Vortex Digital Business Solutions is a full-stack, digital marketing, web design agency based in Iowa City. Their first website was launched in 1996, so they are the right people to tell us the ebbs and flows of the industry and discuss where do we go next.
In this interview for Website Planet
we talked with the CEO of Vortex, Jonathan Sabin, to know more about that journey, technologies that changed the game and plans for the future. Check out the interview below!
Your first website was launched in 1996. Technology and the internet have changed since then, but what has stayed the same?
From my perspective, it’s been the dedication to produce world-class websites that rank well and that also achieve their ultimate purpose. People are confused about what websites are supposed to do, however, we are very clear about that. They really only do one of three things:
For some businesses, it’s educational. For other businesses, they are selling something; however for most people, business sites are lead-generation machines. Even if you are an artist, it’s all about sales or lead-generation. We must keep the goals our clients really want to achieve, top-of mind!
Marketing has not changed that much in the last few thousand years. It’s about putting who you are and what you are in front of your target audience and doing it in such a way that they understand what the benefit will be to them. We’ve always been an attraction-based, benefit-driven marketing firm.
What do you believe makes Vortex stand out and have longevity?
It’s a very competitive market but if we get a client, it’s because of the outstanding work that Team Vortex does. If you’re just shopping for dollars, it’s a race to the bottom. You really do get what you pay for! That being said, we are very conscious of the goals of all businesses, whether it’s a startup or a Fortune 5000 company.
We are very impeccable in our demeanor, we are very concise about what we do and tend to over communicate, which I think is a good thing. We are very agile and able to communicate back and forth and move quickly. We are adaptive and try to be impeccably open and honest.
The one thing most people get wrong is not understanding that the goal of all business is not to make money, it is to find and keep clients. That’s what we help our clients do.
Did some technology change radically your approach to work?
Web development has shifted tremendously over the years. Years ago, everything had to be done in frames. If you look at some websites out there, it still looks like they were made in the 1990’s! Monitors have shifted over the years and are wider now. So, there’s been a lot of change just from the visual perspective.
Modern technical SEO and UX (user experience) came along with iPads, iPhones and other smartphones; the whole idea of scrolling was not a thing from 1995-2005. We had to think about it like a newspaper: they have headlines and either the major stories are on the left or on the right, but you wanted to keep everything above the fold. This would keep everyone’s attention focused, but these days, everybody’s scrolling all the time!
Technically, we have to be very conscious about the Google algorithm because everybody is trying to rank better. Ten years ago, nobody asked if you wanted a mobile site, but today it’s not even a question. Many companies were mobile and had two different websites, but now everything has to be responsive and you must have really good SEO.
Things are shifting and now, with the new Google algorithm from last year, everything is about load speed. This year it’s about content. We used to have video on our front page, but we can’t have it anymore. Who knows where it’s going to end up! I think Google is in harmony with the idea that everything is about user experience and being geolocated.
One of your slogans is: “We turn websites into cash machines™”. What do you believe are the main blocks that sites not monetizing have to surpass?
Some of this is just basic, excellent web design. You need to have good UX (user experience). You need excellent content. We like to be very visually strong. You need to have traction, relevancy, and really good SEO. Then, the whole idea about turning your website into a cash machine is based upon the premise that this is not really just a website, it is an online business portal that is a lead-generation machine. For most business people, that is exactly what they want.
Once we have everything set up and understand the market on which we focus, turning your website into a cash machine ultimately comes down to numbers. People ask me what that means. If we do all the hard work and testing (not a “shotgun approach”), we want to get to a number, which is: how many dollars do we spend to get x number of impressions, y number of clicks and z number of sales.
When you know your number, that’s when you can turn your website into a cash machine. If you’ve got a lot of business going on, you don’t have to advertise. If leads are getting slim, you can step on the gas and turn advertising on. We believe in being very judicious with advertising dollars. I don’t think anybody has money to waste. It is pretty easy to waste money on advertising.
On a personal level, when navigating the web, what bad choices for websites drive you crazy?
Because it is so easy to make a website, everybody thinks they can do it. However, if it’s not your genius, it is not your job! I know there are many startups out there without a lot of cash flow, so a lot of people just want to throw something together. However, you only get one chance to make a first impression!
We’ve found that people in general don’t read. That’s why we have to present strategic, well thought out positioning statements, benefit statements, enrolling questions and very specific calls to action. Whenever you go to a website, you want something. You don’t want to read pages and pages of stuff. To me, that’s an amateur mistake.
Another thing is: if Google is very concerned about loading speed, don´t put up photographs that are too large and not sized properly that take forever to load They must be SEO’d properly. Having jpg files titled 532483.jpg will not get you any points with the Google ranking engine.
I like when clients tell me their company name and I google it and hit the images button. What I want to see are pages and pages of their images. The only way that is going to happen is by SEOing pictures properly – and here’s a trick: no spaces are allowed. You either need to use hyphens or underscores.
Another thing on which many people fall short is that their SEO sucks. Pardon my French, but here’s our game plan: onboard SEO gets done once, properly. People aren’t going to like this, but if you are paying monthly fees for SEO, you might be getting ripped off. There’s a big difference between SEO and advertising.
Onboard SEO: do your research, hire a professional, make sure your title tags, description, content is really keyword rich but not keyword spammy. Websites fall down in terms of ranking because they are not paying attention to best practice onboard SEO.
After that, go ahead and engender blogs, email campaigns, backlinks and social media to work on your offboard SEO. And if the market shifts or you get a lot more competition, then maybe once a year or a quarter, do some keyword research to find out what is and isn’t ranking among your competition.
Here’s another little trick: your Google description or description tag should be advertising copy, because you’re going to see the description on the results page. So, write it like advertising copy and have an excellent call-to-action.
Finally, what are Vortex’s plans in 3 to 5 years?
We want to continue to have fun at what we are doing. We don’t want it to feel like work. The thing is… nobody wants to work! People want to be passionate about what they do. I have a wonderful team, who are very passionate and have been with me for a long time, so we must be doing something right.
Also, we like being able to pick and choose our ideal clients. We like to work with businesses who we are able to build a long term relationship with, that trust that we know what we are doing, as we are completely transparent about it. So, more ideal clients, fun and steady growth.