Roll Out Schedule: Single Launch or Phased Releases

Our site update is getting closer to completion and you may have noticed in the last several posts that we’ve released updates in phases.  Four to be exact: blog update, website update, content revision, and SEO element revision.  Hopefully those last two were less obvious or invisible to our visitors but this phased rollout raises the question, why not get all the updates set up and then do a single launch? Neither a single launch nor a phased rollout is appropriate for all situations but each offer unique advantages that trainers, consultants, and professional coaches should consider when rolling out an update.

  • Phased Release 

    Phased releases have the advantage of evaluating elements of your update without the whole project going live. It’s an important aspect of the AGILE process and allows for intermittent testing and analysis. It also allows for individual elements to launch faster rather than waiting for the whole update to be go-live ready.

  • Single Launch 

    Launching an update all at one time is a more traditional method but still offers advantages. Cohesion is the biggest benefit.  For example, if you are updating a layout for an email campaign, it’s best to have the design fully fleshed out rather than launching with a half-developed concept. A single launch can also be used as a promotional tool if the update is significant enough that it might draw attention from your audience.

 

In our case, launching the blog update gave a badly needed refresh to our posts while allowing us to test the template before deploying it to the rest of the site.  While the interim period lacked cohesion between the site and the blog, we were sure to have a post explaining the process. Once the template was deployed site wide, it was an obvious choice to make content and SEO element updates live as they were ready because they were unlikely to be visible to our visitors.

Phased launches are often most beneficial due to their expedited go-live process and ability to test the results. However, a solid production schedule must be defined and followed.  If your digital marketing often gets postponed or you’ve struggled to adhere to deadlines, then a single launch might be a better fit.  A perpetual “under construction” notice or half-baked appearance gives your audience the impression that your marketing, and therefore your product or service, is not your primary focus. A phased rollout that gets stuck mid-change causes confusion, often looks unprofessional, and might negatively impact your processes.

If you can logically break up your project into multiple releases, do a phased launch.  If you can’t see any natural breaks or are uncertain of your ability to consistently move through those releases, do a single launch.

Have You Gotten Lazy with Digital Marketing Technology?

Have You Gotten Lazy with Digital Marketing Technology?Step one of updating our blog (and the site) is complete with a new theme.  The next step is to finish our theme customization and launch the layout site wide.  We don’t update our site layout as often as we should so it provides a clear illustration in how technology has evolved over the last few years.  The options, sophistication, and ease of an upgrade makes significant advances in such a relatively short amount of time.  But do these advances make us spoiled and lazy?  If you aren’t putting in the effort to meet your desired result, then yes. It’s your responsibility to provide the resources necessary to professionally deliver your digital marketing.

As we weighed themes and what base layout we’d like to establish for our upgrade, I browsed reviews for user feedback.  I happened across this review with some very specific requests for a “boring” theme. I happen to agree with the poster that many themes are over-designed and create additional work hiding elements that aren’t necessary.  I thought the rest of the post suggesting that developers should strive for the specific set of features that the poster desired was absurd.

I’m a home improvement DIY person. Most projects go fine . . . some don’t.  Recently, I falsely believed that replacing my gas dryer was going to be a simple process.  I knew the steps involved and had all the materials, however I wasn’t prepared for the gas hose to be corroded onto the gas line.  Since I was already a bit wary of working on gas, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and called a plumber.  It was a simple job for the plumber who had a giant wrench and a particular technique to unscrew the hose from the pipe.

Sometimes an easy job for a professional is an impossible job for a less experienced person.  Imagine if I had asked the plumber to bring his giant wrench to my house and walk me through separating the hose from the pipe.  Most people would agree that’s ridiculous yet here’s a post asking for almost the same thing from a theme developer.

WordPress themes are typically built on a series of CSS and PHP files.  All the code that drives that theme is accessible which means with some work it can be customized to whatever layout you want.  Furthermore, many themes will document those files to make it simpler to make the edits for customization.  It’s not the theme developers responsibility to spoon feed it to you.

As technology becomes all pervasive there seems to be a feeling of entitlement that users should be able to do anything without putting in the effort or resources to achieve it.  Just because some things offer simple point and click or drag and drop, doesn’t mean that all things can or should.

Let’s be grateful to the theme developers that typically provide a solid foundation for site builds. If you need functional or layout customization beyond that, it’s your responsibility to seek out the resources or professionals to do so.  Don’t be lazy about how you implement the technology because it’s extremely unlikely that the perfect solution will fall into your lap.  Take responsibility for implementing your own perfect solution.

Keep Your Digital Marketing Up to Date with Technology

Digital marketing is a unique blend of communication and technology.  Both aspects need to work in tandem for effective campaigns.  While communication platforms change, the basics for communication, video, text, interaction, and design remain fairly static.  Technology on the other hand . . . changes rapidly. Don’t allow your digital marketing to be undermined by falling behind on technology.

This post is a self-criticism.  Our site, especially the blog, is in dire need of a technology update.  Obviously client projects come first but we’ve allowed this to fall so far behind that it’s impacting our SEO (because we aren’t meeting some of the responsive layout requirements that Google looks for).  It’s a good example of how falling behind in one channel can cascade down to others.

It often takes a concerted effort to get your digital marketing technology up to date.  Our blog for instance has the latest plugins and updates; unfortunately the layout itself has fallen behind the times which limits the entire site’s performance.

Don’t repeat the error we have made here.  Review the technology that your digital marketing is based on at least every other year.  That ensures that you won’t fall far behind current technology and allows you to identify elements that are out of date and map a strategy to update them.

Image courtesy of Joel Penner on Flickr.

Consistency Counts for a Lot in Digital Marketing

If content is king in digital marketing, then consistency is queen. It’s the power behind the throne that ensures the message is heard.  Don’t disregard the true value of consistency because even a short lapse in consistency can have disastrous consequences.

Stephen Hawking said, “Half the battle is just showing up.” That’s as true to digital marketing success as it is to personal success.  If your digital marketing takes an unexcused absence, your audience is likely to terminate their attention for it.

A while ago we started working with a career consultant that had halted her weekly email marketing campaign to do some “updating”.  The two primary focuses of making a change were to migrate to a different marketing platform and bring in help to administer the campaign.  It took a total of six weeks to get the new platform in place, bring us onboard, agree to a new campaign strategy, and have the first communication queued for a send. During that six week period all the other channels (SEO, Social Media, PPC, and offline promotions) all continued to run as they had in the past.

Once the campaign was ready for launch, we pulled up the most recent tracking data from the website to serve as a baseline for performance. Our new client was shocked to see that her total traffic had decreased by roughly seventy-five percent!

After re-establishing her email campaign, we made strides to recover that traffic but a full recovery was just over two years away.  Meaning a six week lapse in consistency took about eighteen times as long to bounce back.

Why was the drop so steep?  It’s not that her audience forgot about her but rather that they had grown accustomed to her emails and the schedule at which they arrived.  When that schedule was disrupted without warning the email traffic obviously ceased but to compound the problem, she was no longer top of mind, so her audience paid less attention to her other channels as well.

If you have established consistency in your digital marketing, be very cautious about disrupting it. If you intend to make a technical or strategic transition, make sure there is an interim way of continuing your campaign until the new process is ready to go live.  If that’s impossible because of technical or resource constraints, then it’s advisable to alert your audience to a pending upgrade.  That at least puts a positive spin on the lapse in consistency, can provide alternate channels to fill the void, and can serve as a teaser to keep the value in your communications fresh in their mind.

More commonly trainers, consultants, and professional coaches struggle to establish digital marketing consistency. If you find that your digital marketing struggles to get traction with your audience, a lack of consistency could very well be the problem. After all if you aren’t showing up regularly, you are forfeiting half the battle.

Frankensteined Digital Marketing

Our last post explored how overusing or poorly deploying tools can limit options and complicates customization.   This same concept can be expanded into, what I call, Frankensteining your digital marketing components.  Piecing together too many disparate elements is a common cause of technical problems and bad user experiences.

Frankensteining happens when you introduce new elements onto a digital marketing channel and there is either a technical breakdown or unintended bad user experience.  Plugins and APIs are the chief culprits when a site goes from well-developed to monstrosity.

Let’s again use a website as an example.  Frankensteined websites are not that uncommon but are often referred to as “cluttered”.  I was recently on a site trying to read an article and I was hit with three calls-to-action as soon as I landed on the page.  The first was a pop up box that ghosted out the background.  As I closed that, I saw a footer bar advertising another offer.  After I scrolled down the page, a pop up appeared from the lower right corner asking if I’d like to start a chat with the sales team.

Any one of these would have been a perfectly acceptable way of introducing a call-to-action.  But having all three pile on me right away was downright annoying. If they had squeezed something into the header the offers literally would have come at me from all angles. It was annoying enough that I dug through the code a bit to see how the page was executing.

It turned out that all three offers were from separate plugins for the site.  I’m certain the admin for the site did not intend for me to have this user experience but frankensteining the components together resulted in this unintended consequence.

It’s not difficult to fall prey to Frankensteined digital marketing.  In the above example, the chat window appeared on every page so I’m certain it was an API driving that component sitewide.  The footer bar appeared on every blog post and is likely an API defined for content pages only.  The pop up window looked to be what the company was featuring at that time and was likely added as the call to action for that page via a plugin.

Frankensteining happens in all marketing channels, not just websites.  Apps and plugins can change a simple social media page into a cluttered nightmare of links and automated “features”.  Even email can get cobbled together with external components that often cause technical incompatibilities.

Be diligent in how you are piecing components together.  If you find that you are cobbling together a lot of components to achieve new objectives, it might be time to redesign how you are delivering your digital marketing.  Often times the redesign will provide a fresh start that results in a cleaner and simpler solution. Piecing too many components together runs the risk of creating a monstrous problem in technical glitches and bad user experiences.

Image Courtesy of dullhunk | flicker.com

Are Your Digital Marketing Tools Limiting Options?

There is a digital marketing tool to help you through almost any task.  Some of these tools are robust in trying to tackle multiple functions where other are specifically designed to do one specific function.  This multitude of tools gives the impression that anything is possible if they can be combined into a cohesive experience.  Unfortunately, there is usually a hidden problem with implementing sets of tools because it limits options and complicates customization.

Content Management Systems (CMS) are a good example of a robust tool.  Most CMS systems allow for tool, template, and administrative customization.

We recently worked with a client who had a CMS set up for their website that offered a pre-set header, navigation, body layout, and installed plugins set.  It was set up so that a site admin could create or edit pages by simply adding text, images, or selecting plugins. The primary focus for the layout was on a responsive design. Additional page elements had been removed to keep the format simple and ensure that the site displayed well on mobile devices.

The client needed a sub-site landing page created for a program they were offering and wanted the sub-site to mimic materials they had already designed.  The design specifically designated:

  • A six column layout in the body of the page.
  • A navigation element specific to the landing pages that would not appear on other pages of the site.

Neither requirement sounds unreasonable, right?

Sometimes tools make simple sounding tasks into complex ones.  The template had been built to meet a maximum of four columns in the body.  Inserting additional columns caused significant layout problems and was not responsive when viewed on a smaller screen.  Since the navigation was pre-defined, there was no way to insert navigation elsewhere on the page or exclusively to the sub-site pages.

The result was a customized development project to not only create these elements but to also integrate them into the CMS. In this case, rather than solving a problem, the tool made the problem significantly more complex.

Carefully select the tools that you plan to use in your digital marketing and be wary of trying to piece too many together.  Think of your tools like a craftsman.  A plumber doesn’t show up with a full set of carpenter’s tools and vice versa.  They have a tool box specifically designed to do the job they need to complete.

Some digital marketing tools appear robust but either offer poorly crafted functionality or offer functions that aren’t useful.  If you limit your tools to a core set it often makes adding options and customizations simpler because the changes don’t have to be compatible with a complex suite of settings.

Inline Formatting For Unique Instances

Almost every current website is built on a pre-existing platform that facilitates content management and site maintenance.  These tools are pre-set with formatting that applies throughout the site.  So what happens if you have a unique situation where you need to deviate from the pre-established format?  Inline formatting can often be leveraged on an isolated case to update website layouts to fit a unique need.

Typically site formatting is all driven from centralized Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).  Then each webpage references that CSS to apply formatting.  This has a technical benefit (cleaner and leaner code) and a visual benefit (consistent design throughout the site).  However, no matter how thorough a developer is, there will always be a unique situation where the user wants to use some non-standard formatting.

It’s important to use discretion when using inline formatting. Inline formatting goes against web standard and can therefore produce unexpected results.  In addition, you are intentionally undermining the layout that a designer/developer put in place, presumably for a good reason.  That means you should have an equally good reason for undoing it, preferably one that is data-driven.

Inline formatting should also be used in isolated situations only.  If you find that you have a widespread need to use inline formatting or are repetitively using the same code, it’s probably best to reexamine your template layout and make site wide updates.

All that said, if the web platform allows for direct code formatting then a user can leverage inline code to update the layout.  Inline formatting is basically CSS code placed within a HTML page.  It’s most often used in the following tags:

  • <div>
  • <span>
  • <p>
  • <font> – Careful with this one as it is an old tag that will not be supported in some browsers. However, it can be used on platforms that strictly remove other types of inline formatting

Web platforms will often omit or ignore certain inline formatting tags from deploying so trial and error is essential.  Experimenting involves two questions:

  • What – The code that will render your page/element in the way you want.
  • Where – Putting that code in the appropriate location that your site will accept.

For the times where you have an individual need for one-off formatting on your site, inline formatting can allow you to modify the typical layout to meet the unique need.

Responsibly Re-use Content

Online marketing has become a voracious beast that devours content. Keeping quality content flowing at a pace that can feed your email, social media, and/or blog can be a daunting task. If a trainer, consultant, or professional coach responsibly re-uses their content it can help fill gaps in their online marketing campaigns and still provide value to their target audience.

There are a few ways of re-using content:

  • Refresh Old Article/Video/Podcast Etc. – Reusing older content that has not seen the light of day in a while is often a simple way of getting more out of the effort you spent in creating it. However, it’s important not to get lazy by publishing it without a review. Be certain that you haven’t used the content lately (a year is often a safe time line). The world changes quickly and even an article or video from only a year ago might need updates on technical points or current events. The theme from Articles or videos that are several years old might be retained but frequently need a significant rewrite. For example, we just updated an article that referenced “replying to a pager” and “receiving a fax”.
  • New Spin On A Repeated Topic – This article is a partial re-use. Read the previous version about the pitfalls when you chronically re-use content. Previous content will often focus on one specific aspect of a topic. It’s possible to re-use that content by covering a different aspect. In this case the previous article speaks to the problems that can arise when you chronically re-use content. This article is on the same topic but is designed to suggest responsible and effective ways to re-use content.
  • Repackage Content – If you have newer content that resonates well or a series of articles or videos, it might be repackaged into a new offering. For instance, if you have an email marketing series on a particular topic or theme, that might be edited into a whitepaper or eBook.
  • Use Others Content As Commentary – It’s possible to re-use other people’s content but it takes diligence. The best way to do this is as commentary. This is often achieved by making a short comment on social media or by doing a lengthier review/analysis on what someone else has provided. In either case it’s important to make it clear who created the original content so that you are not taking credit for other people’s work.

Content creation is a significant effort in most digital marketing campaigns. While it’s important to provide unique content to your audience that highlights your unique expertise or offering, content re-use can be a valuable tactic in meeting a burdensome content creation schedule.

Photo credit: Flickr, Steven Snodgrass

Is It Time for a Redesign?

color-paint-paletteA redesign of a website or email campaign is often considered when the aesthetic of the layout has become dated or unsuitable. By all means, if you find yourself repulsed by the look of it, then it’s time to make an update.  But what if you’re just indifferent toward the layout?  Is it worth the time, money, and effort to do a redesign? To answer the question, analyze what problems the redesign can solve and whether there is a likely return on that investment.

The most prevalent mistake in doing a redesign is starting from scratch.  A new look doesn’t need to completely remove all previous elements. This is counterintuitive because the point of a redesign is to get something updated and fresh and the assumption is that the previous layout is neither of those things.

If you are running continually improving campaigns then there should be plenty of data on what elements improve performance, which elements hurt performance, and what elements have no tangible impact on conversion.  Your redesign should incorporate all the elements that improve conversion and shun those that do not.  That becomes the design constraint and any redesign needs to fall within those boundaries.

The second overlooked aspect of a redesign is whether it presents an opportunity to improve the technical competency of your website or email.  Technology changes quickly so almost every redesign should incorporate updated technology that brings the items up to speed.  In this way the redesign has the added benefit of keeping the infrastructure current.

If you are considering a redesign of a website or an email that is performing well and has no technology shortcomings, it’s often not worth the effort. If your redesign becomes a technology upgrade coupled with an evolution of your tested design elements, then it will almost always generate a tangible business impact.

Website Content and Social Media Content Offer Unique User Experiences

It’s common for trainers, consultants, and professional coaches to think of social media and their website as the same thing.  This false assertion often leads to mirroring navigation and content that rarely suits either channel. While social media content and website content are related they are two very different channels that will result in very different user experiences.

Social media content is like a festival market shop where your website is like a store in the mall.  Both have a certain product offering surrounded by a larger market but the environments are much different.

The primary difference in the social media environment is that it is constantly changing and competition for attention is immediately prevalent.  Like a festival, it’s difficult for a user to define exactly what they want to buy because the environment is not well suited for a targeted search. You rarely see a festival market with a map of shops because the vendors, products, and availability are too fluid to map out. Likewise, social media does not provide that structure, so the experience needs to draw people in.

Users are guided by what is current and interesting to them. What makes festival markets compelling is the excitement in discovering unique items that aren’t widely available elsewhere.  In that way your social media channels need to provide timely, relevant, and unique information to your target audience.  Like a festival, the next shop is right next door so if your content is dated or irrelevant then the next more compelling shop is immediately available.

Alternatively, your website is like a store in the mall.  There are other stores available in the mall but there is a barrier that makes the store your own defined place. A store at the mall is typically calmer with less outside distraction.  Well organized stores help shoppers find a particular item that they have already defined.  Websites should function in the same way.  There should be an orderly flow for visitors to find what they want or get assistance. Search engines serve as the mall map, so once people arrive in at the site it should be obvious how to find what they are seeking.

A word of caution not to use the analogy to celebrate one channel over the other.  Reactions like “social media is a flea market of crap,” or “websites are stuffy stores with no excitement,” miss the point.  Unlike physical stores, digital channels have an opportunity to leverage the strengths that each channel offers.  Crossing these channels so that users can get distinctive content and then switch to a structured environment to gain specific content allows you to appeal to a larger user base.

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