Keeping the Passion for Graphic Design

Finally, I get it.

As graphic designers, we chose graphic design because we love aesthetics and visual arts. We love color, line and form. When we were kids in elementary school, many of us lived for two, one-hour art classes a week where we could lose ourselves in the creative process. We loved to push rules aside to create beautiful pictures (so we thought). We dreamed some day of being the next Salvador Dali, or even the next Leonardo (not Dicaprio), though we likely at the time had never heard of them.

Life happens and we make choices. We give up the aspirations of our youth to pursue success, or at least, an ability to feed our stomachs in lieu of feeding our souls. We strive to be successful based on societal norms and definitions, and hope to find a place where our talents can earn a living for ourselves, and if we are lucky enough, our families (if we chose that path). Compromises are made and some of us give up vocational art all together and pursue professional paths like sales, medicine or something even less exciting to pursue a living.

If you are like me, you may have even spent four (ahem, yeah right), years at a university only to discover you have no passion for your chosen field of study. You finish, and instead of pursuing a career congruent with your formal education, your career chooses you, and you find your way back into visual art through graphic design.

With the hope to contribute with my passion, I began my first career job as an entry-level graphic designer for a trade magazine in Santa Ana, California. From there I worked at a consumer lifestyle magazine in Laguna Beach, California, an ad agency in Costa Mesa, a marketing agency in Carlsbad, a web development company in San Clemente, self employed in Palm Coast, Florida and now again at a marketing/production agency in Daytona Beach, Florida. I have now been in the field of marketing and graphic design for… oh man (ugh)… 27 years.

I still enjoy the business, but I have learned a few things:

  1. YOUR design is not important. Good design is.
    • Let your manager, your peer or your subordinate take the glory if it is better, or even on par. “My way or the highway” is for buttheads.
    • If you think your idea is better, let it be known and why. But don’t get so passionate that it comes out as anger.
  2. Always be humble. Don’t let your pride get in the way of your marketing goals.
  3. Design should ALWAYS aim at achieving marketing goals.
    • Don’t be gratuitous with your graphics (even if they are really freakin’ cool).
  4. Feel free to let your visual inspiration direct copy if it works.
    • Copywriters often try to dictate concept without thinking about the graphical implications. This can be a dead end if the graphical goals are too expensive or unachievable.
  5. The simple solution is often the better solution.
    • Overthinking the design often ends in clutter, roadblocks and lost messages. When in doubt, go clean and simple.

It did not take me long to realize that I am not always the best at everything, or anything, I do. I have peaks of inspirations between expansive valleys of “just doing my job”, and that is OK. Learning to see inspiration and passion in others has become as important more important than stroking my own ego. I actually enjoy the success of others more than my own at times. At my best, I can go home and spend time with my family knowing that they are more important to me than my ego at work.

How Content and Design Influences Buying Behavior

Creativity in advertising sparks emotion and motivates a prospect or consumer to react. The content of an advertisement is responsible for informing, persuading, and reminding—ultimately influencing buying behavior. The design is directly responsible for attracting attention. It is important to engage the viewer and peak their interest all the while establishing credibility building desire. Everything from images, graphics, text, and colors contribute to influencing buying behavior.

The three components of a message strategy, verbal, nonverbal, and technical, combine to describe how an idea will be communicated. In the case of the multi-media communication channels (i.e. television, internet), the verbal elements are derived from copy and converted into a script and delivered as a sound byte. When the medium is print, the verbal elements are designed to be read and understood.

The nonverbal elements of a message strategy encompass visuals, such as graphics, and their usage specific to the media. A message strategy developed for radio would not include nonverbal elements. It would, however, include the technical element. Slogans, jingles, contact information, and even disclaimers are considered members of the technical element within a message strategy.

The combination of message strategy elements is intended to engage a buyer and affect their behavior. The message strategy continues the vision identified in the creative strategy to cascade a common message across different media as part of an overall advertising strategy. After all, beauty is in the eye of the responder!

Check out our last blog on 3 steps to master social media analytics.

 

References:
Arens, W., Schaefer, D., & Weigold, M. (2009). Essentials of Contemporary Advertising. McGraw-Hill Irwin, New York.

 

The Ultimate Website Audit Guide – 10 Steps to SEO Success

10 steps to SEO website success. Things change in the SEO world frequently and what works today may not work tomorrow. Take a look at what you can do now to start.

 

When I am doing an audit for a client or even as a favor to a friend there are guidelines I like to follow to help me identify weaknesses, strengths, and potential issues more quickly and efficiently. Honestly, I have almost even begun to like auditing websites thanks to this tried and true method…almost.

 

1) Look For The Redirects

Does a site redirect its duplicate content? For example I would be checking to make sure that all pages on http://customerrave.com redirected to http://www.customerrave.com. If they are not 301 redirected, then I will be looking for the use of a rel=”canonical” tag on those pages. If I find neither of these things – then at least I know what my first suggestion is going to be!

 

2) Check for Page Titles, Meta Tags, H Tags & Alt Tags

During this step I want to make sure that every page is using unique page titles and meta tags…while intelligently making use of all H tags and alt tags. Once again, if this is not being done, it’s another quick and easy fix that can lead to better rankings.

 

3) Check for Broken Links

When auditing a site, checking for broken links is near the top of my priority list. With access to applications and software like Google/Bing Webmaster Tools and SEOMoz checking for broken links is a breeze. After identifying the broken links, I simply fix them…end of story… unless of course there are 1,000’s of broken links. That usually signals much larger issues (that I will cover in step 9).

 

4) Scan for Duplicate Content

While this step is not always practical for large sites with 10,000+ pages, I at least like to start by using different methods to navigate to the same page. For example, in a personalized invitation site I might search by both “occasion” and “product type” to reach the same product. Once there I will check to see if the URL is consistent no matter how the page is reached. There are also numerous tools that can be used to check for duplicate content.

 

5) Examine Link Profile

One of the most important factors of any site audit – the link profile will give you a good picture of what a site is doing right and wrong in the world of online marketing. I usually check the total number of links, number of unique linking domains, distribution of links to the domain, no follow vs. follow links, and the distribution of the various types of links. This step is very time consuming – but it gives me a great picture of where a site may be lacking in terms of inbound links. Tools like OpenSiteExplorer are also great for looking at the authority of each inbound link at other unique characteristics like MozRank and MozTrust.

 

6) Keyword Analysis – Are they realistic?

This is one of the most important steps of any site audit. Some SEO ignorant sites simply choose to target the wrong keywords. You can be optimized from here to the moon and still not see any returns from certain keywords. Most of the time unrealistic keywords are either: too difficult to rank for, or do not have enough search volume to justify the resources spent in optimizing for them.

 

7) Check Site on Different Browsers

This step is much easier when you have access to an analytics platform. Simply pull up site usage statistics by browser to identify which browsers are underperforming. After identifying potential issues, simply view your site in the aforementioned browsers to see where the problems lie. Tools like Browserstack are also helpful for identifying trouble areas.

 

8) Level of Indexation

One of the most overlooked statistics, depth of indexation, can play a significant role in the total amount of traffic. If a page isn’t indexed, you’re simply not going to rank for it. If certain pages are not indexed I try resubmitting sitemaps to Google and Bing Webmaster Tools. If the pages still are not indexed I look at what the problems could be. Are they too deep within the navigation? Perhaps there are duplicate content issues? I try fixing any obvious issues…if none can be found I will suggest to start building off site links to that page, as well as increase internal linking.

 

9) Site Architecture, URL Structure and Internal Navigation/Linking

This is often the most difficult part of any SEO audit to fix. Problems with information architecture and URL structure can require drastic website reorganization which can often affect conversion rates. This is not something to be taken lightly. But if a problem is identified it needs to be fixed. Remember to have a good game plan when implementing these changes, and test as much as possible before making the switch. 301 redirects will most likely be needed – especially when making your URLs friendlier and less dynamic. Make sure you have a good plan in place so that you do not lose any link value your pages may have.

 

10) Usability and the Obvious

These are the things often missed in a website audit. Things like “about us”, “FAQ” and other essential pages can be overlooked; though they often contribute just as much to the bottom line as any other pages on a site. Even things like the checkout page should be examined. I once made a recommendation to initiate a credit card option at checkout (other than only PayPal, which by the way takes most major credit cards) and conversion rates have increased 350% ever since. The main concept here is to take a step back and look at the website objectively as if it is brand new to you. Sometimes people who are too close to a site can miss the obvious…

 

But remember…even the best SEO website audits are useless unless the findings are expressed in a clear and realistic action plan. These 10 steps to SEO website audit success should be performed periodically and not just once a year or less. Things change in the SEO world frequently and what works today may not work tomorrow. Just remember to keep your content fresh and your methods fresher.