Solution Vs Insight Selling - A Complete Guide To Complex B2B Sales

 

Like or not, we’re all sales people. If you’ve ever attended a job interview, you’re in sales. If you’ve ever asked for a pay rise, you’re in sales. And if you’ve ever been in a relationship, you’re definitely in sales.

Selling is something that we all do, and yet somehow it feels like a dirty word. Even professional sales people seem determined to keep it hidden from view, calling themselves Business Development Managers or Account Executives or anything else as long as it doesn’t describe what it is that they actually do.

This is all nonsense.

Sales, when done right, is a beautiful thing and one of the most valuable skills a person in business can possess. The question, therefore, is how should organisations build effective selling into their DNA? And, in particular, which of the many methodologies should they follow?

 

The Solution Sell

There have always been lots of sales models, but for most of the last 40 years they almost all fell under the broad description of “Solution Selling”, in which the seller asks questions to build a picture of what the buyer needs, and then sells a corresponding “solution”.

“It's a mutually shared answer to a recognized problem, and the answer provides measurable improvement.”

— Keith M. Eades, Founder of Sales Performance International

Some of the more prominent solution based sales methodologies include:

  • SPIN - in which the seller firsts asks questions designed to establish the Situation, then to highlight the Problem, then to highlight the Implications of not solving that problem, and finally to highlight the value of the Need being met via the solution that the seller is offering.
  • MEDDIC - The MEDDIC sales process serves as a simple checklist for your sale (Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion). As you discover more about your customer, you’ll know whether they’re a worthwhile investment of your time.
  • Conceptual Selling - the seller asks a range of questions (questions to reassure, questions to explore new territory, questions to establish the buyers attitude and questions to gain commitment) to help the buyer work out for themselves what it is that they need.
  • SNAP - SNAP positions itself as the answer to today’s busy world where customers have huge quantities of information but less time than ever to digest it, as the seller delivers helps the buyer to arrive at the solution as quickly and clearly as possible (Simplicity, being iNvaluable, Alignment and Prioritise).
  • NEAT - yep, another acronym essentially acting as a simple checklist. This time standing for Need, Economic Impact, Access to Authority and Timeline. Very similar to the more commonly known BANT.

The common theme with all of these methodologies is that they use questions to build rapport and enable the buyer to build up a picture in their mind of the solution they need.

The largest solution sales training organisation in the world is Sandler.

 

The Sandler Model

First developed in 1967, the Sandler methodology once again uses questions to help the buyer arrive at the desired solution. However, what really distinguishes the Sandler model is its desire to redress the balance between seller and buyer.

  • In the Sandler sales model, the seller spends more time qualifying than they do closing.
  • If the solution is not right for the buyer or the buyer isn’t ready to buy, the seller doesn’t push it. It’s about getting to a point of mutual commitment.
  • No demos or presentations are used in the initial meeting. Instead, the seller asks a large number of questions to determine what is required, whether or not they are a good fit for one another and whether the buyer has the authority to take action.
  • The seller’s goal is to facilitate a detailed conversation about both the technical problems at hand, and also the business implications of those problems.
  • Through asking these questions the seller is able to develop a level of rapport with the customer (as Dale Carnegie taught us 80 years ago, there’s no better way of getting someone to like you than by getting them to talk about themselves!) with the aim of being viewed as a trusted advisor. Relationships and rapport are key throughout the sales process and in the follow up.

 

“You can’t sell anyone anything, they must discover that they want it.”

David Sandler

 

The Challenger Sale

While each of the solution sales methodologies offered a unique approach, they were fundamentally all connected by their use of questions to lead the buyer to the solution being offered by the seller.

In 2011, that all changed.

Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson, and their colleagues at CEB Inc published a book called The Challenger in which they argued that to sell complex business-to-business solutions, salespeople needed to radically rethink their approach.

CEB based their findings on research conducted across 6,000 sales people, who they categorised into the following groups

  • The hard worker - self motivated, interested in receiving lots of feedback
  • The lone wolf - follows instincts, self confident, difficult to manage but gets results
  • The relationship builder - classic solution seller. Builds relationships and consensus
  • The problem solver - detail orientated and great at solving problems but more focused on existing customers than getting the next deal in
  • The challenger - loves to debate, has different views, strong understanding of both the product and the customer’s world

In complex sales environments it was shown consistently that the challenger profile most likely to be a top performer, while the relationship builder was least likely. A finding that caused a great deal of upset among the sales training community, largely due to misinterpretation (which we’ll come back to later).

So what are the characteristics of a challenger?

  • They offer a unique perspective to the customer based on deep insight
  • They possess strong two way communication skills
  • They know the individual customer’s key drivers
  • They know the key drivers of the customer’s business
  • They are comfortable discussing money
  • They are comfortable creating tension and applying pressure to the customer

Or to compress this further, they are able to:

  • Teach the customer something new and valuable - this is the most important aspect of it.
  • Tailor their sales pitch.
  • Take control of the discussions around pricing - this is the most challenging part, and can only really come from the first…

The challenger doesn’t lead with open questions. Instead they work through the following process:

  • The warmer - show credibility and that you understand their world (I work with lots of your competitors…) and their challenges.
  • The reframe - connect those challenges to a bigger problem or opportunity that they hadn’t previously considered. This is where you dislodge their existing way of thinking and open up a gap for a conversation.
  • Rational drowning - then flood them with data and examples so that they can’t contest the notion that they need to think differently.
  • Emotional impact - Then find an emotional touch point based on that problem/opportunity.
  • A new way - introduce a solution to the problem.
  • Your solution - explain why your version of this solution is the best.

If we compare this to the Sandler model - a classic example of solution selling - we can immediately see the differences:

  • Sandler talks less and asks more questions to help the buyer arrive at a solution.
  • The challenger is more confrontational - they ask fewer questions as they believe the customer already has enough information to build their own solution and so if you merely ask questions you are going to end up in a bidding war against other providers with no point of difference.
  • The challenger therefore believes you either need to capture their attention before they’ve begun the buying process (something the Sandler seller would never do!) or dislodge their preconceptions about what they need so you are positioned distinctively from the rest of the market and don’t have to compete on price.
  • In short, the challenger seller leads where the solution seller follows.

If CEB were right and this is the most effective way to drive sales without compromising on price, then how did Sandler and all the other solution methodologies get it all so wrong?

The truth is that the creators of The Challenger aren’t suggesting that Solution Selling didn’t once make sense, but rather that things have changed. Information is more accessible now - through peer networks, research organisations and, in particular, the internet. They claim that on average the customer doesn’t contact the sales person until they’re 57% through their journey, by which point they have already formed a sense of what they need, what they will likely have to pay, and even who they may want to work with.

Therefore, to the challenger, it isn’t enough to merely know their customer’s world, they must know it even better than their customer so that they can dislodge their preconceptions and shift them on to the unique value offered by the challenger’s insight.

This isn’t just about the first sale but about repeat business. They argue that the key driver of customer loyalty is no longer brand loyalty, value or even product. They argue that it is the ongoing sales experience and, in particular, the unique insight provided by the sales person throughout that experience.

 

A Common Misconception

The Challenger was a stroke of marketing genius. By positioning itself seemingly at such odds with the bulk of the industry, it immediately made itself known, largely because so many took issue with it.

Perhaps the greatest objection towards The Challenger is the notion that relationships don’t matter. On the surface that’s what the book appears to suggest and it flies in the face of everything sales training has taught for nearly half a century.

This was brilliant marketing, but actually when you dig into more detail, you realise that they’re not saying that at all. They are very clear that trust and personal relationships will always matter and explicitly state that a successful challenger needs advanced two way communication skills. Nobody does business with someone they don’t like (certainly not twice!) and if you are operating in a limited customer universe where most of the key decision makers know one another, then personal relationships are critical to strategic networking.

What the book actually said was that reps for whom personal relationships were the dominant characteristic, were unlikely to be a top performer. The best challengers are strong relationship builders, but that is not their defining feature. Their defining feature is their combination of skills -  they are able to combine great two way communication with an ability to lead with insight and a willingness to apply pressure when required.

In other words, the challenger rep doesn’t see the relationship as the end in itself, but rather as a means to an end. And ironically, in the long term they build some of the strongest relationships as they are able to combine great people skills with real commercial value to that customer, through their unique insight.

This hypothesis supports research we conducted several years ago in which we surveyed senior decision makers on the factors that would most influence their decision to purchase. The response was overwhelming. The two factors that drove their decision above everything else was whether or not the person they were dealing with understood their market and whether they were able to offer commercial insight. The other stuff - trust, personal relationships, technical expertise - were all seen as hygiene factors (a reason NOT to work with someone), and price came right at the bottom.

 

Aligning Sales & Marketing

One of the most powerful features of the challenger model is how it highlights the need for alignment between sales and marketing - marketing must serve as an insight generation machine so that your sales team have a core group of market or industry insights, that they can then combine with their own research into the specific customer they are targeting (and the close competitors of that customer!).

The Challenger explains that these marketing insights must:

  • Lead to your unique strengths - sales decks should begin with insight and finish with USPs
  • Challenge customers assumptions
  • Catalyze action - show why the “pain of same is worse than the pain of change”
  • Scale across customers

 

Insight + EQ

When The Challenger heralded the end of solution selling, there was a fierce and immediate backlash. Sales professionals from around the world took great issue with the notion that they had failed to adapt to the modern buyer. However, as discussed, much of this was a misunderstanding, and one that the authors of The Challenger were only too pleased to see as it served to inflate awareness of the book.

The best sales people will bring together different skills. They will have the insight to demonstrate need and value to any prospect in their customer universe, and the people skills to remove barriers and develop profitable long term relationships.

As Falon Fatemi wrote in Forbes, “The bleeding edge of insights selling occurs when insight selling is coupled with emotional intelligence. 79% of business buyers say it’s absolutely critical or very important that they interact with a salesperson who is a trusted advisor (according to Salesforce). The winners of the future will marry insights and EQ.”

In summary, I believe there are three components to a great modern sales rep:

  1. High emotional intelligence - They have a deep and genuine interest in others. Just as the Sandler model advocated, they ask lots of questions and build rapport by making the other person feel important. The kind of person that walks into a restaurant and comes out knowing the names and backgrounds of every member of staff. That genuine interest in others is an asset that should never be underestimated.
  2. An eagerness to learn and an ability to assimilate and organise information - for this high performer to lead with insight and tailor the solution to the exact requirements of the customer, they need the organisational skills and discipline to collect the necessary information about the customer’s world and combine that with the insight they are provided by marketing. For the modern sales rep, every day is a school day.
  3. Commercialism - Sandler taught us the importance of never forcing the sale but rather maintaining parity between the buyer and seller. The challenger goes a step further and suggests that the sales person should be actively seeking tension. This can only come from an inner confidence and instinctive awareness of the value of one's time.

So where do you find these unicorns? Needless to say it can take some work and the recruitment process has to be structured with these specific characteristics in mind, but they are worth it - their value to a business can be transformative at both a commercial and strategic level.

By definition, they know what they’re worth, so if possible try to find them early, just as they’re starting out on their steep trajectory to sales stardom. And best of all, these people learn quickly, so you’ll know within weeks if your unicorn was in fact just a donkey with a horn glued to its head.


LinkedIn Ultimate Guide B2B

An Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn Advertising for B2B Firms

An Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn Advertising

Over 590 million people use LinkedIn to manage their professional network. According to LinkedIn’s 2016 Census, 40% of people use it on a daily basis for conversations and discussions.

That’s 224,000,000 business people you could be engaging with on any given day. Okay, not every one of them will fall within your target audience, but with clear messaging and smart advertising, LinkedIn is the ideal platform for reaching the people that really matter. This is why it’s such a popular tool for business. This guide will explain exactly how you can use it to drive real value for your organisation.

 

The Different Adverts You Can Use on LinkedIn

Sponsored content – just as with Facebook, you can share content you produce and target it to relevant feeds that fit your sales profile. The content will appear on mobile, desktop and tablet, and is great for sharing general company information, updates, videos, whitepapers and articles to the wider reaches of your market. If you want to increase your brand awareness, attract new followers to your company and generally get more views on your content, this is a great option.

LinkedIn Text Adverts – If you want to drive traffic to your page, or to your website, this can be a great fit. Craft a bespoke headline, short description and eye-catching image for desktop newsfeeds. If your audience is more likely to use mobile devices, this may not be the best option for you.

Sponsored InMails- If your goal is to create personalised content which makes your audience engage, InMails is for you. It is compatible on all platforms and messages can have custom greetings, calls-to-action, body texts and links. And the best part is you only pay for messages that send, so you can really stay in control of your budget.

Video Adverts – Pretty self-explanatory, but videos are a direct way to engage your audience and differentiate your brand. These are quite new on LinkedIn, which means there’s loads of opportunity for early adopters.

Single Image and Carousel Ads- If you have a very specific advert for a small audience early in their buying cycle, this is the option for you. You can use a variety of different media, including audio, image, video, and text and there are a range of different options to suit all budgets. Probably the most diverse option you can use on the platform.

Dynamic Ads- If you know your audience has a specific interest, use this option to target adverts that respond to audience activity. It’s great to build relationships a little bit later in the pipeline and you can quickly connect and communicate with the most influential people in your circle. This method includes Follower Ads, Spotlight Ads and Job Ads. 

Whichever advertising route you take, be aware that your budget will have to be adjusted frequently in order for your adverts to perform as well as possible. Sometimes you’ll need a £5.00 daily budget, other times it might need a lot more. The important thing is pay close attention and optimise the campaign as frequently as possible.

 

 

Polishing your Company Account

So you’ve picked your advert type and defined a budget, but before you can start advertising properly, you want to make sure that your page gives a good account of your brand or service and engages with your business.

With this in mind, we’ve got some basic tips to help you supercharge your account and stand out from the crowd.

  1. Add a Company Cover Photo and Logo – Pick your most up-to-date imagery and an appropriate shot to display company activity or culture.
  2. Craft a Company Description – In under 2,000 characters you need to define what your company does, how you do it and most importantly, WHY you do it. Pay extra care to the first 150 characters – they will make up your Google preview.
  3. Add your business address, company details and URL – In case anyone wants to contact you!
  4. Create compelling content – Fill your timeline with inspiring, eye-catching and interesting messaging– text, video, audio, and imagery in order to encourage page viewers to follow your company.

Once you’ve created your company page, you should regularly review and optimise it. This is a constant work in progress.

 

Setting Up Your First Campaign

Now you’ve set up your company page, you’ll be taken to the Campaign Monitor Dashboard. Usually, you’ll get a notification telling you that you need to add billing information – you can ignore this for now. 

In the top right corner, you’ll see the key button – ‘Create Campaign’. Click on it, and you can start the basics of setting up your activity.

 

 

You’ll see a screen like the above. At the moment, LinkedIn are going through a major content update, so some of the older features currently aren’t accessible. Currently, Brand Awareness, Website Conversions and Job Applicants are not available at this time of writing, but you can set up adverts for Website Visits, Engagement, Video Views and Lead Generation. As already explained, pick the option that best fits your goals, but remember, to be realistic. One five-minute website visit is likely to be more valuable strategically in the long term than 100 views on a 5-second video. Once you’ve picked your Objective, it’s time to create your audience.

 

 

Audience Attributes 

The most important element of setting up a LinkedIn marketing campaign is getting the audience right, and with this menu, you can ensure you cover all basis to get as specific an audience as possible. There are five options on the menu, which we’ll cover below:

Company – exactly as you’d expect, this is anything to do with company specifics, including:

  • Company Connections – 1st Degree Connections for employees of your chosen company. This is only available for companies that have over 500 employees or followers. 
  • Company Follower of – Reach followers of your company page.
  • Company Industries – Reach targets related to the industry in question.
  • Company Names – The names of the companies your targets have worked for
  • Company Size – The size of your target’s company, according to their LinkedIn company profile

Demographics – Quite limited, in order to comply with regulations, but still useful to a point:

  • Member Age – Your target’s age, based on set brackets
  • Member Gender- Your target’s gender on LinkedIn

Education- Focused on higher education qualifications, this option is great for finding specific professionals with a defined interest or knowledge in a set sector: 

  • Degrees – Targets who have a defined qualification from a college, university, or another learning institution.
  • Fields of Study- Targets who have a specific knowledge or interest in a particular field of study, following college, university or another learning institution.
  • Member Schools- Targets who have completed, or studied a specific course at a university, college or other learning institution.

Job Experience – Hit your targets based on what experience they have in the world of work:

  • Job Functions – Focus your audience, based on common tasks, activities or work they do on a daily basis.
  • Job Seniorities- Reach members based on rank and level
  • Job Title- Reach members based on job title, or previous job titles
  • Member Skills- Target based on specific information from the ‘Skills and Endorsements’ section of your audience’s LinkedIn profile.
  • Years of Experience – Target your audience based on the level of experience and number of years they have worked in a specific role.

Interests - Not quite as broad as the myriad of options on other social media channels, but still very useful for searching for information less related to job roles. 

  • Member Groups – Search for people who belong to the same LinkedIn Professionals Group.
  • Member Interests – Search for interests that align with your business, or target audience.

Alternatively, if you have a set of data from the audience who has visited your website, LinkedIn can process this for you in order to create a bespoke list of contacts and accounts, as well as creating relevant targeting criteria based on the data you’ve already collected. If you think your audience is too narrow, then click the tickbox to ‘Enable Audience Expansion’ – this means LinkedIn will widen your audience to find people with similar job titles, attributes and experience, although be aware they may fall outside your primary target sector and can result in unnecessary expenditure. If you want to make sure your audience also avoids certain characteristics, then you can exclude people, based on all of the criteria listed above.

 

 

You should spend about the same time creating your first audience, as you do creating your first pieces of eye-catching, enriching content. It’s important to ensure you get this as accurate as possible, to ensure your testing can be smooth, clear and precise.

Once you’ve defined your first audience, make sure you save it as a template, so you can return to it and update it in the future, once you have a clearer picture of who is engaging with your content on LinkedIn.

Ad Formats and Placement 

We covered this earlier on, but it’s important to pick the right medium to display your content. If you are mainly visual-focused, then a carousel image advert is going to be more suitable than a text-heavy advert. If you are looking to build a personal connection with your targets, then a suitably formatted Message ad is a much better option than a Single Image ad that will clearly stand out as generic. Every ad format on LinkedIn has pros and cons and there isn’t a magic formula for working out which one is best for you – just make sure you pick the right content for the delivery method you choose.

In some cases, you might be able to use the LinkedIn Audience Network to reach a bigger audience. By doing this, your adverts will not only run on LinkedIn, but also on associated partner applications and websites. Although you will probably see an increase in reach, and faster results, be aware that once again, this can drain your daily budget quickly. Also, LinkedIn Audience Network connectivity is only available for some advertising mediums, meaning you can’t just rely on this tool to drive engagement levels up.

 

 

Budget, Bid and Schedule

Once you’ve defined an audience, it’s time to put the money where the mouth is and define the financial constraints of your campaign. You can choose between setting a daily budget, total campaign budget, or total and daily budget. My advice would be to set both a daily and total budget, so you can manage your spending and track the changes over time but be aware that LinkedIn can spend up to 20% high than your daily budget total, due to potential changes in the bid amount.

For scheduling your campaign, most times you will want to start immediately and run your campaign continuously from a selected start date, until it spends your budget. But, if you have timed content you want to promote or something with a limited shelf life e.g. a job advert, then you can set a defined start and end date.

The more important issue for advertisers, is defining the Bid Type. There are two options, which are detailed below:

  • Maximum Cost Per Click (CPC) Bid: Your advert will be charged based on how many clicks your advert receives. The CPC Bid will usually be the higher of the two costs, as it is quantifiable engagement – someone has chosen to click on and open your advert.
  • Maximum Cost Per Mile/Thousand (CPM) Bid: Your advert will be charged based on every 1,000 impressions your advert receives. An impression equals any time your advert is clicked on, scrolled past or hovered over – basically each time anyone views it. Although it is usually cheaper to do this, it by no means guarantees you will see any tangible results.

The Bid Amount box below will automatically update based on this information. You can set the bid yourself, but be aware that LinkedIn will not go over this cost and will not automatically update based on what other advertisers are doing, so you a) may have to spend more time adjusting your budget and b) your campaign may not spend the entire allocated budget, if your bid is too low. If your bid is too high, you might not get a good CPC ratio either, as you will spend your budget too quickly. 

 

 

Creating An Advert

Once you’ve set this information, it’s time to create your first advert. Depending on the format you’ve selected, there are different ways you can encourage conversions, but this article will be focusing on how to create compelling ‘Direct Inmails’. 

  1. Have a punchy headline - spend time trying to come up with 15-20 different options to use. If your headline doesn’t catch people’s interest within a few seconds, chances are they won’t click on it. 
  2. Introduce yourself personally - give yourself instant credibility by stating your name, role and experience in the market. Be friendly without being forceful or appearing disingenuous.
  3. Cover your key points succinctly - get your message across as quickly as possible, in the most compelling way. External links to content or embedded videos and images can be a great way to encourage interaction. 
  4. Drive your customer interest - use buttons to steer your customer journey by sending them to key landing pages, or alternatively use Content Capture Forms to collect important customer details. 

Once you’ve created your advert, you’ll need to still launch your campaign, otherwise your adverts will remain a draft! Once you set your campaign as live, you’ll have to let LinkedIn check your adverts briefly to review your creative content, but providing you’ve obeyed all their advertising rules, your adverts should be live in no time. 

 

 

Monitoring Your Adverts

Once your advert has been live for a couple of days, it’s time to evaluate your content to try and find out what works best for your company. 

You’ll see a screen like below after your advert has been running for some time. Set your filter to Performance, as this provides the most well-rounded view for all adverts, covering the main metrics applicable to all campaigns:

 

 

Going through each column in order:

  • Campaign Group Name: Self-explanatory. The name of your campaign group, which will include the campaigns you’ve added to this section. 
  • Status: One of four options: Active, meaning your adverts are sending out to LinkedIn users, Paused, meaning your adverts have been temporarily stopped, Completed meaning your campaign has spent all budget allocated to it and Draft, only seen when adverts have not been put live. 
  • Spent: How much your campaign has spent. You can adjust the time period for the spending in the top right corner next to the Filter options. 
  • Impressions: How many people have viewed your advert. Please note, this can include multiple views from the same person. 
  • Clicks: How many people have clicked to open your advert or view more information about your InMail. 
  • Average CTR (Click-Through Rate): The percentage of users who click your advert after receiving it. 
  • Bid: How much your advert is bidding, if you have set manual bidding up. 
  • Average CPM (Cost Per Mile): How much LinkedIn is charging you for your advert to be viewed 1,000 times. It goes without saying that a higher bid cost means a higher CPM and vice-versa.
  • Average CPC (Cost Per Click): How much you are spending for a click on your advert. If possible, you want your CPC to be as close to your bid-rate as possible. 
  • Conversion: If you are using e-commerce options, how many users have directly converted on your LinkedIn Advert. 
  • Cost Per Conversion: How much you’ve spent to achieve each e-commerce conversion on LinkedIn.
  • Leads: How many leads you’ve generated if you are using LinkedIn InMail Forms to capture data.
  • Cost Per Lead: How much you are spending per lead attained via LinkedIn InMail Forms. 

There are a couple of additional useful metrics you can access with different filters including Conversion and Leads:

  • Lead Form Opens: How many users open your lead form.
  • Lead Form Completion Rate: The percentage of users that complete your form after opening it.

Finally Sponsored InMail can give some specific useful metrics for measuring the effectiveness of your specific Mails:

  • Click to Open Rate: The percentage of Users that go to your lead form against the total number of users that click on your content
  • Cost Per Send: How much it is costing you to send each individual InMail - ideally as close to your Bid Rate as possible. 
  • Cost per Open: How much you are spending to get a user to open your InMail.

You can check all of these details for your overall campaign, or for the individual adverts. Be sure to monitor regularly and turn off or optimise underperforming adverts by changing their copy to be more appealing or in line with your brand vision, or creating visuals that match your copy more effectively. 

Alternatively, you can expand your campaigns further by introducing audience demographics including job titles, locations and interests. Be careful though - wider audiences can lead to reduced bid costs but can also result in your audience being viewed by less relevant customers who are unlikely to convert. 

It will take some time to find a working formula for LinkedIn and as a business, you need to accept that your Cost Per Lead (CPL) may start off very high - don’t panic as this is normal and if your adverts are optimised, you can expect them to start performing soon after. Just keep trying different things and once you get an advert with some traction, try and optimise your bid rates and sending strategy as much as possible so you can get the best possible returns for your budget.


technical SEO

The Ultimate Guide to Technical SEO

Technical SEO is an incredibly important but often neglected step in the SEO process. In most cases, if there are problems with your technical SEO, then it’s very likely that the effects of your other SEO methods will have much less of an impact.

As a result, it’s crucial that you at least have a basic understanding of technical SEO when delving into any other forms of SEO.

To the average marketer or website owner, Technical SEO may sound quite scary or rather boring, but in reality, most technical SEO improvements can be made in an afternoon and could solve months’ worth of traffic problems.

In this post, I’ll teach you the basics of technical SEO, alongside best practices and common problems while hopefully managing to keep you awake at the same time! Hopefully you will come away from reading this able to do your own technical audit.

What is Technical SEO?

When looking at SEO as a whole I like to split it up into three main pillars: On-Page SEO, Off-page SEO and Technical SEO.

The first pillar is On-Page SEO. This is related to content on your website and how it can be made more relevant to what a user may be trying to search for. Think of this as SEO that can be affected by you and the changes you make to content on your website.

The second pillar is Off-page SEO. This is the process on gaining links from other websites (often known as ‘link building’) in order to improve the trust of your website. Think of this as SEO that can’t always be affected by you and will improve over time as and when you gain backlinks to your website.

Lastly we get to the final pillar, the holy grail: Technical SEO. As mentioned earlier, this pillar is often neglected because the average marketer either doesn’t understand what technical SEO is, or has a basic understanding and thinks it’s too complicated to do anything about. Simply put, I like to think of technical SEO as the aspects of a website comprising of more technical problems that the average marketer wouldn’t be able to identify or fix. These are technical issues because they have nothing to do with the actual content on a website.

Technical SEO best practices and common issues

Now that you have a slightly better understanding of what technical SEO actually is, I’ll take you through a number of best practices and common issues that you can cross-check with your own website in order to improve its performance and ultimately, how it ranks on Google.

Below is a list of each section in this guide. Either work your way through each of the sections one-by-one, or use this menu to skip straight to a particular section.

Add an SSL certificate to your website to make it HTTPS enabled

One of the most important best practices over the last few years is to make your website more secure by enabling HTTPS with an SSL certificate. The easiest way to spot if a website has an SSL certificate is to check to see if there’s a padlock icon to the left of a website’s URL in Google Chrome. Check your browser now or take a look at the examples below:

HTTP Example

An example of a URL without an SSL certificate

HTTPS Example

An example of a URL with an SSL certificate

When an SSL certificate is installed onto your website’s server, your website will become accessible via https://www.yourdomain.co.uk as opposed to http://www.yourdomain.co.uk. Put simply, this indicates that any information transferred between your website and server (form completions, usernames, passwords etc) is encrypted and therefore more secure. The more secure your website is for your users, the more trusted your website will be by Google and other search engines.

If you are one of the lucky ones and your website is already HTTPS enabled, great! If not, determine which CMS (content management system) your website has been created in. Nowadays in paid for CMS’s like Wix and Squarespace, HTTPS is built-in and can be toggled on and off. With Wordpress or other CMS’s you should contact your hosting provider and ask them to enable HTTPS for you.

If you are one of the lucky ones and your website is already HTTPS enabled, great! If not, determine which CMS (content management system) your website has been created in. Nowadays in paid for CMS’s like Wix and Squarespace, HTTPS is built-in and can be toggled on and off. With Wordpress or other CMS’s you should contact your hosting provider and ask them to enable HTTPS for you.

Before moving onto the next check, it’s worth pointing out some common issues that can occur when HTTPS is not set up correctly:

  • Ensure that your website is set up to redirect to the HTTPS version of your website. I have seen cases with some websites when no redirect has been put in place and two versions of a website have existed, a HTTP version and a HTTPS version in which Google would index the website as an exact duplicate which is really bad for SEO!

 

  • In some cases, HTTPS is enabled on a website but the website is still not showing up as secure. This often happens when HTTPS is enabled on a website but there’s links to HTTP versions of an image in the code. Luckily this is a fairly easy fix – simply use Chrome developer tools to view the source code of your website and search for any media files that reference HTTP and change these within your CMS to HTTPS.

404 Pages

When we talk about 404 pages as a technical SEO issue, I’m talking about website pages that Google has indexed or users are still visiting, but no longer exist and are therefore are now 404 pages. This commonly occurs either when a page has been deleted but Google is still referencing that page in it’s search results or when a URL has been changed and people are still being linked to the old URL.

The number of 404 pages that your website has will depend on the size of the website. Think of it this way; the more 404 pages your website has indexed, the more likely it is that a user lands on a 404 page rather than a actual page on your website. If Google sees traffic on your website landing on 404 pages, it’s going to rank your website lower than another website with fewer 404 pages as a user is more likely to find what they are looking for on the other website.

In order to check if your website has any 404 pages, sign in to Google Search Console and navigate to Crawl → Crawl Errors (see image below).

Google Search Console crawl errors tab

This view will show you a list of all of the 404 pages that Google has found, as well as the dates on which they were found. If the list is large, consider downloading the list as a CSV file and add redirect URLs in a column to the left of 404 pages and get the developer of your website to set up the redirects. If the list is relatively small, consider setting the redirects up one by one within your CMS.

Once your redirects are set up, head back into Google Search Console and mark the 404 pages as fixed. Over the next few days Google will try to index those pages again and if redirects are found to be in place, 404 pages will no longer be indexed. If the redirects aren’t in place properly those pesky 404 pages will appear back in the list again alongside a new detected date.

Robots.txt and Sitemap.xml files

I have probably used the term ‘average marketer’ far too often in this guide, but again, robots.txt and sitemap.xml files are another aspect of technical SEO that I would not expect the average marketer to know of, let alone understand how they can affect your website in Google search results.

In order to explain what these are, I like to give some context. To generate a web index and, in turn, search results; search engines will crawl each and every website using what is known as bots or spiders. When a bot first visits a website it will have to read the robots.txt file. A robots.txt file is a code file that can be used to set rules about pages or elements of your website that you do not wish to be crawled. After checking this file and adhering to the rules, the bots will then find the sitemap.xml file if your website has one. Think of this as a map for your website, while we navigate through websites using menus and links, bots use the sitemap.xml file as a map to visit major pages of your website and in turn, eventually crawl every page that hasn’t been disallowed in robots.txt file.

An example of the journey a Google Bot takes when crawling a website

To see if your website has a robots.txt file try going onto your website and typing /robots.txt at the end of the URL, e.g. www.yourdomain.co.uk/robots.txt and likewise to test for a sitemap.xml file, this can be done by typing /sitemap.xml at the end of your website’s URL, e.g. www.yourdomain.co.uk/sitemap.xml.

But back to how these can affect the SEO of your website. While not having a robots.txt or sitemap.xml file won’t negatively impact the SEO of your website, having them will speed up the process via which your website is crawled or indexed, meaning that if you make on-page SEO changes, you will see much faster results.

If you don’t have either of these, they can be generated through your CMS or by contacting the developer of your website – or, in some cases, your hosting provider. In terms of best practise, I would always advise adding a link from your robots.txt file to your sitemap.xml file, through which both can then be submitted to Google via Google Search Console. That way when bots or web crawlers visit your robots.txt file (as they will always do first), they then have a link straight to your sitemap without having to search for it. It’s also worth looking out for pages that shouldn’t be disallowed as there’s always the chance that a key page of your website is not being crawled by search engines and wouldn’t appear in search results.

Image Hosting and Optimisation

I know what you’re thinking. How do images link with Technical SEO? Wouldn’t images be classified under on-page SEO? You’re right! The process of adding images to your website to improve your rankings would be considered on-page SEO; but, once added, there are still technical SEO checks that need to be made.

The first check is to have a look at the images on your website and ensure that they are hosted through your CMS. It may sound stupid, but you’d be surprised how often this occurs as lazy content creators and website developers decide to link to an image that is already being hosted elsewhere rather than uploading it to your own CMS. Believe it or not, we had an experience of this with a client last year – over the course of a couple of years and a number of new website builds, each developer after the next linked many of the images on the website to past dev sites thus creating a trail of image links spreading across 4 different websites. As a result, until this was discovered and fixed, the website performed poorly in search results as the website couldn’t be trusted. There’s also the chance that the images will suddenly become broken if they are removed from the website they are being hosted on.

broken-image-example

An example of a broken image on a web page

The next check related to images is optimisation. It’s easy to upload an image to your CMS without worrying about the size on the assumption that in most cases it will just scale to the size you need. While this is correct, this can have a detrimental effect on the speed and performance of your website as users are having to load images a lot larger than necessary. To give you a rather extreme example, take your average high-quality stock image that could be around 5000 x 3000px in size. If you add that to a slider section on your website that is actually only 1920 x 400px then you are loading a much larger image than you need to, especially on mobile. In order to check if any images on your website could be optimised, type your website URL into Google’s pagespeed tool and make a list of any that it highlights in the image optimisation section. Either reduce the size of these images or see if your CMS offers any sort of image compression such as a plugin on Wordpress. A very easy fix is to convert any non-transparent .png images on your website to .jpg as they will be a smaller file size.

Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool

Trailing slashes

You may or may not realise but something as small as trailing slashes can wreak havoc with your website’s SEO. Some websites will have a trailing slash at the end of their URLs and some won’t – what matters is that you don’t have both! Much like setting up your SSL certificate and forgetting to redirect the HTTP version of your website to the HTTPS, having two versions of your website with and without trailing slashes will be viewed by Google as duplicate content. An exact duplicate of your website in fact.

Checking for trailing slash problems is simple. Go to an inner page on your website and check the URL:

  • If there is already a trailing slash, remove the trailing slash and hit enter. It should redirect back to the trailing slash. If it doesn’t – you have a trailing slash problem on your hands!

 

  • If there isn’t a trailing slash, add a trailing slash and hit enter. Again, this should redirect to the original URL without the trailing slash. If it doesn’t redirect then likewise, you have a problem!

 

It’s unlikely that you will have a trailing slash problem and your URLs will just redirect unless you have made any major structural changes to your website, but if you do, take a look at adding a 301 redirect or bring this to the attention of your web developer and get them to take a look for you.

www. Or no www.

Much like trailing slashes, choosing to have www. or no www. at the start of your website’s URL is all down to personal preference and won’t have an impact on SEO. What will have an impact is having both.

Follow the same checks as you would with the trailing slashes, testing to see if your website uses www. or not and whether a redirect is in place. If a redirect is not in place and both versions exist, then again, you have a massive duplicate content problem which will severely affect the performance of your website in Google search results.

Although I have never seen this issue on any of the websites I have built or worked on, I know that this can be fixed by accessing the domains options within the cpanel or equivalent associated with your hosting. Alternatively, contact your hosting provider and ask them to take a look.

Broken links throughout website

A broken link is a link on your website that goes to a 404 page or a page that no longer exists. Broken links can be split up into two categories: broken links to pages on your website, or broken links to pages on another website. These can be found by either testing all of the links on your website or using a broken link checker tool like http://www.brokenlinkcheck.com/.

With broken links to pages on your website, these can be fixed by editing the content within your CMS and changing the link to the correct URL or a new URL. Usually as soon as these are fixed, you won’t have to worry about these again unless you change the URL structure of your website.

With broken links to pages on another website, these have to be checked more often. Broken links like these often occur in blog posts where a content creator links to a page on another website but that website changes the URL of that page or removes it entirely. As a result, it is worth checking the links within your blog posts every couple of months to ensure that all links are working.

Although broken links won’t have a huge impact on SEO, Google have been known to take broken links into account when ranking pages if there’s a large number of traffic being linked to 404 pages. There’s also nothing worse than a user stumbling across a broken link on your website. It may cause them to leave and never come back!

Mobile Friendly

After Google released its mobile-friendly ranking algorithm in 2015, ensuring that your website is mobile friendly is almost as important as any other SEO process. As much as 52% of global web traffic originates from mobile devices, so if your website isn’t mobile-friendly, chances are you’re missing out on a lot of potential traffic.

Nowadays, most website themes in all the popular CMS systems will be mobile friendly, but don’t just assume that your website is fine! The best way to check that your website is mobile friendly is to test it for yourself on multiple different mobile devices. Pretend to be a user and navigate around the pages on your website, testing functionality and links, making a list of issues as you go.

Although Google will class your website as mobile-friendly if your website scales down to mobile size, there may still be UX (user experience) issues that will require fixing. Almost every website I have ever built using a mobile-friendly CMS has needed slight mobile tweaks in order to make sure that all of the content is visible and functionality is working as intended. Mobile UX issues won’t be picked up by Google when it comes to ranking websites, but what will be noted is bounce rate and session duration on mobile and therefore this can indirectly affect your rankings.

Canonical URLs

If you aren’t familiar with canonical URLs, and more importantly the rel=”canonical” tag, then think of it as a simple way to tell Google which version of a page to take into account when indexing your website.

To give you some context an example I always use to explain the purpose of rel=”canonical” is e-commerce websites. Go onto any large e-commerce website, select a product category, scroll to the bottom and try to load more products. You’ll notice that the URL changes but the category remains the same. This is where rel=”canonical” comes into play. The rel=”canonical” tag can be used to tell Google that although there are 8 pages of products, the first page is the only one that should be ranking. This, in turn, reduces the risk of duplicate content as the last thing you want is for Google to be ranking 8 of the same product page.

Website Speed

Nobody likes a slow website and it’s commonly known that nearly half of all web users now expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less, often completely abandoning a website if it hasn’t loaded within 3 seconds. Furthermore, Google now takes website speed into account when ranking pages, so even small improvements to the speed of your website can result in improved rankings.

There are many ways to test your website’s speed but my favourite tool is Pingdom’s website speed test tool. Type in your website URL, start the test and see how long it takes for your website to load!

pingdom-speed-test

Pingdom’s Website Speed Test tool

This is the point in which I would usually go into more detail about each improvement that could be made, but as Pingdom already does that for you with performance insights, I’ll just list a couple of common suggestions:

  • Leverage browser caching – all modern browsers use some form of caching to save copies of web pages so that when you visit a website again, the browser can load elements of a page from the cache as opposed to the host server of the website.

 

  • Ensure that images are being optimised or compressed. As mentioned earlier, there’s nothing worse than trying to load a super large image on mobile. It’s just not necessary!

 

  • Reconsider your hosting provider. Although hosting providers like GoDaddy are cheap and reliable enough for a small business, the result of paying a little more and switching to a hosting provider that uses Amazon servers could be huge.

 

  • Minify your code files – this is something that can be done by the developer of your website or through the use of plugins/tools within your CMS. Minification essentially reduces the size of your code files, much like using a zip folder to reduce the size of multiple files at once.

It’s worth noting that Pingdom’s speed test tool isn’t 100% accurate as you’ll notice that if you do a couple of tests in a row the load time will be different every time; it is, however, a great estimation.

Schema Markup

Schema, sometimes referred to as Schema.org or Schema markup, is a vocabulary of HTML tags that can be added to content on your website in order to improve the effectiveness in which search engines can read your webpages and represent that in search engine results pages.

An example of some Schema Markup code

In a similar way that image alt tags provide search engines with a description of an image, Schema can be used to highlight different content types to search engines in order to help them better understand the content. For example, if you type “cinema times” into Google, more often than not you will be shown the showtimes of films at your local cinema above the search results. That’s just one example of how Schema has been used to tell Google exactly what the content on a web page is.

In order to start tagging the content on your own website Google offers a nice Structured Data Markup Helper tool in which you can generate Schema markup for a number of different content categories that often appear on websites: Articles, Book Reviews, Events, Job Postings, Local Businesses, Movies, Products, Restaurants, Software Applications and TV Episodes.

The most common use of Schema would be for products and services. By using the Schema for products on your e-commerce website you can give your products a number of properties: e.g. Product Review Rating, Brand, Product Colour, Item Condition, Logo, Material, Model, Product Name, Product Description and many more.

Although there’s not conclusive evidence as to whether Schema Markup improves rankings, what we do know is that search results in which content has been marked up using Schema have better click-through rates.

cinema-times-schema

An example of marked up content appearing in Google Search results

Boss Digital

When we first opened in 2010 we started as a pure SEO agency, specialising in technical SEO, on-page-optimisation and link building. SEO has changed enormously in recent years, but the fundamentals of solid technical optimisation are as important as ever. This is one of our first steps as it ensures the content we then publish on the website is able to achieve the maximum possible reach.

If you are interested in technical SEO as a service, please email hello@boss-digital.co.uk, give us a call on 01628 601713 or use the form below.

CONTACT US

Are you interested in our services? Contact us using one of the methods below.

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The Marketing Genius Archive 2

The Marketing Genius Archive #2 - Marshall McLuhan, The Medium Is The Message

Transcription

Over 50 years ago, Marshall McLuhan wrote that the medium is the message, by which he meant that the way in which we consume information is more important than the information itself. So the introduction of the telephone was more important than any individual message that passed through it, likewise for radio, television and of course social media.

I have mixed feelings about this - on the one hand I believe that in the world of social media businesses are often guilty of putting the platform first without any sense of the content they want to create. They jump onto the latest channel out of fear of falling behind the competition And I believe that great content is great content and if you get that right, then to some extent the channel will take care of itself.

However, this is of course a slight oversimplification and I, like many marketers, would probably benefit from occasionally reminding myself of McLuhan’s mantra. The channel we use not only determines who see’s the content, but also the format in which it needs to be presented, the duration for which they will consume that content, the weight, the gravitas that they attach to that content, so for example an ad in a magazine is likely to make a far greater impact than an ad at the bottom of a YouTube video, but perhaps most importantly it determines the objective of the content and the Key Performance Indicator that will be used to monitor that objective, so if the goal is to maximise brand reach then radio or instagram may be the most appropriate channels, where as if the goal is to capture email and nurture the relationship over time then the blog or resources is likely to be more effective.

So, I probably have to concede that McLuhan that was onto something, but I still maintain that it is those brands that master their message and their content that will be around for the next platform to emerge, and the next 50 after that.

See you next time.


Slowing down to speed up - the importance of laying the right foundations before launching a content marketing campaign

Transcription

When new projects launch there tends to be a rush to get content out and ads running. Key decision makers want to see stuff happening. They want to see signs of early progress.

The trouble is that this that activity that they are so keen to see, is there to feed into something else, so if the something else isn’t correctly set up then you’re not going to see the full benefit of the work you produce. Certain things need to exist first. It’s a bit like when you see someone stick spoilers on an old fiat punto. You sort of feel like they’ve missed the point.

The most common examples of this that we see online include:
- A lack of a coherent brand visual identity
- Poorly designed websites that aren’t going to convert
- Weak technical or on-page optimisation that means even as you grow the authority of the domain, the site still won’t bring in targeted traffic
- The lack of a strong email capture as this is often an important secondary objective of a website
- Goal and event tracking that enables you to make sense of what’s happening on the site

Until these foundations in place, forget the content calendars, press releases and media plans, as the return you will get from them will be just a fraction of what it could be.

This is a lot easier said than done as these decision makers by their very nature are highly impatient, they want to see things happening yesterday. All I would suggest to help alleviate this pressure is to try and get a direct response campaign up and running as quickly as possible. That could be Adwords PPC, Facebook direct response, or an offline lead generation campaign, but something that will drive results early so that you can then justify to that decision maker the need for serious investment in the brand, the user experience, and all of the optimisation surrounding the website, so that moving forwards they get the greatest possible return for every pound spent.

See you next time.

Dan


Red Light Marketing - Proven to get you traffic

Red Light Marketing - Proven to get you traffic

Are you struggling to bring people to your site? Is your engagement low? Are your google analytics results the stuff of nightmares?

Here at Boss Digital, we understand that successful marketing is all about visibility. So this April 1st, we’re launching our new ‘red light’ plan - proven to get you traffic. Our specially designed program, which has been in development for months, is available in three foolishly good packages:

Rush Hour

Designed to bring as many people to your site as possible in a short time period, this special marketing algorithm condenses all your daily traffic into a one-hour time period between 8-9am or 5-6pm for maximum exposure.

Gridlock

What use is getting people to your site unless you can keep them there? Improve your bounce rate with our exclusive line of code which traps visitors to your site on specific pages for unspecified lengths of time.

Tailback

Good websites have a streamlined navigation map to help visitors move easily between different pages. Great websites employ our new tailback feature, which redirects visitors back to the original landing page they arrived on for an extra click-through boost.

Want to find out more about what our red light marketing schemes can do for you? Contact us at afools@boss-digital.co.uk


Old farm - content marketing

One of the greatest examples of content marketing, and it’s over 120 years old

Transcription

As digital marketers we have a dickish tendency to hijack methods that have been used forever and pass them off as inventions of the digital era. This is particularly true with content marketing. We talk about quality content as if it didn’t exist before social media. As if prior to the last 10 years marketers just depended on nothing but promos and special offers. Obviously that’s not true. Content has always been at the heart of great marketing. The only things that have changed are the channels through which we communicate it.

For evidence of this then we need look no further than John Deere and his magazine The Furrow, first published in 1895. The Furrow was packed full of educational content in order to offer extra value, position his brand as the experts and nurture the relationships towards becoming loyal customers. Sounds an awful like a content strategy in 2018 doesn’t it, only I would argue a hell of a lot more sophisticated than 90% of content strategies that the digital world produces.

In fact it is an online content strategy now, with its own online magazine, email list and literally millions of engaged followers on social media.

The perfect example that demonstrates if you get the brand and content right for the audience, the channels will take care of themselves.

See you next time.


A comprehensive guide to selecting typeface for business

All too often, decisions over typeface seem to be based on little more than what feels right. A degree of subjectivity in all aspects of design is inevitable, but I do believe that (as with colour) creativity at its best is built on a foundation of facts and logic. That's why I've trawled through the ocean of detailed but chaotic information on the web and created a simple guide to selecting typeface for business.

 

Definitions

Developing an understanding of typeface at times feels a lot like learning a second language. Here are some of the more common terms that you’ll need to get familiar with:

  • Font - each typeface has a family of fonts - bold, italic, etc.
  • Stroke - any line within the letter.
  • Stem - the main vertical stroke.
  • Kerning - the process of adjusting letters so that the white space between them feels comfortable on the eye and optimises legibility.
  • Stress - the way it leans.
  • Serif - the little flick that appears on the end of some letters. As we will see, this little flick defines a whole family of typeface.
  • Axis - an imaginary line drawn from top to bottom of a letter that shows the degree of stress (how much it leans).
  • x height - literally the height of a little x. A term used to refer to the bottom half of your type.
  • Brackets - a curved or wedge-like connection between the stem (main vertical line) and serif (little flick) of some typefaces.
  • Baseline - the imaginary line the letters are sat on.
  • Glyph - the variety of designs of a certain character. If you have 3 different designs of the letter A, for example, you have 3 glyphs.
  • Aperture/Counter - a bit of space partially or entirely closed, such as in an n, s or c. The larger and more open it is, the better for legibility.
  • Ascender - the bit that rises above the x height.
  • Descender - the bit that drops below the baseline.
  • Apex/Vertex - the top and bottom points where two strokes meet.
  • Terminal - the end of a stroke (but not a serif).
  • Hairline (or hair stroke) - a thin stroke, commonly found in serif typefaces.
  • Legibility vs readability - legibility is concerned with the details of individual letters, while readability is concerned with the overall appearance of whole bodies of text. It is a very small distinction (illegible letters cannot be made into readable words) and in this guide I'll be using them pretty much interchangeably.

 

Serifs

We'll begin with the serif, which applies to those typefaces that have a little flick on the end of the letters. They are generally considered traditional and often found in books.

 

Old Style (Humanist)

Origins - Popular from the 15th century to the 18th century, these are typefaces based on the scripture of Ancient Rome and are sometimes also known as humanist serifs due to the fact that they represent a natural (human) stroke.
Design - the serifs are bracketed, the axis tends to be curved to the left, the x-height is small and there is little contrast between the thick and thin strokes. They sometimes have a diagonal cross stroke across the e, as that’s naturally how a person would write.
Examples - Garamond, Goudy Old Style, Centaur, Perpetua and Minion Pro.
What it communicates about a brand - it communicates tradition, history, conservatism and reliability.
Legibility - their simple and natural style assists in legibility although this can be offset slightly by their small x height (which reduces the size of the counters).

 

Transitional

Origins - John Baskerville, the English printer, established this style in the 18th century. It includes elements of both the old style and the neoclassical designs that followed.
Design - There is no sense of it being handwritten, with the stress perfectly vertical, weight contrast is pronounced and serifs tend to be bracketed. The curvature of serifs is more gradual. It is elegant and sharp.
Examples - Baskerville, Georgia, Caslon and Times New Roman.
What it communicates about a brand - like old style, it can communicate tradition but with a greater elegance. It is commonly used within law and academics. Baskerville in particular is considered an extremely trustworthy typeface as many believe it presents a certain British formality.
Legibility - generally considered highly legible.

 

Neoclassical (also known as didone or modern)

Origins - created in the late 18th century, it represented a significant shift from previous typefaces. The classification name Didone is a combination of the names of the two most common modern fonts at the time - Didot and Bodoni.
Design - vertical axis, high contrast between thick and thin strokes, and flat, hairline serifs. Tends to be little or no bracketing.
Examples - Bodoni, Didot, Elephant and Kepler.
What it communicates about a brand - sophisticated but could be considered cold. Regularly used by fashion brands and magazines.
Legibility - tend to be distinctive but harder to read, making them great for headlines but not body copy. Dazzling can occur where thick lines become prominent and thin lines almost disappear.

 

Slab (often called square or egyptian):

OriginsSlab type - this style first appeared in the nineteenth century as the printing of ad material was expanding and it offered a more attention grabbing appearance.
Design - geometric, block like appenditures. Very solid and confident. They have minimal or no bracketing, and heavy serifs. Stroke contrast is minimal.
Examples - Rockwell, Courier, Beton, Tower and Memphis.
What it communicates about a brand - it communicates confidence, strength and durability. They tend to be authoritative but still friendly. Courier in particular is typically regarded as the typeface of nerds and librarians.
Legibility - generally considered highly legible as they benefit from strong serifs while still offering a high contrast that we'd usually associate with sans serif typefaces. They produce extremely well defined lines of text.

 

Glyphic:

OriginsType Glyphic - they are derived from engraved letters, so appear like they’ve been created with a chisel rather than a pen.
Design - contrast in stroke weight is minimal. The defining feature os the triangular shaped serifs and the flaring of the strokes when they terminate. Sometimes only contain uppercase. The axis is vertical.
What it communicates about a brand - tradition and strength. Often used by luxury brands and products with a high price point.
Examples - Trojan, Beaufort, Americana and Friz Quadrate
Legibility - legibility can be quite variable. Counters can be small and some glyphic typefaces only appear in upper case. They tend to be used more for display type than body copy.

 

Sans serifs:

The sans (or "without" in French) means that there is no serif, or finishing stroke. This simplicity creates a more modern feel and is a little more common on the web.
 

Grotesque:

Origins - it was the first sans serif to be popularised and use lowercase. It began with Caslon (William Caslon IV) and they were called grotesque because they were considered quite ugly compared to their more ornate serif predecessors.
Design - Influenced by Didone serif fonts of the period, these were often quite solid, bold designs suitable for headlines and advertisements. They are generally very similar to serif typefaces.
What it communicates about a brand - an informal warmth. Smooth and balanced.
Examples - Quartz grotesque, Ideal Grotesk, Akzidenz-Grotesk and Monotype Grotesque.
Legibility - very strong due to its simplicity and large apertures.

 

Neo grotesque:

Origins - a direct evolution from grotesque, it began in the 1950’s with the aim of creating rational, almost neutral typeface designs.
Design - They have a relatively plain appearance in comparison to grotesques. Less variation and irregularity.
Examples - Helvetica, Folio, Arial, Univers and Roboto.
What it communicates about the brand - modern, safe, perhaps a little generic. Great for body copy, hence why Arial and Helvetica are the two most common typefaces on the web.
Legibility - tend to be highly legible. In fact Helvetica is believed to be the best typeface for people suffering from dyslexia.

 

Geometric:

Origins - it originated in Germany in the 1920’s and remained popular throughout the 30’s. Various revivals have been made since.
Design - based on geometric shapes, mono linear lines and circular shapes. It is very simple and very modern.
Examples - Universal, Erbar, Proxima Nova and Futura.
What it communicates about a brand - it suggests the brand is modern, open and transparent. Great for tech companies.
Legibility - not often used as body copy as the letterforms tend to not be too distinct, but great for headings.

 

Humanist:

Origins - emerged in early 20th century, essentially carrying over all the principles of humanist serif type over to sans serif.
Design - more calligraphic than other sans serifs so they have a greater variation in line widths and sometimes even have a slight stress, giving the more natural appearance of how someone would actually write. The lowercase a and g tend to be two story.
Examples - Frieght Sans, Adelle Sans, Gill Sans, Geneva, Tahoma and Verdana.
What it communicates about a brand - it communicates a more natural, human and personal tone.
Legibility - these are highly legible as they have high stroke contrast and highly distinct letterforms.

 

Script:

This class includes all those that appear handwritten, often calligraphic, and give a sense of style and elegance. In an experiment, diners were presented with two menus, one using fancy script typefaces and one using plain, sans serif type faces, and they assumed that the chef behind the menu with script type possessed greater skill than the other. However, greater complexity isn't always the right message for a brand to communicate!

Formal:

Origins - they are based on 17th and 18th century letterforms and created by a quill or metal nib.
Design - there is a high contrast between fine and thick strokes, and the letters often join together. They are commonly found in wedding invitations and certificates as they give an almost stately appearance.
Examples - Snell Roundhand, Compendium, Ambassador and Balmoral.
What it communicates about a brand - elegance, formality, tradition, opulence.
Legibility - tend not to be legible so use should be limited to large header and display copy.

 

Blackletter and lombardic:

Origins - was used in the Guthenburg Bible and its appearance immediately conjours up thoughts of Medieval Britain. It was common from the 12th century across western europe and in Germany right up to the 20h century, and is often associated with Nazi propaganda.
Design - dramatic thin and thick strokes, elaborate serifs
Examples - Frakto, Notre Dame, Old English and Luminari.
What it communicates about a brand - it communicates history and tradition, but also strength and mystery. Often used by heavy metal bands (also Corona, Disney).
Legiblity - legibility is poor which is why it soon went out of fashion as body type and is now only used for headings and logos.

 

Casual:

Origins - they emerged in the early 20th century and then became increasingly popular in the 50's and 60's.
Design - they appear as if drawn quickly and tend to be loose and informal with the appearance of having been painted with a wet brush rather than via a nib.
Examples - Brush Script, Kaufmann, Swing and Mistrai.
What it communicates about a brand - gives an informal, relaxed and even intimate appearance.
Legibility - legibility is often poor so should be limited to large header copy.

 

Display/Decorative:

Origins - became popular in the 19th century and was often used on posters and in ads as it was considered more exciting than previous typefaces.
Design - as their name suggests, they are highly deocaraitve and therefore should be used carefully and sparingly. They come in a vast array of styles. The only common theme being that they tend to stand out and grab people’s attention.
Examples - Estilo, Marzo, Letterpress and Pitcher.
What it communicates about a brand - the great thing about decorative fonts is that anything is possible. They can communicate far more than conventional type faces as there are no limits, as illustrated by some of the examples here.
Legibility - these fonts are not intended for body copy. They should only be used for type over a certain size such as for headers or posters.

 

General rules about body copy

  1. Font should be kept between 8pt to 10pt.
  2. Font should always be left aligned and jagged on the right.
  3. Always favour lower case.
  4. Lines should be 50-60 characters wide, including spaces. Too short and it forces the reader's eyes to travel back to the start of the next line too often. Too long and it makes it difficult for the reader to focus on the correct line.

 

A few other interesting facts about typeface:

Finally, I'd like to share a few facts that I stumbled across while creating this article, for no other reason than I think they're pretty interesting and this has admittedly been a fairly dry (albeit hopefully useful!) article.

  • The ampersand (&) is actually the letters e and t combined - from the latin word "et"!
  • Eric Gill, the creator of Gill Sans, was known for his sexual exploits with his sister, two eldest daughter and his dog. As tribute to him, Barry Deck, the designer of Template Gothic, released a type face in his honour called Canicopulous.
  • Comic sans came about as a type designer called Connare was supposed to find a better font for Microsoft’s 1994 extra user friendly Bob software. It turned out to be the wrong size for the programme but was used instead for movie maker and following positive feedback was added to Word. It soon became wildly overused and is now perhaps the most hated of all typefaces. It really just comes down to appropriate use. A child’s birthday card is fine. A gravestone is not.
  • You may have noticed that the phrase the "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" is often used to display typeface. This is because it includes every letter in the alphabet.
  • The man who designed the world's most familiar font, Helvetica, was paid a flat fee, received no royalties and died virtually penniless.

  • Offline marketing

    The growing importance of offline marketing in an online world

    Video Transcription

    As digital marketers we can sometimes be guilty of acting like the entire world only exists online, but actually, if we're to engage our audience, it can sometimes make sense to go offline first. In fact, and this surprises a lot of people, but one of the greatest areas of budget spend in the last few years has been event marketing. There are a few simple reasons for this:

    • There is SO much communication going on online now. We are bombarded with thousands and thousands of messages every day, and as targeted as we make those ads the fact is it’s really really difficult to engage people. Whereas if you go offline and actually talk to them, you have their undivided attention.
    • Secondly, the most effective way of getting emotional buy in is to create an experience and place the consumer at the heart of it. That can of course be achieved online, but it tends to be most easily achieved within an offline context.
    • Thirdly, if your product or business is not yet commonly understood by your audience, and there’s a level of education and engagement and feedback required as you evolve your offering, then that again tends to be most effective from an offline perspective.

    One of the examples I tend to give when illustrating the importance of the offline world from an online point of view is the world’s largest social media networkk. People tend to think of Facebook as something that’s exclusively online, but how did it actually grow - it was exclusively offline word of mouth.

    So if operate in a market where people understand the products or services you’re selling and they’re out there searching for them Google or going onto the app store and searching for an app that’s a bit like the one you’re selling, then by all means, that’s where you should be focusing your efforts. However, if you actually need to engage your audience and build those relationships then very often it makes more sense to go offline and have real conversations with real people.

    See you next time.


    The marketing genius archive - #1 Claude Hopkins, the man behind the perfect American smile

    Transcription

    The most powerful principles of marketing don’t change, which is why I like to look at the early advertising campaigns that shaped the industry.

    In the early 1900s an advertiser called Claude Hopkins was asked to work on a new toothpaste called Pensodent. This was at a time when only a very small minority of people regularly used a toothpaste. Initially he refused on the basis that it was a technical product, but eventually he was persuaded. What Hopkins did next would not only transform the toothpaste industry, but advertising at large.

    • Firstly, he realised that people weren’t going to buy technical detail, they weren’t even going to buy the promise of prevention of a decay in the future, they would only buy one thing, and that was a cure because a cure was the only thing that offered an immediate benefit and that’s what people buy - benefits. In this case, a beautiful smile.
    • Secondly, he identified a trigger that would make people think of the need for this benefit. He did this by asking consumers to run their tongue across their teeth and to notice what he called “the film”
    • Thirdly, and entirely by accident, he created a craving, which is essential if you are to develop a habit. You see there was an ingredient within the toothpaste that created a tingling sensation once people had finished brushing their teeth, and it was that tingling that gave people the sense of having clean teeth. This association was what people then craved and what in turn developed a daily habit for millions of people across the country.
    • Finally, during the launch phase he used coupons to test little variables on sales. For example, whey added the word “free” and actually found that sales plummeted by 75%. In another industry that might have had the opposite effect, but this was perceived as cutting edge stuff at the time and clearly people believed the word “free” undermined the scientific integrity of the product.

    Soon Pepsodent were selling so many tubes of toothpaste that their operations could barely keep up, and within three years they had gone international. Virtually all competitor brands replicated the tactics, all adding ingredients to produce that tingling sensation, and also to create more foam while brushing. Again, it has no impact on the teeth, but it makes us feel like we’re achieving something.

    That was all a hundred years ago but these principles are all just as true today and as marketers I think we can all learn a thing or two from Claude C Hopkins.

    See you next time.