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Copyright © 2006-2015 Eugene Loj
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Rochester, New York

« December 2006 | Main | February 2007 »

Fundamentals of Successful Web Sites and Sound

Marketing and Usability
Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting to a small audience on "The Fundamentals of Successful Web Sites." It was nice being able to get out of the technical web world and focus again on fundamentals.  In today's world it is very easy to get caught up in all the "bells and whistles" the web has to offer.  The smartest thing anyone can do online is keep it simple.   My presentation concentrated on Marketing and Usability.

If anyone is interested in notes from the presentation click below:
Fundamentals of Successful Web Sites  (.pdf)

On Sound
During the presentation a gentleman asked me a great question regarding sound on a web page.  In today's multimedia driven Internet sound is becoming an important part of the online experience. Web site sound can be great or get annoying depending on the user.   

One particular experience rings in my head.  It was late at night and I was surfing through some airshow web sites.  Next thing I know there are fighter jets screaming over my head.  My speakers were turned all the way up from earlier in the day.  I neglected to turn them down after listening to some music.  I've heard the same frightening/embarrassing story from other users.

Set Your Default to OFF

If you are going to load sound on a web page make the default setting OFF.  You'll notice that many companies do this with advertising.  They know how easy it is to annoy users and decide to take a careful route.  Don't annoy your users with forcing by audio on them.

Give Users the Choice
Don't load sound files automatically when the site is loading.  Give users the option click and listen to a recording or audio track.  Your users enjoy being in the "drivers seat" for their online experience.  Another problem with automatically loading sound or music is that you'll get repetition each time someone comes to a page.  This happens frequently on home pages that automatically load sound.  Each time you go back to the home page the same music or sounds start to play over and over again. That's sure to turn off your users.

Sound is great online, just use it wisely.  Let people have the option of what they hear and when they hear it.

Want to get more great info? Check out the articles below:

Search Engine Optimization and Flash

Developers are still enchanted by Flash.  It does some pretty wild things.  One place where many developers like to use Flash is on Splash pages and navigation. In doing so, they make it difficult for search engine spiders to crawl their web site.  You need to take into consideration the effects of implementing Flash technology on your site.  It can be both a virtue and a vice.

Making a Splash with Flash
One of the first SEO hurdles is a Splash Page with Flash.  How many times have you visited a web site and get a Flash loader?  In some cases you need to wait over 10 seconds to get something to load. Granted almost 50% of users in the US have high speed internet, but developers are abusing the bandwidth. Users don't want to wait that long.  In most cases a Flash presentation loads which is less than impressive.  If you are going to make people wait, make sure the wait if worth their time.

Continue reading "Search Engine Optimization and Flash" »

Online Learning Made Difficult

A few weeks ago my mother asked for my help with an online learning course.  I've seen a number of online courses over the last few years.  Unfortunately most of the online courses leave much to be desired.  The online course that my mother was taking ended up being a jumbled mess.  My mother is not a computer savvy person.  She experienced a number of difficulties.  When I tried to help her, I quickly became frustrated.  If you are creating an online course make sure you concentrate on a user centric approach.  Below are some quick points to ponder if you are creating an online learning environment.

Take the time to test you online course with users.  Too many online courses suffer from poor usability.  This creates an environment that is not conducive for learning.  When you are trying to train people online make sure that your emphasis is on learning the course material, not how to learn to use the online system.  There were a number of snags that made learning the system my mother was attempting to use very difficult.

Keep your fonts legible and writing concise.  Even though my mother's online course offered adjustable font sizing, the largest setting was too small to read.  Many online users are in an older demographic.  Concentrate on providing enough flexibility so that both young and old can easily absorb the information.

Always have a support area available and have good contact information.  If I wasn't around to help my mother, I doubt she would have been able to complete the course.  There were a number of features that needed to be explained in more detail.  Offer your users a tutorial to acclimate them to your online learning environment.

Online learning is going to eventually become a great powerhouse, but it still has a long way to go. When you try to teach people online keep everything you do simple and to the point.  Let your users concentrate on learning the material, not on learning a new system.

Want to get more great info? Check out the articles below:

Event Marketing & Promotion After Your Event

Today’s short post is directed at event marketers who hold events on a regular basis. There are too many times when event organizers stop updating their web site after their event has finished. Even when your event is over it's important to update your web site.

After Your Event is Finished
After your event is over, update your home page.  Write an online thank you addressed to attendees of your event.  Make sure you let them know you appreciate their support.  Also let them know to return to your web site for updates in the future.  People will naturally return to you site seeking information. If you have paid patrons, make sure they get a special thank you. In today's digital age you might want to consider an offline thank you - maybe a postcard.

Clear Out Old or Confusing Information
You need to keep your event web site updated with future event information. As soon as you know something regarding your event or a future event, update your site. If you are not having your event again next year, let people know through your web site. People often come back to your site the following year looking for information. Make sure you don't have old information that might confuse the user. Tag all of your event dates with a specific year - e.g. January 7, 2007. Dates without a year can confuse site visitors into thinking you have an upcoming event . . . even if you don't.

Build Excitement for Your Next Event
Build anticipation for your next event on your current web site. Consider the possibility of using your site to post a photo gallery of images from your event. Photos are a great way of creating lasting memories and generating anticipation for future events.

You can also use your web site to collect feedback on past events or suggestions for future events. Stay focused on the people who make your event possible . . . the patrons.

On the web it can be the small things that make a huge difference.  Keep your event web site up to date and give your users a reason to come back!

Want to get more great info? Check out the articles below:

The Event Promotion System - Get Free Event Promotion & Event Marketing Video Training

The Mystery of Online Customer Satisfaction

In the two weeks since my visit to Epcot, I have yet to experience an equivalent level of customer service.  Customer service is paramount in any business and especially online.  For the purpose of this post I’ll look at customer service from a web site usability perspective. You constantly need to ask yourself “are your users satisfied with the online experience you are providing them?”

One of the most difficult services to provide online is customer service.  In over ten years of developing web sites, I cannot recall seeing a customer complaint that specifically refers to the usability of a site. This has little to do with the level of development or usability used.  If a user is unhappy with their experience at your web site they probably aren’t going to say anything about it.  In most cases they just won’t return to your web site or use your online service.

Users Rarely Indicate Dissatisfaction
Your users might not always be telling you they’re not happy.  Here are some interesting statistics I found in reference to customer service in the offline world.  The data comes from an older report but I believe many of the problems to hold true today :

  • 96% of consumers do not complain about rude or discourteous service.
  • 90% or more of consumers who aren’t happy with the level of service will not buy or come back again.
  • The cost to acquire a new customer versus keeping an old one is five times greater.

Source: Technical Assistance Research Programs (TARP)

When you take this data and apply it to the Internet far few people are likely to complain. It is far easier not to visit a web site than follow up with the company and try to resolve the problem.

A Place To Start
Make sure you go out of your way to ensure your users are happy.  One of the easiest places to start is with emails you’ve collected.  You should be conducting follow up on almost everything you do.  It can be anything from a product purchase follow up to answering a complaint.  Both positive and negative emails are a great opportunity to gain valuable insight from your user. You can make use of automation to collect survey data and other valuable information.  Use that information to improve your online experience.

A Quick Second Chance
There was one very important piece of actionable information that TARP provided.  95% of unhappy customers will do business again with you if their issue is resolved immediately. Your window of opportunity might be narrow and short, but you still have time to do sometime. Use the speed of technology to quickly recover from a customer service issue.

Want to get more great info? Check out the articles below:

Traditional Advertising and Your Web Site

Greetings from Mont-Tremblant, Quebec.  The views here are majestic. But I don’t believe I’ve ever been this cold in my entire life.  This is honestly the coldest weather I’ve ever experienced, -29 Degrees Celsius or -20 Degrees Fahrenheit. All in good fun.

Limits of Traditional Advertising
Traditional Advertising is highly competitive.  As additional advertisers enter the game more advertising pollution is created.  When your user opens a newspaper or turns on the television they are bombarded with advertisements.  Most consumers don’t even know where to start.  How many times has your advertising been lost amongst other advertising? Everybody is jockeying for attention.

The web is distinctly different. Each web site represents a different channel of very specific programming. The catch is ensuring users can find and remember your domain name.  You can build awareness through traditional marketing channels by consistently repeating your domain name.  The best part is when users load your site you command your prospect’s undivided attention.  Users who aren’t interested in air aren’t going to visit your web site.  This is unlike other advertising where the consumer is almost forced to watch or listen to something of little or no interest.

Your domain name should be a marketing focal point.  This is the premise behind web centric marketing. It is the single most important piece of marketing information that you want your perspective customers to remember.  If they can remember your domain name, they don’t need to remember other specific details.

Advertising Suggestions
Every advertising channel has it’s own unique way of delivering your message. It’s up to you to determine the best way to position your brand. 

If you have print advertising make sure your domain name is a prominent element. Just listing the domain name isn’t enough.  Entice user with unique information only available on your web site.

Use your web site statistical data to analyze which forms of marketing were most effective.  If you know when a certain marketing campaign started go back to your web stats and correlate the data.  You might find one marketing channel worked better than the other and adjust future campaigns.

Want to get more great info? Check out the articles below:

Are You Listening To Your Users?

What Makes the Internet So Great?

The Internet's ability to act as a two way communication channel gives it a distinct advantage over traditional forms of media and advertising.  Other media can give you tremendous exposure to a vast number of people, but its one way communication.  Your ability to target your audience online is significantly easier. One of the best ways to get to your market's needs is by leveraging the two way communication channel.

Get User Centric
Use email, newsletters, and online surveys to build a picture of user wants.  Drill down to the user's needs. In the past I've written about the "Me Me Me" mentally that many companies have online.  Companies spend a lot of money and time telling you why they are the greatest and why you should buy from them.  If users aren't interested in what you have to offer even the best advertising in the world won't help you. You need to remember that users are far more skeptical of anything they see online. Companies fail every day to meet user needs and desires.  Make sure you concentrate more on the user's ego and don't over hype.

Make sure that the information you present is there for the user's benefit, not yours.  Too many web sites try to "sell" their product or service to the user.  Instead of "selling" to your user think of ways to present information to your user.  Online Marketing guru, Dr. Joe Vitale, recommends presenting user's with 95% High Quality Information, 5% sales.

Establish Relationships

When you find ways to leverage the two way communication channel you build trust and credibility with users.  Trust and credibility are two of the most important factors in a user's decision to buy.  "When all things are equal, friends buy from friends. When things are unequal, friends still buy from friends." Create a database of all the people who have emailed you.  These people have expressed some interest, good or bad, in your web site.  Use the ability to communicate with them to your advantage.   Do you buy products from people or companies you don't trust?

Using All That Feedback

The truly savvy Internet Marketer uses the web to collect data and feedback to create better products and new services.  Google and Yahoo are constantly following this model.  Integrating user feedback and trends are a significant reason why theses companies are so successful. Think of ways to do the same.

The web offers a number of ways to communicate with your users. Are you making the most of it?

Want to get more great info? Check out the articles below:

Simplicity: A Great Place To Start

If you are looking to redesign your site or start a new web site spend some time researching the Internet’s old guard for ideas.  Too many web site creators and developers have this burning need to complicate the web process, “We’re going to do it better!”  The battle cry should be “We’re going to make it easier!” Remember that people like cool, but crave simplicity.  The two simplest yet most popular web sites are Yahoo and Google. You can learn a lot by studying these two giants.

Straightforward HTML text
Both Yahoo and Google are primary HTML text based.  They include some pictures, but they let the content lead the way.  I’ve heard many people criticize Yahoo for being too simplistic in design.  Yahoo’s approach to design might be simplistic, but it is also the most popular web site in the world.  Is your site serving up high quality HTML content?

They Spend Millions on Testing
Yahoo and Google spend millions on testing their sites before releasing it to the public. Recently when Yahoo redesigned its home page it offered users a sneak peak. They always “teased” you with the new design and encouraged feedback.  That feedback was used to further improve their site before launch. Companies should take example of their approach. Don’t rush to launch your web site just to meet an arbitrary internal deadline.  Most users don’t know a new site is going online until it gets launched.  At the same time realize there are no perfect web sites.  Don't get bogged down in analysis-paralysis. 

The Simple Search
You don’t need to look any further than Google’s search page.  To search you enter a term and click search or refine your search with one of the simple category selections. There is no distracting adverting and they deliver nothing but high quality results.  Is the interactive process on your web site simple and easy to use?

Always Something New
Yahoo is an example of high quality content generation.  Almost every time you visit their home page you are presented with something new.  They use multiple sources to bring information to the user. You might not be able to keep up with Yahoo’s frequency of updates, but you can emulate the process.  Ask yourself, how often do we update our site?  New information keeps users coming back.

Page Layout
When it comes to type layout and information architecture Yahoo does a great job.  Look at any of their news stories as an example, clean and simple.  They capture your attention with a headline and then present the article.  At the end of the article you can vote on recommending the story to others or select for a bevy of other related stories. Yes there is advertising.  But advertising is the primary revenue channel for both Yahoo and Google. They at least do it somewhat tastefully.

The old cliché goes “Imitation is the Greatest Form of Flattery.” Why spend time, energy, and effort researching what’s already been researched?  Study examples from the most popular web sites online. There is a reason why they’re the most popular.

Want to get more great info? Check out the articles below:


Sound Pay Per Click Advertising Tips

Today more companies are using pay per click advertising for their web site.  Unfortunately too many of these companies waste money on PPC advertising.  They falsely assume that your PPC is directly tied into return on investment (ROI).  The more you spend the higher the ROI. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are a number of nuances at work. Before you start a PPC campaign for your web site make sure you do some homework.

Wasting Your Advertising Dollars
Perry Marshall illustrates a wasteful PPC spending example on this web site.  You are spending $1.00 per click for a certain keyword.  Instead of using a landing page with a compelling offer most companies send visitors directly to their home page.  With nothing compelling to draw users into the web site users go elsewhere and never return.  All of this happens in about 15 seconds.  In terms of cost this translates into $4 USD a minute or $240 USD an hour.  Would you pay someone $240/hour to unsuccessfully sell your product or serves?  A number of companies are happy to spend the money.

Here are some quick Pay Per Click suggestions/tips:

  • Take baby steps with PPC spending.
  • Target the right market and keywords.
  • Carefully craft your Pay Per Click ads.
  • Try rotating ads and measuring performance.
  • Setup conversion tracking for all of your ads.
  • Set measurable goals.
  • Create a specific landing pages for various keywords.
  • Create incentive or a compelling offer on landing pages.
  • Balance your PPC campaign with other advertising.

I current manage three campaigns across Google, Yahoo, and MSN.  Google is the most expensive service. Yet it also out performs both Yahoo and MSN ten fold for the same keywords.  Yahoo PPC seems to be more conducive to product sales, but it takes a little while to get your campaign rolling.  I’ve had little success with MSN.  You need to explore all the options.

There are companies that smartly spend on PPC advertising and find success. There was someone who once spent $14 USD on a monthly PPC and generated over $20K in revenue.  This is a rare exception, but still interesting.

Spend some time learning about PPC before diving in head first.  My recommendation is go to a firm with a proven track record.  Have them show you their results and pay them for your expertise.  Consider starting your own campaign to just learn.  You won’t become an expert, but you can at least have some exposure to the various services.  Most places let you sign up for $5.00 or less. Always do your homework before spending on PPC!   

Idea Generation Using Books

Are you stuck trying to come up with a new idea or solution? 

The methodology below outlines another simple system I use to come up with new ideas. The example below is based on using another source to trigger new ideas.  I found whenever I do research and start reading material my brain starts to come up with new ideas. Use this natural distraction to your advantage. 

I don’t know exactly why it works or how it works, but it works.  My educated guess is it has to do with your subconscious mind and synoptic learning.  When you view different sources of material you’ll naturally build relationships based on the various viewpoints on a given topic.  There are numerous good ideas hiding in your head and sometimes they need a little coaxing out. 

Where to Start
Write your challenge in question form on top of a blank sheet of paper: “What are important SEO factors?”  Try to keep the question specific, but keep your ideas open ended.  Your question needs to have purpose and act as a motivating factor.

Find Books Related to Your Question
Pay a visit to your library or local book store.  Find a few books related to the topic area of the question you listed.  Sit down with the books, a pen, and your headlined paper. Take 5 minutes to scan each book.  Resist the urge to read more than a few words. Scan through headlines and the index.  It is important to set a 5 minute limit or else you’ll start reading the book.  Save the reading part for a later time.  The objective is to quickly scan for ideas and set your own thinking process in motion.  Write down any ideas that jump into your mind.   After about 10 or 15 minutes you should have a full sheet of ideas. 

Mentally Play With Your Ideas
After you are done writing down ideas mentally play around with them. Try grouping your ideas or rearranging them.  Don't force yourself to come up with ideas or relationships. You might be able to come up with additional ideas or a different way of looking at your challenge. Good luck and have fun with it.

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