One of the benefits of working with an outside consultant is that you have the luxury of pulling from their experience. Usually, this is deep knowledge gained from working on a large volume of projects over a long period time.

The past year of booting up Floorplan Rugs deepened our existing knowledge and also gave us first-hand insight dealing with some of the most pressing issues any business — online or off, rug business or not — is facing today. So we compiled our favorite lessons from the year and are sharing them with you here.

We learned with our feet to the fire; hopefully you’ll absorb these learnings a little more comfortably.

1. The TRUE meaning of LEAN

Lean Startups, Lean UX, Lean Marketing: lean, lean, lean. For those of you new to the concept, it’s not just about being fast, small and low overhead. It’s about being smart with your resources — ALL of your resources — whether that’s time, manpower, customer will, or, of course, money.

What lean DOESN’T MEAN is diving headlong into a business or tactic without research or strategy. It is absolutely critical to do your homework, know your market and your customer, plan your hypotheses, and move forward in what you think is the best way.  And then, of course….

yellow car

2. Adapt without stopping the machine.

Imagine yourself driving on a road at night and realizing you don’t have your lights turned on. You’re not going to keep driving just because you started out with your lights off. And you’re probably not going to pull off the road just to turn them on. You’re going to turn them on, without even slowing down. For a car, this is a pretty simple process. For a business, it can be a little trickier.

Depending on how drastic the situation, you may need to fully pivot into something else; but for many, it will mean implementing incremental changes that course correct while you’re going. This means monitoring your data for patterns, your market for opportunities, and launching small scale experiments that don’t take a lot of time or money but can help shed some light onto the situation before you roll out larger changes. Including regular sprints in our process allowed us to focus on a couple of small opportunities at a time and gradually learn what worked for our audience. Larger questions were treated as longer term projects.

3. Collaboration leads to conversion

Too often, collaboration is hyped as a soft skill exercise that, at best, leads to more creative ideas and, at worst, pointless group think. It bandies about as a concept with no teeth because the focus is on getting people into a room and brainstorming.We would posit that collaboration is actually the thing that makes your economic engine run. Why? The interdependency of everything we work on.

Take SEO, marketing, content strategy, UX and product. Typically these are different departments within an organization that may have some contact with each other, but in a waterfall kind of hand off. But in today’s internet, how well these things play together MAKES A DIFFERENCE.

Companies spend considerable amounts of money to make sure they show up when relevant users are searching for products like theirs. If the right strategy and execution has informed each of these aspects in concert, you’re more likely to push a customer down the conversion funnel to the holy grail: completing your desired action.

To get to this goal, team members need to align their expertise around a common, concrete outcome. Collaborative episodes of this nature are worksessions where members come prepared with ideas and priorities for their domain; a project or product manager then facilitates cooperative making. The end result? Strategies that feed straight into a cohesive set of tactics.

4. SEO is now definitely worth your attention

For user-centered designers, Search Engine Optimization has been the ugly elephant in the room for years: it was important in that setting up pages with the right content and tags would influence your search rankings…but SEO practitioners often would promise to deliver first-page Google search rankings through black hat tactics, keyword stuffing and other magic. It was unpredictable (especially since Google shared very little information on what made their rankings tick), usually costly and could lead to high bounce rates if visitors didn’t find what they were really looking for. It made it difficult to recommend that people spend too much money on their SEO.

With the strengthening of Google’s algorithms — its natural language processor, Hummingbird, in particular— this has changed significantly. Google has gotten much better at telling what a site is really about, to the extent that repeating keywords over and over (or stuffing them into schema in the page) isn’t going to push up a site’s rankings on a topic. The real content of the page, including words and phrases relevant to the keyword (but not the keyword), are what matters. This means having a clear strategy to develop content that matches user expectations and is rich enough to build credibility with Google.

From a UX perspective, this is great news. It means that the experience on the site, from content to hierarchy to labeling, is all focused on creating clarity and relevance for users, and will ultimately be rewarded by search rankings. The takeway: building content strategy and UX in conjunction is a must.

5. PR has to be part of your strategy

One thing Google has confirmed is that backlinking is perhaps the most important factor in search result ranking. Let me say that again: BACKLINKING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN SEARCH RESULT RANKING. If you’ve never heard this term before, backlinking is when another (reputable) site links back to your site. More links on well-regarded, high-traffic sites that link to your site? Higher rankings in search results.

What does this mean? It’s not enough for you to make really great content that sits on your site. Or awesome marketing campaigns that lead users to your site. You need coverage. You need to reach out to other sites for coverage or do things that they’ll want to cover and make sure they include real links (not just ‘no follow’) back to your site.

Want more? Read on in Part Two of What We Learned (So You Don’t Have To)