Developing A Digital Strategy From Scratch

We live in a digital economy, there is no doubting that. I think we can all agree about it. However, while it may seem like everyone is taking advantage of this new age environment, there are still a lot of companies stuck in the past. It may seem silly but it hasn’t been that long since the dotcom bubble and with smart phones rapidly making up the majority of internet traffic, the front is still evolving

Where to start?

The first step in developing an effective digital strategy is to pay close attention to the type of work that you are doing. Whether you are an e-commerce shop or an agency that sells digital services, it is important to know how your area of expertise is affected by the digital landscape.

If you don’t already have a plan in motion, then congratulations, you have a fairly easy task ahead of you. Since you are starting from scratch, any data is valuable to you, and if you don’t meet your goals, you still have a lot of information that can be used to further your agenda. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does!

Goals, Goals, Goals!

I’ve always found it useful to track two directly opposite goals. One example would be driving traffic to a landing page that is designed to either educate users about services, or to generate email list signups. You can track the education by describing services with links to even more detailed examples, once a user clicks a link you know that they are at least reading and inquiring more about offerings. When someone signs up using the email signup form, then you know you are making progress towards that initiative as well.

Having two goals that are vastly different means that you can perform two tests at once, which is a far better use of your time than trying to only gather data for one.  I’ve seen this effectively used on custom landing pages, as well as in e-newsletters with effective call-to-actions that build customer bases. People have a give/take relationship these days and when you can give them information they are usually more willing to give you a bigger chunk of their time.

Measuring Success

Once your campaigns are set up you need to have some way to measure the success of their effectiveness. When you are just starting off you don’t need to do anything crazy, you can set simple numbers like 50 new signups or 200 referrals to our services section. If you use something like Unbounce, this will give you harder percentages based off of traffic. Google Analytics can also be helpful in tracking these conversions.

Remember when I said earlier that you shouldn’t worry about failing?, well that is true as well at this stage. If you fall short of your goals you need to analyze what went wrong. Were your call-to-actions week? Is the design confusing? There can be a lot of factors into why a page/newsletter fails. One of the biggest reasons I see underperformance is that users are given way to many options. Most UX pros agree that after 3 options any person is going to suffer from choice overload and it is far easier for them to move on than waste time worrying about something they might not care about.

In the end what matters is that you are making educated guesses based on solid data that represents your user base. If you are doing that then you will be successful, it just takes a little bit of time. The more you reiterate on your strategies the better they will become. All companies start off at this stage and eventually make it to the big leagues when it comes to digital marketing and strategy.

Good luck! 😀



Site Build: VeganRVA

Recently I helped build and launch a new site:  It was quite the project, lots of things happened but in the end it all came together.

The Idea.

My fiance and I were talking about how there weren’t any sites that really focus on the vegan scene here in Richmond Virginia and we wanted to change that. Originally the idea was to start a food critic style blog and eat lots of food. The idea progressed though, and eventually I started asking around if anyone was interested. I found out that someone I knew had a similar idea and so we started collaborating.

The Blueprints.

After many conversations about what we wanted to do, we decided on building a site that offered a little bit of everything, food reviews, things to do, product reviews, restaurant listings, the whole deal. Structuring the information architecture was fairly straight forward. One we had it all figured out the next part was getting a decent design. I’ve never really been one who was amazing at design, but this project made me really dive into it. Some of the flat design I was seeing really made me want to try it out.

Working with my friend (who is a designer) we were able to come out with a very simple comp of how we wanted the site to look. We wanted to use a grid system to make it really easy to build, and we used a lot of really interesting and vibrant colors.

Getting Our Keyboards Dirty.

Now that a solid design was laid out, it was time to start building. I really wanted to start using Git more in my process, and I also wanted to use Compass because it seems like the future of development on the web. In the end we decided on using the Foundation 5 framework, more specifically Foundation Press. It has all the tools we wanted, plus it has a lot of great built-in functionality so we can use the reusable patterns provided. That helped to cut down on development time, and I learned a lot.

Version controlling WordPress can be a big p.i.t.a but we managed. There were definitely a lot of hiccups along the way, and a few merges that got really tough to sort out. The wp-config.php file is one of the files you really have to watch out for. You pretty much have to git ignore a local and dev config file, and make sure you do so in the beginning to save a headache or two. We did a few no-nos such as images in the repo (stop clenching your teeth!).

Go Live!

After many revisions, tweaks, undos, redos, deletes, undeletes, and more revisions the site was ready to go live. Our tool of choice for this was Beanstalk. I cannot tell you enough how much I love using it. Beanstalk itself is both a private repo, and a deployment tool. That means you can push all your version control commits to it, and then watch it deploy on your site(s).  During the process we automatically pushed changes from our local repos to the dev site, and now it manually deploys if we need to do any more work.

Lessons Learned

This whole project taught me a lot about working in a team and setting realistic expectations. When you are working on a personal project, lots more things get in the way and it is easier to miss deadlines. When you set a goal you need to stick to it and not back down otherwise it will sit on side-burner for a long while.  Don’t be afraid to use new tools on a project, that is really the only way to really find out if you will like to use that tool at work or again on another project.