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Meet Taz Lake of Brightmill in Johns Creek

Today we’d like to introduce you to Taz Lake.

Taz, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.

When I began my career over two decades ago after graduating from Duke University, a passion for web technology and design tore me away from medicine and science.  I’ve been blessed to be a top-rated instructor at two universities, an award-winning employee at multiple companies, a formal mentor in both education and corporate settings, a program manager, a web technology specialist, multiple board member for non-profits / associations and more. That go anywhere approach stems from being the son of a career enlisted Marine – adapting and overcoming was the name of the game as we moved regularly.  The message I’ve brought to the table with Brightmill is vitally important – care about your website enough to improve it, because your customers care enough to leave if you don’t.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?

A small technology-enabled consultancy like Brightmill has challenges because our bullhorn isn’t always big enough to break through the noise. I’ve heard this time and again from other skilled consultants – it is why they end up joining the Big 4 or larger local consultancies. There is nothing wrong with that, a lot of people are doing great work in Atlanta.  I understand procurement teams have to think in terms of risk mitigation and capability assessment – so that weighs heavily in deciding which set of consultancies to use in a large enterprise.

So, we took an approach to slim down and become hyper-focused on a few key service offerings around the web analysis, improvement and our reference architecture for an affordable, dedicated content management system. We also set up partnerships with other trusted advisors in the Atlanta technology community. This has allowed us to keep getting the message of website improvement in front of business owners and executives while being sized right.

We are also working on ways to directly alert website owners of deficiencies. Some of the recent legislative activity in Georgia might impact plans. For example, SB 315 was basically anti-infosec legislation that would have impacted responsible disclosure of security vulnerabilities. So, it was going to penalize the whitehats – the good ones that help make our technology ecosystems more secure.  Fortunately, the Governor vetoed it.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Brightmill – what should we know?

I like to say we don’t build websites, we make them better through analysis and improvement. This is directly related to customer experience and how your brand is perceived.  We use a set of tools and techniques to arrive at our comprehensive analysis and scoring to make sure companies are better informed about what to do next. Most of our engagements start with a preliminary diagnostic, then proceed to either ongoing improvement efforts, monitoring, or re-platforming efforts depending on customer need and their own existing capabilities.

We’ve heard a lot about web optimization, where do you fit in?

Web optimization seems to be discussed a lot in terms of SEO. We often get the response “so you do SEO” when in fact it is a small part of what we do. We have identified 7 macro-level forces that we use to help orient conversations.  They are security, speed & performance, marketing & content, quality, accessibility & compliance, usability, and technology management

You talk about 7 forces and the comprehensive nature of website analysis, there is a lot there, do customers get overwhelmed? Do they ever just want you to look at one thing?

Oftentimes we will get approached on a topic of interest, for example speed or security. If it is a burning issue, like a compromised website, we can help them address it. If they come to us with a request such as “I need to reduce page load times by 1 second” we’ll usually recommend a comprehensive check to start. There are too many factors that impact speed, for example an old technology stack may be too much to overcome, but we wouldn’t know that by just looking at load times.

You can’t solve everything at once. Taking a narrower perspective is certainly fine. However, we believe prioritized recommendations are best.  Websites are products and they should be treated as such.

We often find that customers don’t even know they have a problem. So that’s why we term it a health check. It is like going to the doctor for a full workup because you don’t feel well. You don’t know why, you may even be scared by it, but you know you must do it because it is the right and responsible thing to do. Ignoring the problem impacts too many people.

I’ve also compared what we do to auto mechanics, home maintenance, psychologists and portfolio advisors. Web technology simply touches so many facets of the business, the customer experience will suffer if you’re not watching it.

Don’t the website builders, agencies, software companies, hosting vendors do all this already?

Many do a great job, but remember for each of them, their scope is often limited. They can’t be expected to be perfect. But guess what? The downstream customer of their customer does expect that. When someone visits that site, it needs to be essentially flawless. If they hit a 404 or a page that won’t load, well, good luck getting them to come back. One study by American Express showed service failures like that cause customers to exit greater than 70% of the time. Imagine you have a home builder and all the subcontractors, would you sign off on everything without an inspection? Would you never do any maintenance to your house? Too many assumptions are made about what is covered and what is not.

Aren’t there tools that do what you do?

Yes, there are so many tools it is a bit overwhelming. Most of the tools our there help you focus on one or two areas, for example the team over at another great Atlanta company, Rigor, focuses a lot on speed and performance with their tools.

The real concern I have for marketing technology teams is the false sense of security some tools provide. I won’t name the tool, because I don’t like it, but it is widely used by marketing teams. It’s only security check is to test whether SSL is enabled on a site or not – If so it gives you a green check for all web security. That is both laughable and dangerous at the same time.  To me is it almost criminal.

What are some KPIs or success factors leaders can attach to your services?

A lot of what we do relates directly to customer experience, brand perception and Martech/Ad spending. Even though much of what we are highlighting is technical in nature, our clients’ customers will notice if you aren’t pulling the right levers. One example would be losing brand equity due to actual or perceived security issues. Another would be conversion rate loss and customer satisfaction due to speed and performance.

Are there any surprising trends in websites you can share?

Many PHP Installations are at end of life and no longer patched for security and site owners are unaware. There should be a considerable uptick in re-platforms and upgrades in 2018 and 2019. Security issues continue to rise despite awareness.  Complexity is increasing, so that plays a part. Numerous 3rd party dependencies, a large WordPress landscape with thousands of plugins, and attacks on different network layers are some of the key factors. Less surprising is that 60% of commerce traffic is on mobile and rising – but still many sites don’t test properly for mobile compliance.

Any shout outs? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?

The Atlanta technology community is vibrant and engaging. It is one of the largest, yet most intimate technology communities in the country. For example, a lot of people don’t realize the data center density in Alpharetta alone exceeds Silicon Valley. Our incubators like ATDC, Atlanta Tech Village and TechSquare Labs are substantial contributors. Numerous technical associations have also been instrumental in providing programming and opportunities for networking, giving back and getting our brand out – Atlanta Technology Professionals, ANA Business Marketing, Technology Association of Georgia, Atlanta Electronic Commerce Forum, and Tech 400 to name just a few.


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