Ideas, insights and inspirations.

When I left journalism and joined Elliance in the Fall of 2006, Facebook had recently celebrated its second birthday, Google had just paid $1.65 billion for YouTube, and some of America’s old-growth daily newspapers had begun to sway violently against the winds of economic change. The new laws of digital communication had emerged, along with a breathtaking set of opportunities. But when I spoke to higher education communications leaders, I found that many still gauged success (personal and professional) by the number of returned phone calls and media placements they secured from local education beat writers or broadcast media. Within weeks of crossing over to the digital side, I realized that colleges and universities possessed far more control over their reputation destinies than any of them seemed to grasp. My old-school eyes had opened wide to new tools of the trade: I learned to combine the power of keywords and code to win page one Google results for a range … Continue reading

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Second in a three-part blog series on a concept that author R. Todd Erkel calls “the battle for meaning.” We will look at the evolution of cause marketing and its relationship to code, content, Google’s algorithm, and page one organic search results. Organizations and companies once believed that possessing knowledge was enough to win hearts and minds. Later, they believed that communicating knowledge – through traditional media and conventional cause marketing methods – would suffice. More recently, causes and companies have acknowledged the need for deep and sustained digital content campaigns – blogs, microsites, video – to engage customers and advance a cause. The next frontier requires even more intentionality so that all content efforts converge to produce a renewable source of organic traffic and an ever-expanding, loyal and engaged audience. Three cause campaigns expanding into wider “battles” for meaning. Air BNB: “We Accept” A few years back, Airbnb faced backlash when customers raised concerns about hosts discriminating when accepting guest … Continue reading

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First in a three-part blog series on a concept that author R. Todd Erkel calls “the battle for meaning.” We will look at the evolution of cause marketing and its relationship to code, content, Google’s algorithm, and page one organic search results. Organizations and companies once believed that possessing knowledge was enough to win hearts and minds. Later, they believed that communicating knowledge – through traditional media and conventional cause marketing methods – would suffice. More recently, causes and companies have acknowledged the need for deep and sustained digital content campaigns – blogs, microsites, video – to engage customers and advance a cause. The next frontier requires even more intentionality so that all content efforts converge to produce a renewable source of organic traffic and an ever-expanding, loyal and engaged audience. The battle for meaning around a pandemic virus and the human response traces back more than two centuries, long before we associated a phrase like “vaccine confidence” to a … Continue reading

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The golden age of print magazines long ago expired (Time once reached 20 million readers a week at peak circulation). Still, writers, editors and photographers charged with producing a college or university magazine juggle the same risk/reward choices as their predecessors when it comes to creating memorable cover art.   Whether your college magazine comes in print, responsive or hybrid formats, your cover competes for precious reader bandwidth in an era of continuous partial attention. And if you only have one or two occasions a year to plan, design and deliver a great cover, all the more reason to be very intentional in your approach. Some university magazines approach the task with zeal and gusto. Findings from the University of Michigan School of Public Health comes to mind for its persistent good faith attempts to deliver a perfect summary of the cover story, magazine and school itself in one image/headline pairing. The team understands some overall gestalt, and consistently advances mission, reputation … Continue reading

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Elliance recently worked with the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) to brand and develop a new online magazine concept and design called ONS Voice. The ONS digital magazine, partner to a monthly print edition, needed to accomplish several major objectives. As an inbound marketer, I was focused on: Effectively organizing and classifying years of existing content (while establishing a foundation for new content) Ensuring the site performs well in internal search, as well as in Google search Addressing objective one: To begin organizing content, I needed to first review existing articles/stories and place them into groups based on topics. Building these groups was no easy feat; not only was the volume of content I needed to classify massive (good work ONS!), but also cancer is a HUGE topic. I needed to create a reasonably-sized list of groups, which would ultimately function as content topic “tags” within the content management system (in this case, Drupal 8). Building solid content relationships into a … Continue reading

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As the standards bearer of advanced cancer care, the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) wanted to create a communications platform that positions them as the go-to thought leader in all matters concerning oncology nursing. To realize this goal, Elliance and ONS reinvented their online publication as an always-on, always-fresh news, views and advocacy engine, called ONS Voice. The ONS Voice includes three key innovations: First, a proprietary tagging system was developed that automatically groups the most popular articles and advocacy issues into trending topics. Second, keywords were “baked” into all articles to elevate their rankings on Google. And finally, smart forms of advertising opportunities were created to make the magazine self-sustaining and drive revenue. This association magazine website design incorporates all the learnings and smarts of the Carnegie Mellon Today university magazine we had launched last year i.e. mobile-first simplicity, stories juiced by SEO keywords, deepening of the brand, and optimal integration of digital and print. However, we went a little … Continue reading

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As discussed in a previous blog post, we recently redesigned the Carnegie Mellon Today online magazine. With this redesign, the focus changed from a print-based quarterly issue to an online-only site with new stories both produced and promoted on a weekly basis. With roughly 80% of existing site traffic coming to articles (a number that is expected to increase with this new model), one of our project goals was to create an explorable experience that engages readers and increases the flow of traffic through the site. Keeping that in mind, we set out with a few ideas. A website’s navigation is it’s roadmap. It is the best place to start engaging the audience. We also know that it is the most popular way to explore. Like most navigations, ours is visible and consistent throughout all of the site, however, it becomes minified as readers scroll through articles, creating less busyness on the page while still keeping the navigation close by … Continue reading

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In relaunching the online Carnegie Mellon responsive university magazine, we have created a technologically sophisticated online university magazine which is commensurate with the Carnegie Mellon brand. It has a singular mission: to build brand awareness for Carnegie Mellon name with people who are not aware of the brand name (“brand unawares”). Two forces are powering this new relaunch: big data and branding. Let me begin with two high-level views: Let me now illustrate the smarts behind this: 1. Data powers the entire user experience: The online magazine sections (aka departments in print parlance) are based on a combination of popular SEO keywords and CMU strategic priorities and. The story tags too are intentionally hand-picked by use of popular SEO keywords. Instead of displaying popular tags alphabetically, they are prioritized in descending popularity order, with ability for site administrators to designate a couple of tags as sticky tags based on university’s strategic priorities. 2. New interactive design deepens the brand: CMU … Continue reading

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Being a responsive web design agency, we know the importance of adding content on the web. But in app-centric world, it’s often forgotten how important content on the web really is. With the CMU Today project completed, I reflected on the benefits a responsive online magazine provides. Those benefits are directly related to what the web is for — a medium for sharing information. Here are three things you gain by making your site online and responsive. 1. Increase Social Reach – “Going viral” is every marketers dream. Right now, it’s easier than ever on the web. We live in a time of social networks, emails, and texts. Every article on CMU Today can be instantly and easily shared by its readers. Social shares allow you to tap into your readers’ personal networks. This lead to more people seeing the article and more shares by these people. Your article may not be the next viral cat video YouTube hit. But … Continue reading

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As another site is launched, I’d like to take a minute to look back and see what we did right and what we could do better. This week, we launched a responsive rebuild of Carnegie Mellon Today. Doing a code re-write is a completely different creature than building a site from scratch. The design choices that were laid out with the technology at the time are still the baseline of how your code works and your limitations. At its core, Carnegie Mellon Today was a prime example of what we developers praise as a content-driven website. The layout was simple yet elegant, and the site was filled with rich content and powerful imagery. Not wanting to lose that appeal, Elliance was tasked with taking the current site and re-writing it to make it responsive. What we learned Change isn’t always easy – When working with existing content and procedures for placing said content, changing how things work on a CMS … Continue reading

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