How Mobile Site Speed Affects Your Google Rank

Google recently announced that mobile site speed will be more important than ever when it comes to ranking.

On July 9, Google updated a previously released statement to say, “Studies show that people really care about the speed of a page. Although speed has been used in ranking for some time, that signal was focused on desktop searches. Today we’re announcing that starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches.”

This “Speed Update” will only affect pages that deliver slow user experience, but may not effect slow pages with useful content.

Because our mission at Sparq Designs has always been to form relationships between people and brands, we believe in helping brands improve their mobile web presence. If you’d like to see if your mobile site is at jeopardy to lose rankings due to site speed, we will audit it for you free of charge. Please fill out the form here (don’t forget your email!) and we will follow up with a site speed audit and other areas of mobile opportunity.

There is no obligation to sign up for our services – we’re simply here to help. We hope you take advantage of this service and that you continue to find the best ways to connect with your audience.

Happy ranking!


3 ways to make the new Facebook algorithm work for you, not against you

Since the 2016 election, Facebook has been challenged with many crises like the fake news epidemic and the rise of unwanted branded content in the news feed.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Founder, and CEO, deemed this algorithm shift necessary to ultimately better the user experience for Facebook. Here’s his vision:

Our focus in 2018 is making sure Facebook isn’t just fun, but also good for people’s well-being and for society. We’re doing this by encouraging meaningful connections between people rather than passive consumption of content. Already last quarter, we made changes to show fewer viral videos to make sure people’s time is well spent. In total, we made changes that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day. By focusing on meaningful connections, our community and business will be stronger over the long term.

As a business who markets on Facebook, it’s easy to see this change as a threat. But it isn’t, it’s a challenge to adapt and find new, more authentic ways to reach your consumers.

Here are three ways to ensure your Facebook strategy appeals to the Facebook algorithm.

Ask your followers to choose “see first”

At first when this recommendation began flooding the internet in response to the algorithm chaos, it seemed spammy and uncomfortable.

Upon further thought, this is just a new call-to-action to incorporate into your content. If you were asking people to comment to answer a question (which is now frowned upon), you are now asking them to view your content first if they are committed to your brand. This means… more engagement from dedicated brand followers.

One way to casually ask your followers to choose the “see first” option is to use casual rhetoric and offer a vague incentive such as: If you want to see exclusive coupons and specials first, make sure you choose to see (insert brand) first on our page. 

Engagement no-nos

We lightly mentioned not to ask your followers to engage with superficial call-to-actions like: Like, share and comment if you love Sparq Designs! The algorithm is going to demote individual posts from people and Pages that use engagement bait.

Here are other prior engagement hacking tactics that will be demoted by the new algorithm:

  • Clickbait
  • Spammy links in posts
  • Repetitive/repeated posts
  • Posts that ask for likes/comments/shares (ask us for suggestions on new call-t0-actions for Facebook giveaways)
  • Overly promotional content

Local businesses…rejoice!

In an effort to combat fake news, Facebook will be favoring local news content in the algorithm.

On January 29, 2018, Zuckerberg put out a statement highlighting this immediate change:

People consistently tell us they want to see more local news on Facebook. Local news helps us understand the issues that matter in our communities and affect our lives. Research suggests that reading local news is directly correlated with civic engagement. People who know what’s happening around them are more likely to get involved and help make a difference.

If you are trying to reach a geo-targeted audience around your location, it is time to invest in online marketing tactics like: news release distribution, strategic campaign implementation and blogger outreach. These efforts will offer newsworthy content to local sources, which will ultimately be favored in the newsfeed.

Video is your best friend

Facebook has been favoring video for a while now, but uniquely-curated video content will be even more valuable in the new algorithm. Don’t let articles that say “video won’t be favored in the new algorithm” fool you. Now videos from your friends and pages you follow will take precedence over videos from viral, unrelated sources that often get caught up in the everyday news feed.

Facebook’s goal has always been to connect users with each other by creating meaningful interactions. Viral videos don’t necessarily engage users, however, there are other ways to keep the momentum going.

Hack the algorithm with live video

We have been hosting live video events for our client, Bellissimo Plastic Surgery & Medi Spa, since April 2017. This strategic tactic has proved to offer meaningful interaction between Facebook users, and Bellissimo’s board-certified plastic surgeon, Dr. Antimarino. This emphasis on meaningful interactions is what allows Facebook live events to fit into the algorithm changes.

Choose a spokesperson for your business, and host a live event yourself to see the results, or reach out and we can help you.

At Sparq, one of our main initiatives is to change the way people relate and connect with brands. As the 2018 Facebook algorithm change continues to be implemented, we can help your brand adapt to the changes with authentic content and social media strategy. Learn more.
Sparq Designs is a full-service marketing agency based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sparq Designs caters to clients of all industries, but specifically in the medical, sports & entertainment, and consumer world. 2018 is Sparq’s fifth year in business. Since 2013, Sparq has grown rapidly into a team of 16+ employees. Sparq Designs’ services include but are not limited to: Web Design, Web Development, Search Engine Optimization, Graphic Design, Social Media Management, Email Marketing and Video Production.


5 Instagram Hacks You Need In Your Strategy

Instagram has evolved from a simple visual driven content channel into a powerful tool you can use to significantly engage with consumers and drive sales. With a limited API and a plethora of information concerning the basics of Instagram marketing, there is still a lack of knowledge about the Instagram hacks marketers can use to give users the best experience possible. So what are they?

Add Links to Profile Bio

One of the first and most dreaded Instagram hacks comes as a result of that platform preventing clickable links in photo captions or comments. Other than paid ads, the only clickable link within Instagram is on your profile page. A common tactic is to add “link in profile” to a photo caption, sending followers to your bio where they can click on the link and view the content.

We’ve got some tips to get around this without totally disrupting the user experience on your brand’s Instagram.

Geotag Content

To get your content in front of a larger audience, it’s smart to geotag your images and videos. Users commonly scope tagged locations to follow other people in the same area. This will help sort your content in the discover section of Instagram searching, and will allow t to show up to relevant users who don’t follow your brand.

Watch Your Brand’s Analytics

A business account will show you your Instagram analytics and insights, including the best time to post based on engagement from your earlier posts. To switch your profile to a business account, tap on the round icon in the top right corner of your profile. Then click “Switch to Business Profile”, connect it to your Facebook business page and follow the steps to set up your business profile.

Quickly Edit Photos Using Saved Filters

If you’re rocking a great aesthetic (which you should be) you’re consistently using the same filters and editing techniques for your photos! Whichever filter is your favorite, make it easy to find by changing the order in which the filters appear on your edit screen. You can even hide those ones you never use.

Instagram hack of maintaining an attractive aesthetic with filter use example from Canva.

Canva is a wonderful example of a brand using a highly attractive Instagram aesthetic with filters.

Here’s how:

  • When posting a photo or video, go to Filter
  • Scroll to the end of your filters and tap Manage
  • Press and hold the three line icon next to each filter on the left-hand side of the screen to rearrange the order of your filters
  • Check or uncheck the circles next to each filter on the right-hand side of the screen to hide or unhide filters
  • Click Done to save your settings

Watch the Competition’s Instagram Hacks

Brands should always measure their efforts against the competition to know what’s working and things that could improve. For brands on Instagram, it’s smart to see what type of content your competitors publish on a regular basis. Then you can choose which methods could work for your brand and help build inspiration for future posts. To get notified when specific brands post, head to their profile and select the ellipsis button, then click turn on post notifications.

What hacks did we miss? Let us know!

Sparq Designs is a full-service marketing agency based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sparq Designs caters to clients of all industries, but specifically in the medical, sports & entertainment, and consumer world. 2018 is Sparq’s fifth year in business. Since 2013, Sparq has grown rapidly into a team of 16+ employees. Sparq Designs’ services include but are not limited to: Web Design, Web Development, Search Engine Optimization, Graphic Design, Social Media Management, Email Marketing and Video Production


Document Over Create

Recently, I’ve been following Gary Vaynerchuk, the marketing genius behind his personal brand and company, VaynerMedia. Through his content and daily vlogs, which he titled DailyVee, he shows the value of documenting your everyday life and the rich content this is originates organically. Watching is his actions, opened my eyes to the many opportunities that documenting creates.

1. There is valuable content in everyday life. Based off Vaynerchuk’s DailyVee video series, Sparq Designs has been documenting everyday life at 15090 Perry Highway. The episodes featured on the Sparq Designs’ Youtube Channel, show the company culture, an insight into the creation of campaigns, industry-related input, as well as feature the office dog, Jack; a fan favorite. The episodes show the behind-the-scenes elements of the business, as well as capture valuable content that is authentically discussed throughout the day. Without even giving it a second thought or creating a theme that the video is centered around, documenting allows us to create content effortlessly.

2. People are interested in other people’s lives. In recent years, vlogging has become an increased trend on YouTube. Vloggers like Casey Neistat, Sarah Dietschy, or Erik Conover to name a few have brought us along on their daily life, whether they’re living in New York City, starting a new business, traveling around the world, or just chillin’ with friends; they tell their story through documenting their everyday life.

Casey Neistat started daily vlogging because he had the urge to create something everyday, as well as share and document his journey of starting his technology company, Beme. People instantly became obsessed about the way he documented his everyday life working and living in New York City. He made an average day in the Big Apple feel like an engaging movie by the way he shot certain angles, his commentary, and his jaw-dropping timelapses. Everyday wasn’t necessarily an adventure, but all 7 million of his subscribers were captivated by the way he documented his life. The interest in his vlogs opened many doors for him, even drawing the attention of CNN, which later bought his technology company, Beme for $25 million.

3. In documenting, you see the journey. Ever since I was young, I’ve been carrying a camera around wherever I go. I was obsessed with the capturing moments that would become memories. Nowadays, it’s even easier to document because of the quality of the cameras on our phones that fit perfectly in our pocket.

When I started at Sparq Designs in May 2016, there was only five employees. In one short year later, there are now fifteen employees, and we not only inhabit three offices, we now fill the entire floor. It’s interesting to dig back through my archive of footage and photos throughout that year and see how much we’ve grown. Throughout the past year, everyone has been working non-stop and it is sometimes hard when you’re fully engaged in the work to remember where we started and the journey that has brought us to where we are today. I look forward to continue documenting my journey working at Sparq Designs and capture the moments leading up to when we aren’t only filling an entire office, but an entire building.


Practice might not make perfect, but it does make for a better product

The old saying practice makes perfect is hard to justify. Perfection is something you can strive for but there will always be something that doesn’t quite add up to make it perfection. AND THAT’S OKAY. One of my favorite quotes to date is one from Gerard Way, “Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It means you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.” And the imperfections are kind of what make design so beautiful. You’re not going to get it right the first time or second time, maybe not even the third or fourth but with every iteration you will learn something and it will improve into the masterpiece you envisioned.

What makes you stand out

I’m a firm believer in what makes you different is what makes you an asset. You see you can be the guy that wakes up in the morning and eats frosted flakes, with his black coffee, then take the bus into work everyday at precisely 9:15. Or you can be the guy that wakes up in the morning and eats frosted flakes with strawberries, with a coffee with one cream and sugar, and bikes to work. Pretty similar scenarios but those slight differences are what make each individual interesting and separates them from one another.

So first things first, learn to embrace those imperfections when it comes to design because once you do that you start coming up with your own niche.

Design with courage

Now once you are okay with messing up and trying new things you can sculpt yourself into a better designer. I think the most important thing is to do something completely random and out of your element. Challenge yourself. If you’re not challenging yourself you might as well not practice.

Be better tomorrow

Always push yourself to be better than the day before. I think the best way to learn something new is to push your boundaries and this is very important in the design world. There are so many things that your professor can teach you but there are 10 other skills they cant to every 1 skill they can. Its just not possible in the timeframe that college offers. And this is where practicing comes in handy.

Expand your resources

Watch videos (Youtube, Lynda, etc.), reach out to the people who inspire your designs, follow tutorials. There are countless ways to sharpen your skills and countless people who love design as much as you do and would be glad to teach you what they know. When watching these videos or following these tutorials be sure to not get frustrating, you are elevating your skills as a designer, its going to take time. The more videos you watch and tutorials you complete the better product you are going to produce for your agency.

We all want to be perfect but sometimes perfection isn’t always the way. I would much rather sit the person who has a bigger heart and willing to learn and push themselves over the perfectionist any day of the week, and at Sparq we are all pushing each other as one collective unit each and every day, which is what makes this place such an incredible place to be and work with.


Behind the Design: Maggie Ress

We’re so excited to welcome our new graphic designer!

Hello! I’m Maggie Ress, Sparq Design’s new Graphic Designer. I’m new to Pittsburgh, and am very excited to call it home. I’m a graduate of Kent State University, where I studied Visual Communication Design. My passion is working with companies to make their visual identity something they love, so I’m thrilled to be a part of a creative agency with such awesome clients!

Q: Give us some insight into your morning routine!
A: My morning routine starts by me snoozing my alarm at least 3 times. I would not call myself a “morning person”. Next, I cuddle my dog who is as fond of my bed as myself. Together we motivate each other to start our day, which always begins with making coffee.

Q: Three apps that help with your work…ready go!
A: Pinterest- When it comes to finding inspiration you can always count on Pinterest for really specific results.
Calendar- I’m the type of person that writes something down and somehow the piece of paper disappears into a different dimension. So having all of my events and meetings digitally in one place is great.
Slack- Slack is a great app for keeping in contact with co-workers and clients. It lets you create different channels for different projects, making it easier to keep in contact with multiple people on a project without having to constantly email.

Q: What music do you listen to while you’re working?
A: Usually some form of Indie rock or pop. My most recently played Spotify playlists are Indie Chill Out and Afternoon Acoustic. Also, you really can never go wrong with a 90’s music playlist.

Q: What’s your dream job (besides working at Sparq =])
A: In a way, I’m kinda already doing my dream job. I don’t know what I would be doing if I weren’t a graphic designer. My passion is working with businesses to make their visual identity awesome. Plus there’s regularly a dog in the Sparq office, that’s a dream. I would really love to someday be able to travel and work with clients all over the world.

Q: If you could sit down and have an hour-long conversation with any person alive or deceased who would it be?
A: I would love to chat with my maternal grandfather. I never had the chance to meet him. Everyone in my family says that he was the funniest guy they had ever met, so I feel the whole hour would be spent laughing.

Q: Who is your idol in the business world? Why?
A: Paula Scher. She currently works as the first female principal at Pentagram in NYC. She was featured in the Netflix Documentary “Abstract”. In the documentary she talks about how creative people should “embrace boredom”, and that her best ideas have come to her while she was bored in a Taxi cab. She’s just has had an amazing career working with huge names and remains totally down to earth.


Behind the Design: Sam Zytka

We’re so excited to welcome our new accounting manager!

Hello! I’m Sam Zytka and I’m the new Accounting Manager at Sparq Designs.  I was born and raised in the south hills of Pittsburgh and graduated from Point Park University in the spring of 2017.  Before joining the Sparq team, I worked as a Finance and Operations Coordinator for a small educational design company based out of the south side of Pittsburgh.  Prior to that, I lived a very different life as a Wildland Firefighter and Disaster Response Team Member throughout the Midwest and West United States.  I am very excited to grow and develop with the wonderful team here at Sparq Designs!

Give us some insight into your morning routine!
A: Wake up, check out the interwebs to see what I missed during my slumber, take a shower and get dressed, drink a lot of coffee, make a hot breakfast, and drive to work.

Three Apps that help with your work?
A: I spend the majority of my day in the QuickBooks Online Application, categorizing expenses, billing customers, generating reports, and performing various bookkeeping duties. Otherwise I use the podcasts app to keep my sanity while combating traffic on the way to and from work. Finally, most of my work is organized around various functions of the Google Suite. Whether I am using Google Spreadsheets to create financial models and organize information, Gmail to communicate with others, or Calendar to coordinate meeting times and office hours, Google Suite is a bedrock of my work life.

What music do you listen to while you’re working?
A: Depends on the day and the task really. If something takes intellectual horsepower, I normally choose something that is more instrumentally inclined and less vocally focused. If the task is just crunching numbers or data entry, then I listen to whatever I’m in the mood for. Some well-known artists would be Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Lumineers, Father John Misty, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Modest Mouse, or Arcade Fire.

Q: What’s your dream job (besides working at Sparq =])
A: Probably running and owning my own company. I would like to be a successful entrepreneur someday.

Q: If you could sit down and have an hour-long conversation with any person alive or deceased who would it be?
A: The late author and newspaper columnist Christopher Hitchens. I have always enjoyed his books, articles, and speeches, and I feel as if he would offer insightful and interesting takes on the current political and socioeconomic divide.

Q: Who is your idol in the business world? Why?
A: Jeff Bezos because he turned a small loan from his father into one of the most influential companies to have ever existed. His ability to leverage liquidity, capture market share, and realize long-term positions, makes him an incredibly formidable force to be reckoned with. Amazon is going to be a major player for years to come and that is largely owed to Jeff Bezos’ vision and ability to execute.


5 Reasons Why You Should Hire a Google Certified Partner

It’s one thing for a company to say they can run Google AdWords for your organization, it’s another thing to run them through an agency that is a Google Certified Partner. Google Certified Partners earn that title and badge through countless hours of AdWords management, ongoing training, and by meeting certain performance requirements from Google.

You wouldn’t hire just anybody to be your nutritionist – you’d hire a Certified Clinical Nutritionist – someone who has received adequate education in the field, kept up to date with emerging trends and they have experience handling clients and their needs. You should look at a Google Certified Partner in the same respect.

Unlike a self-dubbed “AdWords professional,” Google Certified Partners have the opportunity to be in contact with a Google representative, are the first to know about exciting new tools and they’ll get to host Google AdWords & Google My Business events.

1. If you’re running AdWords by yourself, you may be losing money.


Without the help of a Google Partner you may be putting too much of your ad dollars into clicks or conversions. Google Partners know how much money to invest in negative keywords and focus their efforts in specific locations. Too many times, we’ve inherited accounts where an account manager plugged in too many keywords into one singular ad group, which completely discredits the specificity of ad groups and campaigns. Rather than searches converting into sales, a lot of money was spent on a few wasted clicks on a general keyword.

2. Without a Google Partner, your ads won’t get to experience beta features.

One of the key reasons to work with a Google Partner is the fact that they have access to beta features that haven’t been released to those without that prestigious badge. Anytime Google is ready to trial run a new feature or tool, Google Partners can implement them into your AdWords strategy. Using the beta features also gives you a one-up on your competition if they aren’t working with a Google Partner.

3. Working with a Google Partner means working with someone required to stay up-to-date with their certifications.

Each year, Google Certified Partners are required to remain up to speed with their Google Certifications. This means studying up on AdWords and Analytics and taking the necessary tests to maintain their certifications. A Google Partner will never be “out of the loop” when it comes to emerging or changing trends in search, display, video, mobile, and the like.

4. Monitoring your AdWords performance is part of a Google Partner’s daily work routine.

In order for Google Partners to maintain their badge, they must also constantly monitor campaigns. It’s very easy to create a campaign and forget about it until it has stopped running. Not only is it part of their day-to-day responsibilities, there is a lot more pressure for a Google Partner to monitor and manage their clients’ campaigns. According to Huffington Post, constant tracking, analyzing, and optimization is required for success.

5. Google Partners have their own team at Google to answer questions and resolve client issues.

Google Partners have their own Google Agency Team that allows them to bypass long wait times whenever an issue occurs with a client’s account. Issues that once took days – ads are disabled due to a failed site audit or a problem with malware – now are addressed immediately. Your account is no longer treated as a number, but as a functioning client.

At Sparq Designs, we’ve met all of the criteria that Google has given us to attain this title – we’ve employed talent with up-to-date Google Certifications, we’ve seen success by way of conversions for our clients, we’ve handled fairly large scale accounts for 90 days or more, and any new tool or addition Google has pushed out, we’ve been able to implement and utilize it for our clients.

When looking for a digital marketing agency to run AdWords in Pittsburgh, look for the Google Partner badge on an agency’s site or contact Sparq and we’ll get you headed in the right direction.


Behind the Design: Vanessa King

Pittsburgh’s Favorite Creative Director Works Here at Sparq Designs!

Hi! I’m Vanessa King and I’m the new Creative Director at Sparq Designs. I’m a Pittsburgh native, and a graduate of Duquesne University. My career thus far has enabled me to wear many different hats, ranging from graphic designer to email coder to marketing strategist. This role at Sparq Designs is my first time working at a creative agency, and I’m really excited to get to apply all of the skills I’ve learned to help our amazing clients grow their businesses through online marketing.

Q: Give us some insight into your morning routine!

A: My morning routine is pretty standard. Wake up, cuddle the dog, get ready for work and head into the office. Coffee, work, repeat. Since I started working at Sparq, my morning routine also includes being thankful that I don’t have to fight traffic in downtown Pittsburgh for the first time in my career!

Q: Three apps that help with your work…ready go!

A: As both a marketer and a designer, I’ve learned to rely on apps that keep me both organized and inspired. At Sparq, most projects begin with a kick-off meeting, so I rely on Evernote for note-taking and brainstorming. I use Pinterest and Dribbble for visual research and to gather inspiration. I keep all my research, photos, presentations and spreadsheets organized on Google Drive. Using Drive enables me to search for any file I need quickly. A huge pet peeve of mine is knowing that I have something, but not being able to find it! I’m also not a paper person, so I’m thankful that these apps have enabled me to digitize my entire workflow.

Q: What music do you listen to while you’re working?

A: When I really need to focus on something, classical is my go-to genre. I also use an app called Coffitivity in the background of my music. Research has shown that ambient background noise improves creative thinking, and I find it to be very relaxing! For lighter projects, I pretty much listen to anything. My most listened to Spotify playlists cover a lot of genres ranging from “Pop Rising” to “Mellow Beats” to “Country Coffeehouse.” 90’s pop/alternative will always be my guilty pleasure, whether I’m working or not.

Q: What’s your dream job (besides working at Sparq =])

A: My “dream job” has evolved quite a bit throughout my lifetime. When I was little, I wanted to be a marine biologist (swim with dolphins for a living? Yes, please!) When I first got into design, I wanted to work for a record label. I’ve always been really into music, and the thought of creating a brand, posters and album art for a band or artist is what motivated me to pursue design. Nine years into my career, I realize that my dream job would involve many more aspects that my college self would have ever thought possible. So, in the meantime, I’m just learning and growing as much as I can. I like to think that if I keep doing that, my dream job will find me!

Q: If you could sit down and have an hour-long conversation with any person alive or deceased who would it be?

A: *Nerd Alert* I would absolutely LOVE to have an hour-long conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson. A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I am a total space nerd. “Interstellar” “Gravity and “Contact” are some of my all-time favorite movies. A coworker and I got sucked into Neil deGrasse Tyson’s talks on YouTube a few years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I also love that he communicates theories that we aren’t used to thinking about in a unique style that’s informative and engaging.

Q: Who is your idol in the business world? Why?

A: Sheryl Sandberg is definitely someone that I look up to. She has been through so much in her life, both personally and professionally. I read her book “Lean In” when I was going through a very challenging period in my career, and it changed the way I think about many things. One of my favorite quotes from this book is: “There is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.” I am extremely fortunate to have many strong, successful women in my life, like Sheryl, who are both great learners and great leaders. They have taken risks, asked questions and encouraged me to do the same. It’s a goal of mine to continue learning from people like Sheryl Sandberg, with the hope to make a positive influence on others throughout my career.