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Archive for the ‘Guides’ Category

January 6th, 2009

If You’re Not Utilizing Social Media You Should Be – Tips, Tricks, and Pointers

If you didn’t hop on board the Social Media train in 2008 or haven’t heard about it (living under a rock perhaps?) 2009 is your year!  It’s a big deal trend, and it shows no signs of slowing down.  Don’t believe me?  Check out Todd Mailcoat’s post on Stuntdubl.com – 9 Reasons You NEED Social Media Marketing in 2009.

Developing a social media marketing strategy can be especially tough.  The list of available Social Media sites seems endless (Twitter, Digg, Delicious, Facebook, LinkedIn, Technorati, StumbleUpon…I could go on forever) and there are tons of pitfalls and mistakes to make that could derail your campaign in seconds.  However, using Social Media to your advantage can be extremely rewarding – leading to much higher traffic and better search rankings and in the end more money/sales/whatever for you.

So to start the new year off right AgencyTool has compiled what we think is the best advice around when it comes to Social Media.

First off – what NOT to do.  Janet Fouts posted the Seven Sins of Social Media and every single one of her points should be taken to heart by anyone getting into SM Marketing.  Along the same line is The 11 Rules of Social Media Etiquette by Eric Brantner.  Both of these articles are great places to start to learn the basic do’s and don’ts of the trade.

No matter which sites you decide to use you’ll invariably have to create some sort of user profile before you can go to town.  Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn profiles are pretty self-explanatory and their importance is obvious.  What some people fail to realize is that your profiles on Digg, Reddit and other aggregation-type sites are important as well.  For help check out this video from Brent Csutoras: Tips on Building Social Media Profiles.

We aren’t going to list every SM site out there – it would be impossible – with a little research you’ll be able to find ones that fit into your strategy and style.  We are going to share a few choice tips/tricks we found for some of our favorite social media sites.

Twitter.  There were debates about it’s purpose and usefulness, some people love it – some hate it, and it can be tough to really get involved with, but there is no denying that Twitter has substantially changed the way some people communicate online.  For a good overview of the service and how it can be useful read Dan York’s Why and How I Use Twitter and it’s follow up post.

LinkedIn is like MySpace for professionals.  It’s a great way to connect with colleagues and network with people both in and outside of your profession – it’s also a great Social Media Marketing tool.  Read LinkedIn Tips and Tricks to Get 500+ Contacts to learn how to make full use of your account.

Social Bookmarking and Aggregate News sites are another great way to use social media to draw attention and traffic to your site.  There are plenty of resources around to help you make the most of this type of site.  Take a look at BlueHat SEO’s Stumble and Digg Begging for a hack to put on your site that reminds visitors to stumble and digg up your page.  Chris Poteet write a great little guide on how to Become a Delicious Power User and this post from Top SEO Tricks tells you all about Getting Traffic from DIGG.com Comments.

Lastly, it’s easy to lose track of what you are doing once you charge into a social media campaign.  Keeping track of multiple profiles and what is being said about your site/brand/company can become overwhelming.  Read Social Media Tips: Tracking Your Buzz Online for pointers on how to stay up to date easily.

Do you have a great piece of advice or resource for utilizing Social Media?  Leave a comment, we’d love to hear about it.

November 25th, 2008

Your Guide to Online Holiday Shopping

Yes its that time of year again…Black Friday (cue scary, suspenseful music).  The food coma from the day’s turkey dinner is lifting and the deals are so good that they convince people to flock to the stores at increasingly obscene hours of the early morning and run the risk of getting trampled in the mad dash for that last Wii Fit.

It’s more than a little ridiculous, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Thanks to increasingly well-designed and easy to use e-commerce sites its possible to have a great shopping experience (and get great deals) without ever leaving your house.

AgencyTool is anti-gettingtrampled and pro-qualitydesign, so we’ve put together a guide of the best designed, most user-friendly online shopping sites around.  We’ve also thrown in a few ‘off the beaten track’ sites to make sure you stay creative in your gift-giving.  Enjoy!

ebay

First up, ebay.  The site has come a long way since the early days in terms of user-friendliness.  Its easy to use and you can find great deals.  They also have a very efficient reporting system, so in the off-chance you buy something fake or ‘not as promised’ ebay will get your money back asap.

Ideeli

Ideeli.com is members only, but you shouldn’t have any trouble finding an invite code. They run frequent promotions in magazines and chances are someone you know is already a member and can invite you.  They have great sales on designer apparel and accessories.  The best part?  Every now and then they have giveaway contests, yep they give away designer handbags, jewelry, clothes, you name it.  Awesome. They keep the design simplistic by only having a few items on sale at any given time, allowing users to check back whenever they want something new instead of being overwhelmed by millions of products.

Incase

Incase is the perfect mix between online store and design showcase.  They sell cases for all your gadgets – cell phones, computers etc. – as well as stylish bags and carry cases, but the site is so much more.  Their tag-line is “A better experience through good design” we think that pretty much sums it up.

RetailMeNot

While not really an e-commerce site on its own, RetailMeNot.com is a social shopping community that posts online coupon codes from various different retailers.  The look is fun and fresh, and it’s user review system makes this the best designed coupon gathering site around.

Surprise.com

Surprise.com’s design is crisp and neat, but not overly impressive.  The site is extremely easy to use and understand but is on the list mainly because of the creative spin they put on online shopping.  Not sure what to get someone on your list?  Head to Surprise where they not only suggest gifts by holiday but by what the person is like.  Is he a foodie? A movie buff? How about the perfect gift for someone who is always cold.  The sites pulls gift ideas from various other online stores and presents the perfect gift for your hard to buy for person.

Buzzillions

Another useful tool for your online shopping experience is Buzzillions.  They have literally buzillions of reviews on all types of products.  The site is clearly designed so that it is easy to find the exact product you are looking for.  Also, the reviews themselves are uniquely designed, with pros and cons sections, ratings, and comparisons to similar products.  The site isn’t trying to sell you these products and doesn’t pay reviewers – so you can be fairly certain you are reading a real review from an actual consumer.

Vann’s Spices

Vann’s Spices is the perfect place to look for a gift for your amateur chef or impossible to buy for/has everything person.  They even make custom blends of spices.  The design is simple and looks great, its also laid out so that there is no doubt where to go for the information you need.

Like.com

Like.com is another site that serves as more of a tool than an actual store.  It allows users to visually search for products across multiple retailers.  That means if you find a pair of shoes you love but are way too expensive, you can head to Like and search for a pair that look similar but cost much less.  They’ve designed several cool features into the site, like the detail search – where you can draw a box around a particular feature of a product you like and the site will pull products that have that same feature.

The Purplebook

The Purplebook is essentially a directory for online shopping – retailers are handpicked for inclusion in the book.  Bold color choices make the design unique and the easy to use navigation makes this a great starting point for your online shopping session.

ShopLocal

ShopLocal is for those who would rather do all the grunt work online and then just pop by the store to make the actual purchase.  Type in your zip code and the site will scour retailers in your area for sales and special offers, afterwards you can buy online or reserve an item to pick it up at the store. The design is clean and organized albeit a little generic, but the site deserves a mention as it is a great stepping stone for people still a little uncomfortable typing in their credit card info.

Restoration Hardware

Restoration Hardware has everything you could possibly need for the home, plus great gift ideas.  The design is easy on the eyes, which when compared to sites that have a similar number of products offered, is no small feat.

The Apple Store

Last, but definitely not least, the Apple Store.  Apple’s site is the epitome of clean, fresh design and their online store is no different.  They also show us that Black Friday is a go for online retailers as well, announcing that prices will be slashed on their site for that one day only.

There you have it.  So now when the crazies line up around the block at Best Buy at 3am (no offense, I’ve been guilty of this once or twice) you can be warm and cozy, sitting in front of your computer in your  pajamas with a cup of hot chocolate – or really strong coffee.

Think we missed a few? Let us know in the comments!

October 8th, 2008

A Simple Guide to SEO

Any time spent searching for information on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) will bring back literally thousands of resources and sites dedicated to the subject.  Why then are forums continuously overrun with requests for advice on this stuff?  One reason could be because there is just so much information out there.  You could easily spend hours researching and come away with only 2 or 3 major points.  Not exactly efficient, especially for a subject that changes and evolves almost daily.

So here is my attempt at an easy to understand guide to basic SEO practices – which I realize may be completely obsolete by next Thursday.

Right off the bat you need to know there are 2 main categories for SEO: On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO.  Here’s what these mean in a nutshell:
On Page SEO: everything you do specifically on your website, i.e. site structure
Off Page SEO: everything you do outside of your immediate website, i.e. your relationship to other websites

ON PAGE – The Good

✔ Have a site map.  If you don’t have a site map stop reading right now and go make one.  Its one of the easiest ways to make sure the search engines find your site (and any new pages you add) easy to crawl.
✔ Keywords.  Put the keywords you want to rank for in your URL and domain name if at all possible. Put them in your your title tag, and just for fun stick them in the meta tag as well.  Now, Google says in no longer uses the Keyword meta tag, but others do so it can’t hurt to put them in there.  Be careful though – every single keyword in the keyword meta tag MUST appear somewhere in your body text, otherwise google will mark it as irrelevant and penalize you.
✔ Links.  Your internal links should have keywords, and lower level pages should be linked together appropriately.  A general rule of thumb is that a user should be able to navigate to any page on your site within 3 or 4 clicks from the homepage.  As for external links, make sure you only link to reputable sites (no links farms or ‘bad neighborhoods’) and check to make sure your links are all valid.
✔ Be old and new at the same time. Google likes old sites because of the perceived ‘trust’ they have, it also likes ‘fresh’ pages. The best site in Google’s opinion has been around for a long time and puts new content up on a regular basis. Good to know, even if you can only control the second part.

ON PAGE – The Bad

Keywords.  It’s a two way street, keywords are an essential part of good on page SEO but it can easily go wrong.  Rules of thumb: Don’t have too many (keyword stuffing) and make sure every single one is 100% relevant to your site’s topic.
Bad language/ethnic slurs/’stop’ words. Basically don’t use any word Google has associated with shady dealings in the past.
All Flash with no HTML option. Most search engine spiders can’t read flash, give them an HTML option to read or they won’t index your page and your ranking may suffer.

OFF PAGE – The Good

✔ Links, Links, Links. Incoming links from quality sites are extremely important. You want stable (the older the better) links that contain your keywords in them pointing to you from a site that is a trusted source – you get bonus points if its from an “expert” site.
✔ Traffic. The more people on your site the better. If your site is new and you don’t have much traffic, you get a little boost if there is an increasing pattern, you also get a boost if people stay on your site for a long time (low bounce rate). If visitors bookmark your page…even better! I know this seems a bit out of your control – but by creating content on your site people actually want to read and find interesting you can encourage better traffic.
✔ Article Submission/Blogs. By creating articles and submitting them to other sites you not only create links pointing to your site, you create interest among visitors. The same is true for having a blog. You’ll be creating new content on a regular basis (which Google loves) plus you’ll be building a loyal base of readers who may help your site to be seen as a ‘trusted’ source and give you a consistent stream of traffic.
✔ Page Rank. It’s based on the number of quality links pointing back to you, but other factors are included as well. There are differing opinions among SEO professionals as to just how important Page Rank is. Many say that it isn’t important at all anymore, some still rely on it. Our take? Don’t obsess over your site’s Page Rank, but don’t completely discount it either.

OFF PAGE – The Bad

Bad Links. Google is cracking down on link-buying by penalizing sites. Link exchanging is also an issue, while there is no penalty for exchanging links with other sites Google deems these type of links much less valuable than quality incoming (one way) links. You also want to look out for bad ‘link neighborhoods’ – sites linked together through spammy sites or link farms. If you link to these sites by accident chances are you’ll be OK, but if Google finds too many of these type of links on your pages you could be in trouble. Here is a tool to help check your links – Text Link Checker Tool.
Being “spammy”. Link building activities can get a bad rep because there are so many ‘techniques’ that are just plain spammy. Mass-posting links into forums, posting links into comment sections of completely unrelated blogs, or mass-emailing hundreds of bloggers/webmasters asking for links are just plain annoying and not all that successful anyway.

Keep in mind these are just the basics, there’s a plethora of resources out there if you’d like in depth info on one specific aspect of SEO.  Check out Vaughn’s Google’s Ranking Factors for more Google specific details, its a great resource if you’ve got the time to go through it.

If you have any SEO resources you use or just a great informational site let me know!

July 31st, 2008

The Definitive Guide to Web Design Awards


There are scores of web site award programs out there, some more illustrious than others. They can range from full-fledged international competitions, to a showcase style website that takes submissions from everyone.  Picking a contest to enter or to follow as a source of inspiration can be a daunting task.  With that in mind, here is a guide to the more reputable awards programs and websites available.

The Best of the Best

The Webby AwardsTraditionally held in early June and hosted by The International Academy of Arts and Sciences, the awards have over 100 Website, Interactive Advertising, Online Film & Video, and Mobile categories.  There are two awards in each category, the Webby Award and the People’s Voice Award.  Entries are usually taken starting in September through December.
Deadline: Usually in December, check website for specific dates each year
Entry Fee: Yes, there is also an early submission discounted entry fee

The American Advertising Federation ADDY AwardsAnnual award that recognizes all forms of advertising from media of all types.  Entrants from all levels and locations are encouraged to submit through the AAF website over a secure account.  Information on local deadlines and entry fees is available from your local AAF Chapter.
Deadline: See local AAF Chapter
Entry Fee: See local AAF Chapter

Comm Arts Interactive AwardsJudged by a panel of eminent programmers, interface designers and creative directors, these awards allow any interactive project created for digital distribution to enter.  The categories are Advertising, Entertainment, Information Design, Self-Promotion, and Experimental/Virtual.
Deadline: January 16, 2009
Entry Fee: $100 per web site, $125 per disk-based entry

Notable Awards

Web AwardNow in its 12th year, the Web Award recognizes the best web sites in 96 industry categories.  It is given by The Web Marketing Association which is made up of Internet marketing, online advertising, PR, and top web site designer professionals.  Sites entered must be in use for at least a part of the calendar year before the competition.  Judging generally takes place in July and August and winners are announced in September.
Deadline: May 31st, later submissions accepted for a $50 late fee
Entry Fee: $195 per submission, $99 for the non-profit category

Interactive Media AwardsAimed at increasing the standards of excellence on the Internet, the Interactive Media Awards accept entries from individuals and organizations that are involved in “designing, developing, managing, supporting and promoting websites”.  Nominators must be at least 18 years old, and websites hosted on free servers (such as Geocities) are not eligible.  While these are annual awards, they are judged on a quarterly basis.  Categories are segmented over the year, so check the website to see the deadlines for your category of interest.  Winners will get the IMA Digital Award icon to display on their site.
Deadline: Varies by category, check website
Entry Fee: $125 per category entered, $75 for non-profit entries

D & ADKnown also as the Yellow Pencils, the D & AD Awards have 30 categories that cover all aspects of creative communications.  The awards, among the most respected and prestigious honors in the design industry, are presented each May at a gala ceremony in London.
Deadline: January with an early deadline for a 10% discount, check the website for specific dates each year
Entry Fee: Vary by category and change yearly, last year it was $399 for an entry in the website category

Horizon Interactive AwardsJudged by a panel of industry professionals, entries are awarded either a Gold, Silver, Bronze or honorable mention distinction.  Only Gold winners are eligible for the Best of Category and Best of Show awards.  Acceptable media forms include websites, CD-Rom, DVD-Rom, DVD Video, Webcast/Streaming Media, Video Games, Kiosk and Video/Short Film.
Deadline: January 31st
Entry Fee: $45 per category submission

Prominent Design Annuals

GraphisEach year the Graphis Gold and Platinum winning advertisements are printed in the Annual.  It represents the best work produced globally in advertising, graphic design, photograph and illustration.  Eligible work must have been completed between October and a month before the deadline for each year.
Deadline: Varies by year, check website for current dates
Entry Fee: $50-$230 depending on category

Black BookMore of a guide than a contest, Black Book provides the creative community with high quality source books to promote top talents and services.  They publish six annuals: Photography, Illustration, Creative Industry Directory, RAW Magazine, AR100 Award & Resource book, Black Book ReMiX and a leading website.  Each of which contain the highest quality images from talent around the world.  Black Book has become an internationally trusted source for creative talent.
Deadline: Varies depending on annual
Entry Fee: Varies depending on annual and available upon request, check the website for contact info (different for each annual)

Creativity AwardsCategories include print, packaging, film/video, political, new media & web design, commercials, green marketing, alternative media and illustrations, photography & typography.  The Creativity Awards Annual book showcases each of the winners from the competition.  it is a great resource to uncover emerging design trends and up-and-comers.
Deadline: Usually mid-July with a $20 extension available till early August, check website for specific dates each year
Entry Fee:$55 for a single unit, $75 for a campaign

HOW Design AwardsThe HOW Interactive Design Award, one of four graphic design competitions HOW magazine sponsors annually, accepts any interactive, interface or motion designs for the web, broadcast or for use on Mac or Windows platforms (i.e. CD-ROMs and DVDs).  The judges ask that you include a description of the objectives of your entry.  This year’s winning entries will be featured in the magazine’s April 2009 Design Annual, plus receive a $100 discount towards their annual conference.  One winner will be a guest at the 2009 HOW Conference with airfare, hotel and registration paid by HOW.
Deadline: July 15th, an extension till August 1st for a $25 late fee
Entry Fee: $75 for regular submissions, $50 for students

Specialized Awards

American Design AwardsSeeks to reward graphic and web designers of all experience levels that support ethical design principles in their work.  The contest provides entrants a global audience to demonstrate their talents to.  There are three contests:  The Monthly Design Contest, the Semi-Annual contest, and the brand new Student Design contest.
Deadline: Summer contest – August 15th (extension available till August 31st), Winter contest – February 15th (extension available till March 1st)
Entry Fee: Semi-Annual contest only – varies from $20-$125

Web Standard AwardsSpecialized in XML/HTML, The Web Standards Awards’ goal is to promote web design that uses W3C standards.  To enter, your web site must be HTML 4.01 or XHTML 1.0 compliant.  They have a W3C validator tool on their website that determines eligibility.  Exceptions may be given for typographical errors and inclusion of rich media (like Flash).  There are both weekly and monthly awards.
Deadline: The Web Standard Awards are no longer accepting entries
Entry Fee: n/a

Showcases – Accept year round submissions with no fees

WebsiteDesignAwards.comA gallery that showcases the most progressive and cutting edge Flash and CSS online projects.  Websites selected demonstrated “strong visual and interaction design, have an innovative interface and a powerful and original creative concept”.  Interested designers should submit their websites through the WDA website

The Best DesignsA website recognizing the best Flash and CSS sites from around the world.  It is a great design resource that has content ranging from personal websites to corporate sites.  The gallery is updated a few times each week with new accepted submissions.  After submitting your site through theirs it usually takes about a week or two to get a response.  That is if you were accepted, due to the high volume of submissions received, they only reply to those who are accepted.

Favourite Website AwardsOrganization that continuously accepts website submissions into their gallery.  They awards a Site of the Day and Site of the Month title, as well as a larger, more carefully judged Site of the Year competition.  They only accept nominations from official site representatives or the design/development team responsible for a site.

DesignFirm AwardsOnly members can submit entries, so be sure to sign up first.  Your website will be judged on creativity & design, programming compatibility and ease of use & effectiveness.  Each category is given a score from 1 to 33, sites must earn 65 points or more to receive the award.

Design LicksA showcase of some of the greatest designs from all around the world.  There are no deadlines or entry fees and no prizes either, just the recognition of being chosen.  Every day one design is chosen as ‘Site of the Day’.

Standout AwardsA site dedicated to serving as a source of inspiration to all hoping to see the best current web work from around the world.  Designers can submit their site through the Standout webpage.  There are no fees or deadlines, and only a few rules:  web sites must be original (no templates/clones), no sites promoting illegal activities or that violates copyright, and no sites containing adult content.  Also, in order to submit an entry you must be the creator/representative of the site.

Did we leave any out?  Let us know!

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ABOUT AGENCYTOOL At its core, AgencyTool exists to serve as a resource for creative agencies, whether they be into web design, print, advertising or anything else. Here on the AgencyTool Blog you'll find a mish-mosh of resources and thoughts that we think are worth sharing.

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