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5 05, 2015

Critical Success Factors of Projects

By | 2017-06-16T13:07:14+00:00 May 5th, 2015|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , |

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 are: “Functionality Issues”, “Substantially late”, and “High cost variance” (Gartner, June 2012). However, these are only the symptoms of deeper problems that stay hidden below the surface. The main cause for the functionality issues and project cost and schedule overruns that Gartner highlights is due to poor management. In my experience, here are some of the root causes of project management failure:

  • Unclear objectives
  • Unclear scope
  • No plan or poor plan
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of expectation establishment and management
  • Lack of continual project monitoring

In order to avoid these failures, certain questions must be asked at the beginning of a project, as well as throughout the project:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • What is and is not included in the project?
  • What is needed, when is it needed, and who will complete it?
  • Who needs to know what, and when?
  • Who is responsible for what?
  • When and where did we go off track?

If these questions are asked and taken seriously, what will result is:

  • Clearly defined objectives with team support
  • Agreed up project scope and expectations
  • Project plans that are developed by the right stakeholders
  • Clear and approved communications
  • An appropriate “battle rhythm” or cadence for checking and reporting of status

Beacon has the right recipe for success when it comes to project management. That’s why our projects are continually successful. We take the time to understand the customer’s requirements and needs, then we document those objectives and scope, and create a plan to deliver our product on time and in budget. At Beacon, each web development project includes these tools:

  • Business Requirements Document – This is an important document that defines the project’s objectives and scope, as well as the client’s high-level needs and desired features and capabilities. The document is developed after Beacon and the client meet for requirements gathering sessions.
  • Project Plan – This is a timeline of tasks that must be accomplished in order to complete the project. It includes tasks for both Beacon’s development and the client’s review and input.
  • Periodic project reviews and status reports, are conducted both internally and with the customer to ensure the project stays on course and within budget. Any issues that arise will be proactively addressed and handled as a team.

Though projects vary widely in scope and need, this list of project management tools helps guarantee the success of the project as well as the satisfaction of our clients. These tools ensure that each project asks the right questions on the outset, and continually monitor and control project performance and delivery.

23 04, 2015

Google AdWords Upgraded URLs: A Quick Guide

By | 2017-06-16T12:22:18+00:00 April 23rd, 2015|Categories: PPC|Tags: |

google-adwords-yellow2-1920

In February, Google announced a major change to how landing page URLs will be managed in AdWords. If you manually tag your URLs, listen up!

Old Way:             Landing Page URL + Tracking Parameters = Destination URL.

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 URL and re-approve your ad. This becomes problematic in terms of data loss and time ads spend under review.

The solution? Upgraded URLs!

With upgraded URLs, the landing page URL and the tracking parameters that currently make up the destination URL will be separated. The landing page will become what is now dubbed “Final URL” and your tracking parameters will be handled separately in a “Tracking Template”. This improved URL management will not only make updates to tracking code easier, it will reduce the number of times Google needs to crawl your ad’s landing pages.

Upgraded:          Landing Page URL = Final URL

                                Tracking Parameters = Tracking Template

Google has given us a deadline of July 1st 2015 to upgrade to the new URL structure, otherwise your account will be automatically converted.

How it’s done:

Before you being making changes, I suggest you become familiar with Google’s Upgrade Guide.

Tracking templates are where you enter your tracking information and any custom parameters you may want to use. You have the ability to scale these template updates across several URLs without resetting your ad. In these tracking templates you’ll use ValueTrack parameters to define what elements you want tracked.

First you need to identify which ValueTrack parameters you want to include in your template. You’ll find the full set of options here. Custom parameters can also be added. So if you want to tag your URLs with a promotion, you might set a custom parameter {_promo} with a value of “BOGO”. You can set up to three custom parameters.

The templates can be applied at various levels within your account, but the most specific level of tracking will be applied to the ad. This means if you have a campaign level and an ad level tracking template, the ad level tracking will override the campaign level template for that ad. To maximize efficiency I recommend creating a template at the highest level possible.

Note: Changes to tracking templates at the ad level will remove the existing ad and re-submit a new one for review.

Now What?

Although all the updates are in place within the AdWords web interface, AdWords Editor has not yet been updated to support upgraded URLs. If you use Editor I highly recommend holding off until the next release comes out. This will ensure nothing falls through the cracks when posting changes from Editor.

Now that you have all the information you need to upgrade, you can begin to make a plan as to how you will go about switching over. Be mindful of the data loss that will occur when you make the switch. If you have questions or need help with your AdWords account, contact us today!

 

 

 

15 04, 2015

Can Humor Boost Online Sales?

By | 2018-05-01T08:26:12+00:00 April 15th, 2015|Categories: Digital Marketing|Tags: , , , |

We know that humor gets people’s attention. It can be the optimal user experience. Just look at how audience demographics change for the biggest annual football games and ask people why they watch. According to a recent survey, over 75% of Super Bowl viewers were more interested in the commercials than the game. Of those 75%, almost 95% said they prefer humorous commercials to a straight-ahead sales pitch. But does humor make the cash register ring and more specifically, is it an effective online marketing tool?

“All those who believe in psychokinesis raise my hand.”

The web has proven to be a very effective vehicle for humor. There are some very funny online publications such as The Onion and People of Walmart. And who among us have not shared a video of something outrageously funny with a friend? Humorous content gets our attention but can it influence our spending habits? Can it persuade us to click the “buy now” button? While there is evidence to suggest that it can (and does), online advertisers are reluctant to embrace the idea of digital marketing with a sense of humor. As I see it, the reason is two-fold.

1) It’s impossible to find a good, funny copywriter. 2) More significantly, online advertisers aren’t convinced that humor moves widgets.

Let’s consider both these assertions.

“Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.” Humor can be perilous. One can get light-headed and lose sight of oncoming obstacles. Do a search for the recent, controversial Belvedere ad you’ll see how easy it is to get sucked into that proverbial jet engine. This ad should have never made it past the board room. Posted to Facebook and Twitter, it elicited many more complaints than sales, necessitating removal from social media post haste.

Other online advertising outlets such as Adwords have character restrictions, making the task of copy writing all the more difficult. However, creative marketers and outside the box online sales humorthinkers can create effective ads that get you noticed. Even with the word count restrictions, your ads can be humorous and, most importantly, convert.

Although it straddles the line, the text ad above does not cross into offensive territory. It dares to be funny without taking ill-advised chances. And despite Adword’s character restrictions, this ad says it all succinctly and with a sense of humor.

“I went to a general store. They wouldn’t let me buy anything specifically.”

When one addresses a specific target audience with tasteful but pointed humor, the results can astound. Here are a few high profile examples of humor that sells…

• Known to primarily cater to business travelers, Hilton Resorts wanted to extend that reach to holiday vacationers. They created an online “Urgent Vacation Care Center” where those afflicted with any number of stress related maladies could visit, take an online diagnostic test and get a “prescription” for whatever ails them.

The hotel chain partnered with The Onion and the New York Times to further promote the spoof. When the dust cleared, Hilton resorts had added a half a million Facebook likes and over 7000 subscribers to its newsletter.

• Dollar Shave Club’s promotional YouTube video cost under $5000 to make and featured a machete wielding CEO, a forklift to nowhere, and a shaving baby. The spot accumulated 4.75 million views in March of 2014 alone. More significantly, within the first 48 hours after the YouTube video first aired online, over 12,000 people signed up for home delivery of their product. No other marketing channels had been utilized to that point other than Google ads.

This video ad kicked ass harder than a cross-eyed Rockette.

“If you tell a joke in the forest, but nobody laughs, was it a joke?”

If your ad is humor driven and nobody buys, do you get fired? Humor can sell but like any form of advertising, one cannot lose sight of the main objective – to move units. Consider adding an element of humor through YouTube to boost social media conversions.  Or adding a humor campaign to Adwords. It can be hard work but when done right, the sky is the limit.

Thanks to Steve Wright and Lord Carrett for the funny headlines.

1 04, 2015

What is UX and Why Does it Matter for Your Customers?

By | 2016-11-22T09:56:54+00:00 April 1st, 2015|Categories: Creative Design|Tags: , , , |

User experience (or UX) can be a little difficult to define because it describes not only a professional practice but also the results of that practice. The concepts behind user experience have been around for a very long time but the term itself has only been around since the 90s. In the mid 20th century Henry Dreyfuss wrote –

“when the point of contact between the product and people becomes a point of friction, then the industrial designer has failed. On the other hand, if people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient – or just plain happier – by contact with the product, then the designer has succeeded.”

mobile-hand

User experience puts science and research behind the design of products and services to improve the quality of the experience a user has with that product. Methods are used to discover what the user needs and to ensure that the final end product or service meets those needs in a manner the minimizes friction and maximizes pleasure. Deliverables are created through the UX process but they are not the end goal. It is more important to perform quality research to develop a true understanding of the needs of the user.

UX encompases a lot of factors including:

At Beacon, we always like to compare the web design and development process to building a house. User experience design is like creating the blueprints. First you have to find out what type of people will live in the building. You have to understand their needs and gather knowledge about them and about the neighborhood in order to get a better understanding of what type of house you should build. If you think of UX as the house plan, graphical design would be the equivalent of choosing the flooring, paint, and fixtures. Development is the ultimate construction process, and testing is the building inspection and walk through.

The most important skill of a UX researcher is knowing how to listen. There is no set of best practices that get robotically implemented – each project is unique and requires solutions that are reflective of the real needs and problems to be solved. The end result is the creation of a product that delights users and also functions well which can result in improved conversion rates, greater numbers of users, and ultimately a higher return on investment.

 

26 03, 2015

AspDotNetStorefront 9.5 – Exploring the new release

By | 2017-08-08T08:41:29+00:00 March 26th, 2015|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , , , |

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. Please note that some of these features may have been available in versions before 9.5, but they were new to me.

Stuff that I like (love?)

  • Admin site user interface- Just WOW!  By far my favorite enhancement of the release, I can’t help but start here… The older versions of Admin were a bit clunky and “old school” visually and technologically.  The new UI is much sleeker and easier to navigate.  New thought has been given to terminology as well, so things are easier to find if you really don’t know where to start (“Settings” instead of “Appconfig Parameters” – hurray!).  Another particular favorite of mine is the “Quick Adds” option on product detail pages.  Previously, if you forgot to add a manufacturer (a required field) before entering a new product, you had to stop, save the product with another manufacturer, go add the manufacturer, go back to the product and revise the manufacturer selection.  Now the “Quick Add” feature allows you to complete these steps in one pop-up screen – yes!
  • Responsive skin– Skin 3 that’s included out-of-the-box is responsive and, upon preliminary but not thorough review (yet), it holds up quite well on tablets and phones.  A far superior option to the older “mobile site” offered in previous versions (and apparently still supported in 9.5).
  • Help interface– Previous versions are documented in the online manual at http://manual.aspdotnetstorefront.com/, which is packed with useful information that I use daily when working on a new AspDotNetStorefront implementation.  I was terrified to lose such a valuable resource, but my fears were for nothing, as the new version uses a different and superior help interface which is cleaner and easier to navigate and search.  The inclusion of Print, Bookmark and Email links are particularly useful.

Stuff that’s now included

I was delighted to find that the following great features that at one point were “add-ons” and required additional purchase, are now included with the purchase of 9.5 and Year-Round Benefits (annual support and upgrade coverage):

  • Smart Mini Cart
  • Smart One Page Checkout
  • Natively Responsive Skin

Stuff that has gone away

According to the 9.5 release notes, the following features are no longer available in 9.5.  This is important to note for clients using these features in previous versions, as custom coding may be required to continue to use these features after upgrading to 9.5:

During the build of AspDotNetStorefront 9.5, a positive decision was made to remove features that, for a number of reasons, were not felt to be right for inclusion. Reasons varied, and largely covered performance hits, legacy architecture and feature overlap.

Our primary focus in 2015 is to deliver software that helps attract traffic, and we are delivering services (like 500+) that support the ‘more traffic’ initiative. After all, we say, what use are more ecommerce features on a store that rarely gets visited? We would sooner be building a cart that helps make sales, than a cart that just wants more bells and whistles than the next guy.

These are the omitted features:

  • Google Checkout
  • Component Art
  • Recently Viewed Products
  • Gift Registry
  • File-based entity/product descriptions
  • Gallery
  • Line Item Notes on Orders
  • Polls
  • Show In Product Browser (for entities)
  • Subscriptions
  • Stop/Start Dates (for products)
  • Cardinal MyECheck Payment Method
  • Spec files
  • Swatch Images
  • Mailing Manager
  • NoScript field (for products)
  • Topic Mapping (topics can still be filtered by stores via Store Mappings page)
  • sitemap.aspx
  • Customers who bought X also bought Y
  • Gateways:
    • eWay
    • HSBC
    • iDeposit
    • iTransact
    • JetPay
    • Moneybookers
    • Netaxept
    • NetBilling
    • Ogone
    • PayFuse
    • PayJunction
    • PayLeap
    • Payment Express
    • Paymentech
    • Pinnacle Payments
    • PlugNPay
    • SecureNet (v2)
    • Verisign
    • WorldPay

Other Stuff

The following additional features are also mentioned in the release notes, but I didn’t have an opportunity to review them for this post.  From the descriptions, they appear to be great for SEO, administration and performance and I look forward to playing with them in the near future.

  • Added support for Google Tag Manager
  • Continued work on Rich Snippets (Schema.org)
  • DotFeed connector embedded natively
  • Tightly coupled feed from store to Google’s merchant center
  • Now supports Google Universal Analytics (analytics.js)
  • New ‘bulk’ actions allowing volume data throughput
  • AspDotNetStorefront now natively runs on .NET 4.5 Framework
  • All remaining ntext database fields converted to nvarchar(max)
  • Redundant files and images removed

Previous Reviews

If you are interested in my previous reviews and articles about AspDotNetStorefront, please feel free to browse!

18 03, 2015

2014 WebAward for Outstanding Achievement in Web Development

By | 2017-08-11T16:22:22+00:00 March 18th, 2015|Categories: Beacon News|

The new Jacksonville State University website launched almost a year ago, but the accolades continue to roll in.  Beacon and the awesome team at JSU partnered up last spring on the redesign and development of a new responsive design of the primary .EDU and news websites.  These sites turned out great.  The design team worked closely with the client to turn out a visually appealing web design that generates results while the development staff did a great job of ensuring the sites render just right across all device types and browsers.  In addition, the Beacon team integrated the design into JSU’s Cascade Server CMS.  The integration included the addition of a new flexible call-out feature, which is used throughout the site, as well as a responsive flex slider.

The sites launched in May to a great response.  Including a flurry of positive Twitter activity from the JSU community.

Cascade Server Design

In addition to the positive responsive from the client and the JSU community, the sites recently received a 2014 WebAward for Outstanding Achievement in Web Development form the Web Marketing Association.

Higher Education Web Design

As a firm who tends to look to the quantitative data to gauge success, it is great to receive these tremendous accolades from the JSU and Web Marketing communities.   We are very proud of our experience designing engaging designs for dozens of higher education clients and we always look forward to the next successful launch, so stay tuned for exciting new sites in the coming months from our clients at Texas A&M Texarkana, University of North Georgia, Nova Scotia Community College and others.

 

 

27 02, 2015

What Color is the Dress? The Power of Perception

By | 2017-06-16T12:24:03+00:00 February 27th, 2015|Categories: Digital Marketing|

tumblr_nkcjuq8Tdr1tnacy1o1_1280

 

If you’ve been on any sort of social media in the last 18 hours, it’s simply exploded going viral with everyone being split over the colors and their perception on this picture of a dress. A friend of mine sent it to me last night in a text and I showed my wife thinking it was a hoax because it was obviously blue and black. She saw it and all I did was ask her the color on it and she said, “Oh, that’s white and gold.”  That led to me Googling everything I could find on this, polls, posts, experts etc.  All that to say, my wife and I talked about it, ok, we argued slightly and we read a technical write up by Wired about the perceptions of colors different people have or see based on how they verify an image in their mind with whites/blacks. Apparently this image and the lighting hit right on a perceptional threshold that has caused stark differences and dissension in it’s wake.

This got me to thinking, perception is such a powerful thing in our day and age. When you meet your significant others parents for the first time, or your new boss, you are supposed to “give a good first impression.” Why is that? They will size you up immediately and there seems to be a lot of validity to people’s first impression/perception cements a lot of what they perceive as reality. Well doesn’t proving to them your worth or who you are really show who you are? Well yes, but people tend to put a lot of emphasis on first impressions and perceptions even if they are completely wrong. This is highly evidenced by how vocal people are about this dress assigning sides of #blueandblack or #whiteandgold. Taking to heated debates and polls that show stark loyalties to both sides. In a matter of hours the social media infrastructure was split on this issue, celebs, media giants, etc. were taking to Photoshop, analyzing the photo, and building their case. It’s great to have a cause to fight for however trivial it may seem, but the main thing I took away from this to always be willing to explore past your first impressions and maybe entertain the idea that you might be wrong on a perception of a new person at work, new stranger on the bus, or even the color of a dress, so dig a little deeper.  I was right technically on this issue, but I’m still in the minority according to polls online. #blueandblack #FTW

http://swiked.tumblr.com/image/112073818575 – Original Post

http://www.wired.com/2015/02/science-one-agrees-color-dress  -Technical Explanation

http://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2015/02/27/intv-bastock-dress-color-controversy.cnn – Confirmation

 

 

 

 

10 02, 2015

Cascade Server Help and Training Resources

By | 2017-08-07T16:00:13+00:00 February 10th, 2015|Categories: Cascade CMS|Tags: , , |

Those that have worked with Beacon Technologies on Cascade Server projects know that our experienced staff is available for “as needed” content management help through our Preferred Client Services department as well as for customized training sessions and user manuals specific to the site designed for your organization. However, did you know that Hannon Hill, the developers of Cascade server, also offer a wide variety of training and help resources? Here are a few that you might find helpful:

Hope you find these resources helpful and please add your own in the comments below!

6 02, 2015

Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Your Higher Ed Website Redesign

By | 2017-08-08T08:27:13+00:00 February 6th, 2015|Categories: Higher Education|Tags: , , , , |

After recent experience with several higher education website redesigns, I’ve come up with a list of the top ten ways that you, as a higher education client, can prepare for an upcoming website redesign project.  Though these items aren’t technically required right at the beginning of a redesign project, they are all eventually needed and the sooner they are brought to the table, hopefully the more satisfactory the project results.

  1. High resolution .eps or .ai files of  all variants of the official logo (including reversed text, for example)
  2. An official “style guide” (preferred) or, minimally, a list of brand/official fonts and colors (with hex codes please)
  3. Considerations of all target audiences to be addressed by the website (prospective students, alumni, faculty/staff, community, media, etc.)
  4. A variety of high resolution images of the campus, students, faculty/staff and activities, in both portrait and landscape formats
  5. User id and password (read only access is usually fine) for any secure areas of the site that will be redesigned
  6. Documentation of any dynamic/database driven pages currently in use (a data-driven, searchable academic catalog, for example) as well any forms and 3rd party sites linked to the live site (a third party site for prospective students to apply, for example)
  7. Any  print or electronic marketing materials/brochures that have a graphical presence that should be considered for the website redesign
  8. Requirements for search engine optimization and analytics tracking
  9. List of websites with a similar look and feel to what you are trying to achieve with the redesign (do not have to be .edu sites)
  10. Bonus points:  review my previous blog “Terms you need to know for your website redesign

With these items in mind, I hope that your upcoming website redesign is very successful… Best of luck!

12 01, 2015

Matt Cutts Shares His 6 Lessons From The Early Days of Google

By | 2018-05-01T08:25:56+00:00 January 12th, 2015|Categories: SEO|Tags: , , |

From his presentation at University of North Carolina, January 8th, 2015

It was a long walk from the parking lot, down the brick sidewalk to the mostly glass edifice called the FedEx Center. On the way there, I met two UNC computer science professors, one rather tall and thin and the other short and stocky. Once having learned why I had come, they offered to show me to the auditorium where Matt Cutts would soon speak. That’s when it hit me. Brick sidewalk, tall and short, Matt Cutts….

We were off to see the Wizard.

While walking into the auditorium with said professors, I ran into a colleague from Beacon. The picture was nearly complete. If only she were carrying a miniature dog in one hand.

The event was well attended – so well in fact, that a good number of students (having neglected to register in advance) were being held out until it was determined that there would be enough room to accommodate them.

The Wizard was busy…Go Home.

lessonsIt was clear from the outset that Cutts was there to speak primarily to the students of his alma mater. There would be no pulling back of the SEO curtain or uncloaking of Google’s algorthm for the SEO’s in attendance. Still, Cutts would share some interesting stories from his experiences on the front lines of the war on Spam. Best of all, there would be a Q&A session (see details below).

Within the framework of his 6 lessons for students (and presumably those who wish a long, fruitful career in SEO), Cutts shared a number of fascinating experiences culled from his many years at Google – from his first major controversy involving the Digital Marketing Copyright Act (DMCA) and Church of Scientology to public policy and how it reshapes the environment under which start-ups operate.

The Wizard’s 6 lessons from the early days of Google were as follows:

1) Find creative solutions to apparent constraints

2) Be proactive – ask for what you want 3) Question your assumptions 4) Weird, bad things will happen 5) Take more pictures and have fun

successSpeaking for the majority of the 40+ minute session about his career evolution from Google’s ad department to Chief Spam Cop, Cutts covered a wide variety of subjects from data volume and AI to data safeguards and Fred Brooks. He impressed upon the attendees the fact that there are, indeed, faces behind Google – not every reconsideration request is answered via form letter. He shared the fact that every Google employee must spend some period of time on the user support team.

Take more pictures along your journey. That was another point of emphasis. You’ll want to remember the good times. And even if you love what you do, there will be dark days, too.

Click here for appropriate sound effect

While Cutts’ monologue was entertaining, it may have been the Q&A portion that was most interesting. Read on and you’ll find just a few of the questions posed to Matt along with his answers as I can best recall / summarize them. If you were there and feel I didn’t quite get it right, please put the record straight by leaving a comment at the bottom of the page.

Q: Safesearch – How insulated are you from backlash when it occurs?

A: Not as insulated as one would think. Matt has actually fielded parent complaints as part of the user support team. This and other lines of communication were the genesis for his debunking of popular internet myths through his Google Guy posts.

Q: What do you see as the future of search? A: Voice is important as well as context. With the informed consent, Google can make the user’s life a whole lot easier.

Q: What Safeguards are in place to protect emails and other proprietary information on Google servers? A: 1. The marketplace. People can move to Yahoo if Google does not do its job adequately. 2. Takeout.google.com. One can download all of their information, export it and take it to another company if they wish. 3. Regulators like the FTC.

Q: Have you given thought to when you’ll return to Google? A: His answer was somewhat vague. Cutts stated that while he had been a workaholic for some time now, he felt that his family should “get the relaxed version of myself for a little longer”.

Q: When the University of Kentucky plays North Carolina Chapel Hill, who do you root for? A: Much to the disappointment of the students on hand, Matt stated that he finds himself rooting for Kentucky but offered this nugget to appease the UNC faithful; “We can all agree on one thing…Duke sucks”.

Cutts’ presentation had it all – heart, courage and brains. And when all was said and done, everybody got what they came for, I suspect. Now for the long trek home from Emerald City…

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

Thanks to Andrea Cole for the nifty pics of Matt.

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