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December 2006
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February 2007

HTML Text and Web Site Content

HTML text is making a resurgence on web sites.  In this post I refer to HTML in two different ways. One way as a markup language and the other as a way to display text. In the early days of the Internet most sites were built with images and HTML text. Over time developers gradually shifted away from HTML into other markup languages and technology.  Developers claimed that HTML was too archaic to use. Yet today web sites are returning to HTML text.  HTML has had quiet the interesting journey.

Flash in a Flash
Years ago when Flash came to town using HTML was no longer cool. Flash was to usher in a new era of web development.  Companies all over the world wanted to use Flash on their web sites.  The demand for Flash developers went through the roof. It was hard not to bump into a site guarded with a splash page utilizing Flash.  Eventually people realized that Flash wasn't as great as once envisioned.  Companies found that their users wanted information when visiting a web site, not a glorified commercial. The splash pages and flash menus disappeared and developers gradually returned to HTML. I believe that Blogs are a significant catalyst in the resurgence of HTML text.

Why Use HTML Text?

One reason I believe text is so important online is because you cannot do much on the Internet without words.  BUY NOW, Click Here, Search, and Home are some of the most common words on the Internet.  We are a society that is rooted in words either written or spoken for communicating.

Make sure you don't make the mistake too many web developers commit.  They create their web sites with image heavy design and little or no HTML text. Unless these sites have an abundance of back links they rarely rank well in search engines.

If you are looking toward the future of your web site make sure you use HTML text.  I recommend this to anyone with a web site. I'll take HTML over any other language on the Internet.  Some of the simplest and most successful web sites use HTML text with graphics.  There are no bells and whistles, just straight forward content.  CNN, Yahoo, Amazon, and Google all use HTML text as their primary means of content delivery.

HTML text might not be the coolest "kid" on the block, but over time it's proven to be the most versatile and easiest to use. I recommend anyone with a web site to build it on a foundation of HTML text.


Optimizing Your Web Graphics and Images

Does Your Web Site Load Quickly?

Users have never wanted information so quickly on the Internet. In a previous article I examined the user attention span.  One place where companies and site owners can make a noticeable difference in their web page quality is through web graphic optimization. Everyone likes a web page that loads in a minimum amount of time. But a significant number of companies neglect this simple process.

Why Be Concerned with Optimizing Web Graphics?
Optimization is a quick and inexpensive way to reduce the load time of your web site. There are a number of variables involved in getting your site to load in a minimum amount of time.  Optimizing your web graphics is probably the easiest and most inexpensive way to tweak your site.  Fast loading sites also contribute to higher web site usability.

What’s Involved in Graphic Optimization?
In optimizing web graphics you are reducing image quality.  The compression algorithms take information out of the image and reduce the overall image size. You can start with a 250K image and through optimization reduce it to 35K.

One argument I hear is with high speed Internet there is less of a need to optimize web graphics.  This is a dangerous assessment that hurts many companies online. Web Graphics have a significant relationship to page load times. Web page load time is an important metric in relation to bounce rates.  People have very little tolerance for slow loading pages.

Optimization Suggestions
Our recommendation is to keep your pages under a 100K each. The key to good optimization is reducing image size without diluting picture quality.  Try to reduce your original image size by approximately 50%-80%. You’ll have to experiment a bit to find the right amount of compression.  If you compress the image and it starts to look lousy you’ve over optimized. You can use either Photoshop or Fireworks.  There also a number of inexpensive or free programs for image optimization. Search Google for “Web Image Optimization” and you’ll find a number of options. Make sure you backup all your images before modifying or optimizing them.  Once the graphic has been optimized you can’t increase the image quality.

As a side note; you need to also take into account server load time.  You can have all your web site graphics optimized. But if your server is slow, the benefit is significantly reduced. Talk to your hosting company and ask them to check your server response time.  They should be able to quickly tell you if something is wrong.

In conclusion I’ll leave you with this food for thought:  Nobody will complain or "pat you on the back" if you have a quick loading web site.  At the same time users probably won’t complain if it takes too long to load. They’ll just stop coming to your web site.


Graphic Design versus Web Design

I’ve worked with my share of graphic design firms over the years.  It has been quite the roller coaster ride trying to get them to understand the differences between web design and print design.  You need to recognize the distinct differences between graphic design and web design when building a web site.  For this article graphic design should be considered the same as print design. Today I’m going to look at the differences between print and web design, Flash, and what to look for in a graphic designer.

So graphic designers don’t think I’m picking on them, I want acknowledge there are a few really talented graphic designers that understand and respect the differences between print and web.  It’s my hope that their peers take notice.

Designer Centric Web Design
Many designers view graphic design and web design as one in the same.  This is most prevalent with firms transitioning from print and multimedia design into web design. They think that web design and print design are siblings from the same family, like brother and sister. My belief is that they are analogous to second cousins.  There are a few similarities, but significantly more differences.  The challenge becomes  getting old school graphic designers to separate from their roots.

I was once told by a graphic designer “You wouldn’t get it, you’re not an artist.” I think that graphic design can be considered analogous to special effects in a movie.  The visuals can be amazing. Yet, if you don’t have a good story and dialogue it doesn’t matter how stunning the special effects.  High quality pictures and multimedia will never trump high quality content.

The First Rise and Fall of Flash
This was evidenced a few years ago when everyone and their grandmother were hopping on the Flash bandwagon.  People wanted all the bells and whistles for their web site.  You’ll notice that trend quickly died out.  Web site owners quickly realized that Flash wasn’t the most ideal method for delivering content.  There are very few sites that deliver high quality content utilizing nothing but Flash. As a side note: Flash have become an excellent delivery method for web video.

A Constant Battle
Design firms usually endure a significant idea storm when creating web sites. In Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think, he does an excellent job of talking about the differences between the various team members developing a web site.  Artists are going to view the project differently than developers.  When you add management into the mix you get even more differences in opinion.  All of these opinions and ideas need to balance with what’s best for the client and the user.

A Short and Simple Example

Take a look at Google and Yahoo.  Together they account for approximately 150 Million searches daily. (Source: comScore Media Metrix)  Users don’t go to these sites because of their graphic design prowess.  They go to Google and Yahoo because the sites are easy to use and allow you access to an unbelievable amount of content.

Looking for a Graphic Designer?
If you are in the market for a graphic design make sure they can demonstrate their knowledge of the differences between print design and web design.  Have them tell you about their web accomplishments in relation to client success. They understand that good design helps to support great content.  Good web designers present their work in terms of striking a balance between aesthetics and information. 

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


Conversions and Making the Right Impression

Today’s post refocuses on some of the finer details of web centric marketing. We’ll take a look at the interaction of impressions and conversions. Both topics have been discussed separately in earlier posts.  I thought it beneficial to bring both topics together in one post.

To get caught up on web centric marketing feel free to read the following posts:

Here is what I believe to be one of the biggest misconceptions in the business sector as it applies to marketing. Too many organizations concentrate in getting the maximum number of impressions. “Which media outlet or form of advertising is going to give us the most coverage?”  Companies should concentrate on getting the most effective coverage, not the most coverage.

What do you perceive to be more valuable?

  • 10,000,000 general impressions.
  • 1,000,000 impressions with people who have an affinity for what you are offering.

Businesses waste money all the time advertising with people who don’t care about what they have to offer. The end result is hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in wasted advertising.

Quick primer on Conversions:

When looking at impressions you need to bring conversions into play. Conversions allow you to value your impressions via the rate of conversion. If you get a 2% conversion rate on a million impressions that’s 20,000 people who would take action on your offer.  You need to target  niche markets.  If you target outside of your demographic the conversion rates drop significantly.  Who’s going to act upon an offer that is of no interest to them? 10,000,000 impressions might fetch you a 1/2% conversion rate or roughly 50,000 people.

Consider doing something to increase your conversion rate.
Small changes can bring big results.  Even on a million impressions if you can increase your conversion rate by a percentage point or two, you can double your effectiveness.

Those companies that know how to get the most effective impressions and create compelling offers that convert, win!

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


Companies Need to Connect with the User

One place where companies frequently disconnect from the user is when it comes to messaging. Here is the typical scenario: The user arrives to a web site and they're dropped into a company's online experience.  The copy on a web site usually goes something like this "Our ... We .... Our ... About Us." This can be classified as the "Me Me Me" syndrome.  Too many companies want to tell the world how they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Please don't misunderstand me, I do believe you need to tell the user your capabilities and accomplishments.  But in order to be successful online you need to make sure you are focusing on the user.

Successful web sites take the approach of carefully crafting the online experience.  They craft their message to develop trust and provide the user with relevant information. This in turn makes it much easier to sell a product or service online.

I was listening to an interview with Robert Bly in which he talks about Bill Bonner's Four-Legged Stool. The Four Legs of the Stool are Credibility, Track Record, The Big Idea, and Future Benefits.  Use each leg to position your company and its products or services more effectively online.

Credibility
Unless you're a recognizable brand like Amazon or Yahoo, you will need to establish some credibility.  Do the things necessary to establish credibility and trust. One great way is to provide people with high quality information.  Make your user feel like you genuinely care about them.  Give them so much great information that they don't know what to do with it.

Track Record
Even though they aren't as effective as before, testimonials are a great place to start establishing credibility.  How has you product or service performed over time? Make sure your testimonials are benefit driven not featured focused. Users are interested in reading about what your product or process can accomplish for them.  "We saved $10,000 dollars by using the process outlined by XYZ Corp."

The Big Idea
How is your company or service different than your competition?  Describe the process or product involved in user centric terms.  Today everyone has a widget.  How is your widget better than other widgets? Perhaps you have a unique methodology that has evolved out of your product or service that can help people.

Future Benefits
If someone purchases your product or service how will it benefit them moving forward?  Tell people why it is worth investing in what you have to offer now and its impact in the future.  Show them how your product or service is going to create value  or save them money over time.

Make Sure You Use All Four Legs
The Stool is most stable on all Four-Legs (Credibility, Track Record, The Big Idea, and Future Benefits.)  It can still stand on Three Legs (Any Three of the Above).  But it will fall with only two legs.

You need to make sure your messaging is framed for the user.  Leverage your company's accomplishments, but in a way that allows the user to take notice; "Here are all the great things we've accomplished and here is how we want to help you ..."

If you can craft your web site using the methodology described you have a much better chance of being successful online.  Give user's what they seek and you will be rewarded.

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

 


A Simple Usability Indicator: The Back Button

How many times have you clicked the back button when you were lost or confused on a web site?

A person's use of the Back Button can give you a very rudimentary indication of a web site's usability.  The back button is the Internet's version of an ejection seat.  It makes people feel safe. If users want to quickly leave a web site they can easily do so using the back button. Jakob Nielsen refers to the back button as "lifeline of the Web user and the second-most used navigation feature." It's a backup navigation feature for every single web site.   

Paying Attention to How People Use the Back Button
I pay particular attention to use of the back button if I'm testing web site navigation.  If the web site navigation is intuitive and easy to use users are less likely to click on the back button.  It is an automatic indication of usability.

A Simple "Back Button" Usability Study
Here is a simple usability study you can do with just about anyone.  Pick a site you are familiar with that has easy to use navigation.  Try to find another web site with poor navigation.  (They aren't that difficult to find, trust me.)  Sit a willing participant down in front of a computer and have them navigate through the two sites.  A friend or family member is an ideal choice.  Sit next to them and tell them what you are going to do.  Stress that it isn't a test and there aren't any right or wrong actions.  Participants give much better feedback when you put them at ease. Pay close attention to where their cursor goes on the computer screen.  It is really fascinating what you can learn just by watching people surf the web.

What can I do with the back button study?  Perhaps you are redesigning your small business or personal web site.  Using the above technique can help you refine or correct your navigation.  The technique can also help you identify other usability problems on the site. It is in your best interest to make your site as easy to use as possible.

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


False Hopes and Internet Domain Name Brokers

I was listening to the radio yesterday and heard an ad that was upsetting.  It was a domain registration company that was trying to convince people of the riches in domain name brokering.  If you register a domain from them you could get paid millions of dollars.  There are very few people that have made millions by selling a domain outright. What are the chances? You honestly have a better chance of getting hit by lightening on a clear day.

Companies shouldn't advertise online get rich schemes.  In my book that is completely irresponsible. If a domain name/web site is sold for a large dollar amount it's usually because of web traffic and advertising dollars. Other high valued web sites generate revenue from products or service. Throughout this article I'll use "domain name" and "web site" in an analogous manner.

A Bit of Realism
None of my friends or close associates have become rich off selling a domain name.  In many cases they spent hundreds and some cases thousands of dollars on domain names.  A business mentor of mine jumped on domain name band wagon years ago.  Again, he bought hundreds of domain names and spent thousands of dollars.  To this day I think he only has made a few dollars off all the domains he once owned. Unfortunately he bought into empty hopes and promises.

The Only Domain Name Success Story
There is one person I knew who sold his web site for millions of dollars.  It was during the dot-com revolution.  The company that bought the web site consolidated the domain into one of their own web sites.  Why did this person get paid millions of dollars for his web site? The web site generated "more than 40,000 downloads per day and more than 10 million page views per month."  A web site like that has massive value. This person positioned himself in the right place at the right time. It was a different time and I don't see that ever happening again. 

A Little Domain Name Valuation
The value of a domain has a vast number of metrics.  There are a variety of algorithms, each taking something different into account.  When it comes to valuing domains the financial geek in me takes over.  Show me a balance sheet and income statement for your web site.  As they say "Money Talks." If you don't have that information you can make some safe assumptions based on research.  If a web site sells millions of dollars in products or services, it definitely has good value.  Or if the domain gets so much traffic that it's plastered with banner ads and Adsense, the domain probably has value.
My bottom line on value is based on content and utility.

Be Careful Out There
My lesson for the day is don't get shammed by people who claim instant online riches.   I do believe that the Internet can make people very wealthy.  There are systems out there that can help you generate additional revenue streams, but this isn't something that happens over night. Make sure you do your homework on any offer that sounds too good to be true.

Additional Resources:

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


Web Site Email Suggestions

In today's world it has never been easier to setup an email address.  Yet many small business owners make simple mistakes along the way.  Something I notice on a number of web sites are contact email addresses that don't match their associated domains.  This is very prevalent amongst small business/personal business web sites.  People use their personal email address instead of using an email associated with the domain.  I don't think this is a good idea.  Today we'll look at some simple suggestions you can easily implement.

People go to Email First

It is very important to give people a place to contact you.  A recurring theme in all our usability studies is that people prefer to initiate contact via email, even before a telephone call.  If you are in business people are going to want to contact you.  Make the process as easy as possible.

Trust Building

If you are doing business via your web site think about building trust and credibility with the consumer.  Contact email addresses are a small step in trust building. There have been several occasions when I've wanted to write a small business. I proceed to the contact info page and see an unfamiliar email.  I'm forced to ask myself who is MrGolf0842@aol.com?  And is this going to the right person?  There is no additional contact information. This always leaves me a little hesitant.

If you are going to use your personal email address setup a small disclaimer about it.  Tell them it's your personal email address and where it's going. It's also help to provide your full name.  Some people get concerned with privacy.  But realize that people are going to be a little hesitant in doing business with anonymous people.

Keep Separate Emails - Business & Personal
One simple way to keep your anonymity and build trust with customers is to have two email addresses. Keep a personal email address and a business email address. This way you can use your personal email address for personal things and business email for business.

If you want to just maintain one email account, setup a business address and have email forward to your personal address. This gets you the best of both worlds.

SPAM Filtering
Make sure you set your SPAM filters properly.  It might be a pain, but read through the documentation.  Proper setup should stop the blatantly obvious SPAM.  But not block people just because you haven't white listed them.  I've run into this on a few occasions.  People ratchet down their SPAM filters allowing almost nothing through including legitimate emails.  Why is this bad?  Because someone might be writing you regarding a customer service issue or look to make a purchase.

There are a number of additional steps you can take.  What you see above should get you into the right frame of mind.  Make sure you are making it as easy as possible for people to do business with you.


Web Site Traffic Driving Revenue

A friend asked me yesterday "How does web traffic drive revenue?" It is a simple yet very important question.  There are a number of layers involved in the process.  Most businesses confuse the basics of traffic and revenue.  Because of confusion or ignorance many businesses don't do well online.  I'd also argue that too many businesses give deference to traffic over conversion.  There are a myriad of ways to generate traffic.  Converting traffic is a little more difficult.  The entire process starts with a simple formula and then branches into individual sections. Let's take a look.

A Simple Formula
Online Marketing guru Ken McCarthy provides his First Law of Internet Marketing: "Traffic + Conversion = Profits"  It's a very simplistic perspective on what it takes to be successful online.  For being so simple, the formula works. Unfortunately most businesses muddy up the process.  They add their own flavor and spin to the equation and get tepid results.  Check out "Why Do you Have a web site?" for a similar online success formula.

Markets and Generating Traffic
Online revenue generation starts with choosing the right online market. Many businesses incorrectly assume that if your site generates large incoming traffic streams that you will generate large sums of revenue. This rarely is the case.

Traffic generators can come from email subscribers, organic SEO, affiliate marketing, and traditional advertising.  There are a number of ways to generate traffic.  A simple concept that many companies confuse is the quality versus quantity debate in relation to traffic.  If you get 100,000 unique visitors a month and nobody cares about what you have to offer, your going to have a difficult time online.  I'd take 5,000 visitors a month that had a genuine interest and affinity for my product or service.  Visitors with affinity and interest for your product or service constitute qualified traffic.  You can help facilitate qualified traffic by selecting targeted keywords.

The Conversion Process
You need to convert your traffic.  Many businesses face the standard 1-2% conversion rates synonymous with the business world.  The nice thing about the Internet is that many online businesses have found a way to crush the standard rate. Some online entrepreneurs are converting at over 10% and others even higher.  When it comes to conversion you need to ask yourself: Do you have a sales process in place to convert traffic? You need to find a way to answer "YES!" to the previous question.  The web offers us many ways to create compelling offers.

Many web sites suffer from being poorly designed from a usability and direct marketing perspective.  Users quickly bounce off your web site because of the following: not compelled by the messaging, don't understand the messaging, or find the site difficult to use.  These factors usually result in the kiss of death for most web sites regardless of traffic. 

You need to create compelling messaging and test it on a regular basis.  Learn the techniques of direct marketers.  They have been creating compelling messages for hundreds of years. The web is only a different medium of delivery.

Back to the question "How does web traffic drive revenue?"  You accomplish this by smartly combining targeted niche marketing with a compelling offer on a highly usable web site.

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


Don't Quit Your Day Job Just Yet

In my experience I've seen a number of people quit their day jobs in hopes of success and riches in the entrepreneurial world.  In my professional opinion too many of these people were lured by the fantasy of quickly getting rich.  The cold hard truth is very few, if any, people get rich quickly in the entrepreneur world.  This also includes the Internet.  Wealth and success are built over time.  In addition most people who venture into their own business never make it past their first five years.  Ultimately those people give up being an entrepreneur and despondently return to the "real world." Before you make the jump into the entrepreneurial world consider some of the following thoughts.

I Have to Get Out of My Job
So many people I know complain about their work environment.  Either their boss is tyrannical or coworkers incompetent.  There was a strong quote by Michael Wade from his Career Manifesto.  He refers to the perceived hardships people face in the workplace: "Unless you're working in a coal mine, an emergency ward, or their equivalent, spare us the sad stories about your tough job. The biggest risk most of us face in the course of a day is a paper cut."  Too many people I know confuse their job for real high pressure occupations. This is a big reason why many are lured to make the jump into the small business world.  They think they can escape some of the workplace challenges and have an easier work environment.  That simply isn't the case.

Test Drive Being An Entrepreneur
Being an entrepreneur can put a tremendous financial strain on you. I challenge anyone to this little experiment.  Put 6 weeks of your salary into the bank.  You can't use it to pay bills or living expenses.  Leave only $500 accessible for your monthly budget.  Why would anyone do that ?!?! You need to give yourself a realistic taste of the small business world.  There are plenty of small business owners, including myself, who have gone more than a month without a paycheck.  For the people who say you planned poorly, guess what?  Not all clients pay on time, even the reputable companies.  You need to become accustomed with that fact.  Going to work for a month without getting paid a dime is a very sobering experience. You are forced to come up with ways to pay your bills.  You might not be able to go out with friends and you will face some real entrepreneurial challenges.

Work on Your Side Job During the Work Day

Here is a good place to start if you want to be an entrepreneur.  People say they don't have time during the day to work on their personal business projects.  I believe that whatever job you are working at allows you a certain amount of free time every day.  Almost everyone I know has a lunch break of 45 to 60 minutes.  Pack a lunch and work on your side projects during your lunch break.  Yes, you are going to have to make sacrifices.  But if you are serious about creating additional revenue streams you need to make sacrifices.

Be more Efficient with your Time
Take a time management course to show you how to maximize the time you have available.  One of my biggest pet peeves is people who complain "I don't have enough time!"  Hogwash! I'd argue most people aren't maximizing their time.  It's amazing how much free time we can get in the course of the week just by making some small sacrifices, e.g. Tivo your favorite TV programs.  You can cut out 20 minutes of commercials this way. Learn while you drive. If you really sit down and think about it there are all sorts of ways to maximize your time.

For all the considerations I have one simple recommendation.  When you make 2x as much net profit from your side business as you do in salary, quit your day job. Be wary the lure of the entrepreneurial world.  Make sure you are financially and mentally prepared to make the jump.

Additional Resource:

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Building Trust and Credibility with Follow Up

I'd like to greet everyone across the World with the New Year!  There has never been a better time where those who desire success can make their dreams reality. Here is wishing you prosperity in the business year ahead.

How many times have you heard this saying: "The Fortune is in the Follow Up"?   The Internet makes this piece of business wisdom even more true.  Those that use this adage stack the deck in their favor.  It is simple to implement, yet so many people find it simple to ignore. 

As I've mentioned before; one of the top factors for people choosing to do business with you is trust and credibility.  Would you buy a product from someone you didn't trust?  Those people who do a great job in following up with their leads build trust.  It isn't instantaneous, but takes time.  If you make the time to understand this important portion of the business game, you're well on your way to being successful.

One great way to follow up with your prospects is via an autoresponder.  My description is very simplistic.  People write entire books just on this subject.  In short, autoresponders allow you to keep a database of customers or perspective customers.  People sign up at your web site with their email and their contact information gets stored in a database.  This process is the essence of permission based marketing. 

The really keen individuals use autoresponders to obtain target market leads. People aren't going to willfully sign up to a list that is of no value to them. The first step a web site owner takes after someone signs up to their mailing list is to confirm a user's decision to join the mailing list.  After their willingness to participate is verified, a series of high quality emails are sent to list recipients.  Verification helps you establish that your email isn't considered SPAM.  This process is a great way to build trust and credibility over time.

If you choose not to use an autoresponder you can still send information via email.  You can follow the suggestions outlined above and below.

Some quick points to remember:

  • Provide your confirmed mailing list with high quality information.  This will assist you in positioning yourself as an expert and build trust.  Free is great!
  • If you are using email instead of an autoresponder, don't send emails BCC or CC'd. Each email should be sent to people individually.
  • Make sure your emails don't look like they're cookie cutter.  People are very smart on picking out bogus email. Keep your message sincere and personalized.
  • Subject lines dictate if many emails even get opened.  Keep your subject line interested and to the point.

These points are only a fraction of what you really need to know.  Remember to follow up with everyone.  Even if it doesn't result in an immediate sale, you might be successful at a later time.  People are much more apt to buy from those they trust!