Author Archives: Lis

Let’s get started (the right way)

Every project begins with the first step – and it’s tough to overstate that first step’s importance.

Many marketers are all too familiar with the perils of diving into a new initiative unprepared. Companies pull the trigger too early on projects for lots of reasons – they’re pressed for time, they figure the details will fall into place as they go along, they don’t understand the elements critical to the project’s success. Whatever the reason, the results can be bleak: astronomical costs, blown deadlines and squabbling team members.

Never fear, though. Taking the time to prep goes a long way toward avoiding these mid-project woes. To start your initiative on the right foot, consider these factors first. 

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Use short- and long-tail keywords for the biggest SEO splash

“Show, don’t tell.” It’s a rule writers know by heart; specifics make your writing more persuasive and compelling. And that lesson doesn’t just apply to copywriting – details count when it comes to keywords, too.

Keywords generally fall into two categories: short-tail and long-tail, also known as broad and narrow keywords. Short-tail keywords are single words or short phrases that generally describe a topic, such as “Web design.” Long-tail keywords are longer phrases (typically between three and six words) that provide more specifics, such as “Chicago website design.”

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Pinterest: It’s more than pretty pictures

I have a confession to make: I can’t stop using Pinterest. Since I signed up, I barely go on Facebook anymore. Instead, I spend hours filling my pinboards with photos of cute dresses, Crock-Pot® recipes and kitchen cabinets made from reclaimed wood. It’s become an obsession.

According to recent stats, my Pinterest addiction is totally normal. The startup hit the 10 million user mark faster than any social media site in history, digital business analytics source comScore reports, and is rapidly approaching 20 million users.

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Get marketing mileage from your business’ birthday

Remember counting down the days until your birthday as a kid? Exciting things awaited, like the cake with your favorite cartoon character, the party with all your classmates, maybe even a new bike from your parents. For 24 hours, you were on top of the world.

While you may have eaten your last slice of Bugs Bunny-themed dessert, there’s still plenty of room for birthday celebration at your business.

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Going mobile

When it comes to websites, small is in. Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, most people spend more time cruising the Internet on their phones than they do making calls. Companies are responding by creating mobile versions of their websites, making it easy to check your credit card balance, order dinner or book a vacation from your phone.

So, should your business create a mobile site? If so, what should the site include and, more importantly, how much will it cost? Read on for our crash course on all things mobile.

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CMS vs. non-CMS websites: Finding your perfect match

When we create a new website for a client, one of the first questions we ask is whether the company wants a content management system (CMS) site or a non-CMS (also called a traditional HTML) site. The right choice depends on a number of factors, including the client’s budget and how much control the company needs over the site once it’s completed. While a growing number of our clients are requesting CMS  sites, some still prefer to go the traditional route.

Not sure what the difference is? You’re in the right place. We’ve put together a primer on the basics of CMS and non-CMS sites to help you find the right fit for your company.

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Why SEO isn’t a magic pill

One pill a day is guaranteed to make you drop pounds fast without diet or exercise – at least, that’s what those slick banner ads want you to believe. You know the ones – a hot mom in a bikini, a tape measure wrapped around her whittled waist, vaguely alarming side effects listed in the fine print underneath her.

Thanks to common sense (and high school health class), most of us realize that downing a cocktail of questionable-sounding chemicals won’t guarantee weight loss. Yet some marketing companies lure in prospects with an equally dubious promise:

“Your site will be in the first page of search engine rankings if you hire us for search engine optimization, guaranteed.”

If an agency says this to you, run. Anyone who promises you a specific ranking is, well, lying.

Without a doubt, SEO is a valuable tool that you can and should use to boost your website’s rankings on Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines. SEO is not the magic bullet some agencies want you to believe it is, however.

First of all, it’s impossible to crack the codes that search engines use to generate their rankings. They’re complex, fiercely guarded and constantly changing. Google, for example, uses more than 200 factors to rank pages – and unless you’re Matt Cutts, there’s no way to know the exact formula. While you can take cues from what’s worked in the past, how can you be sure you’re going to win the rankings game when you don’t even know what the rules are?

In addition, traditional SEO techniques, such as incorporating keywords and inbound links into a site, are just part of the puzzle when it comes to nabbing a high search ranking. When Google revamped its ranking formula last year, the Internet giant revealed that the way users interact with a website would factor into the site’s search rankings. The search engine also considers whether a site’s content is trustworthy, substantive and grammatically correct when assessing its rank, according to this blog.

The lesson? Companies need to have quality content on their site, and they need to update it often to keep visitors coming back. It’s not enough to pepper your site with keywords once – giving your readers valuable and timely information, whether it’s a how-to article on your blog or posting a newsletter, is essential for breaking the first-page ranking ceiling. Of course, you also need to incorporate appropriate keywords into that quality content and review your keywords regularly to make sure they’re still relevant.

Sound difficult to you? Maybe, but it’s the best way to land and maintain a high search ranking. Instead of thinking of SEO as a magic pill – one that guarantees you that coveted top spot in the rankings – think of it as part of your overall diet and exercise regimen. With some time and effort, you’ll get the results you want.

How “safe” is your marketing plan?


Last week I attended a building safety seminar about what we’re all supposed to do in an emergency. The presenter drilled home that the best way to cope when things fall apart is to be prepared – have a plan and play the role assigned to you. Here at The Simons Group, everything ties back into marketing, so it didn’t take long for me to come up with an idea for my next blog post.

A company’s marketing agenda is a lot like an office building – without a solid plan, a minor setback can turn into full-blown chaos quickly. I’ve talked to more companies than I care to admit that say, “We can’t talk about marketing strategies until so-and-so gathers and formats our email list/comes back from a trade show/finishes his TPS reports,” “Hmm… that ultimately goes through Amanda, and she’s on maternity leave until February,” or, “Bob used to do that, but he’s gone and we can’t talk about branding or social media until a replacement is onboard.”

Organizations can solve each of the above situations by assigning roles to everyone in their marketing process for individual projects and establishing backups in case someone can’t fulfill his or her role. That way, if team member A hasn’t performed his part of the project, it doesn’t have to hold up the process, since team member B knows what she can do to keep the process moving. If a person quits, is laid off or is out of the office for an extended period of time, the remaining team members can pick up that person’s duties.

As the safety presentation drove that point home to us, let me take that same point and (in a calmer fashion than our drill-sergeant instructor) redirect it to our readership. A team member’s extended absence or a big project that comes out of nowhere and needs to be done yesterday is the marketing department equivalent of a building emergency.  Just as our building implements a safety plan and assigns roles, having a clear description of how your plans will unfold if a situation arises can ensure that your overall marketing plan continues to run smoothly and remains “safe.”

St. Bernard’s winning new website design

After months of preparation, St. Bernard Hospital welcomed a new baby this week. You won’t find this bundle of joy in the hospital’s maternity ward, though – you’ll have to go online.

We’ve spent the last several months working with St. Bernard to create an updated website for the organization, and we launched the new site Monday. St. Bernard, which is the only hospital in Chicago’s Englewood community and is nationally recognized for its medical care, had a unique list of website needs.

The hospital’s old website featured a lot of information and a complex design, and St. Bernard wanted a streamlined site that visitors could navigate easily. St. Bernard also wanted to make the site more interactive for patients while showcasing the hospital’s strengths for vendors, physicians and donors.

Many hours of copywriting, editing, graphic design and Web coding later, we and St. Bernard are thrilled with the final results. Here are some of the site’s highlights:

Clean design — We created a design for the site that features a lot of open space and incorporates the colors in St. Bernard’s logo to reinforce the hospital’s brand. A simple navigation system and easy-to-read navigation buttons allow visitors to find what they need quickly, and the clean layout is visually appealing.

Simple yet sophisticated writing — We knew St. Bernard’s website visitors would be a diverse group, so the site’s content had to be simple to understand, but not dumbed down. We used concise sentences and addressed patients directly in some sections to get the message across, but still included appropriate medical terminology throughout the site.

Interactive features — Whether visitors want to request an appointment, apply for a job, pay a hospital bill or visit a patient, a menu on the home page directs them to just the right spot. We also included calls to action throughout the site, such as encouraging visitors reading about medical services to view a list of doctors in that specialty, to keep site users engaged.

Culturally appropriate material — St. Bernard is in a predominantly black community, and the website reflects that demographic. We used photos of St. Bernard’s patients and staff wherever possible so it would feel authentic to site visitors.

Content management system — St. Bernard’s website features a content management system, which allows St. Bernard to update the site. While we’re always there to help, having this system puts St. Bernard in the driver’s seat – if the hospital wants to add a news item over the weekend or late at night, it can take care of it on its own. Before handing the reins over, we will hold a training session for St. Bernard on the content management system’s ins and outs.

Social media — We set up a Vimeo channel for St. Bernard that links to its website so visitors can see the hospital’s videos, including a local NBC news clip that features St. Bernard. As part of our training session for St. Bernard, we will teach the hospital how to add content to its Vimeo account.

Does all this talk of websites make you wish you were expecting your own special delivery? Let us know what you’d include on your dream website in the comments below.