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Rochester, New York

« January 2007 | Main | March 2007 »

Event Promotion: Getting More Out Of Your Print Ads

One place web site references show up all the time is in print advertising.  If you open a magazine it is difficult not to find a number of ads that contain a company’s web address.  The problem is that most advertisements don’t leverage a company's web site.  Listing your web site within your advertising isn’t enough.

Extending Your Brand
In many cases print advertising might be the first time a person is exposed to your product or service.  One of the most important things you can do with your print advertising is to encourage people to go visit your web site.  This falls into the realm of web centric marketing.  Use your web site as an extension of your print advertising.  The amount of information you can pass along via your web site is well beyond what you can do with traditional print ads.

Give Them A Reason To Visit

Provide the reader a compelling call to action that drives them to your web site. Below are some ideas you can include in your advertising along with your web address:

  • Get more information online …
  • Visit our web site for great coupons
  • Buy online for additional discounts
  • Signup for a FREE (Report, Audio, Sample, etc.) at our web site
  • Become at member of our discount club …

Print advertising is an important step in any marketing campaign.  You can get a much higher return on investment if you figure out compelling ways to get people to visit your web site.

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Web Usability ISN’T Buzzworthy

Usability is a concept that every web user embraces. Who doesn't like an easy to use web site?  Combine an easy to use web site with some smart Internet marketing fundamentals and most companies have a decent chance of being successful online.  The problem is that the term usability confuses many people. 

Why Isn't Web Usability Buzzworthy? 

Unless you’re in the technology or web industry it is doubtful that many people can comprehend “web usability.”  When someone asks me “what do you do?” I reply with “web usability consultant.”  Their response is either “what?!?” or “I’ve never heard of that before.” Those words are almost instantaneously followed by a look of confusion.  After a brief explanation, some people might understand the basic premise of usability consulting.  Ask ten different people inside the web industry to define web usability and you'll get ten different explanations. I’d argue that in order to be buzzworthy people need to at least understand the basic term.

Then There Is Being Blunt
Here is the ironic part. If the description is diluted down to “I help companies make sure their web site doesn’t suck,” (an ode to Vincent Flanders) people know exactly what you’re talking about.  Is it professional? Absolutely not!  Do people instantaneously understand what you are talking about? Yes.  There are other words and explanation that someone could use to describe web usability, but it seems like the blunt approach is the most effective.  The blunt description is easily understood by upper level management to the casual web user.    

The problem of a good buzzword is problematic in other Internet segments. “Linkbait” is a term that many people in the SEO industry are trying to change.  Linkbaiting involves compelling people to provide a backlink to a web site or certain web page.  Unfortunately the term sounds like something bad or nefarious.   

The term concept of usability is great, but the term is far from sleek or catchy.  If people don’t easily understand the term “usability” how is anyone suppose to buy into the benefits of usability?

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Getting Massive Marketing Insight from The Classic Marketeers

Buried Treasure
A few months ago I uncovered some advertising history at my local library.  A number of recent books on copywriting and marketing make reference to a list of advertising legends. John Caples is usually mentioned as a must read for anyone interested in learning more about copywriting or advertising.  The librarian had to go into the old stacks to find Caples’ books.  After spending time reading Caples you can see where many of today’s authors adopted and modified classic teachings.  Modern internet marketers have adopted many of their time tested techniques and found great success.

Timeless Techniques
Look at some of the timeless techniques the Internet has adopted from the newspaper industry.  One timeless technique is a powerful headline.  Headlines are a time tested chance to grab the reader's attention.  Great advertising headlines have transitioned into compelling email subject lines.  If your subject line isn't compelling, the email probably won't get opened.  The fundamentals haven’t changed in hundreds of years because they work.

Users are still driven by content.  If pictures and multimedia are all the rage, why do so many people still read novels that only contain words?  People still visit the library and take out books.  How many novels have you read in their entirety online? 

Split testing your ads. With the Internet and the ability to track performance via analytics, it has never been easier to split test your ads.  Today’s savvy web entrepreneurs are using the split testing methodology

Learn from the Past
Just like advertising and marketing there are certain techniques that work well for web sites.  Some of the most successful web sites integrate time tested director marketing techniques.  If you get a chance spend some time learning from the classic marketeers, look to David Ogilvy, John Caples, Victor Schwab, and Claude Hopkins.  Many of today's top advertising consultants have mastered and revised the works of legends.  For a more modern viewpoint look to people like Bob Bly, Dan Kennedy, Joe Sugarman, and Gary Halbert.  There is so much you can learn from the past.

What can you learn from marketing history and integrate into your web site?

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Are You Opting-In Above the Fold?

Tamar Weinberg over at Techipedia posted an interesting question, “Should the Subscribe Button be Above the Fold?”  In her post she asks two important questions:

“I am curious to know whether the placement of the “subscribe” button on the top of the page has actually yielded more conversions than if it was in the middle of the page. I’d also be curious to know whether people fall victim to searching in the wrong textbox or if I am the only zombie to do such a silly thing.”

Email Subscription (Opt-In) Above the Fold
I would argue that there is enough room above the fold to give proper attention to both a search box and an email subscription opt-in.  Screen resolutions are going up and users are getting bigger monitors.  Web designers are getting more work space.  At the same time, just because there is more room doesn’t mean you need to abuse it.  Don’t forget about the importance of white space.

Subscription Placement
In terms of placement of a subscription box, I’ve read several recommendations on placing the subscription box into the upper right corner above the fold.  Offer the user good information and try to tempt them with great information.  From a usability standpoint one could argue that an opt-in box isn’t supporting good usability.  The Internet Marketer would probably take the stand that people who aren’t interested in additional information won’t enter an email address.  I’m torn between usability and marketing in this case.

There are a number of web sites that make use of adding a subscription text link to the end of each post.  If the author delivers quality content to the user, the web site owner might be more successful with asking for personal information after a good post.

Confusing Search and Subscription Boxes
Though I can’t recall falling victim to filling in a subscribe box with a search query it does bring up an interesting point.  The question should force any web designer to carefully think out the placement and presentation of search and subscription entry boxes.  Make sure your user won’t get confused by either selection.  Sometimes it's easy to take such simple things for granted.

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Keep Your Text Columns Narrow

Today I ran across a few web pages with wide text columns.  The experience reemphasized a simple usability principal anyone can follow. It is in your best interest to keep text columns on your web site narrow.

Wide Text Columns
Imagine reading a newspaper in which the text column ran the entire width of the page. A full width column would make newspaper reading extremely difficult.  Now imagine the same scenario on your computer screen.  Our eyes already get tired much easier from reading off a computer screen.  Wide online columns are difficult to read.

Higher Resolutions and More Information
With screen resolutions getting higher and more monitors becoming wide screen the challenge is going to be presenting information effectively. There are a number of web sites that are designed for screen widths of 1024 pixels and higher.  How much information can you display onscreen at one time before a user gets lost?  In the coming years it will be interesting to see if users can keep up with the trend of higher resolution designs.

A History Lesson

We can look to history to give us a time proven example for column width. Pick up any newspaper and take notice of column width.  Each news story is broken down into narrow columns of text.  Have you ever seen a newspaper where the text column ran the full length of a page?  Narrow columns have been used for hundreds of years.  There is good reason for this. It is far easier for us to read and comprehend text that is in narrow columns.  The same standard can be found in the magazine industry. 

Make it easier for users to read your site, keep your text columns narrow.

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Testing Web Usability and Not Leading Your Questions

Have you ever been asked a leading question?  It’s one of those questions that are phrased a certain way to get a certain response out of you.  The last place you want a leading question to show up is during a usability study.

If you are facilitator usability test of your web site or another web site make sure you aren’t leading the test user.  Leading is very easy to do.  Leading comes as a result of asking a question that already contains bias.  The question, “don’t you think the navigation is difficult to use?” is an example of a leading question.  Another example of a leading question: “Don’t you think that background color is inappropriate?”  Biased questions can have a negative impact on collecting good data.  You can skew the test user’s opinion either intentionally or unintentionally.  The end result is that your usability testing data and trends become inaccurate. 

How Do You Prevent Asking Leading Questions?
It is all about how you frame your questions. Always think ahead before you ask your questions. Make sure you aren’t loading the questions with any sort of bias.  The usability test facilitator should be as highly objective. 

Stay away from leading questions you can answer with a “Yes” or “No.”

  • Do you like this color? 
  • Isn’t that a great picture?
  • Don’t you think the navigation is difficult to use?

Ask questions that require the user to think or interact with the page to find and answer: 

  • What are you’re likes and dislikes on this page?
  • What services does company X offer?
  • How would you go about contacting company X?

Follow The Feedback
In some cases you can turn the user’s feedback into a follow up question.  If a test user indicates that something on a web page is difficult to use, ask them for additional feedback. Like and dislike questions are a great way to bride into additional questions.

Give Them a Scenario
Use scenarios to examine the usability of a given page or web site. Have the test user move through the site with a predefined goal.  One scenario can be having a test user try to use an online calendar to find specific information.  Get the test user lost in the site and have them navigate back to the home page.  Think of simple scenarios to test the usability of the web site.

If you can keep your questions and scenarios highly objective you’ll get better data.  Better data will assist you in creating an easier to user web site.

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Why Test A Company Web Site Outside The Office?

Have you ever tried to get a consensus on something amongst various departments in a company or small business?  A number of companies that create their own web sites utilize internal usability testing for reviewing their site.  They pool their testing users directly from the company.  The information collected can become a liability to the company.

Different Viewpoints
In Steve Krug’s, Don’t Make Me Think, he illustrates the various viewpoints different departments can have on a web site.  Many graphic designers skew their desires toward visual design.  Web programmers can be very application driven.  Then bring in management and you have yet another viewpoint.  Pretty soon you have a multitude of ideas fighting for attention.  The web site gets pulled in every possible direction with each new opinion.  In many cases, the end result is that the user gets left out.

Why test with users outside your organization?

Web usability testing should be highly objective. You need to start with identifying users that fall inside a web site’s demographics.  If you are looking for participants to conduct a usability test look outside of your organization.  Users outside of your organization are less likely to have organizational bias.  Look towards people who aren’t in the Internet at the professional level.  It is very easy for one web developer to find faults in another web developer’s work.

Leverage the Testing Data
The data collected by testing with users outside of the organization is great for leveraging inside an organization.  If there is an internal company dispute over something on the web site outside user testing might help in identifying a solution. The data and presentation is based on user opinion. Users are the people who are going to be using a web site on a daily basis.

In several years of usability testing the feedback from outside user testing has been extraordinary. It has prevented more than a few embarrassing moments.  This includes small things like grammar and spelling mistakes.  It’s the small things that can prove to be embarrassing online. Use testing to make sure you're putting your best foot forward.

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Web Usability - ALERT! Dominant Users and Focus Groups

There I was … sitting in a room full of decision makers for a web site review meeting.  The review meeting was the culmination of months of work. On one side of the table was our development team and on the other side of the table the client’s team.  The review was conducted one page at a time in order to be meticulous and not miss anything.  After a few minutes of reviewing the site there was a distinct change in atmosphere.  The senior representative of the client’s team started making a series of comments and suggestions regarding the web site.  His subordinates acknowledged almost every single remark he made with a nod of agreement or vocalized their support.  He could have said anything and the client’s team would have accepted the suggestion without question or comment.  I sat there in disbelief as one bad suggestion followed another.  Most of the client’s suggestions were the complete opposite of good web design.  The suggestions that were implemented diluted the quality of the web site.  It was my first experience with a dominate user focus group.

Using Focus Groups
There are a number of people in the Internet development industry who make use of focus groups.  One specific use of focus groups is for web usability testing.  The above scenario is a perfect example of a dominate user focus group. It involves user testing of a web site, not idea generation.  In the scenario one person’s opinion influences or overshadows everyone else in the group.  Dominate users can have a negative impact on collecting good data and thus diminish the impact of the testing group.

One on One Testing
Focus groups for usability testing can be highly effective if you abide by one simple suggestion, break up the group.  When testing a web site make use of individual testing sessions. Sit down with your test user and go through a web site one on one. It is more time consuming, but the data you collect is significantly better. Users are much more likely to voice their opinion in an individual scenario as opposed to a group. 

How many times have you been reluctant to ask a “silly” question in a group or make a suggestion?  That reluctance changes when you get people one on one. It takes a little additional time to get test users to open up.  For all the usability tests I’ve conducted, I have yet to come across someone who has been reluctant to open up.  When users do open up you usually can’t take notes fast enough.  The feedback collected will be significantly better.

If you are considering doing a small usability test on your web site stay away from focus groups in the traditional sense. Use individual sessions to collect your data.  It is more time consuming, but the quality of data collected increases significantly.

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Are Your Online Forms Usable?

It is difficult to go online and not come across an online form. From short to long, online forms are everywhere.  My most recent experience required me to fill out a long form just to watch a video clip.  Where is the justification in taking five minutes to fill out an online form to watch a two minute news video clip?  Before using forms on a web site spend some time thinking through the process from a user’s vantage. 

Questions you should ask yourself:

  • Is the form easy to use?
  • Has the form been tested?
  • Am I building enough trust to compel someone to fill out my form?

Ease of Use
Keep online forms short and easy to use.  Shopping carts are a perfect example.  Users abandon shopping carts because of poor usability factors.  Check your web log data to make sure people aren’t bouncing out during checkout.  Shopping cart forms can be too long or cumbersome for users.  Always think from a user’s perspective. Let the user know if the item is actually in stock before filling out any information.  Use an indicator bar on each page to show checkout progress.  Disclose shipping options up front.  Users can be quickly turned off by high shipping rates.  Make the checkout process as painless as possible.  If it isn’t a shopping cart keep the form short and too the point. Only ask for minimal information, name and email.  Asking for more without user trust is very difficult.

Test Your Forms
Always test online forms with your user base.  Take a few people from your demographic and have them go through your online form.  Take note of where users are encountering usability problems and make applicable corrections. The benefit of usable forms speaks for itself.  More users will fill out more forms if they’re usable.

Build Trust
A number of web sites are now requesting you to fill out personal information to watch video or listen to audio.  Trust and credibility are large factors in determining if users enter their personal information.  Most people are reluctant to enter any personal information.  Can users really be blamed? Everyone has felt the effects of SPAM.  SPAM is beyond annoying and a waste of time.  The user needs a very good reason to give up personal information.  One of the easiest ways to overcome this hurdle is with a privacy statement and promise not to SPAM.  Let people know exactly why you need their information.

The bottom line on forms is this: build enough trust with the user to have them fill out an online form.  When you’ve established the user’s trust, make it an easy process to collect their information.  The Internet is an interactive medium, keep that interactivity usable.

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Business Problems and Customer Service

Everyone can recall examples of good and bad customer service.  Recently I witnessed the demise of a promising business. There were numerous factors that lead closing the business. Customer service was one of the largest issues.  In this case customer service took the form of a lack of communication with patrons.  Last Friday, I went to visit a business I kept a membership with for the last five year.  The doors were locked and a sign posted indicating they’re out of business.  I knew that the business had been having difficulty and that it would possibly be sold or closed down shortly.  Yet, the closing came with no advanced notice to most of their other patrons.  If you are experiencing an unusual challenge with your business let your clients or patrons know about the challenge. 

Regardless of the business situation, good or bad, keep the customers informed.  There are a number of instances when things are going bad and businesses aren’t forthright with their clients.  Most businesses won’t acknowledge problem until it is too late.  If you’re in a sticky business situation, let your customers know about the situation immediately.  You don’t have to divulge minute details. But at least acknowledge that there is a problem and a resolution is being implemented or planned.  It is always in your best interest to keep customers informed.

When customers start to speculate or become uncertain about a product or service they’ll start to look elsewhere for their needs.  This is exactly what happened in the situation I witnessed.  When people heard rumors about the business possibly shutting down they started to look elsewhere.  The customer’s loyalty became strained and they started to lose faith in the company.  Without customer support overcoming challenges can become significantly more difficult.

I’ll point back to an important statistic from a previous post: “95% of unhappy customers will do business again with you if their issue is resolved immediately.” (Source: Technical Assistance Research Programs) The problem was never acknowledged or resolved immediately. 

It is in your best interest to always keep your customers informed.

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