Posts Tagged ‘Content Strategy’

Viral Content: Why We Share Some Things and Not Others

06 Sep

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There’s been a lot of talk lately in the bustling world of journalism about why some newspaper and magazine content goes viral and other bits fall and fester. As the print industry slowly wanes, magazines and newspapers are hyperaware that online, they have greater control over how their content is received, thanks to quick turn over and tangible reader reaction (I hear these discussions all the time at my day job).

They all know that some of their content gets tweeted more than others. Some of it hits Digg like crazy, some shows up on Reddit.

Surely, there are some common denominators for the good stuff, right?

This is a question the magazines and news rags are all asking, all tightly crossing their fingers that some deeply mysterious algorithm exists that bears the secret to the Almighty Viral Content.

This problem is best approached in two steps.

First, why do people share?

Second, what do they share?

By attacking this problem via users and content, we get the best illustration of what’s actually going on. It’s all triangulation from there.

Cats. People share cats. Image by red.dahlia.

The New York Times, which has one of its articles tweeted every four seconds, recently went ahead and asked the first question — and asked it of Science.

The tweet counts per minute of a New York Times article. Image from New York Times.

To complement this research, I invoke another study called What Makes Online Content go Viral published in the Journal of Marketing Research which attempts to address the second question.

Articles, videos and songs go viral because they engage their audiences, which is something any content officer should be concerned with. Dead content deadens users.

This isn’t a discussion to further hammer in the now-rather-trite idea that "content is king." What I hope to do here is to share what’s been discovered by marketers and researchers, and see what valuable bits web content developers can take away.

Too little science is covered in the web development community (this applies doubly in content-centered forums), and when it is, it’s often done so by someone trying to sell you on something.

But not this stuff, which is why you should read on.

The Research

When I discuss scientific research, I typically provide a series of caveats centered around the funders of the research, if applicable. For instance, check out this story about how dairy makes women stronger and less fatty. It was paid for by Big Dairy, which is a tiny conflict of interest.

But the two studies I’m talking about now exist in one of the rare areas where businesses and large organizations are paying for bona fide scientific and statistical research.

I say "rare" because, at this point, so little is understood about viral content patterns that no interest group stands to gain anything by tweaking the results; although The New York Times has sanctioned some of the most targeted research, they get nothing if the results simply say "content goes viral because Times’ articles are just awesome."

Granted, this is hardly an academic pursuit — many, many businesses stand to gain a great fat ton out of this type of information. But — and I truly hate to say it — one of the big differences between academic and privately driven research is how immediately practical it is.

So with these things in mind, let’s get to it.

Why Do People Share?

It probably comes as no surprise, but people share things to make themselves feel good, one way or another. It’s very human. It’s what we do.

For those of you unfamiliar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, once we have our physiological needs taken care of, we search for safety. Once we feel safe, we look for a sense of belonging. Then comes self-esteem. Finally, when all else is covered, we search for the "higher" concepts like morality, equality, and other idealistic "alities."

Image from Wikipedia.

It’s the top two tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy that drive us to share — be it tweeting, watercooler chatter or half a cookie with friend. People want the respect of others, and they want to feel a sense of belonging.

And tweeting helps how, you might ask? Well, according to the NYT’s Consumer Insight Group, whose study consisted of 2,500 subjects, people are sharing content not only to "enrich the lives of others" in their online networks, but also to define themselves in whatever community they’ve taken part in. And we keep sharing to make sure we stay connected.

Of course, that’s a sweeping generalization. The study would be amiss without discussing the different types of sharers. These boil down to some basic personas.

Some people are more geared toward self-promotion, for instance. Others want to get the word out about some cause, and they use social media as a soapbox. Some people are just hipsters, and share things that make them more hipstery. (That’s seriously in the study mentioned earlier; not verbatim, but "hipsters" is a persona.) Others are hyper selective and only interact with a tight community.

But from hipsters to altruists, they all have those top two Maslow tiers urging their behavior.

What Do People Share?

Think about any recent content you’ve shared. Clearly, if you were driven to share it, it struck you as worth it. Let’s see, for me it was a scientific article about researchers making mouse embryos transparent. The one before that was an io9 article about Neil Patrick Harris guesting on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time.

I shared these things for a number of reasons, but it all boils down to what the researchers in the virality study call emotional valence.

Think of this as graph: on the y-axis, you’ve got anger and sadness, the latter being on the negative end. On the x-axis are happiness and relaxation.

Both "positive" values — anger and happiness — are factors that are very good indicators of what gets passed around the Web.

The more highly charged those "positive" emotions, the better the chance. People want to be surprised and shocked, too (hence the old journalism adage, "If it bleeds, it leads"). And almost universally, people want to laugh.

So What?

These studies have narrowed down the characteristics that make content resonate with readers; I urge content wizards and wranglers to read the studies in full. I’ve by no means been exhaustive here.

As with a lot of psychological or statistical research into human behavior, much of this might strike you as intuitively obvious. It did for me.

But what’s not obvious is how anyone dealing with the direction of Web content should learn from this.

Viral content goes viral because it hits people upside the head, which is good.

It’s not forced. Just ask any marketer, business person or writer — no matter how much we’d love it, we can’t force content to hit home.

Keep viral characteristics in mind when developing and directing any content. All niche communities have their own versions of viral (Keyboard Cat, for instance, might not be super relevant to the antique tractor collector community), so as always, user research is the keystone no matter the content.

Writers must know their audience. Web and content developers, their users.

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About the Author

Kristina Bjoran is a science writer based in San Francisco, California. She works in editorial at Wired magazine and is a managing editor at UX Booth. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.


What Potential Impact Can HTML5 Have on SEO?

22 Jun

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What Potential Impact Can HTML5 Have on SEO?

Although still a work in progress, HTML5 is the next major revision of the HTML standard. HTML, which is the markup language that allows us to structure and present our web content, is the primary factor in search engine optimization efforts. HTML gives search engines the needed context they need to understand what’s contained in a web page.

How might HTML5 change the way we approach SEO? What are the possible impacts of HTML5 in search engine algorithms? In this article, I will attempt to answer these questions.

Web Page Segmentation and Increased Semantics

One key component of HTML5 is that it adds new elements that help us better express what’s on a web page. This helps improve web page segmentation so that different parts — such as the header, footer, main content area, etc. — can be easily be distinguished from one another.

Once HTML5 becomes more widely adopted, search engines can use these new elements to help them find page elements of interest to them.

Currently, we use <div> elements to organize and segment a web page.

The issue with using <div> elements is that the element is meaningless. It doesn’t add semantic value or give context to what’s inside it.

With new elements such as <header>, <article>, <aside> and <footer>, the segmentation of the web page becomes more meaningful.

The benefit of this is that it will allow search engines to easily crawl the website, possibly skipping sections such as <footer> or <header> or using them for different indexing purposes (such as identifying copyright information or finding the site’s name or logo). Search engine indexing will thus be more efficient, meaningful and possibly more advanced.

HTML5 Elements That Can Affect Search Engine Indexing

Below are some new HTML5 elements that can have a direct impact on SEO.


You probably already know the importance content plays in your website’s search engine ranking.

The new <article> element is probably one of the most important additions to HTML5 when it comes to SEO. It allows you to indicate the main content of a web page.

One potential change to search engine indexing is that search engines may put more weight on the content inside the <article> element.


The <section> element is meant to indicate various sections on a page. The advantage is that each section can have its separate HTML heading. This can give search engines a better understanding of how the web page is segmented and structured. Search engines might be able to tease out the information hierarchy of the HTML document based on <section> tags.


The <header> element can give search engines a clue as to where the site name and logo is on a web page or where the primary navigation is (as this is often the place where navigation menus reside).


In web design, a footer usually contains auxiliary information such as copyright information, licensing terms, privacy policy information, links to static pages, and links to social media profiles. This section could be used by search engine spiders to identify items related to copyright, terms of use, privacy policies and social media profiles.

Since <footer> contains auxiliary information, will its content be heavily discounted in search engine algorithms? Possibly.


This new element can give search engine indexing algorithms clues to the information architecture of your website, (just like how sitemaps help them gain a better understanding of the website’s structure).

Link Types

One of the ways search engine rankings are determined is through hyperlinks in a web page. Search engines study links in a web page to see what web pages it points to as well as to see what web pages point to it.

Link types in HTML5 allow us to give our links better meaning. This gives search engines greater context for each link they encounter.

You are probably familiar with rel="nofollow", which was a non-standard rel value in HTML4 that many search engines use to identify links that the current web page doesn’t endorse. The new link types, which also use the rel attribute, works the same way.

New attribute values like rel="author" and rel="license" essentially allow us to describe our links better. The rel="prev" and rel="next" attributes, which is a link that points to another web page that is related to the current web page, can be used in circumstances where a blog post is broken up into several web pages.

Below is a table containing interesting link types for <a> elements that can influence search engine indexing in the future.

Link Type Description
alternate Links to an alternate presentation of the current web page
author Links to a web page related to the author of the web page
external Links pointing to external domains
help Links pointing to relevant help pages
license Links to licensing terms of the current document
next In a series of web pages, this links to the next web page
nofollow Indicates that the link is not endorsed by the site
prev In a series of web pages, this links to the previous web page

See a full list of link types here.

Improved Media Handling

The addition of native multimedia elements such as <audio> and <video> can mean increased interoperability with search engines. Google, for example, presents YouTube videos in search engine results. Google already indexes images in Google Images. We could see video and audio being treated like images indexed in Google Images.

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About the Author

Adam Heitzman is a web designer/developer with a strong background in SEO. He’s a Managing Partner at HigherVisbility, a Memphis-based internet marketing agency that offers a full range of marketing services ranging from SEO, Pay Per Click Marketing, Web Design and Development, and Social Media Marketing. Connect with HigherVisibility on Facebook and Twitter.


SEO Beyond Your Site

16 Jun

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SEO Beyond Your Site

The most common initial SEO strategy is to follow best practices for building user-friendly, well-formed websites. Optimizing your content and HTML, using good web page titles and generating links to your website are all ways you can help search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing index your site better and more accurately.

However, because of an updated Google search ranking algorithm (dubbed "Panda") — which aims to reduce the efficacy of content farms with shallow content that often have artificially inflated backlinks and black hat search engine optimized content — the status quo has drastically shifted.

Google, along with other search engines, has gotten smarter and now includes social signals as a top ranking factor.

In order to succeed in this new search engine landscape, we must therefore look beyond our own website.

In this article, I’ll share some tips for using social media to help with SEO. The fundamental idea I want to convey is that these tips are good practices to begin with and, when applied correctly, will stand hand-in-hand with your social media engagement efforts. Just like with any successful search engine optimization plan, when you put your users’ interest first, good search engine rankings often follows.

The New Era of SEO

Google has made it clear that social signals are now an important part of SEO. I like breaking down social signals into two main categories: Virality and Social Media Presence.


Virality is when your content has a strong reach in the social media realm. Websites like TechCrunch, Mashable and The Oatmeal have strong virality because the content they publish — breaking news, controversial topics and humor — is sharable and well liked by social media users. These sites also have strong communities and loyal followers who are vocal and who love to share content.

Social signals defined in this category are thus a mode of voting. Each retweet, Facebook Like, Google +1, Digg upvote and so on can help search engines distinguish which links their users will likely prefer over another.

Social Media Presence

If your site is just starting out and hasn’t garnered a large base of fans yet, it will be an uphill battle to rank well with virality. However, creating and actively maintaining a presence in social media has proven to increase the authority of your website in the eyes of search engines.

You don’t have to produce viral content on a regular basis, but if your Facebook Page gets comments and your Twitter account gets mentions, then it’s good for your site.

If you’ve neglected social media as part of your site-growing strategy, SEO is a reason for you to start paying attention to it.

How to Optimize Beyond Your Site

Let’s talk about some strategies and tips for optimizing your site through social media.

Being the most popular right now, the obvious social media sites that we should talk about are Twitter and Facebook, so let’s begin there.

SEO Using Twitter

Google looks at specific elements from Twitter and Facebook to use as ranking signals, as discussed by Google’s head of webspam team, Matt Cutts, in this video.

For Twitter, Google looks into a Twitter profile’s biographical data such as links it mentions, its geographic location and the number of tweets, mentions and retweets it has.

The more a Twitter account is mentioned, the more authority Google will give it. Thus, a Twitter account with more authority tweeting about a web page on your site could have a bigger impact on your search engine rankings than one that doesn’t have as much authority.

Another important ranking factor is the keywords that surround a link contained in a tweet. For instance, SEOmoz, a highly-regarded SEO blog, reported an unexpected Twitter case study a while back that showed a single tweet being able to help generate a fourth spot Google ranking as well as 160 unique visits.

Because the tweet contained the words, "Beginers Guide", even in its misspelled form, a Google search query of "beginner’s guide" ranked the post it was linking to in the first page of the search engine results on the day the tweet was made.

Source: A Tweet’s Effect On Rankings – An Unexpected Case Study

SEO Using Facebook

Facebook optimization is very similar to optimizing a regular website. Content should have SEO-friendly titles and text when being posted to a Facebook Page.

In terms of Bing, which has some different SEO requirements, the number of Facebook Likes and Facebook shares help organic rankings, as highlighted in a post on TechCrunch by Erick Schonfeld. In the post, Schonfeld says that Facebook could soon look at social signals to "identify experts related to various searches," including those who aren’t part of your friend’s list.

Another benefit of having a Facebook Page and Twitter account is they take up space on the first page of Google search engine results when a search query mentioning your company is made. This can help replace spam and unrelated web pages that share the same keywords.

SEO Using Facebook

Less Obvious Social Platforms to Optimize

Aside from Twitter and Facebook, there are other social media web services you can use that you might not necessarily have thought of before. Let’s talk about two of those platforms.

Using for Personal Rankings

The beauty of an page is it acts as a virtual business card. It can hold personal information you want to share with your network and to the public.

When a search query is made for a name of the person, the page could be one of the top search results.

How does this help a website? In many cases, your staff becomes an extension of your site. A search related to a person connected with your website may generate leads in organic search.

Q&A Sites and Their Impact on Search Engine Rankings

Sites like Stack Overflow and Quora have been on the rise in recent times. They have had positive impacts on businesses because the questions asked on these platforms are starting to rank for competitive keywords.

One of the reasons for this is the increasing number of keywords that are questions. For example, phrases like "where can I buy an iphone" and "how to unlock an iphone" are beginning to replace keywords searches such as "buy iphones" and "unlock iphones".

Q&A sites accumulate questions and answers from their community, which is eventually indexed by Google. Where this is interesting for other websites is if they can provide an intuitive answer to a question related to their industry to generate clicks.

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About the Author

Alex Galasso is a tech enthusiast with experience in online marketing, startups and videos games. Alex is currently co-founder at Groupideo which is a social video application. Feel free to contact Alex for any inquiries at alex [at] groupideo [dot] com.


User-Friendly SEO

22 Feb

Some web designers (and many web content writers) view on-page SEO as a necessary evil to an effective content strategy on the web. However, when properly executed, SEO can actually enhance a site visitor’s experience, rather than detract from it.

In this article, I’ll run through several examples of how SEO can be improved with the user in mind. Reviewing these examples should help site builders gain a solid understanding of SEO practices that work together to create highly effective sites.

Changing Your Perception About SEO

Misperceptions about SEO generally arise from outdated ideas about what SEO is all about; when people are still under the assumption that keyword stuffing, mammoth blocks of links and stilted wording are still valid SEO tactics.

Rightfully so, web designers and web content writers object to these practices because they interfere with a visitor’s ability to make sense of the site.

Google and SEO have come a long ways since those practices were in vogue. Today, the crucial thing to understand is this:

  • Google trains its spiders to think like humans. Therefore, best of class SEO practices are best of class people practices.
  • When someone conducts a search, Google (and all the other search engines) wants to show results that are relevant and valuable to people. Accordingly, Google designs its search algorithms to reward meaningful content and punish those who try to game the system with user-unfriendly content tricks.

With that in mind, here is a brief review of seven tips  of on-page SEO that demonstrate how good SEO, good writing and good design work together to create an exceptional product. This is not an exhaustive list of content optimization techniques, but websites that get these issues right have an extremely strong foundation.

1. Insert Primary Keyword Phrases at the Beginning of Headlines

The primary keyword phrase on a web page should clearly and concisely describe the main topic of that page. For maximum effect, the phrase should be written at the beginning of the main page heading (<h1> tag).

The example illustrated below is taken from a site we recently did for our client Track Your Truck, a firm that sells GPS tracking systems.

The headline, "GPS Tracking Systems", is superior to, say, "Manage Your Fleet Productivity".

When people scan a web page, their attention is drawn to the headline. If they have to pause for even a few seconds to discern its meaning and relevance, they may just click away instead.

Using keywords in the headline helps readers, which is why search engines like Google reward the practice.

2. Use Bold Text for Keywords

Another way to tell search engines — and site users — that content is important is to put it in bold type. Restricting the use of bold text to keywords is a good discipline all the way around. Too much bold text, especially used in a haphazard fashion, confuses the reader. No bold styling creates a clump of undifferentiated text that turns the reader off.

What we want is to focus the reader’s attention on the main theme of the page, so again, SEO and user preference work hand in hand.

Placing text in italics also attracts the attention of search engines and readers, but I discourage its use because italics in body copy can sometimes be difficult to read.

3. Use Bulleted Lists

Search engines are attracted to bullet points because they think bulleted content has high importance (otherwise, why would someone bullet it?). Humans think the same way.

Any time content can be transformed from an undifferentiated block of text into a short (3 to 5) list of bullet points, the writer is helping visitors and search engines quickly and decisively grasp the meaning of that page.

As a general rule, extremely long lists are undesirable: they overwhelm the reader and, for that same reason, search engines probably devalue them.

4. Use Keywords in Call to Action Links

By conveying the content of the link using keywords, you alert the reader and search-engine to what the new page is all about.

Some will make the argument that "click here" is the better choice, because readers are more likely to follow a clear command. While I can accept this argument for landing pages and email blasts, I don’t think it applies very well to websites. If the "click here" approach is used globally, you wind up with a site where every link looks the same and thus all of the urgency of the command is lost. For obvious reasons, this situation is bad for both the user reading your site and for web spiders crawling your links for context.

5. Insert Primary Keywords at the Beginning of Meta Titles

A web page’s <title> tag is probably the most significant content on the page, as far as search engines are concerned.

Most designers and web copywriters are indifferent about meta data in general, because there is the perception that human readers don’t see it, even though what goes inside the <head> tag of an HTML document is important.

Site visitors do in fact view meta data. For instance, the <title> tag’s value appears in browser bars, browser tabs, and in a search engine’s results pages when people perform a search.  Also, they’re picked up automatically by tweets through most Twitter apps.

Insert Primary Keywords at the Beginning of Meta Titles

The browser view is quite important in my estimation. If a visitor has several tabs open, I want him or her to easily understand what page(s) of our client’s site is open. Ideally, the tab will display a perfectly constructed meta title, with keywords at the beginning and branding at the end, as you see in the example above.

Constructing great titles can contribute to better usability as well; Usability expert Jakob Nielsen suggests using the passive voice to front-load keywords in headings and page titles, even though the active voice is, overall, better for readability of web content.

6. Build a Strong Internal Link Structure

When web pages within a site are linked together in a logical way, search engines perceive them as being logically connected; that they rely on each other to tell a story. This interconnection causes the search value of these pages — and the domain as a whole — to rise, because the content is seen as important not only on its own, but as part of a bigger picture.

A strong internal link structure is a major component of the overall information architecture of a site and, from the user experience perspective, crucial to a visitor’s ability to maneuver around the site.

Whether internal links manifest themselves as breadcrumbs, footer links, text links or a combination, if the links are easy for the reader to follow, they’ll be easy for search engines to follow as well.

Build a Strong Internal Link Structure

Internal links (and links in general) are strongest for SEO purposes when keywords for the target page are used in the anchor text. The footer links in the example above, part of a design scheme our company uses for many lead generation sites, are optimized for the most important site pages.

7. Optimize Site Images

Very few sites have well optimized images, which is unfortunate on many levels. Poorly optimized images cause sites to miss out on great search opportunities, detract from the user experience, and pass up excellent conversion opportunities.

There are three ways to optimize images for SEO that I want to focus on, because they’re also great for usability.

Fill in the alt attribute. The alt attribute describes the image in plain English. It’s extremely useful for infographics and images that convey complex ideas or valuable data. If a visitor is not able to view the image, he or she will be helpless without an alt attribute; it’s a fallback mechanism for users who have issues rendering images, have images turned off while they browse, and for readers who are unable to see their screen and must rely on screen-reading software.

Keyword-optimize the title attribute. The image title appears when hovering over an image. What impression do you want to make on your visitors? Will they see "IMG40481105.jpg" or "Business Grammar and Punctuation Tips"?

Add a keyword-optimized caption. In my view, a caption strengthens most any image, especially on interior product and service pages. A reader will quickly zero in on an image and is very likely to read any content around it. Here is a golden opportunity to highlight a key product benefit, a unique service capability — and give search engines more content to index and rank.

Optimize Site Images

Image search can be a superb source of highly qualified traffic. People search for images for many types of products, and since fewer sites are optimized for image search, there’s less competition.

How Many Words on a Page Are Too Many?

SEOs and designers furiously debate the issue of word count. SEOs want more words, because all other things being equal, Google will rank a page with more and richer content higher than a similar page with less and lacking content.

Designers, on the other hand, fight for fewer words for the sake of elegance and impact. Both sides can make a strong case, and as a content writer, I am often caught in the crossfire.

Here, then, is a web content writer’s take on this very important issue.

First, the issue isn’t how much content to have on a website, it’s where to put it. Although intuition tells us that too many words will put off the visitor, some visitors at some point become interested in detailed information. If we can agree on that statement, we can resolve most word count issues.

For a home page and overview-type interior pages, too much above the fold content will backfire. On pages such as these, visitors are looking for a quick impression. Design effectiveness is paramount.

One way we have tried to balance SEO and design considerations for content on home pages is to "layer" the content. Above the fold, we strive for strong design elements and concise content. Below the fold, we add more detailed copy that incorporates keywords.

Here is the home page for Track Your Truck that follows these practices:

This is not an ideal solution, because in a perfect world, our keywords would be concentrated toward the top of the page, where search engines value them more highly.

However, from an overall UX point of view, I like this approach. If the top part of the site is engaging, some visitors will scroll down and read because they have been inspired to learn more. Others will bypass the optimized content and proceed directly to an interior page or the contact page. Whichever happens, the site scores a win.

In contrast, product and service detail pages can be content heavy above the fold. When visitors get to these pages, they are no longer browsing, but searching for information. A lack of detail can actually detract from the site’s credibility.

Keep in mind that many people who hit interior pages come directly from a search for that product or service. Presumably, such visitors have clicked through because they want detailed information, and for many sites, these interior pages will generate the lion’s share of unbranded search traffic. As a result, high word counts on interior pages serve SEO and users well, and home page word counts become far less significant.

Designers, SEOs and Writers: Why We Can All Just Get Along

Successful web development requires a high level of teamwork. This is the conclusion professional designers, SEOs and writers always reach in the end. When designers disregard SEO, websites fail with search engines. When SEOs disregard design, websites fail with people. Either outcome will fall woefully short of client expectations, because virtually every e-commerce and lead generation site is in pursuit of more search traffic and more conversions.

Writers, too, cannot afford to be purists or operate in a vacuum. The emphasis Google places on quality content is undeniable: Recently, Google announced a new algorithm to combat content spam, a clear signal that it means to punish manipulative SEO techniques and reward high quality, relevant web copy.

Nevertheless, writers who consider themselves "above" the SEO fray are arguing for a strategy of "build it and they shall come." Unfortunately, this strategy almost never wins: Apple and McDonalds may be able to ignore Google — can you?

The strategy that is likely to win is one that balances design, SEO and writing through every step of the development process. This post attempts to describe some common ground, but still, getting all team members on the same page (so to speak) is not always easy. I hope you will share your experiences about this challenge in the comments.

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About the Author

Brad Shorr is Director of Content Marketing for Straight North, a Chicago-based interactive marketing agency that specializes in marketing strategy, Web development and Internet marketing services that include search engine optimization, PPC management, social media and e-mail marketing. Follow Brad Shorr on Twitter: @bradshorr and Straight North on Facebook.