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While there are endless ways to build links and tweak on-page code in an attempt to game Google, the best way to bring visitors to your site is to give them new and valuable content. Content is the best SEO strategy.

The truth of content as SEO strategy is that more content means more long-tail keyword phrases which means more opportunities for people to find you in searches. If the content is both useful to the user and relevant to your site, it is likely to convert.

You could ask your users to create your content for you (through user reviews or forums), or you can publish your own original content. For most businesses, blogging is the ideal content channel. Yes, I am asking you to sit down and write something.

Blogging for SEO is not nearly as daunting a task as it seems. Consider the questions that your customers ask you on a regular basis. They’re telling you what they consider your area of expertise. Demonstrate that expertise by answering their questions in a blog post.

In short: There are no quick fixes. You need to give people a reason to come to your site. The best way to do that is by blogging your answers to the questions they’re googling right now.
Quality Assurance is a critical step in the web design process. Before launching a website, we run through the following checklist.

Do all links work?
Do analytics packages (Google, Clickheat) report data?
Is copy edited and error free?
Are favicons present and called in metadata?
Do forms have validation?
Do forms send to the correct recipient?
Do images have alt-text?
Does JavaScript behave as expected, and with a minimum of resources?
Do all pages have descriptive titles?
Do all pages have unique meta descriptions?
Do pages load quickly?
Is a robots.txt present?
Is the server configured & hardened?
Is the site usable at 1024x768?
Is the site usable at 1920x1080?
Is a sitemap present?
Does the site work on Android devices?
Does the site work in Chrome for Mac - Current Version, and two previous versions?
Does the site work in Chrome for Windows - Current Version, and two previous versions?
Does the site work in Firefox for Mac - Current Version, and two previous versions?
Does the site work in Firefox for Windows - Current Version, and two previous versions?
Does the site work in Internet Explorer - Current Version, and two previous versions?
Does the site work on iPad?
Does the site work on iPhone?
Does the site work in Safari - Current Version, and two previous versions?
Has the client signed off on it?
Has the sitemap been submitted to Google, Bing, and Yahoo?

The above checklist is our final measure in assuring quality for our clients. Ultimately the best acid test of the site's quality is how users perceive it.
We recently helped a client improve their conversion rate 36% by adding a guest checkout as the first step in their checkout process. Just as in a grocery store, customers want the fastest checkout possible. Guest checkout removes both a step and the perceived mental hurdle of account creation.

We suspect, but have not tested, that guest checkout subsequently improves repeat purchases. By circumventing passwords, the anxiety of trying to remember a password is removed.

This doesn't mean we should abandon registrations entirely. We discovered in customer surveys that some users, especially older ones, feel as though their order will be "lost" if they're unable to associate an account with it.
Nearly every Sunday, I grab a good book and hit our local cafe. It can be intimidating to choose a marketing book when there are so many, and most of them are rehashings of better books. Which are worth your time? I've reviewed my bookshelf and chosen my all-time top 5 picks that every marketer should read.

Using the visual language of the boardroom, Neumeier presents the first unified theory of branding—a set of five disciplines to help companies bridge the gap between brand strategy and customer experience. Those with a grasp of branding will be inspired by the new perspectives they find here, and those who would like to understand it better will suddenly “get it.”

Whether your goal is to express a new brand or to revitalize an existing one, here is a proven, universal five-phase process for creating and implementing effective brand identity. From research and analysis through brand strategy, design development through application design, and identity standards through launch and governance, Designing Brand Identity is an essential reference for the entire process.

Veteran copywriter Luke Sullivan returns in a third edition of his irreverent warts-and-all look at advertising. Part how-to and part exposé, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This is an insider's guide to coming up with great ideas as well as an unapologetic send-up of all that's heavy-handed, dim-witted, and ineffectual in the industry.

A candid and indispensable primer on all aspects of advertising from the man Time has called "the most sought after wizard in the business".

Underhill, once a budding academic who worked on a William H. Whyte project analyzing how people use public spaces, adapted anthropological techniques to the world of retail and forged an innovative career with the consulting firm Envirosell. Since brand names and traditional advertising don't necessarily translate into sales, Underhill argues that retail design based on his company's close observation of shoppers and stores holds the key.

If you don't have the time to read a book, at least set aside 90 minutes to watch Doug Pray's advertising documentary Art & Copy. It's fun, fast-paced, and inspiring.

Debossed text, commonly called the letterpress effect, has become a lovely trend in web design. The effect can be achieved in Photoshop entirely using layer styles. Try it yourself using these settings:

Use drop shadow to create a fine white highlight along the bottom right of your text.

Add an inner shadow to simulate the depth. Changing the distance of the shadow will exaggerate the effect.

Lastly, use a subtle dark gradient to simulate a light source.

For a more realistic look, try experimenting with a diffused outer glow in the same color as the text to soften the edges.
All QR codes used in public places are vulnerable to a hijack attack by stickers.

By generating QR code stickers that are of roughly the same dimension as the targeted advertisement’s QR code, and laying it over the original QR code, an attacker can hijack any advertisement.

Since a QR code has to be physically accessible to the user to be scanned, all QR codes are effectively vulnerable. While this attack won’t work large scale, it could be deployed in targeted high-traffic areas such as bus stops or retail locations.

Given the sudden prevalence of QR codes by retailers and advertisers, we feel its only a matter of time before hacktivists begin exploiting this flaw as a way of culture jamming.
Analytics data is great for seeing where your traffic comes from, and where it goes, but it has a blindspot in determining what a user specifically does on page. Click heat mapping logs the coordinates of where users click and visualizes them. As more users click an area, it becomes "warmer," with red indicating the areas of highest interest. For example, the heat map below tells us at a glance that our visitors are most interested in our portfolio.

(Heat map of the navigation depicting clicks of 1,764 users during a 7-day period.)

While traditional analytics data can often feel like abstract statistics, heat maps are an easy way to understand user behavior. More importantly, they can diagnose confusing design elements by showing if users are clicking something they shouldn't.

We recommend Labs Media's ClickHeat. It is open source software, released under general public license, and free of charge.
Speculative work (or spec work) is work done at no charge in the hope that it will result in paying work. We will never design on spec, and are confident that our peers won't either. Professional agencies, acting in the best interests of our clients, simply do not design on spec.

Spec work is antithetical to a successful design process as it requires that we start with visual design. Design is only one part of our process, and it certainly isn't the first step. Without first understanding the client's business goals, and their users' demographics, we can't create an informed, collaborative design.

When clients ask for spec work they are demonstrating their willingness to gamble on the success of their project while stating that they don't value our work. It is a disservice to everyone involved. Instead, we are always happy to meet with potential clients to discuss new projects, and what we've learned from our past successes.
We recently wrestled with our own official social media policy. What we realized was that it benefits us when our employees and contractors develop their own personal brands in association with our own. Rather than lock our people down with a social media policy, we instead provided them with our own suggested usages for social media.

We believe that the Draconian social media policies implemented by some businesses are based out of fear and ignorance. When organizations attempt to dictate what and how their employees express themselves online, they reveal themselves to be frightened and myopic.

Instead of engaging in information arbitrage, we recommend letting your people speak. You might be pleasantly surprised by what they have to say.

Read more of our comments in Crain's Chicago Business.