SMX East – quick notes from the cheap seats

November 21, 2019

Sometimes good software does bad things. Today I was reminded how important the very first piece of software is – the human brain. Programs and tools make a lot of things faster, but sometimes we forget to stop, think with our brain and apply common sense. Ironically, it happened at the 2019 Search Marketing Expo East Conference in New York.

I’ve been going to SMX East in New York for quite a few years now. To clarify, when I say ‘going’ I really mean walking the floor on the free expo pass and trying to read between the lines of the more interesting free sponsor presentations. I’m too cheap to pony up the $1K+ or so it costs for a full pass. The agency I work for, shall we say, has other places to allocate this type of spend (read: cheap).

Fortunately, living in NYC means the convention is only a few stops off my normal commute. Including the miserable hike out to the Javits Center that any local is familiar with. Although the insanely large Hudson Yards project has changed the area quite a bit.

Like most years, I ate well and rested up the night before planning to absorb as much knowledge as the expo pass offered. Like most years, my attentions span gave up after about three presentations. After a quick victory lap around the convention floor booths – which seem to be the same the past few years – I was back in midtown at the office catching up on email.

The good news was that I did walk away with something valuable this year – a renewed respect for common sense and practicality. As any search professional knows, things in this industry change fast and it can get very overwhelming. The realization that best practices and common sense still pay dividends was refreshing.

Sponsored SMX Presentation 1- LongTailUX

One of the first presentations was from a company that focused on long tail keywords in paid search and user interface. If that sounds a little in the weeds, it is and you should probably skip the next few paragraphs and go to the second presentation notes. I’ll link to the sponsors at the end (uncompensated).

In all fairness, they did have a software product that seemed great for larger retailers selling products online (1K+ SKU’s and $20K budgets and north). That part however isn’t what I cared about. What interested me was how they came up with it and the practical examples of why it could be used. It took no software to explain this part, only brain power.

Without using any software, you can use both Amazon and Google Shopping to perform search queries for a given product (like most customers shopping online). In each of these, you’ll see similar type results at the top of the page. Usually these are price carousels with different products, from different vendors at different pricing. Most of the time they keep the user in the Amazon or Google Shopping ecosystem through the point of purchase.

The point here was that if you were a company selling products, you were essentially being turned into a supplier. When customers searched and purchased entirely in Amazon or Google Shopping, they were not being exposed to your website, your brand etc. And even if you did have an individual product page you wanted to rank for, it would almost surely be down page from these shopping and comparison type carousels on the first search page.

This where someone (the founder I assume) used their brain and came up with the idea to fix this. Instead of using a keyword to drive traffic to a page with one product, why not feature multiple products in a similar way that Amazon and Google were doing? And why not make it super relevant and build it to scale.

The result was a single keyword landing page with multiple relevant products that ranked well organically, converted better and returned more on ad spend.

I loved this because it almost boiled down to a “why not do what they’re doing only better” using the keywords and products we’re already selling. Simple and smart. Of course, that’s just the idea – they actually had to build it.

Sponsored SMX Presentation 2 – Bruce Clay

The second presentation was one I had seen in the past. Seeing it with fresh eyes, I remembered how good it was all over again. This was a presentation about ‘content silos’ from someone who’s been around search longer than Google – Bruce Clay.

Content Silo’s are generally groups of related content in a website. There is a lot of value in taking the time to organize, research and archetype these when building a website.

I was particularly interested in this as it’s something most agencies don’t do or do very poorly when building a new site. Since I’m positive my boss won’t read this deep into a blog post I’ll admit our agency doesn’t do a very good job at this either.
Bruce has been around so long that being on stage at a conference speaking looked comfortable and easy. He spoke as casually about organizing enterprise amounts of web content as I speak to my favorite Monday bartender.

The best part about this is how much of it seems to be common sense. I’m surprised so many companies and agencies aren’t doing this type of thing in their sleep. I’m just as guilty as others in this respect.

Using Google’s own content guidelines on improving search, Bruce came up with a way to better organize content and navigation to improve search performance. These are content guidelines that have been around for awhile yet still seem to get overlooked.

Of course, there a lot of technical pieces to doing this at scale. The takeaway for me is that he used his brain and common sense. Books are organized in chapters, organization charts have a hierarchy, the military has a chain of command; Websites need to structure their content better as pay attention to how it interlinks sitewide.

Naturally there is a lot of analysis, keyword research and work that goes into ‘siloing’ a site. The results were undeniably positive when implemented in Bruce’s experience.

Another think I particularly liked about this was how easy it was to understand. You could explain this to a C level 60-year old or a hot shot 20 year. Both would understand.

In Summary

I’ll drop a few links below in all fairness (uncompensated and just being honest) but here’s a quick summary of my short drive by visit to SMX

  • Critical thinking and common sense trump software much of the time
  • Anything worth doing well takes time
  • Is it me or are the SMX vendors almost the same every year?
  • A lot of the info only applies to larger companies or business at the enterprise level
  • The Javits Center still sucks

The first presentation I caught was by LongTailUX and they mentioned a tool at that seemed interesting to companies that have > 1K SKU’s or $20K+ ad budgets

The second was from Bruce Clay and he seemed very cool sharing his knowledge/deck here so I feel comfortable sharing.

I’ll be back next year, sitting in the SMX East cheap seats.

Client Spotlight: Mayda Poc Coaching

March 23, 2018

Mayda Poc is a career and life ­­­­­coach in New York City.

Mayda started her practice in 2017 after a very successful fifteen-year career in the fast-paced world of investment banking. After immersing herself in private equities, corporate finance, and derivatives, she wanted, and needed, something new and she embarked on a new path as a life and career coach. A path that would more closely align with her ability to relate to people, listen to them, and help them find the right solutions. Because of her work in finance, she was very well aware of the need for this kind of coaching for people who were consumed by a frenetic and fevered work life.

After becoming certified by a host of coaching associations, Mayda had the necessary tools to be a successful career and life coach, now she just needed the clients. She knew she could access her Wall Street rolodex, but she had to find the right marketing agency that could help turn her vision into a reality. She chose to partner with Van West Media because of our deep experience in taking ideas and concepts and successfully transitioning them into effective online marketing solutions to build a business and drive leads.

What we did

Van West Media began by establishing a brand identity and positioning strategy following a deep-dive competitive analysis and multiple phone and in-person interviews with Mayda to fully understand her practice, her personality, and her needs and goals. We also looked closely at how other individuals in the coaching arena build their brands and positioned themselves online. After creating a name for her practice, as well as a corresponding logo and brand identity, the Van West Media team began a robust design process for the website and other collateral including business cards and email templates.

The Van West Media team worked closely with Mayda to flesh out and clearly understand her needs and goals for the website which included showcasing her skills, services, and coaching leadership for the purpose of attracting new business, newsletter signups, and visitor engagement with her blog. Because Mayda is fluent in French, and she has many French-speaking clients, the new site had to be in multiple languages. In addition, the site had to provide an excellent user experience on the frontend and an easy way for Mayda to update new content on the backend.

The recently launched website was designed and developed to closely mimic the kind of sophisticated and professional qualities that reflect Mayda’s coaching style and personality. The site was designed and developed to be easily accessible, responsive, and engaging, using industry best-practices and intuitive design features. Because of the new website and marketing initiatives, Mayda now has a defined brand voice and appropriate messaging as well as an effective and clear way to drive new and referral business to her practice. We look forward to working with Mayda as we continue to strengthen our partnership to help her to build out her practice.

Visit Mayda Poc Coaching

VWM is recognized as a top New York Branding Company on DesignRush


Sunny weather converts: Unbounce CTA Conference Recap

July 26, 2017

Web marketing + Vancouver + Summer – what’s not to like? For the second year in a row, we attended the Call To Action conference by Unbounce in Vancouver.

Let’s be real – when the CEO offers to go to a Conference in summer in Vancouver to see speakers like Rand Fishkin, April Dunford and Andy Cresotdina – you say Yes! Even when you have a pregnant girlfriend at home and house remodel in progress (yes, that’s true and yes I paid the price).

CTA 2017 Summary:

  • Top takeaways from my perspective
  • Vancouver rocks
  • 7 dozen oysters, 6 tacos, 3 days

Top takeaways from my perspective


Oli Gardner
Unbounce’s Co-founder Oli Gardner kicked off day one, touched on some good stuff and was a champion dealing with some sound/video issues. One thing that specifically impressed and resonated with me, both for its authenticity and sincerity, had little to do with web marketing tools or data. Oli mentioned the importance Unbounce places on making the event a safe space for all attendees, and that they had deliberately chosen an equal mix of male and female keynote speakers for the conference.

I’m a Californian who fell in love with a Berkeley girl and lives in New York City – so sometimes I tend to take these things more for granted than I should. That being said, the web marketing industry and tech in general has a long way to go when it comes to diversity and specifically gender equality (as Uber so blatantly showcased this year). Hearing from the co-founder that this was part of his company’s ethos should be a great lesson to all current and future companies – especially in digital marketing. It was also clear from the Unbounce staff and general vibe that this wasn’t just lip-service – it really was part of the company’s core culture. (I wrote this post before MozCon happened, which I did not attend, but I heard the same sentiments were expressed there and shout out to them as well!)

Speakers that rocked

To be honest, I didn’t catch all the speakers both days (see my excuses below on the distracting weather & oysters) so the shout outs below are taken from the presentations I did catch. After 15 years working in digital marketing I’ve learned you can’t be a pro at everything and sometimes you have to focus on what’s most important or effective in your own role at a marketing agency. Sometimes it’s also just hard to sit in an auditorium seat all day, even when awesome conversion optimization tips and web marketing jewels are raining from the sky.

April Dunford | @aprildunford
One of my favorite presentations. Some blunt talk on something myself and many marketers have run into head first in their careers – trying to successfully and effectively market something that is lame/boring/complicated. April gave some actionable tips and examples on how to step back and re-position or re-frame the context and turn crap into fertilizer. This presentation was delivered well but was also very real – we’ve all had challenging products to market and hit walls figuring out the best way to do it. At my marketing agency, it made me think back to some past clients (who will remain nameless) with products I really had no motivation to promote or just wished would go away as it was so difficult to find success. Next time I’ll think of April and try to approach this situation differently. More on April’s presentation thanks to Unbounce

Andy Crestodina | @crestodina
We’ve all heard of how big a deal content marketing is these days. I’m both personally interested in this and we’re focusing more on this as a service at VWM. Andy had a lot of actionable and smart tips on content and ranking that are relevant right now and you can take and run with. Part of what made this great was you could literally put some of the tips he suggested into place immediately, just from what he shared. If you can create quality content with value and then use some of the conversion optimization best practices to steer your audience where you want, you’re golden. More on Andy’s presentation thanks to Unbounce

Scott Stratten | @unmarketing
I’d never seen Scott speak before and probably one of the more entertaining and engaging speakers of the conference. The big takeaway for me here is that morals and behavior really matter online and too many companies gloss over this in the hyper-current celebrity viral crap-o-sphere side of marketing  (I made that description up). He had some good examples of both good and bad tactics and it was refreshing to know good still triumphs over bad and that there are moral and professional people out there who care enough to call out bulls#@t when they see it. Mostly. More on Scott’s Presentation thanks to Unbounce. Also, best not to use tactics that make Scott mad – it may cost you, literally!

Other stuff – the good, the bad and the bitchy micro-narrative

A unique welcome to the after party at Science World

Liked – Science World after party location, food/drink at the conference, location, company culture and vibe from employees, the amount of younger people,men-women ratio/international attendees.

Above may be the best slide of the conference from Oli’s deck

Less Liked – WiFi speed seemed over-burdened, seats in auditorium not greatest but splitting hairs here. Also, I’m sorry Vancouver but your local beer wasn’t as great as Montreal…someone had to say it.

Overall Impression – We already bought tickets for 2018 – speaks for itself.


Vancouver Rocks

What a great city! Apologies to Unbounce, but hosting a marketing conference on conversion optimization in a dark auditorium when there is sunny summertime weather begging you to get outside makes it hard to focus. Especially when you have been grinding away for months back in the New York office of a marketing agency with regular clients & projects. Fortunately, VWM has always realized the value in work-life balance and is one of many reasons I love working here (other marketing agencies take note: flexibility in balancing work/life is as valuable as pay rate for a lot of us marketing professionals).

Yes, I’ll admit it – disclosure #1

When my boss offered to blow off the pre-conference workshops on Sunday (sorry Unbounce), rent some bicycles and ride around Stanley Park – the answer was a hard YES. After all, the Vancouver weather was beautiful and this seemed like a good way to clear our head before sitting in a conference for two days. We also needed the exercise after a long travel day getting into town. This was a great way for me and the CEO to connect outside of the office and our regular lives. It gave us a chance to talk about our business, operations in general, future strategy and really tune in on some big picture things. Developing both a personal and professional relationship with my CEO makes it easier to come to work everyday. Even though most days are filled working hard for our clients, we still like to have fun at work sometimes. It makes the late night server troubleshooting or off-hours development timeline all worthwhile.

The route below had great bike lanes, coastal views and was a pretty mellow, flat ride. We spread it out over 4-5 hours with stops for beer and snacks on some rented bikes from Spokes Bicycle Rentals . Highly recommend if the weather is good and you’re visiting the Vancouver area.

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7 dozen oysters, 6 tacos, 3 days

Yes, I’ll admit it – disclosure #2


Rodney’s Oyster House

Over the course of 3 days the two of us ended up eating 7 dozen oysters at Rodneys Oyster House and the staff there was awesome. It’s in Gastown and my personal favorites were the Royal Miyagi and Kusshi oysters. Shout out to the staff for the hospitality here as well and was a fun group of guys.


Gringo Tacos

Being from California I was a bit suspicious when I heard ‘Brisket Taco’ but turns out they are delicious, as well as the other tacos they have. Owner and staff were overly hospitable at this place and cozy back alley spot to go for ‘white trash Mexican’ style tacos – their words not mine, accurate and delicious. Gringo


For those of you unfamiliar, Unbounce is a landing page builder that makes it quick to build a good looking page, A/B test, monitor and all that good stuff. At Van West Media, we started using the platform a year or two ago for one specific client but have since worked it into out digital marketing service offerings. The experience has been positive so far and we like the tool.

How our Agency Uses Unbounce:

Yes, we are actually Unbounce customers and like their platform. I’ll elaborate a bit more on a future post about how we use the platform as it might be a bit different than most. Aside from the A/B Testing and design stuff, we make heavy use of the webhook/API to help our clients track and manage inbound URL parameters, attribute these leads to marketing campaigns, and qualify visitors based on how they answer a multiple choice form question. Every 24 hours, we automatically post a CSV file of client leads to their server, in a specif format their CRM needs and with specific codes/values that allow the client to differentiate between qualified and unqualified leads.

We use AWS and some custom programming to do this. We can track duplicate records across multi step forms, convert time code/zones, concatenate URL parameters and changes to pre-determined codes the client CRM uses and arranges all the data in certain headers and add some other values. Of course we love that the raw data is still stored by Unbounce and we use this when auditing to make sure nothing is missed. If the API or dev team from Unbounce is reading this – kudos to you and our developers are impressed with your web hook and we’d like to express some gratitude to your team instead of all those fancy frontend UX design types you have there:)

Here’s a link to the Unbounce CTA 2016 recap from the prior year for anyone who’s interested. We’re looking forward to next year!

What I’ve learned these past two years at Van West Media

June 28, 2017

This past June marked the two-year anniversary of Jaqueline, our Marketing Coordinator, working for Van West Media!

Her journey with VWM began during her final year studying Communications at SUNY New Paltz. After two years she’s sharing what she’s learned so far working at a digital marketing agency in the heart of New York City.


Can you explain a bit more about your journey from college student working part time to full time marketing coordinator withb VWM?

Well, I landed an internship for the summer in June 2015 working closely with the Social Media Director. Originally, this was a temporary position for the summer that wrapped up at the end of August and I planned to head back upstate to complete my last year of undergrad at SUNY New Paltz. Instead, I was lucky enough to be offered a part-time position working remotely for the duration of my senior year. When I graduated that May, I was offered a full-time position and now here we are!

Working remotely is becoming more and more common. Give us some insight on any challenges or benefits of working remotely while still attending university:

I honestly think this depends on the kind of person you are and what factors play into how you do your best work. For me, working remotely allowed me to become more organized and taught me to manage my time in a way where I had a good work/life balance going on. The challenge is in limiting all distractions during work hours so that tasks get completed, but also being able to turn off your laptop on a weekend and go enjoy some time with friends. The biggest benefit from this experience, for me, was learning how to prioritize and also how to adapt to alternative ways of working with and for a team back in NYC.

What is the best part about working for a small business?

There are a lot of positive factors working for a small business. I like the fact that it’s a more intimate environment so I know everybody that I work with and can easily communicate with everyone on any given day.

I also like that the “all-hands-on-deck” aspect of a smaller company gives me the chance to learn about and even attempt tasks outside of my given role. These past two years I have gained experience in social media, the website development process, project management and client support, to name a few.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned these past two years here?

Personally, one of the main things I’ve learned is to never stop asking questions and to always look for opportunities to learn something new. When I started working for VWM I jumped right in; this learning-by-doing mentality really helped me gain confidence in my ability to successfully work on projects but also led me to find the areas in which I enjoy working most on.

I started here working mostly on social media but in the past two years, I have seen that what I thrive in is organizing and structuring projects behind the scenes. This led to me to start taking on the kind of tasks necessary to help all team members execute projects into completion. A couple of title changes later, I’m excited to have found a position where I can continue learning what it takes to one day manage a team.

What advice do you have for recent college grads or those just starting out in the digital marketing industry?

Always be willing to engage in learning and evolving with the industry. There is always some new program to try or a new strategy to implement, etc. and it’s important to be able to understand why and how you can help a company make things happen! There is so much value in taking your responsibilities seriously and showing a company what you can bring to the table – it always results in a win-win situation.

Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

I would like to see myself being a part of the team that has worked for and achieved the goals that we recently have set for the company.  One of the best things about working for Van West Media is that I’ve had the chance to see where my strengths are and essentially customize my own role within the company. Hopefully, in a few years, I will have continued to grow with the company and will be showcasing my managing skills!

Why VWM? What would you say to someone interested in working for Van West Media?

 If you want to explore the world of digital marketing without sticking to just one niche, this is the place to be! We work with many different clients across various industries, which allows us to work on so many unique projects from web design, web development, marketing and more.

I also need to acknowledge the entire team behind this company. Every single one of us really cares about each individual client and ensuring that they are happy with the result. Our objective isn’t just to complete a project and move on, we seek to form long standing relationships with anyone who chooses to work with VWM.

Meet Our New Social Media Manager!

February 20, 2017

IMG_9105Van West Media is extremely excited to introduce our new Social Media Manager, Stephanie Cowan! Stephanie will focus on increasing visibility, engagement, leads, and sales for our clients using their social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn. These platforms are a great way for our clients to effectively reach specific audiences and Stephanie is a master at putting together a social media strategy and creating the appropriate copy and visuals to accomplish this.

Stephanie brings to Van West Media a keenly artistic eye, sharp wit, and unbridled enthusiasm and we wanted to give her the opportunity to introduce herself to all of you:

“I am really excited to be working here at Van West Media and have hit the ground running in the social media department. My biggest focus for the first month was revamping our own Instagram account.  I am super passionate about creating unique and thoughtful content that can strengthen our brand’s voice and visibility. I want each piece of content that goes live to give pause and have reason. It is my goal to make every single aspect of a post on social focused and goal oriented. That’s what is so special about social media. You can mold the big picture by obsessing about the nitty-gritty to create something unique, flawless, and memorable.

I have also spent a great deal of time meeting with many of Van West Media’s new and existing clients, learning about their various industries, and helping them curate and tailor their specific social media profiles. This includes understanding their corporate culture and identity as well as their vision and goals moving forward.

One of the reasons I was originally drawn to Van West Media was because of the vast differences and variety between the client base. Some digital marketing agencies focus on certain niche markets, but Van West Media has a wide-ranging and exciting client roster including law firms, financial firms, fashion brands, luxury travel destinations, non-profits, and more. This diverse clientele makes my job uniquely interesting and fulfilling and means that I get to constantly create new, varied, and exciting content.

If you have not yet taken a peek, I encourage you to visit our newly revamped Instagram account! Follow @vanwestmedia for a behind-the-scenes look at all of the great work we are doing here. I look forward to continuing to improve our client’s social media profiles and if you would like to discuss your own company’s social media strategies, please reach out to me so that I can help you.”

-Stephanie Cowan

CEO Spotlight: Van West Media’s Strategy for Success

January 24, 2017

Our CEO, Shad Mohammed, recently sat down to answer some questions about goal setting for 2017, what it’s like running a small business, and what to expect from Van West Media in the year ahead.

What is your primary goal for Van West Media this year?

“One of my main focuses for 2017 is to continue building from the inside out by focusing on investing in our team. When we focus on the growth of our employees and team members, we can increase our capabilities and improve the services that we provide to our clients. This year we took a trip as a team to the Unbounce Conference in Vancouver. This trip proved beneficial not only for all of the knowledge we acquired but also for the level of camaraderie and team building that the trip provided. Part of growing a business is deliberately making sure that Van West Media’s team members fully understand new technologies and capabilities as they come to market within the industry. Staying aware of the ever-changing evolution within digital media allows us to provide our clients with the most current and state-of-the-art capabilities to build their business.

It’s not easy to run a small business successfully. Who do you turn to for guidance?
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“In the past, I would get lost in small business minutia, but last year I began working with a business coach, John O’ Connor. There is no doubt that the work done with him over this past year is one of the key reasons that Van West Media had our most successful year ever. Every two weeks, John sits down with me and the team to talk strategy, goals and the most effective way to execute them. These sessions provide a great opportunity to discuss issues and thoughts among the team that may not otherwise come to light. Furthermore, they also help me to step back and see the company and operations in a new and differentiated way, allowing me to make important decisions and goal setting for the future. For any business owner or entrepreneur trying to grow their business, I would strongly recommend a business coach.

You are a big believer in goals. Looking at when the company started 5 years ago, would you say you have achieved your five-year goals?

“Five years ago, my dream was to create a passionate team of talented people who would work tirelessly to provide the best possible solutions to our clients. Five years later, I realize that Van West Media has succeeded beyond all my expectations. To have an office full of team members who love coming to work and love creating content that helps our clients is all I could ask for. The office culture within Van West is one of its greatest strengths. Some of our employees have been with me from the beginning. To see them grow as the company grows has been an incredible experience. To stop now and reflect on what we have built together is quite sentimental and joyous. Because of their dedication to work and immense talent, we have built a strong reputation for reliability and delivery of service. Clients continually return for re-launch after re-launch of their websites and to look for better ways that we can help them improve their brand. Overall, I am extremely proud to have created a client centric, employee focused company like Van West Media.”

What should we look for in the coming months from Van West Media?

“We are excited to be launching some of our biggest projects to date in the next several months. This on top of some major recent launches including SSRGA, FLOS, and Pyramid America. We will also continue to build our social media team, as social has become a game-changer for many of our clients in terms of driving visibility and customer engagement. We look forward to a wonderful and prosperous year where we achieve our goals while bringing our passion, experience, and expertise to each and every one of our clients so that their business can continue to grow with ours.”

Setting Goals VWM Style:

Setting goals at the start of a new year is a wonderful way to benchmark progression within a business. At Van West, we believe that the more specific you are when setting goals, the easier it is to achieve them. That’s why every team member breaks down an overall goal into smaller ones that can be reached in 3-month increments. This process helps keep our team on track and allows our progress as both individuals and a company to be measured. Has your company set goals for 2017 yet?

Law Firm, SSRGA, Launches New Website by Van West Media

September 13, 2016

Schwartz, Sladkus, Reich, Greenburg, Atlas, LLP (SSRGA) is a dynamic New York City law firm with deep experience and a passionate commitment to providing smart, efficacious solutions to their clients. Their mission is to serve clients with loyalty and integrity and to help their clients leverage opportunities and surmount challenges while also maintaining a culture characterized by hard work, respect and dignity for all, “non-egotism, fairness and a sense of humor.” Their practice areas include litigation, health care, business & corporate, trusts & estates, and-for-profit.

SSRGA was looking for a complete refresh of their website. They felt their website lacked energy, did not properly convey their corporate ethos and that it was missing a certain wow-factor. At the time, SSRGA felt the website did not effectively differentiate them from the many law firms in and around NYC. They wanted a new site that would set them apart from the competition, so SSRGA turned to Van West Media (VWM) to help them reach their goal.

From the start, Van West Media’s design team worked closely with the Partners at SSRGA to help them define what a “wow” direction would look like from a design perspective. Historically, Law has been a somewhat staid field in terms of online presentation, so the new site had to be edgy and hip without feeling forced or over-the-top. Van West Media’s design team used several creative techniques and elements to differentiate the new site including the use of bright, but familiar colors, engaging micro-animations, and a host of interactive in-page effects that allowed the visitor to explore information in a manner that was fresh, entertaining, and most importantly, informative.

mail_image_preview-2After interviewing numerous companies, my law firm ultimately retained Van West Media to redesign our website and assist in marketing strategy. We are thrilled with the level of services Van West has provided. They hit a grand slam home run with our new website and have supplied us with valuable marketing guidance. Van West exceeded our expectations and we are proud to be one of their clients.” – Steven Sladkus, Partner, SSRGA

It was important for the homepage to make a very strong first impression to the user. With this goal in mind, Van West Media’s production team shot and edited a very carefully crafted video campaign to quickly illustrate some key elements of SSRGA’s culture. The video successfully and tactfully expresses that SSRGA’s law firm is thoughtful, dynamic, professional, and client-focused. It also clearly showcases they are located in the heart of Manhattan. The video was a great way to convey visually and quickly the ethos of SSRGA. Other effects that are utilized on the homepage include micro-animations and in-page interactive effects, easy to read typography, and the use of a bright and inviting color palette.

Because SSRGA wanted their lawyers to be a primary focus of the new site, Van West Media spent two days on-site to capture headshots of every member of the team. These were used to create an effective section to showcase the firm’s attorneys with quick and easy access to lawyer bios, LinkedIn profiles, and contact information. Each attorney is also connected to a robust on-site search mechanism.


How Single Page Applications (SPA’s) Can Enhance User Experience

August 18, 2016

What Are Single Page Applications?

You may have heard someone refer to Single Page Applications recently, it’s kind of a buzz phrase right now. But what is  Single Page App, or SPA, and why would you use it? A Single Page Application is a web app that can fit on one HTML page and it provides users with a more fluid and responsive experience. The page updates, but never reloads throughout the whole process, and control never transfers to a separate page.

These web apps load all of the page information at once onto a single HTML page that can dynamically update as the user interacts with the app. Just because it is a web app, doesn’t mean that the scale can’t be enormous; both Gmail and Netflix use a SPA framework.

SPA Example – The Golden Door Program Calendar

Van West Media chose to use a SPA for, naturally, a Spa – Golden Door Resort and Spa to be exact. Golden Door recently received the 2015 “World’s Best Destination Spa” award from Travel + Leisure Magazine and has a comprehensive annual program calendar. The VWM design and development team worked closely with Golden Door to create a beautiful and highly functional SPA that allows users to sort, filter and select from a variety of program types.

There were several important reasons why Van West Media chose to use a SPA when developing the Golden Door Program Calendar. One of the biggest factors was page speed and user experience benefits. To the user, the calendar works and feels more like an application than a web page. As users filter or browse through different months and program types, only data is being transmitted back and forth to the server since all the initial HTML, CSS, Scripts pages only need the initial load. This makes for fast interactions on the page, particularly on mobile, tablet or cellular networks.

Another advantage in developing the page with a SPA framework was the ability to keep the data and the user interface separate. This allowed for streamline testing when developing the page and also provided an advantage when working with Golden Door’s booking engine. Future integrations or potential changes to how program data either comes into the SPA framework or goes out to other systems can be managed more effectively without having major implications on the interface.

You can view the Golden Door Program Calendar here

Why Use Single Page Applications?

Let’s backtrack for a second. Why would single page apps be used over other web applications? Well, single page applications try to solve 3 main problems that web apps are often faced with, which are:

  • Bad user experience – Continuous page rendering negatively impacts user experience because network delay is clearly visible.
  • Poor performance – Every time the page completely reloads, unnecessary re-transmission of data occurs.
  • Lack of offline support – A web application continues to function as long as there is a server connectivity. If that connectivity drops, the web app is essentially useless.

SPA’s require no page reload from the browser, and all user interaction and changes of the application state are handled within a single Web document.

What Other Advantages Do Single Page Apps Have?

With no page reloads, comes no extra wait time. The following are some more advantages of SPA’s:

  • SPA’s minimize response time by moving working data and processing it from the server to the browser.
  • SPA’s can go offline if the connectivity to the server drops. When the connection returns, SPA’s synchronize the local data with the server.
  • SPA’s instantly update like a website. Users don’t need to take any action, they can just reload the browser and it works.

Contact us to learn more about Single Page Application and how  Van West Media can improve your digital strategy.

SPA_CTA_Blog vwm

O Canada – Attendee Takeaways from Unbounce CTA Conference 2016

July 7, 2016

When my CEO suggested a free trip to Vancouver attending the Unbounce Call-to-Action Conference 2016, I quickly emphasized how valuable this would be. It had been more than 15 years since I had been to Vancouver and, truth be told, any excuse to get back would work. Luckily, it turns out the conference was awesome! Below are a few personal takeaways I found valuable and wanted to share for anyone interested in conversion optimization or digital marketing.

1) Behind every click is a human being.

human websites are better

Often times we marketers are so caught up in the weeds of conversion metrics, data trends, ranking signals, traffic volume… etc. that it gets really easy to forget this basic truth – humans are behind all clicks. There are many paths to choose when implementing a digital strategy and lots of shiny flashy bells and whistles that might work in the short-term. It’s hard to go wrong in the long run when you stay focused on providing value to humans and not just bots or algorithms.

2) Jargon litters the internet like plastic litters our oceans.

no more jargon

Loved this Unbounce Dejargonator Chrome Extension and fun and useful way to detect lame copy too many companies use far too often. Even our agency is guilty in this regard on a few pages, and it was a good reminder to streamline our copy and keep it 100.

3) Try Twitter Cards.

Maybe the social media specialists out there were aware of this, and I definitely needed a refresher. Twitter Cards seem like an easy thing to setup for any client using Twitter. More on Twitter cards can be found here.

4) Raise User Motivation to help conversion.

motivate me

Personally, my favorite speaker at the conference was André Morys both in form and substance. I can’t do justice to the depth of what he touched on, but the takeaway is that raising user motivation is really undervalued in terms of improving conversion/performance. Like many marketers, I tend to get caught up in removing obstacles, improving design, and driving more traffic or exposure, etc. Sometimes the “carrot-on-a-stick” approach to motivating a user is just as – or even more – effective. This is a very undervalued area of focus in digital marketing, in my opinion.

5) Actionable data doesn’t care about your opinions.

This is the bane of my professional existence in countless situations – internally and client facing – and something I’ve wrestled with since I first started working in the web world. Data never lies. If you have the right data you don’t need to convince anybody how good your idea is or isn’t – let the data do it. The challenge naturally is setting up your data collection correctly and being able to trust that what you are collecting is accurate. (I was lucky enough to meet Annie Cushing at the conference, so check out her site if you want to learn how to collect and analyze data the right way.) I can’t even count how many times things are done because someone thinks it is a good idea or looks they way they want. I always go back to the old saying here – an ugly website that performs well is better than a pretty website that nobody uses.

Unbounce Conference Summary:

Unbounce makes a really cool (and technically rock solid) product for conversion optimization and testing. We’re working to grow and expand the way our agency uses this tool on behalf of clients and the CTA Conference 2016 was a great place to learn more about industry best practices in this space and just have some fun. I look forward to talking my boss into another paid vacation attending the Unbounce CTA Conference 2017.


About the Author:

Travis Melvin works and writes for Van West Media (VWM) in New York City. VWM has been using Unbounce for the past year with a few clients in different ways and has been really impressed so far. This was our first Unbounce CTA Conference, but we’re already looking forward to next year.

Brackets and Green Beer: Embrace March Madness

March 17, 2016

At Van West Media, we take the month of March very seriously. Why? Two words: basketball and beer. Of course, St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday celebrated worldwide – so we decided the best way to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day and the NCAA March Madness tournament was with a green beer taste test and a Van West Media-branded basketball bracket, which you can download for yourself here.

Make the Beer Green: The Tasting Process

Food coloring was added to three different lagers and one ale which were judged blindly by three individuals to determine which we thought might make the most ideal green beer for St. Patrick’s Day.


The beers were poured into clear plastic cups and labeled A,B,C,D to keep it anonymous. This was a non-scientific, but very enjoyable exercise.

PSA: No leprechauns or rainbows were harmed while carrying out this experiment.

Ales vs. Lagers – What Gives?

These two types of beer are like the primary two branches of the beer family tree and every beer (exluding some sours/wild beers and extremes) falls into one of these two categories. The most notable difference is bottom-fermenting yeast versus top fermenting yeast, as well as the temperature at which the beer is fermented. Lager yeast likes to bottom ferment at colder temperatures whereas ale yeast is top fermenting and likes things a little warmer.

For the science types out there – yeast are single-celled mircororganisms and there are hundreds of varieties and strains out there. Different yeast strains can impact the finished flavor of beer in different ways and remember – no yeast = no beer so show some respect. There isn’t a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ when it comes to Lagers or Ales and there are many different individual beer styles within each of these categories.

Beers and Styles Used in This Experiment

Lagunitas IPA – American Style India Pale Ale

A well established IPA from California that has been around since before this whole craft beer thing was even a thing. Bitter, hoppy and high gravity (strong). Fun fact – 43 different hops and 65 various malts!

Smuttynose Vunderbar Pilsner – German Pilsner
A delicious clean, clear and crisp drinking lighter colored pilsner. Delicate and easy to drink and amazingly good when you can find it really fresh or on draft. Fun fact – There is an actual song for this beer (read on or view below. You won’t regret it)

Kelso Pilsner – Czech Pale Lager (Czech/Bohemian Pilsner)
Head brewer Kelly Taylor has a history in beer stretching back to the early 90’s and founded Kelso with his wife in 2006. Aside from brewing awesome beer, he has mentored countless other brewers and industry folks in the NYC area. Fun Fact – local favorite brewing right here in Brooklyn!

Braven Bushwick Pilsner – Czech Pale Lager (Czech/Bohemian Pilsner)
Kind of the new kid on the block, Braven Brewing Company has been around since 2013 with a strong affinity to the Bushwick Brooklyn neighborhood. This beer was brewed in the tradition of an old Brooklyn style and is something you can drink all day and still walk straight on your way to the L-train that’s running shuttle and 30 minutes late. Fun Fact – currently raising money to build a brewery if you want to invest.

How We Rated the Beers

04_ourtastetestersVery unscientifically. I repeat, very unscientifically, but hey – the beer was green. If we were being responsible we would have used something like the scoresheet from the Beer Judge Certification Program, which is a well-established 50 point scoring system for rating beer in BJCP sanctioned homebrew competitions. This scoring system provides an easy to follow and mostly objective framework in which beers are scored according to accuracy of their defined style. You can download a BJCP scoresheet online. Below are the primary metrics (beer goggle analytics, anyone?) used in their scoring framework.

Not that we followed BJCP Guidelines, but if we did it, the rating framework would be as follows:
Aroma – 12 Points
Appearance – 3 Points
Flavor – 20 Points
Mouthfeel – 5 points
Overall Impression – 10 points

Beer Style Overviews:
(Styles and description from the BJCP website –

American IPA
(21A from BJCP Style Guidelines):
Overall Impression: A decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale, showcasing modern American or New World hop varieties. The balance is hop forward, with a clean fermentation profile, dryish finish, and clean, supporting malt allowing a creative range of hop character to shine through.

German Pilsner
(5D from BJCP Style Guidelines):
Overall Impression: A light-bodied, highly-attenuated, gold-colored, bottom-fermented bitter German beer showing excellent head retention and an elegant, floral hop aroma. Crisp, clean, and refreshing, a German Pils showcases the finest quality German malt and hops.

Czech Pale Lager/Czech Premium Pale Lager
(3A/3B from BJCP Style Guidelines):
Overall Impression(3A): A lighter-bodied, rich, refreshing, hoppy, bitter pale Czech lager having the familiar flavors of the stronger Czech Premium Pale Lager (Pilsner-type) beer but in a lower alcohol, lighter-bodied, and slightly less intense format.

Overall Impression (3B): Rich, characterful, pale Czech lager, with considerable malt and hop character and a long, rounded finish. Complex yet well-balanced and refreshing. The malt flavors are complex for a Pilsner-type beer, and the bitterness is strong but clean and without harshness, which gives a rounded impression that enhances drinkability.

And the Winner is…

Smuttynose Vunderbar Pilsner – Smuttynose Brewing Company


Beer Nerd Warning: Since we were judging multiple styles at different temperatures and at different freshness, the results can hardly be considered scientific or conclusive. We were also performing under sub-optimal workplace conference room conditions – primarily meaning no pretzels for palette cleansing, beer with varying freshness dates (always look to see if your beer has a date before you buy it), temperature differences in one of the styles and a vague guilt about the unanswered emails piling up in inboxes while we shamefully colored perfectly good beer green. That being said, the judging was blind which provided some objectivity.


So before you start feverishly filling out your NCAA bracket over some green beer, here are some words of wisdom we learned from the owner of Good Beer NYC, an amazing craft beer shop in the East Village of NYC:

What’s the best beer in the world?
The one that’s in your hand right now.