The Beardbrand Way – An Interview with Eric Bandholz

We’ve been working with Beardbrand for about a year-and-a-half. During that time we’ve witnessed their explosive growth and national media attention as well as a cultural shift in how society views beards. It’s one of the most striking examples of the power of community I’ve seen in business. I sat down with Eric Bandholz to better understand how they engage with their audience, earn their trust, and operate their business—the Beardbrand way.

From the beginning, you’ve had an incredibly strong belief that Beardbrand would be successful. How were you able to stick to your guns, even when people told you it was a crazy idea?

Eric: I don’t know any other perspective but mine as an individual. I figured what I’d gone through was likely experienced by other men out there. I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew there had to be a large community of men out there who wanted to grow a beard or didn’t like shaving.

How can I help make that experience better? It really wasn’t thought of from a business standpoint first. It was thought of from my individual standpoint first, followed by connecting with professionals who want to grow facial hair. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was solving a problem, but rather looking into the root reasons for uniting our audience.

You often mention bearded persecution in the workplace. Was that something that was present in the early days of Beardbrand?

Eric: Yeah. Before Beardbrand even existed I wrote a couple of guest articles on Business Insider in 2011 where I talked about bringing the beard back to the corporate environment and what a person has to deal with when they grow out their facial hair.

The culture has changed in the past few years (at least from my perspective) to be much more accepting of beards. Do you think that’s the case?

Eric: Yeah. Society is definitely shifting to become more tolerant of facial hair. I’d like to say we’ve had a part in helping with that transition, but we’re definitely not exclusively responsible for that. We have inspired a lot of guys to grow beards, though. I can confirm that. I don’t even know the number of emails and letters I’ve received from guys over the past three years who have been thankful for our words, our help, and our products.


One of the many letters of support Beardbrand has received over the past three years

You understand your audience very well. Does that come naturally or is it something that has improved over time? What’s your secret?

Eric: I think I have a good foundation in that I’m passionate about our products and the industry. We do our homework to make sure that we formulate the best products. From there I think it’s about engaging with our audience.

For example, I’ve read every single comment on my YouTube channel that’s been posted to any of my videos. On Reddit I’ve read every single comment and response to any posts that I’ve had. It’s not specifically going out there looking for feedback. It’s just simply being involved and immersed within the community.

I’ve gone to over a dozen beard competitions around the nation and talked with with a bunch of bearded guys. When you’re connected—when you’re in it—it’s not work. You learn by doing.

Most organizations have a hard time publishing content consistently. But between Beardbrand, Urban Beardsman, YouTube, and Reddit, you’re a prolific publisher of content. How do you do it?

Eric: For me it comes down to expressing my emotions as they come to me, usually related to some kind of talking point of the day. Like today, I was talking about an article referencing the supposedly high concentration of poop in beards. It was important to come out quickly to say that’s a crock of shit. Our article [rebutting the poop in beards theory] was posted yesterday and has already received 400 shares on Facebook, which is a good response for us. With YouTube, it’s mostly listening to the community and providing what they want to know.

From a tactical standpoint, we’ve brought on an editor. That’s helped with both the day-to-day side of things and our long-term strategy in both the type of content we create and the platforms used for distribution.

How is your communication on Reddit different?

Eric: I don’t use Reddit as a way to drive sales at all. I use Reddit to share cool content that we’ve created and to connect with the community. The moment you use Reddit to drive revenue you’ll find the complete opposite result. It’s about being authentic and sharing your passion.

How do you adapt to the quickly evolving social media landscape?

Eric: The platforms have ebbed and flowed for us over time as we’ve grown. Facebook was really good for us in the beginning. Then it became irrelevant for a long time. But lately it’s picked back up. To me it’s being able to react to the trends, measure results, and adapt quickly to get the most impact from your message.

In the year-and-a-half we’ve been working with you, we’ve received very little pushback to our recommendations (perhaps more than any other client). Is that part of a strategy or are you trustworthy by nature?

Eric: Our company is built on trust as one of our pillars. So, we work with vendors that we trust. There is no point in paying a vendor to do something if we thought we could do a better job in-house. If a vendor says we should do something, then we do it. If we think a recommendation is not appropriate, we’ll take the time to help educate them on why it won’t work for us.

We trust the people we work with. We also know that there’s a lot to be lost in moving slow. So I’d rather occasionally get things wrong and move quickly to fix them than move slowly and miss an opportunity.

You’ve put the brakes on us before when we’ve recommended online conversion tactics we’ve seen work well for other clients. Is that (not being too salesy) an important part of establishing trust with your audience?

Eric: Yeah. I mean, it’s a tough line. Ultimately we are a business and want to use our growth to spread the message and change the way society views urban beardsman.

In your opinion, are there online sales tactics that break that trust?

Eric: From my perspective as an online consumer (and as Beardbrand’s #1 avatar), I don’t like pop-ups when I go to a website. It tells me something. It tells me they’re desperate, lack confidence, and are willing to needle and beg me to make a purchase. I’d rather buy from companies who are confident in their products and don’t need to beg.

That’s the strategy we’ve had from the beginning. It’s tough, though. I want to make sure we’re dong the best, but it’s a long-term play. We plan on being in this business for a very long time. We don’t plan on doing this for a couple of years, make a quick buck, and ride around on yachts all day.

How important is customer service in maintaining that trust?

Eric: That’s really important to us. We know that anyone can go to and get something that’s going to be cheaper than our products. Where they can’t beat us is our ability to educate the audience, help them beyond the product purchase, and really provide a first-rate customer service experience. We’re always working to improve and I think we’re getting better all the time. Everyday we get photos from guys that are growing their beards to let us know about their journey. For us, customer service isn’t just about making sure the product gets there on time. It’s about getting to know our customers better, too.

The Beardbrand team sitting together not thinking about riding around in yachts all day

The Beardbrand team is not interested riding around in yachts all day

Beardbrand has been featured in the New York Times, Men’s Journal, Fast Company, Inc., Forbes, and many others. How have you gotten so many bucket-list PR opportunities in such a short period of time?

Eric: We definitely invest in PR. We work with a firm called Pistol PR that has helped with a lot of those connections. But it also goes back to my personal style of trying to build relationships and never burn bridges.

For instance, the Fast Company article started when I did an interview with an intern at the Wall Street Journal for a little project I was working on called Bingle back in 2009. I maintained that relationship over the years. I was able to connect with Rob Brunner when my contact took a job at Fast Company because of that relationship.

There are stories like that where, as you get older, and grow your network, opportunities present themselves. Like I said, we invest a lot in PR. Some months you get a lot of articles, some months you don’t. But it’s part of a systematic process for us. It’s another example of a long-term play.

Of course we can’t have a Beardbrand interview without at least one Shark Tank question. Your “Ultimate Shark Tank Guide” on Reddit is, well, the ultimate guide to Shark Tank. Can you summarize why you went through the time-consuming process to appear on the show?

Eric: Shark Tank, for us, wasn’t necessarily a solution to take us to the next level. We were going to get there, with or without Shark Tank. But the risk was that another competitor was going to get on Shark Tank first and get that national exposure and awareness.

We obviously knew it was a great opportunity to share what we were building in front of millions of people as well as gain access to very successful, talented and knowledgeable investors. It was a really good opportunity from that standpoint. But we never wanted to ride on the coattails of Shark Tank and have that be the reason for our success. We wanted it to be one of the things that helped us get there.

Anything you’d like to add in closing?

Eric: I think the thing that I’d like to point out is that this isn’t an easy flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. It’s been very purposeful and meticulous work with a lot of time and resources behind it to get where we are today. It’s absolutely been a journey of labor and of love. I’d also like to say that success comes from simply being a member of your community. Imagine going to a bakery and getting to know your local baker. Think of the special items your local baker will create for you over the years and the feeling that relationship creates. We want to do that on a national level with our customers and our products. That’s our goal: to be part of a community and connect with them as best we can on a personal level.

Are You Making the Most of Your Online Marketing Efforts?

Online Marketing Image

Many businesses struggle with comprehensively planning, executing, and continuously improving their online marketing. Your brand has to be highly visible and provide a superb customer experience to beat the competition. This takes time, is downright hard and can be pretty overwhelming!

How do you know if you’re making the most of your online marketing opportunities? Here are 5 steps to help you get there.

  • Have a clearly defined online marketing plan
  • Embrace data
  • Get executive buy-in and budget
  • Measure ad campaign effectiveness
  • Test and optimize your digital destinations

Have a Clearly Defined Online Marketing Plan

Many of our clients initially come to us without a clear plan for improving their online marketing efforts. They are not alone. In 2014, a SmartInsights poll found that “nearly 50% of marketers don’t have a defined digital marketing plan.”

Without a solid online marketing strategy, many businesses suffer these common issues:

  • No clear vision of what they’re trying to achieve
  • Not understanding their customers
  • Insufficient resources allocated to online marketing
  • Wasting money on things that aren’t working
  • Failing to achieve their business goals while watching competitors succeed

So, what can you do to get started on a comprehensive strategy if you don’t have one?

SmartInsights provides a very helpful tool for creating online marketing plans. Their Digital Marketing Strategy Planning Template (free basic membership required) will guide you through the process of creating “actionable plans that improve commercial results using integrated digital communications based on marketplace insight and analytics.”

Embrace Data

Are you measuring the effectiveness of your online marketing efforts? Many businesses have installed Google Analytics on their websites, but don’t know how to learn from the data and get actionable information. Note: if you’re using the default Analytics dashboard, you have not fully embraced data.

In order to become a data-driven organization, you must methodically analyze your website data and measure the results of your actions (campaigns, SEO efforts, website changes, etc.). This is an ongoing process that should yield continuous improvements in both your digital drivers and destinations.

How can you get a jumpstart in learning to be a data analyst?

If you live in the Spokane area, you can sign up for our Analytics for Mareketers Six Week Course that begins on April 29, 2015. We’ll walk you through the basics of how to use Google Analytics and then teach you the in-the-trenches specifics of how to use it for your current job, business, or the career you’d like to have in the future.

If you don’t live in the Spokane area or want to dive in on your own there are some great blogs, books, and video resources out there. I talked with Ed about his go-to analytics resources. It starts with his Google Analytics superhero Avinash Kaushik. But he’s also a big fan of Justin Curtoli, Caleb WhitmoreAnnie Cushing, Dana DiTomaso, the Moz blog, and of course Google’s Analytics IQ videos. The important thing is to just dive in and get started.

Get Executive Buy-In & Budget

In order to start and sustain a successful, long-term online marketing program for your business, it is critical to have buy-in from top-level executives. If you don’t have this support, your efforts are at risk of not getting enough funding and can easily be derailed by internal politics.

To get executives on board, you’ll need convincing data on how digital marketing can benefit your business and a well-researched strategic plan. This proposal, often referred to as a “Case for Change,” should include:

  • A review of your business’ current online marketing efforts
  • Industry research and analysis
  • Competitor analysis
  • Agenda and timeline for your proposed initiative
  • Defined structure, activities, and process
  • Resource requirements (staff, training, consultants/agencies, software, etc.)

We have assisted many our clients, at various stages in their online marketing program development, in getting executive buy-in. The resulting allocation of budget, resources, and staff have positively impacted the effects online marketing has on their businesses. Read about how we helped Avista Utilities create a Case for Change.

Measure Ad Campaign Effectiveness

Tracking campaigns will help you figure out what’s not working, how to cut the fat, and the best ways to reinvest that money in campaigns that are working to meet your goals.

There are multiple components to every online campaign, each of which can be tested and optimized.

  • Your ad content (visuals and text)
  • Your offer
  • Ad placement & targeting
  • Your landing pages

The tricky part is identifying the goals, objectives, key performance indicators, and parameters for success by which you will measure your campaigns.

In his article, Digital Marketing and Measurement Model, Avinash Kaushik says, “The root cause of failure in most digital marketing campaigns is not the lack of creativity in the banner ad or TV spot or the sexiness of the website. It is not even (often) the people involved. It is quite simply the lack of structured thinking about what the real purpose of the campaign is and a lack of an objective set of measures with which to identify success or failure.”

Be sure to check out Avinash’s Digital Marketing and Measurement Model for help in better defining your campaign goals and objectives.

Test and Optimize Your Digital Destinations

Now that you’ve created killer ad campaigns and other drivers (email, SEO efforts, PR, etc.), it’s time to close the deal by sending people to destinations that provide seamless and compelling experiences.

Digital destinations are the places you’re sending people from your drivers. These destinations can include:

Ultimately, these destinations should convince your audience to take an action, such as: make a purchase, download content, or opt in to email. These actions should support the business outcomes you have set as goals.

Test! Test! Test!

At all times, you should be continuously testing your destinations to understand how users are interacting with them and how their behavior impacts conversion rates. You cannot afford to rely on gut instinct and personal opinion—even if the opinion hails from the CEO. KISSmetrics says, “These influential people sometimes are referred to as HiPPOs (highest paid person’s opinion); and, in many instances, they believe they know what is best for their website. Therefore, they don’t feel the need for (or understand the benefits of) running website tests.”

But when you are able to prove that something works or doesn’t work, by reporting on analytics data gathered through testing, it’s difficult for a HiPPO to say, “I want to stop that campaign because I’m sick of it,… Because I can now see that the campaign (that I hate) is performing 30% better than the one I like.”

What to Test

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for testing. To start, your business has unique challenges and issues that need to be identified. Use your analytics data to learn where the issues are (landing pages, product pages, checkout, etc) and then run tests to figure out exactly what is causing problems for users. All testing should be done in search of an answer to a specific question.

There are a variety of tests and survey tools that you can use:

  • A/B Testing & Multivariate Testing compares alternate design elements and content to see which performs best. We love Optimizely and use it for our clients!
  • User Testing will help you learn how people use your site/app and what’s actually causing problems for your users. We conduct remote and in-person user testing in our Spokane office. We also occasionally use for quick remote tests.
  • Survey Tools allow you to understand what your customers want and what’s preventing them from achieving it. Qualaroo is a robust survey tool that can be integrated into your website.

“It’s much easier to double your business by doubling your conversion rate than by doubling your traffic.”

~ Jeffrey Eisenberg

I realize this is a lot to take in. But we hear a lot of the same questions from clients and wanted to create a foundation to you get started down the path. Hopefully this provides a good starting point for improving your online marketing efforts in 2015!

Content For Location Landing Pages

A location landing page is a page on a website about a specific location in which that company does business. For single-location companies, this is usually the Contact page. For enterprises with more than one physical location, there should be a unique, well-optimized page for each of those stores, shops or offices on the company’s website.

In order for Google to reward your location landing pages with high rankings, its algorithms must determine that they are useful to visitors and provide relevant answers to the searcher’s query. Using duplicated pages with just the location information switched out on them is easy, but doesn’t really satisfy the Search Engines, so companies with many locations are often overwhelmed with the task of creating truly unique, useful content for all those pages.

Here are some must haves and optional ideas for what to include on your location landing pages. Once you have decided which information to display, you can create a template that will work for dozens, hundreds or thousands of location landing pages.

Location Landing Page Must Haves

  1. Full NAP (Name, Address, Local Phone Number) in microformat. This is like handing the Search Engines a business card telling them what your name is, where you are located and what your phone number is.
  2. Map of your location and the surrounding area. This should be an embedded, interactive Google Map that users can zoom in and out to see where you are, what is nearby you and how to get to you.
  3. The days and hours that you are open.  Save visitors (and your staff) a phone call by answering this very common question.
  4. Calls to Action – People are much more likely to perform the action you wish them to if you spell it out for them. Clearly state what action(s) you wish people to take. Examples: Call today to make an appointment or Fill out this form for a free quote or Read reviews about us here.


Additional Options for Location Landing Pages

  1. Symbols of trust – Badges showing visitors that you can be trusted to do a good job and stand by your work. Examples: professional associations you belong to, certifications you have earned, awards you have won, and your membership in local business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the BBB.
  2. Testimonials – Comments from happy customers who have done business with that specific location can help to build trust.
  3. Driving Directions and nearby landmarks – These are helpful especially if it’s tricky to find your location.  If parking options aren’t obvious, include those, as well.
  4. Contact form, if appropriate – People looking for an after hours clinic to set a broken arm are not going to fill out a form and wait for someone to contact them.  However, those looking for someone to remodel their bathroom, perform a knee replacement or install new computers throughout their offices are usually not in quite so much of a hurry and are willing to fill out the required fields.
  5. Photos – Give people a look at the street view for your business so that they can easily recognize it as they approach. Show them what your service vans or delivery trucks look like. Use pictures to introduce them to your managers and staff. Not only does this add some visual appeal to the page, but also helps to make your business and your people more familiar to them.
  6. Special/coupons – If you are running any specials or offering a discount coupon for this location, put it on this page. It may just seal the deal for you.

Our friends at Nifty Marketing created this infographic to illustrate the components of an optimal location landing page. Click on this link to see the larger version.


So if you have more than one store, shop or office, take the time to give each location its own useful, unique landing page that answers your visitors’ common questions and helps guide them to contact you or come to your place of business. It’s worth the effort!


Shopping for an Internet Marketer? Buyer Beware!

Taming the Wild West

The Search Marketing industry is trying hard to outgrow its Wild West roots. In fact, Google is demanding it by making a concentrated effort to rid its index of low quality content. Google’s algorithms continually evolve to demote and eliminate websites that employ such tactics as: keyword stuffing, manipulated links, doorway pages, hidden text, micro site networks, and exact-match-domain names. These spammy, old-school tactics used to work like magic, but are now liabilities.

In the past, business owners / nonprofits / universities, etc. could put up a website and that, in and of itself, was the achievement. Today, websites require constant updating in keeping with best practices for Usability, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), graphic design, and security protocols. It is a lot to ask of business owners, to display expertise in their field (e.g. auto repair) as well as internet marketing. More and more, internet marketing is requiring not only general expertise, but specialists who focus on one aspect. Trained professionals go to conferences to keep current on skills, trends, and best practices, as well as provide thought leadership through writing, speaking, and presenting. Staying current is an important part of the job description. Unsuspecting business owners need to be wary of internet marketers who have not kept up with best practices for attaining and retaining good rankings in Google search.

Who You Don’t Want to Hire:

Unfortunately, there are quite a few unproven, inexperienced people and agencies calling themselves internet marketers, SEOs and link builders.

  • Some are scammers and spammers who have nothing more behind them than a website, a free email address, and some low-cost helpers who may or may not know what they are doing.
  • Others have good intentions, but do not have the knowledge or expertise to deliver on what they promise.  Sadly, this category includes some traditional marketing or advertising agencies, and newspaper or yellow pages-type outfits. Most of the time, their backgrounds are in paid advertising, rather than in Search, and they cannot seem to get out of that mindset.
  • Some are using other people’s websites to experiment on and try to learn the business. 
  • Sometimes people will even offer to create a website and/or market it for free, but free isn’t always good.

While I have sympathy for newbies trying to break into the market, I don’t want to trust my online business to them any more than I would want to be the first patient an intern does surgery on. Too many people are scrambling onto the internet marketing bandwagon, without first getting appropriate training or earning their chops. None of them will really do you, the business owner, much good in the long run. 

The skill sets needed for successful internet marketing are in huge demand now. Most of us didn’t experience any slow-down during the recession. Now that the economy is picking up, seasoned marketers are raising their prices out of the comfort level of many small, local businesses, because we cannot keep up with the demand for our services. This leaves an opening for new players and scammers. Small business owners are left wondering whom to turn to.

How to Find Quality Internet Marketers

It is not usual to interact with agencies or individuals that are experts at selling. How do you know if they are also good at delivering results? Here are some things to consider when you plan on hiring an individual or company to help you to promote your business online:

Ask your friends and colleagues for recommendations. Find out who is delivering new customers to them via the internet, and ask for details. This is the best way to begin your search for someone to hire.

Search online for the name of the person or company, and examine what you find. Have they written articles on their area(s) of expertise? Do they get paid to train other people in what they do? Have they done any public speaking on their topic? Have they earned the respect of their peers, through awards or collegial collaboration? Do they have a detailed profile on Linkedin that shows their own training and experience? If the answer to any or all of these is yes, then they are more likely to be legitimate internet marketers than not. However, the lack of any of these may not be a solid indicator of skills and results – it might mean that they are not concerned with marketing themselves.

Look at reviews and testimonials. Search for reviews of “name here” and complaints “name here.” Take what you read with a grain of salt, but it will give you an overall impression of the company. Be wary of the testimonials published on the company’s website.  After all, no one is going to place bad comments about themselves on their own website. If the testimonials you find are anonymous or only use a first name, they are not as believable as those that display the person’s full name and/or the name of the business.

Ask for references and then communicate with them. I would be very wary of anyone unwilling or unable or to provide references. Some companies insist on non-disclosure, but there must be one or two clients that they’ve worked for who would take a few minutes to speak with you.  If someone has done a bang-up job for them, they should be happy to tell you about it. Don’t demand too much of their time, but do ask what the agency did for them and if they were happy with the results. If they want to tell you more, then listen carefully. What you hear may help you determine if they would be a good fit for you or not.
Experienced, proven internet marketers do not make cold calls or send out unsolicited emails fishing for new business. They get plenty of business without using these types of sales tactics. My best advice is to completely ignore any sales calls or emails you receive that you have not specifically requested. Some of these companies are so persistent that you may even need to block their phone numbers and email addresses.

Some of these cold-calling outfits mislead you into believing they are calling from Google or that they have some special arrangement with Google. Most of the time, that’s completely untrue. Please see this article if you want to know Is That Really Google Calling?

Ask them about their guarantees. This is a trick question! No one who really knows Search Marketing will guarantee anything in regards to rankings. There are just too many variables and too many continual and unpredictable changes in Google to make any guarantees. If you hear guarantees about ranking on the first page of Google, run!  Don’t walk, run away!  Those who make such promises are either selling you paid placement via advertising, or their flimsy guarantee will only cover a handful of obscure keyword terms that will not bring you many visitors even if you do rank for them.

Ask them what they plan to do for you and why.  Many marketers will fit you into a pre-determined package of services that depends on your budget and time frame for success. Packages make it easier for the agency, allowing them to provide these services at a lower cost than those who are willing to customize a marketing plan just for you.  Customizing plans requires a thorough examination or audit of your current internet presence, so that the best opportunities can be discovered for your particular business.  You can expect to be charged for this research and planning. Only you can decide what is best for you, your budget and your business, but don’t buy a low cost package and then expect to get more than you are paying for.

Ask them which aspects of internet marketing they specialize in. This is another trick question! Back in the day, all internet marketers were generalists who were able to do just about anything needed. Now, internet marketing has become so complex that it is extremely difficult for any one person to be an expert in every aspect, especially if they haven’t been at it for very long. Subcategories of internet marketing include:  SEO, Local SEO, Social Media Marketing, Conversion Optimization, Email Marketing, PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Advertising, Mobile Marketing, Content Marketing, Analytics, and so on. If someone tells you they specialize in just one or two phases, then that’s great, if that is the area that you need. If you need a well-rounded approach to your online marketing, then look for an agency that has yeoman-like skills in most of the above areas for the best results.  I’d liken this to choosing a family physician over a specialist for your primary medical care. The family physician can take care of most of your needs, and can refer you to a specialist when needed.

If you’re shopping for an internet marketer or agency to help you grow your business online, don’t be dazzled by fast-talking sales people.  Instead, do your homework and find someone you feel confident and comfortable working with.


Small Usability Changes That Have a Big Impact, Part 2

Communicating Your Site’s Purpose

This is the second in a series of three articles that focuses on how you can make a big impact on usability with small changes to your website.

There are a few elements critical to creating a good user experience on any website:

  • Users have to be able to find what they are looking for.
  • They have to understand what you offer and how you can help them.
  • They have to be able to complete their tasks easily.

In this second part of the series, we will focus on how to help users understand who you are, what you do, and how you can help them.  If you missed it, read Part 1 of this series on Helping Users Find What They’re Looking For.

Instant Recognition

Imagine walking into a store, looking around, and thinking to yourself: “I have no idea what goods or services are available here.” This is often the experience of users on a website that fails to communicate, at-a-glance, what that website can do for its users and customers. Internet users have short attention spans and high expectations.  When it comes to understanding your website’s purpose, you must communicate clearly and quickly what the focus of your website is.  Make sure you are not losing potential customers within those first few critical seconds by following some of these best practices.

Business Name & Logo Placement

Visitors to your site should be able to locate your logo quickly. It needs to be a reasonable size and appear uncluttered by other elements in the header. Top left is the expected placement for most website logos, so if you choose an alternate placement, be sure that it stands out clearly from the things around it. Consider also how your logo appears on the mobile version or rendering of your site.


If your business name does not explicitly describe what you do (e.g. “Bob’s Plumbing”), you should consider adding a descriptive tagline to your site header. This will help your visitors “get” what you’re all about in just a few seconds. The exception to this would be if your business is already so well known it is a household name (i.e., Target, Amazon, etc.)

The following examples, from and, show uncluttered logos that are easy to locate, read, and understand. Users will have a pretty good idea at-a-glance what these websites offer, just by looking at the easy-to-find logos and taglines.

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User-Focused Messages

Many business websites use messages that are business-focused, rather than customer-focused: “We sell widgets X, Y, and Z. We are the best in the business and have been doing it for 40 years.” That may be true, but this is a message that will fall flat with your customers.

The following example from has a headline that communicates two of the benefits of its online money management tool —“easy and effective”— but it starts with “we” and does not tap into users’ emotional issues and frustrations with trying to manage their money. Still it is a message that is focused on the business, not what the consumer needs.

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That headline is probably not going to convince a lot of potential customers that this is the best tool for them. However, if your messages connect emotionally with users by telling them how you’ll solve their really big problems, they are more likely to hear you and engage with you. In the case of someone searching for an online money management tool, a person’s true frustrations are likely to be:

  • I am not a bookkeeper. I have no idea how to budget or track money.
  • I don’t know how I’m spending my money or where it goes.
  • I don’t have money to spend for an online budgeting tool.
  • I’m not a spreadsheet person.
  • I should be saving money, but I don’t have enough left over after bills.
  • I need access to my finances on the go, through my mobile phone., another online money management tool, has a headline that taps into the frustration most people have with money: They don’t know how they’re spending it!

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Once again, users are being sold on the ease of use of the tool, but this headline goes so much further by addressing people directly and solving their big problem of not understanding what’s going on with their money.

The text following the headline goes on to tell users the other ways this tool can help solve their really big problems. The images reinforce that the tool has easy-to-read charts and works across devices. The short sign-up form lets users know that it is free to get started. Everything on this page is laser focused on communicating the benefits of using’s product.

Get Rid of Clutter

Two of the core qualities of website usability are simplicity and clarity. Clutter makes people uncomfortable and can give the impression that your site — and therefore, your business — is disorganized and unreliable.

Avoid the following things that can clutter your site, distract users, and prevent them from understanding your purpose:

  • Unnecessary, flashy animations, which can also cause slow load times
  • Distracting audio
  • Overuse of multiple, bright colors
  • Inconsistent, mix-and-match visual styles
  • Too many links, especially those that lead users offsite
  • Overwhelming advertising

Test, Test, Test

There is no better way to find out if users understand your site’s purpose than to test it with actual users.

Five Second Test

Five Second Test helps you understand people’s first impressions of your existing web pages, designs or wireframes. By finding out what a person recalls about your design after looking at it for just 5 seconds, you can ensure that your message is being communicated as effectively as possible.

Five Second Test will provide you a detailed report of results from your test showing a breakdown of the interactions each tester had with your design.

UserTesting.Com allows you to “look over the shoulder” of your target audience while they use your website, so you can see and hear where users get stuck and why they leave. You will get to watch videos of participants using your site, and hear them describe their impressions of your website. You can run tests with participants from that match the demographics of your audience, or with your own customers

Parting Thoughts

Every business can make website improvements that will help users quickly and easily understand what you have to offer. Eliminating clutter, having a clear brand identity, and speaking directly to users about how you can solve their problems will have a big impact. Can you identify one or two things listed here that you could do to improve your site? Make these small changes, track your analytics data, and conduct user tests to see if they improve your site’s user experience and move your business toward meeting its online goals.

Optimizing for the New Google Maps

The New Google Maps

Recently, Google has greatly changed Maps and it is now available to everyone. You can see a demo of it and sign up for it here.

Google Maps header image

Google Maps banner

The new Maps was clearly designed with two related goals in mind: to assist searchers in finding what they need, and to show them that information right within the search results, when practical. The new Maps is highly interactive, and its tagline, “Discover more with every click,” is designed to enfold users into a more comprehensive experience.

As you move around the map and click on different things, the map’s focus changes, and you see information that may be helpful or relevant, such as photos and directions (by car, public transport, bicycle, or walking). The map is also designed to learn from a user’s actions, and it adapts to become more personalized to their preferences as time goes on.  For example, if you tend to search for, ask for directions to and/or review vegan restaurants frequently, your new Map may begin showing the vegan restaurants near you as you travel around.

When new Maps first appeared, it seemed that Google was attempting to make rankings matter less by not showing businesses in the customary ranking order. But then, it began showcasing the top 3 businesses ranked in the Maps interface. This change not only makes the rankings continue to matter, but it makes ranking in positions 1, 2 or 3 even more critical than it was with the “classic” Maps.

Classic maps view vs new maps

On the Map itself, businesses with more location prominence (think of this as potential ranking power for Local Search) show up with bigger markers than other businesses, and their name is shown on the map. Other businesses have small markers, and some markers are downright tiny, and have no name listed.

new Google Maps result

Ratings, Reviews & Photos – Maps & Local Carousel

Although the new Maps and the Local Carousel were not released at the same time, both features highlight what Google thinks is most important to searchers: reviews, ratings, and photos. If you click on a map point in new Google Maps, a prominent box pops up with star ratings, the number of reviews, snippets of  from reviews, and a Google offer, if the company has one.  Positive online reviews make a difference in consumer’s choices.  The box at the top left expands to show those same features, along with the address, phone number, website, photos, and hours open on the day of the search.

1-New Google Maps 2

If you are not familiar with the Local Carousel, it is a row of listings for local businesses that Google displays at the top of some search results pages. Right now, most of the searches that result in a Local Carousel are related to the hospitality industry. We can only speculate as to whether this is will expand to other industries.

Here is an example of the Local Carousel results for the search query, “seafood near San Francisco”:

new Maps Local Carousel

As you can see, Google is showcasing ratings, reviews and photos.

Also, Google is displaying ratings, reviews, and photos in the Local Knowledge panel that appears when someone hovers over a local listing in the Google organic search results or clicks on a Local Carousel listing. Here’s an example:

local knowledge panel in Google Maps

In Conclusion

To be competitive in the new Maps search, you need to optimize your company’s Local Search presence. If you need more advice about how to maximize your Local Search presence, you are in luck! Our blog has a whole section devoted to Local Search! Help your business have systems in place to ensure that:

  1. You have great star ratings from past customers;
  2. You have plenty of good reviews from past customers; and
  3. You need high-quality photos that appeal to searchers on your website. These photos will appear in your knowledge panel, Maps listing, and Local Carousel listing. Ideally, your photos should convey aspects of your business that will appeal to searchers: kid-friendliness, accessibility, elegance, professionalism, attention to detail, etc.

If you haven’t yet taken a close look at the new Google Maps, get in there, poke around, see how it affects your company, and learn what your competitors are doing. Most importantly, make sure you have a continual system in place to deal with less-than-happy customers out of the public eye, and to encourage more good reviews by people who are happy with you.

Barnacle SEO for Local Search Success

Barnacle SEO for Small Businesses

In Local Search, we often use the phrase, barnacle SEO, which refers to the practice of getting listings on websites that rank for the terms for which you wish to rank. Will Scott, my buddy from Local U, coined the term, “barnacle SEO” in 2011, and defined it as: “Attaching oneself to a large fixed object and waiting for the customers to float by in the current.”

Good use of barnacle SEO can help your business to get in front of searchers who may not otherwise find you online. This can result in referrals from search engines, review sites, and aggregate websites. You will likely find one or two websites that will send you a decent number of referrals, but you also might want to consider casting a broader net. Getting a few referrals from many different websites can have a nice, positive impact on your bottom line.

Face it: very few small business websites will ever rank #1 organically for the most well-searched terms that are applicable to them. Terms like “hotel,” or “doctor,” or “electrician,” or “Italian restaurant,” are usually dominated by powerful sites, like Trip Advisor (hotel), Health Grades (doctor), Angie’s List (electrician), and Yelp (Italian restaurants).  These brands are trusted, and people use them to find the types of businesses they list. Therefore, your business needs to be listed on as many of these sites that rank on the first page for your high-volume search terms as possible.

Here is an example of the top Google search results for the search term, “Denver steak houses”:

SERPS for Denver steak hosue

As you can see, the 4 top-ranking websites are not from steak houses in Denver, but from websites that list the steak houses in Denver. The first business-owned steak house listing is the fifth listing, and it is followed by 2 more directory-type websites, Yellowpages and Opentable. If you own a steak house in Denver, it would behoove you to be listed on as many of these aggregate and review sites as you can. The review sites are far more well-known, and they frequently appear in the first page of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). A listing on this Cityvoter page may not be one you could easily obtain:

SERP result for Denver steak houses

However, you can get free listings on Yelp, Urban Spoon and Yellowpages with just a little time and effort. Some sites, like and Opentable, require membership, which may or may not be worthwhile for your particular restaurant.  You may want to investigate the return of investment (ROI) of your advertising with them.

DIY Advertising on a Budget:

Small business owners could benefit from a few minutes or hours of strategic research. Here’s how:

  • Plug in the search terms or keywords that are most applicable to your business into your favorite search engines;
  • Make a list of which websites appear on the first page of the search engine results; and
  • Investigate the websites in which these search terms appear; and
  • If you think your business could benefit from a listing, sign up.

If you’re not familiar with the referral sites in the results, take a look at them and see what opportunities there might be for you to get listed on them.  This is also a good way to see how your business peers are spending their time and advertising dollars. Consider paying to get listed on sites that look promising, but if you have a small budget, then just get started with the free ones.

In addition to being found on these sites and gaining more exposure and new customers from them, barnacle SEO can also help you to own a bigger chunk of the real estate on the first page of the search results.

Here is an example of one business dominating the search results for the query,  “jewelry repair Indianapolis”:

Example of SERPS for jewelry repair

This picture shows only some of the search results for Rudy’s Watch & Jewelry Repair. If you perform this search yourself, you will see even more results for Rudy’s on the first page. Way to be a barnacle, Rudy!

Common Myths About
Google Places

Myth #1: A business owns its Google Places listing.

Google Places owns all the business listings it publishes. Adapting to this fact may be difficult for some small business owners, because they are accustomed to having complete control over their listings in other directories, especially in the print yellow pages.  Businesses pay dearly for print ads in phone directories, and thus have control of their content. A Google Places listing is free, but the business owner has little control over it.

Myth #2: Google Places uses only the info that a business owner provides.

The myth that once a Google Places listing is verified, a business owner provides the information that appears in the online listing is just that: a myth. If Google simply published what people put in their business listings, their local index would be warped into uselessness by spammers. The information a business owner provides via the Places dashboard is just one set of data that Google takes into account. Google also considers the data it receives from data providers, trusted local and industry directories, government records, phone and utility companies, what is published on the business’s own website(s), and what it learns from other reliable sources. If multiple trusted sources disagree with what the business owner provides, that version of the facts may prevail over the owner’s input. David Mihm provides a great explanation of how Google gathers and uses data here.

Myth #3: You don’t need a website to prosper in Local Search.

In the past, many businesses with no website have been able to rank well in Google’s Local Search results. This trend has been changing over the past few years. The top 2-4 positions in most Local Packs that appear within the organic search results tend to be held by companies that have both a strong Google Maps ranking and a website with a strong Google organic ranking. If your local market is competitive, you are more likely to need a strong website to rank near the top of the Local Packs.

Search results for local locksmith

Myth #4: Your Business’s Google+ Page is now your Google Places listing.

Google Places and Google+ are not the same thing.  Places is still your local business listing and Google+ Business is the platform on which you can be social using Google’s network of connections. In many cases, but not all, the two can be associated with each other within one Google account, resulting in a Places business listing which has Google+ social features.  Your About page on Google+ is one of the spots where your business information from Places can appear.


As you can see, Google Places can be a great tool for your business, but it has to be managed deliberately, like any other aspect of your business communication strategy.

Why Content Measurement is Important

I’ll be teaching a six week in-depth analytics course starting next week, so I thought it would be a good idea to go over a few of the topics we’ll be covering in the class to give a little preview as well as provide some good tips for our blog readers. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at the importance of measuring content.

For the past few years there has been a lot of talk about content strategy and optimization. This is good! For the longest time, we online marketing folks were way too focused on generating junk to get a bunch of crappy inbound links to try to rank better. Google’s recent updates of Panda, Penguin, and now Hummingbird pretty much said bye-bye to this type of content in favor or unique, high-quality content focused on the needs of users. “Nice!”

So What is Good Content?

While the definition of good content is somewhat subjective, thankfully it’s something that can be identified and measured. For the purposes of this post we’ll be defining “good content” as original content that benefits both visitors AND the company’s business goals. But even this definition can be tricky.

We see a lot of companies that view this as a chance to overtly sell their products or services. Others tend to provide a wealth of factual information so that visitors are more likely to make a purchase. Every website is unique: there is no magic formula when it comes to content. But the sooner you get busy understanding your audience and finding out what they crave, the sooner your business will benefit.

Start with the Big Picture


Let’s take a look at my wife’s nonprofit, Bloom Spokane, to examine the peaks and valleys of their historic traffic. In their case, these rises and falls are very much tied to their blogging efforts. As a nonprofit, they do not advertise at all. Blogging / outreach is their primary driver of traffic. We see that they had a big spike tied to an awesome blog post that went viral in early 2011 and had sustained growth the following year. Excellent!  But then what happened. We have a drop and a very flat traffic period for the next year. Let’s take a look…

Analyze Content Demand


I set up a segment to take a look at their top all-time blog posts. They have a lot of good informational posts, but their top two are either edgy / controversial or humorous. The Bloom blog does an amazing job of providing valuable information to expectant mothers, but maybe their audience wants more humor or possibly a more diverse selection of content. But, looking at the last 18 months of blog posts, there hasn’t been anymore break-out blog posts in terms of popularity.

What should they do? In their case, I would not recommend radical change, but a good idea would be to examine what their readers want. I’d recommend continuing to look at their analytics, as well as performing periodic surveys to learn exactly what their audience wants from the site. They definitely have their bases covered in terms of informational content. I would suggest adding more emotionally-driven content that visitors really connect with, in combination with the current informative posts.

Learn What Content Influences

Next, we look at what the content causes the audience to do next. Did they sign up for a class via the form? Did they visit a desired area of the website? In Bloom’s case, one of their main goals is to drive visitors to their provider page. These are professionals who list their services and advertise on the website. With Google Analytics, we are able to see where these blog visitors went next. Awesome!


We see that blog posts have driven 6,628 visits to the Bloom Provider Directory. Sweet! Also it is interesting that my humor-ish post, which was the #2 blog post in terms of overall visits, has fallen to 5th for driving visits to the provider directory. Also, the two very popular articles on whether or not to perform a circumcision are not even in the top ten when it comes to driving people to the provider directory. This is not a problem. It’s just something to consider each and every time you publish content.

Have Content-Related Goals

Most of the companies I talk with about content tracking do not have (what I would define as) goals. Their most common goal is to publish on a consistent basis, which is a good place to start. That said, I will be pushing people to define content-specific goals and dashboards to help define content strategy, measure effectiveness, and really help their business thrive.

In my blog post for Bloom Spokane, I used the quote below from Shane Falco aka Keanu Reeves to illustrate what I think advice from  husbands to their wives during labor would be like. Though far from an apples-to-apples comparison, I think it applies to writing as well. Blogging is harrrrd. Writing good content is harrrrd. But it’s worth the effort. Don’t worry. We’ll help make the tracking of it easy for you… with a little help from Keanu.

I hope this has been helpful in understanding the importance of tracking the killer content you’re producing. If you’d like to dive deeper into the analytics side of life, take a look at our upcoming analytics class series.


Is That Really Google Calling?

Your phone rings, and the person on the other end says they are calling from Google.  How do you know if it’s a legitimate call from Google?

phone photo two-001

Photo Credit: Mary Bowling

Listen to what the caller says. Many of these calls are from salespeople at not-so-reputable companies, who have been given a script intentionally designed to mislead you. They want you to think they are calling from Google, but they do not actually come out and say that. Instead, they refer to themselves as “Google specialists” or something similar, although there are some callers unscrupulous enough to actually lie about it.

Many of them will try to use scare tactics and tell you your Google Places listing will disappear if you do not buy their services. They will make wild promises about how what they’ll put you at the top of Google. Sometimes it’s not even a human that calls, but a robo-dialer that broadcasts a recorded message, which prompts you to respond by pressing a number on your keypad. When you get one of these calls, either hang up, or ask them to remove you from their calling list immediately.  They are up to no good!  They are most definitely NOT calling from Google.

There are only a few circumstances when you might receive a call that is actually coming from Google:

  • You claimed a Google Places listing or made significant changes to it, and are verifying it by phone. When you choose to do this, the business phone number will immediately ring, and a robot on the other end will provide you with a PIN number to enter into the verification field in your dashboard.
  • You put in a Google Places call-back support request. When you do this, your phone will ring immediately, and you will be placed on hold to talk to the next available support specialist. (How long you stay on hold depends on call volume.)
  • You requested Google Places support via an online form, provided your phone number as a point of contact, and someone from Google is calling you back to discuss the problem. This is not a common occurrence: support usually communicates via email. However, you will know if you have asked for assistance in correcting your business listing, and then, you will look forward to hearing from Google.
  • A salesperson calls from Google trying to interest you in AdWords Express, which is a paid advertising product that Google is pushing to local businesses. I am not sure if these callers are really Googlers or contractors, but most of these are legitimate calls. If you are interested, listen to the pitch. If not, politely end the conversation and ask them to remove you from their calling list.
  • A Google fact-checker calls to, well, check the facts about your business. These callers will identify themselves as calling from Google, but the questions they ask you may not make much sense, so they are often mistaken for the unwelcomed sales calls mentioned above. They are trying to determine that your business is legitimate, and that the information you entered in your Places listing meets Google’s quality guidelines. The goal of this process is to weed out of the local business listings as many spammers as possible.

All of these calls appear on caller ID as coming from Google, and show (650) 253-0000 as the phone number.

Hopefully, this information helps you to determine whether a caller contacting you and claiming to be from Google is really from Google.