About the Author: Jonathan Sanders

Jonathan Sanders

Jonathan Sanders is the self-professed "Geek of the Office", and we couldn't be happier about that. He keeps us running, and keeps our clients' web sites updated and in fine shape. When describing his love of technology and all things gadgetry-related, he says, "I guess it's just the perfect playground for an ADD brain to find what it needs." Indeed.

Recent Posts from Jonathan Sanders:

Current Social Media Trends

If you are a small business owner, you have probably heard this line a thousand times: “Are you utilizing social media yet?” If you’re not, you probably roll your eyes, wondering why there is so much emphasis on it these days. After all, it has been difficult to actually quantify its effectiveness. I recently found an article on SocialMediaExaminer.com that just may shed some light on why you need to be looking into using social media if you aren’t already doing so. Here are some of the current social media trends:

  1. The benefits are continually on the rise. As business owners and marketers have continued to increasingly use social media, the benefits have become increasingly clear. Rather than counting on it for lead generation, marketers and businesses are seeing it as a way to create brand awareness. While it is not easy to quantify the ROI on this, brand awareness is no less crucial to a business.
  2. More businesses are investing in their social media marketing. This means that you risk being left behind. The good news is, however, that many businesses are not using it as effectively as they could, which means that you still have time to get in and leapfrog your competition.
  3. Businesses and marketing agencies view the value of social media differently. As I’ve mentioned above, it is typically quite difficult to measure ROI. However, marketers are finding an increased correlation between social media engagement and getting found online. With more and more people using Google instead of the Yellowpages to find businesses, it is easy to see how important it is to be found online.
  4. Having an integrated social media plan will make you more money. Several surveys have found that there are still a lot of businesses that have not fully integrated social media into their marketing plans. However, the ones that do are seeing a greater financial reward for their efforts. In short, it pays to engage your potential customers.

While I won’t come close to saying that social media is the great panacea for your business’ marketing woes, I will say that it is a very important cog in the machine. When evaluating your marketing budget, take the time to see how social media can fit into your overall plan. You won’t regret it.

Catching Up With Taylor Hill, Part 2

In this final part of my conversation with Taylor Hill, we discuss the ROI of SEO, and what type of questions companies should ask when shopping for SEO services.

Jonathan Sanders: Why do you think people or companies have a tendency to cut costs in web/SEO work?

Taylor Hill: It’s human nature to not pursue what you don’t understand.  Most people understand getting traffic, but they don’t get the work that has to be done or understand why it’s not an instant solution. SEO is no different then any other part of a business plan, it takes work and commitment to the process to see the change.  Companies will spend big bucks to get 1 to 2% ROI (return on investment) with traditional marketing because they know what to expect and can count on the return pretty much every time.  With the Internet, knowing search engines change the algorithms every time you turn around, you can be on top today (on the front page of an organic search) and 10 pages into the search tomorrow.  I think this frustrates many companies and they either toughen up and pay for SEO, pay to learn it or they will eventually give up.

JS: What are some suggestions you have for people or companies who are about to look into SEO? What questions do they need to ask?

TH: Well, the very first question I would ask is this; can you tell me if anyone is looking for what I do?  You would be amazed at how many people are trying to get business from areas that have little or no potential in the first place.  If people aren’t looking for you or what you do, you are in trouble and no matter how much money you sink into the site it will be an uphill battle.  Now I say this as a general rule as there are times when something brand new comes along and it breaks through.

I can also tell you what not to ask; is there a guarantee that this will put me on the front page?  I could truthfully answer this question both yes and no.  I can get people on the front page of Google in no time at all for keywords and phrases that will bring in some (little or no) traffic.  I’ve actually seen SEO companies market phrases that they can get you to the front page.  The problem with this is it’s smoke and mirrors.  These are very low search phrases.  You can read enough free SEO forums to do that yourself because it’s relatively easy.  However, companies want returns on investment (ROI).  If a company pays thousands and all they get are a couple of front page listings for a couple of long tail phrases, they will be disappointed.  When you go for valued (high searched) keywords, normally, you are in a battle for position and it takes a lot of effort and time to get on the front page of an organic search.  That translates into money or time or both, if you learn SEO yourself.  Because it’s a battle, there are no guarantees for the main keywords and phrases.  And that’s before you add in the unknown, which is the algorithm changes from the search engines. There is no way anyone can really give a guarantee for that.

What I believe to be the most valued question that every company or individual should ask is: do you understand ROI and if so, can you show me what SEO can do for my company’s ROI?  If a company is not on the Internet to boost their ROI, why are are they spending money here?  The first thing I would want to see from a SEO person or company is an analysis of my business on the web.  A projection of sorts showing me what the potential is for my business model, whether that be ecommerce, leads or simply branding.  You show me potential (or lack thereof) so I can make a good decision and I’ll always remember you!  On my end, if you remember me as the guy who either saved you money by telling you it was a bad idea or helped you make money by showing you the potential; I’m either working for you now or will be soon.

Catching Up With Taylor Hill, Part 1

I was speaking with a friend the other day, and an interesting question came up: how does someone get started in SEO/SEM (Search Engine Optimization/Search Engine Marketing)? I figured the best person to ask would be our very own SEO guru, Taylor Hill. If you are familiar with Taylor, you will know that he is a man of many interests and talents. Taylor recently sat down with me to answer some questions about SEO.

Jonathan Sanders: How did you get started? Was it necessity or interest?

Taylor Hill: I created a website for a business I was in and paid a lot of money for the template to build the site.  There was some SEO associated with the site and when I got started doing the things that were recommended, I saw a little movement but not much.  It was after that experience I thought there has to be something else because I see where other’s are getting on the front page of Google.  It was after that thought that I jumped down the rabbit hole.

JS: What are common misunderstandings about SEO work?

TH: I think the most common misunderstanding still today is that if you build a pretty, expensive website, people will eventually find you.  It’s not that you shouldn’t build a website, but you will need to either learn or find a good SEO person or company to help build it (or modify it, if already built) to make sure it has the elements to get picked up by the search engine spiders on the site itself.  This is called on-page SEO.  There is a lot of off-page work that will need to be done, but if the on-page work is not correct, it doesn’t matter what you do off page.  The other thing I would say people should know, if they are paying attention, is your site will need good original content.  If you don’t want to create it or pay someone to create it… well, it will sit there looking pretty.

JS: Why do companies need SEO?

TH: That’s easy – traffic.  The Internet is no different than a brick and mortar store, location is key.  The location is the front page of a search engine after someone does an organic search.  The goal is the front page of Google since it’s the dominant search engine today.

I have more with Taylor in my next post. Stay tuned!

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Google No Longer Posting 3rd Party Reviews On Place Pages

News flash! If you were relying on Yelp, Angie’s List and InsiderPages to get extra reviews on your Google Place pages, you won’t be anymore. Google, under a torrent of criticism, has stopped scrapping those sites’ reviews. 3rd party sites have long complained that Google was using their content, or content generated on their sites, to boost it’s own review service, Google Places. Yelp has been particularly vocal with their displeasure.

This has created a bit of a quandary for small business owners that benefited from having reviews of their businesses aggregated in one place. Now, if you go to a company’s Place Page, it might look a little bare. Only reviews from registered Google users will appear there.

The winners in this scenario are clearly the 3rd party sites. Google will no longer be able to piggyback off of their hard work to bolster it’s own review site. Plus, I think Google will really have to improve their user review process. The losers are users of Google’s search. It will be a bit more time consuming to do research on the companies they are looking into. I don’t think Google is affected in any particularly large way. Their place page results are still going to appear at the top of the SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages).

What does this mean for business owners? It means that they are going to have to send their satisfied customers to multiple places to post their reviews. I don’t think this is a bad thing, though. For the time being, more people are engaging sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. However, do not ignore Google Places. Not only does it appear at the top of the SERP’s, but it is also gaining traction in the mobile app world. In other words, if you diversify your online presence, you won’t have anything to worry about.

Catching Up with Carter Harkins, Part 2

I’m back with part 2 of my conversation with Carter Harkins. Here we talk more about what a client should think about with their video, and how the different video formats work both online and with mobile technologies.

Jonathan Sanders: What are considerations potential clients must take into account when thinking about adding a/v to their website?

Carter Harkins: Audio and video are sometimes viewed as being expensive, but the initial costs will provide many years of continued value for the business that uses them. In order to make the most of an online video strategy, I like to help my clients think about offline ways the same content could be used, or to see if there is a strategy that makes sense for purposing the same content across multiple marketing channels and projects.  This way of thinking helps to unify the brand message, and keeps costs considerably lower while increasing opportunities for exposure across many additional mediums.  It’s a large commitment to deploy video on a web site, but the returns have been huge for several of our clients.

More than just offering video production services, we are content strategists.  It’s about the process of evaluating the core activities of a business, and devising a plan to put video to work in roles such as making more sales, answering more customer questions, and telling powerfully motivating stories, among other things.

JS: Are there any formats you prefer to work with (.mov, .wmv, .flv, etc.)? What formats do you find to be more reliable?

CH: I think I let the answer to that slip out in a previous question, but yes, .flv is still my format of choice for web-browser-destined video. I use .mov and .wmv for other purposes, but usually more as an intermediate format for client approval or personal offline use.

This is probably getting a bit geeky now, but since it taps into your previous question about the future of Flash, I must say I am thrilled that Adobe has baked in the H.264 codec for HD quality video at super-low file sizes. I have been amazed at how good some of these large-format videos appear at full resolution, and it really does show that Adobe gets it, and is responding to the changes in its marketplace.

JS: To enable web video we’ve tried faster connections and more compressed video. Now that more services (Hulu, Netflix, Amazon.com, etc.) are streaming long format video, what do you think needs to be done to improve the experience? Do you think we need an upgrade in network infrastructure or more innovative compression techniques?

CH: Perhaps a little of both.  Streaming technologies become much more important for long-format video, so that viewers can jump around quickly to different sections of the linear timeline without having to download the entire file first.  Again, Flash excels here, in my opinion.

There are certainly a lot of companies, both established and startups alike, that are putting their best minds to work on the issues of content delivery.  As “out of the box” TV moves more and more into the mainstream of viewing habits, I anticipate that we’ll start to see motherboards with dedicated HD video chipsets. This would keep the decode/encode load off the main processor, and provide a better viewing experience for most users without sophisticated and expensive after-market video cards. It would also mean that smaller, highly compressed HD video files would be possible for real-time viewing at full resolution without the typical “hiccups” encountered on playback of certain compression schemas, including Flash in the browser.

JS: How have mobile technologies affected audio/video development for the web?

CH: It’s been a pretty profound shift.  We now sometimes maintain several file versions of the same video content, in order to deliver the best experience to each viewer, depending on their device (Android, iOS, WindowsMobile, etc.).  Social video sites are also doing this automatically with uploaded videos now.  The mobile revolution we see unfolding is making it easier to watch video anywhere, anytime, but for content producers, it has made publishing for all these new devices a lot more strategic and labor-intensive. Safeguarding a unified viewing experience across so many devices, screen sizes and resolutions is a myth.  We just stay with industry best practices for each device right now.

Having said that, I am hopeful about the future of mobile internet devices.  When I put my entrepreneur/innovator hat on, I see a lot of opportunity right now.  Seriously, this is a good time to be building apps in the mobile video space.  Know any investors that I should be friends with?

Catching Up with Carter Harkins, Part 1

We spend a lot of time writing about our individual levels and areas of expertise, but this time, I wanted Carter Harkins to express himself through a series of questions and answers. He has a pretty varied background, and it was a lot of fun to pick his brain. Here is part 1 of my interview with him.

Jonathan Sanders: How did you get started providing Audio/Video services for the web?

Carter Harkins: I am a musician from way back, and I play keyboard/synthesizer, so I have always been pretty connected to the technical side of the arts. When the world wide web came along in the 90’s, I immediately got interested in how computers could be used to musically collaborate across distances. These days, it’s no big deal for a bass player to lay down his part in Chicago one day, and put it on the web for the saxophone player in London to add his part. But back then it was The Holy Grail.

Video came later as I started experimenting with digital imagery as part of marketing musicians I worked with.  And at some point, I realized that I had the skills to be able to handle the audiovisual web for clients, so I just hung out my shingle and opened for business. It’s been a lot of fun, from the early days until now, growing into a full-service marketing firm people are taking seriously.

JS: Are there any common misconceptions about how audio/video works online?

CH: There are a LOT of small technical things that, if not understood properly, can add up to something that sounds or looks awful.  I’ve done a lot of podcasting for clients, and the number one misconception is that the audiences are all listening on iPods. They aren’t. They listen in front of their computers on those dinky little monitor-mounted speakers. So engineering the sound for that environment means that my recordings always sound better to people.

In video there are still way too many codecs and formats for the web, and people tend to only publish their video for the platform they own (PC or MAC), ignoring the other platform entirely. If the video is going to be seen on the web, I go with Flash video, because it is completely cross-platform, and the only format that in natively installed on about 98% of all computers worldwide.  Mobile content is another story these days, so lately we are encoding videos in multiple formats, aimed at and optimized for the devices that are popular today.

But perhaps the biggest misconception about a/v content on the web is that you can do whatever you want to with it. Copyright laws have NOT kept up with the internet explosion, and technology makes it super-easy to rip music and download videos, but just because you can do those things so easily doesn’t mean that it’s legal.

JS: There are a lot of web video standards now, with H.264 being a particularly strong competitor to Flash. Nonetheless, Flash is still the most used format for video on the web. Where do you see Adobe taking it?

CH: Flash now utilizes the “H-dot” standard natively, so there’s no real competition there any longer.  What has always made the Flash environment more interesting to me than other ways of doing video is how it can use video in a rich, data-driven way to deliver user experiences that are built around visual content.  In these applications, video is just the content that fuels other interactions.  HTML5 is starting to touch on these tools now as well, but Flash has been doing it for years.

We have begun to see the full version of Flash supported on phones, tablets and handheld devices this year. That opens up an entirely new playground of fun to be had. Even with Apple and the Flashless iPad and iPhone exploding in popularity, and HTML5 standards making many of the features of Flash less attractive in the browser, Adobe doesn’t seem to be resting on the fact that it has always had market dominance. Things change fast in the online space, so Adobe is still pushing the envelope. It’s still a strong contender for multimedia applications.

Stay tuned for more of this interview.

Have You Filled Out Your Google Profile?

Did you know that Google has given everyone the ability to create their own profile? Now it has become that much easier to tell the world what you’re about. In an age where we can never truly get rid of things said about us, we can now have at least some control over what’s out there.

This can be a really crucial act of self promotion and online reputation management. Think about it. You cannot control what people say about you on Facebook. Neither can you on Twitter, LinkedIn or any other social media site. However, with Google Profiles, the first thing people see when they search your name can be your Google profile. The one that you created and filled out yourself. You can explain your core values and standards in your own words. Don’t underestimate how valuable this can be to prospective clients or employers.

Online reputation management is becoming crucial these days. You can no longer afford to keep your head in the sand. Take control of the things that you can.