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Banking Better Online

January 13th, 2015

By far, the most frequent touch point between financial institutions and their customers today is online – specifically online banking or other logged-in experiences – outpacing branches, call centers, and service representatives combined.

As one stakeholder from a large regional bank told us during a recent project, “If the online channel was a physical branch, we would have to buy the football stadium and fill it with tellers, not just put our name on it!”

Extractable recently evaluated the logged-in online banking (OLB) experiences of 20 of the largest and most recognizable banks in the United States. What we found is that, while many provide their authenticated customers an experience with rich functionality, nearly all fall far short in delivering an easy-to-use and insightful user experience for customers to actually manage their money.

What is most surprising is how similar these shortcomings are across banking brands. In our research, both the typical retail customer and the typical commercial customer are engaged with multiple financial institutions. Tens of millions of people must tolerate multiple OLB experiences, with each coming up short in a similar fashion.

In reviewing these OLB experiences, we found they are by-and-large designed in a way that is “bank-centric” rather than “user-centric.” Products, services, and transactions are expressed as a financial professional(or their product manager!) might talk about them, not as a nurse, firefighter, or teacher would be expected to.  Thus, an “inside-out” design approach manifests in which user interactions are structured around a bank’s own internal systems and 3rd-party integrations, rather than a user-friendly and informative approach.


An opportunity exists for banks to pivot and adopt a customer-centric, “outside-in” mentality, designing their online banking experiences to anticipate the needs of the user while providing valuable tools and content to support their journey.

Many of the experiences we looked at offer little or no insight into a customer’s financial condition and how certain actions, such as scheduling recurring money transfers, could affect account health. The OLB environment represents a perfect opportunity to provide contextual insight into how customers are managing their money and making day-to-day financial decisions, such as  explicitly demonstrating for a user how scheduled bill-pay will affect their balance, helping to avoid overdraft or other penalties.

A good example is the basic “balance” element of OLB experiences. It’s typically stated as a single number, or as an end-of-day total on the statements / transactions page. However, why not show the user, next to that balance, a simple chart of the balance over the last 30 days? This would help a user see the pattern (typically a saw-tooth shape) and use this to factor into their decision making.

Why would a bank invest precious resources in something that people, frankly, have no choice but to use? Because like an appetizer before the entrée, online banking sets the stage for something much more substantial.

Banks make profits off of customers that grow in deposits and wallet-share, less so those with basic checking or savings accounts. It comes as no surprise that when a customer decides to shop around for a loan or credit product, their primary deposit/checking institution can miss out on a substantial opportunity in the form of a longer-term, profitable relationship.

Consider for a moment, if a person’s primary deposit institution provided an online banking experience with which they were extremely comfortable using, and which proactively communicated with them about relevant financial products. Would the user be more likely to place additional trust in their chosen institution by opting for an added product that has already been recognized as meeting their need? We think the answer to that question is decidedly, “yes.”


Providing an experience that meaningfully connects people with their money and provides sought-after, contextual advice offers banks a previously untapped opportunity to cross-sell customers and grow through a modern relationship-oriented approach.

This may sound like an idealistic yet logical direction to head in, but how can banks truly seize the opportunity to use this “appetizer” to develop deeper relationships with customers and grow their share-of-wallet? There must be a concerted effort to design and build an easy-to-use, highly-functional, and insightful user experience that provides consistency as users move fluidly between digital touch points.

Based on our extensive work with clients from the financial services industry, and a thorough assessment of the current state of online banking, we’ve boiled down four core principles that should be embraced when designing a superior OLB experience:

  1. Ensure exceptional ease-of-use by designing from the user’s perspective to present information and structure interactions in a manner that is easily understood and managed.
  2. Deliver a consistency of experience across device types by keeping the design aesthetic, content structure, and functionality the same across delivery channels to ensure that web, app, and mobile experience all work in a similar (but not identical) way.
  3. Support good financial decision-making by offering valuable, contextual-based insight that can help people recognize which financial products and services could be beneficial to their situation,
  4. Embrace a platform that can elegantly expand to house more features and functionality while moving up the value chain to deliver more products and services to customers.

4 Principles

We believe the banking industry is on the verge of a huge leap forward and that a tremendous opportunity exists in designing a better online banking experience. It starts with understanding what retail and commercial customers are looking for, and making a concerted effort to deliver a painless and fluid experience managing money. It ends with a customer experience that is differentiated from the rest, forges deeper connections across financial products and services, and empowers people to make better financial decisions.


Content Strategy and Messaging for B2B Technology Audiences: Technology Experts vs. Decision Makers

January 9th, 2015

In our last post on B2B technology audiences, we discussed the motivations and information preferences of technology experts and key decision makers. Today’s post shows how you can appeal to these two very different audiences on the same site.

Lead with business benefits, follow up with proof points

On pages that need to appeal to both decision makers and technology experts, one strategy is to start off with the broader business benefits. That gets decision makers’ attention right away, and even highly technical users recognize that technology is a means to an end.

This solution page from our client, Keynote Systems, is a great example of how to do this well.

keynote screenshot

The first sentence clearly expresses the business benefit of their load testing products. This message also resonates on a more personal level with both decision makers and technology experts, because their professional reputations are on the line and they need a solution they can trust.

The next few sentences of the overview paragraph explain how Keynote load testing solutions model real user interaction, ensuring accuracy. This explanation is high-level enough that it’s easy for a non-technical user to understand, but detailed enough that a more technical user can see how Keynote is different.

The last sentence of the overview brings the focus back on the business, showing how Keynote solutions help users make better purchasing decisions.

As the user moves down the page, Keynote reveals more details about how their load testing solutions work. Each section includes the technical proof points that a performance measurement expert is looking for, but features are presented in terms of business benefits, which keeps decision makers interested.

Make technical specifications easily accessible

Technology experts visiting your site may already be familiar with what your products do and how they work—they’re looking for detailed technical specifications rather than an overview.

This product page from our client, Imperva, shows one way to meet technology experts’ needs without alienating decision makers.

The Specifications tab at the top of the page gives technical users quick access to information like supported database platforms and deployment modes. They can easily skip the video that explains why database security is important, as well as the high-level business benefits, like streamlining compliance, that are targeted toward the less technical decision makers.


Show off your technical expertise in specific channels

For Imperva, the knowledge gap between decision makers and technology experts is extreme. While security technology experts understand the need for data center security, a less technical decision maker may have no idea what Imperva products do or how dramatically they differ from other types of security solutions.

As a result, Imperva’s product pages need to educate decision makers on the basics of data center security and how it offers an important layer of protection. But, Imperva understands that they need to demonstrate that they are skilled and insightful to technology experts, and their blog is the perfect place to do that.

In addition to shorter posts on how to address new threats and vulnerabilities, Imperva uses their blog to share findings from the Imperva Application Defense Center (ADC), which researches security issues through lab work and hands-on testing in real world environments.

This level of technical detail would be too much for most decision makers, but it’s the technologist’s point of view that positions Imperva as a trusted thought leader in data center security.


Understanding B2B Technology Audiences: Technology Experts vs. Decision Makers

November 4th, 2014

Top Agency Extractable

Developing messaging and content strategy for B2B technology products can be challenging. In many cases, your company has to reach two distinct audiences with very different needs:

  • Technology experts: The engineers and developers who understand the nuts and bolts of how your technology works. They’re the ones who are going to design something with your component or use your software.
  • Decision makers: The managers, directors and C-level executives who make or approve purchasing decisions. Decision makers may have a technical background, but if they’ve spent the last several years managing a team or program, they aren’t likely to have the same depth of knowledge as technology experts. In some cases, they may even be a line-of-business manager with little or no technical knowledge.

These two audiences view information differently, and it’s important to address both on your website, even when they’re at odds with each other.

Technology Experts

If there’s one thing engineers hate, it’s marketing. They tend to be skeptical of anything that looks too promotional. So, what will get their attention?

  • Measurable facts that back up your claims. If you say your product is fast, you’d better tell them how fast. And, you’ll get bonus points if you can describe how you measured the speed so they know you’re using accurate data.
  • Quick access to product specs and features. Make it easy for technical users to find specific details about your products. You can try presenting features or specs in a table or comparison chart. A simple, straightforward presentation is more appealing than a flashy, complicated design for this audience.
  • High-quality documentation and support content. In their quest to learn more about specific capabilities and functionality, technology experts may review your documentation, support content and user forums to see how well your product really works. These users also want to know that your company will be ready to support them after they’ve become customers.

Decision Makers

Managers, directors, and C-level executives want to see how your technology can benefit their business. They tend to be less interested in technical details, and more interested in how you can help solve their problems. To appeal to them:

  • Focus on the outcome. Get a decision maker’s attention right away by showing what your products can accomplish for them. User research can help you determine which of their problems and pain points your products can address most effectively.
  • Demonstrate your expertise. Decision makers want to be confident that they’re making the right decisions. Building your reputation as a thought leader through your blog and other content marketing initiatives helps decision makers associate your brand with knowledge and expertise, which makes them more confident about choosing you.
  • Tell them something they don’t already know. Fresh, original content that shows decision makers how to meet an organizational need is highly appealing and shareable. Appearing knowledgeable and confident becomes more important to decision makers as they move up in their organizations. Genuinely helpful content enables them to make a better impression on their peers and helps cement their loyalty.


Stay tuned for our next post on more content strategy and messaging tips for reaching these different—and sometimes—conflicting—B2B technology audiences.

And if you’d like help with your content strategy, reach out to someone in our content department today!


EXTRACTABLE wins Top Agency in 2014 WebAwards

September 14th, 2014

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We are very excited to share that EXTRACTABLE was named Top Agency in the 2014 Web Marketing Association’s WebAward Competition. This is the third time EXTRACTABLE has won the Top Agency WebAward.

EXTRACTABLE Wins 55 WebAwards:

The Top Agency Award is given to the organization who wins the most WebAwards in a single year’s competition. This distinction is given to recognize the outstanding websites produced by digital agencies around the world. There are 96 industry categories – each website entered goes head-to-head with other sites in their categories. EXTRACTABLE took home 55 total awards, including many in industries of expertise: Healthcare, Financial Services, Green Energy, and Business-to-Business (B2B).

About the WebAward Judging:

Each site was assigned to three or more expert judges for evaluation. The WebAward judges are informed of the overall website project, the prospective audience for the site, and then asked to assume the role of the target user when judging.

Entries are judged on the following seven criteria:

  • Design
  • Innovation
  • Content
  • Technology
  • Interactivity
  • Copywriting
  • Ease of use

The success and acknowledgement from the WebAwards brings our team great satisfaction and pride, and reinforces our dedication to our clients to produce exceptional work.

Some of the award-winning projects: 

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona

Awards Won: Health Care Standard of Excellence, Healthcare Provider Standard of Excellence, Medical Standard of Excellence, Regional Standard of Excellence

Judge’s comment: “The site is well done!”

Energy Upgrade California

Awards Won: Advocacy Standard of Excellence, Energy Standard of Excellence, Environmental Standard of Excellence, Non-Profit Standard of Excellence

Judge’s comments: “Nice site. Good customer interaction and appealing content.”


Award Won: Outstanding Website

Judge’s comments: Consistent use of color and space enhance the experience, easy to use with very readable text (well spaced and formatted). Sleek and modern.

Marcus & Millichap

Award Won: Outstanding Website

Award Won: Financial Services Standard of Excellence


Award Won: Outstanding Website

Judge’s comment: “Very well organized and easy to navigate when considering the volume of data that is required.”


Award Won: Outstanding Website

Judge’s comments: “There is a lot of content on this website, but it is broken down into easy to navigate categories. Very well planned for its target audience.”

Motif Investing

Award Won: Outstanding Website

Judge’s comment: “A website that presents difficult information better than most others I have seen attempt to do the same.”


Award Won: Best Mobile Website

Judge’s comments: “Nice clean design with lots of content. Looks like it would be a very effective tool for employees.”

Greater El Paso Credit Union

Awards Won: Associations Standard of Excellence, Credit Union Standard of Excellence, Financial Services Standard of Excellence, Regional Standard of Excellence

Congratulations to our team and to our clients on the 2014 WebAwards and the Top Agency achievement!  Get the full details on all the EXTRACTABLE WebAwards at

If you’re planning a redesign of your digital experience, please connect with us. We’ll go deep to understand your business needs and develop a digital solution that just may be on the lineup of the WebAward winners next year!


Six Places Content Marketers Can Go for Ideas and Inspiration

September 2nd, 2014

EXTRACTABLE Content MarketingThe great thing about keeping a content calendar is that you’ll never have to worry about what topic you’re going to write about today. The catch is that you have to come up with enough ideas to fill out a content calendar. So what does an overworked content strategist do when she gets calendar choke (the content strategist’s equivalent of writer’s block)? Luckily, there’s at least a half dozen different places I can go to for content inspiration and ideas. Check ’em out and see if inspiration comes to you, too.

1.      Web Analytics Data

I find that analyzing the organic search terms in Google Analytics is an excellent way of discovering topics that are of interest to my audience. After all, this insight into what a user is interested in is about as direct as you’re going to get apart from doing primary user research. Plus, if you limit your analysis to recent inquiries, it has the added benefit of being a great source of timely content ideas.

Below you I’ve shared a few of the organic keywords that drive traffic to our website (I can’t give away all of our secrets!)

Top Digital Agency


Just as with your Web analytics data, there can be some good content gems to unearth in your social analytics. Because your social analytics includes an audience that is tangential to your core audience, you may find a broader set of topics here. The way I recommend mining social analytics for ideas is to see which posts garner the best reach and then see if there’s a topic there that can be turned into a story. For example, the last post about sketchnoting in the Facebook Insights reporting snapshot below shows excellent reach, so sketchnoting might be a topic I’d want to write about further.

EXTRACTABLE Content Marketing 3

3.      Google Trends

If you’re looking for content that is topical and current, Google Trends can be a great source.  Google Trends analyzes Google search terms to track what is popular on a given day. Google Trends doesn’t report on every possible term, but if you happen to be in an industry that aligns with their top charts you’ll have an added source for content ideas. For example, if you’re in the pharmaceutical industry, you can see what medications are trending in search at a high level (e.g., Antibiotics) and then explore deeper to see related searches (e.g., uti, uti antibiotics). If you find that you’re consistently uncovering relevant topics from Google Trends, you can subscribe and receive regular updates from Google, saving you the trouble of having to go look for them.

EXTRACTABLE Content Marketing 4

4.      Google Keyword Planner

It should be no surprise that Google offers a wealth of data and I’ve got one last Google source for you—the Google Keyword Planner. Built around the primary purpose of suggesting keywords for PPC ads, the Keyword Planner is an excellent source for researching keywords and concepts related to a topic. Let’s say for example that you want to write something about Obamacare but you’re not sure what angle to take. The Keyword Planner will suggest any and every term that is related to Obamacare.  Below we see 394 different terms that are currently being tracked in relation to Obamacare. You can also gauge the relatively popularity of your content based on the number of average monthly searches, competition and the suggested bid (the higher each of these is, the more popular the term is).

EXTRACTABLE Content Marketing 5

5.      Quora

Scanning and searching Q&A sites like Quora can be an excellent way of finding obscure topic ideas and possibly even a bit of supporting content that you can utilize in your writing. For example, just searching on the terms “pharmacy” and “oncologist” on Quora produces some interesting lines of questioning as shown below. A blog post on the shared personality traits of oncologists could make for a pretty nice little lifestyle piece, but what are the chances that you’d come up with that idea on your own?

EXTRACTABLE Content Marketing 6.1

EXTRACTABLE Content Marketing 6.2

6.      Call for Questions

EXTRACTABLE Content Marketing 7

Sometimes there’s just no substitute for asking your users what they want to see from you in the future. You can make the request (on your website and social channels) for what people want to know about by asking them to submit questions or topic ideas via Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter (depending on which social platform is best for your business). In addition to getting valuable information you can use, your users are likely to appreciate the opportunity to provide the input, especially your loyal visitors. But take a page from Hypebeast’s attention-grabbing example and make sure that your request is something that will catch their eye in the first place. Then be sure to be specific about any pertinent parameters you require —such as timeframe for submitting requests, expectations about when they might (or might not) see their idea live, and any information about incentives (if applicable).

Still Stumped? Time for Professional Help

Coming up with content ideas week after week, month after month is no easy task.  And while we hope these ideas will inspire you, we know that content concepting and creation is incredibly time-consuming, and sometimes just finding the time can be the biggest challenge you face. We’re here to help if you should need it. At Extractable, we’re passionate about all things content, and we’re ready to put our experienced content team to work for you. Contact me at to learn more about how we can make content work harder for you.




Join Extractable at Top Digital Marketing Conferences This Fall

August 22nd, 2014

Learning about real-world digital marketing strategies, results and best practices from peers and industry experts is one of the best ways to light a fire and spark fresh thinking at your organization. Delivering exceptional customer experiences is one of the most powerful ways for marketers to differentiate their brand and gain competitive advantage in today’s marketplace. It’s not an easy task. It requires marketers to be fluent in multiple areas like omni-channel marketing, mobile, data analytics, user experience, social media, content marketing, personalization and more. Fortunately, there’s a host of fantastic educational conferences this fall, all designed to help marketers better engage, nurture and win customers at every customer touchpoint.

While we’ll be attending all of the conferences listed below and exhibiting at some, we’re also excited to present our data-driven digital expertise at the Sitecore Symposium, the Gilbane Conference and NetFinance Interactive. At Sitecore, we’ll reveal how Extractable successfully built a powerful digital solution for a customer to drive engagement and business results across desktop, mobile, public and logged-in experiences. At Gilbane, we’re on a panel with several other distinguished experts to discuss how to successfully implement and maintain a content marketing strategy and plan. At NetFinance Interactive, we’ll talk about the biggest customer experience problems in online banking, what banks can do about them and what are the most significant growth opportunities, based on findings and insights from a proprietary analysis that we’ve done.

If you’re planning on attending any of these conferences, please get in touch with us so that we can meet up with you there!

American Banker Marketing and Retail Conference

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When/Where: Sept. 7-9, Orlando

Why Attend: Explore the latest thinking about customer-centricity, mobile banking, digital, multi-channel communications, big data, customer service, sales and more. Also, visit the Extractable booth

Sitecore Symposium

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When/Where: Sept. 8-10, Las Vegas

Why Attend: Tap the Sitecore community about how to engage customers with personalized, measureable experiences in today’s mobile, social and global world. And, attend the Extractable session!

How can you build a digital experience that is designed to engage your customers for years to come? 

Simon Mathews, Chief Strategy Officer, Extractable

Bess Lauer, Digital Communications Manager, Micron Technology, Inc.

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 4:00-5:00 p.m.

Content Marketing World  

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When/Where: Sept. 8-11, Cleveland, OH

Why Attend: Get the tools you need to implement a content marketing plan to grow your business and engage your audiences. In addition to speakers from top brands like Kraft Foods, Microsoft and Facebook, hear keynote speaker Actor, Director, Producer Kevin Spacey!

B2B Marketing Forum

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When/Where: Oct. 8-10, Boston

Why Attend: Learn about technologies and other tools B2B marketers can use to modernize their marketing approach in the areas of demand generation/nurturing, measurement and analysis, big data, writing and curation, video content, and marketing strategy and planning.

Forrester’s Forum for eBusiness & Channel Strategy

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When/Where: Oct. 28-29, Chicago

Why Attend:  Learn how to create alignment and balance in enterprise wide digital strategies and transform your operations with customer-centric business technologies while improving customer experiences.

Forrester CX WEST 

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When/Where: Nov. 6-7, Anaheim

Why Attend: See new Forrester research that reveals the drivers of customer experience quality and learn how to take charge of your customer experience ecosystem. Also, visit the Extractable booth

Gigaom Roadmap

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 11.22.16 AMWhen/Where: Nov. 18-19, San Francisco

Why Attend: Hear from the world’s leading creators that are using experience design to disrupt industries. Discuss the future of next-generation interfaces, the intersection of data and design, and lessons learned about designing emotionally compelling experiences.

Gilbane Conference

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When/Where: Dec. 2-4, Boston

Why Attend: Explore the most effective technologies and approaches to help enterprises build agile, sustainable digital experiences. And, attend Extractable’s session!

Content Marketing Panel (C12)

Dana Larson, Chief Content Officer, Extractable

Rachel D Metscher, Director of Content Marketing, ICF International and American Marketing Association

Pawan Deshpande, Founder & CEO, Curata

Sourabh Kothari, Senior Manager, Rich Media Marketing, Cisco Systems, Inc.

Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2:00-3:20 p.m.

NetFinance Interactive

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When/Where: Dec. 2-4, San Diego

Why Attend: Hear senior-level speakers present about the latest trends in data innovation, mobile and cross-channel customer experience. Focus this year is on disruptive technologies, omni-channel, analytics, mobile and digital. Also, attend the Extractable session!

The biggest customer experience problems in online banking, and what to do about them

Simon Mathews, Chief Strategy Officer, Extractable

Day 3, 10:05 a.m.



Learning to Love Inbound Marketing at Mozcon

August 5th, 2014



The Mozcon conference, held yearly in Seattle, focuses on inbound marketing—the activities that draw customers and prospects in, such as SEO, content marketing, and social media. At this year’s conference, I expected to learn a lot about SEO, and I wasn’t disappointed. From Cindy Krum’s mobile SEO strategies to Rand Fishkin’s “mad science experiments,” the presentations offered great advice on link building and improving rankings. But what I found most compelling was the way many speakers questioned assumptions about the value of marketing and expanded their focus to include the broader customer experience. Here are a few highlights.

Moz’s CEO hates marketing.

During her fireside chat on the last day of the conference, Sarah Bird admitted that she hates marketing. That seems like an odd statement from the CEO of a company that builds tools for tracking and improving your inbound marketing efforts in SEO, social media, and content marketing. But as Sarah explained, what she really hates is the intrusive, manipulative marketing of her youth.

Sarah talked about how Moz wants to be a voice for white hat marketers and bring integrity to marketing as a discipline. She discussed how important it is to present relevant content at the right time, which requires thought and care. Fortunately, more and more businesses understand that strong customer relationships require honesty and accountability, not shallow tricks and broken promises.

Links matter, but they are not your real goal.

In the pursuit of top rankings and traffic, it’s easy to focus on output and lose track of the outcome, as Wil Reynolds discussed. Why are we doing all this SEO in the first place? To help our clients acquire and retain customers, increase sales, and grow their businesses.

Wil encouraged us to “stop celebrating the first step” of getting a top ranking and instead, focus on building solid, long-term customer relationships. That means paying attention to every touchpoint, starting with what users get when they click the link you worked so hard to move to the top of the search results page. Once a user actually visits, are you delivering the content you promised? Look at the bounce rate for your high-ranking pages, and find out if you’re giving users the experience they want.

Be honest about what you actually deliver.

Kerry Bodine described what happens when there’s a mismatch between customer expectations and customer experience. Like the child who gets a stuffed toy cat for her birthday instead of a real kitten, we’re disappointed when companies deliver the same old mediocrity instead of the exceptional products and customer service their marketing promises.

As Bodine explains, it’s better to promise the stuffed toy if that’s all you can deliver. You’ll build more trust with your customers if you “keep your promises, then make them.” Map out the customer journey, talk to customers and employees, and get a clear view of the actual experience. Until you’re able to make improvements, don’t make promises you can’t keep. You’re not fooling anyone with that stuffed toy—everyone can see it’s not a real kitten.

Publish better content.

“Go bigger with your content and stop publishing drivel,” as Lindsey Wassell said, in one of my favorite quotes from the conference. If you’re serving up the same “5 Tips You Won’t Believe” as everyone else, then you aren’t offering any new insights or thought leadership. As a result, you won’t capture prospects’ attention or help build your brand, even if you become a master at using Nathalie Nahai’s techniques for writing persuasive headlines.

The best way to waste time and money in content marketing is not understanding your audience, as Stacey Cavanagh McNaught shared in her presentation on efficient content marketing. She gave some great advice on how to get to know your audience better, from using Facebook Graph Search to learn more about their interests to producing personas specifically for content consumers.

Learn more about Moz and Mozcon.

At Extractable, we use Moz Pro to audit and track our clients’ inbound marketing efforts. We also point clients who want to learn more about SEO to their Beginner’s Guide to SEO and Google Algorithm Change History.

Mozcon offers a broad range of topics and a diverse mix of speakers that’s unusual in marketing and tech. I’ve spent most of this post talking about ideas and principles, but speakers shared lots of actionable tactics as well. If you’re looking for ways to improve your inbound marketing results, I’d recommend taking a look at next year’s conference.









Big Data? Size Doesn’t Matter. It’s What You Do With It, That Counts.

July 21st, 2014

Way back in June of 2012, a study revealed that big data had reached a tipping point:

“Technologies that manage and analyze data are easier to use and are more readily accessible to wider groups of employees in the workplace. Further, more people are empowered to make well- informed decisions from the data.”

By September 2012, the Harvard Business Review had published an article on their blog entitled, “What Executives Don’t Understand About Big Data”. I would venture to guess that when many executives read that title, not only did they not understand big data, most probably wondered “big what?” Now, in the nearly two years that have passed, big data has exploded. It has become the catchall for everything from recommendation engines to trending social media topics.

Here’s a snapshot of how interest in big data has increased over the last few years from Google Trends.


“The big data revolution is that now we can do something with the data.”
– Gary King, quoted in Harvard Magazine

I’m not going to tell you what is big data. You can find plenty of places that spin the term.  You can also find more on this in the March-April 2014 issue of Harvard Magazine, “Why “Big Data” is a Big Deal.”

But I will tell you what big data is not: it’s not your measly little hard drive of web data. An enterprise website might generate a few gigabytes of data in a year. For example, WebTrends says you should plan for 5 Gigabytes of data per profile annually. Five terabytes is 1,000 times as large, and five petabytes 1,000 times larger than that!


“Five exabytes” (note: one exabyte is 1,000 petabytes) is commonly quoted as the amount of storage necessary to catalog every word ever spoken by humans. That’s only half the size of Google’s combined data centers.

So it’s true, when people come to us talking about their “big data,” they may have been misguided on the terminology. Helping our clients understand how they can profit from  using data and how to utilize it to create compelling digital experiences, gets us really excited. We here at Extractable love that! Over the past two years, we’ve witnessed that more and more humans are thinking about data, talking about data, and most importantly USING data to grow their businesses in innovative ways. The central principle of note here is that…

… it’s the humans that are doing it.

So much of the talk about big data is about all the revolutionary tools that have been developed in terms of software and hardware that allow us to analyze data that was just too big a few years ago. But, one thing that tends to get lost is…

Data Is Useless Without the Right Humans to Analyze It

And company executives are starting to realize that. You need a mixed team that can conduct data-driven experiments, interpret data, and create innovative customer experiences. A strong team should have:


Humans that like to experiment

The web is the ultimate petri dish for these folks. Not only have online transactions given analysts access to data about what people do and buy online, but it gives it to them quickly and succinctly.  This makes it comparatively easy to test new ideas. But, also needed are people to come up with those ideas, generate hypotheses, and think like a mad scientist. Computers can’t do that very well.


Humans that like to analyze

graphic_3Modeling and variance aren’t just for data nerds anymore. You need leaders who get it. Computers are great at slicing up data and presenting it to the humans quickly and efficiently, but the human being still needs to figure out what to do with it and make conclusions about what the data shows. These analytic types extract insights and drive action.


Humans that like to strategize



These folks drive organizational transformations. They understand how their mission connects with a better use of data.



We are the humans.

At Extractable, these types of thinkers are key members of the our team. They are working every day, experiementing, analytizing and strategizing to tackle our clients toughest challenges. As you are starting to think about what this all means to you, here are some things to keep in mind.

The data you have matters less than what you do with it.
Maybe you have one piece of data, deciding what it means and then basing a decision on it, might turn out to be critical. Sure, we’d like to always have more data. We’re operating from a position of limited information.

Data doesn’t replace the need for human judgment; it enhances it.
Remember, just because you’ve spent $1M on a super computer, doesn’t mean you can send the humans home. It means you need the right people to help you decide where to bet the next million.

Data doesn’t drive results, people do.
As we’ve learned, having data, and more data, and the right data and the right people to analyze it is important. From there it falls to leadership. If you’re not creating the culture, rewarding your people for data-driven thinking, measuring what you’re doing and changing course appropriately, all the cloud computing power in the word isn’t going to help you.

The data keeps coming.
If you’re still worried that your data isn’t big enough. Don’t worry; it will get bigger. The challenge you will face, will be to keep on top of it, keep optimizing, and keep growing.

I’d love to connect and hear your thoughts!

Thanks to Derek Johnson for the incredible illustrations.


Building Visual Communication Skills with Sketchnoting

July 1st, 2014


When Extractable’s UX designer Lisa Aufox asked who would want to participate in a sketchnoting workshop, I jumped at the chance. I’ve done some visual journaling before, and we use visual communication techniques in client presentations all the time. But I’ve often wondered how people can simultaneously listen to a talk, synthesize and organize the information, and get it all down in a sketchbook so that it’s both comprehensible and nice looking… that seemed like a daunting task for a word-focused content strategist.

Lisa broke sketchnoting down for us, and it’s a lot simpler than I thought it would be. Like any new skill, it’s going to take time to perfect, but as Lisa pointed out, it gets easier with practice as you build your visual vocabulary.

 Here are a few of the basics:

  • Focus on the main concepts—simplify, rather than trying to include every detail.
  • If you don’t have time to add that perfect image or text treatment, leave space for it and add it later.
  • Color and shading can add emphasis and depth. But, if you emphasize everything, then nothing stands out. Make it easy on yourself and add color and shading at the end of the talk, when you know the relative importance of each item. Lisa recommends starting with black and adding gray for shading, along with a single color.
  • Some speakers use metaphors and stories, which often translate easily into sketches, so take advantage of that when it happens.

Lisa shared a few basic tools and techniques, which we practiced together:

Techniques for emphasizing letters and words

lettersandwords copy

Drawing basic shapes

basicshapes copy

A few easy methods for drawing people and facial expressions

people copyDrawing objects (which went fine until I realized that while I can certainly recognize an anchor, I can’t actually draw one without some kind of visual reference)

objects copy

Drawing concepts (it was fairly easy to visualize “sharing,” but “adapt” was a whole different story)

concepts copy

Next, we talked about managing the layout. A single page or two-page spread works best, so that you can see the entire note without flipping pages. The challenge is to fill the page evenly and give each element the right emphasis without running out of space. Here are some layouts you can start with.


linear copy


skyscraper copy


radial copy


path copy



modular copy


popcorn copy 2

As practice, we all sketchnoted together while viewing How to Build Your Creative Confidence, a TEDTalk from David Kelley of IDEO. It’s fascinating to see all the different ways that the Extractable team found to represent the key points of the talk in their sketches.

closeup group copy

Now that I’ve learned the basics, I’m excited to use sketchnoting as a way to practice my visual communication skills. If you’re interested in learning more about sketchnoting, here are some resources to for inspiration:

Sketchnotes 101: The Basics of Visual Note-taking



Managing Projects with Critical Launch Dates

June 24th, 2014


I recently had a client with a web project that was extremely time sensitive. They were launching a new name and new branding. On a specific day everything was changing: print materials, location signage, and their website. They were planning a large unveiling and the new website had to be ready.

As a project manager at Extractable, the majority of projects I run tend to be planned using the Critical Path Method (CPM) of project management.

This is the standard agency planning method where the team sits down together, lists the various tasks they believe will be required to complete the project, and estimates the amount of time required to complete those tasks. Each task then gets strung together based on the order required to complete them.

The Critical Path Method has been used by agencies for decades, but there are often two consequences with using this:

1)   No task will be completed sooner than required. Since design and development are never perfect, the team will always continue to refine a deliverable until it needs to be completed.

 2) There are some tasks that will take longer than expected. Initial web development project plans are often 6 months to a year. There will be unexpected issues that weren’t accounted for during the initial planning. Everyone on the team knows this, but no one knows where it will happen. Because of the unexpected, every task on the plan gets a little extra time “just in case.” Some of the tasks don’t get enough “additional time” and they cause the final launch date to slip.

A process I read about in a book called Critical Chain written by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt seemed like a possible solution.

With this new way of planning, we would take the “just in case” time everyone adds to each task, remove it from each individual task, and string it together in a single block at the end of the project. This means the final launch date is the same as when using the Critical Path Method, but you have a large block of “additional time” at the end of the project which doesn’t have a task assigned to it. I really liked the idea of planning a project this way to reduce the risk of missing a critical launch date.

 There were two main issues I had to overcome within the agency if I was going to try the Critical Chain method:

 1)   The team had to accept a different way of managing the project. They were concerned that reducing the task estimates by removing the “just in case” time was simply going to make them work harder. The team had to trust that we could extend the deliverable timelines, when needed, by using the “additional time” we were bucketing at the end of the project.

 2) The client had to be flexible with deliverable dates. I presented the client with two project plans. They both had the same launch date, 6 months from the start. One plan had tasks neatly assigned all the way to launch. The second plan had tasks finishing after only 4 months with 2 months of “unassigned” time. I explained to the client the difference between the plans. The first one was our traditional plan. The second plan, I felt, reduced the risk of missing the launch date but the client had to be flexible with timing for deliverable reviews. For example, the agency normally takes two weeks for design concepts. We were planning only one week but it might not be ready after only 1 week. (It ended up taking 1 week and 2 days.) They had to be flexible and comfortable moving the dates if necessary

Results: After several conversations the team decided to trust a new planning process and the client agreed to be flexible. The website launched on the exact day the client needed.  The team hit most of the dates on the shortened project plan, but there were places we needed to adjust. We used 2 weeks from the “additional time” bucket for several of the deliverables. The client unexpectedly took an extra 4 weeks to gather content, which was allotted for within the “additional time” bucket. The remaining two weeks left of  “additional time” was spent completing extra QA on the site, which provided for a polished, tight website for an exciting launch of a new brand.

The Critical Chain project management process isn’t appropriate for all projects, but with the right combination of a team open to trying something new, a flexible client, and an immovable go-live date, the Critical Chain process can help reduce the risk of missing your launch.