the time. I see emergency calls, expensive mistakes, data loss, lost revenue due to site downtime, and customer / personally-identifiable information stolen. It's way too easy to pretend it won't happen to you. Take the time to do your best by implementing a WAF in front of your website. Even our favorite hosting companies do not provide this out of the box. You will often see a hosting company advertise "security" but what they are often talking about is that they provide a WAF for their entire hosting infrastructure but not your individual website. It's up to you to provide that, at least in this day and age. 

Another great thing you often get from a CDN is free HTTPS / SSL (yes, you read that right), so that you don't have to pay for and install an SSL certificate to get the https:// before your domain name, which is important both for security and SEO ranking. By signing up for a free CloudFlare plan, for example, you also get free HTTPS / SSL. Everyone on the internet should at least have HTTPS / SSL these days, because it is completely free.
 

Peace of Mind

There are varies "peace of mind" features, where each competitor seems to differ the most. Examples of peace of mind features follow:

  • Website hacking cleanup and first responder service (Sucuri)
  • Blacklist removal (Sucuri)
  • SEO Spam Repair (Sucuri)
  • Scanning for hacks and blacklists (Sucuri)
  • DDoS protection hotline (CloudFlare)
  • Keep a cached version of the website to serve even if the web server goes down (CloudFlare)
  • Distributed networks keeping internet properties available and performant (multiple)
  • Load balancing (multiple)
  • Off-site website backups (Sucuri) -- it's good to keep a redundant off-site backup even if your hosting provider does back-ups as well.

Costs

Platforms like CloudFlare offer a very generous free plan that still gets you a CDN, free HTTPS, and some of the performance improvements. However, its Free plan doesn't offer WAF protection, leaving your site vulnerable to attacks from DDoS strategies, bots, spam, and other vulnerabilities.  At its $20/month Pro plan, you get the WAF but do not receive advanced DDoS mitigation and custom SSL -- to get those features you'll need to shell out $200/mo for the Business plan. That pricing jump for those who require bigger-business-level features can entice folks to choose alternatives like Fastly, Securi, Incapsula, or Stackpath.

Conclusion

It's 2019. Get a CDN. It's free if you don't want to pay for it. If you don't have one, you're behind, at risk, and losing money from a simple performance enhancement that requires zero developer time to implement. 

Optimizing Forms: Make Them a Great Conversation

Forms

It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and you’re having a nice walk in the park. A stranger approaches you, and he asks if you want a $10 gift card. Already skeptical, he pulls out a lengthy form and states that all you need to do is provide your date of birth, phone number, email, and fill out a survey in order to get the gift card. It’s crazy! Although a free gift card is tempting, he hasn’t done anything to make you trust him with sensitive information and, frankly, it isn’t worth the effort to fill out a lengthy form. You’re not going to risk providing all of that personal information for a mere $10. You wouldn’t do this in person, so why would you do it online? Although it seems crazy, I see companies do the same thing on their websites all the time. Often, forms are the first point of conversation with your customers, so you need to make sure they leave a great first impression on your prospects and you earn their trust before asking for sensitive information.

[Forms are one of the most important elements of functional web design. Our Basics of Web Design guide can help put this point in perspective.]

The first thing to keep in mind when designing forms is to ensure that they are not visually overwhelming. You should only ask your users for the information that is absolutely necessary because you want to make sure there aren’t too many fields in the form. If you need extra information for marketing, you should try to find it out in a different way, especially if this is the prospect’s first point of contact with your business. If the nature of your business requires you to have a lot of fields in the form, you can test splitting up the form into multiple steps, so that there aren’t too many fields on one page. Another advantage to the multi-step approach is that user information can be saved in sections as prospects fill out the form even if they don’t complete it. Also, you should group related information within the form together. By grouping related information together, visitors can make sense of the information being asked of them, it allows for scanning, and it makes the form less overwhelming. In addition, you can use whitespace to your advantage. Whitespace can reduce clutter and be used for grouping and increasing readability. Furthermore, you should leave personal details for later. You shouldn’t ask for things like birthdays, payment details, and phone numbers right out of the gate. Finally, you should always test multiple form structures to see what works best. Depending on your business, one-step or multi-step could be better.

Another part of your forms that you need to take a close look at are your field labels. They should be clear and unambiguous. Also, you should clearly indicate if all the fields are required. If some of the fields are optional, you should mark the optional fields or indicate the required fields with an asterisk. If the data you are asking for is complex or sensitive, you should include help text. There are a few ways you can consider displaying the help text. It can always be visible next to your fields, it can be revealed when clicking an "i" next to a field, or it can be displayed dynamically. However, you should avoid in-field labels for a few reasons. In-field labels strain users short-term memory, keep users from checking their work once they complete the form, annoy those who navigate with the keyboard because text disappears, and occasionally, users have to manually delete the placeholder text. For those reasons, you should stay away from using in-field labels.

You also want to ensure that you have a clear call to action on your forms. Your call to action should be clear and distinguished from the rest of the form. Thus, you should remove all distractions. Your call to action should look like a button or, at the very least, it should be obvious that it is clickable. You should also include text on the button that clearly indicates what happens when users click it, like "Pay Securely" or "Apply Now." Additionally, if you have a secondary call to action, the primary call to action should be larger and a different color than the secondary option. Another way you can use call to action buttons is by greying out the button until all of the required fields are completed. If you are using a multi-step form, you can consider including a progress bar at the top of the form. The progress bar provides transparency to users on how long the form is, gives them a clear sense of direction, and also motivates users to complete the form.

When dealing with user errors in forms, you should do everything you can to prevent errors from happening in the first place. You can use help text to tell users how forms should be filled out to prevent most errors. However, some errors are inevitable, and you should display your error messages in an optimal fashion. Your error messages should be helpful, informative, and clear. They should be rendered in language that you would use when speaking with a person, so you should avoid using jargon or technical speak. You should also ensure that they stand out against the form fields. It’s best that you display them in-line with the fields. If you display them at the top of the page, it will require users to scroll up and down which may generate unnecessary frustration with the form. It’s also usually best to display errors as users fill out the form. If you wait until form submission to display errors, this can be overwhelming, make the errors seem more serious than they actually are, and users may not know which fields the errors apply to. However, if you display the errors as users fill out the form, you can clearly mark which field the error applies too, prevent build-up of multiple errors, and display them in a clean format. You can also use positive reinforcement and display a checkmark next to the field when a user fills it out successfully. This will yield a more enjoyable experience than using negative reinforcement. When instituting field validation, it’s best to start with lenient rules and then make the rules stricter as you learn more from testing how your prospects fill out the form.

Another important part of your forms to optimize for is accessibility. Inaccessible sites lose tons of money, so you should ensure that your forms are accessible. Thus, you should make sure you use readable fonts and make sure your labels, help texts and input boxes are large enough on all types of screens. Also, you should not replace help text with icons. Finally, you should avoid captchas. If you need to verify humanity, you can use email verification.

You may have noticed a trend with these tips for form optimization. It’s important to continuously test all parts of your forms to ensure you have the best form design for your business and target customers. This may seem like a lot for a seemingly small part of your business, but it’s necessary. If you understand the value in form optimization but need some help to ensure the work gets done, send us a note. We’re happy to help!

An Optimizer's Guide to Life: A Mindset that Transcends Digital Marketing

Mindset

We all have those days. You wake up, go through your morning ritual, go to work, and do the typical tasks of the day. It’s almost the same thing you did yesterday, and you have a constant feeling of déjà vu. It feels like you’re going through the day on autopilot, and the monotony is killing you. You may feel like making some big changes in your life, but you also might have been burned by taking risks in the past. Because change is scary, you keep going through the motions even though things are just alright the way they are, but not really great. However, you don’t have to live your life that way. By continuously making small changes in your daily habits, you can slowly attain the lifestyle you have always wanted without taking huge risks. We follow the same approach with our clients, but this is a mindset that transcends digital marketing.

Let’s flashback to when you were first figuring out your career path. When you were in college or even high school, people would ask you what you wanted to do when you graduated. More than likely, you had an answer because it was expected that you have a plan for what you wanted to do with your life. However, once you had an internship or started studying what you envisioned doing, you might have changed your mind. It was not enough to visualize yourself in a certain job or listen to what people told you about a career choice. You had to try it out for yourself in order to see if it was a good fit for you. Maybe it was exactly what you thought, or it might have been completely different than your expectations. Nonetheless, you had to test out different jobs until you found the right one. 

Think about the last time you decided to eat healthier. Rather than making small changes to your regular eating habits, like slowly cutting out a few unhealthy items here and there, you may have been sold on the latest and greatest life-changing diet. You probably dreaded the days leading up to the time when you started it, and while you were eating "healthy," you probably hated your life and counted the days until you were finished. That is, if you even had the dedication to see it through the end. When you completed your diet, you probably thought you deserved a special treat and slipped into your old habits again. Drastic changes sound great in theory, and it’s one of the reasons quick weight loss plans and self-proclaimed miracle drinks sound so appealing. However, a much more feasible and effective process for reaching healthy eating habits is to introduce small changes over time. 

We can apply the same logic to exercising. If you never worked out and decided to run a marathon tomorrow, the results would not be pleasant. The odds of you completing the race would be slim, and even worse, it would discourage you from wanting to work out in the future. Conversely, if you set a goal to run for a few minutes this week and a few minutes longer next week, or even tested different exercises to see what you enjoyed doing, you would slowly make gains and get into better shape.

The optimizer mindset can be applied to finding and getting good at a new hobby as well. In order to find the activities you love doing, you have to try lots of different things. Some people are musically talented, other people are gifted athletes, and some people are both. If the only hobby you ever tried was playing the guitar, your true passion could be playing baseball, but you would never know that if you only took guitar lessons. The fact of the matter is that you don’t know what you enjoy until you test it. Then, once you do find the hobbies you enjoy, you might want to get better at them. You’ll do that by testing small changes to your technique and see what helps you improve.  Everyone is unique, so you have to constantly test your approach in order to keep your craft in top shape. 

There’s a good chance that you already apply this mindset when managing people at work, but you may not think of it in the same way. If you are a good manager, then you are constantly looking for ways to maximize the performance and efficiency of your employees. When someone new starts, you might test different techniques for managing that person because no two employees are the same. You will test different management strategies and give them different projects to find what they’re good at. Once you establish a standard management style and deliverables, employees will have expectations for the job. If you drastically changed expectations overnight without giving your employees time to adjust, they would not be very happy. You would be disappointed with their performance and may have to fire some of them. Even worse, if the change was too disruptive, you may have to rebuild the entire department.

There are countless ways that you can apply the optimizer mindset to your daily life. The primary thing to remember is that you can reduce the risk associated with lifestyle changes when you introduce change in small increments. Quick, drastic changes are idealistic, but they are very risky. Big changes are possible, but they take time.  

As you may know, the digital marketing landscape has changed. We have numerous tools that enable us to apply an agile approach to digital marketing. With today’s technology, we can test small changes and measure small improvements to our websites and marketing campaigns. We no longer have to undergo complete redesigns of our websites to increase conversions and risk being burned by a drastic, expensive process. If this is all unfamiliar to you and seems a bit overwhelming, that’s ok. We can help make incremental improvements at your organization. Simply fill out our contact form, and we can help bring your organization into the future.

Content Overload: It's necessary to articulate value quickly and efficiently

Content is everywhere!

I want you to take a second to imagine how much content you see in a day. From your mobile phone, to your laptop, to the TV at your favorite coffee shop, information is everywhere. The sheer amount of content that is available to us is overwhelming, and we do our best to ignore most of it. Occasionally something does catch your eye, but even then, it’s rare for you to read or watch it in its entirety. Think about it, even when you see a post in your news feed, you may like it or share it without reading it all the way through. Thus, when it comes to your website and ad campaigns, it’s more critical than ever to convey value quickly and efficiently. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can start thinking about today to earn and keep the attention of those who express interest in your business.

First, make sure your website looks professional. This one goes without saying, but it’s important that you don’t lose credibility right off the bat. According to a study conducted by Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ottawa, websites make an impression on users within the first 50 milliseconds of viewing. Thus, on any page that traffic is directed to, users’ first impression of your website, you need to make sure it looks great. You do not need to try and win any visual design awards, but people will not want to buy from you if your site does not look professional.

[For more information on how to create a functional and efficient website, please visit our Basics of Web Design guide.]

Furthermore, you need to make sure your messaging is clear and concise. People have plenty of options, so they are not going to take too much time to figure out what you’re offering them. Your value proposition needs to be displayed front and center on your landing page and it needs to explain what your business can do for them, why they should care, and why you’re better than your competitors. If you don’t answer those three key questions, they may leave your site and purchase from a competitor. If you are unsure if your message is clear enough, you can try the "5 second test." Show a stranger your landing page for 5 seconds, then close the window. Immediately after that, ask them what kind of value they think your business provides. If they can’t articulate what you do, then your value proposition, or the way it is displayed on your landing page, needs some work. It’s also important to be as specific as possible. If your landing page content is highly specific, it will be easier to create highly targeted advertisements.

When it comes to advertising, you need to make sure you create and maintain "scent" in your campaigns. This means that you have to ensure your pre-click advertising and post-click messaging have a similar appearance and feel. You can maintain strong "ad scent" by following a few key rules. First, you should confirm that the landing page is relevant to the ad they clicked on by matching your ad copy to your landing page copy. For example, if you are promoting new features from your latest product update, make sure those features are displayed on the landing page they are directed to. The last thing you want to do is send them to a page that is unrelated to the thing that first caught their eye. This doesn’t mean that you have to create an additional landing page for each ad. You can use dynamic copy instead. Second, the design of the ad in your advertisement should match the design of your landing page, and it’s even more powerful if you can use the same images from the ad on your landing page. Finally, the ad message should be the centerpiece of the landing page content because you want to give visitors confirmation that they’re in the right place.

If you need help cultivating your value proposition, don’t have the time to maintain consistency in your campaigns, or have any questions whatsoever on your digital marketing, feel free to contact us. We’re here to help!

Digital Marketing Brain: Your website may be losing people’s attention

Digital Marketing Brain

Think about it: some guy named Joe lands on your website from an ad campaign that both interests him and aligns with his awareness, and 5 seconds later he’s gone. He was looking for a product just like the one you sell, so why would Joe leave your website so quickly? You have a beautiful website that you poured a ton of money into, highly valuable products, he clicked through an ad that interested him, costing you $5 or even $50…and now he’s gone. What percentage of your web traffic is made up of “Joes”? And if you’re paying that much for your traffic, what can you do about the Joes of the world?

Next, Jane comes by through the same channel, with the same level of awareness and interest…and she spends 60 seconds browsing around. She even visits your “contact page”, because she briefly contemplated reaching out to you. She’s looking for a company like you, and she has some questions…but you never hear from her. Why didn’t Jane contact you?

What happened in each of these scenarios? Joe and Jane both made largely subconscious choices about how to spend their time –– their brains decided what to do, and for the majority of the decision their brains were on autopilot. So, how do brains make choices on websites?

Another name for a “choice” a user makes on the web is a “conversion”, and the verb form of that is “to convert.” So, how could we do a better job of getting Joe and Jane to convert? The formula below gives us some insight.

C = 4m + 3v + 2(i-f) - 2a ©

where:
C = Probability of conversion
m = Motivation of the user
v = Clarity of the value proposition (“What’s in it for me?”)
I = Incentive to take action
f = Friction that prevents taking action
a = Anxiety present in taking action

This is a copyrighted formula from MECLABS, an independent research facility that focuses on how people make choices, that is widely used to describe how people “convert” or choose to take action. You can see that user motivation is the largest factor here – it’s the motivation that brought the user to your website in the first place. However, you can’t change a user’s motivation — all you can do is optimize the copy, visual messaging, experience, and design so that it is speaking to and aligned with with the user’s motivation in the best possible way, which, according to this formula, is the most important thing to get right.

The second most important factor is the clarity of the value proposition. It’s a difficult yet highly essential thing to get right. Think of the value proposition on your website’s homepage for example. Do you have one? Is it clear and front-and-center? It’s the text that, from the perspective of the user, answers “what’s in it for me, and why should I care?” Not only that, but it answers the question, “why should I choose you over an alternative?”

The third most important factors are incentive, friction, and anxiety. Incentives are little things push the user towards action, like “free shipping” or “discounts” or “get this item gift wrapped.” Friction is anything that psychologically or physically impacts a user’s ability to act. Examples include a bad or difficult checkout experience, long forms, forcing the user to create an account during an eCommerce checkout experience, website bugs or a bad user experience, copy that is confusing or unclear, and the like. Finally, there’s anxiety. There will always be perceived risks, costs, and benefits running through a user’s head before they complete an action, such as “Why do you need my phone number if I’m just downloading a product?” or “What happens after I give you my credit card?” or “If I fill out this contact form will I get hounded by a sales rep or will I get to talk directly to someone who has the expertise I’m looking for?”

So, we have a formula, but how do we actually do the work of optimizing conversions? Find a brief overview at our Digital Impact Optimization page.

Conversion Rate Optimization Case Study: Iron Plane

CRO Case Study

This client came to us for a one-month trial of our DIO services.

Within one month, we increased visits to the "book a consultation" page -- the main way they capture leads -- by 619%, and decreased the homepage bounce rate by 20%!  

Now, the analysis. This is what their homepage used to look like:

Screenshot 2018-03-08 14.35.57.png

Our notes, scanning down the page:

  • Phone and email links were not clickable. 
  • Click to book an appointment...with who? Once we arrived at that page, there was no indication who you were booking with and what would happen when you booked. 
  • No About page in the main menu, yet heatmaps showed very high clicking level on the About page link in the footer.
    • Don't hide the information that users want, and don't hide who you are.
  • What is "MAGEBUTTON" in the main nav? 
  • Why are their partners more important than their portfolio? 
  • Full Service Magento eCommerce Agency + "MAGENTO SPEED OPTIMIZATION" is not a very distinguished and clear value proposition. 
    • The value proposition should answer, "Who are you, what do you do, and why should I contact you versus another Magento agency?" 
  • The "MAGENTO SPEED OPTIMIZATION" text is part of a rotating banner-like design. Research shows that this is ineffective and harms conversions – see http://shouldiuseacarousel.com/
  • "View our Services" is not a unique or principle call to action here. I need more "proof" about who you are as a company and what you've done before I view your services, especially since it's already pretty clear that you do Magento. 
  • No visual cue indicating to the user that they can scroll down for more information. Heatmaps showed a lack of scrolling activity.
  • No "social proof" i.e. logos or certification badges about who they are and why they would be someone good to reach out to.

Our revision:

This is what our revision to the homepage looked like, wherein we sent 50% of the website traffic to our version and 50% to the old version.

Screenshot 2018-03-08 14.28.31.png

Note that this could definitely be reworked to be a bit more visually-appealing, but that's not the point. The point is to learn, put hard numbers behind the changes we made, and then worry about visual appeal. We have best practices we follow, but sometimes they are wrong – that's one reason why we do these A/B tests. 

Here's what we did: 

  • Adjusted what we saw in our analysis above.
  • Made the hero area shorter so users would get a visual cue to scroll down the page. 
  • Added important "social proof" in the form of logos and certification badges to the hero area.
    • Normally we wouldn't clutter the hero area, but they were throwing $5,000 per month of ad traffic at the homepage, and this was an emergency that we had to turn around ASAP, and had to help the client understand how they were needlessly throwing away money down the drain.
  • Add the About page to the main nav.
  • Added more human content ("who are you?") to the About page; a form of social proof.
  • Reworked the value proposition to be more compelling and differentiating, focusing on their high level of certification (another form of social proof).
  • Changed the main CTA in the hero area to lend a greater impact the business, with more compelling copy than "view our services."
  • (Not pictured) got rid of unnecessary and unprofessional-looking content on homepage.
  • (Not pictured) Beefed up portfolio page to show images of projects rather than icons.

Results:

  • 619% increase in visits to the "Book an appointment with our CEO" page.
  • 20% increase in visits to their portfolio and case studies.
  • 20% reduction in bounce rate to the homepage.

Screenshot 2018-03-08 14.31.19.png
Screenshot 2018-03-08 14.31.26.png

     

     

    Website analysis series: Site #1: A car dealership site

    Digital Marketing Website Analysis Conversion Rate Optimization

    In this website analysis I take a look at a used car dealership site, using tools such as an artificial intelligence heatmap and gaze plot, shown below. I'm looking at value proposition, the five second test, navigation, usage of image carousels, and social proof -- all concepts that drive revenues and are in general critical pieces to plugging digital marketing funnel leaks.

     


     

    14f6ae90-8dd7-4a0e-ada1-1c4ad905160c_heatmap.png
    14f6ae90-8dd7-4a0e-ada1-1c4ad905160c_gazeplot.png

     

     

    Lean Thinking Applied to Digital Marketing Agencies: Article #2

    Lean Thinking

    This is a continuation from a previous article

    The principle of flow indicates eliminating specialized departments and batches of work done therein. In the context of a digital agency, that might be SEO, SEM, CRO, design, and UX teams who don't work together as a unified "department" or team. Creating SEO-friendly designs is definitely an important concept. Creating PPC SEM campaigns that convert (CRO) is important as well. So, any silos of specialization can actually impede flow and thus attainment of lean operations at a digital agency.

    Another flow concept is ignoring the boundaries between companies, departments, and individual roles in order to remove all impediments to the continuous flow of the specific product or service. In the digital agency context, this can equate with putting a client's copywriting team into your project management portal, Slack channel, and other team-integrating tools so that you can do your conversion rate optimization (CRO) work without going through another party to get access to them and Get Work Done. 

    Pull is a principle that surrounding the delivery of what the customer wants, when they want it. This translates into right-sizing our tools and processes so we don't need to produce massive websites, overly-complex solutions, or bloated CRO work for those who do not need it at this time. Of course, as a client grows, we want to grow with them. But, we want to respect the journey and be able to deliver right-sized solutions along the way, from the very inception of the relationship.

    Lastly, we have perfection as perhaps the ultimate principle. It is akin to the concept of "optimization", which we value highly at Origin Eight. In lean thinking, the improvement process never ends – you must always strive to offer a better product through continuous incremental improvement or "kaizen", while at the same time reducing waste. In order to maximize efficacy of kaizen, we must have transparency across the entire value stream (from the client to an agency's internal team) to discover opportunities for improvement. In a sense, "transparency" equates to "data", which we require for any type of CRO or optimization work we do – "best practices" and "big ideas" are not enough in an ecosystem with readily-available data and analytics.

    As a data-driven agency doing optimization work, we aim to practice what we preach, as it will only make us better. The last concept from perfection is that settling for merely being better than one's current competition will not suffice in the long-run – eventually someone will come along and beat us. Perfection may not exist, but optimization is the closest we can get, and we believe it's what's going to continue driving us for years to come.

     

    Lean Thinking Applied to Digital Marketing Agencies: Article #1

    Lean Thinking Applied to Digital Marketing Agencies: Article #1

    The core idea behind lean thinking is maximizing customer value while minimizing waste, or creating more value for customers with fewer resources. It comes from the manufacturing industry in the early 20th century, stemming from Toyota's innovations (who borrowed from Ford's first attempts), but is now applied to many industries worldwide. Check out lean.org for more information.  

    The key starting point here is value. In the context of digital marketing, what does "value" mean to each customer? It varies greatly. To extend this metaphor, the digital agency is the "producer", and the client is the "consumer." As an agency focused on lean thinking, the first step with any new prospect or customer is a conscious attempt at precisely defining value in terms of specific products or services with specific capabilities offered at specific pricing structures, stemming from specific conversations with individuals. 

    Producers tend to continue producing what they are already making, and consumers tend to ask for products they are already getting. Consumers understand "SEO", and know that's a good thing, but it's only a small part of the digital marketing ecosystem. What happens if that SEO traffic lands on a website that is not optimized for conversions, i.e. a website that is optimized to convert visitors into customers, or, more generally, to take any valuable action on the website? If the website is not optimized, or, even worse, if it simply is not built or designed to play a valuable role in the organization's sales process, all the SEO traffic in the world is not going to bring value. Thus, we as digital marketing agencies must precisely define value for each client as a first step in becoming lean.

    Another lean concept is waste reduction. One area of waste that we see are agencies that offer a small slice of the digital marketing pie, such as "SEO", or "web design" without full-picture services. Each agency may eliminate waste internally as part of their process, but that does not mean they are eliminating waste for the client. We've seen clients with ten different vendors all doing a small slice of the digital marketing, and nobody is able to get anything done or have vision and guidance over the entire picture, because there is no thought leader, no process leader, no lead waste minimizer and advocate for the client. We've arrived at new clients who have just fired all vendors, and the entire marketing team, and just started over. 

    We've also worked with clients as the sole web and digital marketing agency who have a relationship with another highly-specialized agency, say in SEO, who have created waste by interfering with the web design and development process, even offering to own part of the process. When ownership of something as complex as a website redesign is split into multiple parties, waste abounds. A thorough content strategy, user experience design, information architecture and design, among other strategic phases, really should be owned by a single agency, otherwise fragmentation and waste are almost always introduced into the equation. 

    To be continued. Lean concepts of "flow", "pull" and "perfection" will be covered in a future article.

    "Optimizing Drupal for Digital Marketing" talk at Twin Cities Drupal Camp

    Seth at Drupal Camp Twin Cities

    Digital Impact Optimization™ is all about getting users to act – whether it's getting them to your website via search or paid advertising in the first place, or, once they arrive, getting them to take desired, valuable actions and follow important journeys on your website, such as filling out the "contact us" form, purchasing a product, and the like. 

    I spoke about this concept at Twin Cities Drupal Camp 2017. The camp took place during Twin Cities Pride, so we popped a little champagne to celebrate. The slides and video recording are embedded below:

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