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3 10, 2018

Higher Ed Branding & Digital Marketing Strategy

By | 2018-10-04T07:12:08+00:00 October 3rd, 2018|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education|Tags: , , , |

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about competition between colleges and universities? For most people, the answer is college athletics — in the form of football and basketball games, or the other collegiate sports across the nation’s campuses.

But higher ed institutions don’t just compete on the gridiron and in hoops. The other, more important and intense competition is for students.

Big, public, state schools jostle for top billing among the best and brightest home-grown talents. Smaller, private universities go after their own, well-defined student profiles, crossing the proverbial swords with other, similar institutions. Community colleges compete with each other and all the four-year universities out there, while at the same time serving as feeder programs for these schools.

One thing is for certain – there are a lot of options in higher education. If you have a junior or senior in high school with decent grades, odds are good that your mailbox is a frequent depository for marketing collateral from a multitude of colleges and universities. Teens are also often flooded with information via emails, texts, social media ads and other targeted campaigns.

Where they end up going to school isn’t just the biggest, most exciting decision of their life. It’s also a decision-making process that thousands of higher ed professionals sink massive amounts of time and resources into.

How does your higher education institution assure success in the war for students?

Leveraging Your Brand: What’s your unique value proposition?

In a highly competitive environment, it is essential to differentiate yourself from your rivals. Higher ed institutions already know how to do this, almost instinctively — via mascots and nicknames.

The tradition of school mascots is rich. However, while Rameses the Ram, Sammy The Banana Slug and Artie the Fighting Artichoke may do a superb job of firing up your student fan base, they don’t necessarily excel at communicating your school’s value proposition – those things that make your institution exceptional and enticing to prospective students.

Identifying and supporting those unique elements is key to strong, memorable and effective marketing. Ideally, those elements should also reflect your institution’s values. Your brand is built upon and defined by these concepts. So, even if the other aspects of your brand change over time (and every brand needs a refresh and update eventually), the heart of your message remains.

Successful brands build their messaging around their core values, allowing themselves the flexibility to express those values in new and innovative ways. Consistency doesn’t have to be boring. There are countless, creative ways to communicate who you are. And the ability to do so well is exceedingly valuable in an industry where the customer profile is non-homogeneous and constantly changing.

Your Website: The centerpiece of higher ed marketing strategy

As you probably know, advertising campaigns have a higher chance of success if they are tightly targeted to specific demographics. So, as a marketer for your higher ed institution, you should be running all sorts of different campaigns to attract the next batch of diverse, motivated and talented students to your school. And all those direct mail brochures, emails, digital ads, Facebook and Instagram campaigns should lead your respective audiences to your website. That’s where all those separate audience streams coalesce into one – prospective students.

The job of your website is to close the deal – to convince students that your school is the one where they will attain their best future. To be effective, there has to be a smooth hand-off from your marketing campaigns to your website. When prospective students log on to your site, it must feel like a continuation of the same experience they started with the brochure, email, digital ad, or any other piece of collateral they saw.

Your website is the nexus of information about your school and the first place people go to find out what it’s like on campus. That means that your website has to do a credible job of accurately reflecting your school brand, with subsequent marketing efforts drawing on those brand elements. It also means that your website should be strategically recognized as the centerpiece of your overall marketing strategy. Whatever public marketing initiatives you undertake should start with the website, and emanate from there.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Websites

If your current higher ed website is not leveraging your brand as effectively as you think it should, Beacon can help. Request a complementary audit from our expert team and let us help you shape your site into the marketing force it can be.

20 09, 2018

Testing for Accessibility

By | 2018-09-21T09:00:26+00:00 September 20th, 2018|Categories: Digital Marketing, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

Accessibility is a big deal in the world of internet marketing. After all, what good does a large investment in your most prominent digital marketing channel do if no one can see the information you want them to have or the products you want them to buy?

In today’s digital marketplace, it’s no longer good enough to cater your website just to your primary audience. All websites have to meet certain accessibility standards that guarantee that users across all walks of life, and with varying degrees of physical ability, are able to easily access and navigate your site’s web pages.

In a recent blog post, we discussed the importance of considering accessibility during the website design process. In this post, we’ll take the next step and discuss the best ways to test your design for accessibility concerns.

The Basics

The practice of accessibility testing helps website owners understand where their websites may be falling short on today’s accessibility standards and drive corrective action to optimize user experience. These are critical steps that should be completed prior to the launch of any re-designed site and continued throughout the site’s lifetime.

It is best to take a proactive approach to web accessibility testing, and the reasons why are compelling. A fully accessible website benefits users across the board, and is more likely to deliver the conversion rates and engagement you are seeking.

As with any business process, before you begin, define your goals and strategy for accessibility testing and remediation of found issues.

Site Scan Tools & Understanding Results

There are several tools that can help you tackle testing. At Beacon, some of the programs we employ for this purpose include SiteImprove, SortSite and Wave (WebAim).

Reports and analysis provided by these automated testing tools can help you identify any existing accessibility concerns, including quality of content, readability of text, link quality and other user experience problems. The programs can also be engaged to help you track the progress of your accessibility fixes.

How to Tackle Accessibility

Accessibility testing is not a one-and-done process. SiteImprove, SortSite and Wave can help us with initial analysis and are great for catching many accessibility problems. However, they are not enough for a comprehensive approach to testing. Not all design elements are scannable. As such, automated tests should be supplemented with a healthy dose of regular, manual testing.

Best practices call for consistent testing throughout the development process. This helps to track progress made on discovered issues and known concerns. It can also help you discover new issues throughout development and after launch.

Be sure to test your site in various browsers, devices and screen sizes and positions. It’s also a good idea to perform regression testing, to make sure that your site works with older versions of software.

Because your site is likely to change over time, accessibility testing should be done on a consistent basis even after your site launches – preferably, every quarter. This helps to ensure that the fixes you implement continue to achieve the intended results. It also helps to hold new content/pages to established standards.

Beacon Knows Accessibility Testing & Remediation

Could your site benefit from an accessibility audit? Give Beacon a call at 866.807.2838. We’re here to help.

19 07, 2018

GDPR: What Is It? Does It Apply To Me? And So What?

By | 2018-07-26T13:56:06+00:00 July 19th, 2018|Categories: Beacon News, Ecommerce, Google Analytics|Tags: , , , |

If you work in digital marketing, you probably couldn’t help but notice the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) mania sweeping the internet earlier this year. Indeed, before the new regulations became enforceable in May 2018, there was breathless anticipation and countless “What You Need To Know” blog posts promising the low-down on all the important compliance implications.

Any new regulation is bound to create a few headaches as affected parties figure out the new landscape and work out the kinks. But, a law as sweeping as GDPR promised to be — impacting the very foundation of how e-commerce works — has the potential to thoroughly disrupt the status quo, and everyone’s comfort level along with it.

So, has our digital existence been turned upside down since May? Are we really living in a whole new internet reality?

Here, at Beacon, we were very much interested in the potential of GDPR to impact our ability to collect and analyze consumer data via Google Analytics (our preferred data aggregation platform). So, after a couple of months under the new regulations, as the dust has begun to settle, we decided to take a look around at the brave, new, GDPR-compliant world and see what’s what.

What Is GDPR?

Let’s start by defining what GDPR does. According to the European Commission website, the body that created the legislation, GDPR governs:

“the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data.”

In simple terms, the new rules aim to protect the personal data of all European Union citizens by explicitly granting them greater control over how their personal digital data is used and stored by others. GDPR applies to any company, person or entity that has the potential to gain access to personal data of EU citizens for non-personal use.

Yeah, But Does GDPR Apply to My Organization?

Because there are no national borders on the internet, EU residents (and everyone else) can easily access websites hosted in other countries. As such, the practical implication of GDPR is that it applies globally, no matter where your company or organization is legally headquartered.

If your website can be accessed by someone in the European Union — and if it’s up and running, it absolutely can be — then you should be paying attention. So, if you haven’t already, make sure your organization undertakes a review of how your site’s visitor data is collected, compiled and stored in Google Analytics (or, whichever platform you use).

What Does GDPR Impact?

There are three major areas of emphasis with GDPR: data collection management, data protection and visibility, and restrictions on data use.

The new regulations affecting data collection management require companies to get consent from consumers before collecting and storing their personal data. This means that when you visit your favorite online store, the retailer will have to ask you for explicit permission to track your shopping session and see what jeans you’re interested in buying. More than that, consumers have the choice to opt out or limit how their online behavior is tracked.

If you grant permission to track your shopping experience, or choose to share any other personal information — like your address and contact information when you sign up for a store rewards program, for example — the retailer has the responsibility of protecting that collected information from falling into the wrong hands. Not only that, because EU consumers have the right to request that their data be deleted, businesses have to know exactly where they store your personally identifiable consumer data in order to comply with any consumer requests.

In addition to requests to delete their data, under GDPR, consumers are enabled to exercise more granular control over what data is collected and how it is used. Consumers are empowered to rescind their data collection permission at any time they want. They can also request that your company turn over their data to a third-party or another retailer.

All of this means that, going forward, companies doing business online should have a sophisticated, flexible and responsive system of collecting and managing consumers’ personal data.

What Should I Be Doing?

To understand exactly what your company should be doing to accommodate these new consumer-centered protections, speak with your legal team. Your attorneys should be able to provide guidance tailored to your industry and circumstances.

If that entails a re-imagining of your data collection and management processes on your website, or through Google Analytics, give Beacon a call. We’ll be glad to walk you through the platform and recommend a course of action. Give our experts a shout at 866.964.5590.

21 06, 2018

CMS: Proprietary or Not?

By | 2018-06-25T08:57:11+00:00 June 21st, 2018|Categories: Cascade CMS, Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

What’s Best for Higher Ed CMS?

If you’re considering upgrading your school’s website, selecting the wrong CMS can have lasting ramifications. And, with so many options out there, it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed.

Google “proprietary vs open source CMS,” and you’ll receive over 50 hits to your search query. Some even come with catchy headlines, like: “Battle Royale: Open-Source vs. Closed-Source CMS” and “The Battle of Open Source vs. Proprietary Systems.” Clearly, the debate regarding the best type of content management system is still ongoing… and, apparently, fight-level intense.

There are a lot of content management systems out there, that’s for sure. So, how do you choose the one that best fits your higher learning institution? Understanding the difference between the two main CMS types is a good start.

Let’s start with the definitions. Open source systems, like WordPress and Drupal, are built with source code that’s freely shared with everyone. This means that anyone can apply that source code in any manner they want. The advantages of open source applications is that they can be improved by literally anyone. If there’s a problem, a solution can be crowdsourced from the user community — often quicker than an in-house team with limited man hours.

Proprietary software, on the other hand, is kept secret by the developers. The applications are maintained and updated in-house by dedicated personnel. The advantage with proprietary CMS is that it is often designed for a specific market. There are CMSs out there tailored for the transportation, travel, hospitality, and yes, higher education sectors. Also, whereas open source CMS leaves customization to the end user, proprietary CMS can be set up on the front end for the unique needs of an individual client.

Let’s explore each type further.

Proprietary vs Open-Source: Let the debate rage

If you value portability, ongoing improvement/optimization, and adaptation, odds are good that you’ll be satisfied with a popular open-source platform like WordPress or Drupal.

If your website is built in WordPress or a similar CMS, it’s fairly easy to move into another CMS when and if you so choose. You may also feel secure in knowing that a large developer base is constantly working on improving the features and functionality of the platform. Such improvements are implemented through code updates, requiring very little effort from you and your staff.

However, there are also drawbacks. The code updates can create some technical issues with third-party plug-ins or websites running on older versions of the software. Because the code is available to everyone, it can be an easier target for exploitation and cyber attacks. And, chances are good that your site will require at least some customization, which carries added cost and the potential need for personnel skilled in HTML.

Closed-source programs offer some advantages over their open-source counterparts, chief among them is ease of use.

With proprietary software, there’s never a need for you or your staff to make changes in the code, because the CMS is already fully customized to your site’s unique needs. Any additional development is handled by the vendor. The software also allows for a robust user permission setup, allowing you to easily delegate tasks to appropriate team members.

Additionally, closed-source code has a reputation for being more secure. This makes sense, since potential bad actors don’t have the luxury of parsing the source code for vulnerabilities.

The only drawback with proprietary CMS is portability. While some programs make it fairly easy to transfer website content to another platform, there’s typically no such flexibility for the graphic and structural elements of the site.

The Ruling

So, what type of CMS makes the most sense for higher education? Because it’s better suited for specialized and customized content, we, at Beacon, view proprietary CMS as the better option. Cascade and OmniUpdate, in particular, are two platforms that we work with routinely.

OmniUpdate is specifically dedicated to the higher ed sector. It’s OU Campus platform was designed with features and modules intended for use by universities and colleges.

Cascade is another trusted and reliable CMS application. One of the cooler attributes of this platform is the ability to create flexible templates, which we focused on in an earlier post.

No HTML experience is necessary to work with either one of these content management systems.

Beacon Knows Websites

Want to see how your higher ed website stacks up? Request a free audit by our knowledgeable team and see how you’re doing.

7 06, 2018

Bringing Your Web Design to Life

By | 2018-06-07T14:08:43+00:00 June 7th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

HTML: The Foundation of Your Website

It’s common knowledge that, in today’s hyper-digital marketplace, your chances for success are limited without a strong website presence. As an experienced marketer, you know reflexively that a well-designed and expertly developed website is an irreplaceable marketing tool that differentiates your brand from your competitors.

What makes a great website, however, is a topic that can be debated without end. Ask a content strategist, a graphic designer, and a site developer that question and you’re likely to receive different answers from each — maybe even wildly different.

Regardless of their favorite website features or components, digital marketing experts know that, without a strong foundation, no site will ever perform up to expectations. So, what serves as the foundation of a website? What brings to life your creative vision, technical capabilities and conversion opportunities?

That answer is easy — it’s the underlying HTML code. Laying that foundation properly, to withstand the shifting sands of time, is the tricky part.

Mapping Your Creative Into HTML

At Beacon, we’ve developed a time-tested process for website development – our Brains, Beauty and Brawn approach. Foundation laying is brawny work. But it’s made easier by the steps completed in the Brains and Beauty stages.

In these first two phases, we suss out our clients’ cosmetic, functional and design requirements and create detailed webpage outlines. This work is informed by our research into target audiences and interviews with various stakeholders. The insights gained in this process are translated into page mockups with notes explaining how each included webpage feature should operate.

Our mockups include mobile and desktop variants. In order to make your site as user friendly as possible, it’s important to think about how the site will function across various devices that your target audiences use.  To ensure a smooth build-out process, these decisions have to be considered in the design stage, before development begins.

Once the mockups receive client approval, our developers start the heavy lifting — writing the HTML code and building out the site per the approved specifications.

Developing Flexible Templates

Our goal is to deliver a website that’s not only easy for users to navigate, but also easy for our clients to manage. Brains and Beauty take care of your site visitors. The Brawn phase is geared to make your website administrators happy by giving them maximum control. We do this by building flexible page templates that can be arranged into a number of different configurations.

Traditional website development calls for the creation of static page templates — home page, landing page, interior content page, etc. The larger and more complex your site, the more templates you’ll likely need. Additional templates add expense to an already costly development process. They also add confusion for your website managers.

We get around these problems by creating templates that can easily be manipulated into different variations by your staff. This puts them in control, ultimately making your website more responsive to your users’ needs.

Instead of restricting all design decisions to the front end of the development process, flexible templates allow you to continue optimizing your site for the duration of its life. The result is a living website that changes and grows with your audience.

Beacon Knows Websites

Have questions or concerns about your website’s performance? Request a free website audit, and let our team evaluate what’s going right and what could use a helping hand.

31 12, 2015

Top 15 Beacon Blog Posts of 2015

By | 2018-09-14T14:12:30+00:00 December 31st, 2015|Categories: Beacon News|Tags: , , |

It’s the last day of 2015!  What a year… and what a great collection of informative blog posts from the Beacon staff!  In case you missed them, here are all the top-rated posts from 2015.  Congrats to our Top 15 authors!

Happy New Year and Happy Reading from Beacon!

The Top 15 Blog Posts Of 2015

internet of things  15. Smart Stuff – The Internet Of Things  (by Gary Synan)

An  internet revolution is almost upon us and like many technological breakthroughs, it has already begun without much fanfare and is more of a curiosity and novelty than life changing. Read More.

  14. Flexbox, a Beginner’s Guide  (by Morris Jeffreys)

If you are looking for a more efficient way to layout, align and distribute space of items within a container that is dynamic or size unknown, then Flexbox may be an option. Read More.

  13. How To Integrate ASPDotNetStorefront  (by John Wallwork)

One of the most frequent inquiries we get from customers is what can be done to reduce our cost in managing our website? The business will have back end system…Read More.

  12. Google AdWords Upgraded URLs: A Quick Guide  (by Liz Pagano)

Since your tracking code and landing page URL are combined, any change in tracking code sends your ad into editorial review, where Google has to crawl each altered…Read More.

  11. It’s Thanksgiving! “Never Delay Gratitude”  (by Mark Dirks)

Several years ago, I had the privilege of taking my son, Ryan, to Wake Forest’s Father-Son basketball camp. Now that he is older, in college, and no longer a part of my day…Read More.

Google Analytics Tips and Tricks  10. Avoiding Google Analytics Tracking Issues  (by Gus Kroustalis)

I love that Google Analytics provides out-of-the-box tracking code when setting up a new property. It helps marketers plug & play for a quick turnaround. Unfortunately,…Read More.

  09. Critical Success Factors of Projects  (by Jon Wright)

A recent Gartner survey finds that somewhere between 20% and 28% of all IT Projects fail. This survey goes on to document the main reasons for failure, the top three of which…Read More.

  08. Style Guides for Web Design and Development  (by Keana Lynch)

Developers, designers and web administrators are always looking for ways to improve how they manage the look, feel and complexity when building a web site. This can…Read More.

Basic GA Setup Checklist--Beacon Technologies  07. Basic Google Analytics Setup Checklist: A PDF Document (by Andrea Cole)

Google Analytics is a powerful tool for tracking your digital marketing performance. So powerful and versatile, in fact, that knowing the main important things to focus on…Read More.

  06. A Man Wrote Content To Get Clicks…What Google Did Next Will Blow Your Mind  (by Jordan Burleson)

I’m sure by now most of you have seen, clicked, heard about and even hidden clickbait…Read More.

  05. AspDotNetStorefront 9.5 – Exploring the new release  (by Annette Fowler)

I recently had the opportunity to set up a brand new eCommerce store with AspDotNetStorefront Version 9.5 (released in January 2015) and have the following review. Read More.

  04. 301 Redirects and UTM Parameters  (by Logan Ray)

If you’re a web developer, webmaster, or digital marketer, chances are pretty good that you’ve been involved in 301 redirects at one point or another. Whether it’s another…Read More.

  03. How To Create A Custom Google Map With MyMaps  (by Jordan Burleson)

We all know the power behind Google Maps. We know that it is crucial in helping new businesses get found, getting everyday directions to home or work and places in-between. Read More.

2015-12-30_9-50-41

02. Building a paginated listing with only HTML and CSS for Responsive Design  (by John Vine)

Most paginated listings on the web are managed either with server side logic, javascript, or a combination of both. With the… Read More.

  01. Configuring a SonicWALL TZ-105 Network Security Appliance – Part 1  (by Mike Ratcliffe)

In today’s post I am going to walk you through configuring a SonicWALL TZ-105 Network Security Appliance.Read More.

8 04, 2014

Website Updates For Fall Semester – Start Now!

By | 2017-08-07T15:59:15+00:00 April 8th, 2014|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , , |

Beacon2014-marketing-email-Edu-fall

Time to Plan Fall Website Updates

Popular fall initiatives include:

  • Responsive redesignscta-button
  • Updates to news and events functionality
  • Google Analytics configurations, SEO Assessments
  • Responsive retrofits (make your current design responsive)
2 10, 2013

Beacon Invited to Google Analytics Summit this Week

By | 2017-07-20T09:06:17+00:00 October 2nd, 2013|Categories: Beacon News|Tags: , , , |

GA-SummitFor the 7th straight year, representatives from Beacon were invited to the Google Analytics Summit being held in Mountain View CA this week.  Brad Henry, Beacon’s Director of Digital Marketing, is there this week with hundreds of other Google Analytics Certified Partners from around the world.  This year, Google limited the number of invitees as they begin focusing primarily on their new Premium GA product.  Consequently, only GA Premium re-sellers and users were invited, along with the more active GA partners.

Google Analytics has been at the heart of Beacon’s digital marketing services since even before Google purchased the foundation of GA from Urchin,” says Mark Dirks, Beacon’s CEO.  “It’s a big advantage to us, as well as our clients, to be so tightly integrated with Google as a long-term partner in that it gives us the opportunity to meet with and discuss the product with Google’s engineers, network with other partners around the world, and get a first glimpse at new features and strategy for the GA product.”

GA Summit Speaker

Google Analytics Engineering VP, Paul Muret, giving an inspirational and thought-provoking keynote.

Brad Henry returns from the 3-day Summit later this week and will be posting key takeaways and recapping his trip next week.  The Google Analytics Summit is always top-notch as you would expect from Google.  It’s well-run as the GA Team puts a steady stream of engineers and leaders in front of the GA Partners to openly share information, answer questions and get feedback about upcoming and newly released features.

“As one of the longest standing GA Partners in the country, with over 100 implementations of Google Analytics, we are glad that Google recognizes Beacon as a key partner,” says Dirks.  “GA has certainly been an important tool in the success of our clients.”

12 12, 2012

Newly Redesigned Site Launched for Tuggle Duggins Law Firm

By | 2017-08-11T16:29:10+00:00 December 12th, 2012|Categories: Beacon News|

Yesterday, December 6th, we launched the redesigned Tuggle Duggins” website. This is a Cascade site that features the following:

  • Rotating banner images on homepage
  • News and Publications are dynamically fed and visible on homepage
  • Ability to sign up to receive Legal Alerts
  • Attorney listing/detail pages allow the client to easily maintain extensive details about each attorney—including practice areas, education, licensure, admissions, professional organizations, community involvement, etc.
  • Updated Google Custom Search
  • Ability to find an attorney alphabetically or by practice area

 

Here”s a look at what the homepage looked like before the redesign:

Tuggle Duggins Old Site

 

Here is the new homepage:

Tuggle Duggins New Homepage

To see what the rest of the site looks like, visit http://www.tuggleduggins.com.

If you”re looking to redesign your website, make sure to or by calling (866) 488-3620.

20 06, 2012

Dale Pro Audio: AspDotNetStorefront Version Upgrade

By | 2016-10-12T15:30:16+00:00 June 20th, 2012|Categories: Beacon News|

Dale Pro Audio came to us and asked if we would be willing to upgrade their site from Version 8 to Version 9.2 for AspDotNetStorefront. Of course we said yes!

This upgrade was a unique one because the site is hosted at a remote location. So once we got all the access we needed we began work. Along with the upgrade, we added some new features including integrating a chat software, Vortx one page checkout, backoffice netsuite, and Nextopia Search.

John, Miral and Tiffany were the developers that worked on this site. Let’s give them a big round of applause! Good Job guys!

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