Our next guest speaker was Justin Cook, the Director of Internet Marketing at 9thCO. The company is a web design and marketing agency in downtown Toronto that focuses on search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and social media marketing (SMM) to drive traffic and leads to client websites. Justin gave us a thorough overview of the different roles in an internet marketing firm, and presented many case studies of successful SEO and SEM he experienced with his clients. I’ll be focusing on two topics Justin touched on: SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) — if you haven’t already guessed, there’ll be a lot of acronyms in this post.
9th sphere + Convurgency = 9thCO
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO)
SEO is essential to any website and online business. As its name suggests, it is the process of optimizing traffic to a site from search engine listings. I realized that people employed in SEO remind me of ninjas — seriously! They work behind the scenes and try to exploit or take advantage of technology. They are rarely seen, and yet they help clients execute (get it? ~execute~) high conversion rates and traffic to their site. SEO ninjas are highly strategic thinkers who play by the rules (established by headmaster, Google-sama), then they look for clever ways to exploit said rules. Google considers things such as the quality of the site, the quantity and frequency of its content, and even how old the site is in order to go up (or down) in rankings. For SEO ninjas to be successful, they need good developers and simply a good business. The most important skill in SEO is search intent. My experience with SEO started when I used to write content for a mortgage site. I had to use very specific phrases in the posts in order to do well in rankings. I would’ve loved to learn more about how we as web designers could optimize our site’s code to do better in rankings.
CONVERSION RATE OPTIMIZATION (CRO)
Prior to this presentation, I had never heard of CRO, but I realize now how important it is to driving not only traffic, but conversions to a site. Justin said that people employed in CRO have the most amazing jobs because there are no rules or limitations. Everything is experimental, and that’s the point. The skills necessary in this job are math, marketing, intuition, and HTML. CRO involves designing sites and split-testing them to determine which has the best “recipe” to generate higher conversion rates. Things like photographs and the way text and forms are presented play a major role in shaping consumer decisions and behaviours.
It’s important to experiment with the right balance of photos, content and layouts in order to determine which “recipe” best generates conversions.
9thCO has a diverse range of web design styles. I found that the sites in its portfolio all have one thing in common: logical and straight-forward content. I like that they’re not trying to be too cutting-edge with their designs; rather, they opt for conventional designs that are ultimately more successful, and that users can easily trust. I don’t say this often about agency sites, but 9thCO has impressed me with their portfolio presentation. I particularly love their treatment and design of LandLord’s property and rental management site. Why? Because it looks like a site people would actually use. Shocking, I know. Sadly, I can’t say that about a lot of web designs I’ve found on the net that look too edgy to function.
What I learned from Justin’s presentation about SEO and CRO is that sometimes you need elegant designs, and other times you need homey designs in order to get the user to trust your brand and keep coming back. This was a very important point for me because it made me realize that not all sites need to look high-end because it could potentially make users think that the site sells things that are beyond their reach. Let’s face it, the only people who care about how a site looks are fellow web designers and business owners. Other people, like my mom for instance, could care less if the site was built and hosted on Geocities, and used Comic Sans font. As long as the site delivers the content the user is looking for, that’s all that matters. Homey sites that look conventional could potentially make users feel more comfortable enough to browse around. These ideas have never crossed my mind before, so I appreciate Justin for bringing them up. In retrospect, his point makes sense because when I compared hotel sites for my family trip to Paris in 2011, the sites that looked too high-end and complex were the ones I avoided, while the homey sites with straight-forward navigation and simple forms were a welcome option — but maybe that was just my wallet talking.
…Yeah, it probably was.
Justin answers the class’ questions after his presentation.
• It’s better to be a specialist than a generalist.
• Understand the value of your time and the value you drive for your clients. But there’s also value in great experience.
• Education is secondary to experience.
• Anticipate scenario questions in job interviews.
• Find out what you love to do. Be obsessive.
Stay connected! Follow Justin on twitter @justinbcook.
See you next time!