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Evolve or Die: How Purpose and Authenticity are the Future of Brands

By | Building Community, Mack's Musings, Social Media, Uncategorized, Web Marketing | No Comments

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-5-09-08-pmThis year, Mack had the honor of presenting Evolve or Die: How Purpose and Authenticity are the Future of Brands all over the world— from Boston, Massachusetts to Vancouver, Canada; from Dublin, Ireland to Raleigh, North Carolina. What follows are the highlights of her talk that explores how companies need to evolve their marketing and what’s required to build a successful and durable brand in the digital age.


Imagine your company is competing in a fairly saturated and competitive industry like fast food. You’ve been around for a little while but you’re really just getting started. You have something new and different and you’re ready to take the world by storm.

Taking on the world

Now imagine that you’re up against companies like McDonald’s who spent $800 million on their advertising in 2013. Or Panera Bread who spent $55 million on their marketing efforts in that same year.

Imagine this is your competition and these are their marketing budgets. What would your marketing strategy be? How would your company contend?

How would your company compete?

Chipotle did. In 2013 they spent a fraction of what their competitors did — less than $10 million — on their advertising and marketing efforts and they had a much greater impact because they were doing things like this:

  • Creating videos like the Scarecrow that takes a stand and challenges how the fast food industry typically operates and sources its food.
  • Holding free festivals like Cultivate where people celebrate good food and music and connect with each other.
  • Sponsoring a “Food for Thought” column on the Huffington Post that is dedicated to creating awareness about how food is grown and the effects this system has on our world.
  • Investing in better ways of working that gives their employees more authority and empowers them to be better leaders.

All of these things that Chipotle has been doing aren’t just marketing campaigns. This is what they believe in as a company and this is authentically how they operate.

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And that is what has contributed to their durability and growth over the last decade.  From 2006 to 2015, Chipotle has grown revenue from $820 million to more than $4.5 billion.

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So how did Chipotle’s approach bring this much growth? And how can you learn from it to grow your business in the digital age?

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There’s no doubt that if you want to compete in the digital age, you must have a stellar product or service, and you have to provide a cross-channel experience that is unparalleled.

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Ultimately, these things must be baked into your DNA; this is the new status quo.

But competing today—for time, attention, and market share— is not about how much money you spend on your marketing.

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If you want to stand out from all the noise, you have to build from purpose and authenticity.

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And here’s why:

More than 63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over the competition.
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In that same Cohn & Wolfe study, the #1 behavior that people expect of brands is the fact that they communicate openly and honestly about their products and services. They don’t let their customers down, and that they act with integrity at all times. Because people want to relate to you, they want trust you and know you’re going to do what you say.

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Additionally, a BBMG study shows that when people are trying to figure out who to buy from, 73% of people care about the company, not just the product when they’re making purchasing decisions.

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And when people care about your company, they tell their friends. And word of mouth is responsible for more than 50% of all purchasing decisions.

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The fact of the matter is, in this face-paced, digital world, if you want to earn and keep your customers, build a community of advocates who will support you and tell their friends about you, your approach to marketing must shift. It’s not just about how your company is packaged, it’s about who your company is.

If your company wants to experience growth in the digital age, your company, and your marketing, needs 3 very important things: 

  1. You need to clarify your purpose that so that you can effectively position around it and communicate it to your customers.
  2. You need to better understand your people so that you can remove their roadblocks.
  3. You need to use strategy and action to prove you’re worth your customers’ time and attention; showing them you are willing to keep your promise to them.

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Chances are, your company or the company you work for is in business because you want to make some money. You want to grow. So how will building an authentic brand help you do that?

Because authentic brands are built from purpose, and purpose is the key to their growth.

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Our world is changing so quickly, and that has changed how quickly businesses must react and it has also changed consumer behavior.

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Consumers know they have the upper hand. They know they have a choice. So the bar has been set a lot higher for companies. Consumers expect businesses to play a larger role in changing society.

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Not only that, but as far as employees go, people want meaning in their work and they want to work for better companies.

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Purpose is something that can help companies hurdle each of these challenges. It also helps them stay relevant in their customer’s lives.

In a Harvard Business Review study they found that companies with purpose make more money and have more involved employees, all because they’re operating from purpose.

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Purpose drives your products and services, the people you hire, your culture, and your marketing. Most importantly, it gives focus that drives the whole business. Once you have purpose and focus, you can develop a much more effective and powerful marketing strategy that will connect with the right customers. When you’re talking to the right people and removing their roadblocks, those customers want to become part of your community, tell their friends, and drive your growth.

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The first step in building an authentic brand is positioning your company around that purpose. One of the ways we do this is by using an exercise from Ogilvy & Mather’s called the Big Ideal.

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It can take some time to figure out your big ideal (we’ll use Dove as an example from Arielle Jackson’s work on First Round), but essentially it works like this: combine two things: your cultural tension—which is the problem in the world that you’re looking to address:

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with your brand’s best self—what your company actually does when you are at your best:

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Dove’s big ideal is that the world would be a better place if women were allowed to feel good about their bodies. This purpose drives the focus for everything they do. Their job is not just to sell soap; it’s to create products that help women feel good about their bodies.

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This purpose and focus then comes out loud and proud in everything they do in their marketing strategy. Dove has been running the real beauty campaign for over a decade now and it’s still resonating and relevant because it’s coming from their purpose.

And from 2004 to 2014, Dove saw a $1.5 billion dollar jump in sales as a result of focusing on purpose to drive their business.

Because Dove’s purpose is so clear, it’s easy for them to resonate with the people who align with it. This isn’t a marketing ploy. They eat, live, and breathe this throughout their organization. Just like Chipotle does.

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Often times companies will disregard an authentic, purpose-driven approach to building their company and brand because they think it is only applicable to environmentally or socially responsible companies like Patagonia or Tom’s Shoes.

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A purpose-driven approach is not a social cause thing. It’s not a non-profit thing. It’s not a B2B or a B2C thing. It’s a people connecting with people thing. It’s focusing on the right things that will help you build a company that people care about, want to work for, and do business with. That’s what brings growth in the digital age.

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When you’re building an authentic brand, how do people fit into the equation? Every day it seems that there’s some new marketing tactic to try; a new piece of technology that will magically help you earn customers faster. But technology will not earn customers. Having a great product, building a great company, being authentic, and doing the work to find and connect with your people will.

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The biggest thing to remember about growth and building a community is that you’re not looking for everyone. You’re looking for the right people who connect with your purpose. And this takes time because you’re not just looking for numbers. You’re building a community of customers who will become loyal advocates who want to tell their friends.

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If you want to build your community and make a connection with your customers, your job is not to focus solely on selling your product. Your job is to figure out how to bridge the gap between the purpose of your company and the people who want to be a part of it. Let’s look at an example.

Traveling Vineyard

We have worked for a company called Traveling Vineyard for the past three years. They’re a direct sales company. They have several thousand people, or Wine Guides as they call them, who are mostly women, who sell wine for them.

before-purpose

Before we met Traveling Vineyard, that’s exactly what they were doing. Selling wine. And they were struggling to connect with their people.

We worked with Traveling Vineyard to discover they actually don’t exist to sell wine. Their purpose is to change lives by providing fulfilling (and flexible) work. This purpose has been driving the growth of their business. One by one, we have been looking for the people and organizations who align with this purpose and who are a match for their community and customer base. Clarifying, operating, and marketing from their purpose has helped them build a deeper connection with their customers and has brought a tremendous amount of growth to their company.

In the very beginning of our work with Traveling Vineyard, we began by identifying an audience that appeared to be 3 different types of moms: a stay-at-home-mom who loves her family but could use a little extra income without a lot of commitment. An empty-nester who’s looking for something new to consume her life now that her kids are gone. And an achiever; someone who is tired of just being a mom and wants something that’s just for her.

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But when we were building their persona, we didn’t just stop here by identifying these stereotypes.

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We wanted to make sure we were talking to the right people, so we took the step of matching these persona to real, actual people.

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Once we mapped the characteristics of the stereotypes to REAL people in their community, we honored them as ambassadors. This allowed us to build better relationships with their existing community and leverage that community to find more people outside of their community who are like them.

connect-by-identifying-challenges-and-goals

One of the first steps we take when we’re building these relationships is to create a Customer Journey Map (adapted from an exercise from Adaptive Path) that helps us understand these women’s desires, roadblocks, and fears that keep them from converting to wine guides.

We then deconstruct this journey by starting with one persona or audience segment. Like Kirby, who represents nearly 60% of their customer base.

persona-segment
Through many surveys, group meetings, and 1:1 interviews, we’ve identified Kirby’s biggest challenges and goals.
biggest-challenges

goals

Once we knew Kirby’s greatest challenge and most important goals, we could break down what she is thinking, feeling, and doing at each stage in her journey in the lifecycle of becoming a Wine Guide for Traveling Vineyard.

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When we analyze what customers like Kirby are thinking, we look at the common questions that are holding them back. Stuff like: Is the company legit? Will I make money doing this? Do I have to be a wine expert?

Then we move onto how they may be feeling in each stage of their journey. These are the emotions that they are having that could also pose potential roadblocks like if they’re nervous about trusting the company, anxious to tell their friends they may do this, or even just excited to get started.

And then lastly, in the doing stage, we analyze their actions; the actions that the potential wine guides may take before they convert. Things like investigating other companies, talking to their friends and family, and watching videos or reading content on the website.

And even though Kirby won’t be thinking/feeling/and doing these things in a linear fashion, deconstructing her customer journey this way helps us understand what her overall experience must be likecustomer-journey

Now once we understood all of these things about Kirby, we can address all of her thoughts/concerns/fears/challenges through a content strategy that helps reach goals for the company.

content-strategy-to-remove-roadblocks

Let’s say we’re breaking down the CONSIDER phase in the funnel and identify roadblocks for potential Wine Guides who have been comparing Traveling Vineyard with other direct selling job opportunities.

So for example, let’s say we wanted to address Kirby’s fear of whether Traveling Vineyard is a legitimate company:

thinking-stage

We created some content around the concern of pyramid schemes and how Traveling Vineyard isn’t one.

model-example

We asked their existing Wine Guides (who Kirby can relate to) in order to help us create content so that they could tell potential Wine Guides about how Traveling Vineyard’s business model actually works and isn’t a scam.

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We even asked direct selling experts to provide an unbiased view on direct selling to address this roadblock.

expert-insight

Then we built content to address Kirby’s ‘feeling’ behaviors; being unsure that this job will add stress to her family:

feeling-roadblock

We interviewed Jonelle, an existing Wine Guide who someone like Kirby would resonate with, to talk about what a day in the life is like with Traveling Vineyard and how she balances it all.

day-in-the-life

In this video, Jonelle shows talks about her schedule and how she fits Traveling Vineyard into her family routine. Again, more real people (and user generated content) from the Traveling Vineyard community addressing these common roadblocks.

day-in-the-life-schedule

Finally, we addressed Kirby’s ‘doing’ behaviors — the actions that someone like Kirby might want to take in order to become a Wine Guide.

doing-behaviors

Each week, Traveling Vineyard provides a webinar which is an opportunity for potential Wine Guides like Kirby to better understand the business. It’s also a chance to ask questions about what it’s really like to work for Traveling Vineyard and learn that it is in fact possible to be a Wine Guide and keep your family in tact. 

weekly-webinar

Doing this work to understand Kirby (and the other persona segments) and give her what she needs throughout her customer journey with Traveling Vineyard has helped to increase lead form submissions (one of Traveling Vineyard’s key performance indicators) by more than 298%. This growth has contributed to a more than 40% revenue growth in the company (year-over-year).

growth

Clarifying your purpose, understanding your people, and removing roadblocks brings sustainable growth. This is an iterative cycle of getting to know your people, understanding them, figuring out what they need, and helping them solve their challenges.

people-purpose-growth

This doesn’t require any of your content to “go viral.” This is simply a slow build of trust that has brought tremendous growth to the company.

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Over the last year, Chipotle has been having a rough go of it. And for a brand that is supposed to be synonymous with “FOOD WITH INTEGRITY” being associated with words like Norovirus, E.coli, and Salmonella is pretty bad news. Even worse, when people are talking on social media about puking and pooping and going to the hospital because they’ve eaten your food, it is not so good for business.

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But in true authentic style, Chipotle has spent the last year reacting to this stuff from authenticity and purpose. So they’ve not only been telling their customers that they’ve blown it, but they’re doing what it takes to make it right.

Chipotle has been transparent about how the outbreaks most likely happened. They’ve taken apart their current food safety systems and put them back together. They’ve provided their customers with a plan for action to pioneer and become a leader in food safety. Chipotle wants to make sure that this not only doesn’t happen again in their restaurants, but also inspire other fast food restaurants to operate the same.

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But had Chipotle not built such trust with their customers over the last 10 years, their runway for error would have been quite short and this whole fiasco could have ruined them. But because Chipotle had built such trust, their customers were willing to have faith that they will make it right because that’s who they are as a company.

And that’s what’s kind of remarkable about Chipotle’s community is that their customers were willing to give them a second chance. Even as their stock prices fell and the media chewed them up, their customers were still with them.

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And even though Chipotle is projected to have a 65% earnings loss this year due to the outbreaks, next year in 2017, their earnings are projected to jump 125%. And even over the next many years, Chipotle is still projected to have a higher growth in earnings than McDonald’s and their big ol’ marketing budgets.

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But Chipotle did not build a durable brand from the money they spent on their marketing. They built it through continued, strategic action every day as a company.

strategic-action

For Traveling Vineyard, we used a framework like this to build their durable brand. 

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It’s a 90-day framework for driving growth. It includes three, 30-day cycles that will help you focus on building from purpose and do the right things to reach your goals as a company.

phase-1-purpose

In the first phase, you’re working on either identifying or clarifying your company’s purpose. Just like we looked at with Dove and also with Traveling Vineyard. This purpose will provide your business with focus.

purpose-strategy

Once you’re clear on your purpose, then you can move into the second phase which is continually clarifying and evolving your brand’s foundation. This is not a set it and forget it. This is a constant iteration of testing and learning and refining your brand over time. 

When setting your brand foundation in this second phase, you need to be very clear about the goals you have for your company—both for your business —your financial benchmarks—and for your brand—the company you want to become.

You also want to make sure that your company is relevant in the world, so understanding your cultural tension along with the value you offer that is unique to your company is imperative. Even more imperative is that it is effectively communicated at every touchpoint with your customers.

Then, you need to do the work of deconstructing the customer journey for each of your persona so that you fully understand their behaviors and what they are thinking/feeling/doing at every stage throughout their customer journey.

The final part of Phase 2 of this framework is developing an agile marketing strategy. In this strategy you’re identifying the things that your team will focus on accomplishing over the next 90-days in order to reach your goals. Strategy needs to be complete with action, so we break pieces of the strategy down in Google Docs all the way down to tactics and then we assign accountability to the appropriate people on the team in Basecamp.

phase-3

Then you’re ready to execute your strategy in Phase 3 of this framework. Maybe your focus is on increasing conversion from paid ads so you’re building custom landing pages. Or, maybe you want to increase brand awareness so you’re working on training the Ambassadors in your community to create user generated content. The most important thing is that everyone on your team has clear direction on what they’re executing and there is no mistake in who is accountable. Hold weekly stand-ups to remove roadblocks and ensure you’re staying focused and building momentum.

phase-3-b

And at the end of each 30 days, do a scrub before moving on to the next 30 days in the cycle. There’s a lot of things that are happening in the company that can cause a change in direction, so the scrub helps to be mindful of the things that have moved in the business over the last month that may cause you to re-prioritize your efforts. You then adjust the next 30 days accordingly without wasting any planning and then again, break down and assign accountability for all of the tasks inside of that cycle, and assign them to your team.

phase-3-c

And that process repeats itself over each 30-day part of the cycle. And then during the final 30 days of the entire 90-day cycle, since you’ve had nearly a quarter worth of work go by, it’s time to look at the 30,000 foot level at realigning the bigger priorities in your strategy as a whole. Is one channel performing better than another? Is there something that has happened in the business that changes your direction overall? Typically during the last 2 weeks of this final 30-days you’re looking ahead to identify strategic priorities for the next 90-day cycle; locking in and delegating tasks, actions, and accountability to your team for the 30 days in front of you.

And that’s the framework for building a durable, authentic, purpose-driven brand. All you have to do is do the work, be consistent, and you will find momentum.

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If you’re considering building an authentic, purpose-drive
brand, remember these things:

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Building your company from purpose gives people something to connect to and believe in. Even more, building from purpose gives your business focus. Focus that will bring growth.

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If you want to earn the right customers who will support you and stand by you through the good and the bad, you’ve got to bust your ass, hustle and do the work to connect with people. The people who align with your purpose.

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And lastly, as a company, you need to have a killer product. You need to provide a stellar experience across all channels. But remember that growth comes from a deeper place than that. It’s not about how your company is packaged, it’s about who your company is. And your job is to continually prove —through your actions — that you’re worth your customers’ investment.

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When it comes down to it, building and marketing a company and brand in today’s world requires a different path than traditional marketing, advertising, and quick-fix tactical approaches. It’s not about how much money you spend on your marketing.

Technology is going to continue to change. Google is going to continue to change. We need to use technology effectively and also build brands that transcend this technology.

These are all very simple things. They just take time and iteration and focus. Many companies aren’t committed to doing the diligence of this work. They are doing the same things that every other company is doing. They are creating content for the sake of content. They are adding to the noise. 

If your company is ready to triumph over the next many years, it’s time to evaluate and evolve your approach to marketing.

New to Mack Web, But Not to the Web Marketing Industry

By | Events, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

An occasion both sad and happy.

With June’s impending departure for the wilds of second-time motherhood, Mack Web Solutions is delighted to welcome a new talent to the fold.

(And, contrary to popular opinion, that delight has nothing to do with the fact that new people mean a free welcome lunch and occasionally cake. Nothing at all).

We are fortunate to have brought on Julie Sutter, a local marketing entrepreneur and writer, as the newest member of the Mack Web team.

We are excited to bring on someone who exemplifies the knowledge, integrity, initiative, and service that we hold at the heart of our company. We firmly believe that Julie will bring much awesomeness to her role as a Web Marketing Strategist.

(A certain level of awesome, in case you didn’t know, is the unspoken requisite for Mack Web employment).

The right person for the job.

Although she is a full-time employee for Mack Web, Julie also owns her own company, Unconventional Ink, an advertising and marketing copywriting and branding services business servicing the cultural and non-profit community (which, upon reflection, is quite the mouthful).

She’s also on the board for SpokesBUZZ, a community driven to amplify the local music scene and promote Fort Collins as a progressive cultural destination.

When necessity dictated that we hire somebody new, it soon became apparent that Julie, with her skills, experience, and name in the community, was a natural choice.

“As Mack Web Solutions grows and evolves, we are continually on the lookout for people with potential,” said Mackenzie Fogelson, our beloved founder and CEO.

“The relationships Julie has built with her colleagues, customers, and community exemplify who we are and what we do at the core of Mack Web.

“It isn’t just about web marketing, it’s about helping businesses transform into something better. The human element is extremely important and Julie understands and embodies that. She cares like we care, and we knew she was the right fit for our team.”

Getting to know you without the stalking. (Who knew that was an option?)

In order for the team and community to get to know Julie better, she’s opened up a bit to share the following vital information with you all.

Mack Web Team: When someone asks what your favorite book is, what do you tell them? Now…what is your actual favorite book?
Julie: The World According to Garp. For both answers. But I also like any book that has magic in it. Come to think of it, all books have magic in them.

Mack Web Team: What is your favorite quote?
Julie: For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
(That’s T.S. Eliot, we think).

Mack Web Team: What’s the most wonderful place you’ve traveled to?
Julie: It’s really hard to top New York City.

Mack Web Team: What is your favorite breakfast food?
Julie: Coffee, hands down. But if we’re talking solids: I never met a waffle I didn’t like.

Mack Web Team: If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, what would you choose and which character would you play?
Julie: I would like to be Samantha in Bewitched. Did I mention I like magic?

Mack Web Team: And, if you could have ANY super power in the world, what would it be?
Julie: Did I mention I like magic? Or do you need more specific magic? I think cheerfulness is a good superpower. So there’s that.

You can get to know Julie a little more by following her on Twitter (@juliemackweb) or circling her on Google+.

Coming Soon: Online Community Building Gold

By | Building Community, Events, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

A small obsession

You may have noticed, if you follow this blog at all, that we talk a lot about building online communities. In fact, were this not a digital medium, we might have wiped out a moderately-sized copse of trees with the pages and pages we’ve written on the topic.

(Please note that we would have replanted the hypothetical grove after we cleared it. We love the earth).

With our established interest in cultivating your online community, it probably won’t surprise you that we’re working to put together something a little special.

At long last

At this exact moment in time (unless it’s, y’know, nighttime or very early morning. Or snack time. Or if Firefly reruns are on), we are pulling together a comprehensive guide on growing/building/cultivating your online community (choose your metaphor at will).

We’re pretty excited about this resource and we think you will be, too. (If you’re not, don’t tell us. You’ll crush our little hearts).

A sneak peek (only not really)

So we won’t actually be showing you clips or screenshots of the guide  (tippy-top secret stuff, that), but here’s what we will be doing.

We’ll tell you about it. (Lucky you).

The Mack Web Solutions’ Truly Excellent and Fantastic Guide to Building Online Communities for All and Sundry (so, the title is a work in progress. For now, we mostly just call him Arthur), is going to be a complete guide on growing an online community from scratch.

All you need to get started is a few seed ideas and a basic concept of what you’d like to accomplish.

That’s not so very much, is it?

From that starting point, the guide will walk you through finding the right outlets, finding the right people, and starting the (we won’t lie) rather difficult work of reaching out to them.

But wait, there’s more…

You’ll notice that even in our absurdly descriptive working title, we never once call it a “beginner’s guide” to anything. That, friends, is deliberate.

Because even though the thing will work for beginners, it’s not just for them. Getting started is just, well, the beginning.

Our Awesomely Comprehensive and Objectively Beautiful Guide to Making Online Friends (yeah…maybe not that one either), will also:

  • move into the intermediate steps of coaxing to full-bloom the little seedlings that have started to sprout, and
  • the final stage in the cycle of keeping your community healthy and abundant once it’s established.

We will be embellishing all this lovely, practical information with case studies and real life examples and possibly the occasional overdrawn metaphor. And we’ll be doing all this with our unique and celebrated (frequently. with cookies) Mack Web flair.

You’re gonna love it.

Here’s what we need from you. Yes, you.

At the moment, we’re trying to gauge the level of interest the Handy-Dandy Guide to Not Being a Cyber Hermit.

Because we know that we’re pretty thrilled. (But then, we also find llamas oddly endearing, so…). We’re in touch with reality enough to know that not everyone shares our enthusiasms.

And, quite frankly, if no one cares about our project…well, we’ll be very sad. There were will be weeping and gnashing of teeth and probably rather a lot of ice cream.

And then we’ll move on. Life’s too short, y’know?

So here’s what you can do. We’re collecting a list of people who might find a use for it. So go to our Building Online Communities page (where on that glorious day the Currently Incomplete But Someday Absurdly Thorough Guide to Not Being a Meanie will live) and let us know.

And because we’re just that good, there’s also ways to share this exciting possibility with the world via social media.

Not so difficult, eh?

So, go. See. Sign up. Share. Then go out and enjoy the day. The sunshine’s on us.

 

Writing for the Web: Not as Hard as You Think

By | Uncategorized, Web Marketing | No Comments

Quick tips for a (sadly) essential skill.
Not unlike tying your shoes, writing for the web is simultaneously simpler and trickier than you think it is. (Don’t mock. The whole “around the tree” thing still baffles me. Rabbit ears all the way).

someecards.com - Learn to tie your shoelaces. Because you really need to quit trippin.

It’s like not-web-writing in a lot ways, but the main difference is your approach to your audience. A web audience is typically going to give you a lot less grace and patience. The nature of the internet is dynamic and quick; no one wants to linger on a single blog post.

With the preponderance of stuff on the internet, especially spurred on by rise of content marketing, this particular skill is more important than ever.

The simple solution, of course, is to outsource your web writing to people who already know this stuff. It’s a perfectly valid strategy. Here at Mack Web, we tend to split the duties 50/50 with our clients. We encourage them, as the true experts on their products, services, industries, and company cultures, to be involved in their content generation.

We usually get pretty good results this way. And, through trial and error, we’ve managed to figure out the most-encountered sticking points.

Now it’s time to get unstuck.

No need to re-invent the wheel.
The thing is, of course, that this writing-for-the-web-stuff is a topic that has been covered by…just about everyone ever. I’m pretty sure that if you go check out the Lascaux cave paintings, some of them will turn out to be the correct formatting and focus for web writing. It’s a practical topic on which nearly everyone is allowed their own opinion. (Which, in a fun meta-twist, makes it nearly perfect for blog dissertations).

Probably the best of these was done by Distilled just a few weeks ago. It goes pretty in-depth on the research, the value, the process, and even the formatting of writing for the web. It’s a good read and it’s more comprehensive than what I’m doing here. I recommend that you check it out if you’re one of those curious types who likes to, y’know, know things.

That said, if you’re a Mack Web client (or if you work with an agency that operates similarly to ours), you may not actually need to know all of those things for yourself. We tend to do a lot of the prep work on your behalf.

If we’re releasing you into the wilds of blog world, we should have outfitted you well with things like audience, purpose, outreach, guiding questions, and maybe even some keywords.

So what follows here isn’t the whole guidebook. Guidebooks give you the entire history of the place and its chief imports and exports and the obscure species of fish you might find if you decide to go snorkeling.

This is just the highlights, the quick tips and guidelines like “don’t forget to lace up your hiking boots” and “don’t walk your dog near standing water unless you want to provide a tasty canine treat to the alligators.”

These are a) the most important tips to remember when writing for the web and b) the ones we find ourselves repeating most often when we’re helping out our clients.

1. Put the first things first. And in the middle. And last.
Before you get started, do make sure that you know the audience and purpose of the post. Even if you’re not the one doing the research, please review the data and keep that in mind as you’re writing it.

With every point that you include in the post, check back to make sure that it relates to your central idea and that it applies to the audience you’re writing for.

In other words, if you’re writing a post with tips for house-training a pet monkey, don’t go off on a tangent about the history of circuses in the early 1900s. Your audience doesn’t really care about how much canvas they used to make the big top. They just want their bonobo to stop leaving them ‘presents’ in their shoes.

2. Start strong. End in triumph.
Your introduction is important. There are approximately a kajillion blogs and websites out there. Nobody has time to read them all. You need to give them a reason to spend the next ten to fifteen minutes reading yours.

Your opening doesn’t have to be long or epic. But it does need to catch and keep their attention. Otherwise, they’re going to bounce off your site and hit up Pinterest instead.

(And really, pep talk aside, who can blame them? Where else can you find this stuff:

Source: lolchamp.com via 3milly on Pinterest

).

The recommendation that I find myself giving over and over is that your intro can go one of two ways:

A) It can be so spectacularly interesting, intriguing, funny, or bizarre that it practically compels attention, even if it’s a little off-topic. My high school journalism teacher once went absolutely gaga over an article that started with, “There’s a killer lurking in our halls.” The article was about the ridiculously ginormous wasps that had infested the art building, but that opening got a lot more attention than “The administration would like all students to steer clear of the east wing.”

(No, I didn’t write the article. In high school I mostly interviewed my friends and made up crossword puzzles. There’s a reason I didn’t go into journalism).

B) It can immediately address your audience’s pain points. “Are you tired of your monkey crapping in your favorite shoes?” or “No one wants to find monkey droppings in the dishwasher.”  Quick, direct, and attention-grabbing all the same.

The way you close the post is also important. You’ve relayed your information. Now what do you want them to do about it?

Sometimes you’re going to have a specific page you want them to visit or a contest you want them to enter.

Maybe you’ve got more information on your Google+ profile or you want them to share their tips and tricks or even horror stories on monkey potty-training.

End with something that encourages engagement of some kind, something that prompts a response.

3. Style does matter.
I’m not going to overdo it on the formatting rules, but here’s the down and dirty:

  • digestible chunks: no huge block paragraphs,
  • interesting, informative, and frequent headings,
  • if you can manage it, break it up your sections with some relevant graphics, and
  • smooth transitions from one point to the next.

4. Try not to be boring.
I tried to think of a nicer way to say that, but…then I didn’t.

Oh well.

The point stands.

The truth is that sometimes, depending on your industry, you’re going to be writing about some fairly technical or serious things. You don’t want those posts to be overly goofy or even chatty. You can’t always use a charming or informal voice. (Although, if and when you can, do).

What you can do, is read what you’ve written out loud before you post it. Are there sentences that you fall asleep or lose your way in? Does it sound like something someone would actually say or does it sound like jargon or promotional mumbo jumbo?

It is absolutely possible to write like an actual person without losing your professionalism or your credibility. Hold onto that belief, set it as a standard, and you’re going to do just fine.

5. Avoid those things up with which we shall not put.
Which is my somewhat perverse way of saying: mind your grammar, kids.

This is another one of those things that should go without saying and yet…no one ever seems to go without saying it. So here’s me, saying it: check your grammar, check your spelling, check your punctuation. You’ll find that reading your post out loud is going to help you with that too.

And that’s all, folks.
Seriously, that’s pretty much it. There’s a lot of rules about writing and web writing. There are probably classes you can take and lots more tips and tricks out there. Most of them are good and useful and excellent. Guidebooks, right?

This is just the stuff we thought you should know. To keep your dog from getting eaten by an alligator, y’know?

Are there things you struggle with that we didn’t cover? What is your pet web writing peeve? Let us know and we’ll see what we can do.

 


 

2012 In All Its Glory (Mack Web’s year in review)

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A good news/bad news situation.
Here’s the good news, friends: The world didn’t end in 2012.

Image Credit: Radio Shack

You’ve probably noticed that by now yourselves. If not, take a look out the window. No meteors. No zombie pandemic. No alien invasion. No cataclysmic crash into a previously parallel dimension.

(If that has changed between the time we posted this and the time you’re reading it, we are so, so sorry. Best of luck to you and your kith and kin).

Here’s the bad news: The world didn’t end in 2012.

Since the Mayans got it wrong (or just found themselves in need of a new calendar. Not that I’m criticizing. I mean, hey! my Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog calendar only lasted 12 months. Theirs was far more impressive than that), that means there’s still a future that must be planned for, bills that must be paid, holiday pounds that must be shed.

Sigh.

To avoid that terrible fate for just a little bit longer, let’s take a moment to review the splendor of the year that’s just passed.

And what better place to look for splendor than right here at Mack Web Solutions?

Our year has been a delightful, caffeine-fueled roller-coaster of change, growth, and what my mother would call “character-building experiences.” The one thing we’ve tried to keep consistent is our determination to be open with our friends and clients, to share our knowledge freely, to maintain an indomitable sense of humor, and to be ever better than the day before.

And if that’s not some kind of splendid, I don’t know what it is.

That being the case, we felt that an appropriate way to honor this fading year (and distract ourselves from the terror, er, anticipation of the year to come) was to remember some of our favorite blog posts and also bask in the glory of our year.

(Since the blog is the showcase for the openness, knowledge, humor, better-ness, etc. Get it?)

So without further ado, I present: Mack Web Solution’s Lucky Seven Top Blog Posts of 2012.

1. We’re Celebrating Something BIG

To start with, a bit of ancient history. Technically, this post is from way back in 2011, but we’re including it here anyway. Deal with it.

No, actually, we think it still counts as a promo for this year for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s the kick-off of a blog series that extended into the early months of 2012.

Second, said series was all a teaser for an event that occurred in 2012.

And finally, that event was Mack Web Solutions’ first (official) step into the brave new world we’ve been exploring this year. We re-branded the company, revamped our approach, and re-packaged our services. If we’re truly dedicating this particular post to the benchmarks of the year, the infamous Iceberg post of 2011 counts.

There isn’t too much else to say about the Something Big series. In a way, they seem to contradict our company policy of value, value, value, everything must have value. But what these seven posts really exemplify is how effective a blog can be in your outreach. We got an overwhelming response from this series and people were avidly watching to see just what was going to change.

Mission accomplished.

2. SEO 101: Some Tools & Tips for Web Marketing Newbies (Now with Monkeys!)

Fast forward a few months. Things are going well with our new corporate identity and philosophies. We’re building relationships and filling information gaps and doing all the things that we always tell other people to do.

Which brings us to this post. We got a request from a friend of ours that we put together a super basic SEO resource for inquisitives who really want to understand more about SEO, but may be more a part of that do-it-your-self-er group.

Certainly it’s not an original request but, as our approach is rather unique, we decided it was worth doing. This particular post hits all of our marks for value: it’s informative and interesting, it has a good voice, and it fulfills a need in our community.

Also, it introduces Marshall the Monkey Man. (Who is fictional, by the way. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is yada yada yada).

All kinds of win.

3. The Comprehensive(ish) Guide to Google+ Hangouts

This is another one that received a lot of positive feedback. Like the SEO 101 post, it’s a fantastic example of straightforward value. We took a relatively new tool and broke it down into digestible chunks for our audience. Peers and clients alike could benefit from it.

And, in end, we got to be pirates.

This one belongs in the roster for the year because it shows our growth as a company. This post went live in August, just six months after our dramatic re-branding. By the time we posted it, we felt like we were hitting our stride, confident in our shiny new social media offerings and our fairly prolific posting schedule. We were trying new things, letting our horizons expand, and secure enough to teach a little of what we were learning.

It was kind of like that glorious moment when you start your senior year of high school. You realize that you’ve got the whole “being a teenager” thing down. You’re sure you’ve mastered all that awkward puberty stuff and are ready for the future to bring it.

Ha, how little we knew then.

4. Highways, Backroads, and the Occasional Tire-squealing U-Turn: Mack’s Journey as an Entrepreneur

Of course, we exaggerate. Even in Mack Web’s late adolescent cockiness, the information we provided was good and valid. There were no actual catastrophes looming.

That said…well years of growth and change make the road a little rocky. (Mmmm…now we want ice cream).

Which is why we’ve included this post by our very own eponymous Mack.

In the fall of 2012, Mack was given the chance to speak at an event of female entrepreneurs. It was a pretty awesome experience and she completely nailed it (of course).

But in preparation for that, she put together this incredibly honest and open reflection on the ups and downs of life as the owner and founder of a small business.

As the man says, it’s lonely at the top.

5. Rules & Reasons for Strategic Partnerships

One of the hallmarks for 2012 was our sincere (and successful) attempts at making friends. We’ve really tried to practice what we preach and so we’ve done a lot of outreach and community building among our peers and thought leaders alike.

(Also, we figured…should the world end not with a bang but a long, drawn-out whimper, it would be a good thing to have allies in various places. Just in case we needed a refuge from the descending hordes of locusts or whatnot).

The result of those alliances was this post. Not only does it deal with the topic of forging successful business relationships within your industry, we also consulted some of those friends to help us put it together.

So. Very. Much. Win.

6. Making stuff part of your routine (for better local rankings)

After spending a few months posting on high-faluting, meta topics like entrepreneurial struggles and strategic partnerships, we went back to our roots for this one.

Mack put together a solid post full of practical tips that our clients can use, that our peers can recommend, that everyone can understand.

Plus, it displays our truly excellent (and not at all inebriated) foray into the world of fine art.

7. A tiny task for clients: how you can help with personal outreach

We rounded out the year with this little bid toward business-related New Years’ resolutions. (After all, just in case the world didn’t end, we needed to have something ready for moving forward).

Again, it’s one of our signature posts full of actionable, field-tested information that appeals to just about anybody who wants their business to succeed online. Since that includes both our clients and our industry, we covered our bases pretty well.

Not to mention Superkitty.

Check ’em out
Of course, this business of choosing the best posts of the year is a tricky and entirely subjective endeavor. We chose them based on a combination of value, entertainment, and their symbolism within our journey this year. We’d love to know if we missed one (or two or twelve) that you particularly liked.

And, we encourage you to read (or re-read) them all anyway. Not only is there a lot of good stuff in there, it’s also an excellent delaying tactic before facing up to the reality that 2013 is  here and the world will keep spinning on indefinitely.

Hooray. Sigh.

 

 

Be Inspired! Creative Facebook Covers

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Fall is full of creative happenings of every shape, size, and flavor.

There’s fall Fashion week in Paris, New York, London & Milan.

Vogue Magazine (to the mail woes of many) produces its September Issue, ushering in the new fashions for the year and trying to outdo the previous September issue (in page quantity, and indirectly, in weight).

In a more accessible forum, this time of year also ushers in autumnal pies. Beautiful, (fashionable?), and tasty autumnal pies

See? September = creative inspiration.

So, jump on the bandwagon.

Why not use the creativity of this season to get inspired and re-vamp your social media platforms? An easy place to start is with your company’s Facebook cover art. This is free real estate you should take advantage of. Highlight your personality, products, events, contests or company culture in this space. The key here, is to be creative while maintaining your company’s current branding.

So, in the spirit of fashion forward September, tasty pies and what have you, I’d like to share some of my favorite Facebook covers in the hopes that you too, will find some inspiration this fall season.

Here’s a handful of creative covers to get you started:

Paul Mitchell

https://www.facebook.com/PaulMitchellHairCare?ref=ts

Their cover art is a good lesson on how to blend images and illustrative text (without overdoing it). I also like the styled call to action (complete with arrow) pointing to the link below.

Arizona Ice Tea:

https://www.facebook.com/AriZonaIcedTea

This image grabs visitors eyes immediately with its bright color. Rather than slapping up a random photo of sorts, Arizona uses this space to garner interest in their promotions and contests.

Ben & Jerry’s

http://www.facebook.com/benjerry

Ben & Jerry’s does an excellent job of creating a cover that matches the company’s branding. Who doesn’t recognize the Ben & Jerry’s cows that grace the covers of their delicious delectables?

Izze

http://www.facebook.com/IZZE

Izze maintains consistent branding on their Facebook page by using a product photo. They highlight their flavors and the refreshing nature of their product, using a brightly colored image with a crisp, high quality resolution (they even picked up the dew drops on the bottles to emphasize just  how refreshing these drinks are). Well done. Also, I’m kind of thirsty now…


Celestial Seasonings

http://www.facebook.com/CelestialSeasonings

Lovely illustration, lovely quote, and a lovely way of highlighting their favorite teas for the fall season.

The Welsh Rabbit

http://www.facebook.com/TheWelshRabbit

These guys are just down the street from us. The way they use their cover space to explain who they are and what they do is creative and clever. The chalkboard you see in the image is a shot pulled directly from their storefront. A great way of tying their page directly back to their store space.

Sarah Blake

http://www.facebook.com/HelloZSO

Sarah Blake uses this space to highlight her amazing illustration skills. Visitors to her page immediately see what she does (and how well she does it).

Adobe

http://www.facebook.com/Adobe

Adobe takes advantage of this space to highlight how their tools help well known brands.


Adobe Indesign

http://www.facebook.com/indesign

I included one more Adobe example, just to show you how well they brand each of their products. Their cover art for Indesign has a very different feel and look to it than the previous Adobe platform I listed.

Fonts.com

http://www.facebook.com/fonts

‘Cause who doesn’t enjoy a Facebook cover with a nice BIG typeface on it?

The Lorax

http://www.facebook.com/theloraxmovie

He’s in your face, but in a non-creepy way.

Caribou Coffee

http://www.facebook.com/cariboucoffee

Caribou’s cover art does well to capture the company’s personality and culture.

Zappos

http://www.facebook.com/zapposwomen
http://www.facebook.com/zapposmen?ref=ts

We like the consistency for the men’s and women’s pages. The soft, ethereal style of the cover art is warm and inviting to visitors.


Color Me Rad 5k

http://www.facebook.com/colormerad5k

This one might just be my favorite, because it’s an explosion (literally) of color! Creative, fun and intentional, this image promotes the event by showing visitors just how rad this race is. This image alone makes our team want to go run a 5k (and Courtney HATES running).

Think there’s a creative Facebook cover that needs to get on our list? Let us know, and if it fits the bill, you might see it up here.

 

 

Google’s take on what makes a website great

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If there is one household name in the SEO industry, it’s Matt Cutts.

This is Matt Cutts. He hates spam just like us.

Matt is the head of the Webspam team at Google. Matt’s tried to be as transparent as corporate confidentiality will allow him to be when communicating with SEOs about what Google has in the works (as far as algorithmic changes go), and what SEOs should be concerned with as they keep up with this ever changing industry.

This year has been a tremendous one for search and SEO. With Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithmic updates, ranking desirably in the engines today is night and day compared to even just a year ago. Google has changed their algorithms so that websites actually deserving of high rankings–the ones that actually provide value–can rank above those who are just spamming to get a number one spot.

For many SEO companies, the changes in Google’s algorithms have been the first sign of victory.  There are those among us who have, for years, preached the importance of an approach that is rooted in quality, value, relationships, and a whole lot of hard work. And at long last, Google has verified that this path is true.

Just recently, Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting interviewed Matt Cutts to discuss what really makes a quality website in Google’s eyes. The following is a breakdown of the key takeaways:

  1. Your content must be unique and valuable in order to rank
  2. Content has always been important to Google. This is nothing new. What’s different now is the value that the content brings to the user. Is your content different from other content in Google’s index about the same subject? Is it making a contribution? Does it add to the store of knowledge that already exists, rather than simply repeat it? Does it offer a new and unique point of view? How is it valuable to searchers (funny, clever, actionable)?

    A general rule of thumb for determining quality content is whether it’s share-worthy. When someone reads your content, are they going to want to vouch for its quality by sharing it with their friends and colleagues on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+?

    Of course, if your website is entering a pretty competitive space where many vital, active companies already dominate the rankings, it’s going to take more than just generally good content to come out on top.Think about the diversity and creativity of your content, the user experience that your website provides, and possibly focusing on a smaller, related niche. This will allow you to build your brand, reputation, and authority without going up against all of the big dogs. Then, you can make your way into that space once you’ve established some street cred (i.e. domain authority).

  3. Building a quality brand is important
  4. Although brand is a small indicator of whether a site is going to potentially rank well, it is in fact still important simply for the trust factor. People trust brands. They talk about them, they share them, they buy their products.

    So how do you build a quality brand online? You’ve got to build a community. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that it all comes back to your content (blog posts, videos, photos, infographics, etc) and the user experience that your website provides.What does your content say about your brand? What do you stand for? What’s your personality? What makes your company unique?

    The answers to these key questions need to be integrated into every ounce of your messaging, and the experience that users have when spending time on your website.

    Quick side note: Matt made it very clear that Google does not show favor to big brands with big budgets who spend a ton of money on paid advertisements. Just to clarify, he states that big brands DO have an advantage because the search engines are an attempt to mirror real life. However, he emphasizes that they can’t buy organic rankings with paid ads. So take heart. There’s hope for us small brands after all.

  5. Think building relationships vs. building links
  6. Link building is a really common industry term, but many of our clients still don’t understand what this actually means. The deal on link building is that, though it’s just one of the factors that Google uses to rank websites, it is one of the most significant indicators of your site’s credibility and authority. If other quality websites are linking to the great content on your website, then you must be good enough for Google to return to the top of the results pages in a search.

    Building a quality link profile is no easy task. Certainly that’s why so many companies have tried to spam this part of Google’s algorithm so that they can speed up the process and get a boost in rankings. For years, here were a lot of companies benefiting from shady link building tactics (and many still do). But in the last year, Google has done so much to improve the quality of their results that websites using these tactics will ultimately find themselves slapped with a warning and then resting in the bottomless abyss of your-website-is-nowhere-to-be-found.

    My point here is that if you want your website to rank desirably and you want to be able to sustain those rankings, you have to do the work.

    Building your business online is just like building relationships in person. If someone doesn’t know you, how can you prove to them that you’re a good guy? That you’re worth doing business with? That you know your stuff?

    This is not an easy thing to do online, but again (and you’re probably tired of hearing me say it, but it’s important and bears repeating. Again, it all comes back to your content which is going to directly affect user experience. If your website is chalk full of great blog posts, infographics that illustrate your approach or process, photo albums that tell your story, articles that show your knowledge and personality, then it’s easy to establish some trust. Combine that with a little bit of social media and building your online community, and you’re on your way to becoming a big deal.This takes time and a ton of work. But if you truly want to rank in Google, not to mention improve your human user response, that’s what you’re in for.

  7. Infographics need to be quality, too

  8. There has been a big shift from content as the written word to pictorial content like infographics. And, as you’ve probably guessed (surprise, surprise), companies are spamming that too. Here’s the deal: whether your content is a blog post or an infographic, if it doesn’t add value it does you no good. It’s not helping your customers and it’s certainly not improving your Google rank.

    Just so you know, Google doesn’t have anything against infographics, but it’s a matter of whether they are concerned with determining the quality of the graphic to figure out where it should rank. Matt seems to be hinting toward the fact that, in the end, infographics may not carry any value in Google’s eyes (thanks to all the spamming). Sense a pattern here?

    Regardless of what Google decides to do with infographics, your number one goal is to provide unique, valuable content that benefits your customers. So, if infographics are the best way to deliver your message to your customers, then use them. If you are providing value for your end user, the engines will be satisfied as well.

  9. There are no shortcuts, tricks, or secrets to good rankings

  10. Yup, you gotta do the work. As Matt explains:

    The main thing is that people should avoid looking for shortcuts. In competitive market areas there has always been a need to figure out how to differentiate yourself, and nothing has changed today. Think about how you can create compelling content or a compelling experience for users.

    Google employs some of the smartest people in the world. They are committed to providing quality results so that people can actually find what they are looking for when they use their search engine. Google will continue to get smarter and smarter. The more quickly you can build a reputable brand online, the better.

    There’s no better time than now because of everything that Google is doing to shake up websites who got comfortable doing crap work and ranking well for it. Get out there and create some great content and make some friends. This won’t happen over night, but you’ll change your company and experience some pretty exciting victories in the process.

Don’t give up


For more than six months, Mack Web has been working on our online visibility as if we were one of our own clients. We did some research, we developed a strategy, we delegated some tasks. Every day, we dedicate the time to reading blogs, engaging on social, and generating valuable content that helps people (ok, we’re not saving lives or rescuing puppies, but hey, this SEO stuff is important).

In our experience in the trenches, we’ve learned a few things we’d like you to know:

  • SEO isn’t just about rankings
    It’s about building value in your company, developing relationships with real people, and making a name for yourself that you can be proud of.
  • This approach will change your business
    We have seen amazing results from our efforts, and they have nothing to do with our keyword rankings. We have opened up new markets, made a TON of new friends, and, wait for it, we’re enjoying ourselves! We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished in such a short time.
  • This stuff is hard work and victories start small
    We read it time and time again from the thought leaders in the SEO industry. A majority of companies give up on this approach before they experience success. If you’re putting in the effort, don’t give up. Keep going!If you’re frustrated and can’t do the work on your own, work with a professional company who you can trust and serve as your guide in taking your company and your online visibility to the next level.


Simple in concept, if difficult in execution

So, as it turns out, the trick to making Google believe you have a great website is…(drum roll please)…to have a great website.

Shocking, we know, but there it is. Ultimately, no matter what the disruptions in the world of the Google algorithm, this is what you have to remember: they’re trying to return the best, most helpful, most trustworthy websites they can find. As long as you can meet those standards, you’ll be able to weather all the panda-penguin-parakeet-pterodactyl storms.