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« April 2007 | Main | October 2007 »

What You See ISN'T Always What You Get . . .

When it comes to web usability there are number of methods and techniques used to ensure that a web site is easy to use and understand.  One particular area of usability is ensuring web site compatibility with the greatest number of computers possible. Software developers have created features for web development applications to aid developers in creating compatible web sites.  Two of the most popular web design applications, Dreamweaver and Frontpage, are considered WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get).  What you see while programming the page is suppose to be close to what you should get after the web site is posted on a server.  In additional to the WYSIWYG environment most web development software has a preview function.  The preview function allows web site creators to view a page on their local machine in the web browser of their choice. For all the technology in place to assist web designers in creating compatible web sites something always goes awry. 

It Looks Different on This Computer
One of the biggest “Doh!” moments is when you check your web site online and see something completely different than what was tested on your local machine.  This happens regularly to the best developers on Earth.  Most web developers could write books on the horror stories associated with “I previewed the page before I posted it to the server.”

The Ultimate Test
Regardless of how sure you are that a web page is programmed correctly, you always need to test and test relentlessly.  The ultimate test of a web site’s compatibility should be when a web site is uploaded to a server.  You should never consider what you see on your own computer an accurate representation of a given web.  Always test from the server that is going to be hosting your web page.  Below you’ll find a brief list of checks you can perform to ensure compatibility.

Simple Web Site Compatibility Checks:

  • Check your web site in multiple browsers.
  • Check your web site in browsers a few releases behind.
  • Check your web site on multiple platforms (Mac, PC, Unix).
  • Clear your browser cache before checking an updated web site.
  • Is the design broken or inconsistent?
  • Does all the critical functionality work (Forms, E-comm, Interactive Elements)?

Always double check your web site, as often as possible, but at least once every few days.  The most important time to check is immediately after a page has been updated.

A Dose of Usable Reality
One common piece of usability advice is testing a few browser versions behind the current release.  The reality of the situation is that you can be vigilant in checking your web site in previous browser versions but that isn’t enough. Users bare a certain level of responsibility in ensuring their browsers are up to date. 

The mobile revolution is also making things increasingly difficult from a compatibility and accessibility aspect.  Developing a web site for a typical user versus a mobile user is a distinct discipline.  Each version of the web site is different for individual platforms.

Web site compatibility is important to strive for, but often difficult to achieve. You can reasonably ensure web site compatibility by testing for proper functionality and testing often!

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Words with Pizzazz and Razzle Dazzle . . .

During a recent visit to a local shopping mall I ran across this intriguing advertisement:
Flavor-Infused All Beef Delicacy Complemented by a Hand-Crafted Golden Brown Crust.” That is one heck of a way to describe a plan old corn dog.  A few moments later I thought to myself “I wonder if the advertisement would actually entice anyone.” 50 feet later I had my answer, there was a gentleman consuming a “Flavor-Infused All Beef Delicacy.”

Words make a world of difference in how consumers interpret your product or service online.  Aside from the actual copy itself, which is tremendously important, two places everyone should pay close attention to are headlines and link titles. Headlines and link titles represent your first salvo of user enticement.

Are you hooking your reader's interest?

Continue reading "Words with Pizzazz and Razzle Dazzle . . ." »

Type, Audio, and Video

In “The Most Powerful Form of Advertising” the argument is made that copywriting is the most powerful form of online advertising. Depending on the type of web site and the information being presented, the written word might be the most effective way of presenting information.  Words are clean, simple, and to the point.  “What about multimedia?” Multimedia is wonderful and has its place on the Internet. Yet multimedia can also complicate things and add a tremendous amount of cost to any web project.   

Content Driven
Visit some of your favorite web sites. What is the balance of words to multimedia? One of my favorite web sites “Abandon & Little Known Airfields” is composed entirely of text, html links, and pictures.  The web site contains a tremendous amount of historical information on abandon airports across the United State. There aren’t any flashy graphics, audio, or video, just really interesting information.

Books versus Movies
There is something about the written word that cannot be replaced with audio, video, or other forms of multimedia.  Consider some of your favorite books.  Many books become motion pictures. How many times have you walked out of the theater and said to yourself, “I enjoyed the book more than the movie.” Words have an interesting way of setting off our imagination.  Regardless of how good the cinematography or specials many movies can’t match the impact of ink and paper.

On the Internet the user is always looking at the quickest and easiest way to access good information. One of the easiest ways to get information to the user is by using nothing more than words.

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Online Objectivity Paves the Way to Online Success

Someone asked me the other day “why do so few companies find success online?” There are so many different answers I didn’t know where to start.  On a whim, I came up with an answer that has crept up in almost every single web project I can recall.  My answer to “why do so few companies find success online?” is “companies lack online objectivity.”  Companies cannot take their own vested interests out of their web site.  They focus more on their own needs as oppose to their user’s needs. This isn't to suggest that a company shouldn't strive to meet its online goals.  Companies get tripped up in the process.  They try to serve themselves first before serving their market. How many web sites have you visited a web site with each sentence starting with “Our … My … We?” Successful companies maintain a high degree of online objectivity.

Online Objectivity
Here is a simple usability fact: Users aren’t interest in a company that tells them about the greatness of their product or service. Users want to know what a company is going to do for them.  The focus should be on meeting the user’s needs.  This can be accomplished by listening or interacting with them. Those companies that practice a high level on online objectivity are more likely to succeed online. If you want to ensure success online make sure you’re meeting your user’s needs before your own. The great thing about the Internet is that you can collect feedback quickly and inexpensively.  Below are a few suggestions of ways to meet user needs.

Ways to Meet User Needs:

  • Post Transaction Follow up
  • Feedback Forums
  • Email Survey
  • Online Survey
  • Usability Testing

Those companies who keep the focus on the user at all times are far more likely to be successful online.  The most difficult thing to overcome online is a company’s own ego.  Putting the customer’s ego in front of your ego is a big step with big payoffs.

Additional Resource:

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The Most Powerful Form of Online Advertising (Part II)

The Most Powerful Form of Online Advertising ... continued ...

Creating Traffic
Compelling high quality content drives traffic to web sites and can encourage users to return on a regular basis. Two facets of traffic generation are high quality content and search engine optimization.

High quality content can come in the written form of articles, e-zines, ebooks, and white papers.  Dr. Joe Vitale brings up the following as it pertains to online articles, "write articles that answer problems and distribute them online. This builds credibility and if they're truly useful people will make them viral.” Successful people online produce high quality content on a regular basis. Publishing content three to five times a week is one of the simplest ways to get better rankings in the search engines.

Continue reading "The Most Powerful Form of Online Advertising (Part II)" »

The Most Powerful Form of Online Advertising (Part I)

Copywriting_event_marketingWhat is the most powerful form of online advertising? The previous question challenges almost every business owner or event organizer with a web site. 

Most Internet marketers would respond with any or all of the following suggestions: SEO, PPC, Email Marketing, Banner Ads, Video, and plenty more. A compelling argument could be made for any of the items previously listed as being the best form of online advertising. 

Yet there is one fundamental which is the root of almost every form of online advertising, the ability to write compelling copy or copywriting. Copywriting is the distinct discipline of being able to compel people to action through the use of the written word. Copywriting should not be confused with Copyrighting, or protecting one's intellectually property. Whenever you advertise, carefully consider the words you're using. 

Continue reading "The Most Powerful Form of Online Advertising (Part I)" »

Web Usability Versus Internet Marketing

More Than Usability
The importance of web usability cannot be underestimated.  Yet it is important to recognize it takes a lot more than just having a usable web site to be successful online.  Usability primarily focuses on making things easy to use and understand.  Regardless of how easy a web site is to use it also needs to have consistent and increasing visitor traffic. Traffic generation falls under the category of internet marketing. Marketing concentrates on product or service awareness and as part of the sales process.  It is important for any web site owner to make use of both usability and marketing.

Marketing isn't always Usable
There are some techniques direct marketing techniques that directly contradict sound usability principles.  One such technique is the use of pop ups.  For years pop up windows created usability issues.  Yet from a marketing perspective pop ups are great way to collect email addresses. Email addresses can be used to drive a marketing campaign for a product or service.

Bridging Usability and Marketing

One distinct area where web usability and internet marketing are complementary is when it comes to user testing.  User testing is crucial for both disciplines.  In web usability testing you collect data to identify positive or negative trends.  Those trends are used to enhance an improve a web site or online process.  Testing is also used in the area of marketing to improve advertising performance. Internet marketers frequently use Split testing to improve the performance of various marketing pieces: PPC ads, sales letter, or headlines to name a few.  The importance of testing needs to be placed on objectivity.  It is very easy to throw overshadow "what the boss wants" as opposed to what people are saying.

There are a number of marketing techniques that don't conform with good usability standards. The most profitable web sites find the right balance between web usability and marketing.  From experience I’ve seen web sites that give deference to marketing, sacrificing usability, and doing tremendously well on the financial front.

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