About Meghann Porter

Digital Marketing Director

Google Is Focusing on Mobile Usability. So Should You.

Google: Fix mobile usability issuesHave you ever tapped on a search result on your mobile phone, only to find yourself scrolling sideways to see all the content – or pinching in to see tiny text and links? It’s a frustrating experience – and Google has been experimenting with ways to improve it. So if you’ve been putting off mobile updates, you’ll want to listen up! Here’s what you need to know now.

Are your websites mobile-friendly?

As far back as June 2013, the search giant introduced a penalty for sites offering a bad experience to mobile users. Today, the signs are clear that a new mobile ranking algorithm is about to launch, one that could give a boost to sites that have earned Google’s mobile-friendly seal of approval.

For Google, a mobile-friendly site is one that avoids software that is not supported on mobile devices, like Flash. In addition, any text should be easy to read – in other words, you shouldn’t need to zoom in to make it legible or scroll across the screen to read a sentence. Google also says buttons or navigational links should have an appropriate amount of space between them so that the correct one can be easily tapped. Sites that meet Google’s criteria receive a “mobile-friendly” label in the mobile search results in an effort to guide users toward a better experience.

google mobile-friendly label

If you want to see if your pages meet Google’s mobile-friendly criteria, check them with the Mobile Friendly Test. Even better, you can find mobile usability issues across your entire site with the recently launched mobile usability reports in Google Webmaster Tools.

Optimize for mobile now – or lose rankings

In recent weeks, Google has been sending mass notifications to webmasters whose websites are not mobile-friendly. These emails, sent via Google Webmaster Tools, warn “These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.” Webmasters are then advised to fix these 6 key mobile usability issues to remain visible and relevant to users. Here’s a copy of the email sent to webmasters:

Google: Fix mobile usability issues

Time to take action!

  • If your sites aren’t mobile-friendly, you risk turning a majority of users away.
  • A bad mobile experience will soon impact your rankings in mobile search.

If that’s not enough to get you moving on mobile usability, consider this. Mobile usage has now eclipsed desktop usage worldwide. It’s not a question of whether mobile search is important – it is, and search engines are the most common starting point for mobile research on purchases.

A deeper look at users’ expectations found that 61% of people said they would quickly move on to another site if they didn’t find what they were looking for on a mobile site. And 67% of people indicated that they’d be more likely to buy from a mobile-friendly site. This isn’t surprising news to anyone with a smartphone. Making your site mobile-friendly turns users into customers, and that’s really the bottom line here. 

Your Emails Need Responsive Design

Responsive EmailThere’s a big shift in how people are consuming digital content. Everywhere you look, people are scanning their mobile devices – while they wait in line, at the coffee shop or on public transportation. Software company Litmus reports that 51% of emails are currently opened or previewed on a mobile device, and the trend is only increasing. Responsive emails – designed to provide the optimal experience on different platforms – are now a marketing must-do!

Why it’s time to incorporate responsive design 

How to make your emails responsive

Remember MailChimp’s mantra “one eyeball, one thumb, arm’s length” when designing mobile emails. This means that your email should be easily readable with one eye; links and calls-to action usable with one thumb; and any text and visuals large enough to be taken in at arm’s length.

These additional tips from our team can help make your emails are attractive – and effective.

  • From names – Limit “from” names to 25 characters.
  • Subject lines – Limit to fewer than 50 characters and make sure they are useful and specific. Incorporate timely topics and a sense of urgency for more oomph.
  • Preview text – Keep in mind that the first few lines of your email are critical! The preview, around 100 characters, will show along with the subject line in the mobile inbox. Make sure it grabs readers’ attention and interest.
  • Font size – Avoid minuscule text. Make sure that your font size is legible for mobile reading.
  • Images – Only use essential images and make sure they are crisp, small and don’t take too much time to load.
  • Colors – Strong-contrast colors will be easier to read in bright light. Avoid white text because some email clients don’t support it – and you could be left with white text on a white background.
  • Sections – Think beyond the column. Use good header text, dividing lines and numbered paragraphs to help with scanning and navigation.

Some examples we love

  • Ten for Today features super-clean design, great use of dividing lines – and it even tells you how long it will take to read each article.
  • Pinterest’s welcome email is much like Pinterest itself: bright, colorful and friendly. This example features actionable chunks and great call-to-action placement.
  • When you’re letting people know about an event, take a page from the Kikk Festival, whose email has great use of color and image.
  • This Behance newsletter features a masterful combination of copy and design. And it does a killer job of transforming the magazine-style webpage into mobile.

Don’t forget great content!

Now, pair your awesome design with awesome content for maximum impact. When creating content for mobile, remember to lead with what’s most important, in case someone is just scanning. You want a clear and concise message that someone can grasp in a glance. Remember to put your call-to-action near the top of the email, so it cannot be missed.  

3 Quick Fixes to Boost Conversions

Your website is your organization’s face to the world. It’s where you interact with your audience – and where potential customers find and learn about you. A full website redesign is the best way to keep things fresh and functional…but what if you don’t have the budget? The good news: small tweaks can have a big impact on your bottom line. Here are three “conversion tune-ups” to increase your website’s effectiveness at less cost than a full overhaul.

1. Rethink your conversion funnel

Your website is critical to directing the conversion of potential customers into paying customers. There are a few things you can do to help make sure the flow through your funnel is healthy.

  • Build a landing page now. An effective landing page creates a focal point for products or strategies you’d like to emphasize, allowing you to capture your prospects’ attention and compelling them to take some action – in one trackable location. The landing page focuses visitors’ attention on one key goal: clicking your call to action.
  • Use good lead generation mojo. Think you know lead generation? Incorporating the following can help get customers to provide their info: putting lead gen forms “above the fold” so customers notice them; adding a short video to speak to the user; and making good use of white space, so that people aren’t too distracted from the call to action.

2. Be smart about UX

How good is the experience your website creates? UX (short for user experience) refers to the totality of what the user encounters:

  • Visual design – how it looks and feels
  • Interaction design – how it works
  • Information architecture – how it’s organized
  • Content – what it says and how it sounds
  • Functionality – what it does.

So, how do you get smart about UX? Good UX means your website delivers an experience that aligns with your brand, fulfills a need, is easy to use and is appealing. The quickest way to improve the UX of your website is to perform usability tests with real users. Have a facilitator test a handful of users, one at a time, on tasks like these:

  • Use our website to find information about our new product offering.
  • Ask other members of our community some questions about the offering.
  • Sign up for a webinar about a specific topic.

Say your users have a hard time navigating your site. Or find some of the graphics distracting. Or don’t connect with the product content as it is written. With just a little time and effort, you’d have a list of concrete changes to make that would better serve your audience.

3. Do A/B testing

A/B testing is splitting website traffic between two versions of an element (A and B) to see which performs better. And it can help you raise $60 million. No, really! During President Obama’s 2008 campaign, his Director of Analytics tested combinations of media (a photo or video of Obama) and copy on a button (“Join Us Now,” “Learn More,” “Sign Up,” or “Sign Up Now”). He measured which combination resulted in the most sign-ups and found that a photo of the whole Obama family and a button reading “Learn More” meant 40.6% more sign-ups with an average of $21 in donations per sign-up. Result? Serious donation totals. Even through the Obama story is a few years old, the concept still holds true today: test to see what works best and reap ROI benefits.

Elements you can A/B test include:

  • Call to action color, copy or placement
  • Headlines
  • Website layout
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Keywords

There you have it. By implementing a few of the tune-ups above, you can take your website performance from OK… to out of this world.


Top Trends in Web Design

A great website is an experience. It strongly influences how you feel about a company or product and can move you to make contact – or make a purchase. At Signal, we’re always keeping an eye on the latest in web design that helps our clients stand out online. These are the cool new trends we’d like you to know about now.

  1. Video backgrounds: similar to large imagery, using video backgrounds on a website brings your message to life in a big way. Nothing else has the sheer impact of a video background, which provides inspiration and captures the essence of your brand – without words. Two examples we love: Spotify and this Eastpak microsite.

    video backgroun in web desig - spotify

  2. Interactive infographics: Infographics are visual representations of information, data or knowledge. Interactive infographics have features that allow a visitor to explore the data, offering more detail on mouseover, panning or zooming or different views. This technique is well-suited for timelines, evolving data or multiple categories. It also is a great way to tell a story, like Google’s How Search Works.

    interactive graphics - google

  3. Parallax scrolling: with this design technique, background and foreground layers move at different speeds, taking the visitor on a 3D journey – in a two-dimensional browser window. Why it’s effective: Technologies such as HTML5 and CSS3 make it possible to create impressive, memorable stories. This awesome website traces the making of the movie Life of Pi.

    parallax scrolling - life of pi

  4. Large images: large photos or graphics are fast replacing sliders in the “hero” area at the top of a website, like Facebook’s new Paper page. And large imagery is so effective at capturing attention that some companies aren’t just jazzing up the hero area – they’re filling the entire browser window, like the Roux at Parliament Square restaurant or the Harrison Grierson construction company. The images are the message.

    large images web design - facebook

  5. The print magazine look: Magazine-style web designs take a page from the print world, taking a trend from content marketing to turn your product or brand into a full experience – complete with bylined articles, sections and stunning photos. This design style is a natural for the web versions of print magazines such as The New Yorker. But it also translates well in other instances, such as this magazine-style page for AIGA, the professional association for design. Creating a magazine-style website is no small design and programming task but it gives your online presence some serious weight in the cool category.

    print magazine trend - aiga

  6. Iconography: using icons to communicate key information quickly. Recognizable icons help visitors navigate, process information and locate calls-to-action. Icons are great for providing visual interest and reducing the words on the page for a simple, attractive look. And people are very familiar with icons from widespread use. Iconography is also great for drawing attention to products, services, menus or features – and for use in graphics, diagrams or supporting calls to action.

    iconography in navigation - phytech

  7. Fixed navigation: the main benefit of the fixed (or “sticky”) navigation bar is ease of access to core content. No more scrolling to the top required – the fixed navigation bar lets the visitor move about the website, regardless of where they are on a page. It’s fast and it’s popular. The non-profit Acumen has a nice fixed navigation bar (and cool, interactive parallax scrolling effects, too).

    fixed navigation - acumen


Thinking Beyond PowerPoint
A Marketer’s Guide

A well-crafted business presentation can persuade your employees to support a new strategy – or your customers to buy your product. It pays to spend time looking at how you’ll showcase your messages and stories. At Signal, we help our clients create high-end presentations. And we often get asked about the differences between the three major presentation platforms – PowerPoint, Prezi, and custom browser-based solutions. Here are three easy steps to help you decide which solution is right for you.

Step 1: Know your advanced alternatives.

PowerPoint is the classic presentation package that has become the corporate standard. Even though it has a reputation for being a bit humdrum, it’s entirely possible for PowerPoint presentations to be creative and compelling. They just need a professional design touch to avoid those “bad PowerPoint” pitfalls. But when you need to take your presentation to the next level, today there are new options.

Prezi is an online (cloud-based) presentation and storytelling tool that uses a single canvas instead of slides. Prezi’s zooming user interface, or ZUI, lets users pan and zoom through the virtual canvas, offering a new way to emphasize ideas and show relationships. This great example transcends bullet points to create an effect that’s similar to kinetic typography, or animated moving text.

Browser-based presentations tell a story within your browser window, using tools such as HTML5, Javascript, CSS, and video to create customized, interactive user experiences. HTML5, in particular, is a step up from the limited functionality of basic HTML. It offers consistency across devices, fast navigation, and a more seamless, modern look. This Citi microsite is an awesome example. And this John Deere site, designed by Signal, showcases how a custom presentation can wow visitors.

Step 2: Consider the pros and cons.

What are the usability and logistical implications involved in choosing these advanced alternatives to PowerPoint? Take a look at the pros and cons of Prezi and browser-based presentations.




  • Some users already familiar with it
  • User training is part of the software
  • More cost-effective than HTML5, due to lack of coding
  • Faster creation time than HTML5
  • Can be downloaded to a device like an iPad, and run on a Prezi app


  • Limited design and functionality based on built-in Prezi controls/features
  • Users must save new versions when they make revisions – the lack of built-in version control can cause confusion


Custom browser-based presentations


  • More robust design, functionality and content options than Prezi
  • Better user experience on web-based platforms
  • CMS-based tool means no version control issues



  • Training / agency assistance required to create presentations in this format
  • Requires hosting on a web-based server
  • Can be used without an internet connection, but not as “clean” as Prezi (files must be installed and not just run on an app)
  • CMS coding/development means it takes longer to create a presentation
  • Less cost-effective than Prezi

Step 3: Present yourself with the right questions.

All three platforms allow you to incorporate text, graphs, images, sound, and video – but there are differences in basic functionality. What works best for your needs? Ask yourself these questions:

Thinking Beyond PowerPoint

We hope that you found our guide to be helpful. Remember, sticking to PowerPoint doesn’t mean you can’t breathe new life into your presentation! There are also a lot of new directions you can take beyond PowerPoint to deliver your message in creative and compelling ways. If you’d like to discuss your options in more detail, please feel free to get in touch.

New Research on Memorable Infographics

You only have a few short moments to capture a potential customer’s attention. And an infographic – a visual representation of data or information – is a great way to swiftly convey your message. Infographics can showcase thought leadership, highlight differentiators, influence employees, and even help you “own” a particular space or therapeutic area. These popular, shareable visuals are clearly an important communication tool. But with them popping up everywhere, what makes an infographic stand out?

New research shows that our minds unconsciously receive a surprising amount of visual detail in just an instant. So an infographic’s memorability can enhance its effectiveness. The recent article “The Secrets of a Memorable Infographic” looks at this connection, based on the more than 2,000 images that made up the largest scale visualization study to date. Below is a summary of the article’s key points.

What makes an infographic memorable – or not?

  • Recognize it and remember it. Many infographics contain “human recognizable objects” that we see in everyday life – photos, body parts, icons, animals, or foods. With good reason, because these images make for the most memorable visualizations.
  • Colorful is better. Researchers found that infographics using more than six colors were more memorable than those with few colors or those in black and white.
  • We like to see a lot going on. Visual density or “clutter” is often frowned upon, but done right it can actually boost memorability. Complex infographics showed an advantage over more minimalist visuals. And rounded shapes were an added bonus, increasing memorability.
  • Bar charts are a no-go. Surprisingly, basic bar charts and graphs suffer from overexposure. We have a hard time distinguishing one bar chart from another.

Are there other infographics keys to success?

Memorability can be a powerful edge, but still an infographic is only as good as the data and strategy behind it. As with any other marketing communication, Signal recommends that it should be based on:

  • Good planning
  • Thoughtful strategy
  • A solid understanding of your audience
  • Strong, aligned, approved messaging
  • And accurate, meaningful data and information.

With these things covered, we find that an infographic serves as a great piece of snackable content: bite-sized and designed for easy consumption!

Creating memorable infographics that are aligned with your strategy may mean the difference between your communication moving customers to action – or getting lost in the fray. Content marketing expert Joe Chernov tells how he was so impressed with an infographic on which fish are safe to eat that he carried it in his wallet, consulting it at restaurants. Now that’s an effective infographic!

Please ask questions and share stories in the comments section. And if you’d like to learn even more about content marketing, see our Life Sciences Marketing portal page for case studies and other content specifically written for marketing professionals in your industry.

Marketing Automation: What You Need to Know Now

Marketing automation – using software such as Eloqua, Marketo, or Hubspot to automate repetitive or manual marketing tasks – is fast becoming a B2B standard. A recent survey noted that 58% of lead generation marketers report using marketing automation technologies that are integrated with their existing CRMs. This represents an increase from 50% in 2012.

Marketing automation makes a lot of sense for life sciences companies. Yet there is a lot of material out there to consider – pros and cons, when to use it, how to do it. Here, we sort the wheat from the chaff, with actionable information to help you think about your strategy.

Top signs you need marketing automation

  • Your campaigns are bogged down by manual and repetitive tasks. You’re building lists and creating emails and landing pages for each new campaign. You’re logging contacts and spending your time on detailed tactics, with no bandwidth to craft strategy. Marketing automation platforms can help you streamline your processes with reusable workflows and templates. It also bridges the gap for smaller marketing teams.
  • Demonstrating ROI is a challenge. You struggle with multiple data sources and are unable to consistently report on campaign effectiveness. The executive team is having a hard time understanding how marketing is driving revenue – and is considering cutting your budget. Marketing automation, with a wealth of metrics captured in one system, campaign-by-campaign, sheds light on ROI. And helps you powerfully demonstrate marketing’s value.
  • There’s a rift between marketing and sales. Your sales team wants higher-quality leads from marketing. And marketing wants revenue attribution from sales. Using multiple systems means that sales has no way to act on data the marketing team can see, from email opens to website visits. Marketing automation software feeds quality prospect data into the CRM the sales team is already using. It also enables sales and marketing to jointly measure, manage, and report on the performance of campaigns.
  • It’s hard to foster an effective digital dialog with prospects. You’re sending emails and tracking responses as best you can. But you’re using a one-size-fits-all approach to communications. Marketing automation software guides existing and potential leads through their consideration process with preloaded emails, content, and calls-to-action. Tailoring communications based on the unique interests and actions of any given lead means that communications are more productive – which is doubly important in life sciences, where consideration times are long.

When marketing automation is NOT the solution

Despite the benefits outlined above, there is a right time and place for marketing automation. Hubspot, a marketing automation software company, says that it’s time to invest “[i]f you’re producing effective inbound marketing content, you’re generating a steady flow of new, organic leads, and you’re ready to scale your successful efforts.”  Without these things in place, however, the software may not bring you the return on a large investment of time and money.

On a related note, marketing automation will not fix a broken marketing strategy. If you’re not sure who you’re targeting and what you’re trying to accomplish, marketing automation is not a replacement for taking the time to solidify your approach.

Keep in mind that there are modified approaches to marketing automation that may be a better fit for your company. Marketing automation packages like Marketo or Eloqua are enterprise-level solutions that cover all the bases, including complete lead management, campaign management and event management. But you may be able to do more by just adding a lightweight tool to your CRM such as ExactTarget, which offers targeted bulk email capabilities.

A checklist to help you decide

If you’re ready to evaluate marketing automation vendors, we recommend Act-On’s Buyer’s Checklist for Marketing Automation. It’s a comprehensive checklist that quickly walks you through finding the right solution for your company, from capabilities to reporting, training, and cost.


We hope this helped you understand how marketing automation can benefit your company. And please, ask any questions or share your stories in the comments section.

If you’d like to learn even more about marketing automation, see our Life Sciences Marketing portal page for case studies and other content specifically written for marketing professionals in your industry.

Taking Steps to Cure Cancer

Signal is proud to support The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) by participating in the 2013 Light The Night Walk this weekend in Durham, NC. This event funds treatments that are saving the lives of patients today. LLS is making cures happen by providing patient support services, advocacy for lifesaving treatments and the most promising cancer research anywhere.

Cancer has touched the lives of many of us in various ways. One great thing about supporting blood cancer research is that it has benefited so many different kinds of cancer patients. Critical treatment innovations have originated through blood cancer research – radiation, chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation, and new targeted therapies. Nearly 50% of all FDA approved cancer drugs in the past decade were for blood cancer. Many are now being tested for other cancers and other illnesses.

We’re taking steps to cure cancer with LLS, and every dollar raised through this effort is important. Please consider making a donation to LLS by visiting our Signal Team website. Signal has pledged $2,500, plus individual donations from our employees. And with your support, we can make an even greater impact. We’d also like to invite you, your family and your colleagues to walk with the Signal Team on Saturday, October 5 in Downtown Durham.

You can register with us on the Signal Team website by clicking “JOIN,” or form your own sub-team to participate with us! Your support will save lives!

Together, cancer cures are possible!

Google AdWords Enhancements: Is Your Business Mobile-Ready?

Google AdWords has changed to adapt to mobile search. It’s now easier than ever to reach customers and make valuable connections with them anytime, anywhere and from any device. Let’s take a look at some of the main points and how they might impact your digital strategies.

Enhanced Campaigns: Is Your Business Mobile-Ready?

Mobile is no longer optional
Google mobile ads have been around for a while now. The biggest change we’ll see from these new enhancements is that there’s no longer an option for marketers to opt out of running ads on any device. Before enhanced campaigns, if you wanted to show ads on mobile devices, best practices called for setting up a separate campaign. Settings, keywords, ads and bids were all managed separately for optimum control. With enhanced campaigns, marketers have a default bid (for computers/tablets), and then smartphone bids can be a multiplier (positive or negative) of that.

Expect cost per click to go up
Rise in cost per click is inevitable. Because user behavior on tablets has been shown to closely mimic that of desktop users, Google has grouped tablets in with desktops for the default bid. This effectively puts an end to the deals marketers have seen from tablet clicks. Not only that, but making mobile a requirement for all advertisers is really going to increase competition over the next few months.

Opportunities in context
Now from a single campaign, marketers can take advantage of every opportunity that’s important to our business across all devices. Using factors like location, time of day, and the capabilities of the device being used, we are better able to determine context and ultimately show a more relevant ad to that user. We can also utilize powerful bidding improvements to take advantage of these key moments in context and make better use of our budget. For example, you can bid higher for customers who are searching from within a half-mile of your store, or lower during specific hours when your business is closed.

Enhanced campaigns also offer smarter ads that can be optimized based on user context and device capabilities. Headlines, ad texts, site links and ad extensions can be customized to speak to your on-the-go audience. There are several different features for mobile search ads –  all designed to help attract new customers, increase conversions and leads. Which features or formats work best will ultimately depend on your campaign goals. Here are a few examples:

  • Text ads with call extensions can include a click-to-call number that enables users to easily call your business directly.
  • Text ads with location extensions can be used to provide around-the-block directions and bring customers in the door.
  • Text ads with offer extensions can be used to promote special deals for users on smartphones.
  • Search app extensions and click to download features can be used to promote your mobile apps.

Along with new ad formats and features come advanced reporting metrics and new conversion types. For example, Google’s call forwarding feature now lets you count qualifying phone calls (say, those lasting more than 60 seconds) as a conversion. While it’s still difficult for some businesses to consider a phone call of whatever sort equal to a true “conversion,” there’s no denying that this is still an important progression.

So What Now?
With no opt-out option, you at least need a mobile strategy at the most basic level. Spend a few minutes searching Google on your phone. Search your brand and some of your top keywords. Are your competitors there? How might your message change to drive a better response from mobile users? Try browsing your site – are you able to easily find important pages and complete conversions? Make a list of what’s not working and talk to your developer about getting these things fixed.

Mobile searches have grown by 400% since 2010. Check your analytics. Regardless of these impending changes to AdWords, your site no doubt is already seeing a growing percentage of mobile visits. If your competitor offers a better mobile experience, why would your customers continue to struggle on your site?

Here’s a great resource from Google if you want to learn more: The Mobile Playbook.