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Open Source: The Clear Choice for CMS Development

by Tom Snyder

My digital agency opened its doors in January of 1996. Back then, there were no proprietary Content Management Systems. Microsoft was still dismissing the notion of the web as a viable platform for business or e-commerce activity. If a website needed functionality, unless we could find something at Matt's Script Archive to accomplish the task, we built most of it from the ground up in Perl.slideshow01.jpg

As time went on, we simply continued to ride the open source path. We assembled a huge collection of functional applications we had built for client sites that could be added to and modified for new ones. Shopping carts, contact forms, opt-in email list managers, employment opportunity listings, content editors, slide shows, all built as open source using PHP.

A few years later came the emergence of Content Management Systems, which contained—as a package—many of the functional elements we previously had relied upon our own resources to create. Drupal, Joomla!, Wordpress, and others were emerging as the default new development platforms for most digital agencies who had followed the same path as ours.

Then came platforms like Magento and Concrete5, which began with a view to eventually evolve into enterprise solutions with a price tag designed to achieve profit motives. But the initial efforts of their foundational community editions were still fueled by the passion of development communities who helped to develop the core functionality. Along with them came a huge array of $5, $50, and $100 plugins and extensions to add custom functionality to meet almost any client needs. And because the open source model extended to those plug-ins and extensions, individual developers could make further modifications to meet even more demanding client requirements.

And all of this was designed to run on license-fee-free Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP operating systems running on low-overhead hardware.

The common thread was that all of these were—and still are—tools developed by people with a common purpose. That purpose was a desire to help the internet achieve its potential by providing individuals, businesses, and organizations with amazingly robust and fully functional, but still cost-effective, web presences.

During this same time, several software companies used investment money to create expensive proprietary content management and e-commerce systems designed to run on operating systems and databases with enormous licensing fees, and requiring lots of expensive hardware. Total cost of implementation and ownership ran five to 10 times that of their open source counterparts.

For the mega-corporations with huge budgets that are used to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on just about everything they do, and that believe no credible solution comes without an equally huge price tag, it provides the opportunity for lots of money to change hands.

That's fine if that's your business model. However, for a smaller digital agency, it's hard to start every web development project watching tens of thousands of dollars pass through from the client to the software companies just to create the development platform. That takes a lot of money off the table that could have been used to create more functionality, or pay for a year of post-launch support for inbound marketing and other enhancements.

Additionally, the open source model has always provided us with the flexibility and customization possibilities to always provide the client with a user experience and backend functionality that adapts to their specific needs and business model. Many closed source proprietary systems do just the opposite, forcing the business to accept the rules and functionality limits built into the system.

Smart digital agencies know that if providing value, return on investment, and total customization are all key components to their brand and value proposition, the open source model is, and has always been, the far better choice.

This article originally appeared at Opensoruce.com

Why Your Website Could be Disappearing from Google on April 21st.

wheressite.jpgIf you’re focusing your website efforts exclusively on how your website appears in your desktop browser (or it’s just been years since you redesigned your website to be mobile friendly), that sound you’re hearing is your company’s digital death rattle. And I am not exaggerating.

In my last blog, I outlined the reasons why it’s critical to take your mobile users’ customer experience seriously. The growing body of evidence continues to back up my assertion that you’ve really needed to have been doing that for years. And while large numbers of business owners and marketers have been hoping that the data is wrong and, incredibly, still taking a wait and see attitude, last week, Google made an announcement that puts a hard stop on any further procrastination.

Google has announced that on April 21, 2015, they will be adjusting their algorithms to push websites with a mobile-friendly user experience to a higher rank, and pushing down…and even out…sites that don’t.

Those of us in the SEO field who live and die by the latest algorithm shifts have heard insinuations, hints and rumors over the years as Google has historically been vague about any upcoming changes to keep black-hats and other miscreants from jacking the system and getting sites on page one who don’t deserve to be there. This time, it’s different. Google has officially released the date and implications as a non-negotiable, immutable, and unexploitable prerequisite to prepare for. How serious the punishment will be for non-mobile-friendly sites is not certain, but experts in our field, and even the media are already calling it “SEO-Pocalypse” And “Mobilegeddon.” So we’re prepared for the results to be substantial.

To see if your site is ready for the new search reality, go to Google's Mobile Webmaster tool  and enter your website address.

If your site is mobile friendly, congratulations! The impact of the upcoming algorithm should not be negative. It will likely even be positive for you.

However, if your website is not mobile-friendly and it relies on Google searches for a significant amount of traffic (and revenue), be ready to lose a significant amount of both on April 22.

It’s ironic that it will take a shot across the bow like this to get many businesses and organizations to do what they should have done simply to meet their customer expectations and create a great, intuitive experience for their visitors regardless of the device they’re using. But if that’s what it takes, then that’s a good thing.

Unfortunately, a month is not enough time to design, develop and launch a new, strategically conceived, SEO responsive corporate website. But once it’s launched, Google’s spiders will eventually discover your mobile friendly site, and while you’ll never make up the revenue you’ll lose during that time, you’ll eventually restore some of the ranking ground you lost.

But it’s still not enough.

A basic mobile experience as an accommodation or second screen may get you over the Google bar, but even if the search engines send traffic to your site, you’ll still be losing brand affinity, conversions and revenue. The latest research is showing that even making mobile just as a first screen is likely hurting your success.

The market is telling us it’s time be planning for a “mobile-only” user experience. I’ll explain (and back it up with data from a new study) in my next blog.

 

Think Your Website is Mobile? Think Again!

Man-frustrated-with-phone.jpgAs a web marketing pioneer since 1995, my life has been in a constant state of frustration with marketers who have never been as eager to embrace the power of new possibilities as quickly as I thought they should.   It began with a survey taken the year I opened my agency that said 87% of all business owners believed they would never have a need for the web… EVER! It has taken a path through resistance to search engine optimization (which we began doing in 1996), e–commerce (which we began doing in 1997), email marketing (which we began doing in 1998), online Social communities (which we first did in 1999) and social media marketing (which we began doing in 2009). Eventually, universal best practices caught up to include each of those, and we were able to use the several years of experience our competition didn’t have to meet the needs of clients now willing to explore each “new” tactic, method or technology.


Frustrations of a Mobile Early Adopter

We created our first mobile websites 14 years ago for ourselves and Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport. With the Kyocera Smart Phone being the only mobile device in existence back in 2001, we were admittedly way ahead of the curve. But we knew that mobile’s amazing proliferation in Japan foreshadowed a similar explosion in the US. It wasn’t until the 2007 debut of the first iPhone, and emergence of Android phones in 2008 that it actually began to happen here. That was the beginning of our push, via our recommendations and our blog, to urge all businesses to create a web experience for their customers who preferred to interact with them via mobile devices. A handful jumped onboard immediately, and more followed.  However, 8 years later, still less than half of those clients have a website that is mobile-friendly.  And only our newest clients and a handful of fellow-visionaries have a site that is fully responsive to be viewed intuitively on any device or display size.

Introducing the “Mobile-First” Best Practice

While some would say we should be happy that we’re making progress, the sad fact is that we’re falling even further behind. The call to accommodate a mobile experience actually ended several years ago when it was replaced with a new best practice: designing your web presence with a mobile FIRST experience.

A design process that just accommodated mobile began first with a desktop user experience. Then, using a practice called graceful degradation, it removed the elements and formatting that prevented the desktop experience from displaying satisfactorily on tablets and smart phones.  Mobile first is just what it says. The first user experience, wireframe and design comp is the smartphone portrait mode.  Then, using progressive enhancement, features and design elements are added as the larger platforms and displays allow.  That approach is more difficult, and as you’d expect more expensive. But wise site owners who embraced that approach early on had their sites ready to capitalize on the shift that happened in mid-2014 when the number of website visits via mobile devices permanently surpassed that of the number via the conventional desktop machines.

That change in mobile first focus is causing a whole new analytic: users who begin their desired transaction with you on their smartphone, but frustrated with the functional or UX limitations you’re imposing on them had to go to a tablet or desktop to complete the transaction or desired task, or even decided not to do business with you at all.

What Comes Next?

As a result of those statistics, the next step in UX is emerging: The Mobile-ONLY approach. A recent report from the Altimeter Group demonstrates how fast the paradigm is shifting, and how quickly website owners and other developers are falling behind.  In my next blog, I’ll share some of the alarming statistics from that report and tell you how developers like Trivera are adapting.

How Much Should You Invest in Digital Marketing for 2015?

website-development-budget1.jpgAlthough most companies planned their 2015 marketing budgets in the last months of 2014, a new Gartner report will give you some guidance as to whether your planned investment will match that of your competitors.

According to the report, most companies plan to allocate a little more than 10% of their topline revenue for marketing in 2015, with 50% planning to increase their spend over 2014 levels.

Two thirds of companies these days still separate digital marketing as a separate category out of their overall marketing budget, with the average amount allocated to the digital efforts at a quarter of that budget.

Most companies plan to make Customer Experience their highest priority for the upcoming year, allocating 18% of their marketing budget on improving that.

The typical company will allocate 13% of their budget for Digital Advertising, with content marketing and website development just behind at 12% each.

The following chart shows how those numbers break out in dollars for various size companies:

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Those numbers may seem large to some. But there is plenty to spend it on. Our own observations confirm dozens of other studies that show how far many businesses have fallen behind in their digital marketing efforts. Few companies have responded to the shift in paradigm from desktop to mobile as the preferred customer experience. Most companies still fall behind when it comes to the latest best practices for SEO, PPC and content marketing. With email marketing and Social Media competing as the tool that creates greater results, and new transactional functionality emerging all the time, there is no shortage of digital initiatives to add to a company’s arsenal of marketing tools. 

Smart marketing decision-makers already know what they need to do to take full advantage of digital marketing to build their brand awareness, generate leads, and serve existing clients. But many have had difficulty convincing their CEOs, and CFOs to invest enough to drive efforts that will produce meaningful results.

These numbers will provide them with the evidence they need to argue their case and make sure they have the necessary dollars allocated to stay ahead of their competition.

 

Craig Schneider Joins Team Trivera

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Craig Schneider has joined TeamTrivera as a designer/front-end developer.

Craig is one of those guys who possesses the unique talent of being able to create awesome, intuitive, user-friendly website designs and then using frameworks and content management systems to turn them into fully functional websites. 
 
Craig comes aboard after a long tenure at Kalmbach publishing where most recently he was Interactive Art Director. In that role, he had been overseeing all of Kalmbach's digital properties including their 20 web sites and a team of 2 designers.  He has also been part of their Internet Strategic Development group and participated in the ideation and planning of their web-based products.
 
Craig was instrumental in leading Kalmbach into the Digital realm. On top of building the layouts and interactivity, he also worked with their in-house development team to build custom storefronts for 3 of their publications that had in-app purchases. And most recently, Craig helped lead them into responsive web design, moving 10 of their sites in that direction.  All of that experience has combined make him the perfect fit for our team.
 
When not working, Craig is an avid golfer, loves playing softball, outdoor recreation. Like the rest of the members of TeamTrivera he enjoys spending time with his family. He is also a loyal cheesehead who loves going to Packer, Badger, and Brewer games.
 
 

Scott Zsori Becomes Team Trivera's Newest Member

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Scott Zsori has joined Team Trivera as our newest back end developer.    

Scott first talked to us about coming here in 2002, but the stars weren't correctly aligned at the time. 12 years later, things finally worked out for him to come aboard as our newest back-end developer.

Scott has been working in the web as long as Trivera has, doing all of the same things, in the same languages and platforms as we do it. If it is needed for web development, he knows it, and knows it very well. But he also knows how to communicate highly technical concepts to non-technical people, making him perfect for his position at Trivera.
 
An example of just how smart Scott is: In his spare time, he created and is currently the president of TheTVDB.com, a site that contains an open database of television metadata used by thousands of websites and apps, including Plex, Kodi and some of the world's largest search engines.  While you might not be familiar with the site, you're probably actually a user of the data housed in it. The site's API is used by hundreds of thousands of people, gets 6 billion hits (yes, that billion with a B) and consumes 120TB of bandwidth monthly.
 
Even with all that he has free time! He enjoys spending time with his son and wife, playing video games like Dota 2 and Minecraft, cooking, debating politics, camping, swimming, and playing volleyball.  He loves the Green Bay Packers, his Kindle, his two dogs, a multitude of pond and aquarium fish, and dad jokes.  In high school he placed first in Wisconsin in his division in Academic Decathlon and was ranked in the top 50 Quake players in the world.  He's considered the best dad in the world by at least one first grader.

 

Yikes! What's Up With Your Website?

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The amount of stuff wrong with the average company website is flabbergasting. And I'm not just talking about those free DIY websites. Or the ones designed by low cost, low talent developers. Or even the ones that some agencies pretending to understand digital best practices charged way too much for.

As someone whose job it is to stay on top of current industry best practices, I can tell you that the rate at which the criteria changes is often overwhelming. And so, I'm even talking about the sites that solid firms like Trivera may have built for you a year or two ago.

Thus the need for regular, in depth site audits. If done correctly, those audits take a look at the following barometers of website health:

1.) SEO. The algorithms that search engines use to determine whether a site comes up on page 1, 10, or not at all, change weekly. While Google uses dozens of specific criteria to determine where your site comes up in searches, the overarching consideration that it uses now is whether or not people "like" your site. A significant number of people who come to your website may not.

A professional site audit will help identify the things that may be preventing you from getting the SEO rank you deserve. Correcting those issues will be the key to appearing above the fold on page one, the only place where meaningful click-throughs happen.

2.) Content. Your website communicates specific things to specific site visitors. To human visitors, it provides the necessary information to reinforce your brand's value proposition, spoken in a voice that reflects your brand personality. To the indexing spiders the search engines send to your site, it gives them information they need to determine whether or not your site will come up when certain keywords are searched for. The trick is crafting content that will do both.

A professional site audit will evaluate the effectiveness, readability, clarity, necessity, depth and formatting of all your content (text, graphics, tags, video, and supporting files).

3.) Page Design and Layout. People have conscious and subconscious expectations of what every website needs to have, and where...and how...it needs to be displayed. If it’s not right, they won't like it. It's bad enough that Google will penalize you for that, but even worse, if people do find your website, they'll be less likely to do business with you.

A professional site audit will help identify whether your site measures up and what needs to be done to build and strengthen your brand relationships.

4.) Device-Dependent User Experience. With mobile device web usage predicted to surpass desktop/laptop usage, it's critical to have a user experience that is equally rewarding and easy to use for all your visitors regardless of device. Just scaling your desktop site to display on a smartphone with navigation too small to read on tiny displays and buttons designed for mouse clicks, not fat fingers, drives mobile visitors away.

A professional site audit will tell you if you're getting, and capitalizing on, the amount of mobile traffic that you should be.

5.) Conversions. The goal of your website is to attract and convince potential customers to do business with you, and if possible even facilitate the transaction. A website that makes your brand hard to identify, your message unclear and transactions hard to execute prevents that.

A professional site audit identifies those barriers and obstacles so they can be removed, allowing your website to be a revenue generator, and not just an expense.

6.) Security Vulnerabilities. The web is teaming with hackers and crackers who find their identities (and their fortunes) in locating and taking advantage of websites they can exploit. Their methods include creating fake login screens to steal credit card, bank and personal info, and even using those hijacked sites to send the thousands of spam emails that send the unwitting there to be fooled

A professional site audit will be able to gauge how likely your site is to be used to trick people into using your site to give their money to crooks.

These are just some of the items that a professional site audit does for your digital presence. Just like it's impossible to effectively proof-read your own copy, it's also impossible to perform a complete and effective audit on your own site. Site audits are one of Trivera's core competencies. Virtually every site can use a talented set of eyes like ours to take a look at it through the above lenses, say "yikes," and get it on the road to success.

Let us know when we can take a peek at yours.

Trivera's Tom Snyder to Speak at 2014 BizExpo

tom-snyder1.jpgOn May 21, 2104, hundreds of Milwaukee area business owners and professionals will descend upon Potawatomi Bingo Casino to learn about the latest trends and best practices at the BizExpo, presented by BizTimes Media.  The event consists of dozens of booths, several award events and an impressive list of  seminars led by some of the area's most knowledgeable business leaders and experts.

Among them are Trivera President and CEO Tom Snyder who will be presenting  "The 5 Digital Marketing Mistakes You're Probably Making." at 2:45 in seminar Room C.  

In the 18 years he's been in the digital marketing field, Tom has watched thousands of owners, agencies and marketers struggle to figure out how to use web technology to help their businesses. As the parade of almost universally misunderstood shiny objects...websites, email marketing, search engine optimization, Social Media and mobile...marched on, he has seen a lot of those businesses succeed, but he's seen even more fail. Ultimately, the challenge is effectively integrating proven marketing tactics with the newest technologies. Tom will identify five of the most common digital marketing mistakes most businesses and organizations make, why those mistakes are preventing them from acheving the results they’re looking for, and what they should be doing instead. 

The session will also help them avoid a sixth digital marketing mistake they're also probably making by encouraging them to attend Trivera's upcoming Social Media University - Milwaukee on June 11th, also being held at Potawatomi Bingo Casino.

Admission to the event and all sessions is free, but requires pre-registration.

Date Set for Social Media University 2014

SMUM2014-logo.jpgIn the summer of 2009, Trivera produced Social Media University, the very first conference of its kind in Milwaukee. Nearly 400 marketers, business owners and agencies gathered at the Italian  Conference Center to learn about this potentially powerful, but still relatively unknown marketing vehicle. Now 5 years later, experience has replaced theory, and reality has eclipsed the optimism. Still a leading authority on Social Media, Trivera presents another daylong event on June 11, 2014 to educate and inspire the market about the importance of all aspect s of social media in your marketing and business strategy.

DSC_6725.JPGThis year's event will be held at Potawatomi's Woodland Dreams Ballroom and Expo Center on 17th and Canal St.  Centrally located, the facility provides easy access, more room, and free parking for attendees.

Just like last event, the focus will be on providing you with practical hands-on knowledge from experts who are in the trenches helping real businesses and organizations just like yours, to successfully use Social Media as a marketing and business tool with the insight of 5 years of hands on experience  Several speakers have already been confirmed on a wide array of topics:

  • Tom Snyder (President, CEO, Trivera) - Social Media 5 Years Later - Strategy is Still The Key
  • Christina Steder (President, Clear Verve Marketing) - Integrating Traditional and Social Media, Not Only Possible but Necessary
  • Wayne Breitbarth (Author) -  LinkedIn, your B2B Social Media Secret Weapon
  • Christopher Graham (Digital Media Specialist, Potawatomi Bingo Casino) - Managing and Measuring Your Social Media Efforts
  • Paul Stillmank (President and CEO, 7 Summits) - Business Benefits of Building Internal and External Online Communities
  • Michelle D'Attilio and Jeanette Pham (Sosh) - Creating and Maintaining a Social Media Editorial Calendar
  • Chris Remington (VP Business Development and Client Strategies, Trivera) - Keeping Your Website Relevant in a Social Media World
  • Katie Fleming and Cory Ampe (Trivera) - How Social Media impacts Your Position in the Search Engines


Other sessions will include the latest techniques to help you understand and leverage Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, YouTube and Pinterest (presenters to be announced).

DSC_6857.JPGA panel discussion will reunite members from  the  similar panel of  five years ago and add a few others to share the secrets to the successes they have achieved as Social Media...and their business paths...have evolved over the last 5 years. Panel members include: Joe Woelfle (Blatz Liquor, now State Farm Insurance), Joe Sorge (Founder of AJ Bombers and now President  of -  Hospitality Democracy), Scott Baitinger (Founder of Streetza Pizza, now CMO at Verlo Mattress Factory Stores), and Leslie Rivers (Marketing Associate- Milwaukee Ballet).

Rounding out the day will be an afternoon keynote from a digital strategist from a brand you know and trust ( to be announced shortly).

A variety of exhibitors will have booths to showcase their products and services. And the day will be capped off by a networking reception with cash bar.

DSC_0855.JPGTickets are $139, ($129 if 3 or more from the same company register at the same time) and include continental breakfast, lunch, snacks and beverages. Because some speakers are yet to be announced, we're offering early bird registration tickets at $119 each till March 31st. Register at SocialMediaMilwaukee.com

The first Social Media University Milwaukee sold out. Buy your tickets early to reserve your spot. Don't miss out! Follow @GoSMUM on Twitter, or find Social Media Unversity - Milwaukee on Facebook.

Trivera Turns 18!

happy18thbirthday.jpgRegardless of our age, we all celebrate our birthdays every year. But, there are a few birthdays that mark milestones.  Sweet 16 marks a passage to the age where one can drive a car. 21 is when one is legally allowed to consume alcohol. 30, 40 and 50 are often marked with black balloons and taunts of being over the hill. I'm facing...gasp...my big 6-0 in February (or as I've chosen to call it, my second 30th birthday), but I digress.

One of the most special birthdays is the 18th. It marks the passage from youth to adulthood. You're reckoned by society as wise and mature enough to vote, get married without parental consent, and serve your country in the military. 

Today, Trivera celebrates our 18th birthday.  Back on January 16th, 1996, we became one of the very first...and one of only a handful of...web design and development agencies in Wisconsin.

At the time, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari didn't exist, just Mosaic and Firefox's predecessor Netscape. There was neither a Google nor a Bing  - the top search engines were Alta Vista, Excite, Lycos, Webcrawler and Infoseek. There was no eBay, Netflix or Wikipedia.  Joomla!, Drupal, Wordpress and Concrete5 were all years from being born. Email marketing and Social Media didn't exist. Nor did Digg, Tumblr or even RSS. Smartphones, mobile devices, tablets, iPhones and iPads hadn't been invented. Pinterest, Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or even MySpace? Not even on the drawing board! There was no broadband or wifi - internet connections came via a slow dial-up modem.  And 87% of all businesses polled in a survey said that the web was a fad, and they would never have a need for it. Ever. 

Our name back then was Websight Solutions, and our tagline was "web sites with vision." Fitting because back then, anyone who was doing anything on the web had to be visionary. Jeff Bezos had just started Amazon.com. Jerry Yang and David Filo had just incorporated Yahoo!. Craig Newmark had just launched Craig's List.

And there was us.

But we convinced Usinger's, Mitchell Airport, and FrankMayer and Associates to take their first leap onto the web. In those early years, our other early adopters inlcuded Aurora and Ministry Health Care, Holy Hill, the Marcus Center, Milwaukee Harley-Davidson and Mustela. Since then, we've been proud to have also helped other noteworthy locally-based brands like Potawatomi Bingo Casino, Strattec Security Corporation, Simplicity, Perlick and Dental Associates, as well as national brands like Motorola, Lotus, Frabill, and Panasonic.  We just started working on Frank Mayer and Associates' 43rd project, and are just wrapping up Mitchell Airport's 30th. In a few weeks, InvestorsBank becomes the most recent member of the Trivera story with the launch of their new site

Despite the fact that over 18 years we've seen the web go from infancy to youthful exuberance and on to a mature and necessary component of every business' marketing arsenal, for most marketers, how to make it work is still is a mystery. So we've been honored to have hundreds of other clients ask us to help them figure it out. Some big,  some small, some household names, others obscure to all but their niche customers.  But the one thing they all have in common is that they needed someone to help them navigate through the rapidly evolving, and quite confusing world of digital marketing, web design, e-commerce, email marketing, search engine marketing, Social Media and mobile, and they chose to trust us, originally as Websight Solutions, then as wirestone, and now for the last dozen years as Trivera.  

2014 will be a year of bold new plans: new customers, new partners, continued expansion, and the 5 year reunion edition of 2009's Social Media University. So Happy Birthday to us! Thanks to our awesome clients for their years of support, and our awesome team members who helped us earn that support. As we blow out the candles on our birthday cake, our wish is for another 18 years of success for us, but more importantly for all our clients because they've given us the opportunity to help them succeed.

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