True North

Triad Payroll Company Increases Mobile Engagement 97% with Responsive Website

Responsive Web DesignScott Jenkins, President of Payroll Solutions, knew his website wasn’t up to par. It was nearly ten years old, and his team realized that a responsive design would be vital to meet client needs. As a result, Jenkins contacted North Star Marketing in late 2016 and launched his new site in April 2017. Since launch, the company is already seeing indicators from the new website that positively impact productivity, sales, and client retention. A few of these include:

  • Increases in direct traffic to the site
  • Fewer visitors leaving the site (lower bounce rates)
  • And a significant increase in mobile visitor engagement

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How to Win Local Searches with Google My Business in 2019

Google My Business Set UpWhether investigating private school options or searching locally for quality running socks, the first place people go to is Google. Your school or company may provide the exact service or product someone is searching for, but without an accurate and optimized Google My Business listing, there’s a chance you’ll be invisible when they look for you online.

The presence and quality of your Google My Business (GMB) local listing has become a vital differentiator to gain visibility in Google search results. If Google recognizes your business as a top contender in the search, the GMB listing appears at the top of a search result on mobile or the right-hand side of a desktop search result.

Your GMB information goes beyond the listing itself; it also connects other places your business is listed online and is seen as the main hub of your business’s official online presence. For instance, Google now displays and provides a direct link to your Facebook reviews or Yelp pages. An accurate and optimized GMB listing gives your business credibility and visibility. In this post, we’ll talk about how to set up your business’s GMB listing and what information you can and should include in your listing.

How to Claim or Create Your GMB Listing for a Single Location

Create Your Google Account

The first thing you need is a Google account. You can create a Google account either by setting up a new Gmail account, or you can request a Google account using your existing email address. If you already have one, you’re all set!

Claim or Create Your GMB Listing

Once you have a Google account, you need to find out if your business already has a GMB listing. Google may have already created one that no one owns, or someone may have claimed your listing at some point in the past. Find out by searching in Google My Business for your business name and address using the directions below.

  1. Go to Google My Business. If you’ve never logged in to Google My Business, you can follow these steps to sign up for free. 
  2. Search for your business using its name and address.Google My Business Setup
  3. If you see a dialog box letting you know that someone else has verified the business, follow these steps.Google My Business Set Up
  4. If you don’t see your business listed in the menu, click No, these are not my businesses or I’ve correctly entered the business. You’ll then be asked to enter some of your business details. Make sure you enter an accurate, complete street address, and a phone number which reaches your business directly.
  5. Click Submit.

If you’re setting this up through your mobile device, you can use the mobile directions.

5 Essential Details You Need in Your Google My Business Listing

Your GMB listing is often the first thing prospects will see when searching for your products or services. For many, they will see your listing before visiting your website.  Here are the things you should include in your GMB listing to improve your chances of being seen by potential new customers:

1. Your Business Name, Address, Phone Number, and Website

Your business name, address and phone number, otherwise known as NAP, should be consistent across all your business listings on the web. In other words, your business NAP should be listed the same way everywhere, to avoid confusion for search engines and your visitors.Google My Business Set Up

Your business name should reflect the real-world name your customers use. Don’t add extra information to your business name (like your city or services), as that will already be displayed in your map location and services description.

See Google’s guidelines for how to list your business name, address, and phone number accurately.

On top of your NAP, adding your main URL to Google My Business is imperative as users on Google Maps will be able to quickly navigate to your website from your GMB listing.

Note: If your business has multiple locations, they should all be set up as separate listings, but under the same GMB account.

2. Business Category

The business category you select for your Google My Business listing will contribute to how you rank in Google’s search results. There may be multiple categories you feel are a match, but Google will view the first one you select as your primary category. So, select the category that most broadly and accurately describes your service(s).

See more from Google on how to decide which category you should list and what to do if you feel multiple categories describe your business.

3. Photos & Videos

Photos that illustrate your business’s service, products, and location will help enhance your Google My Business presence. It’s important to make sure the photos attached to your listing are up-to-date, high quality, and feature aspects of your business you’d like potential customers to see.Google My Business Setup

In 2018, Google enabled a new feature that allows video uploads to your Google My Business listing. This is a great opportunity to showcase your business before a prospect even gets to your site. Product and service overview videos, customer testimonial videos, and other audience-ready video content are all great ways to engage users. Check out Google’s guide on types of photos and file specification requirements.

4. Reviews

The reviews section of your Google My Business listing is one of the main things prospective customers will look at. Studies show that 84% of people trust online reviews as much as their friends. So, it’s imperative that you have a strategy in place to build a regular influx of reviews from new and loyal customers.

Note that Google does display a roundup of reviews they find from other places on the web (e.g. Facebook), but prioritizes their own reviews, so getting reviews submitted directly to Google should be a priority. See some tips from Google on how to get GMB reviews.

5. Hours

Google displays your businesses hours prominently on your GMB listing. You can set them so that they update to let visitors know when you’re open or closed, or if your hours might vary on a holiday. Make sure your hours are accurate for all seven days of the week and update them any time your hours may change.

Add-Ons To Make Your Google My Business Listing Stand Out

Posts

One of the newer features on GMB, Google Posts, offers a new way to highlight your business to searchers. You can add events, offers, pictures and videos to make your listing stand out.

Google also allows you to add calls-to-action (CTAs) to your posts. Are you highlighting a product? Add a “Buy Now” button to your post. Introducing a new service you are offering? Use the “Learn More” button to link to a service overview page.  See how to create a post on your GMB listing. Here is an example of how one of North Star Marketing’s school clients leverages Google My Business to promote their annual open house.Google My Business Setup

Questions & Answers  

GMB now has a Questions and Answers section that lets people ask questions about your business on the listing. The answers can be provided by you or others familiar with your business. Business owners or listing managers should ask and answer questions customers might have, such as, “Does your restaurant have high chairs?” or “What is the student-to-teacher ratio at your school ?”  Here are some tips from Google on how to keep these questions and answers on track and helpful to potential customers.

Payment Types

Google lets you list what payment methods are accepted, including types of credit cards, and even new payment methods like Apple Pay. Keep your payments section up-to-date as technology changes so that customers know how they can buy your products or services.

Messaging

Google My Business has a messaging feature which allows people to contact you in real-time. This allows you to connect with a customer within seconds of them reaching out and answer whatever questions they might have. One important note – you should only enable messaging if you or someone else at your business is able to respond. Customers expect quick responses, and Google My Business includes your average response time to customers in your listing. Learn how to let customers message you through GMB.

Note: Messaging through Google My Business is only available in select countries.

Booking Button

For specific categories, Google offers a booking button that appears on your GMB listing. This allows customers to book an appointment directly from the listing. Learn more from Google about how the booking button can help your business.

Your GMB listing brings online credibility to your business and as a result, helps you reach your target audience who is searching for products or services you offer. There are a lot of ways to optimize your GMB listing depending on your products or services. Optimizing well can help your business get great exposure on Google.

Ready to Maximize Your Google Presence?

Are you ready to take control of your Google presence and start winning local search traffic through Google My Business? You can walk through the steps outlined above to claim and build out your listing.  Or, if you’re curious about the current status of your local search presence, you can request a free local search audit from North Star’s team of experts. If you have any additional questions about improving your Google My Business listing, don’t hesitate to leave us a comment. You may also contact us at 336.229.6610 or info@northstarmarketing.com to speak with one of our marketing specialists!

 

See What the WordPress Gutenberg Update Means for Your Website

WordPress is an amazing Content Management System (CMS) that powers websites across a wide variety of industries.  In fact, more than 30 percent of the top 10,000 websites run on WordPress. It is open source, meaning that it is free to use and hundreds of developers donate their time to keep the platform safe, secure, and fast.  Our development team at North Star Marketing consists of a few developers that help give back to that community through volunteering time and speaking at WordPress Meetups and WordCamps all over the country.

Getting Ready for the New Gutenberg WordPress Update

North Star has helped hundreds of clients – from schools, colleges, and healthcare networks to banks, accounting firms, and manufacturers – reach key audiences through engaging websites that are built on the WordPress platform.  We’re making sure all of the websites we host continue to function seamlessly when the next major update to WordPress, Version 5.0, is rolled out in the next month. If your website currently utilizes WordPress, keep reading to learn what to expect with this latest update.

More Editing Flexibility

Version 5.0 features a new editing experience called Gutenberg.  Named after the inventor of the Printing Press, Johannes Gutenberg (1394-1468), the new content editor will take the place of the WYSIWYG editor in favor of a feature block content area.  This block system will give designers and developers a better editing experience that more closely matches the front end of your site. WordPress even gives you a great place to test out Gutenberg on their website.  

Many WordPress users may not realize Gutenberg is a fundamental shift in not only the publishing side of the CMS, but also the coding side of the platform. WordPress has always prided itself on being able to update without the risk of breaking features that might have been in the code for over 10 years.  That is wonderful for users, but very difficult for developers because WordPress hasn’t done the best job of keeping up with newer technologies. That all changes with Gutenberg. Developers and designers will now be able to come together to work on a simple editing experience that looks beautiful on the front end and back end of your site.

When you open Gutenberg for the first time, you will notice a complete shift in how the back end page editing is laid out.  The publish button is moved to a floating menu bar at the top, and you just click on the text to edit what you want. You click on the plus button to add a new block, and the settings for that block are found on the right side of the screen.

Once you are familiar with the block concept, you will notice that everything is a block and can be added very simply to your content. This will be taking the place of common shortcodes that we add to sites, such as calls-to-action, accordions, and testimonials.

Gutenberg Compatibility

Gutenberg is going to be great for websites moving forward, but if your site wasn’t designed and developed to take advantage of the new editor, it can cause some serious layout issues with your content.  

For North Star-hosted WordPress sites, we have activated a new plugin called Classic Editor to address the Version 5.0 compatibility issues.  This will allow your site to continue to use the current editing experience familiar to your website managers. You will not have to worry about any compatibility problems, and your site will keep running in its current format.  

Free Webinar to See Gutenberg in Action

The North Star Marketing development team is currently working on putting together a webinar to review some of the major features of Gutenberg. We invite you to sign up, and we’ll keep you posted on the particulars.  

Upgrading to Gutenberg

At North Star Marketing, we build custom websites that take advantage of the technologies that are available at the time of development to keep your site pages consistent and beautiful. Each site is different, and therefore each site will require different edits to become compatible with Gutenberg.  If you are a North Star client, the first step is to contact North Star Marketing and let us know that you would like a quote on updating your site to Gutenberg. We will then test your site and put together an estimate for the switchover. If you are not a North Star Marketing client and are considering either upgrading your WordPress site to Gutenberg or developing a new site, click here to start the conversation.

Gutenberg Webinar

Why VirCon6 is a Must for School Marketers

 

If you’re in education marketing or admissions, don’t miss this virtual conference.

I first became aware of Brendan Schneider through my friend, Rick Newberry (a.k.a. “Globetrotter,” a.k.a. “Selfie Samurai”), an enrollment consultant who has worked with hundreds of schools across the U.S. and beyond to help them boost their numbers in a sustainable way.

As I’ve followed Brendan over the years, I’ve come to appreciate why he’s a go-to source for so many marketing and enrollment professionals. He’s not speaking out of theory. He’s practicing his craft as Director of Advancement at Sewickley Academy in the Greater Pittsburgh Area. And he gets results.

So, why am I telling you about Brendan? Two reasons:

  1. If you’re in education marketing, admissions, or advancement, you need to follow this guy.
  2. He’s asked me to speak at VirCon6 on Saturday, October 13, 2018.

What is VirCon6? I’m glad you asked. In brief, VirCon6 is simply one of the best bargains you’ll find in enrollment marketing. There’s no travel – you just dial in. You’ll hear experts address relevant topics that can help you drive enrollment and retention. And you don’t actually have to attend live on Saturday, October 13. You can watch and share the recorded content with your team at any time after the event.

My presentation is on strategic messaging for schools. The title is, “Telling Your School Story with Clarity, Consistency, and Confidence.” I’ll be sharing key findings from my message consulting work with private schools that will help your team become better aligned with the interests of prospective families.

There are eight other presenters who will be speaking on a range of topics, including ADA compliance, digital marketing, virtual teams, and video strategy.

If you’re interested in learning more about VirCon6 or taking advantage of early bird special, just click here!

I hope to see you dial in on October 13, 2018, for an action-packed day of learning.

Never Sit on a Mediocre Chair: Advice from a Marketing Firm with a Commitment to Excellence


Think of a chair.
It may be a fairly beautiful chair; imagine its intricate carvings and a polish that reflects a flawless finish. But let’s face it… chairs are not for viewing; they’re for sitting.

At the crucial moment of trust, we place a significant measure of personal pleasure or pain, joy or embarrassment in the functionality of a chair. Unless, of course, you are the kind of impervious soul who enjoys ridicule, no one desires to come crashing to the floor due to a mediocre chair construction process.

No one strives for mediocrity.

We all know that mediocrity is the result (at best) of minimal effort. Striving is reserved for difficult things… valuable things. We see the value of chasing a dream or accomplishing a goal. Mediocrity simply accepts things as they are and does not push beyond normal desire to make anything better. Mediocrity, when accepted, is the acknowledgement that the goal isn’t truly worth pursuing and not valuable in the eyes of the pursuer.

Does anyone value mediocrity? Is there any honor or prestige that accompanies that level of effort? Should anyone feel natural pride or feelings of accomplishment from half effort? Quite honestly, one often feels a measure of shame in knowing that the effort could have been better and that it should have produced a more excellent result.

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Facebook Fears and How Your Business Should Respond

facebook fears for businessesFacebook seems to be making plenty of headlines lately. And for businesses that advertise, it’s concerning.  From algorithm changes that reduce brand visibility, to recent data breach accusations, it’s hard to ignore. Both issues have caused reactions among businesses and investors as stocks have fallen sharply in both circumstances. As with any news cycle, these issues won’t be the end of the story.

For businesses and content producers, this news should give us reason to pause. It should cause us to consider how this impacts the kind of content we produce, the kind of engagement we desire, and how to track our audience through social media platforms.

Yet Facebook isn’t the only reason we should be evaluating our strategies. In fact, focusing on any one specific external factor that is tied to our marketing can lead us down the wrong path. We should be looking at the broader picture.

Is a digital marketing strategy that involves digital ads reaching places where customers are spending their valuable time important? Sure. But I would suggest that if businesses are more concerned about reaching customers with Facebook, they’re focused on the wrong prize.

Creating brand advocates, developing incredible experiences, and delighting people should be priority one.

We should be evaluating how our digital strategies foster those priorities. Here are three approaches that will help you weather the storms of social media and stay focused on important, overarching marketing goals.

Reevaluate Your Goals

Ever since Facebook became a viable communication platform, businesses and marketers have been doing their best to leverage it to reach current and potential customers. Advertisers are able to segment their content to specific users, and this has been extremely valuable to boost audience engagement.

But your goals should always take precedence over your tactics. For example, if your goal is to increase enrollment in your school, increasing likes or shares on your Facebook posts is not likely to have any impact on leads or enrollment. It may increase visibility, but driving engagement toward an actionable step (i.e. phone call, email, visit, etc.) will provide a metric that directly connects to the goal of growing enrollment.

In this example, what drives enrollment for your school? Is it a family tour? Is it a conversation with teachers? What are the steps and actions that typically lead to an enrollment?

Reevaluating your goals will inform how you should be using social media to engage and connect with your target market. It’s possible that engaging your audience by asking questions is a better approach than positioning ads.

Additionally, goals are not a set it and forget proposition. We should constantly be evaluating whether specific social media goals, that are tied to broader marketing objectives, are SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely). Is our goal to grow followers? Or, is it to increase engagement and interaction with our content? Each of our goals should directly impact our broader marketing objectives.

Communicate Your Value:

It’s tempting to assume that our target audience is on Facebook looking specifically for our content while scrolling through their feed. The reality is that the customer journey is filled with many stops at many different stages. To truly bring value to our audience, we must be constantly listening to and responding to their needs.

Sometimes we should step back before we can step forward. We achieve this by gaining a better understanding of what our customers value through asking and observing. Market research can take time. But the result will give you and your business incredible insight. Inevitably, you’ll find that your customers value different things at different stages. Sometimes they will want advice and other times facts and data.

“…the secret to appealing to customers, stakeholders, audience members and anyone you care about is to understand who they are and what they want.” Alison Davis

Once we have a solid understanding of what our customers value, we can develop content and communication that will speak directly to the customer need.

Reconsider the Buyer Journey:

The buyer journey is something that has been discussed in marketing circles for years. But have we invested time and resources into evaluating the way our customers use Facebook to influence their purchase decisions at these various stages?

Let’s first explore the foundations of a buyer journey. In its most basic form, the buyer journey is comprised of the stages before, during, and after a purchase. Those stages are usually identified by your customer as:

  • Being aware there is a problem
  • Considering what products or services will meet their needs
  • Making a decision, or purchase
  • Becoming an advocate/repeat customer

Your audience is at various stages of this journey. The value you provide through digital channels like Facebook should consider these stages and meet the right need. For example, if your audience is not aware they have a problem that your product/service solves, how do you educate them? If they have already purchased your product/service, are there benefits they would be willing to share with their friends?

Your customers use Facebook for a variety of reasons. It’s imperative that we walk a mile, or two in our customers’ shoes to understand their journey. Not only the problem they are solving, but how they use social media to meet those needs. What information are they looking for? Do they rely on specific resources or people to help inform their decisions?

The Ultimate Goal: Bringing Value to Customers

Platforms like Facebook will continue to change; however, you’ll be able to weather changes and develop a smart social media strategy with these three tactics. Ultimately, you want to bring value to your customers in a truly meaningful way.

Is your business using Facebook to reach your marketing goals? Has it made a positive impact on your business? What metrics are you tracking that are impacting your goals? Share your thoughts and ideas. We’d love to hear from you.

Making the Switch to a Responsive Website

Responsive Website Development: More than just Geek Speak

How many times have you said to a friend, “just Google it,” or used your smartphone to quickly find the answer to one of life’s pressing questions? Whether you’re looking for local businesses, store hours, or need to know how far Earth is from Mars, the mobile web has you covered. But how often do you find yourself frustrated by websites that just aren’t built for access on-the-go? Pinch-to-zoom gets old quickly when you’re trying to read tiny text. Thankfully, there is a solution – responsive website development.

Whether you’re familiar with the term or not, you’ve probably used responsive websites on your tablet or smartphone. In a nutshell, responsive development is the implementation of multiple design layouts for a single website to account for the various screen sizes people use to browse the web. The width of the screen on individual devices determines the actual layout of the design – it “responds” to the user’s screen preference.

In most cases, you’ll see the same same content that you would find on the desktop version of the site, but organized in a format which is easily accessible from any device. As a result, you get a web experience that displays effectively regardless of the device you’re using. When done right, it can be just as easy to navigate the site on your smartphone as it would be on a desktop computer.

Here’s a quick video displaying how responsive design actually works based on the device size:

Why is responsive design so important?

In early 2014, the Internet landscape saw a massive shift when mobile web traffic exceeded desktop traffic. This means that more people are searching online from phones than computers.This shift isn’t a just passing fad – mobile Internet usage continues to climb and shows no sign of slowing down.

In April of 2015, Google (the industry leader with nearly 74% of all website search traffic) began penalizing search rankings for websites that are not mobile friendly. In an attempt to provide users with more relevant content and better search experiences, Google changed its algorithm to automatically display mobile-friendly sites higher in rankings than those sites that are not yet upgraded to a responsive design. This transition impacted many businesses, as they saw their search traffic drop significantly.

Perhaps you’re wondering if this is an issue for your website. You can start by pulling up your website on your phone. If it feels clunky, difficult to navigate, and hard to read, you probably need a responsive website conversion. Also, if you have Google Analytics set up on your site, you can see the breakdown of devices that are accessing your site. Most likely you’re seeing your mobile website traffic grow. (Click here for a step-by-step overview of how to look up this information.)

It doesn’t have to be a complicated process to convert your website a mobile-friendly format. If you need guidance or help getting started with making your website mobile friendly, contact a North Star Marketing team member today to learn more about the process. (You can even contact us from your phone through our responsive website!)

The Power of Pantone – How We Make Sure Your Brand Always Matches

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on the Moon. This historic journey required countless tasks of impressive intellect and skill, perhaps the most significant of which was simply not missing the Moon altogether. Four days before the monumental landing, the crew of Apollo 11 launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as the Earth orbited the sun at a speed of over 66,000 miles per hour, with the goal of ending up on the Moon, which was orbiting the Earth at over 2,200 miles per hour. It was like trying to shoot a quarter from a moving vehicle into the next county over. A miscalculation of just a single degree could mean completely missing the Moon and hurtling into the vastness of space. While one degree may seem insignificant at first, it can quickly escalate to wasted resources, diminished credibility, and a failed mission.

While your business may not be concerned with space travel, a minor variation in your brand can still spell a failed mission for your marketing efforts. The focal points of brand engagement for many businesses has been redirected from traditional media like billboards, trade publication ads, and brochures to a website strategically connected to a constellation of social marketing platforms. This transition has enabled color standards to be more forgiving (it’s a much faster and inexpensive to fix an inconsistent color on a web page than it is on a billboard), but given the number of design files, the different sites they’re distributed to, and the number of hands they pass through from concept to delivery, color shifts can easily occur, and the uniformity of a brand can quickly unravel.

How Colors are Identified

To ensure your brand colors have a solid foundation of standardization, one of the most common and reliable solutions is the new Pantone Plus Color Bridge system. As the only internationally recognized color system, Pantone provides uniform guidelines to convert colors into an easy-to-duplicate CMYK process color code, which can be shared with vendors to ensure consistent results.

The Pantone system begins with a physical color book, where colors are assigned codes that become the universally recognized building blocks of your brand. This allows business owners to see how a specific color will reproduce when printed (using process or spot color) and plan in advance to minimize potential color shifts in different printed media forms. It’s also the way to obtain a concrete reference for ensuring a desired color matches the source of its inspiration.

Color Selection in Action: A Case Study

Let’s say a gardening enthusiast wants to start a business entitled Verbena Garden and Supply Company. Knowing the client’s passion for verbenas, we could use that information to construct the new color palette by recording the exact colors from the actual flower by physically matching them with the Pantone swatch book.

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By matching the colors to the original desired object, the following Pantone CP colors are obtained:

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.45.56 PM

Out of the 1,677 colors available through this system, our design team ensures that the colors selected have the minimal potential for color shift, resulting in a greater degree of accuracy when reproducing color for all media types and print methods.

With these color codes secured, the colors are then translated to the CMYK used for typical print materials, RGB for all web-based media files, and HTML colors (commonly referred to as “hexadecimal codes” when applied to web programming).

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.47.21 PM

Launching Your Brand

With a reliable color system now in place, the business owner knows exactly what to communicate to properly reproduce her new logo in all subsequent brand elements.

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Learn more today

Interested in learning more about the branding process and how North Star Marketing can take your brand to the next level? Call us today at 336-229-6610 or request additional information here. We look forward to partnering with you!

Post script: The science of color construction and reproduction has been evolving for centuries. Click here for a monumental attempt to develop an analog system in the Netherlands in 1692. 

 
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