5 Fresh, Free Icon Sets to Use on Your Site

We are always urging our clients to update the content on their websites because it gives their customers a reason to keep coming back, is great for SEO, and increases relevancy. Updating text is easy, but updating graphics can sometimes be daunting and costly. Today we are doing the heavy lifting for you – we’ve scoured the internet for 5 new sets of icons you can use on your website, totally free!

Ballicons 2

These icons are fun, simple, and whimsical. If you have Adobe Creative Suite you can customize them to match your web colors, mix and match elements between icons, and apply special effects or animation. Click here to download the set, as well as read about customization options.

free icons
Ballicons 2

Font Awesome

This set is aptly named and is changing the way we think about vector art and purchasing. Instead of downloading specific icons or sets, this site allows you to download a CSS file that behaves like a font. The big draw for these guys is that you can use them in Word or any other text editing program – no need to have Adobe products. Simply open a text editor, select the Font Awesome font, then insert icons as symbols. Easy and free, and they’re always adding new icons. Click here to download the Font Awesome icon set.

280 Vector Line Icons Pack

This pack is a steal! 280 icons presented in 8 EPS files. You will need to have Adobe Creative Suite to use these, but deals such as this are rare, so yes, we do expect to see some sailboats on some of your home pages soon! Get the bundle here.

digital marketing

Open Phone Pack

This set looks exactly like your app icons on an iPhone. Since most people in the western world worship all things Apple, these icons tend to be popular. We recommend this set not only because it is free, but also because the download includes PNGs of each of the 16 icons, so no expensive vector software is required. Get the trendy set here.

Vintage Social Media Stamp Set

We love this vintage take on social media buttons. If you’re looking to link to your social media profiles and are looking for a retro feel, this set is for you. Grab it before it starts popping up on all of your competitors’ sites!

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Ready for a web refresh but don’t have the time or know-how? We’d be happy to help you give your site a facelift. Call us today!

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Top 5 Reasons to Blog to Drive Business Growth

Lots of businesses do it.

Southwest Airlines, Stonyfield Farms and Disney Parks are just a few big businesses that maintain blogs to keep their customers happy, interested and informed. What works so well for these giant, blockbuster businesses can actually work for your business, too. In fact, there are plenty of statistics to support your blogging decision.

  • 81% of U.S. consumers trust information and advice from blogs. (Source: BlogHer)
  • Companies that blog have 97% more inbound links. (Source: Hubspot)
  • 61% of U.S. online consumers have made a purchase based on recommendations from a blog. (Source: BlogHer)

Okay. So, the statistics support blogging. What exactly does your business stand to gain?

1. Get more visitors to your site.

Blogging increases traffic to your website in so many ways!

First, writing a blog post adds another indexed page to your website. Every indexed page is another opportunity for your site to appear in your audience’s search engine results pages.

Second, readers share blog content on social media. It’s highly unlikely that one of your readers is going to share a link to your home page, portfolio or contact page on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Google+. But if you’re publishing valuable content, those readers are doing their friends a favor by connecting them with your site.

2. Convert traffic into leads.

A blog post on its own can be a pretty good thing.

But add a call-to-action to the bottom of every post and you’ve got a highly effective lead-generating tool. Make the call to action specific to the content of the post and your audience will be thanking you for serving them up with even more valuable information!

Very often the call-to-action is a button or form at the bottom of the post, encouraging your reader to follow the link for more information or fill in their email address to get on the mailing list. Calls-to-action are even more effective when they reward your reader with relevant bonus content. An emailed coupon, an informative guide (in the form of an emailed pdf) or a free trial membership are all effective ways to use a call-to-action to market to your audience. Ensure that this content is relevant to the content of the blog post and you’re sure to convert!

3. Establish authority.

Really great businesses find the best ways to help their customers. Answering their questions, giving them information and finding other ways to provide them with value is often the best way to do this.

A blog can help your customers come to see you as an authority in the field. Let them know you’ve got great ideas! Help them to see that you’ve got all the answers! Your reward will be that they’ll keep coming back to you for information and they’ll let their friends and family know about you, too.

4. Benefit from long-term results.

A well-written, valuable blog post can be one of your hardest working assets. In fact, years from now, your site will still be getting visits, leads and customers from that post your wrote so long ago.

Write a couple posts a week and the benefit doubles!

Most bloggers will tell you that most of the traffic to their site is generated by posts that were written a long time ago. Those posts have had time to age, gain attention and build authority. So think about the one hour of effort that is required to write a blog post as an investment in your future. While you’re on vacation or doing the hard work of maintaining your business, your blog posts are generating leads and ensuring your business continues to grow!

Still feeling stuck? Spot Color can help you get unstuck and on the road to blogging.  Contact us today.

 

Sources

Hubspot: http://www.stateofinboundmarketing.com/

BlogHer: http://www.blogher.com/women-and-social-media-2012

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Can Clean Web Design Increase Conversions?

Paired with content, we think so.

The hottest trend in web design these days is clean, flat design. Crisp interfaces and smooth modern lines are catching readers’ eyes and expanding businesses’ audiences.

Who knew that simplicity could be so compelling? We’re convinced that this pleasant, minimalistic style is here to stay, and here’s why.

Content is King.

We’ve all heard this phrase before, but it has never held more meaning than right now. A simple web design means that your readers can focus solely on your message, without being distracted by cluttered images, gradient backgrounds or fancy JavaScript effects. A simple design means that content can be the king of your marketing budget, too. Simple designs are easier to create, which means more of your resources can go towards creating fantastic content for your audience.

Content is Everywhere.

Your readers encounter information everywhere they turn. There is so much information out there that it can be a little overwhelming at times! Thankfully, there are plenty of tools out there to help us sift through all that content. Whether your readers are encountering your messages on Twitter, Facebook, Feedly or even iTunes, odds are they’re not reading it on your website. Using a clean web design helps you make sure your message is the most powerful thing you communicate. You can’t fall back on a fancy design or cool effects to pretty up your words. Your message stands on its own.

Content Makes a Difference

Nothing propels people into action like an inspiring message, and while it may be true that a picture is worth a thousand words, an inspiring photo is nothing without a call to action. Your words are going to be what make the difference between a passing viewer and a converted customer. Those potential customers want to know what you have to say. Don’t make it harder for them by obscuring your message with a complex design.
Today’s marketing world is ruled by content and it’s more important than ever that your site allows your meaningful messages to come through. Making use of a clean web design is one important way savvy businesses build and keep loyal customers.

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5 Rules of Grammar Never to Ignore on Your Website

At one of our Friday evening happy hours in Spot Color’s living room, a few Spot friends got to talking about my recent post of 5 Rules of Grammar You Can Ignore on Your Website and it sparked a conversation about some grammatical errors that drive us absolutely mad. With that in mind, I bring you 5 Rules of Grammar Never to Ignore on Your Website. Sometimes you just have to shake your head and say, “No.”

1) The correct use of Your and You’re.

Don’t you just want to slap your forehead when you hear this? It’s a simple mistake to make if you’re writing quickly and multitasking, but nothing tells your readers I did not bother to proofread this text quite like this mix up. Say it with me, you’re skilled in your writing. And remember to think about this when using there, their, and they’re.

2) Make sure the words you are using are, well, actual words.

Adding extra syllables: I’m not sure where this comes from, but I’m sure you’ve all cringed at least once if you’ve ever heard someone say “conversate” or “irregardless.” Bottom line, if you’re unsure about a word you want to use, look it up. Better yet, always edit any text that will appear on your website in a program that uses spell check. Just for fun, here are some other examples of words commonly used that shouldn’t be. Some of these won’t even trip your spell check because they’ve become inundated in common speech, so use your best judgment when it comes to diction:

CORRECTINCORRECT
UndoubtedlyUndoubtably
ExploitativeExploitive
FirstFirstly
AdministerAdministrate
CommentCommentate
ThawUnthaw
EstimateGuesstimate

 

3) The correct past tense and past participles.

Ah, I know these sound like the parts of an English textbook to collect drool, but they are actually important, especially when misused. We’ve all heard and (gasp!) read some of these horrors: brung or boughten. I know you’re all too smart to do this, but even the best of us forget the rule about using past tense and past perfect tense sometimes. So remember, I swam across the ocean just as I have swum across the lake. I drank this juice just as I have drunk other juices.

4) Don’t use unnecessary hyperbole.

I don’t want to exaggerate, but it kills me when people say “over exaggerate.” It’s already exaggerated; you don’t need the “over.” This also goes for adding the unnecessary “super” everywhere.

grammar

5) The proper use of affect vs. effect.

I see this more commonly in the past tense, but it’s easy to mix these two up. Just remember, affect is the verb and the effect is the result of that verb.


The most important thing to remember is that spell check is your friend. It’s also helpful if you can have someone else read and edit your writing before it goes up on your website. What are some of your grammar pet peeves? Let us know in the comments section.

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How Focused are You on Your Audience?

Audience Development is a core, fundamental aspect of marketing today.  New clients often come to us without an effective strategy for finding and engaging with their audience. They simply haven’t realized their audience is an asset, and that there is a significant reward to be earned by building and nurturing that audience.

This focus on audience is the subject of Jeffrey Rohrs’ book, “Audience: Marketing in the Age of Subscribers, Fans & Followers.” It is highly recommended reading for any of our clients interested in connecting with their audience. In his book, Rohrs discusses how consumers today decide for themselves whether or not they want to become a part of an specific audience, and how their “attention, action, and loyalty have to be earned by all those who want it.”

We’ve helped many of our amazing clients let go of the old assumption that paid media still trumps all, and have begun implementing solid marketing strategies that combine Content Strategy with Audience Development.

If you’re trying to increase the number of likes, followers, and subscribers of your company, we’d love to sit down and chat with you. Get in touch with us by clicking here.

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5 Rules of Grammar You Can Ignore on Your Website

Usually when I am writing for websites, or advising others in the same pursuit, I pay very close attention to the rules of grammar in order to avoid sounding like an idiot on the web. This is generally a good rule. However, there are times when it is more effective to sound like a relatable human and not your sixth grade English teacher who never seemed to be able to connect with her audience. Here are 5 rules of grammar that are okay to break when writing for your website:

1.       Ending a sentence with a preposition. We all know it’s grammatically correct to write “There are many colors of pen with which you can sign our petition.” Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a stuffy petition. Your website reader will probably respond better to something like, “There are tons of pen colors you may sign our petition with.”

2.       Using some slang words. Sometimes it’s okay, or even encouraged, to use slang words in order to appeal to your audience, show your social relevance, or avoid sounding like an out-of-touch robot. However, if you wouldn’t be comfortable using the word or phrase in, say, the company of your pastor or a new client, don’t put it on your website. If you’re a skateboard company, DO write “we have sick new boards in inventory!” Refrain from writing, “we just received bitchin new boards.” Oh dear, I’ve just broken my own rule.

3.       Beginning a sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But.’ Typically this is still a no-no in my book, unless you truly are striving for a conversational tone. For example, I won’t start a sentence with ‘and’ if I am writing a PDF of standard procedures. But I will start a sentence with ‘but’ if I am trying to show my reader what I sound like during normal conversation. And I might even do it more than once if I think I’m being witty.

4.       Using incomplete sentences. According to your grammar book, you shouldn’t use fragments ever because they don’t make sense when taken out of context and they do make your writing seem choppy. Sometimes, however, they just fit. For example, you tell your reader “Have you been saving for retirement but aren’t sure if it’s going to be enough? We understand.” Well, taken out of context, “we understand” doesn’t mean anything, but in this case it tells your reader you know what they are going through and want to help, in a lot less words.

5.       Using contractions. It used to be the case that in business writing you would never use contractions because they were not seen as part of formal speech. While some companies may choose to stick to this credo, less formal establishments may want to move away from this style of writing for the web. For example, it is perfectly normal for a law office to want to appear sophisticated, thorough, and of course, a company to be taken seriously. On the other hand, a health food store may want to seem warmer and more casual to its customer base. There is no right or wrong answer here, but do think about what your audience is expecting to hear from you.

I could go on, as most writers I know have very sharp opinions when it comes to grammar, but I promised I would only give you 5 Grammar Rules to Break. As a bonus, I would like to give you one rule of grammar NEVER to break, and that is misspelling. No one thinks it’s kewl to make that mistake. 

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The 9 W’s: What Kind of Marketing Do I Need?

If we were in Oz it would be easy to find and follow the yellow brick road, with its wide, gold path glimmering in the sunlight all the way to profits and success. But if you don’t even know where you are, how can you begin to find the right path? The answer lies in the 9 W’s.

It’s exciting gearing up to rebrand a logo, create a new website, or plan a marketing campaign strategy. But sometimes it’s not so easy to figure out which of these is most beneficial and where your money will be best spent, especially with a limited budget or timeline.

Sitting through client calls and meetings I’ve seen my fair share of clients come in with ideas and goals that are about 4 steps ahead of where they are at the moment. I think in all areas of life it’s important to take stock of your current situation first, especially when it pertains to your business. While each and every company is unique, there are some questions that should be answered initially to point you to the right path.

I’m sure just about everyone is familiar with the term: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?

Unfortunately not everyone has answers to these questions when they pertain to a business model or strategy. ‘Pop’ by Sam Horn sums it up perfectly when she says we must be clear about the 9 W’s. Ask yourself these questions when preparing for the next marketing push.

  • What am I offering?
  • What problem does my idea or offering solve?
  • Why is it worth trying and buying?
  • Who is my target audience?
  • Who am I and what are my credentials?
  • Who are my competitors and how am I different from them?
  • What resistance or objections will people have to this?
  • What is the purpose of my pitch?
  • When, where and how do I want people to take action?

If you don’t have clear answers to these questions already, this is probably where you need to begin. At Spot Color Marketing we work with clients in all phases of business growth. Before we begin delving into the thick of things, we like to perform a website, business, or marketing audit. This allows us to help you answer those questions and helps us put together a detailed strategy and plan for our client. We can help you find your yellow brick road and get all the way to Oz…er, success.

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3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Selecting Photography for Your Website

Our clients often ask us about graphics and photos for their website. Should they use stock imagery? Hire a professional photographer? The answer depends on a few different factors. Let’s take a quick look at three of the most important questions to ask yourself when selecting photography for your website project.

1. How quickly do you need the images?

The turnaround for getting stock images can be very quick, depending on how much time you spend searching and deciding on the images you want. There are many stock imagery websites out there, and it doesn’t take long to set up a free account, search for images in their database using keywords, purchase the image, and then immediately download the image to your computer.

Hiring a local, professional photographer takes a little more time for planning and execution. Depending on the photographer’s schedule, you can most likely get a photo shoot scheduled within 1-2 weeks and have access to the final images within a week after that.

2. How important is it to be unique from your competition and accurately reflect your specific people, locations, events, equipment, etc.?

Digital Marketing Agency Portland
Stereotypical stock images can make it difficult for you to communicate unique value propositions because your website ends up looking like everyone else’s.

It can be a real challenge for companies, both for-profit and non-profit, to find stock images that feature the specific qualities that make them so unique. We’ve all seen the stereotypical stock image of the business team with big smiles and freshly whitened teeth just a few too many times.

Let’s quickly summarize the two types of stock imagery:
Rights-Managed & Royalty-Free.

With Rights-Managed images, the photographer is paid a royalty and there are limits set for the dates and number of times the image can be used. This does increase the uniqueness of your image in the market, but does require a much higher budget.

With Royalty-Free images, you can always spend extra time searching for those that don’t have a “stock image” look, or spend extra money on more stylized images from special collections, but remember that anyone who purchases a Royalty-Free image is free to use the image unlimited times for many different purposes. This means your website is probably not the only one out there with that same image (does that friendly-looking lady with the headset really work at all of those different companies?).

Another important factor to consider before purchasing stock images is the size / proportion of the image and where the image will be used. You may have found the perfect stock image for your website: it’s a standard horizontal shot of a family playing together on the beach. But what if the image is going to be used on your website’s horizontal banner, which is extremely wide and not very tall? After cropping the family image to fit in the wide banner, the only visible part would be the kids heads, while all that’s seen of the mom and dad are arms and shoulders – not exactly the look you were going for. 

Digital Marketing Agency Portland

When you hire a professional photographer, you’re paying for their technical expertise and creativity, which means you can work with them to customize the specific content, colors, layout, etc. A good photographer will be able to capture the mood and passion behind your company, and work with you to creatively highlight your products or services. When you discuss your needs with your photographer, be sure to talk about where your images will be used, and any specific sizing and placement that would work best.

3. What is your budget?

Digital Marketing Agency Portland
A good photographer knows how to collaborate with you so your company’s personality is seen through your photos.

Your budget often dictates which options are open to you. Royalty-Free stock images are attractive to small businesses that are on a limited budget and are willing to accept the downside that their images are not unique and may be used by others. Many businesses will use stock photography until hiring a professional photographer is in their budget.

Every business that desires to use custom photography should, at the very least, check out the galleries of a few local photographers and get some estimates. Many small businesses are surprised when they find out how affordable a small custom photo package with a 1-hr photo session and 10-20 photos can be. Many times it is in the same ballpark as a similar quantity of unique stock photos. Professional photographers can also provide business portraits, store photos, and product photography.

Summary
Whether you choose stock photos or professional photos, be sure you use images that target your specific audience and complement your content. High quality photography can play a big role in your marketing campaigns and draw positive attention to your business. At Spot Color, we can help you choose the best stock images, or we can set up a custom photo shoot with you and your team.

We’d love to sit down with you and offer you a free consultation to discuss your website and your business goals – contact us today and let’s talk!

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Calls to Action: What Should Your Reader Do?

Clients oftentimes ask us what they can be doing to increase sales, drive more traffic to their website, increase their social media presence, etc. Though every client, business and industry is different, there is one thing we recommend to each and every client who walks through our doors: Calls to Action.

What are calls to action? Click here to learn more about calls to action. Call us now to schedule a calls to action seminar. A call to action tells your viewer what to do with the information you’ve given them. What you don’t want is for your potential customer to read your raving testimonials, fall in love with your products, and then say, “Okay, but what now?” Without a clear invitation to take the next step, they might just go somewhere else that makes it easier for them to figure out what to do.

There are countless examples of successful calls to action, and many more unsuccessful ones. Here are a couple we think work well, and why.

1. Digital Marketing Agency PortlandThis call to action (from our client PAHU) gives a reason why you should do what they’re asking, then right after they’ve convinced you, give you the next step at the click of a button. Easy.

2. This call to action is ideal because it’s specific, unique, and of course, for a good cause, taken from the site we gifted for Schoolhouse Supplies, a local non-profit we love. This is a feel-good button. The clickee gets instant gratitude from the verbiage of this call to action disguised as his or her own idea. Digital Marketing Agency Portland

3. This call to action is actually two-in-one. First we get the viewer to identify as an Oregonian or Washingtonian, then we show them plans available to them. Now they’re halfway to signing up for a plan and we only had to get them to the home page. (Taken from Warshauer Agency, a great client of ours!) Digital Marketing Agency Portland

 A few other things to note:

  • Leave some space. You want your call to action to be noticeable. While it doesn’t have to isolated, it’s better if it’s clear where your viewer should click.
  • Make sure it works. The worst thing you could do is ask your viewer to do something, then have a broken link or lack of functionality.
  • Avoid negatives. Keep your calls in the positive. Use “Sign-up for our Newsletter!” instead of “Don’t miss out on our Newsletter!” You don’t want your viewer to feel scolded or bullied into following your advice.
  • Don’t write a novel. Keep it short and sweet. If you’re going to use a hyperlink, underline part of the phrase. i.e. Click here to learn more about our services is too long for a button. Instead, tell them what you want them to do (learn more about your services) then make the hyperlink or button short with Learn More or Click Here.

Above all, don’t make your viewer do absolutely everything. Reward them for finding you, provide them with rich and up-to-date content, and then tell them how they can take the next step. Just think of how frustrating it is to sift through six inside pages, follow link after link, and still wonder how to buy the darn thing. Websites are like drive-thrus; if your customer wanted to come into your store and browse, they would. They visited your website for the quick and dirty stuff to inform them what to do!

 

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Social Media for Small Businesses: 101

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…oh my! With the abundance of social media platforms to choose from, it can be confusing to know when — and what — to post for your business. Though there is contrasting information everywhere, Spot Color would like to share posting guidelines we (generally) live by.

1. Facebook

How often should I post? Research suggests posting to Facebook 1-4 times per week. You will increase likes with one post a day, yet you will lose engagement if you are posting more than once a day. Apparently users like to know you’re there, but not barraging them with information. So save your daily post for something worthy. Quality of posts is more important than quantity.

What time should I post? Facebook tends to have the most observers during the work day (next blog post: How to Increase Productivity perhaps?) but there is a definite spike in user activity around 7:00 p.m. With that in mind, we suggest posting around lunch time and right after rush hour.

What should I post? We like to break topics down into categories. Though this scratches the surface of an endless realm of posting possibilities, we feel that if you’re within these guidelines, you’re probably on the right track.

  • Links to Products: Be sure to include a photo of the product and a reason why your reader should care about it. This could mean an anecdote, product history, trend data, etc. Be sure to post only the cream of the product crop or your readers will be annoyed that the only thing you seem to be communicating is “buy, buy buy.”
  • Links to Outside Articles: By linking to articles that discuss current events, trends, history, or what-have-you, you can offer your customers a glimpse into the soul of your organization. For example, you sell shoes, so you post an article about what the ladies were wearing 60 years ago and what aspects of those styles have remained timeless. Pair it with side by side photos of styles that have survived the ages.digital marketing
  • Something Funny: Unless your product or service is no laughing matter, don’t be afraid to show your company’s lighter side. For example, you are an IT firm and you post this:
  • Shout-outs to Friends & Followers: It’s always nice to know you exist. Friend some of your Facebook “likes” and mention them in posts where you can. For example, you have a sale in-store, snap photos, tag them and post. Voila! Your customers feel you value them as individual people.

2. Twitter

How often should I tweet? Research says you should tweet 4 – 5 times per day. If this is too hard to manage, shoot for at least once or twice per day.

What time should I post? 

  • The highest percentage of retweets happens around 5 p.m. EST
  • The highest percentage of people who click on links happens between noon and 6 p.m. EST
  • Twitter usage spikes towards the end of the week and on weekends.

What should I tweet? Because of the 160 character limit, tweets should be quick shout-outs or retweets, links to relevant articles that share something in common with your company, and to announce sales, promotions or events.

3. Pinterest

Visuals are everything here. This would be a great place to post interesting product shots. Make sure to use accurate descriptions and integrate keywords.

4. Instagram

Instagram is the place to highlight the people of your company and their lifestyle. You want to show who your company is. Take shots of products in the warehouse, or an employee putting something out on a rack. Maybe snap a photo of the “lunchers” in the break room. However, Instagram is for the young and filtered; if you work in a dingy basement, perhaps skip posting the work environment on this social media site.

5. LinkedIn

Posting on LinkedIn is less important than making sure your company page is up-to-date. Be sure to upload your logo, accurately and thoroughly describe your services and update important information that changes.

Most importantly… your social media platforms should speak to your company’s values and let your customers and clients know you want to engage in conversation with them. An interesting stream of information might just be the thing to set you apart from your competitors.

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