Thank you to Valley Business FRONT for featuring our Director of Digital Marketing, Carrie Cousins, in their June 2024 issue.

It’s a common thought – and rightly so – that people don’t fully read most things put in front of them. This is especially true when it comes to your website.

What if you are creating a barrier unintentionally almost ensuring that your content doesn’t get read? What if you are turning an audience away or sending a signal that you don’t care because the design is challenging for them to understand?

From readability to accessibility, how you communicate through design speaks volumes about your business and the relationship you have with customers.

But first, let’s dive into two key terms of “designed” communication online:

  • Readability: The ease of which someone can scan text quickly and understand the words. Readability relates to everything from the typeface you use to the amount of space between lines of text to how long or short sentences span across the screen.
  • Accessibility: The degree to which people with different abilities can access content in a way that they understand. From a design perspective, this can include elements such as color contrast, text size, and making sure everything has a “readable” label.

Both are important because they determine if your website is easy to understand. Clear communication is a key to reading comprehension and even overall website conversions.

Readability and accessibility are pretty complex topics but in the most simple form it comes down to this: Is your communication clear and understandable by all?

While this is by no means an all-inclusive list; here are five things you can do to facilitate readability and accessibility. (We’ll focus everything here on design elements for your website.

  • Avoid text effects (or use them sparingly); this includes all caps, underlines, too much centered text, or elaborate or novelty typefaces that make you think to read.
  • Give all text elements in the design room to stand alone. You should be able to look at a page and clearly identify different text elements and their groupings, such as headlines, subheaders, body text, or captions. There should be adequate space between lines of text, that’s often 1.25 to 1.5 times the height of the typeface’s characters.
  • Pay close attention to color. Text elements should have strong contrast with background elements to ensure they are readable for all people, including those with limited color vision. WebAIM has a great color contrast checker that allows you to enter the color codes for background and text colors to see if they pass basic guidelines.
  • The same concept applies to text size. Text on the page should have an obvious and distinct hierarchy, from large to small, using a scale that’s easy for the eyes. Most designers will start with a set of specifications for the body text and scale from there.  
  • Use a little math to ensure that your body text size (often the smallest on your website) is easy to read. No matter what typeface you use, the ideal width of a line of copy from left to right is 50 to 75 characters. This means that you probably should not have a text frame that extends all the way across on a desktop screen.

Readability and accessibility are a growing concern for website designs. It’s important to plan new website builds with intention and in a way that makes them work for your target audience. Dive deep into website accessibility with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Carrie Cousins is the Director of Digital Marketing at LeadPoint Digital in Roanoke. For 15+ years, she has helped businesses tell their stories and get better results online with practical digital marketing strategies. She also an active leader in AAF, serving on the local and district boards, and is an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. 

Thank you to Valley Business FRONT for featuring our Director of Digital Marketing, Carrie Cousins, in their May 2024 issue.

After writing some 1,500-plus posts for a variety of clients, I can almost claim to be an expert blogger.

I’ve written about nonprofit fundraising, retail business, website design, a variety of tools, outdoors and tourism, photography, and plenty of other things. Some posts were better than others but they all served a common purpose – to help users find the website for which they were written while telling a good brand story.

I recently spoke on this topic with AAF Roanoke and a class at Virginia Tech and thanks to their feedback, I’m sharing it with you.

Blogging and storytelling plays a huge role in your website’s search engine optimization strategy and even business success. And while there’s not a one-size-fits all solution, I have learned a few things that you can replicate if you want to blog like a boss.

First and foremost, a solid blogging strategy is rooted in good storytelling. As you continue to tell your story over time, that content creates a strong foundation for your website and helps search engines better understand your brand.

This doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not necessarily easy. But blogging can be rewarding in the long run and can be a vital part of a long-term digital marketing strategy.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Do Your Homework: What story do you need to tell? What should readers do after they engage with your content? You need to do some legwork and set a goal for every piece of content you plan to create. Know who you want to talk to, what keywords are important, why they should care, and what users should do next.
  • Tell a Story That Humans Want to Read: Every story has a formula – it has a beginning, middle, and end often with conflict and resolution – and you’ve crafted something people want to read. AI also has a pretty distinct formula that can’t get close to the authenticity of human copywriting. (Plus, using AI could lead to duplicate content issues online!) Margaret Atwood said it best: “You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it.”
  • Think Keyword Times Three: Every keyword needs to be used a minimum of three times in a blog post – in the title, in the first paragraph, and in a subhead. You can use it more, depending on the length of the post, but not more times than feels like natural reading. (When it feels natural delete one instance and then you should be safe.)
  • Write Short Paragraphs with One Thought Each: Themed paragraphs should be short and sweet, with just a couple of sentences each. Consider this formula for blog paragraphs: Statement of fact for what this paragraph is about. Supporting facts, metrics, or information to solidify the thought. Finish with a strong statement or quote to support the idea.
  • Optimize Blog Post Length: Google recommends a blog post length of at least 300 words. That’s a realistic minimum to say something meaningful. What’s more interesting is that most of the top-ranking blog posts in Google search can actually top 2,000 words! That doesn’t mean you have to wax poetic every time; write to the length that your story needs to be effective. Then check the word count. If your story is super short, you might not have enough content right now and should come back to the idea later. If it is exceptionally long, is all of the content valuable as a single post or would it make sense to break it into multiple, shorter posts? It’s ok to incorporate and interchange short-form and long-form content in your blog strategy.

This is just the tip of the iceberg; you can download the rest of the slide deck with the more technical tips at leadpointdigital.com/aafroa. I hope it tells a story that resonates with you.

Carrie Cousins is the Director of Digital Marketing at LeadPoint Digital in Roanoke. For 15+ years, she has helped businesses tell their stories and get better results online with practical digital marketing strategies. She also an active leader in AAF, serving on the local and district boards, and is an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. 

Thank you to Valley Business FRONT for featuring our Director of Digital Marketing, Carrie Cousins, in their April 2024 issue.

Recently a job candidate came to the interview, and I never saw his face. 

In another instance, someone was wearing a hoodie (hood up no less) during a meeting with people from multiple companies. 

And in a one-on-one meeting, the other person chomped an apple while we talked social media strategy. 

All of these meetings were online and beg the question: What message are you sending during Zoom/Teams/Google meetings? Do we live in a work culture so casual that body language can be disregarded? 

Regardless of the reason, you are sending the wrong message to the person on the other side of the screen. No matter how much zoom fatigue you may be experiencing, it’s time to turn the cameras back on, dress professionally (at least from the waist up), and make virtual eye contact. 

These things tell everyone you are meeting with that they are important and you care about what they have to say. And if you don’t … then why are you having the meeting in the first place?

Here are some of the unintended messages you might be sending.

  • Camera off: I’m not paying attention to what’s going on here.
  • Improper or casual dress: You aren’t important to me.
  • Eating or having food/drink on camera: I’m bored. 
  • Pets on camera: I was too lazy to close the door. 
  • Turn around and talk to someone else: They are more important than you.
  • Entering the meeting late: Your time does not matter to me. 

Here are some messages you should try to send:

  • Blurred background: I’m working from home or a busy office today and don’t want to create distractions.
  • Unblurred background: I value authenticity and trust you in my space.
  • Proper positioning: I took the time to prepare for this meeting by aligning my camera.
  • Maintain eye contact (look at the camera while speaking and while others are speaking to you): I value your thoughts and time. 
  • Mute strategically: I understand there are distractions and noise in my space and I’m trying to keep those to a minimum.

Because video meetings can be efficient and make it easy to communicate with clients all over the world, they are unlikely to go away. 

But you must be present and treat video calls with the same care that you would if you were meeting in person. Otherwise, you might end up like that candidate who didn’t turn on his camera – unappreciated and unemployed. 

Carrie Cousins is the Director of Digital Marketing at LeadPoint Digital in Roanoke. For 15+ years, she has helped businesses tell their stories and get better results online with practical digital marketing strategies. She also an active leader in AAF, serving on the local and district boards, and is an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. 

Thank you to Valley Business FRONT for featuring our Director of Digital Marketing, Carrie Cousins, in their March 2024 issue.

When it comes to online real estate – your website, social presence, email, and more – where your assets live can make a big difference.  

Renting versus owning your digital home can impact everything from control of your brand and assets to search engine optimization. Just like with real estate, owning your assets provides protection against market fluctuations and the peace of mind that your content is truly yours.  

What is “Renting” an Online Presence? 

When you rent your online presence, you are using someone else’s tools or platform as a home for your brand, content, and information. This topic has gained importance recently as Google announced that all business profiles using the free website option lose those websites on March 1.  

That’s rented real estate and you have no choice but to move – quickly.  

While most of you probably don’t have a free Google website, you may be doing this same thing with other platforms.  

The most common rental is social media. Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, and others are all valuable places to put business information, but you can’t control the delivery of the content or if the platform will even exist tomorrow. (Yes, a social media channel could shut down and all your content goes with it.) 

Other “rental” solutions include popular website platforms like Squarespace or Wix, where you build a website in a builder that includes your domain registration and hosting. If that platform were to shutter, where would your content be? (The answer is likely nowhere or in the hands of the owner that is most likely going to make major changes to the platform.)

Yes, renting a digital home is easy and somewhat effortless, but you are at the mercy of the provider any time something changes.  

  • Your website provider has a rate increase? You have to pay it.  
  • Facebook knocks your content out of their algorithm unless you pay for ads? You have to find additional budget to reach the same customers.  
  • Your website platform discontinues service? You have to rebuild fast.  

Why “Owning” is a Better Investment 

When you own your online presence, you have access to all of your digital assets that can’t be revoked or taken away by a third party. Elements like your logo variations, photos, and video fall into this category if you store the files using a physical or cloud server. (Plus, a backup is recommended.) 

Other things you can own include your domain name, website, and email list. 

Generally, you know a digital asset is owned because it likely includes an upfront investment of time, setup, and/or money. Just like owning a home, these investments can increase in value over time. (Did you know search engines value domains that have been around a long time?) 

What’s probably most important about owning your digital assets is that you have control to change, move, or transfer digital assets between accounts or even marketing agencies on your own. Any reputable partner will work with you on accounts, ensuring that both parties have access to everything. It’s a red flag if someone won’t give you access to your business account information, such as a domain or website access.    

Rent vs. Own 

Rented assets are quick, cheap, and don’t come with any maintenance. The biggest risks are closure or cost inflation. Use this option for things that don’t generate much revenue for your business or if an ownership option is not available.  

  • Rent: Social media, email marketing provider, review sites or maps (such as Google My Business or Yelp), digital advertising platforms, licensed media or tools 

The benefit to owning is that you are building brand and online equity at the same time. You have control of your online presence and assets and can even monetize them. You should own all revenue-driving aspects of your business (such as a website that’s driving leads or sales for your business). 

  • Own: Domain, website, media storage, email list, analytics or historical data, your created content (blogs, photos, videos)  

Owning your digital house is a worthwhile investment. Think of it as your company’s dream home, providing long-term value as you grow your business. 

Carrie Cousins is the Director of Digital Marketing at LeadPoint Digital in Roanoke. For 15+ years, she has helped businesses tell their stories and get better results online with practical digital marketing strategies. She also an active leader in AAF, serving on the local and district boards, and is an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. 

Thank you to Valley Business FRONT for featuring our Director of Digital Marketing, Carrie Cousins, in their February 2024 issue.

Are you sabotaging your own emails before they ever hit the first inbox?

While we all send hundreds of emails each week, sending an email as a brand is a lot different than communication with a colleague or friend. Email marketing is a bit of a relationship that you establish with customers and to do it right you need planning, goal setting, and a dash of technical know-how. 

Some of the most common email mistakes can cause even your best customers to delete messages or might even prevent them from getting there at all. Are you making any of these email marketing mistakes?

1. Sending from a Person’s Name

Do your customers know the names of your employees? For most businesses, it is unlikely. That means sending an email from a person, rather than from your business name could render your emails unopened. (It can also lead to tricky situations every time an employee leaves the company.)

Here’s why this is a problem: Most spam emails are sent from a person’s name (often unknown to the person who gets the email). By sending from your business name, you’ll establish brand recognition and credibility, leading to more potential opens. 

  • Use a generic address for your business, such as info@ or hello@
  • Send from your business domain, such as leadpointdigital.com
  • Include your business name in the “from” field, such as LeadPoint Digital

2. Using too Many Spammy Words

FREE! $ale! OMG!

Email deliverability is greatly impacted by “spammy” words, odd characters, or unusual fonts; almost ensuring your emails go straight to spam filters. 

Start your email with a subject line that’s between 30 and 50 characters and provides direct value for your target audience. 

3. Writing Longform Content

Last time you opened a long email, did you read it? (Or did you roll your eyes and move on?)

Email is not the proper place to share longform content, and it can impact whether the email is even delivered. The ideal file size of an HTML email is 20 to 102 KB. (Text and media contribute.) 

The best way to reduce the overall weight of your emails? Edit that content! An email should have a direct goal, giving the recipient one thing to do, such as clicking a link to learn more about something or buy a product on your website. 

4. Neglecting to Set SPF/DKIM Records

Even if your email content is perfect, it might still need some help to ensure delivery. Every business sending email needs to set SPF and DKIM records. (This may require technical assistance.)

SPF authenticates the sender to ensure that only authorized servers can send emails from your domain. DKIM is used to verify messages haven’t been tampered with in transit. Together, they show that your business is a trustworthy email sender, helping messages bypass spam filters. 

5. Not Using a Schedule 

We are all creatures of habit; therefore, planning an email schedule will help customers know when and what to expect from you, increasing deliverability and open rates. But it’s a bit of magic – send too frequently and your messages won’t have value; send too sporadically and subscribers might ignore the unexpected messages. 

Just the right frequency depends on your business and goals.

If you are making any of these mistakes, don’t fret. Correct your errors and with any luck, you’ll see a boost in email delivery and open rates.

Carrie Cousins is the Director of Digital Marketing at LeadPoint Digital in Roanoke. For 15+ years, she has helped businesses tell their stories and get better results online with practical digital marketing strategies. She also an active leader in AAF, serving on the local and district boards, and is an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. 

Thank you to Valley Business FRONT for featuring our Director of Digital Marketing, Carrie Cousins, in their January 2024 issue.

Do you like personalized ads?

I bet you said “no” almost immediately. Fueling that response is an understanding that personalized ads mean you are giving up an element of information to big companies such as Meta (Facebook) or Google.

But what happens when you disrupt the algorithm? What if everything you are seeing today, mostly posts about things you enjoy and like, shifts to something else altogether?

Recently, I conducted a little experiment in the offices at LeadPoint Digital. I was trying to find a specific type of advertiser for a product I don’t need or see ads for, in this case a new roof. 

  • Hypothesis: You can change the algorithm so that you start seeing different content in your social media feed. 
  • Step 1: Enter search queries for the topic (roofing, new roof, replace roof) in the Facebook search bar. 
  • Step 2: Talk about roofing openly among a group.

At this point you are probably feeling pretty skeptical about this little game. 

But within minutes, I started getting ads for roofers. So many that my entire Facebook feed is packed with contractors, homes with beautiful new shingles, and even companies trying to sell roofing franchises!

Changing the algorithm destroyed my ideal social media browsing experience filled with shoes, clothing, and puppies and replaced it with roofers.

So back to the question: Do you like personalized ads?

For most of us, even if it is hard to admit, the answer is yes. We generally like seeing things that appeal to us and are in alignment with our activities, interests, and daily lives. 

From a business perspective, more personalized (targeted) advertising experiences help us control budgets and engage with people who are most interested in the product or service at hand. 

Good targeting will generate better results for your business from both a brand awareness perspective and when it comes to sales and generating leads. This is why – you are in front of the right people at the right time. 

Did I mention that I actually missed a sale from a brand I love during the roofing ads experiment because that advertiser was actually pushed out of my feed? In turn, that business lost a sale. 

The good news is the algorithms are smart and will normalize to showing ads that are just for me, mostly in part because I will resume normal browsing behavior. 

But there’s an important lesson for all of us: Targeted advertising and personalization works. It impacts consumer behavior and drives sales. And when you don’t have it, online scrolling isn’t near as fun! 

Carrie Cousins is the Director of Digital Marketing at LeadPoint Digital in Roanoke. For 15+ years, she has helped businesses tell their stories and get better results online with practical digital marketing strategies. She also an active leader in AAF, serving on the local and district boards, and is an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech.