Posts on November 2016

SEO vs. SEM: What’s the Difference?

So everyone wants to drive more traffic to their websites, right? But the real question there is how should you go about that process? Of course, there are multiple options – integrating social media, inviting guest bloggers to write for you, among others. However, perhaps the most popular option is to start up an advertising campaign. This is an easy way to drive the most people to your website. Unfortunately this brings up another set of options concerning how to go about the ad campaign. In this post we will delve into two options: search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).

What is SEO?

At its simplest, search engine optimization is the process of making your website more visible when people use a search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo). Website owners don’t have to pay anything to use it, and it involves using “organic” or “natural” keywords and links.

This begs another question: what do the terms “organic” and “natural” mean in this sense? In essence, it’s advertising you do yourself. In order to appear at the top of search results, you must utilize key words, titles of blog posts or articles, and take full advantage of back linking. Back linking is the act of using a hyperlink that connects back to your website. Many search engines consider websites with more back links to be more relevant and thus places them higher in search results.

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing is the paid, older brother of SEO. While SEM is the broader term, it mainly refers to paid ads that website owners purchase in order to position their website higher on search results. Through programs like Google AdWords, you can pay per click, and choose where your ad appears, as well as set a budget and track who is clicking on your ads. This allows you to create ads for select groups of people and only show the ads in certain places.

So which should you use?

There are many debates today about which of the above strategies is better in the long term for an ad campaign. Each has its own set of distinct advantages. SEO certainly takes a longer time to show any return on interest, however, if done right, you can reap the benefits. You just need patience, and somebody who knows the system. SEM, on the other hand, can be considered almost instant gratification. Anyone with a credit card can pay per click and then place their ads where they want them and see instant results.

You will need to sit down with your business plan and decide which of these options is for you. Many websites employ both of these, using SEO all of the time, and constantly improving on it, while they use SEM on a case-by-case basis. Any way you spin it, using SEO or SEM (or both!) will help to increase traffic to your site and improve visibility of it on search results.

Email Lists and Getting More Subscribers

A lot of companies collect email addresses on their site, but don’t know what to do with them once they have them. Sometimes the newly acquired address is sent to an admin of a company who keeps a long Excel document full of addresses from various subscribers. Other companies store them in the website itself (not a bad idea for safe keeping) but then they just sit there.

Rather than just having email addresses sit and not make you money, setup some automation that will automatically feed those email addresses into a mailing list. Our preferred provider is MailChimp, however there are plenty others out there (Constant Contact, AWeber and many more).

MailMuch allows you to setup a pop up box that allows people to type in their email address and then dynamically feed that address to a specified list in your MailChimp account.  You can specify what types of pages/posts the pop up shows on, the frequency in which it is shown as well as the content of the popup itself.

Ninja Forms and Gravity Forms have MailChimp and Constant Contact integrations that automatically pass through the person’s email address to a specified list in your email list provider’s account.  So setup a basic contact form and have the address be automatically submitted to a list if they “check off” a box that says they approve receiving blasts from your company.

Once you start putting your potential customer’s email addresses into systems that can actually utilize them, you now give your marketing team the ability to start getting in touch with these people much easier.  Now your lists can start making you money rather than collecting dust on a shelf.

Website Down! How To Check

60 second tip: There are many, many reasons as to why your website wouldn’t be pulling up for you on a given day. One quick tool we use at Classic City is DownForEveryoneOrJustMe.com. This free service gives you quick access to see if your website is down across the world or if it just happens to be your computer acting weird today. Next time you can’t get to your site, check this site out first, and if it is let us know here and we can assist you!

Why Your Web Experience Matters

User experience (UX) can quietly make or break a website. UX refers not to how a site looks, but how it functions for a user. A beautiful site will initially catch a visitor’s eye, but doesn’t guarantee the outcomes a website exists to create. Once your business or application has someone’s attention, it should guide them through interacting with the site easily and smoothly. Through retaining user attention and facilitating desired actions, a site that is easy to navigate simply produces better results.

Usability Across All Devices

Responsiveness and user experience are not the same thing, but they should work together in a well designed website. Responsiveness, which we will discuss further in the coming weeks, refers to a site’s ability to operate effectively and attractively across various devices, from the biggest monitor to the smallest smartphone. Good UX must hold up across devices. For designers, this means ensuring that important buttons and desired actions are placed well on all platforms. There is a trend toward “mobile first” design, since the limited space of a mobile device necessitates such intentional prioritization. Regardless of where you begin your design process, a website’s effectiveness hinges on its ease of use on all devices.

User experience is not about keeping up with current design trends. Remaining trendy and relevant is important, but UX should never suffer because of efforts to modernize. We recommend that highly visible businesses experiment with new designs about once a year and completely overhaul their look every two years. However, UX must remain consistently strong to ensure that customers can easily interact with the site after any changes are made. Your customers should never have to figure out how to make a purchase. They should be guided through it by an intuitive experience.

Define Your Calls to Action

Well defined calls to action are not exactly what we mean by UX. UX is about how your site executes its calls to action and facilitates the user’s interaction with your business. Amazon is a great example of this. We all know what Amazon wants its visitors to do – make a purchase and do it now. But notice how easy that make it for a user to comply. Their site prominently invites you to “add to cart” as soon as you are looking at a product. Amazon would never expect their users to fumble around to figure out how to send them money, and neither should you. Once your user is interested in answering your call to action, make sure they have an easy time doing so!

Great functionality requires some planning, but intentionally setting up your site to further your goals is essential. Don’t waste your time and money on a site that doesn’t optimize your visibility and sales. Invest in excellent UX early to get the most out of each user’s visit. You’ll see the results in repeat traffic and in your desired outcomes.

Hosting Your Business Website

There are tons of hosting providers and each person has their personal preference as to who is the best out there. We have worked with all the “big name players” out there: GoDaddy, Host Monster, Host Gator, 1and1, Bluehost, DreamHost, Media Temple, SiteGround and many more. However, after testing all of these services, we have finally come to a conclusion that WPEngine is the best fit for our WordPress websites.

Managed Hosting

We were looking for a completely “managed WordPress environment” for our clients. What is a managed environment? Simply: all the technical aspects of hosting a website are 100% managed by your hosting provider. It’s like a concierge service for your website. They take care of your core WordPress updates, daily backups, server upgrades, scaling your website when necessary and giving you a staging environment that you can push to production with one click. All of this is done as a part of your managed environment. Let’s dive into each of these pieces.

Core WordPress Updates

One of the first things that happens after you get a new WordPress website is forgetting to do the core WordPress updates. All of them are free to download and install (as a matter of fact, they only take one click to accomplish), however it is very rarely done. With WPEngine they will auto-upgrade your website if they notice you haven’t done your core update after a certain number of days. This helps keep your website patched with all the newest security fixes. And before they do it, they will automatically back your website up in case of failure.
Daily Backups

WPEngine automatically backs your website every day and keeps those backups around indefinitely. You also have the ability to do a manual backup of your site in case you’re making some changes you think might harm your site. Before you do any upgrading, WPEngine pops up a box that reminds you that before you process any upgrade (plugin, theme or core WordPress) to do a manual back to be safe in case anything breaks.

Server Upgrades + Scaling

Unless you have an IT staff, you probably don’t want to have to manage server patching, system upgrades and uptime guarantee for the server your website is hosted on. WPEngine takes care of all of that for you. Now, instead of having to hire an IT staff to manage all of those items, it is all taken care of behind-the-scenes for you.

Staging Website

Personally, this is one of my favorite features that WPEngine has to offer. Let’s say you have some sweeping changes you want to make to your website, however you don’t want to alter your live website because you need to test those changes. Normally, your only options are to hire some IT people to migrate your website over to another server, do all the edits you want and then migrate it back to your production server in the middle of the night.

With WPEngine’s staging website, one click from your production server gets you a fully-functioning staging site on it’s own separate domain name (that is not indexable by search engines) and is password protected. You can make all of your content, style, theme, plugin (etc) changes there and once you’re happy with it, you can click a single button and WPEngine will move the whole back to your production server within a few short minutes. Production deployments went from a very lengthy process to the epitome of simple.


Dedicated WordPress hosting is very important to us. We want a team of people who know WordPress inside and out – not just do it part time. They only host WordPress websites and because of that, everyone on their team has to know WordPress. Their staff is knowledgeable on how plugins interact with one another, common errors in log files, nuances of adding an SSL certificate to a website that has never had one and many more. They are a perfect compliment to your IT/marketing team.

Domain Name: Finding The Right One

You have this fantastic business idea, but now you need to figure out what domain name that works best. Should you shorten your name (since that domain name happens to be available) or should you use your full name (since that’s what people will be searching for)? First, you need to define what you want people to search for and then hone in on your new domain name.

What Are People Going To Search For?

Let’s say your company name is Thompson Home Renovations. You definitely know potential customers are going to be search for Thompson Home Renovations since that is your full company name. You definitely should pick up that domain name (even if you have to shell out a little bit of money to purchase it from someone).

You know that eventually, people are probably going to just call your company name (around their friends) Thompson Home. Given that you know this is a good possibility, it’ll be a good idea to go ahead to see if you can grab this domain name as well.

Tip: We do the same thing for Classic City Consulting. We own ClassicCity.com, ClassicCityConsulting.com as well as ClassicCity.consulting. We point all of them back to ClassicCity.com since it’s shorter and we want people to start calling us Classic City.

What Not To Do with .com

Given that a lot of .com domain names have already been taken, some business owners get excited about shortening their name and using it for their domain name. However, this will not help you out from an SEO perspective in the long run.

Don’t use dashes: No one will remember where they are supposed to be placed or even remember if they should actually be present. Just because you can have dashes doesn’t mean you should.

Don’t abbreviate your name: In our example above, you don’t want to own ThompHomeReno.com. Much like with dashes, people aren’t going to remember what part of your name is abbreviated. It’s best to go for the lengthy version or (if you have the luxury) modify your business name before committing to a domain name.

Make sure your domain name is appropriate: Your name might look correct in your logo (and with spaces in the correct locations), however a domain name is agnostic towards those items. teacherstalking.org definitely looks like Teacher Stalking at first, but in reality the website is about Teachers Talking.

The Wrap-Up

With the invention of websites, having an appropriate domain name for your business is as critical as naming your business. Before you get too excited about a name you came up with, check for it’s availability on the web before you sign too much paperwork with the state for your business license. It could save you a lot of hassle (and a lot of money) in the long run.

Details: Overlooked Branding

You have your main brand: your logo is slick, your color scheme makes your website “pop” and your font selection really hits home with your audience. You website design matches up perfectly with your logo to make your company feel like one cohesive machine in your digital presence.

However, there are a few details that are frequently overlooked that can help when content leaves the safety of your website. You want your visitors/customers to easily identify your logo and brand on other platforms – like blogs and social media. The different forms of media you use to advertise need to look the stylistically the same. For example, let’s say you produce a few things on a regular basis:

  1. Podcast
  2. YouTube “How To” Videos
  3. Blog

Too frequently, small businesses let the social media channel choose the imagery that is associated with each of those outbound links. By doing so, companies surrender their carefully crafted brand. While followers feeds are cluttered with average images and a new visitor can’t determine which link goes out to which type of content.

This is why prioritizing your branding details is so important. So any viewer of social media isn’t confused with a barrage of imagery, it’s good to style and layout the visual content for each of your “channels” uniquely while still maintaining consistent with the overall brand style of the company.

Perhaps all of your blog posts utilize a black-and-white photo with a specific type of text overlay so people can see the featured image and title by just looking at the image. While your YouTube videos feature a red tint over the image (since your main color is red), the Youtube logo in the top left and a black bar across the bottom with the video’s title.

Once you create these mini brand guidelines, now all of your media still feels like your brand, but can be distinguished by customers as to what type of content it is without having to think about it.

Web Essentials: A Landing Page that Doesn’t Suck

8 SECONDS.

That’s all you have to get someone’s attention on the landing page they hit when they come to your site. Upon first loading up your site, does your content scream to everyone what you do and why you are the best at it? If not, you may want to consider reconstructing your layout and verbiage.

What You Do

Over at Classic City Consulting, we offer a lot of services. How we display those services to our potential customers is a rather difficult task (and we often discuss if what we are doing fits well with what our customers want to see). We offer:

  • Website design
  • Social media management
  • Print materials (design and printing)
  • Pay-per-click advertisement
  • Corporate branding
  • Application development
  • Video production
  • Workshops for branding strategy

That’s a lot. If we were to throw all of that out there “above the fold” on our homepage, customers would have no idea where to actually start – and no idea what we specialize in.

In order to be concise, we first start off a short definition of who we are:

A Digital Draftsman who helps you figure out what you need to be doing to further your brand.

From there, we breakdown our core services as:

  • Web
  • Social
  • Print

With that order on the website, people first understand we are a full-service consulting business with a specialty in web, social and print. All of that is easy to convey to people within eight seconds of being on our website. Do we cover every minor detail of what we have to offer? No. However we cover the majority of it.

Why You’re the Best

The next item you need to cover thoroughly is why you stand out above the rest. Why should a potential customers entrust you with their hard-earned dollars and not your competitor next door?

When is the last time you made a purchase decision based on a celebrity telling you the product was amazing? Sure, it may have caught your attention, but did you really buy the new phone because Jamie Foxx said it was awesome? Or was it because you saw real people using the phone in their everyday lives the way you would be using it?

People like to see other real people tell their story. Yes, it’s great to have big-name brands on your homepage to give yourself some credibility, but nothing beats a real person who tells a real story about how your product/services helped them out. So yes, put your name brands on your site – they do catch people’s eyes, but drill down into the real people (especially if you are a small-to-medium local business) who you help 9 out of 10 times.

4-Hour Work Week for Entrepreneurs

The Wikipedia article on Tim Ferriss reads like a list of “The Most Interesting Man in the World” jokes. He’s an investor or adviser to an impressive list of successful young companies. He once won a national championship in Chinese kickboxing using unconventional strategy and dramatic weight manipulation. His books have been wildly successful. The New York Times at once compared him to business giant Jack Welch and to a Buddhist monk. I normally shun the self-help section at the bookstore (my friends say I’m pretentious about books), but I consider Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek required reading for entrepreneurs.

Subtitled Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, the book preaches a lifestyle more than a business strategy. Ferriss offers solutions to proactively maximize efficiency. He talks about eliminating wasted time and identifies inefficiencies it’s easy to fall into. His ideas have legitimate research behind them (he did go to Princeton, after all), but many of them also seem self evident once he lays them out. The strategies he outlines are great for entrepreneurs, who are often pulled in several directions at once, but I was an hourly employee when I read this book, and I found it relevant to my situation as well. Anybody looking to maximize effectiveness and stop wasting time can benefit.

Mr. Ferriss goes further than recommending ways to be efficient. He recognizes that while your business may sometimes feel like it consumes your life, it’s really just part of your life. Your business should add to the richness of your life, and 4-Hour Workweek is about cultivating a satisfying, enjoyable, existence more than it is about just running a company. Even if you don’t go so far as to follow in the exotic, adventure filled footsteps of the author, his wisdom on work life balance is invaluable.

Everybody’s business is different. Everybody’s life is unique. You may find some of Tim Ferriss’s ideas to be a little outlandish. Don’t throw the baby out with the extreme, thrill seeking bathwater. 4-Hour Workweek is full of useful, practical advice and tools to improve your effectiveness, leadership, and, above all, satisfaction with your time. Start on his website, where he’ll spot you the first fifty pages of the book in exchange for an email address.