Ideas, insights and inspirations.

As one of Pittsburgh’s longest standing web development agencies, Elliance has been delivering prosperity to regional and national clients for the past 30 years. Our arsenal of web development best practices includes:

1. Begin with a Good Plan

Map out and outline all of these facets up-front:

  • Goals and objectives
  • Requirements – users, business, content administrators
  • Specifications – for interactive components
  • Functional requirements – including a system of calls-to-action
  • Merchandising approach
  • Integration requirements – with third-party applications
  • Navigation and sub-navigation system
  • Domain architecture – including subdomains
  • The right scale (program, department or enterprise)
  • Content-migration and URL redirects – retaining your SEO rankings and building upon them

Despite all the planning, be prepared for some surprises along the way such as with third-party integrations and new requirements surfacing midstream.

2. Make it Easy to Use for Content People

Content people naturally don’t have sufficient programming know-how. They are looking for easy to use, point-click-and-type interfaces on their web platform. They want the ability to view content as the website user would experience it before publishing. They want the ability to roll-back if the need arises. A sound website platform should support workflows, access control lists (ACL), the ability to create a smart page builder, create-once-publish-everywhere capabilities and development-staging-production environments.

3. Make it Mobile-First & Responsive

Given that more than half of website traffic now comes from mobile devices, build a responsive website (i.e. one that auto-adjusts to various browsing devices) that is mobile-first and delights people. Ensure that third party embeds such as forms, apps and videos are equally mobile-friendly. Also ensure that you are generating standards compliant HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code. All these steps will result in Google bot ranking your website higher on search engines.

4. Make it Accessible

Whether you are motivated to create an ADA compliant website by the noble desire to serve all audiences or simply wish to avoid being sued by unscrupulous law firms chasing non-compliant websites, your website should be both beautiful and compliant with the WCAG AA Level 2.1 standard. Use third-party tools like WAVE, FAE, AXE, and DubBot, to ensure your website is accessibility compliant.

5. Build for Page Load Speed

People are impatient and Google bot rewards fast-loading websites with higher rankings. Code for speedy download and viewing of all website pages.

6. Make it SEO and Voice Search Friendly

If people can’t find you — your organization, your products, and your services — they can’t buy you. Google page 1 is destiny. 90% of users never go beyond page 1 of Google results. Organic rankings (i.e. the top 10 natural search results) are clicked more, trusted more, and convert three-folds better than paid ads. Begin a website project with a Keyword Lexicon. Bake SEO thinking into every phase of website development: strategy, architecture, copy, design and development. Create buckets for fresh content (blogs, magazines, feeds, etc.) which Google rewards.

Since we have entered the era of “natural language processing” and voice-activated search with mobile phones (e.g. iPhone Siri) and voice-activated gadgets (e.g. Amazon Echo), ensure that page content is optimized for colloquial expressions, short summaries, and phrases like “near me” and more.

7. Power With Smart CMS Technology

Depending on website requirements, the size of your organization, your need for flexibility and internationalization, availability of in-house technology talent and budgets, you must pick a proprietary, open source or commercial grade CMS that best suits your needs. Ensure it is thoroughly SEO-friendly and plays well with other software components such as analytics, marketing automation software, CRM software, tracking tools, and more.

8. Create a Smart Page Builder

The traditional way to build a website is by using page templates. However, when constructing large websites with many divisions, departments and content categories, it’s helpful to build a “Smart Page Builder” tool which combines building blocks to create ALL website pages easily and cost-effectively via a single interface. In sharp contrast to template-based websites, this gives content administrators the flexibility to create custom layouts as needed for various parts of the website. This dramatically reduces their training and website maintenance costs.

9. Deploy COPE Thinking

Create Once Publish Everywhere (COPE) was the philosophy guiding NPR’s brilliant content/digital strategy which has allowed them to make the most of every story created – serving it up on any and every device and application. When it comes to website construction, COPE translates to providing the ability to reuse individual building blocks (news, stories, offers, etc.) in appropriate contexts on multiple pages and various sections of the website.

10. Build for Maintenance

Website coding can be built with a coding paradigm ranging from overly-perfect code that’s tough to maintain, to perfectly maintainable code that’s not logically sutured together. Since websites are dynamic entities, it should be coded to be simultaneously logical AND maintainable. Documenting the code is crucial. Use ChatGPT to create an initial draft of the code documentation and refine it before the team moves to the next project.

11. Test, Test, Test

In accordance with quality guru Dr. Deming’s advice, ensure that quality is built into every phase of the project. However, to ensure that the end-product meets the highest standards of quality, test the pre-launch website across a number of platforms and devices to ensure that the responsive design maintains its integrity, passes the Google mobile friendly test, and adheres to Google Core Web Vitals guidelines. This testing phase should include common smartphone, tablet and computer devices, as well as the most recent versions of popular web browsers whose usage is more than five percent of the total website traffic. In addition, test each website page for ADA WCAG 2.1 Level AA compliance using a variety of automated testing tools (WAVE, FAE, AXE, DubBot) as well as manual testing to ensure that these standards are met.

12. Build for Security

Build your website code with protections from spam and SQL-injection. Use HTTPS and stay up to date on SSL/TLS versions. The last thing you want to do is to be in the news.

13. Integrate Well

Integrate with social media, Google Analytics, marketing automation software, CRM system and other third party applications using best practices in integration. These include using reliable APIs, ensuring data security, testing and ensuring that what you are integrating is also responsive.

14. Host It Right

Because websites are mission-critical, people are impatient and Google penalizes slow websites with lower rankings, hosting matters a lot.

  • Ensure your website is hosted securely on a high-speed Tier-1 environment, and weekly software and security patches are deployed.
  • Protect your website hosting environment from ever-evolving malware and attacks. 
  • Keep your uptime high with 24×7 monitoring and daily backups.
  • Automate infrastructure configuration and code deployment.

Remember, the underpinnings of great websites are simplicity, predictability and humanity. The simpler and more predictable the user experience and the more human-friendly the content administrator’s experience, the more complex your website backend will be. Great website developers lean into this paradox and love delivering joy, brilliance and satisfaction to both website users and content administrators.

If you are seeking a web development agency for your organization, view our website development capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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Today, more than any other touch point, a website is the digital soul of an organization. All roads lead to it. As one of Pittsburgh’s longest standing website design agencies, Elliance has been delivering prosperity with websites for regional, national and global clients for the past 30 years. Our arsenal of best practices includes:

1. Start with the Wise Strategy

Revenue Strategy, Communication Strategy and Search Engine Ranking Strategy are the three building blocks of Website Strategy. Bake each of them into every stage of website development.

2. Make it Beautiful

Strategy is invisible. Good design makes it visible.

Milton Glaser, the iconic designer, once said “There are only three reactions to a piece of design: no, yes or WOW! Wow is one to aim for.” We couldn’t agree more. Create a beautiful website with contemporary aesthetics. And like retailers, refresh it periodically so if reflects the most current aesthetic.

3. Delight Prospects and Customers

You can’t bore people into buying from you. Create a user experience that is persuasive, delightful and conversion-friendly. Recognize that customers, not your company, is the real hero of the story. Make sure that the needs of the right-fit customers come first. Make it easy for customers to do business with you.

4. Make it Mobile-First & Responsive

Given that more than half of website traffic now comes from mobile devices, build a responsive website (i.e. auto-adjusts to various browsing devices) that is mobile first and delights people. Ensure that third party embeds such as forms, apps and videos are equally mobile-friendly. Most importantly this will influence the Google bot to rank your website higher on search engines.

5. Make it Accessible

Whether you are motivated to create an ADA compliant website by the noble desire to serve all audiences or simply wish to avoid being sued by unscrupulous law firms chasing non-compliant website, your website should be both beautiful and compliant with the WCAG AA Level 2.1 standard. Use third-party tools like DubBot, WAVE and A-Checker to ensure your website is accessibility compliant.

6. Make it Google Friendly

If people can’t find you — your organization, your products, and your services — they can’t buy you. Google page 1 is destiny. 90% of users never go beyond page 1 of Google results. Organic rankings (i.e. the top 10 natural search results) are clicked more, trusted more, and convert three-folds better than paid ads. Begin a website project with a Keyword Lexicon. Bake SEO thinking into every phase of website development: strategy, architecture, copy, design and development. Create buckets for fresh content (blogs, magazines, feeds, etc.) which Google rewards.

7. Power With Smart CMS Technology

Depending on website requirements, the size of your organization, your need for flexibility and internationalization, availability of in-house technology talent and budgets, you must pick a proprietary, open source or commercial grade CMS that best suits your needs. Ensure it is thoroughly SEO-friendly and plays well with other software components such as analytics, marketing automation software, CRM software, tracking tools, and more.

8. Host it Right

Because websites are mission-critical, people are impatient and Google penalizes slow websites with lower rankings, hosting matters a lot. Ensure your website is hosted securely on a high-speed Tier-1 environment with weekly software and security patches.

9. Sustain With a Content Governance Framework

Because content is the lifeblood of great websites, brands and Google bot rankings, three things are needed to manage a health content ecosystem: people, processes and frameworks. Key components of a content ecosystem include Keyword Lexicon, Brand Guide, Web Style Guide, and Content Governance Guide. These must be managed periodically, rationally and systematically. They must cultivate the content habit.

10. Measure Website Effectiveness and ROI

Upstream ROI metrics include growth in demand, achievement of thought leadership, and increase in brand value. Keep an eye on downstream metrics also such as bounce rates, conversion rates, time on site, growth in organic traffic, content popularity, expansion in reach, and more. Establish regular meetings to measure the ROI.

Over the past 30 years, we must have built over 500 websites. We’ve seen website projects become catalysts for organizational transformation. We have had to use deft diplomacy to reshape power structures and align internal stakeholders. We’ve brought strategic smarts to create new inflection points helping clients realize their organizational destiny. Every website redesign energized the entire organization. You should expect nothing less.

If you are seeking a website design agency for your organization, view our websites design capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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As one of Pittsburgh’s longest standing B2b and higher education branding agencies, Elliance has been delivering prosperity to regional and national clients for the past 28 years. Our arsenal of branding best practices includes:

1. Know Why You Brand

When choices proliferate, branding ascends. Three reasons why successful organizations brand:

  • In the sea of sameness, brands always win.
  • Brands command premium prices.
  • Financial markets value brands higher than generics.

2. Define “Brand”

A brand is the sum of all experiences. It attaches an idea to a product or service e.g. achievement for Nike, freedom for Southwest Air, great books for St. John’s College, and engaged learning for Elon University. A brand creates expectations and promises around a product or a service while creating strong or even impenetrable differentiation in the marketplace.

3. Discover Your Brand

Bring both a rational and an investigative mind to brand discoveries. Scour all available data to look for key insights. When listening to internal stakeholders, customers and partners, choose quality over quantity. Listen as much to what’s not being said. It’s better to find brand proofs with happy, ambitious, and essential brand ambassadors. Look more closely at hidden assumptions and unexamined bias — on your way to a clearing where new light allows something fresh and unforeseen to emerge. Be ready to receive brand insights and cues that arrive as faint signals from unlikely sources. Be ready to challenge conventional wisdom.

4. Articulate Your Brand

Your Core Promise is the unchanging center of all you are and do. Your Values and Ideals shape and support who you are and guide what you do. Your Offering is how customers experience your brand “viscerally” in servicing their needs. Your Functional Value is the ROI that your customers receive from you. The Emotional Rewards are how you make customers feel about you and themselves. Your Characters and Symbols are the first visual evidence of your brand that customers identify you with. Your Brand Position is the uniqueness you offer that sets you apart from competitors.

5. Touch people’s hearts with great customer-centric creative

Remember that the customer, not your organization, is the real hero of your story. In a world in which audience “testing” and quantitative research threatens to aim communication down to the lowest common denominator — a people’s choice kind of popularity contest — a few brands and creative teams dare to still speak to those “better angels of our nature.” Nike did it with “Just do it”. Apple with “Think different”. IBM did it with “A smarter planet”. These were rolled out over time rather than tested with focus groups. Having said that, there is a unique place for quantitative research in brand marketing.

6. Speak with one brand voice

Articulate your brand cheerfully. Merchandise hope. Speak with one brand voice to all your audiences, but strike different notes for each segment.

7. Stand for something unique and let the world know about it.

To draw attention you must stand for something authentic and distinctive. To stand out, here are four things you can do:

  • Become a product or service innovator in your industry.
  • Become the leader in the product or service you offer.
  • Position yourself as a thought-leader in your industry.
  • Champion a meaningful societal or global cause that is rooted in your organizational strengths.

8. Mobilize your publishing potential. Claim your keyword rankings.

Tell better stories. Tell smart, authentic, surprising, delightful and compelling stories. Train your market to expect great stories. Brand articulation without the benefit of a good acoustic backdrop — without an audience accustomed to listening for and relishing great storytelling — will ultimately ring hollow. Weaponize your blog and magazine stories based on your thought leadership, innovation, and intellectual capital with a Keyword Lexicon, and an ongoing search engine optimization campaign that secures Google page one rankings and fosters social sharing. Remember, if prospects discover your brand, you have leverage; if your brand imposes on them with interrupt advertising, they have leverage.

9. Create an enviable advisory board.

Invite aspirational influencers and thought leaders to your advisory board. Involve them in charting your future, striking new relationships, and opening new business growth opportunities.

10. Measure Brand Strength Periodically.

Listen to the market and periodically monitor the institutional brand strength, brand sentiments and brand reach – with both brand “awares” and brand “unawares”. Benchmark your brand against competitors.

If you are seeking an inspired branding agency for your organization, view our brand development capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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Featured Snippets are the highlighted results at the top of a Google Search Results page. Also known as position “zero”, they appear above the first organic result. Google displays these results when they determine that this format will help the user more easily discover what they’re looking for. Featured Snippets can show up as a list, a paragraph, a table and a video.

At Elliance, a higher education SEO and digital marketing agency, we have been helping clients get top rankings for over 20 years. As we work to boost rankings for our higher education marketing clients, we aim our efforts to get strong featured snippet rankings for our clients. There have been some remarkable results that we’ve noticed in cases where we’ve achieved featured snippet rankings.

Benefits of Ranking on Featured Snippet Results

Higher clickthrough rates: Research shows that people click more on featured snippet results. According to Search Engine Watch featured snippets account for 35% of all clicks. shows that in 2023 results with featured snippets on a Google SERP have an average clickthrough rate of 43%.

Better quality and qualified traffic: Due to the presence of a summary with a featured snippet, users can quickly understand what your page is about. This can result in better qualified traffic to the page as the users who are most interested in reading more are the ones who will click on that result.

Higher visibility: Featured snippets are the first thing that users see on a search results page. They become even more prominent with the presence of images. As a result, this ranking spot has the highest visual impact on a page for that keyword search. This leads to much higher visibility for the brand.

Increased credibility: Appearing in the featured snippet spot lends credibility to your website and brand, signaling to searchers that your content is authoritative and trustworthy

Higher Education SEO Client Case Studies With Featured Snippet Results

Keeping this in mind, we wanted to do a test and analysis of our own clients and see if we are seeing this positive trend in traffic from featured snippet results.

Higher Education SEO Case Study #1: 396% increase in organic traffic

With this client, we were tasked to build content for several different programs. We were regularly building content for nursing, communication, creative writing, tech degrees and other health science programs. The resulting traffic in the chart below shows the large increases that came from achieving featured snippet results for many of these programs.

Bounce rate for organic traffic, usually pretty strong to begin with, improved in this time period even further by 59% and average session duration improved 21%.

Higher Education SEO Case Study #2: 500% increase in organic traffic

This client was focused on providing technology education to both undergraduate and graduate students. Located in a really competitive region, we were able to get them top rankings on Google and eventually for many long tail variations achieve the featured snippet rankings as well. The before and after picture in the chart below of achieving the featured snippets shows a pretty marked increase in traffic to those pages.

The pages that achieved featured snippet rankings currently all bring a large amount of organic traffic to the website. They are all in the top 20 referring pages, resulting in increased visitors that wouldn’t have found the website otherwise.

Higher Education SEO Case Study #3: 210% increase in organic traffic

This client serves a graduate student audience. They were looking to increase visibility for a couple of different degrees and in both cases we were able to get really strong rankings on Google page 1. Overall, their organic traffic has been improving but for the specific pages where we achieved featured snippet rankings, organic traffic increased significantly as shown in the chart below.

The amount of new users coming to these pages increased by 218% in this time period, resulting in increased brand visibility. Most of the search terms bringing traffic to these pages were also non-branded terms resulting in this increase in traffic from new users.

Tips for improving rankings for featured snippets:

With such strong increases in traffic and improvements in engagements on the page, the featured snippet spot is a really valuable piece of real estate that you should aim to rank for. Here are some tips that can help you improve your Google page 1 rankings and achieve featured snippet rankings:

  1. Thoroughly research keywords to respond to the searcher’s query. 
  2. Optimize content & make it easily readable using relevant headings and subheadings. 
  3. Provide a direct answer to the user’s query.
  4. Use structured data to help search engines better understand your content and increase your chances of being featured in a snippet.
  5. Monitor your search engine rankings and traffic to identify which pieces of content are performing well and adjust your strategy accordingly.
  6. Continue to optimize and make changes as this will help to refine and improve your chances of success.

If you are seeking an SEO marketing agency for your organization, view our  library of infographics and SEO capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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This blog post was partly inspired by our work with forward thinking clients like Kathy Groves and Emily Horstman at William Woods University, Jacqui Spicer and DaRon Hairston at Baker College, Mollie Cecere at Carlow University, Brad Sims and Dianne O’Neill at Capitol Technology University, and Karen Nichols when she was at Limestone University.

Adult students are a very special breed of people. Life changed course and they couldn’t complete college, or they now see the realities of working life their younger selves couldn’t see before. Thus begins a new internal battle.


1. Acknowledge the Psychic Battle of Hope and Doubt

On one side of this timeless battle, the chariots of hope gallop forward. Ambition simmers in them. Stars are lining up. The adults students are ready to make the leap. 

On the other side, the demons of doubt rise: Am I too old? Have I been out of school too long? Am I qualified? Will I be able to keep up? Can I get there? Can I afford it? Will I be able to balance my job and college? Will I fail?

It’s against this backdrop that colleges offer adult programs, adult degrees, and adult degree completion programs. Here is a playbook for creating successful adult programs that we’ve developed that has brought prosperity to many colleges.

2. Offer Adult Degrees in Ideal Settings

A good beginning is half of success. Offer your adult programs in locations that are convenient for adult students. Many colleges offer their programs at employers’ premises. We once served a college which created ad-hoc centers in geographies where they could find a sufficient number of peers willing to form a cohort interested in obtaining an education degree. Some colleges have combined their offerings with employer job training. In dense metropolises, colleges offer adult programs on their own campuses. To accommodate adult students, some colleges will even offer child care.

3. Offer Adult Programs in Ideal Formats and Starts

Formats too determine the long term success of adult education offerings. To serve adult students, colleges have constructed a large variety of formats: on campus, synchronous online, asynchronous online, hybrid and low-residency. If you offer online programs, give a technology orientation seminar so students are able to be effective from the very start.

Adult students like frequent starts for courses, ideally every 8 to 12 weeks, and need the flexibility to pause and restart without penalty. They also prefer evening and weekend options for synchronous programs.

Analyze your situation and offer the right formats and right number of starts.


4. Develop Personas and Identify Market Segments

Certain groups tend to not only seek out, but stay to complete adult degrees. These include immigrants, women, Hispanics and African Americans, veterans, parents of teenage and grown children, adults who have been involved in previous efforts at basic skills education, self study, or vocational skill training, and goal-oriented adults.

5. Write Messaging That’ll Resonate With Adult Students

Speak with one brand voice to various audiences, but strike different notes for each segment of adult students. Messages that tend to resonate with adult students include hints of “Flexible”, “Supportive”, “It’s never too late to learn” and a dozen or so more.

6. Raise Awareness of the Program

Adult student recruitment cycles are perhaps the longest ones in higher education. Deploy a combination of word of mouth and integrated marketing campaigns:

  • Plant seeds and spread them by word of mouth from happy students and alumni. Since adult student alumni are some of the most passionate brand ambassadors for colleges, ask them for help.
  • Ensure the college is found on page one of Google, locally and regionally for all programs, and nationally for distinct programs.
  • Keeping the 75-100 mile radius rule in mind, invest in paid advertising and social media including Google, Instagram and YouTube. Drive paid traffic to high-fidelity story landing pages that infuse facts with brand persuasion.
  • To remind prospects, use traditional advertising such as billboards, posters, flyers and signs at bus stops and public places. Don’t waste your precious marketing dollars on newspapers, but if your budget permits, consider running regional radio and TV ads.
  • Use promotions and special offers to motivate prospects to take action sooner than they had planned.
  • Activate high touch contact strategies for engaging with prospects.
  • Perfect your website, because it’s the cornerstone of conversions and should be easy to read, understand and navigate. Be transparent about pricing, starts, modality, locations, and support services. Merchandise hope with testimonials and student/alumni stories.


7. Help Students Establish Goals

Since students with a clear purpose tend to complete the degrees, find out about students’ goals for education as early as possible in the admissions cycle and help them develop an action plan to achieve them. Develop ways for them to see success early in the program.

8. Support Learning and Motivation

Help adult students develop accurate perceptions of their personal competencies. Use assessment tools to provide clear, specific and accurate feedback – with constructive recommendations for improvement. Teach them how to be comfortable with failure and setbacks, and show them how to develop resilience by overcoming the challenges. Instill a sense of agency by giving them choices for projects and homework assignments. Offer tutoring and study groups for adults struggling with any foundational skills.

9. Make it Easy for Them to Succeed 

Designate counselors and coaches who assist with registration, scheduling, waiting lists as well as transportation, child care, work-school balance, health issues, and psychological support.


10. Strategies for Improving Retention and Persistence

Knowing that one in every three adults drops out within four months of starting a program, here are some retention strategies that successful adult programs are using:

  • Tighten “first encounter” experiences with programs.
  • Establish a student orientation for new students.
  • Welcome students with a letter, text or phone call. 
  • Develop an Individual Education Plan followed by regular student conferences.
  • Engage them with project learning.
  • Arrange for students to have contact with student role models or pair students to help one another.
  • If possible, provide direct services, such as child care or transportation assistance.
  • Collaborate with social-service agencies.
  • Check up on adult students when they don’t show up for class.
  • Offer career counseling and provide assistance with placement.
  • Find ways to celebrate their progress and key milestones.
  • Develop a culture of empathy, acceptance and support.


11. Measure Progress.

Enrollment growth, retention rate and graduation rate are the ultimate measures of your efforts to attract, engage and retain adult students. If a college delivers on the promises marketing makes, then the right-fit students will show up, be happy with their choice and complete the program. Colleges which hand-hold newly enrolled students through from the very start all the way to graduation and beyond tend to be the most prosperous.

If you are seeking a higher education marketing agency to grow your adult student enrollment, view our enrollment marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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As Pittsburgh’s longest standing SEO/Inbound agency, Elliance has been delivering prosperity to regional, national and multinational clients for the past 28 years.

Before I share our best practices, let me define two terms with a little history lesson. SEO or “search engine optimization” is the process of improving your website to increase its visibility on Google, Microsoft Bing, and other search engines. In the early days, the first search engines trusted marketer’s claims and the quantity of claims. Marketers naturally began to game website content by jamming boatloads of content on their websites. Google came into the picture and changed the game: instead of ranking websites based on marketers claims, it started ranking them based on conversations and inbound links to the marketer’s website from other websites. In turn, marketers started buying inbound links from content farms that were created to game Google’s algorithm. Google got smarter yet again. It started penalizing websites for content stuffing and buying links from content farms. It diversified its ranking factors to include legitimate brand discussions on quality websites and social media. Thus began the era of Inbound marketing. It involves marketers creating a continuous stream of high quality, trusted and relevant content (such as articles, blog posts, videos, infographics, white papers, thought leadership articles, social posts, quizzes, games, etc.) and igniting it via promotion and conversation-starters to encourage peer-to-peer sharing. Thus the label SEO was transformed into SEO/Inbound marketing, even SEO/Inbound/Content marketing.

Our SEO/Inbound best practices arsenal includes:

1. Know that SEO/Inbound is a long game

SEO/inbound is more trusted and creates an enduring foundation. Paid media catches prospects at the cusp of a purchase. Done well, marketers can reduce their paid marketing spend as SEO rankings are achieved. Paid advertising and SEO/Inbound marketing are good along, better together.

2. Identify Your Goals and Objectives

Agree on your primary goal. These could include one or more of:

  • Growing demand for all products and services.
  • Fortifying Brand Reputation locally, regionally, nationally and internationally — in all areas of expertise and strategic priorities.
  • Recruiting Talent by going direct to prospective employees habitually reliant on confusing job portals

Your tactics should change depending on your selected goal(s).

3. Establish a Multi-Year Attack Plan

Take the long view. Develop a plan that goes after the lowest hanging fruit first (local and regional rankings), then harder-to-achieve national rankings, and finally the hardest-to-achieve international and reputation rankings. Slow and steady wins the race.

4. Create a Keyword Lexicon for Each Stage of the Decision Funnel

Craft a Keyword Lexicon. The lexicon is comprised of keywords and key phrases your brand should rank for. Categories in the lexicon include product and service keywords, brand positioning keywords, reputation keywords, decisioning keywords, and location keywords.

Know that prospects use different clusters of keywords at each phase of the decision funnel. e.g. they’ll use reputation keywords during the awareness phase, category keywords during the consideration phase and branded keywords during the preference/purchase phase. Write optimized copy that responds to the issues that matter in each specific phase of the decision cycle.

5. Make your website responsive, secure and fast

Google rewards responsive websites – the ones that auto-adjust gracefully on smartphones, tablets or desktops. Google also ranks higher those websites that load fast and are running in secure mode.

Google Ranks Responsive Websites Rank Higher

6. Optimize all Assets for Search Engine Bots

Because Google serves up a mix of copy, images, videos, maps and tabular data on a search results page, make sure you optimize copy, images, videos, pdf’s, tables, links, and meta-data on every website page. Search engine bots also review assets on social media channels, so make sure these assets are also optimized.

7. Multiply Social Signals 

Because social signals (a webpage’s shares, likes and social media visibility) impact organic ranking, make sure they are added to every page of your website.

8. Create Ongoing Content to Secure Top Rankings for Important Keywords

Secure top rankings for your flagship products and services by developing trusted, sharable and optimized content to secure and sustain top rankings for each on Google. The more competitive a keyword, the more high-fidelity content you’ll have to create to secure and sustain page 1 rankings.

Increased Content Effort Required for Higher Competition Keywords

9. Embrace Voice Search

We have entered a new era of “natural language”, “sentence based” and “question based” search with the advent of voice-activated search on mobile phones (like Google Assistant, Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa) and gadgets like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and others. Since 30% of searches are now voice driven, take the following steps:

  • Make it speedy and responsive. Speeding it up. If your website isn’t responsive yet (i.e. auto-adjusts gracefully to mobile devices, tablets and desktops) make it so.
  • Write colloquially. Since people won’t change their speaking habits for the computer, write new content using everyday vernacular.
  • Write page summaries. Write short, persuasive, 29-word page summaries above the screen fold on long-form pages. These summaries act as pop-up snippets served up by voice searches on mobile devices and home gadgets; they also appear as answer boxes on desktop search results.
  • Build social shares. Run social share campaigns because the more shared the page is on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels, the more likely it will surface on voice search.
  • Think globally. Act locally. Since more than 20% of searches are local, add phrases such as ‘near me’ into your copy, especially if you are a local or regional brand.
  • Rank high on desktop/mobile search. If your website is not ranked on desktop/mobile search, it is unlikely that it will be ranked on voice search. Therefore, before investing in voice search, focus on achieving top rankings on desktop/mobile search.

10. Monitor and Protect Keyword Rankings

Measure keyword rankings weekly if not monthly. Watch competitors for signs of encroachment, and counter their moves on an as-needed basis.

11. Measure ROI with Marketing Automation Software

We know that leads generated from SEO/Inbound out-convert paid advertising leads by three-folds. We also know that the best prospects prefer to “discover” the brands of their choice through word-of-mouth on social media and via “accidental finds” on Google page one. To confirm and quantify this, connect the dots between SEO/Inbound efforts and conversions, deploy marketing automation software like HubSpot or Pardot.

If you are seeking SEO marketing agency for your organization, view our SEO capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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Third in a three-part blog series on a concept that the author R. Todd Erkel calls “the battle for meaning.” We will look at the evolution of higher education marketing and its relationship to code, content, Google’s algorithm, and page one organic search results. 

The Battle for Meaning in the Age of Name-Image-Likeness

Once upon a time in higher education brand marketing, colleges and universities believed that their brand position, legacy, and equity would be adequately protected by something as benign as their brand standards manual. 

Then came the U.S. Supreme Court ruling  (NCAA v. Alston) on July 1, 2021, and the era of Name-Image-Likeness. Seemingly overnight, changes in federal and state law hit colleges and universities generally, and higher education brand marketing specifically, with the speed and impact of a wayward comet. 

In parts one and two of this blog series, we looked at how the “battle for meaning” played out in the context of public health and vaccination, and the relationship between consumer brands and their chosen social justice causes.

In this post, we look at the rapid expansion of the Name-Image-Likeness economy, and how a new “battle for meaning” complicates an already tangled relationship between an institution, its athletes and boosters, and the countless voices and influences that comprise a school’s athletic identity and reach.

What is NIL?

Name, image and likeness (NIL) are three elements that make up the legal concept known as “right of publicity.” The right of publicity, sometimes called “personality rights,” is an individual’s right to control and profit from the commercial use of his/her name, image or likeness.

The Name-Image-Likeness disruption actually began in 2014 and 2015 when current and former Division I football and basketball players filed new challenges to the rules imposed by the NCAA and eleven of its conferences limiting the compensation that athletes may receive for their services.

With its July, 2021 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a district court ruling that the National Collegiate Athletic Association rules limiting education-related compensation violated the Sherman Act. Shortly after the Court’s decision, the NCAA voted of its own accord to allow a student athlete to receive compensation in exchange for use of their name, image, and likeness. 

How does NIL prompt “battle for meaning?”

As colleges and universities enter a third year of the fast-evolving Name-Image-Likeness era, questions remain about the dynamic — played out in every related Google search — between athletic and institutional goals. Those questions arise from three areas: legal, fundraising, and brand reputation.


Experts recognize that the boundaries between NIL changes and long standing Title IX federal law create vast new areas of legal interpretation and potential jeopardy. Today, nearly 225,000 women participate in NCAA college athletics, about 44 percent of the total. At the Division III level, more than 83,000 women compete for championships across 14 sports. 

Aspects of Title IX related to disparate treatment and impact may have possible counterparts in NIL. As college and university counsel teams sort out nuanced distinctions (equal, equitable and equivalent), their marketing and communications peers will have to consider the content and Google keyword implications.


While NIL made it legal for private donors to give direct payment to college athletes — at any level — the ruling did not spell out how this exchange would take place. So-called NIL collectives — ad-hoc groups of donors — have filled the void. New collectives sprout up each day, largely making up rules of conduct as they go. At the NCAA Division I level, colleges and universities face profound questions about who owns the school’s brand equity and voice. Are colleges now competing with their own free-agent athletes for donor support? And how does a whole new game theory evolve and shape every new piece of content and targeted keyword? 

Questions about code/content/impact persist at Division II and Division III colleges and universities as well. A decade of declining state appropriations have forced many Division II schools to raise private dollars to sustain athletics. How will legislators perceive need and filter information in the fog of NIL uncertainty and hype? Do you have a keyword strategy for this and other audiences?

Division III colleges and their athletic programs have historically positioned the opportunity to compete as part of a larger experience of shared growth and community. How will those ideals survive in the climate of “give me my NIL money?” The contrasts grow even sharper at faith-based colleges, where  formation of the individual is tied directly to service for others and for God. Do you have a keyword strategy that connects mission, athletics and future capital campaigns?

Brand Reputation

While not uncommon to find distinct approaches to brand management between a college and university and its athletic programs, changes brought on by NIL and the transfer portal introduce new tensions. We could be watching the tight connection between athlete, team and brand begin to break. The most high-profile NIL-supported athletes have become social media celebrities for hire. Questions about who occupies the foreground and background — and who owns Google page one — require a higher degree of planning and intentionality. 

The “meaning” of higher education

Years before the arrival of NIL, Wesleyan University President Michael Roth observed this about higher education and its approach to brand marketing and communication: “The richness of the curriculum and high quality of the instruction may receive a nod, but they are rarely celebrated. Promoting everything except what happens between faculty and students may be good for short-term appeal, but the result is to make the entire enterprise of higher education more fragile.”

NIL raises new questions about the experience shared by athletes and non-athletes, and by NIL’s biggest winners and everyone else.  As colleges and universities look to convince prospects that a traditional four year degree will prepare them for the task of integrating into companies and communities, the “get me mine” element of NIL money lingers. 

For a very select few, NIL support will be life-altering. For most, it will represent a brief chapter on a much longer life journey. While higher education brand marketing and communication teams do not control the entire narrative, the ability to engage and win small battles for meaning will set some schools on a better course into the future.

ChatGPT, the latest AI tool, has taken the world by stormShould under-staffed and under-resourced marketing teams use it? And can it make marketing teams more productive? Before I answer that, let’s just review how this artificial intelligence (AI) tool works.

How ChatGPT Works

ChatGPT does not have a mind of its own, nor does it have its own thoughts. Instead, its responses are based on the collective memory of humanity, embedded in billions of web documents – imbued with the entire spectrum of humanity’s truthful, partially true, baseless, misinformed, racist and sexist points of views. Based on existing written sentence and document structure patterns, it completes or predicts word and sentence combinations weaving them together into authoritative-sounding, smooth, somewhat verbose and human-like answers.  Next, an army of human reviewers — with their unique personal biases — manually fine-tune the responses by ranking for quality.

Using ChatGPT For Marketing

Let’s examine how chatGPT fares in various components of marketing:

S T R A T E G Y   F O R M U L A T I O N – POOR

ChatGPT performs poorly in this dimension. Its responses are generic and non-specific. While ChatGPT appears to be somewhat informed about general knowledge, when I asked people to test its grasp of their expertise, everyone pointed to its severe lack of proficiency. Being an expert in marketing myself, I decided to put it to the test and it failed miserably for me too.

Without a sound strategy, brands simply don’t win.

B R A N D   D E V E L O P M E N T – POOR

Picking several clients, I asked ChatGPT to describe the client, perform a SWOT analysis, define their brand position, unique selling position, generate brand line options, identify methods for achieving prosperity, list keywords that best describe their brand value, and conceptualize new products they should create. The answers were spotty, generic, uninspired and misleading at best.

In marketing, the beginning of greatness is to be different, and the beginning of failure is to be the same.

A D V E R T I S I N G   C O P Y W R I T I N G – POOR

Picking several clients, I asked ChatGPT to propose copy for various programs, products and services. It fared pretty poorly. It felt robotic, generic, soulless, dry, flat and unimaginative.

Great copy that sells artfully combines facts, stories and brand magic.


Picking several clients, I asked ChatGPT to write copy for various competitive programs, products and services. The copy was pretty generic. The copy was neither customized nor was it sensitive to brand tone.

You can’t bore people into buying something.


Picking several client products/services, I asked ChatGPT to suggest an editorial calendar for their blog. My initial queries generated suggestions that were pretty elementary and basic. None of the proposed topics were time sensitive or touched on the cutting edge topics in the field. However when I refined my query to generate “cutting edge” ideas, the proposed ideas became far more interesting.

Next I asked ChatGPT to write a blog post on each of its proposed topics. It presented blog posts that were elementary, pedantic, moralistic, and uninspiring. I changed my prompts a dozen different ways to make the content more compelling, but I still couldn’t create a blog post I was happy with. I concluded that ChatGPT is a better research and writing assistant than a blog writer. It’s good for gathering stats (though you have to ensure they are accurate), creating bullets from paragraphs (if that’s how you prefer to communicate), suggesting headlines and subheadlines (which all must be processed through your own judgement-filter to determine their appropriateness), summarizing articles, creating FAQ’s, etc.

Great brands resist humanity’s march towards mediocrity with imaginative advice, educational and thought leadership blogs.


ChatGPT understands the basic list of best practices for SEO, but is spotty when it comes to the details.

For several clients, I asked ChatGPT to generate a Keyword Lexicon for SEO optimization. It returned a list of pretty generic, fiercely competitive keywords. No matter how I refined my query, it couldn’t come up with an intelligent set of keywords that our clients had a fighting chance to rank in the near future.

Next I asked it to generate SEO meta-titles for client products/services. It generated a decent list of suggestions. Only 1 in 10 adhered to SEO best practices, but the plethora of ideas gave me the raw material to create a compelling title rather quickly. They all sounded pretty good, but only 2 in 10 came close to hitting the bull’s eye in terms of brand positioning and brand tone.

Finally, using multiple types of prompts, I asked ChatGPT to generate SEO meta-descriptions for client products/services. These were mediocre at best.

Remember, if your brand can’t be found on Google page one, customers will neither buy it nor buy-into its raison d’être.


For several clients, I asked ChatGPT to generate a list of recommended advertising channels. The answers were the usual suspects (Google, LinkedIn, Bing, Facebook). When I refined my query to include non-traditional advertising channels, it came up with a generic list of possibilities with no specifics. It never recommended popular social channels like Tik Tok, or Snap, nor non-traditional channels like Reddit or Quora.

When I asked ChatGPT to generate a list of headlines and descriptions for Google paid responsive ads, it didn’t know the character limits and generated decent sounding copy that could be used for ideation. But to massage this copy to fit within ad constraints, it would be as time consuming as coming up with new copy from scratch. As for negative keywords for a Google paid campaign, ChatGPT was able to generate a decent initial list of negative keywords.

If paid advertising doesn’t act like a booster rocket, don’t bother investing in it.


I found ChatGPT to be decent at creating the bones of a PR plan, a reputation management plan or a crisis management plan, but it failed to propose decisive strategies and precise details.

When I asked ChatGPT to generate a press release announcing the launch of new products and services, it parroted the common pattern of press releases and produced a surprisingly decent initial draft. However, every press release it generated was bland and lacked personality. It would take a human writer to elevate the press release, make it engaging and to infuse it with brand voice.

For competitive products, ChatGPT generated talking points that were generic and undifferentiated. Some of the talking points were factually incorrect.

When I probed ChatGPT for its understanding of PR2.0 (the science of influence by going directly to consumers and end-customers, by-passing traditional media influencers), I found it lacked personality and sophistication.

Ultimately public relations is about relationship building. ChatGPT and other AI-assisted technologies can’t do that. However, on occasion, they can make good conversation lubricants.

In the sea of sameness, brands with strong reputation win.


While ChatGPT appears to be somewhat informed about general knowledge, when I tested it for its grasp of marketing expertise, it lacked proficiency.

The quality of user questions and prompts determine the quality of responses ChatGPT generates. To truly take advantage of ChatGPT as a marketer, you have to master “prompt engineering”, investing a ton of time to extract the most meaningful insights in the most desirable forms. ChatGPT is a good assistant, but not a replacement for marketers. Fellow marketers, rest easy; your jobs are still secure.

When I hear naive claims like ChatGPT being a Google killer, Mark Twain’s words come to mind: “The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Google has a bag of tricks of its own to combat this AI onslaught. Stay tuned for their response. The game of AI-assisted technologies is about to become very interesting.

If you are seeking an agency marketing partner who combines people smarts with AI know-how to your marketing communications, please contact us.

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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.

winning the battles for meaning

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 reservations. Airbnb introduced a nondiscrimination policy on its website. The accompanying ‘We Accept’ campaign championed Airbnb’s long-held values of community-led and culturally diverse travel. The immediate PR crisis led the company to pledge short-term housing for 100,000 refugees, disaster survivors, and other displaced people over the next five years. Those early steps spun off into the Open Homes initiative and the creation of, the new site for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Airbnb spent big on a 30-second video during the Super Bowl and followed up on social media with #WeAccept. The effort sparked 33k Tweets during the first half of the Super Bowl alone.

With time, the link between company and the issue of refugee housing has deepened. In recent times, Airbnb org funded short term housing for up to 100,000 people fleeing Ukraine. A company statement said: “we’re now more committed than ever to helping shift (the refugee) narrative. That shift requires a full consideration of keyword priorities. For example, a current search for “housing assistance displaced residents” returns nearly 30 million Google results, with page one dominated by .gov, .org and .edu sites. A company like Airbnb has a limited pool of content and assets to leverage — choosing priorities becomes essential.

Ben & Jerry’s: Democracy Is In Your Hands

In 2016, ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s introduced its limited-time Empower Mint flavor to a new flavor to raise consumer awareness of voting rights. Along with the flavor came a campaign called “Democracy Is In Your Hands,” which educated ice cream lovers about barriers (distance, voting jours, ID laws) designed to dampen turnout in low-income communities.

While the ice cream flavor was a limited edition, Ben & Jerry’s tries to sustain the conversation each election cycle with a web page complete with background information, links, and information about how, and where, to vote. One possible “battle for meaning” keyword phrase would be “voting rights act preclearance.” With just 200,000 Google results, this long-tail phrase would give Ben & Jerry’s a foundation for future keyword efforts.

Billie: Project Body Hair

Billie, a New York-based personal care start-up, calls itself the New Body Brand. In 2019, it launched the “Project Body Hair” campaign to confront the taboo of talking openly about women’s body hair. The campaign wanted to spark a conversation about female beauty standards. A viral video and the #projectbodyhair hashtag got the conversation started.

A campaign about celebrating women and bringing awareness to unrealistic beauty standards shows Billie’s audience that their mission goes beyond selling razors. Billie expanded the campaign to address the issue of the longstanding pink tax which burdens women with higher prices for basic needs — like razors. A Google search returns some 128 million results for the phrase “pink tax examples.” Securing a page-one Google presence for this or similar long-tail keyword phrase would ensure recurring traffic and give Billie influence — and future revenue — beyond its immediate, known customer base.

Contact us if you are interested in winning your brand’s battle for meaning.

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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 fast-spreading virus named SARS-CoV-2.

Scientist and surgeon Edward Jenner spent three difficult months in London in 1798, trying to introduce a new concept called “vaccination” to residents living with the very real threat — and fear — of the deadly smallpox virus. Although the virus had already claimed nearly half a billion lives, Jenner found no takers. His success in the medical lab did not guarantee a win in the public battle for meaning.

Jenner’s breakthrough idea of inoculation would gain widespread support within a couple of years. Still, it would be 151 years before the last natural outbreak of smallpox in the United States occurred in 1949, and 31 years more before the World Health Assembly declared smallpox eradicated (1980).

Initial resistance to vaccination spread much like the virus itself, one community at a time and among people with close contact. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mutter Museum tell the story on their History of Vaccines website, an in-depth exploration of vaccine history. Jenner’s work was vigorously attacked by organizations such as the Anti-Vaccination League and the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League, and numerous anti-vaccination journals sprang up.

The Battle for Meaning and Measles

In more recent times, misinformation about a possible link between vaccines and autism flooded Google results and social media. In February, 1998, an infamous article by former British doctor Andrew Wakefield was published in The Lancet, falsely linking the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine to autism. The paper eventually was retracted by the co-authors and the journal. Wakefield was de-licensed by medical authorities. It took nearly two decades for the UK immunization rates to recover. By the end, UK families had experienced more than 12,000 cases of measles, hundreds of hospitalizations — many with serious complications — and at least three deaths.

This particular battle for meaning remains unsettled. Recent estimates find that 21.7% of all children in the United States aged 0–17 years would be susceptible to measles. At the end of 2022, a measles outbreak in central Ohio led to 32 children being hospitalized. At least 28 of those infected were at least partially unvaccinated, having had no doses or just one dose of the two-shot measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR).

In recent years, science-based organizations have become far more intentional and thorough in their efforts to debunk rumors and myths as they relate to vaccines. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia does a magnificent job translating research for a broad audience of concerned parents. Kudos also to Autism Speaks for its candid account of the known and unknown causes of Autism disorders.

The interplay between public health and public information has grown more interdependent. Certain battle-for-meaning scenarios carry life-or-death consequences. Anyone involved in cause marketing, science communication, and health education needs to bring a great deal of keyword savvy to the work.

Percentage of Google Traffic by Results Page

Digital marketers and search engine optimization (SEO) experts have been studying the click-through rate (CTR) of search engine result pages since as early as 2006. Multiple studies show that more than 90% of people never click on the second page of Google search results — regardless of the subject matter being searched.

In the next post in this “battle for meaning” series, Elliance will explore how cause marketing more broadly can learn from the long learning curve of public health.

Contact us if you are interested in winning your brand’s battle for meaning.

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