All posts in content

  • viral content: how do you make it stick?

    A great read on content outliers that become viral:


    1. Make it visual
    2. Make it personalized
    3. Make it specific/niche
    4. Make it scalable around a theme
    5. Get people’s emotions going (see empathy)
  • our year in review

    I don’t normally cross post between the AZDS blog and my personal blog, but our year end summary is worth the repost.

    Enjoy the read here.


  • small business design

    I love small business.  I am a strong believer that small business is unquestionably the backbone of America (and yes, I likely got that from some political debate over the past century).  Being a designer and developer at heart (with very limited time) I don’t think I share enough tips for small businesses to use in the creation of their digital deliverables (websites, ads, analytics, social, etc.).  In fact the whole reason I started this blog five years ago was to give back information that I have learned, studied, and become knowledgeable about, so small business owners could read it and hopefully find tools and tips that are simple, yet actionable (we also have great content and case studies on the AZDS blog, posts at least once per month).  I don’t do this because AZDS is a small business (but speedily growing), rather because I know so many small business owners (many friends included) simply cannot afford to hire agencies such as mine to help build their brand in the digital space.

    Often in digital marketing it can seem as if everything is working against you as a small business:

    1. Google favors big brands (in fact they even said “it is to weed out the cesspool”)
    2. Small brands cannot afford to advertise on marquee websites
    3. Small business has a very difficult time finding resources that they need to create great social content
    4. Lack of manpower to manage and handle all digital channels
    5. and this list could go on and on.

    YET, you have so many things working in your favor as a small business.  As Will Critchlow said, “You either have time or you have money.  If you don’t have either, then you are doing something wrong.”  If you have time, you should be spending that time creating and improving your product or service.  You should be working to share great content on social channels that helps your customers and attracts new potential customers.  If you don’t have something that you want to talk about, then candidly you probably don’t have anything worthwhile.  If you can’t talk about it for hours and hours, then why would anyone else really care?  As a small business you also are limber.  You don’t move like a thousand pound gorilla, and therefore you have the ability to hop onto trends and deliver great content within the appropriate context.

    With all that said, here are my tips for small business owners with time:

    1. Invest heavily in improving your product or service.  Good is never enough.  Shoot for extraordinary.  If you have something very, very good, then people will want it.  We are always fine tuning and revisiting our services at AZDS to improve them and improve both our deliverables and our response times.
    2. Create a social strategy.  No, this isn’t just a list of social posts, but rather a strategy around the content you are going to be sharing.  Why is it interesting to your target, and are you going after the right target?  I recommend developing a list of points that represent the differences in your business vs. your competition.  Then, keep those in mind when searching for content ideas.  When your customers ask you questions, pay attention.  Those are the answers that you need to be delivering socially to your network.  If one of your clients is asking particular questions, then it is likely information that others would find valuable.  Don’t sell in social, instead be trustworthy and informative.  A strategy around how you want your social voice to be heard is critical in delivering content on the web that is actually going to be useful.
    3. Use social as your megaphone for great awards, press, and customer comments.  Don’t be afraid to boast.
    4. Invest in photography.  You’ll notice that this point is also included below for small business owners with money, but no time.  Frankly, good cameras have gotten so inexpensive (the iPhone 5s camera is incredible), that there is absolutely no reason for bad photography.  Take classes, learn how to shoot beautiful photos…..photograph is key to playing with the mind.
    5. Earn press.  Contrary to what you hear most often, good press is not that difficult to get as a small business.  Reporters are always looking for stories and love to share about small businesses making a difference in the community.  You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to find the contact information for journalists, reporters, and editors (through tools like FollowerWonk or Rapportive) and then reach out to them to share what you are doing and why it is press worthy.  Using followerwonk, you can search Twitter profiles for keywords like “Mashable, Huffington Post, NY Times, Time, etc.”  Most of these bloggers and writers are active in the ‘Twittersphere’ and include what they do in their bio.  You can then use a tool like Rapportive to find their e-mail addresses and other contact info.
    6. If you are a brick and mortar business (hotel, restaurant, bar, store, etc.) use tools like Spots to find who is tagging photos at your location so you can interact with them, solve problems, and assume needs before they actually become needs.

    Small business owners with money, but no time:

    1. Invest in photography (notice how important I think this is).
    2. Invest in digital branding.
    3. Invest in a social strategy.
    4. Invest in a new website that creates who you are online.
    5. Invest in inbound and earned marketing .
    6. Invest in well targeted pay per click and remarketing .

    I think small business has more opportunity than ever before to create meaningful digital experiences.  Go out and do it, and I’m always happy to help fellow business owners and entrepreneurs.


  • personalization – the future of luxury advertising

    Digital has always led the way in personalization of advertising.  From search, site, and social retargeting to simple geographic and interest/content based targeting we have always had ways to target specific advertising to ‘supposedly’ the correct audience.  None of the third party technology (third party cookie) is perfect, but as more data is recorded, the targeting improves.  With the automation of media buying (especially with television and online), targeting will become even more sophisticated, however one of the biggest problems we still run into is tracking across multiple devices to synchronize the message and provide accurately customized marketing.  Automated media buying will certainly help with this challenging task, but there are still a variety of issues that will need to be worked out for this process to be flawless.  I’m the first to admit that I see ads targeted and customized for me that aren’t properly targeted or personalized.  This is often the result of corrupt third party data.

    Google is working on an alternative to third party data (ad ID) that might work better than a cookie, but I am still dubious.

    Some suggestions for cross device messaging include: 

    • using a synchronized content message
    • customizing the content based on PMS or CRM software and preferences (individualization)
    • using mobile data first
    • for brand messaging, use digital to personalize the big brand message in larger, more traditional media buys

    For hospitality we are currently developing a system that will collect content from a hotel’s property management system and then aggregate that data into usable information.  Once the data is usable, we will be creating algorithms to serve customized content based on past guest history and concierge requests (1st party data) in e-mail and other digital forms.

    Custom personalization of advertising and content delivery is the future of luxury marketing.

  • why ‘lorem ipsum’ is relatively useless

    I hope to catch fellow ui/ux designers by surprise when I title an article like this.  The fact is lorem ipsum puts constraints around content.  It puts constraints around content to fit within a shell or a design.  This is a big mistake.

    Content is the reason people are coming to a website, using a mobile app, or exploring a particular page (insert channel here).  It is critical to create and methodically understand a content strategy before the design is created.  With content being bigger than ever, more and more designers will begin to realize the importance of content and more importantly having a content strategy in place prior to actually designing or creating an interface.  The use of lorem ipsum is to fit content within a design to allow visualization.  Visualization is great, however the last thing you need to do is make people believe the content needs to be exactly a certain length.

    Look at these websites without content (I covered all content with yellow boxes- google was especially fun):




    Nada. Zilch. Nothing without content.

    I personally believe that photos, video, etc. are all forms of content, but if I covered all of the media, then the entire screen would be yellow and my wonderful screenshots would make literally no sense.  My point is not that lorem ipsum should never be used, but rather that it shouldn’t be used early in the design process.  There isn’t a need for content to be constrained within a particular layout, because good quality content is as importnat as the shell it is being delivered in.  Content, or at the very least a strategy, should be implemented first and then elegantly designed into a concept.

    We have recently been tasked at AZDS to create interesting content portals for a variety of our luxury clients.  The goal is to create interesting hubs of information that essentially make up or represent the brand.  We want to create editorial content that is worth sharing.  The success of these sites is not measured by standard metrics such as time on site, or visits.  The success is measured through a variety of softer metrics including how we are improving inbound marketing, how we are creating viral content that is being shared on social networks to thousands, organic links that we are gaining through quality acquisition, and most importantly how many new customers we are obtaining (the last certainly being the most measurable metric).

    My ultimate goal with these projects is not to create content, just for the sake of creating content.  There is enough crappy content on the inter-webs.  Rather, our job is to write, inspire, create, and challenge new paradigms in how we build brands in the interactive space.  My suggestion is to use graph search and followerwonk to analyze customers and understand what they like, and how that may relate or encompass your brand.

    And more about content (I love this presentation):



  • title tags and how they have changed

    In case you have been living in a cave, I’ll preface by saying the days of stuffing your page title with keywords are over.  Even just placing a keyword or two in your title can often no longer do much of anything.  The two options I give clients to write titles (or how we now write titles for clients/or when we are in the process of changing titles) is as follows:

    1. If your brand is strong, always put your brand first.  For example, “Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts | Luxury Hotel and Resort Management Company”
    2. If your brand isn’t as strong (a smaller local business, or simply just isn’t known by name), then place your target keyword in the formation of a sentence first, followed by your brand name second.  For example,”Coastal Dining in the Pacific Palisades | Blue Inn Restaurant”

    We do this because when someone searches, if your brand is strong, then they are likely looking for it, and not a keyword first (if there is a keyword first it can throw them off + it just doesn’t look elegant):

    (notice that they aren’t optimizing for the keyword I placed above “Luxury Hotel and Resort Management Company”, rather they are optimizing for ‘Luxury Hotels’, but they still have the brand first.

    (notice the keyword “Santa Monica Restaurants” first, and then the brand name “Upper West.”  Also, as you can see this example doesn’t follow my strategy regarding title creation as they are stuffing keywords into their title.  It is working for them now, but the days of success are numbered.

    The key here is to either use your brand name as a strength, or (if you are smaller) use the search keyword as your strength.  You no longer need multiple keywords in your titles, and rather you should help the search engine understand what content is actually on the page.  Think of Google more as a person.  If you were using Google to find something, you would want the title to easily describe the content that you will find on that page.

    Some other basics regarding titles:

    1. Generally keep titles under 70 characters.
    2. Be concise, but try to keep the keyword structure.  For example if you are targeting “Santa Monica Restaurant” then include it elegantly in your title after the brand, in the description, and also in the page’s content if possible (just don’t over stuff).
    3. If you are writing a description in the title of what the user will find on the page (good idea!) then try to get the keyword in earlier…for example: “Blue Hill Restaurant: Explore our Dinner Menu”

    Another note, and this is worthy of an entirely separate blog post (and I will write one on it) is how titles can affect your sitelinks.  If your site structure is completed well, but you have lousy titles, then Google will have a very difficult time indexing that and therefore will penalize you by very few, or no site links.  Or even if you do get site links they will be impossible for the user to use (because the keywords are all stuffed in the very little real estate you have within the sitelink).  I will write a separate post on how to maximize sitelinks and also how you should structure your site for best practice.

    Quick Recap:

    If your brand is strong, the format for a title should be “Brand | Phrase incorporating target keyword”

    If your brand isn’t as well known, the format for a title should be “Phrase incorporating target keyword | Brand”

    When writing the phrase, think of Google more like a person.  If was searching for a live music schedule, I would probably click on something like “Brand | March Live Entertainment Schedule”


  • empathy

    Empathy is another marketing buzzword.  Since I began the week talking about content, I wanted to relate it to empathy; primarily empathy for the customer.  In advertising empathy is key because if you cannot relate and understand  your customer then you will fail to connect with them.  See my previous post on connection through content.

    Merriam-Webster defines empathy as follows (noun):

    The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this.

    If we break apart the definition to better understand it, we see ‘being aware,’ ‘being sensitive to’ and ‘understanding.’  Generally (at least in my daily tasks) I have to deal with every single one of these pieces.  I need to be aware of what our client wants, and be aware of what the client thinks the customer wants.  I need to be sensitive to both the client and sensitive to their customer.  We need to understand that they (clients and their customers) are looking for value (even working with our luxury brands).  And last, but not least, I have to have understanding.  I need to understand both the desires, needs, wants, and objectives of both our client and their customers.  All marketing must empathize with the customer.  We must relate to our customer and connect with them on the subconscious level.

    In digital marketing, empathy is the chief, and in my belief often the difference between a successful digital campaign and utter failure.  It is the beauty that good user interface and design provides that takes into account the customer, their needs, and goals.  Read Peter Drucker’s books to better understand and this is also an interesting article regarding empathy in digital marketing.  It comes down to simply not annoying and rather providing content of value or interest.

    When discussing empathy, it is critical to circle back to value.  I don’t mean the value of advertising or marketing (see a previous post on that), but rather the value that the client is providing to their customer.  All customers want to feel and believe that they are receiving value in return for their dollar.  In our case, our clients provide their customers (or guests) memories.  They provide experiences that are unique, valuable, and most of all memorable.  We need our brand communications to connect with our guests, so that they can remember the moments that took their breath away.  Moments that swept them off their feet.  This is empathizing with the customer to the greatest extent.

    Sam Richards has a TED talk about Empathy (and a radical experiment).  He sums empathy up quite nicely.  Step out of your shoes and step into their shoes.  That is empathy.


  • the relevant content game

    As marketers we always have a buzz word.  Right now that word is clearly content, and I don’t foresee it going anywhere for a long time.  And frankly, it shouldn’t.  I’m not going to be directly talking about the methods of content marketing in this post, because you can read more of what I have written regarding content creation in the past here and here.  Good content that is relevant, accessible and representative of the brand is key to selling an experience or a product.  People relate to stories, and therefore if you can share stories with them that relate to experiences they have had, then you can create connection, which is obviously an age old method of marketing and advertising. And I suppose that it all comes back to empathy (for your customer), which I will blog about separately soon.

    We are creating a content delivery portal for one of our luxury hotel clients.  We need to create content delivery that is dynamic, sexy, insightful, and drives users to the content they are looking while still guiding them into “what they should be interested in” from a business perspective (converting someone into a customer).  We also want to ensure that the site is always new and interesting.  The challenge with a project like this is that the content creation cost can be quite high.  In the print days people were more forgiving.  For example if an article was a month old, it was fine because the content was printed and therefore could become dated.  With digital delivery, an article that is even a week old can be unacceptable.  People demand relavent content, on demand, that is new on the point of delivery.

    Good content doesn’t have to be expensive, but I certainly understand the challenges that go along with creating good content.  Even if you have a writer or copywriter on staff, it spreads your resources even thinner.  Because of this, I think the best strategy is allowing for guest writers, and contributed content within the sector.  For example with luxury hospitality there are many great bloggers that would love to write guest columns and contribute content to other relavent sources (especially if that work is for a sophisticated brand).  There are some resources like Blogger Link Up, which can put you in touch with bloggers and vice versa.  It is also powerful to use brand ambassadors to contribute content and relavent topics within the sector.  For luxury hotels this could be luxury clothing, cars, real estate, wine, food, jewelry, etc.  One important key is that you don’t want to veer too far away from the purpose of the content.  Was the platform created for guest acquisition or for purely branding.  It is fine to have overlap, but it is key to understand the mission and purpose of the content that you are delivering.

    I think Standard Culture (below) does a great job of delivering relevant, interesting content that inspires reaction.

    Standard Culture

    What I love about Standard Culture is that it isn’t just a blog, but rather an entire content hub.  It communicates the Standard brand so well within interesting stories, interviews, and media.

    Our goal for the content delivery platform that we are building is to create an interactive portal that communicates experiences, memories, and communicates what it is like to be a part of this luxury hotel brand (and the lifestyle that it represents).  If we can create a mix of published content, happenings, and relevant brands (and sew it all together in a superb interactive experience), then I believe we will have created something extraordinarily valuable.

  • visual content and SEO

    As content marketing trudges forward and SEOers understand the value of quality content for improving overall search rankings, we are faced with the question of how successful visual content (infographics, videos, etc.) is.  One major question is how and why it would be important to use visual content?  As a designer this question is easily answered.  It adds elegance to otherwise static and boring content.  It makes content easy to understand and can be viewed quickly.  From a traditional SEO perspective, however, this isn’t always so easy to answer as they feel that Google won’t be able to truly index all of the content.  There are tricks such as video site maps, but at the end of the day, all of that content is not going to be indexable nor findable (some, but not all).  My personal belief is that the combination and variety of quality content (in different media forms) is what is inherently going to improve pagerank, domain and page trust.  I also think that finding other important and relavent content that can be embedded is key because it is the stepping stone to true virality.

    From a holistic approach,we can look at content and say that a variety of content forms provide visual interest and should engage users and potential customers far more than simple text.  Also, with recent Google Algo changes, they are rewarding companies that are content innovators.  Content innovators isn’t just a term for writers, it is someone who both contributes, organizes, writes, and designs content and content plans.  They understand the differences between simply writing great content and writing content that is suitable for the online/interactive experience.  I think that a true content innovator would agree that using a variety of content forms (including infographics for link building) is crucial.

    One strategic tip regarding infographics is to use the Google reverse image search to find  uses of the graphic throughout the web so you can reach out  to ask for a reciprocal link.  Avoid making an infographic a spammy link farm, however it certainly has the potential to be quite valuable for SEO purposes.

    As an analytics guru, I think that the most important solution to understanding the value of visual content is simply looking at the Google Analytics content report to see how users are finding and interacting with your content.  You can setup simple custom searches to view content pages, and what role organic search is playing in driving traffic.  You can then mold a content strategy to best fit.


  • carrying out brand communication

    From a digital perspective, carrying out a brand’s vision is very different than doing so with traditional media.  The attributes and message of the brand are very much the same, however with an interactive outreach people expect content to be as current as possible, and also more importantly personalized to their tastes/interests/relevance.  Therefore carrying out the vision and goal of the brand must be done in far more detail in the interactive experience vs. traditional promotional materials.  I think a great recent example of this is the re-branding campaign for American Airlines.  When I arrive at the new American home page I am immediately impressed with the overall user experience, use of negative space, bright and vivid colors on top of the clean white background, and most importantly the personalization effort.  I am greeted with my local airport in the departure box (nicely personalized) with simple login abilities and just a very intuitive overall UI/UX.

    I am also impressed by the HTML5 slider that describes the revitalization of the brand (see below).

    When you dig further, the video content is decent (a bit too long in my opinion) and there is significant rich media with social integration.  I’m not sure that the social integration is going to spur viral interaction, but I think it was well planned and executed very well.  The social attributes again are personalization of the brand, which are exclusive to the interactive experience.  The tablet and mobile experiences are also well executed and provide relevant content that isn’t overwhelming (adaptive content).

    I think if you look at traditional brand redevelopment you would see media that represents the new brand and how the brand/agency wants you to interpret it.  The real difference here with interactive content, and what I feel is most critical, is that the brand can sculpt its image, yet it allows the user to communicate with the brand based on a personal relationship.