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Author: Jason Haeger

Jason is the man behind Grey Leaf Media. A husband, father of two, web developer, marketer, and coffee roaster with an insatiable urge to learn more.

WordPress logo with laptop, window, potted plant, and pillows in the background

Why WordPress?

For one thing, I really like WordPress. The longer answer is a bit more involved. Let’s start with the idea that web technologies and developers are kind of like music artists and their fans. Fans of certain musicians or styles of music can be fiercely loyal, but also a little possessive and protective of the aspects of the music they identify with. Different languages, frameworks, and platforms often have a similar effect on web and software engineers. Also like music, the newest is often perceived as the most innovative, or the best available. That having been said, I suggest that Mozart serves as a good example to prove that this is not necessarily the case.

The experienced developer will recognize that different situations call for different solutions, and finding the appropriate tool for the job is more important than just copying what someone else is doing.

What I personally specialize in doing, is building brands and websites using content based marketing. This means that our preferred platform should be excellent at being a hub for writing, editing, and publishing good content. It should also be good at categorizing content. Since marketing is an essential aspect, structuring the way content is stored logically, and served in a way that search engines find easy to index, is of great importance. This also means that having the ability to style the content around a cohesive branded design is also equally important. The platform should be easy to start with, so the focus can be only on design, content, and user experience, if necessary. Any framework, tool, or template should be extremely well supported, with a strong community. With WordPress, we get all of this and more.

WordPress is Open Source

WordPress (wordpress.org) is an “open source” software. This means that it is not owned or distributed by a single corporation, but is instead built and maintained by a team of volunteers who are constantly working to make it better.

The Make WordPress introductory content.

From https://make.wordpress.org

WordPress is very well supported. It is so well supported, that it is estimated that ~30% of the known web is powered by WordPress. The larger the pool of participants, the higher the quality of contributions to the code base. This growth is self-perpetuating, as WordPress continues to improve over time.

Today, WordPress is built on PHP and MySQL, and licensed under the GPLv2. It is also the platform of choice for over 30% of all sites across the web.

WordPress.org

 

WordPress is Built on Proven Technologies

Built on PHP, the server side scripting language that powers sites like Facebook, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, Flickr, and MailChimp, WordPress has leveraged the same language and earned its place as a household name.

WordPress can use a MySQL or Maria database for data storage and management, and it can be served on Apache or NGINX. It also makes use of Backbone.js and includes proven tools and jQuery by default.

Linux, NGiNX, MySQL, php logos

WordPress is Extendable

Through plugins or custom themes, WordPress is highly extendable. While being famous as a blog platform, WordPress is being used as a full fledged Content Management System, as a fully featured e-commerce solution, a digital courseware platform, and even as a platform for app development.

A webshop built using WordPress

Screenshot of the e-commerce cart from https://shop.simplehomefinances.com

In short, WordPress is powerful and flexible, able to accomplish what most people and businesses need their website to do.

WordPress is Easy To Use

WordPress was originally built as a platform to write and publish blog content. This means that the focus on user friendliness for writing and managing content is pretty good! WordPress makes it easy for site owners to create, manage, and edit their own content, making it a great business solution. It is important that our clients are able to make small changes or write their own articles. Personal content performs better, so we really encourage businesses to write their own blog content.

the post edit screen in WordPress admin panel

What it looks like to write the post you’re reading right now.

WordPress is Designer and Developer Friendly

Based on open source technologies, being open source itself, with an enormous community, WordPress is a designer and developer’s playground. It is easily achievable to make a high performance, beautiful website that can do almost anything you want it to do. If there is an edge use case that is not supported, it is possible for a developer to build the functionality as a plugin. If a brand has a unique style, quirkiness, or client experience, it is possible to design and build a custom theme without having to throw away the content and code, or start again from nothing.

design and development

WordPress Serves Us Well

Do I use it for everything? No. However, it is safe to say that, for business marketing websites, I use it for most projects. I have been using it for years, and it keeps proving itself time and time again.

Do you love WordPress? Let us know why in the comments below! If you want to put our years of design, development, copywriting, and marketing expertise in your corner, contact us today to start the conversation. We look forward to hearing from you!

laptop open on table in morning light outdoors

Why Your Website’s Design Matters

First impressions are important. Whether interviewing for a job, meeting with a client, or giving a presentation, this common sense conclusion seems to be ingrained in most of us. When the stakes are either not as high, or not as personal, this is often forgotten or misunderstood (wearing nice fall clothes before going for a hike, for example). When it comes to appearance, it doesn’t work to look good if the visual impression doesn’t match the context. This should also be kept in mind when designing a website.

In an age where people use search engines to research a company or organization before making any plans or decisions, the appearance and feel of a website is important. In fact, your website is often the first impression that your potential customers will see. How it looks, and how it makes them feel when they use it each give a conscious or subconscious impression about your brand. Does the design feel clean and fresh? Artistic and alive? Down to earth and practical? How should it feel in order to accurately represent your brand? How should it look to make your clients feel that you really understand them?

Know Thyself

First, revisit your brand’s identity. What is your mission? What are your values? What are you selling? Who are you selling it to? Is there a cultural or sub-cultural context? These should all be considered when deciding the general aesthetic of your website. Once we have a general idea of how it should feel, it’s time to move into the content we are designing for. Related: Getting started with your content strategy

Know Your Audience

What is your message? What makes your brand unique? What kind of a personality does your brand have? These should be woven together when deciding the information architecture, how content is organized and displayed, of your website. Your website should represent your brand in a way that your intended audience can understand and see themselves reflected back in. That is, your website should be relatable.

Be Crystal Clear

The design should make sense. Navigation should be easy. They should be able to tell right away what action they should take. Shop? Call? Order? Email? Read more? Restrict the available choices, and make them simple. The words and the voice of your content should keep them engaged as they choose from the available actions. The design exists to organize and display the content and calls to action. That is, design is the art of solving problems, not art for art’s sake. In web design, the “problem” we are solving is effectively communicating your brand, and encouraging site visitors to take desired actions.

Be Interesting

The design should be interesting, but modest. Clean designs with photographs and white space make sense to visitors without asking them to interpret very much before getting to the message and calls to action. This respects their time, their energy, and keeps their focus where it belongs: on your content. A little interactive design can go a long way to adding interest without adding clutter.

Be Flexible

The design should be responsive. Today, people do more with their smartphones, and depend on them as a primary means of searching and browsing the web. If your website doesn’t look good on a smartphone’s browser, you are alienating a large, and growing, demographic. It’s 2018. Every new website should be ready for a wide range of screen sizes.

Be Familiar

The design should look and feel like it’s from the same family as other assets related to your brand. I might even argue that this is the single most important point to remember. Have you ever gone to a website only to realize that you were in the wrong place just by how it looked and felt? Did you immediately look for the logo to verify that your instinct was right? You don’t want to give your visitors that false negative instinct when visiting a website. Your brand has a personality, which makes sense. After all, business is personal. Your website’s design should represent this personality.

If I Were To Summarize…

While looks alone probably won’t make your business successful, it can go a long way toward helping your future and existing clients. In a sense, your website is taking the place of an elevator pitch, a casual conversation, or a scheduled private meeting. It is available to anyone with internet access any day or time. Creating content that successfully achieves this is important, and the bare minimum we should do with design is to simply not misrepresent the content. Better still, we can support, and even enhance this same great content with good design.

Industrial designer Dieter Rams famously said that good design is as little design as possible. A similar sounding idea that really gets to the heart of good design for a website is this:

“Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it.”

– Jared Spool

Surviving a negative review

How to weather a negative review

The one-star review. Every business with a platform dreads getting hit with a bad rating. How could this have happened? What went wrong? How will it affect how people see my business?

  1. How could it have happened?
    Who knows.
  2. What went wrong?
    Maybe nothing.
  3. How will it affect your public image?
    That all depends… on YOU.

The Unseen Privilege of Getting a Negative Review

Average ratings on platforms like Facebook and Google tend to be carried by their own momentum. If you have enjoyed positive (4-5 stars) reviews, you may be caught off guard by an offbeat criticism. I have been asked many times if a one-star review can be deleted, and if so, how. These questions come from individuals who have been caught off guard, and who have not yet discovered the hidden opportunity that emerges from a public negative review.

The bad news is that you cannot change or remove the review. The good news is that, if handled properly, you can turn an honest critic into a raging fan. The first step is to simply show graceful humility in your public response.

The Customer Is Usually Right

Think objectively about possible scenarios. Did you or your crew have an off day? Was the reviewer’s experience atypical of what your customers have come to expect? If you don’t know, the best thing to do is to apologize for the experience. If the review did not mention it already, ask what could have made their experience better. Simply starting with the assumption that your business was in the wrong can go a long way towards a happy ending.

Read the negative review carefully

Make sure that you carefully read and understand what was written, and what you believe they were intending to say. What kinds of feelings are being communicated, and how can you address their concerns with kindness?

Respond with humility and grace

Not many people appreciate arguing with a business which exists to serve its customers. Respect your critic as though they have the power to harm your public image, because they do. On the other hand, this is an easy opportunity to give your image a boost instead.

Make it right

If the bad rating is accurate, regardless of tone, do whatever is in your power to publicly make it right. This is almost like making a public promise to take care of your customers, whether intentional or not. People respect those who keep their word and their promises, and those who admit to error in humility. Be a hero. Help restore their faith in humanity.

When the Customer is Wrong, Grace above all

If the bad rating is dishonest, or the result of a mistake made by the customer, do your best to protect their dignity as though they were your best friend. Kindly mention the correction, not the mistake. Then, just as if the shoe were on the other foot, make it right. Elevating the customer in this way is showing love, and is a great way to turn a critic into a raging fan.

They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
– Carl W. Buehner

Be consistent

It can be tempting to go a little overboard when trying to convert the critic into a fan. For starters, people are not generally so naive. There is no replacement for authenticity. (This is a recurring theme that you will see us referring to often.) Be authentic in your approach, and be in control of your own emotions, as both will come through in your responses.

Also, be consistent in the way criticisms are handled. If one critic is given a freebie to smooth things over, and another is simply told “sorry,” you are showing a lack of trustworthiness. Of course, these responses may be entirely justified in each one’s own context, however, this may not be apparent if “you had to be there” to understand this. It helps to be conservative with valuable consolations, and to focus more on the relationship than the issue. After all, business is personal. (This is another recurring theme that you will get used to reading here.)

An Ounce of Prevention Is Better

When you have used this strategy in your own business, you begin to get a real sense of the power that lies just beneath the surface of the scar left by a bad rating. Even so, scars hurt. Remember the old adage:

An Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
– Benjamin Franklin

If necessary, rework your operations until you can reliably count on 5 star reviews, with only the very rare occurrence of a 3-4 star rating. Your business relies on your customers, and making them happy should be your top priority.

The Short Version

If you take away only one idea, it should be this: your business is personal, and your customers are in a budding relationship with it. Love them like your business depends on it, and they will love you back.

Plan your marketing efforts for maximum impact

How To Create A Basic Marketing Strategy

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

– a timeless proverb

One does not reap the benefits of a tree for several years after it is planted. The expectations of immediate results is born in the mind of a fool. And yet, the result of the patience demanded of nature is worth more than the cost of planting. A tree that bears fruit does so for many, many years.

What is the marketing equivalent? Is it banner ads? Social media likes? Branded merchandise? Guess again.

Marketing asset that keeps on giving is content. More specifically, evergreen content.

What Is Evergreen Content?

Evergreen content is web content that is always relevant, and is not made worthless by a short passage of time. Just like an orchard of trees is expected to produce fruit, a website’s evergreen content is expected to produce visitors. With the right approach, visitors can be converted into leads. The right leads turn into customers. And customers are the key to success. But how do you get your content in front of the right people who could turn into leads, and later, into customers?

Market Your Content

This is where strategy comes in, starting with publicizing, SEO, and beyond. We will touch on three common approaches, each deserving greater attention than we have room for here.

Share On Social Media

The first way that comes to mind for many, is to share your content on social media. This is a great way to bring awareness to your business. Before you jump right in, take some time to figure out which platform your target audience uses most often, and consider how often they click through to external content.

While you could take the time to share a link to your article with an introductory paragraph on each and every platform, there are things you can do to spend less time getting the same amount of work done. Look into social media management platforms, for example. At Grey Leaf Media, we have a suite of tools to get it done automatically, so you never even have to think about it for most platforms.

Be Found On Search Engines

Another strategy is to write your content to be as useful, relevant, and actionable as you possibly can, given the subject and context. Once you’re happy with the quality of your copy, you can begin to make tweaks to maximize your Search Engine Optimization.

SEO, as it is called, is simply writing web copy strategically, so that it ranks as highly relevant by search engines. This is essentially free traffic, as you are not paying for ads to entice visitors to click through to your website. Google has a free keyword analysis tool, which is helpful. At Grey Leaf Media, we use a host of tools to help your content rank.

Email Your Subscribers

Most online businesses which depend on website visitors and sales use the email marketing strategy as a key part of their marketing efforts. In order to email a list of subscribers, you first need a list of subscribers. There are a few ways to build an email list, which is a topic in its own right. The key thing to remember is that you need to ask them to sign up somehow, and you need to make it worth their while. There are several online businesses who specialize in the management of email lists, and many offer free account levels.

The Takeaway

The first step is to create great copy. If you need help, feel free to contact us for a quote. This content will be indexed by search engines, and the more traffic you can attract from other sources (think social media and referrals from other sites), the more importance search engines will give your site.

The content strategy is the only future-proof strategy, and, like planting trees, it is playing the long game, building a solid foundation for future success.

Sailing into the sunrise

Boats, Business, and Market Growth

The rising tide lifts all boats.
Henry B. F. McFarland

Have you enjoyed the rise of a niche market as it grows into maturity? Have you also noticed that some businesses seem to enjoy enhanced buoyancy compared to others? What about in search results?

Do All Boats Rise?

If you are a legitimate player in your niche industry, it is expected that your business will experience growth when your industry’s market gains in popularity. This is the “rising tide.” A rising tide raises the market equally, however it often appears that some “boats” enjoy greater “buoyancy” than others in this period of growth.

Some Rise Less

There is something to be said for the lean startup. When it comes to managing cashflow, business is just like your personal life. It pays to keep costs down, and to be careful with investments. People who have not learned this lesson in their personal lives often find themselves drowning in debt. So, too, with businesses.

Lesson 1: If you want your boat to rise with the tide, cutting unhelpful costs is like throwing extra weight overboard, and eliminating debt is like plugging holes. A tight ship floats well.

Some Rise More

You may be the best, but how many people in your market know you? Of that number, how many know that you are the best? Have you told them? This is where brand identity and public relations play their part. Customers and clients are aware only of their perception of quality. What have you done to encourage the right perception?

Marketing has the power to transform your merely floating vessel into one that has the ability to rise higher. The message you send out to potential customers is a key part of this. If you are a restaurant, have you talked up the quality of your ingredients? Have you bragged of the flavor combinations in tantalizing detail? Has your staff provided the service that delivers on guests’ expectations of quality? If you have not, now you know what to do.

What Not To Do

What you don’t do can be just as important as what you do. Take note.

Don’t Talk About Your Competition

Think about whose business you want to be promoting. When you talk about your competitors, you take the focus off of your business. When you speak negatively of them, you portray yourself as judgmental, or lacking confidence. If someone else mentions another business to you, briefly say something kind, and tastefully divert the attention back to your own business. Portraying your competitors positively only makes you look better, and referring to your own business in the same context shows that you are confident in your venture. Both are good for cultivating a positive perception of your business.

Don’t Stray Off Course

Many businesses are founded with a specific mission. Anything worth doing for long is bound to become tedious, boring, aggravating, frustrating, any combination of these, and more at some point in the journey. In the beginning, what brought you to the path of entrepreneurship? What sparked the passion and confidence to strike out on your own; to show the world what you’re made of? Remind yourself of why you chose this path often, and grasp tightly to it as though it were your life line — in many ways, it is.

Don’t Lose Confidence

Entrepreneurship is often the surest, and rockiest path to wealth in the United States today. It also carries the risk, some might say the promise, of failure. This is where we recognize one trait that all successful entrepreneurs have in common: persistence.

Bad times are just part of the game, and the secret to success is to never lose confidence in yourself, your product (or service), or the future. Remembering why you initially had the courage and faith in your idea can be a huge help for staying the course.

Mistakes will be made, and the rate of future success is determined by how much you have determined to learn from your failures, and how much you have determined to never give up.

Marketing and Visibility “Salts the Sea”

Successfully establishing and developing your brand identity is of great importance. Can you think of any brands that everyone seems to know? Of those you thought of, which bring to mind a certain feel? When you see certain colors, fonts, ideas, or situations, do certain brands or products come to mind? These automatic triggers give those brands an undeniable advantage. Remembering our floating vessel analogy, marketing is like adding salt to the sea in which you are floating: it increases your buoyancy, making it easier to rise more.

The Power of Marketing.

Marketing is making your ideas, your products, your solutions, and your availability publicly known. To market effectively, you should have a distinct voice for your brand. Your ideas should be clear, and communicated so that they resonate with your target audience. Your visual identity, your logo, colors, and designs, should work towards inspiring others to adopt your the ideas. If the ideas are already common in your market, your brand should inspire confidence and agreement. You want your customers to take up the mantle of your mission, and to wave your banner proudly.

If you do not already have a distinct voice, work on developing one. If you need a stronger logo, get one. If you need a more cohesive message, work on clarifying your mission. If nobody knows about you or what you’re offering, speak up.

Welcome to Grey Leaf Media

I guess for our first blog post, an introduction is in order.
Who are we? Why are we here? Why Grey Leaf?

Everyone wants to know everything about everyone else these days, don’t you think? We are a husband and wife team: one specialty coffee guru who knows a fair amount about the topic of Philosophy, and one professional counselor who knows an awful lot about Mental Health and  Journalism.

We come from a long background of design and writing in various forms. We found ourselves complaining about the work we’ve seen people pay for too often and thought, “Why don’t we start offering design and writing services? It’ll be fun!” and Grey Leaf Media was born.

I used to “waste time” modifying cars in Photoshop, building what would become a very popular coffee blog, and learning basic web design while in college. Of course, our hobbies grow with us, and so did my skills and experience in what would eventually culminate into a handy little web design package. While my professional background was originally in coffee (I’ve been a barista, consultant, trainer, coffee roaster, technician, manager, webmaster, writer, and almost everything in between), my life-long love of good design, visual balance, perfectionism, and exceptional quality never wavered.

For me personally, Grey Leaf Media was supposed to be “just for fun.” Like most things with me, any project that begins for fun eventually becomes much bigger. My tendency for consulting and training are rooted in a deep desire to enable, and watch others succeed. The way I see it, Logo design, Web Design, and Writing are the exact same thing, with the difference being only that of execution.

So, why the name? Every brand has a story, right? (if yours doesn’t, please.. talk to us. We’d love to help you develop one.)

My education is in Philosophy. One of my favorite topics of Philosophy in school was Metaphysics. One of the most interesting subtopics of Metaphysics is Vagueness. Nothing says “flexible” quite as well as the color gray. It can be bright, dark, or anything in between. It also happens to be my favorite color in a polo shirt.

We both love (with a capital L) nature and the outdoors. A leaf is often used to vaguely symbolize a feeling of “natural.” And, hey, we both love Canada, so why not?

Aline had the idea for “Gray Leaf Media” randomly one day, and it just clicked. Unfortunately, “Gray Leaf Media” was already taken, but “Grey Leaf Media” was not. A few minutes later, and http://www.greyleafmedia.com was registered (and .org, and .net), and I immediately got to work on a logo.

We’ve been so busy with client projects, that we have found it challenging to find the time to launch our own website. Now, we’re proud to release it into the wild. Let the games begin!