Balance Blog

September 11, 2012
Posted by Susan Cato | in Clients, in Social Media, in Technical Consulting, in Web Strategy | Comments (0)

On any given day, we are exposed to thousands of marketing messages, and with the proliferation of social media we’re bombarded with more and more “expert” tips, tricks and approaches for engaging our customers for online success. We need a way to filter out what is worth our time. Here are some ways to do that.

How do I cut through the noise?

With a plethora of "experts" telling us what to do, it's no wonder we have lost our own voice, our intuitive guide, or even our confidence around the fact that we actually do know what is best for our customers - and probably have a pretty good feel for how best to engage with them both on- and off-line.

Trust that you are the SME (subject matter expert).

The bottom line is that no one else knows your audience and customers better than you do. After all, your job is to understand their pain-points and priorities - and deliver value in meaningful and relevant ways. You know best how to help them to be successful, to walk away smarter, and to keep them coming back for more. Even if you don't have a lot of experience using online tools to do so, your experience with what works vs. what doesn't will go a long way with your online activities.

Don't lose the plot.

What you bring to the table is really important, because these days it's really easy to lose that point of clarity.

Listen and learn.

When choosing consultants, agencies, or contractors, be sure they really listen and learn from you before partnering with them, and certainly before they make any 'expert' recommendations.

Only after truly listening can they add value by helping to open up new doors with fresh ideas and approaches. After all, a truly successful partnership can only happen when both parties are actively listening and complementing each other with knowledge and ideas. A partnership like this is a fearsome thing to behold!

So I ask - what do your relationships with your consultants, agencies, and contractors look or feel like?


September 7, 2012
Posted by Rich Wolford | in Clients | Comments (0)

I have worked on dozens of request for proposals (RFP) on major website redesign projects. The RFP process is the most common form of procuring web design and development services. For the most part, any given RFP document has a similar table of contents covering the organization's mission and background, current website limitations, objectives, and description of the scope for the project. There seems to be one piece information that many organization are unsure whether they should share - the project budget.

Those who do not share the budget with vendors believe that this will produce the best price for the services they need. Vendors will need to be aggressive and offer a best price proposal because they don't know what their competitors are offering and so don't want to be undercut. In addition, this method will help "keep 'em honest" and not offer a vendor the opportunity to build in too much profit margin.

With all due respect to my current and future clients I disagree strongly with the "do not share" approach and believe that sharing the budget (or a range or not to exceed amount) will ensure the vendor selection process is successful:

  • By providing a budget, RFP responses will be similar in scope and allow for an easier apples to apples comparison across many bids.
  • Comporting to a budget forces the vendor to prioritize the major tasks and helps the organization get the most for their money.
  • If the vendor feels like more budget is necessary, they must justify it.
  • Ideally the organization has go through an ROI analysis to come up with a budget. Vendor responses will help validate it and the underlying assumptions.
  • Makes it easier to evaluate and toss out the "it too good to be true" low-ball bidder.

Sharing a budget is also justified for one more reason. Price, while important, is often not the most important criteria. Approach, methodology, capabilities of the team, and past perforamance are typically weighted much higher in the decision. So share your website redesign budget in your RFP.  You'll be much more likely to actually get what you pay for.


August 29, 2012
Posted by Alan Yurisevic | in CMS, in Web Development | Comments (0)

Upgrading a website to the latest version of Drupal can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are tips to help guide an upgrade to Drupal 7:

Plan it out

Set up a step-by-step to-do list of tasks that need to be done, starting with backup and ending with deployment. Make a list of modules that need upgrades, their current version, and the latest D7 version. Being organized will save you a lot of headaches later, and having a checklist of steps is incredibly helpful for multi-step projects.

Do your research

Check to see if your modules have their own upgrade instructions, which might go beyond just replacing the module folder and running the update script. Also check to see if there have been any modifications/patches made to either module or (hopefully not!) core code. Look at any and all documentation related to the project; you don’t want things to fall apart later for seemingly no reason. Usually patches to module code get included as part of the newer versions, but custom functionality will need to be carried over.

Back up!

Back up your old site files and database. Particularly with the database, backup before you touch anything and after every major step. This way if anything goes wrong you have a place to reset to, and the more backups you have the less time you have to spend redoing work.

It is a good idea to add timestamps and/or descriptive names to your database archives. For example,  "sitedb_before_core_update-8-11-12.sql" is more useful than "sitedb.sql."

Also, make sure you check for the .htaccess file. Some archiving programs like to leave this file out, and your site will fail without it.

Plan for the worst

Things might (as they often do) go wrong and stuff might break. Set aside time in your upgrade timeline for troubleshooting and treat it like another step in the process.

Take advantage of the Drupal community

There are of course many resources out there to help you solve upgrade woes. Drupal.org is full of issue threads, and it is likely that someone has encountered your particular problem before. If a general search of an issue doesn’t yield anything, try looking at the module issue queues or filtering the issue lists by version to narrow your search.

With planning, a solid back up, and time to fix what doesn't work, you can expect a smoother upgrade from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7.


August 17, 2012
Posted by Linda Franklin | in Search Engine Optimization | Comments (2)

Anyone can add meta tags to a web page and call it “optimized.” However, to truly create an awesome optimized web page, you must look beyond keywords and think more about the main themes of your website.

Why themes? When a user types a phrase into the Google search bar, Google searches for subject-matter themes that most closely match the user’s search phrase, rather than trying to match one page with one specific keyword. 
 
So, how do you make this happen? Let me walk you through the steps:
 
Step 1: Outline your business strategy
Before keywords, the business strategy must be determined. Questions such as, “Who is the audience I am targeting?” and “What is my main business goal?” must be answered before moving forward. This is the foundation from which to build your keywords. 
 
Step 2: Gather your keywords – all of them!
Have a brainstorming session. Place yourself in a user’s shoes. What would someone type in the search bar to find you? Write all these keywords and phrases down on one long list.
 
Once you have this list, makes sure the words match your business strategy. You will also want to refine your list by using tools such as Google’s Keyword Tool to study the popularity and competition of your words. 
Step 3: Group keywords into themes or silos 
Now we are digging into what your site is about. Group your keywords into their main themes or content silos. For example, if you run a craft microbrew website, your main themes may be, “Lager, Porter, Ale, Pilsner.” 
 
Once you have your main themes, divide each theme into 4-5 specific, niche content pages. These pages will represent your keywords that are very specific, otherwise known as long-tail keywords.
 
For example, under the theme of “lager” your niche content pages may be “German-style lagers,” “Virginia lagers,” “fruity lagers,” and “hoppy lagers.” These are known as long-tail keywords.
 
Step 4. Create an awesome optimized web page
Now that you know the long-tail keyword for each of your niche content pages, you are ready to optimize each page with your meta tags and content.
 
This process of theming your keywords to create very focused content pages will improve your website’s clarity, allow you to rank both for broad and long-tail terms, and expand your audience reach.  
 
Now – get theming!