Advertising Explained

Advertising is a typically paid type of promotion, distributed through a publisher, that aims to persuade people to act or respond in a particular way.

There are three basic types of ads:

  • Informative advertising, often used to launch a new product or to reach a new group of customers, gives people basic information, like what a product does, how someone might use it, where they can find it, and what the price point is. The objective is to capture interest, raise awareness, leave a positive impression, and motivate people to take the next step, like making a purchase or requesting more information.
  • Persuasive advertising generally aims to increase demand, influence people to change brands, or motivate people to make a purchase. It might show the benefits a product offers or compare key features against a leading competitor.
  • Reminder advertising reassures people who already know—and potentially like—a brand, with a goal of keeping the product or service top-of-mind for future purchases. It reinforces messages from other ads, and may include customer testimonials.

Advertising is a form of outbound media, which means an ad interrupts what someone is doing in an effort to capture their attention.

It’s an approach that has pros and cons. Advertising’s reach can be either broad or very targeted, and advertisers have a lot of control over how, when, and where a message is distributed. However, finding the right message, format, and channel to get and keep someone’s attention—and entice them to convert—is one of advertising’s biggest challenges.

Preparing for an Advertising Campaign

Before you dive into an advertising campaign, you need to have a strong understanding of the audience you’re trying to reach: your customers and prospects. If you don’t already have solid data about your audience, use market research to gather information and expand on what you already know.

Knowing who you want to reach and the type of message that will resonate with them is critical for a successful advertising campaign; the channels we use to communicate are constantly shifting, and up-to-date information about your core audience will keep your decisions rooted in good data.

The 5 Ms of advertising

Once you’ve defined your target audience, you’ll need to structure your advertising campaign—what’s known as the “five Ms of advertising.”

  • Mission defines the purpose for your advertising campaign and its objectives.
  • Money is a critical factor in any campaign; your budget will have an impact on the format and ad placement. As you figure out the right media for your message, account for the resources and skills you’ll need to produce a complete campaign.
  • Message is the information you want your audience to get, including your call to action (the action you want them to take).
  • Media refers to the wide variety of advertising channels you have to choose from—outlined below—when it comes to placing an ad.
  • Measurement defines the data you’ll track to measure your results and determine how well your efforts have succeeded.

Getting to Know Your Advertising Options

Traditional advertising methods like print, radio, and television are in flux, but they’re still powerful—complemented now by arguably more cost-effective digital channels that either build on the same media or take a whole different skill set.

The media you use for your advertising will depend on a number of different factors:

  • Your target audience, and the action you want them to take, will help you decide which channel to use: you want your audience to pay attention, and you want it to be easy for them to take the next step.
  • Budget is another critical factor. For any type of advertising, you have to account for at least two costs: the cost to create it, and the cost to distribute it. Some types of advertising also take ongoing care and maintenance, which could have budget implications. While there are an increasing number of do-it-yourself options available, quality is important—especially with broadcast ads for radio and television. Your ad is a reflection of your brand; quality needs to be a priority for any promotional campaign.
  • Resources, beyond finances, are also a critical consideration. Some campaigns are heavy on the front end, like broadcast and print advertising, where the creative wraps up before distribution. Many online campaigns, however, are most effective when optimized along the way, so you need people with the skills to carry a campaign from start to finish.

It isn’t always easy to choose the most effective way to reach out, and it will likely take some trial and error before you find out what works for your business.

Here’s an overview of your options:

Print advertising

One of the oldest ways to promote things, print advertising includes a number of different formats, from flyers to other printed promotional materials.

Most often when people refer to print advertising, they’re referring to one of three types of ads: newspaper, magazine, or directory. This kind of advertising can be cost-effective and, while circulation numbers may be on the decline, can still be a very effective way to promote a brand.

Print publications are often very niche, targeted to specific industries or geographic locations, or tailored to people with a particular interest. Some organizations even produce their own publications, showcasing their brand through a more multi-dimensional presentation.

Directories like the phone book are often very focused, limited to a particular industry, location, or activity (i.e., tourism).

Of course, the online/offline divide of print advertising is pretty muddy. A majority of publishers produce online content in parallel or in addition to their offline efforts. This means that packages for print advertising are frequently blended with digital options.

One newer product for print media, called native advertising, can be part of a content marketing strategy. The Guardian describes it as “the practice of using content to build trust and engagement with would-be customers.”

This has created a blend between editorial and sponsored content that can, at times, be hard to distinguish. Native advertising can describe anything from paid social media posts to digital ads, but there is a strong tie to editorial-style content: in 2014, traditional media outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have joined new media outlets like Mashable to include it as an option.

Planning a print advertising budget

The budget for a print advertising campaign will be guided by several factors, which may include:

  • Distribution, with the option to include your ad in one or more editions
  • The size of your ad
  • Frequency, or how many times your ad will be included
  • Placement in the publication, like having your ad on the front page
  • Whether you choose to print your ad in color or black-and-white

Advertising rate sheets are often available online, so you can get a general sense of what your budget should be before you contact a publication.

The skills you need

Once you’ve determined where to place your print ad, you’ll need someone with the skills to create it. One person may be able to take your project from start to finish, but these are the main roles you’ll need to fill:

  • A graphic designer, the person who will structure your ad and prepare it to go to print, is essential.
  • A copywriter, who knows how to make the most of a brief headline with a bit of copy, will make sure your message gets across.
  • A photographer can take custom photos for your ad, if you prefer not to use stock images (photos and illustrations that are created by professionals and available for purchase).

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Radio (audio) advertising

Like print media, radio has a reputation for being past its prime—and there’s no doubt it’s an industry that has had to adapt. But radio, in many ways, is still thriving: a study by Edison Research into listening habits found that Americans, on average, tune in for four hours and five minutes of audio a day, and more than half that time is spent listening to broadcast radio.

Broadcast radio includes long-standing AM/FM stations, Internet radio (i.e., Pandora, Spotify), satellite radio (i.e., SiriusXM), and even TV music channels.

Radio advertising often offers rates that are competitive with other types of advertising, and it can be a great way to literally get inside your audience’s head and add personality to your brand. Local radio can be a particularly effective way to reach an audience within a specific geographic region.

It isn’t just radio that still catches our attention; podcasts have become a notable part of the media landscape. In fact, a follow-up report from Edison Research revealed that people who like listening to podcasts actually listen to more podcasts than any other type of audio. This dedication is inspiring not just new shows but also emerging opportunities for advertisers to tap into this captivated audience.

Planning a radio advertising budget

The price of a radio ad campaign is dictated, in part, by the size of a radio station’s market (i.e., the size of the population they can reach) as well as their ratings (i.e., how popular they are).

The factors you’ll negotiate over include:

  • Frequency, or how often your ad will be aired
  • The timing of when your ad will air—for example, morning or afternoon “rush hour” is often considered peak airtime
  • The length of your ad, which can range from a brief mention to a 60-second ad

The skills you’ll need for your radio campaign

Many radio stations will include ad creation as part of an advertising contract. However, if you want to create your own ad, you’ll need to source a couple of professionals.

Audio production goes through the following steps:

  • Plan and prepare what you want to achieve. An audio or sound producer can help guide the creative process and manage the project for you.
  • Write a script for the ad. While you know your business inside and out, an experienced copywriter can help you refine your script—and make sure it’s the right length.
  • Record your ad. You may want to hire voice talent to read your advertising copy—what’s called a voiceover. A sound engineer (also known as an audio engineer) can ensure you get the high-quality you need.
  • Once you’ve recorded the audio, edit the ad and prepare it for distribution. A sound engineer can do any manipulation of the audio—like adding music or sound effects—and reproduce physical or digital copies.

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Television (video) advertising

Television advertising is generally the most costly to produce and place. For those with the budget, however, it packs a punch. Television ads are engaging, with the benefit of audio and video to grab someone’s attention and get your message across in seconds.

Television ads also work well as part of multi-channel campaigns, building momentum and reinforcing a brand’s message through tie-ins to social and digital activities.

If you don’t have the budget for a big network ad, digital advertising offers arguably more cost-effective opportunities.

Planning a television advertising budget

Like radio advertising, the cost of television advertising is shaped, in part, by both the size of a station’s market and its ratings.

It’s also influenced by the programming your ad is connected to. Television ads are most commonly sold in 30-second spots, and the cost is driven by the number of people expected to be watching.

Super Bowl ads, for example, cost a premium—a reflection of the huge audience captivated by a live TV event, the favorable demographics of that audience, and even the cache that comes from running a Super Bowl ad. Placing an ad during a weeknight show on your local TV station will be much more budget friendly.

Producing a video takes a team

Producing a television ad calls for a number of core skills. The process from start to finish will change to meet your requirements—for example, an animation will progress differently than live action, or something recorded during an event.

You may find a team of two who can expertly manage the whole process, or you may find you need a few more professionals to round-out your team. Here are a few of the steps your video production will go through, and roles you may need to fill along the way:

  • Plan and prepare your production, including goals and objectives, as well as the format and style you want. A video producer can help guide your idea through the whole process. As required, you may need to find a location to film, check out an event site, or get permissions and permits ahead of time.
  • Once you know what the concept is, you’ll need to write a script and create a storyboard—a document that outlines the images—for the video. A script writer can help you get your message across effectively. You don’t need an artist to help with storyboarding, but you should get your videographer, the person who will record your video, involved in the discussion.
  • You’ll also need to cast your actors or characters. If you’re creating an animation, you may need a voiceover artist to read your script.
  • There are many ways to create a video. Whatever your format, you’ll need a production crew staffed by people with the know-how—and equipment—to properly design and animate, capture sound, arrange lighting, direct actors, or film the action.
  • Once you have the raw footage, visuals, and sound, you’ll need a post-production team. This group is responsible for:
    • color correction (i.e. color grading) to alter or enhance how the video looks,
    • sound recording and reproduction (i.e. audio mixing)
    • any visual effects (VFX)
    • editing, to package all the pieces to the length and format you need.

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Digital advertising

Digital advertising is the newest and fastest-growing advertising category. In 2014, more than one-quarter of ad spending went to digital advertising, according to a report from eMarketer.

There are different types of digital ads, including:

  • Display advertising, often referred to as “banner ads,” which can use text or images, be interactive, or include video.
  • Video advertising, which can include videos used in display advertising. However, it generally refers to ads that are placed on video channels to run before, during, or after the main video.
  • Social advertising refers to paid advertising options on social networks like Facebook.
  • Search advertising refers to the paid text-based ads that are shown beside “organic” search results on Google, for example.

Display advertising

Display advertising encompasses most text, image, and rich media advertising that you see on the Internet.

Display ads include:

  • Text-only ads
  • Traditional banner ads
  • Pop-up ads, which open in an image or new window that appears in front of the content
  • Pop-under ads, which open in a new window below the active window
  • Expanding ads, which increase in size after a period of time, on mouseover, etc.
  • Rich-media ads, including videos, animations, and interactive ads
  • Interstitial ads, which load first, then progress to the requested content
  • In-game ads in computer, video, or online games

Running a display advertising campaign

There are many options for display advertising. Some offer free options. Larger brands often negotiate advertising on their own sites. There are also large networks like Google’s Display Network—which includes more than two million websites—and Bing’s advertising network.

Some types of display ads can be very DIY friendly, but for a professional campaign, the skills you’ll need depend on the type of ad you want to run. An expanding multimedia ad may require a full production team (which may include positions like project manager, artist, designer, programmer, copywriter, or other professionals to add audio or video elements), while a banner ad—similar to print advertisingneeds a web designer and some copywriting expertise.

Remarketing to your web visitors

Digital advertising also gives companies the opportunity to remarket, or retarget, potential customers by re-engaging people who’ve visited their website in the past. KISSmetrics compares it to sending salespeople to follow customers around after they leave a store, to “[remind] them of your business wherever they go.”

How does it work?

  • When someone visits a website, the site can leave a cookie on their computer—a small data packet that can collect information about Internet habits like pages visited or topics of interest.
  • That same company purchases ad space on a remarketing platform, which provides dynamic advertising space on a network of websites.
  • When the shopper visits a site within the advertising network, the dynamic ad space recognizes the information in the cookie and delivers a customized ad that features a product they looked at earlier.

It gives you the ability to precisely target “warm leads”—people who were just looking at your site and maybe got distracted or wanted to “think about it.” Adobe’s CMO publication reported that the ability to retarget ads can boost response to an ad by up to 400 percent.

Video advertising

Digital advertising gives video a lot of flexibility that television just can’t offer. Television ads need to appeal to a broad audience; video advertising can be targeted to a much smaller group of people. (As brands like Old Spice have shown, promotional videos can even be tailored down to an audience of one.)

Videos can be incorporated into display ads and shown on display networks, or they can be distributed through streaming video. YouTube, for example, offers skippable and non-skippable ads that run before, during, or after the main video. Some brands, particularly those belonging to established media companies, include video advertising in their apps.

From a production point of view, creating a professional video digital ad isn’t particularly different than a television ad; you’ll need a team of professionals to move an ad from concept to broadcast.

Social advertising

Social media platforms are generally free to use, and the focus of social media marketing is to maximize the benefit of social networks for business.

Most social networks also offer paid options to messages, ads, or a brand’s presence. That’s what social media advertising covers—although how it works varies from one network to the next.

For example:

  • Pinterest offers “promoted pins,” using a pay-per-click (PPC) model, that allows you to promote your pinned content to a targeted group of people.
  • LinkedIn uses display ads, with text and a small image, that you can promote to a customized group of people within LinkedIn.
  • Twitter provides a mix of options, each one designed to get a different outcome. Your business can promote:
    • Tweets to help increase engagement
    • Your account to help attract more followers
    • Trends to raise awareness of a product, topic, or campaign
  • Facebook enables you to promote your Facebook Page and posts, or use another ad format to drive people to your website, promote an app, or offer a special deal.
  • Tumblr offers sponsored posts and videos, ads, and even a tie-in with Yahoo (which owns the blogging site).

Whichever type of promotion you choose to use, it’s beneficial to work with someone who’s run campaigns on the network in the past and who understands both the culture of the site and typical user behavior.

Search advertising

Also known as search engine marketing (SEM), search advertising uses paid search ads to attract more traffic to a website. It generally uses an auction model to determine which ads will appear and in what order. Learn more about SEM…

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Mobile advertising

Mobile phones are ubiquitous; 9 in 10 Americans are walking around with a cell phone in their pocket and many use their phones for “showrooming”—checking competing prices and features while in a store.

Mobile advertising is still a work in progress, but it’s growing fast.

“There is a significant learning curve for mobile ad development, and a smartphone infrastructure for consumers doesn’t immediately translate to a functional advertising infrastructure,” eMarketer noted in a 2014 report.

The research company found that mobile advertising currently takes up just a quarter of the typical digital marketing budget despite the high mobile use.

In many ways, mobile advertising mirrors digital advertising: advertisers can use display ads, video, social, and search advertising to promote a brand, product, or service.

Over the past few years, digital advertising has been splitting into two sub-categories: desktop (including laptops), which is also referred to as “fixed Internet,” and mobile. Facebook ads actually prompt advertisers to target either desktop or mobile devices when creating an ad.

The promise of mobile advertising is in the things desktop can’t do:

  • Location-based targeting, which uses services to deliver ads when someone is within a defined geographic range. About half of mobile searches are done to find local information.
  • Mobile rich media ads, like “click to call” and linking into a smartphone’s mapping capabilities
  • In-app advertising, which can include everything from static banner ads, to interactive ads, to becoming an integrated part of the app experience (i.e., product placement)
  • App extensions, which encourage people to download an app through search or display network advertising
  • Push notifications, technically possible for promotions, aren’t allowed to be used for advertising on either iOS or Android.

There are also some very successful types of promotions that just don’t work on mobile devices. Pop-up ads, for example, can be a very effective way to convert web visitors. On mobile devices, however, they just get in the way. Some multimedia ad formats (i.e., Flash) just don’t work on mobile.

There’s also the fact that people use the Internet differently when they’re on the move than when they’re at home. In a recap of mobile marketing statistics, Forbes reported that “9 out of 10 mobile searches lead to action.” Another report, cited in the same article, found that 70 percent of searches lead to action within one hour—the sort of action it takes desktop users one month to match.

These differences between mobile and fixed Internet, which shift all the time, mean any digital campaign you organize will need to be considered and monitored from both viewpoints.

Topping Search Results with Search Engine Marketing

For many businesses, the customer’s journey starts with search. Search topped the list of U.S. online marketing channels for the shopping industry, for example, ranking higher than direct web visits and referrals.

In search results, ad placement matters: the closer to the top your link is, the more likely people are to click on it. There are two ways to move your website into a good spot on search engine results pages (SERPs): Search engine optimization, which uses a mix of activities to help URLs rank well in the “organic” section of search results, and search engine marketing.

Search engine marketing (SEM) uses paid search ads to get more web traffic through desktop or mobile web search. (The term once referred to both paid ads and SEO, but has since shifted to focus only on paid options.)

SEM isn’t a substitute for other promotional activities, especially considering people ignore search ads most of the time. However, a competitive cost per acquisition makes paid search a valuable way to attract new customers, boost search engine presence, and support other marketing campaigns.

While advertising typically lets you pay for placement—you decide where people see it—SEM is a more fluid process. It generally uses pay-per-click (PPC)—also called cost-per-click (CPC)—which is a process that uses an auction and ranking system to determine which ads appear in which order.

With PPC advertising, ad placement is determined by two things: the maximum an advertiser bids for search queries, and their Quality Score (i.e., the relevance of the ad, keywords, and landing page content).

Search engines aim to deliver exactly what a searcher is looking for. Creating such a well-targeted SEM campaign depends on:

  • Understanding the specific target audience
  • Setting specific goals for the campaign
  • Choosing the right keywords to target
  • Organizing those keywords into focused campaigns and ad groups
  • Writing compelling advertisements
  • Driving traffic to a landing page that delivers the right information and is optimized to convert

Managing an SEM campaign requires constant monitoring, testing, tweaking, optimization, and learning. The process is similar whether you choose to advertise with Google or Bing—which also drives search advertising for Yahoo. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Keyword Research

As it applies to online marketing, your keywords are the words or phrases people use when they search for information that’s related to your brand, product, service, or industry.

Keyword research identifies the terms that are currently the most relevant to your business and the most profitable for your marketing campaigns. They have a direct impact on promotional campaigns, including:

  • Search engine marketing (SEM): keywords guide where you spend your search advertising budget.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO): keywords influence your on-page optimization, from URLs, titles, and tags to the content you publish.
  • Content marketing: keywords help shape the content and resources you create, from directing your social media efforts to creating eBooks and blog content.

Keywords can also guide other promotional efforts—even business decisions. In their “Beginner’s Guide to SEO,” the team at Moz wrote: “The usefulness of this intelligence cannot be overstated; with keyword research you can predict shifts in demand, respond to changing market conditions, and produce the products, services, and content that web searchers are actively seeking.”

There are two types of keywords:

  • “Short-tail” or “head” keywords are the top 10 or so terms—usually just one or two words in length—that drive search traffic to your website. These keywords tend to be very broad and are responsible for the majority of the traffic you get through search engines.
  • “Long-tail” keywords are longer phrases of three to five words that generate less—but more specific—search traffic.

Some keywords will remain static, but others may change based on trends, news, events, or your own promotional efforts. Regular monitoring and A/B testing  identifies the terms that most effectively convert people into customers or prospects, the cost and competition for each keyword, and the terms your competitors are using and succeeding with.

Keywords for PPC campaigns

Search is driven by keywords; so are pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. While it seems easy enough to come up with a handful of words that are related to a business, a thoughtful cluster of keywords can easily spiral into hundreds of closely related words, variations, and phrases.

That’s why keyword research is so important, not just to generate a list of keywords, but also to pare it down to the set of keywords that are most relevant to your business. When it comes to PPC campaigns, what’s just as important as your keywords is how you organize them.

Keyword groupings are closely related keywords organized around a theme, like product, service, audience, or searcher intent. These groupings help determine when, and in which position, an ad will show up.

They also influence how search engines determine relevance between a keyword, an ad, and the webpage the ad directs people to—key factors in determining a Quality Score. “Quality Score is primarily a measure of relevance, and improving keyword Quality Score is a matter of structuring your PPC campaigns into small, well-organized, tightly knit groups of keywords,” said WordStream, a PPC software company.

You need someone who can effectively organize this information

The first steps in keyword research are often internal. Consider your business, your market research, and the most visited pages on your website.

  • What are the most logical keywords tied to your brand—like industry, type of product or service, or profession?
  • What terms do people typically use to find your website?
  • What are your customers looking for?

Your next steps will be to:

  • Check the popularity of the word on your list
  • Expand your list with other related keywords
  • Cut any keywords that aren’t likely to perform well

Many professionals who work in online marketing have honed their keyword research skills, including Google Analytics, SEO, SEM, or PPC specialists.

Search Advertising

A pivotal component in a search engine marketing (SEM) campaign is a well-written ad. Other factors influence whether your ad will be displayed, but success is determined by whether your ad can inspire anybody to click through.

Creating your search ad

There are different ad options available for different search engines—for example, some formats specifically target mobile users—search ads are primarily text based.

A standard text ad for Google or Bing includes:

  • a headline of 25 characters maximum
  • a display URL (i.e., your main URL) of 35 characters maximum
  • the destination URL (i.e., your landing page)
  • a brief description
    • For Google ads: two lines of 35 characters each
    • For Bing ads: 71 characters total

While the ad specifics are similar between the two leading search engines, follow the links to learn more about SEM options on Google or Bing.

How an auction decides which ads show up in search results

Both Google and Bing use pay-per-click (PPC), also referred to as cost-per-click (CPC), which Google describes as “a bidding model that charges advertisers only when someone clicks on their ad.”

That model means that an SEM campaign isn’t just creating an ad and putting it online. Every time someone enters a search query that’s related to a keyword you’ve set for your campaign, the search engine looks at all the advertisers competing for that keyword and—in an instant—holds an auction to decide which ads win a spot.

(One objective of the keyword research that drives your SEM campaigns is to cut any keywords that are so competitive you won’t realistically win an auction for them.)

The winners of the auction are generally determined by something called ad rank—a rank that considers the maximum bid set by each advertiser, which can range from pennies to unlimited (within certain restrictions), and an ad’s Quality Score. Other factors that influence an auction include the type of device being used, the searcher’s language preferences, their location, and the time of day.

An ad’s Quality Score is based on a few factors, including how relevant the ad is to the actual search, the expected click-through rate (CTR)—how likely someone is to click on an ad with that keyword—how closely related the ad is to the targeted keyword, and the landing page experience. Making sure your website is mobile friendly will also likely impact your ad’s Quality Score, with search engines prioritizing mobile-friendly sites for mobile device users.

The landing page experience depends entirely on how well you’ve optimized your landing page. It’s a factor that can impact not only your Quality Score, but also separately influence your ad rank and advertising costs.

Which network should you advertise on: AdWords or Yahoo! Bing?

Which network is right for your advertising campaign? One major factor is user preference: Google is by far the more popular platform, with roughly three-quarters of market share, but that doesn’t mean Bing doesn’t deserve your attention.

Different people have different search preferences; despite Google’s popularity, you may find that your audience preferences are more diverse.

You can get an indication of this by checking your website analytics. For example:

  • Compare the number of referrals you get from Bing versus Google, which will reflect the number of people who found your site via each search engine.
  • See which mobile devices people use to look at your website. Windows phones, for example, use Bing by default.
  • See which browser people use to access your website. The majority of Internet Explorer users use Bing for their search queries.

There are other differences to consider like formatting, budgeting options, and targeting. But the primary consideration is whether the people you want to reach will see your ad in the first place!

Who you need to get those clicks

It isn’t the basic building blocks but the subtle details that are the real challenge behind a PPC campaign.

Choosing the right keywords, for example, takes a thorough understanding of a business’ goals and objectives—it’s easy to spend a lot of energy aiming ads at the wrong people. That isn’t to say a good campaign will be optimized from day one, either. Running a PPC campaign takes a lot of time, refining keywords, groupings, tweaking ad copy, revising the landing page, and monitoring results.

To run a campaign you need someone who has solid experience with keyword research and PPC campaigns, as well as copywriting and analytics. On an ongoing basis, they must be prepared to track, analyze, and optimize the different elements of your campaign to get the maximum possible conversions.

Look for PPC specialists and PPC management experts who have experience across multiple campaigns. Google offers AdWords certification, and Bing also offers a training program.

Landing Pages

Generally speaking, a landing page is any page on a website. Most typically the homepage, it’s a page that is accessed—“landed on”—via a link on another site. They can be individual blog posts, product description pages, or content like an “About Us” page.

When it comes to marketing, a landing page has a specific role: to convert. As part of a marketing campaign, a landing page, also called a “lead capture page,” is optimized through language and design to get a visitor to convert by taking a specific action.

With this goal in mind, you can be creative about how to best use that page:

  • Target a specific audience group, highlighting information that’s specifically relevant to their needs and interests.
  • Support a specific advertising or PR campaign with links to relevant materials.
  • Promote sales of a particular product or service, prompting people to either purchase or provide their information for further details.
  • Focus on a particular topic, like an area of specialization, product, or service.
  • Optimize to support a PPC campaign, contributing to a great Quality Score by delivering the exact information searchers are looking for.
  • Collect visitor information for contests and special offers.
  • Organize information to build on presentations at an event or conference to gather feedback, track information requests, or download materials.

What makes a great landing page?

Since landing pages are meant to move someone to take a specific action, the key to an effective landing page is focus. In the context of a PPC campaign, this means creating a page that delivers exactly what people are looking for.

For example: If you sell household electronics and your paid ad promotes your selection of noise-cancelling headphones, your landing page should feature your noise-cancelling headphones. Directing people to your homepage instead, where they’ll need to sift through your product categories or do another search, will lead to frustration and a poor chance of getting the sale.

Planning your landing page, you should answer the questions that are critical to any promotional campaign, including your objective, target audience, and metrics. The narrow focus of the messaging will guide your landing page design, but here are a few other considerations.

  • Clean design. From the headline to the images you choose, it should be very easy to see what the page is about, why it’s relevant, and what the next action should be.
  • A good headline. Your headline should be compelling and direct, interesting but not so clever that the topic of the page isn’t still obvious. A compelling headline tells someone they’ve found what they’re looking for and encourages them to read on. Try to match your heading with a trigger word (i.e., why, why, how, or when) that matches the visitor’s intent.
  • A compelling call to action (CTA). Whether you want a visitor to make a purchase, give you their contact information, or download a file, the CTA should be easy to spot and optimized to get the most conversions. Will your mailing list get more sign-ups with a button that says “subscribe now,” “register today,” or “sign me up?” You may need to do some testing to find out.
  • Optimize your lead capture form. Lead generation forms aren’t just a critical part of landing page design; if you get it wrong, people won’t bother filling it out. There is no standard length for sign-up forms: website review service WooRank has found that  shorter forms generally get more responses, but people who take time to complete a longer form tend to be higher-quality leads. As with a CTA, only testing can tell for sure what your particular audience will do.
  • Follow other standard SEO best practices to ensure your entire landing page is optimized.

In addition to a copywriter to write enticing copy for your campaigns, you’ll also need a web designer to create polished and optimized landing pages that will get people to convert.

What is A/B Testing?

A/B testing is a simple concept: test two nearly-identical versions of the same thing and see which one does better.

There are many websites that offer advice, case studies, and best practices for marketing campaigns. But the only true way to test what works with a target audience is to test different options live and see what happens.

You can A/B test anything. Here are a few ideas:

  • How does using clipart versus photos of real people impact conversions?
  • Does adding video to your sign-up page improve results?
  • Do people respond better to headlines focused on action or benefits?
  • Fine-tune your call to action (CTA): Do response rates change with different language, color of buttons, link placement, etc.?
  • How does the length of your sign-up form impact completion?

Testing different elements can give you the insights you need to:

  • Tweak headlines and descriptions for better results
  • Refine landing pages to perform better
  • Compare identical ads on different search advertising networks
  • Refine your keyword groupings

Looking for inspiration? Check out this blog post from KISSmetrics that summarizes 100 A/B testing case studies.

Native App vs. Web App: What’s the Difference? Which Do I Need?

There are many ways to build a mobile application and deliver content through a mobile device. Here’s a look at native vs. web apps: what they are and how to pick the right one for your business.

Native Mobile Apps

When you think of mobile apps, you’re probably thinking of a native app whether it’s for social networking, reading the news, or shopping. A native app is developed to be “native” to a specific platform: Apple, Android, and decreasingly Windows Phone and BlackBerry.

The principal advantage of native apps is that they optimize the user experience. By being designed and developed specifically for that platform, they look and perform better. The principal disadvantage is that if you wish to build and launch an app on more than one platform (a ride-sharing app, for example), you almost need to start again from both the design and development perspectives for each platform.


iOS is the native operating system for Apple. That’s why apps for Apple devices are called iOS apps. They’re built using Objective-C language or a newer language called Swift.

Objective-C is one of the hardest programming languages to master. It can take 6 months or more even for computer science graduates and experienced web developers to become proficient. So, you need to ensure the developer you hire has proven experience in Objective-C, not simply experience in other languages.

In 2014, Apple launched Swift, which is a simpler language. Not only is it easier to learn, but it was also designed to be fast. According to Apple’s site, Swift is up to 2.6 times faster than Objective-C.

Apple provides good tools to its developer community. The main tool Xcode is the integrated development environment in which your developer will create your native app.


If you’re creating an Android app, your developer will build it using Java programming language. Java is a more common language than Objective-C and has a lower learning curve, so it’s not as challenging to find proven developers.  The most popular integrated development environment for Android has historically been Eclipse. Google launched its own officially supported integrated development environment called Android Studio.


Windows Phone is in third place in terms of market size, but it’s being strongly supported by Microsoft and might be worth considering if you’re building an enterprise app. Apps for Windows Phone are made using C# or VB.NET languages. Microsoft’s Visual Studio provides a powerful integrated development environment. It’s probably the most developer friendly of the three main native platforms.

Hybrid Mobile Apps

Hybrid mobile apps can be installed on the device and run via a web browser, so they sit somewhere between native apps and web apps. They’re built using HTML5 language. Initially, HTML5 enjoyed adoption by a number of the leading internet domains, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Xero, and the Financial Times. In 2012, it appeared to be the future of mobile.

However, in 2013, all those companies, except for the Financial Times, stopped using HTML5 apps and built new native apps even though it required starting over from scratch more or less. The reason? The user experience wasn’t as fast, reliable, or smooth as native apps. It was particularly a problem for Facebook, which has so many images downloading and displaying. Because the Financial Times’ content changes less frequently than Facebook’s, they decided to keep their HTML5 app.

There’s continuing debate about the future of hybrid apps. Their potential is enormous as there’s a benefit in not having to build and maintain apps for separate native platforms. Separate apps require two or three times the work and two or three teams as opposed to just one. Facebook, for example, employs hundreds of designers and developers on its iOS team and hundreds on its Android team.

For most types of mobile apps, the technology isn’t delivering on that potential yet. However, if your app primarily involves content, and it’s important for your business to be cross-platform, then you should still consider it.

Traditional Web Apps vs. Responsive Web Apps

Traditional web apps will most likely be familiar to you. In fact, you’re reading this article within one. What’s the difference between a traditional web app and a responsive web app? A responsive web app takes on a different design when it’s opened on a mobile device (i.e.:, a phone or tablet), as opposed to a computer. The app alters its appearance, depending on the type of device you’re viewing it on.

While a web app will be easier to build, the principal drawbacks are:

  1. It can’t utilize any hardware on the device. For example, the camera on an  iPhone
  2. Discoverability: It won’t be available in any of the app stores—only on the internet

Adaptive Web Apps

As mentioned above, a responsive web app has its design customized to the device it’s being viewed on. In contrast, an adaptive web app has the same design as the web app, but it will fit the screen size better when displayed on a mobile device.

Now that you have a better understanding of the types of apps, are you ready to kick off development on your own? Find the right developer to make your app amazing.  

How to Staff Your Customer Support Dream Team

Crafting the right customer service team for your company and giving them what they need to thrive in an often high-stress, high-turnover environment is critical for your brand. Your agents share an important role in shaping and maintaining a positive public perception of your company and its products and services. As a result, it’s essential to take special care in selecting, training, focusing, and supporting these invaluable members of your team.

The impact of good (and bad) service

Before you dive into the hunt for your dream agents, consider the powerful impact a well-selected team can have on the customer experience. A recent survey conducted by Dimensional Research found that well over half of respondents purchased more from companies they had a positive customer service experience with, and a slightly larger percentage stopped buying from a company after a bad experience.

Social media and peer-to-peer communication plays an equally important role in affecting a company’s image as well. 95 percent of respondents in the survey reported sharing their negative experiences with their peers, though 87 percent also spread the word after positive customer service interactions. 69 percent of respondents say a good customer service experience helped resolve their problem more quickly.

How customers feel after an interaction with your support team can potentially make or break your image, and every customer interaction provides an opportunity to build greater loyalty for your brand. Even unhappy customers reaching out with a problem or complaint can be turned around, leaving them with a positive experience and transforming them into long-time patrons.

That’s why it’s in your best interest to handpick your agents and train them carefully.

The value of finding the right hires

Customer service isn’t easy, and you don’t want to hire just anyone for this role. It takes the right person to tackle the daily challenges of keeping customers happy, dealing with occasionally difficult people, and staying recharged and upbeat each day. The good news is that even if you’re struggling to find the right local candidates to fit the bill, you can always expand your search online and tap into a broader market to find the perfect people for your team.

To help you get started, here are a few questions you should consider before you look for possible candidates:

  • What’s my company’s mission statement, and how can I direct my support team to help further that mission in meaningful ways?
  • What’s my average customer like, what are their day-to-day challenges, and how can we make their lives better or easier through our support efforts?
  • What service channels do I want to provide to my customers? Email only? Online chat, phone, and social? All of them?
  • Do I want to provide 24/7 support or only offer support during business hours?
  • Who do I want representing my company, and what types of individuals are a good fit for our mission?
  • How do I want my reps to address customers, and should they follow a script or interact more naturally?
  • What tools are needed to provide optimal support, and are these tools already in place?

Now that you have a better idea of how to shape your team, you can start thinking about who to hire. Ideal candidates for prime customer service roles often possess a few inherent traits you should always be on the lookout for. The ability to empathize with customers while demonstrating genuine warmth holds tremendous value in this field. An upbeat nature and optimistic outlook are equally key qualities, as are compassion and a willingness to be a team player.

A candidate might seem perfect on paper, but how do you really find out if a potential hire is the right fit? Here are some important questions to ask them:

  • What did you like about your most recent job? What did you dislike?
  • What do you think makes really great customer service? Describe a positive experience you’ve had as a customer.
  • What would you say if you didn’t know how to answer a customer’s question?
  • How would you handle an impatient customer?
  • Describe a time when you were able to turn an unhappy customer into a delighted customer.
  • What were some of the problems with the products or services at previous companies you’ve worked for?
  • How do you improve your skills and stay up to date with best practices?

How candidates respond will give you a good sense of where they fit in with your company in relation to your overall mission. You should look for people who understand your company, are inspired by your mission, and can anticipate the needs of your customers. Sometimes that means focusing on selecting candidates with the right talents over those that simply have the requisite skills.

You don’t have to look far to see the positive benefits a well-crafted customer service dream team can do for a brand. Rather than just tackling customer service as an afterthought to its business, online retailer Zappos has integrated it directly into its culture, making the art of customer happiness a very visible, very central pillar in its overall business model.

Zappos success runs deeper than its free, no-questions-asked returns and its penchant for going above and beyond for its customers. It’s the human touch that really makes the biggest difference. Agents in their call center receive an extensive seven weeks of training focused on how to make customers happy, and they’re given the authority and flexibility to do what needs to be done to follow through—whether that’s as simple as issuing a refund or as unusual as staying on the line for hours or sending flowers to a customer with a medical condition. They don’t read scripts when dealing with customers, and they’re eager please.

Hiring the right agents and training and empowering them to shine in their often challenging roles can be a huge winning combo.

Looking beyond the local pool

When you’re building out your optimal customer support team, you shouldn’t limit yourself to local candidates. Freelancers can be great assets to your team, bringing unique skills, a creative spirit, and a fresh attitude to the table. Customer service is perfectly suited for working off-site, too, so it’s not a big stretch for most organizations to broaden their search to online candidates.

If you want to expand your options and candidate pool, remote talent is a great way to create your dream team. The right agents can have a huge positive impact on your brand’s customer service no matter where they’re located, and looking for agents online lets you find truly engaged and motivated individuals who are seeking opportunities beyond their back doors.

Not to mention, having a remote team in different time zones to offer extended hands-on support hours can be a powerful way to boost your outreach and provide even better service to customers.

Whether you’re interviewing in person, over the phone, or through a video chat, always take the time to connect with potential agent hires on a personal level to get a feel for their abilities beyond their resume and professional qualifications. Are they patient, engaged, friendly, reassuring, inspired, and motivated? You can learn a lot about them from a simple conversation.

Once you’ve got your team assembled, staying connecting with your remote agents is even easier than ever too, with all of the collaborative tools available. Skype and Google Hangouts make scheduling and conducting valuable face-time meetings a breeze, and sharing documents with Dropbox and Google Docs is far more efficient than juggling email attachments.

It’s a perfect time to expand and improve your customer service program with a stellar team of agents primed to wow your customers and clients. Remember: If you’re not finding the right candidates in your local area, consider expanding your search and looking online for talented agents. You owe it to your brand to find the best people for the task and hire the right fit for your company.

Ready to build a world-class support team? Find amazing customer support experts for your company now.

An Introduction to Marketing Your Mobile App

Marketing and cross-platform promotion are incredibly important in creating brand awareness, acquiring users, and building an audience for your app. If you’ve already spent time, effort, and money on conceptualizing and building your app, the next step is to market your product and make it a success.

A product has three marketing life stages:

  • Pre-launch: build awareness
  • Launch: focus on app store optimization
  • Post launch: build and maintain user engagement


Ask yourself the following:

  • Who is your target market?
  • What outcome are you seeking?

 It’s important to refine your target audiences precisely even if you already identified these target markets when you researched your idea. Reaching a niche audience—one that will respond positively to your app—may be the most effective way to spark word-of-mouth buzz.

From there, decide what your primary objective is: Do you want to achieve the widest possible reach? Focus on building active users? Maximize revenue? The answer to this question affects what marketing channel choices you should make—to buy reach or to encourage repeat visits.

Identifying your main objective will help inform your budget and investment requirements. If your app is initially free while you focus on building the largest possible audience, you’ll need the funds, via investment or otherwise, to support this approach since you won’t be generating revenue at the outset.

Take the time to carefully think through this process; your decisions will drive your marketing program. Your marketing plan must be closely aligned with a business plan that can fund it; both are crucial and shouldn’t be considered in isolation of the other.

 When creating your marketing plan, you should research and set out the following items: 

  • An analysis of your current market
  • Your business objectives
  • Key marketing strategies
  • Steps to achieving your objectives
  • Proposed budget
  • Timing

 The key marketing strategies you should consider are: 

  • Public Relations (PR)
  • Building an online presence through a website
  • List building
  • Engagement via social media
  • The launch party


You’ll need to fight hard for your place in the app store. According to Distimo, only 2% of the top 250 publishers in Apple’s App Store are “newcomers.” It’s a similar story in Google Play for Android apps—only 3% of publishers are new.

 The app store launch should be your main focus at this point since getting it right is likely to be the single most important factor influencing the success of your app.

App Store Optimization

In their white paper on mobile marketing, Apppli reported that 60% of downloads come from organic searches in the app store. Making sure people can discover your app is crucial.

App store optimization is your positioning and how people will find your app in the app stores. It consists of five main elements:

  1. The name of the app
  2. The app icon’s design
  3. The wording: the right keywords, description, and what’s new sections
  4. Useful screenshots
  5. App reviews

It’s a good idea to find at least 10-12 of your friends and family members to help you test and improve on the iterations of your app. Once your launch date draws closer, encourage them to spread the word about it and help build interest in your launch.

 In his book Grouped, Paul Adams, who was Facebook’s Global Head of Brand Design, reports that certain individuals are influencers who are more trusted and have greater sway within their social groups than others within those same groups. Try to include as many of these types of people in your test group as you can. It’ll help maximize the social reach of your app’s launch.

Post Launch

Once your app has been launched, you’ll need to continue to create awareness and engagement. If you’re really lucky, early adopters will like some aspect of your app enough to talk about it and recommend it to their friends. Word of mouth is the holy grail of marketing. It’s not only free but also has been measured to be 2-3 times more effective than a promotion you’d run directly because people assign a higher level of trust to a referral.

In addition, you should be prepared to monitor reviews in the app store to pinpoint bugs or issues and resolve them quickly. If users experience bugs, it will result in low ratings for your app and can impact your search visibility. Newly updated apps are more discoverable—and potentially more visible—which is why a focus on fixing bugs can give your app a boost and contribute to future success. 

Also, continue to monitor and maintain your social media channels. Be sure to mark milestones with PR efforts and engage with your users. Keep an eye on what your competitors are doing and consider how you could improve upon it. Take note of any good marketing efforts you see and think about how you might replicate them.

 The goal is to ensure the people who would be the most interested in your app know about it. By maintaining this focus, you’ll be able to get the best achievable return on investment no matter if you’re measuring it in dollars or time.

Need help researching the market or crafting your marketing plan? Find a talented researcher <link> or marketing consultant <link> to help you hone your strategy and gear up for a successful launch.

How Do You Create a Brand?

What comes to mind when you think about major corporations like Amazon, McDonalds, or Disney? How does your favorite store make you feel, or your local coffee shop?

When we talk about a brand, we often “refer to a symbol such as a name, logo, slogan, and design scheme,” according to the American Marketing Association. However, appearance is only part of the equation.

Branding is about the whole customer experience—the sum of every interaction someone has with a brand, whether through a product or service, advertising, or the experiences of friends. 

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another,” wrote best-selling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin. It’s a philosophy that should impact every touch point a business has with its customers, from product design and the tone of promotional activities, to customer service and the partners an organization aligns itself with.

To capture your philosophy successfully, you need a common rallying point. Brand marketing expert Jaleh Bisharat describes the process as defining the essence of your organization and building a “positive brand that is compelling to customers, focuses your team, and differentiates you from the competition.”

When it comes to branding, perception is everything

However you choose to describe it, your brand ultimately is not defined by you; it’s determined by the people who come into contact with your brand and how they interpret it. That power sets the question at the heart of branding: What do you want to be known or recognized for? 

Your brand strategy aims to shape these perceptions, getting beyond the checklist of logical benefits to a more emotional connection—how people feel about what you do and what you create.

No one department is responsible for making a good impression. Instead, everyone in the company has a role, whether they work at a sales counter, answer the phone, manage the Facebook page, or respond to help requests. As Godin observed in his book, Linchpin: “The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.”

From that point of view, brand development can be led by any number of leaders within an organization—although someone needs to take ownership. Often the branding process is led by someone with marketing experience, but may include design, sales, customer service, human resources, and others within an organization to make sure the same messaging, training, and “vibe” filters throughout the business. There are also branding consultants who can lead you through the creative process.

How to Position Your Brand

Branding starts with your position in your particular market. What niche or qualities do you want your customers to remember you for?

Consider your core competency—the specialized skills or knowledge your company excels in—and the mission that inspires your business. In his book, “Start With Why,” author Simon Sinek sums it up like this: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

From that core, consider how your business stands out in the marketplace—its unique selling point (USP). (If you struggle with this, or if you don’t know, market research can add helpful data to your analysis.)

Your business will always have competition, whether from similar products or services or just different options. For example, your customers may decide on a daily basis whether they want to play with your app or read a book during their morning commute.

  • What makes your brand or product appealing to your customers?
  • How do your competitors position themselves in the marketplace?
  • What do you do that your competitors don’t?
  • How are your experiences or results different?
  • What makes you unique?

Once you’ve defined how your organization fits within its industry, capture it in a positioning statement that will serve as a reference point going forward—consistency is the foundation for any strong brand. 

This statement should describe

  • Your target market
  • Your advantage over the competition
  • How you want customers to perceive your brand

This statement isn’t meant to be aspirational; it should be a promise that your organization can consistently deliver. If you need help, check out this advice from eCornell.

Brand Language: What You Say, How You Say It

The language (and visuals) that a brand uses can evoke a specific response and set expectations for customer experience. It includes everything from the name of your business and the products you sell to your core messaging and taglines.

Collectively, this brand voice is how you share your company’s story with the public: Who it is and what it represents.

Your voice isn’t just what you say—it’s also how you say it. The language used, tone of voice, and style all contribute to a personality that makes people feel a certain way.

Keeping that personality consistent and in line with your positioning statement across multiple channels and multiple people is a challenge, especially with the fluid dynamics of channels like social media.

“Brand identities can now be defined more by their customers than by the companies themselves,” wrote Jose Martinez Salmeron, executive creative director for Ogilvy Washington, in Smashing Magazine. “The ideal balance…stems from the ability to be flexible while keeping intact the core principles and attributes that formed the brand in the first place.”

How do you capture those core principles in a way that can be shared across your organization? It needs to be easy to share and easy to get—particularly for the “front line” people who interact most with your target audience.

Finding your voice

Building on your positioning statement, brand language should reflect:

  • Any buyer personas you’ve developed for your target audience. Your voice should be tailored to connect with them: tone, humor, the type of examples you use and stories you tell.
  • The core values of your organization. How can those core values be illustrated through the language and vocabulary you use?
  • The key messages or themes you want to share with your target audience.
  • The characteristics of your brand voice. How would you describe its personality?

A buyer persona gives you a more concrete version of your target audience to consider; finding solid examples of your brand voice can help, too. Some brands have a conversational and fun style, like Virgin, Method, or Oreo. Other brands, like Citi, Harvard Business Review, or Goldman Sachs, take a more formal tone to their communications.

To help you strike the right tone, you can also think about people—famous or not—whom you think your brand should emulate. What are the key traits that connect this person to your brand? What qualities do they have that you want people to recognize in your brand voice.

Brand Design: Getting the Visuals Right

Your brand identity is shaped by anything that visually represents your business or products—an outward expression of not just what you do, but how you want people to feel.

This includes your

  • logo
  • packaging
  • templates
  • website design
  • social media channel design
  • images
  • colors
  • typography 

Their influence may be subtle, but these visual elements combine with your brand language to create an impression. The goal of the design process is to match the appearance of your brand with the position you want to have in the marketplace: High-quality photography builds credibility and trust, and can help increase sales by distinguishing your product from its competitors; a logo can set the tone by looking whimsical and fun or formal and direct.

The skills to bring your design together

The specific skills needed to bring your visual branding to life will vary, from the technical skills needed to build the foundations for a website to finding someone with the right experience to wrap a product in packaging that appeals to your ideal customer. However, you will need a graphic designer to create the high-quality visual elements you need.

The Basics of Web Development: Markup Languages HTML, XML & XHTML

Markup languages are the brick and mortar of the Web—where it all started, when websites were just static pages with text and some formatting. Originating from typesetting processes used in early printing presses, these languages have long been used to annotate the text of a site, dictating both the architecture of a site and the display of text. While markup languages are a part of the past, that hasn’t made them obsolete. In fact, they’ve remained a core of development and its future as well.

Everything you see on the Web is a combination of markup (text), CSS (design) and front-end scripts (interactivity), and that markup is what creates a site’s foundation. HTML is the main markup for web pages, or just about anything displayed in a browser, which explains why it’s still incredibly relevant, and why so many developers know it.

Here’s a look at how these languages fit into the fabric of web development as a whole, what makes them different, and a few of the most notable ones in use.

Giving Information vs. Giving Instructions: How Markup Languages Differ from Programming Languages

The currency of markup languages is text. It controls how text is displayed, structured, and organized. While programming languages tell data and databases how to behave, HTML structures that data.

It works through annotations.

At its most basic, markup is peppered throughout text in the form of annotations, which tell software, or a browser, how to display that text. If you’ve ever seen HTML in the raw, you’ve probably noticed “tags”—descriptive commands embedded in text, set between opening and closing brackets. These tags indicate that whatever is inside those brackets is not text, but something for the browser to process—making text bold or hyperlinked or breaking a paragraph.

There are two types of markup: descriptive and procedural. Procedural markup handles physical treatment of text—embedded tags that give programs instructions for how to display text. Descriptive markup, like HTML, labels parts of a document into logical, structural parts—the headline starts here and ends here. For example, “The door is red” is descriptive, while “Open the door” is procedural. However, note that procedural markup is still not programming—it’s information that browsers are programmed to interpret.

Here’s a look at the three most popular markup languages and the basics of how they function:

HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)

HTML (hypertext markup language) was the first Internet-based language. This descriptive markup language is the core markup for all webpages, or most anything displayed in a browser, which is why it remains such a core skill for all developers. HTML has evolved to its most recent version, HTML5, which adds more features than previous versions and can now define the way videos, images, and text look.

Once a website’s HTML document is created, other aspects can be embedded into that markup—e.g., a JavaScript program can be embedded within HTML to add interactivity to the site, and cascading style sheets (CSS) can be linked to the HTML file to control all of the design aspects. In this way, it’s the backbone of the site.

XML (eXtensible Markup Language)

XML is another descriptive markup language that functions like a complement to HTML. Its core difference is that it describes elements of data (called “nodes”) while HTML displays that data. For example, in coding an online menu for a restaurant, XML tags could organize elements of each dish: the item name, description, and price. HTML tags would control how these elements were displayed: the item name in bold text, the description in italics, and the price in red.

XML had a second coming as a major building block of AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript + XML), the groundbreaking technology that allows websites and applications like Gmail to load or update specific elements without refreshing an entire page. An XMLHTTPRequest is the key to how AJAX works—it’s the core unit of measure when interacting with an XML file on a database, fetching specific information (in the form of XML nodes).

A quick side note on an XML alternate: JavaScript Object Notation (JSON)While it’s not a markup language, JSON is a simpler alternative to XML. Like XML, it’s a text-only, data-interchange format that’s used in AJAX applications. Many developers opt for JSON over XML with AJAX applications because it shares JavaScript’s same syntax, is language-independent, and takes less time to write. Learn more about JSON as it’s used in AJAX technology.

XHTML (eXtensible Hypertext Markup Language)

XHTML is essentially identical to HTML but is written in the same format as an XML application. Launched prior to HTML5, it combines the best of both languages and sought to address issues with more lenient HTML code (specifically with XHTML Mobile) that was proving problematic for mobile browser compatibility on small devices.

In summary: While developers may not always have to hand-code HTML or XML, it’s a skill they should have at least a working knowledge of. Because they’re such a fundamental part of the Web, markup languages are development’s native tongue—one your site should speak fluently.

What Type of Designer Do You Need?

The design world is always changing. Roles, mediums, trends, and technology continue to evolve.

The word “design” itself is a pretty broadly used term and can apply to everything from fashion and tech to manufacturing and architecture.

Finding the right person for any role can be a challenge. With a better understanding of the types of designers in today’s workforce and their roles, it’ll be that much easier to find the right designer for your project.

Here are general guidelines on designers: who they are and what they do. In general, designers are creative, spatially inclined thinkers with a great eye. As you read this, keep in mind that some designers may have expertise in more than one of these areas.

Graphic Designer

Graphic design is a form of visual communication and leverages images and other visual elements to convey ideas. It has become an umbrella term for various types of design work.

From logos to billboards to packaging for products, graphic designers bring concepts, ideas, and stories to life using typography, shapes, color, and images. They educate and inspire customers to learn more about something, to make a purchase, or to sign up. They use software such as Photoshop and InDesign to create static images and lay out pages. Designers who focus on printed materials like magazines or brochures are also known as print designers.

Graphic designers create

  • visual identity: logos, letterhead, business cards
  • marketing materials: brochures, flyers, postcards, posters
  • magazines, books, catalogs
  • product packaging
  • presentations
  • T-shirt designs
  • annual reports
  • illustrations

Skills: Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator

Interactive/Web Designer

From landing pages and blog templates to entire websites and mobile apps, the digital space is an interactive designer’s domain.

Creating a beautiful design is only part of the job. Interactive or web designers also need to understand the technology used to build websites and turn their designs into actual online experiences. As a result, some designers may have an understanding of front-end web development and might know programming languages such as JavaScript. That said, content management systems or CMS, such as WordPress and Drupal, are widely used for many websites today. They make it easier for designers to customize premade templates and themes without needing to work with a developer or know programming languages.

In general, web designers will know Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.) and some may also know CSS and HTML.

Because of the complexity of the web, there are many relatively new (and in-demand) skills designers may specialize in:

User experience (UX): explores the experience people have using a site, app, or tool to ensure it’s easy to use and not confusing.

User interface (UI): involves how people navigate through a site, app, or tool, using elements such as buttons, menus, color, and images.

Many designers may be skilled at both UX and UI.

Interaction design: focuses on how people are involved with the experience of the product, for example, a progress bar that shows where you are while signing up for a site or an icon that changes color to signal you’ve turned on a setting.

Information architecture (IA): involves creating the blueprint for a website by making sure it’s organized in an understandable way. Information architects come from a variety of backgrounds, including design, writing, library science, and psychology.

Interactive designers create

Skills: Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, CSS, HTML, wireframing, prototyping

Motion Graphics Designer

The world of the motion graphics designer evolves frame by frame. Whether they’re creating an explainer video or the opening title sequence of a movie, motion graphics designers bring movement to otherwise static images, text, illustrations, and more. For instance, to develop an online video, they typically will start by creating storyboards that map out each scene based on a script. From there, they put the scenes and images together, adding motion and graphical elements to ensure it moves seamlessly from frame to frame. They also sync up the action in each scene with a voiceover or music.

Motion graphics designers create

  • explainer videos
  • storyboards
  • promotional videos
  • animated graphics (for TV shows, for example)
  • movie title sequences
  • product demos
  • animated presentations

Skills: Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Cinema 4D, Maya


Without animators, we wouldn’t have been enchanted by Elsa in Frozen, hooked on Halo, or transported to Middle-Earth in The Lord of the Rings. From animated films to special effects to video games, animators bring stories, characters, and entire other worlds to life through software such as 3ds Max, Maya, Cinema 4D, After Effects, and Blender. Designs can be two-dimensional (2D) or three-dimensional (3D).

Animators create

  • movie special effects
  • animated films
  • video games

Skills: 3ds Max, Maya, Cinema 4D, Blender, After Effects, Flash, Photoshop

Architectural Designer

Drafting plans for houses, buildings, and outdoor spaces is all in a day’s work for an architectural designer. They translate concepts from engineers, architects, and clients into drawings and 3D models. They use software such as AutoCAD and Revit and are familiar with building codes and construction materials.

Architectural designers create

  • technical drawings
  • building plans
  • documentation
  • renderings

Skills: AutoCAD, 3ds Max Design, Rhino, Grasshopper, V-Ray, SketchUp, Revit, ArchiCAD, Photoshop, Illustrator

Interior Designer

Color swatches, furniture, fixtures, and measuring tape are a few of the tools of the trade for interior designers. They transform spaces to make them more functional, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing. They select furniture, accessories, paint, lighting, fabrics, and other elements based on the space and their client’s needs and style preferences. Many designers create drawings or diagrams of the layout or floor plan of the space with programs such as AutoCAD or Revit.

Interior designers create

  • floor plans
  • diagrams
  • layouts
  • functional spaces
  • visually appealing spaces

Skills: AutoCAD, Revit, SketchUp, Photoshop

Industrial Designer/Product Designer

Consumer electronics, cars, construction equipment. Industrial designers, also known as product designers, develop every kind of product imaginable for a wide variety of industries and purposes. Through prototyping, testing, and iterating, they bring products to life. They also consider the function, form, and ergonomics of a product when designing. They use computer-aided design (CAD) programs such as AutoCAD or SolidWorks to create and manipulate 3D models of a product. Renowned designers like Apple’s Jony Ive, as well as Philippe Starck, and Charles and Ray Eames, have created iconic—and extremely popular—products.

Industrial designers create

  • consumer and household items
  • cars, bikes, planes
  • consumer hardware and electronics
  • appliances
  • medical devices
  • machinery

Skills: 3ds Max Design, AutoCAD, SolidWorks, AcceliCAD, MathCAD, Catia, Ansys

Instructional Designer

Within a company, instructional designers create learning experiences for a wide range of subjects such as new hire onboarding, product tutorials, legal and compliance protocols, and management development. Whether they’re in a virtual classroom or a conference room, they understand how people learn and create experiences that will be effective for diverse audiences.

Instructional designers create

  • training videos
  • instructional materials
  • courses and workshops

Skills: Photoshop, PowerPoint, Captivate, Lectora, Flash, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Google Apps (Docs, Slides, etc.)


Corporate Identity: Look Like a Million Bucks (or More)

You’ve got your big idea, you’ve started to assemble your team, and you’re on your way. What’s next?

At some point, it’s necessary to go from looking like a scrappy upstart to a more established business. No matter if your company is small, scaling up, or a sizeable organization, you’ll want to ensure that the first impression you make is memorable for the right reasons—not the wrong ones.

Corporate identity plays an important role in communicating who you are and what you stand for to people who might not be familiar with your company. It’s an extension of your brand and a visual representation of it.

Consistency is key; your corporate identity not only needs to align with your mission and values, but it also has to be communicated consistently across everything from your email signature to the logo on your website to your business cards.

Your company’s name is the cornerstone of your identity. If you haven’t settled on a name yet, there are a host of things to consider when deciding on one. It needs to be distinctive, easy to remember, and relatively short. Take a look at Inc.’s guide for more tips on how to pick the right name.

After you’ve finalized the name of your company, it’s time to start thinking about your logo, which is an essential part of your brand and the crux of your corporate identity kit. It needs to reflect who you are, what you do, and how you want people to view your company. Most of all, it needs to be easy to identify. For ideas on how to go about creating a logo, read this article from Entrepreneur. You’ll most likely want to engage a designer or creative agency.

Once you’ve got your name and logo locked down, your creative team can get to work on developing the other elements of your corporate identity kit.

Typically a corporate identity kit includes

  • logos in various formats, such as EPS and PNG files
  • logo usage guidelines
  • stationery: letterhead, business cards, envelopes, folders
  • business templates: invoices, for example

Corporate identity design also extends to brochures, product packaging, signs, and schwag (i.e. T-shirts, bags, mugs, etc. adorned with your logo).

Regardless of the size of your company or the stage it’s in, a great logo and polished corporate identity kit are crucial elements that help pave the way for the future success of your business. They’ll help confirm to customers and clients that your company is a professional, high-quality organization they should be doing business with.

10 More Tools to Boost Your Business’ Efficiency

In our last post, we highlighted 10 of the best tools for collaboration. With so many great—and affordable—tools on the market today, we decided to cover 10 more to help you scale your business.

Cloud-based products typically offer significant cost savings over traditional software and can greatly help increase efficiency. You just need an Internet connection and you can give your entire team access no matter where they’re based.

If you have people working in different offices or remote locations like their homes, these tools are not only convenient but also very cost-effective. Not to mention, most of these tools have apps so you can use them on the go.

From accounting to payroll solutions, here are several tools to help you streamline processes and increase effectiveness in key areas of your business.

  1. Zenefits

This free HR tool enables you to onboard new hires quickly and to manage paperwork and benefits for employees—all online. The company can also help you select insurance providers and plans.

  1. ZenPayroll

An online payroll solution, ZenPayroll automates the payroll process, including payments and taxes. It electronically generates and files tax documents and deposits payments directly into employees’ bank accounts.

  1. Zendesk

The last “Zen” product on our list, Zendesk is a very popular customer service solution. It connects email, chat, social media, and phone channels in one dashboard. Since it’s online, your support agents can help customers from anywhere.

  1. Xero

Founded in New Zealand, Xero provides online accounting software for invoicing, managing cash flow, paying employees, creating purchase orders, and more.

  1. RingCentral

An affordable alternative to traditional office phone systems, this Internet-based phone service provides voicemail, faxing, and phone lines for your company and employees. Everyone can be on the same system even if they’re in different states.

  1. MailChimp

This email marketing service provider reportedly sends more than 500 million emails a month on behalf of its customers. It’s known for being easy to use and includes analytics tools and A/B testing.

  1. Hootsuite

Hootsuite is a very popular tool that lets you manage your social network accounts in one place. Schedule posts in advance, post messages in bulk, monitor engagement, and more to streamline your company’s social media channels.

  1. Magento or Shopify

If you’re looking to set up an online store, Magento and Shopify are two popular e-commerce platforms. Shopify is easy to use and works well for smaller businesses. Magento is owned by eBay and geared toward larger companies, like current customers Nike and Vizio.

  1. Carbonite or CrashPlan

It’s always a good idea to back up your data. Carbonite and CrashPlan are two online storage services that will automatically back up your files to the cloud for safekeeping.

  1. Optimizely

Test, test, and test again. This online optimization platform enables you to run and track A/B tests on your website or mobile app, so you can optimize the experience.