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January 2007
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March 2007

You Can Be Successful Online Without Programming Skills

One of the biggest barriers to online entry is the notion that you need to be a computer geek or a web programmer.  As a result of preconceived notions too many people shy away from attempting to setup a web site.  Today it has never been easier and MORE confusing to get started online.  Why the confusion?  The choices of authoring tools are endless.  You can add to this confusion by asking almost any web developer "What does it take to be successful online?"  If you ask twenty different web developers the previous question you'll probably get twenty different answers.  There are a number of people who have decided to jump in without prior web experience.  In most cases it isn't that hard to setup a site, the hardest part is getting started.  You can start with some words and "Not Knowing Any Better."

Almost Entirely Text
Two very successful sites I know of are primary text based.  You will find very few pictures on each site.  Compare and contrast the lack of pictures with almost any other web site.  They break from what many developers would classify as web standards and embrace aspects of traditional direct marketing.  To the best of my knowledge each web site generates between five and six figures of revenue annually. Their owners probably give an hour or less of work to each site daily. Day to day their time is primarily focused on keeping their customers satisfied.  The sites presented might be needles in the haystack, but it is important to understand how simple sites can be tremendously successful.

Two Great Examples: (If you have a moment, take a look.)

Sydexample When other web professionals visit these web sites many of them get upset.  I have heard them make comments like "this type of crap is ruining the Internet" or "this is a joke, nobody can make money off of this."  Perhaps it is the human condition.  Very few web professionals react with a sincere "Good for them, that's awesome."  This is usually followed by serious look at how it was done. Everyone can learn a thing or two from the examples.  Again these examples are to illustrate that you don't need to be a professional web developer to be successful online.

Being Successful By "Not Knowing Any Better"
People who are successful with very little web experience tend to focus on content as opposed to the mode of delivery. You'll notice there aren't any bells or whistles on either web site.  There were no preconceived notions of "this is how you have to do it!"

I've met one of the site creators who is an example in this post.  He's not a web programmer, but he is a very intelligent person.  He focuses on getting the right content to the right person in a systematic manner.  There is some automation that is used via third part applications.  Targeted advertising is used to direct people to his web site. After people visit the site, the focus shifts to building trust and credibility with perspective buyers with follow up. 

It Takes Time
Success didn't come overnight for either web site.  There was an appreciable investment of time upfront.  People should realize that to be successful online requires commitment.  There aren't many fire and forget online solutions.

The lesson for today is simple.  You don't need to be a computer geek to get started online.  A smart start with a little tenacity and determination can go a long way.  The worst that can happen to you is you'll learn something.

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The Shift in Internet User Demographics

For the longest time people believed that the Internet was a playground for the young. “Older people don’t use the Internet.”  It was too difficult for them to understand or they’re computer averse. Times are changing. One of the emerging Internet user markets belongs to older Internet users. As people age the older demographic of Internet users will be supplemented by the generation of users who grew up online.  Are older users part of your demographic?

The Silver User Demographic
Senior_computer A recent article from the UK's Telegraph titled "Surfing Net is Top Pastime for Elderly" illustrates the shift in Internet user demographics. This is an important trend that every web site owner should understand. Many companies currently focus on creating their online experience around younger Internet users. Lots of bells and whistles that can task saturate even the most adept surfers. They rarely take into consideration the “silver surfers” of the world.

According to the Telegraph’s article 41% of retirees said using the web was one of their favorite activities.  Internet usage exceeded their time for gardening, walking, and other hobbies. Of those surveyed, 40% also indicated that they shop online regularly. Are you aware of the demographic and psychographic profiles of your users?   

The article also identifies some of the particular online activities for older users. Emailing and searching are some of the top activities. This incidentally mirrors some of the activities of younger users.  The older demographic of users will open up brand new markets and online opportunities.

Small Simple Changes
My experience with older surfers reemphasizes the need for web sites with better usability. If you identify part of your demographic as older Internet users make sure you take the time to accommodate their needs. Things like small type and complex navigation turn off older users. Even if you make some simple usability changes to your web site, your users will be appreciative. I cannot recall the last time someone complained about a web site being too easy to use.

There are inherent challenges when it comes to accommodating for a number of different demographics. Some web sites don’t have enough older users to justify changing their approach. Take MySpace into consideration. Almost everything is geared toward young surfers. Ultimately it comes down to knowing your online demographics and making the necessary changes.

As times passes you will have more users who are older. Make sure you accommodate for their needs.

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Ego: How to Destroy Your Business Web Site

The Quickest Way to Crash Your Own Web Site
Over the last decade there is one consistent vice that has worked against countless web sites. This vice is an egotistical mindset in relation to your web site.  It is specific to how you present your information to your users.  In many cases companies and web developers share a significant amount of responsibility.  Everyone feels the need to flex their online muscle and wisdom. The end result is users getting left out in the cold. Your users are the foundation of your web existence. "No users, no traffic, no income."  You cannot afford to alienate users. You need to start by recognizing the problems associated with an egotistical mindset.  After you've done that the solution is pretty simple.

Web Development Firms
Far too many development studios and ad agencies approach their web projects like art.  It is your best interest to create a web site that strikes a balance between graphics and contentThe most effective web sites have great content supported by a clean and simple design.  In order for most developers to achieve this it only requires a small change in mindset.  Yet, there are very few firms that "get it." Remember it's more important to be useful than cool.

Too Company Centric

Companies who get others to create their web site are not immune from the adverse effects of being egotistical online. Many companies make a mess of their own web sites or a web strategy. These companies hire great web development firms and then insist on dictating how their web site should be built. Web developers across the globe have heard the following numerous times: "We're hiring you to do the work and you'll do it our way."  Companies need to hire web development firms with a proven track record.  After you have established your faith in the development firm of your choice let them leverage their expertise with your online goals.

If you or your company maintains its own web site make sure you are focusing on the needs of your user. Go to almost any web site and find an "about us" or "our services" page. Count how many times you see the following words at a beginning of each sentence: "(The company name), Our, My, or We." You need to let your users know how you are going to help them.  This starts with taking your ego out of the equation.  Smart companies know how to craft their online messaging to connect with the user

The Antidote: Staying Relevant to the User's Needs
The simplest antidote to an online ego is ensuring user relevancy.  In Jakob Nielsen's HOME RUN acronym the "R" stands for "Relevant to the User's needs."  The concept is so simple, yet so difficult for web site owners and companies to comprehend.  You need to make sure you web site stays relevant to your user's needs.  If you make your content easy to use and meaningful to your users it's not as difficult to be successful online. You need to focus on being user centric.  The information should be presented for the user's benefit, not yours.  Dr. Joe Vitale said it best "get out of your ego and focus on your user's ego."

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Merging Web Usability and Online Marketing

Did anyone else find the Superbowl commercials boring yesterday?  There wasn't anything really memorable.  In previous years I recall people chatting about the Superbowl commercials for at least a day or two afterward. It seemed like the commercials didn't connect with as many people. Yet, the commercials did get me thinking about the relationship of usability and marketing.   The most successful ads are those that are simple to understand and connect with the audience.  You should use the same methodology with your web site.

Usability and Marketing
A few years ago I really didn't consider Usability and Marketing related fields.  Several people would always ask me if our firm did any marketing. We didn't. For the longest time I believed that usability focused on making things easy to use and marketing concentrated on promoting products.  Regardless of some of the similarities, I always grouped the usability and marketing into two different categories. Over the last few years I've started to change my perspective.  Through people like Ken McCarthy, Seth Godin, and Joe Vitale my feelings in regards to online marketing changed.  Business people should view the Internet as a permission based direct marketing channel. Part of the success of marketing focuses on targeting the right market and testing with that market. 

Web Usability Marketing
Today I see online marketing and usability having a synergenic relationship.  Each discipline takes from the other and enhances the other. Companies who understand and utilize the merge of usability and online marketing are going to be more successful online.  Well thought out and tested marketing can drive people to your web site and promote conversions.  Web usability can be leveraged to ensure that your web site is easy to access, clear, and concise.  The two elements are essential for a successful web site.

Rooted in the Past

The history of direct marketing hasn't changed much in decades.  There was a book in the library, published in 1936, by John Caples that covered many of the techniques marketing firms use today.  Aside from the medium used, the fundamental marketing principals have undergone little change. You still utilize the simple techniques like a compelling headline and well written copy that relates to your audience.  Unfortunately many companies refuse to follow some of the the most basic marketing and advertising tenants.

Usability starts to intersect marketing when you get to the process of testing your ads and copy.  The method of split testing was used to find the best ads.  Today we use some of the same principles to conduct usability testing.  Always try to test different combinations with your users and see what works better with your web site and your ads.   Companies have a very difficult time letting go of their ego and focusing on their audience.  Your focus needs to be on the user/consumer. This is a fundamental of usability testing and good marketing. 

It can be anything from an individual ad or marketing piece to an entire web site.  Concentrate on delivering a message that is targeted to a certain audience and easy to understand.  The process involves using usability principals and traditional direct marketing techniques.  Your message should be believable and easy to quantify.

Both Usability and Marketing are so important to your online success.  Make sure you explore ways to integrate both with your web site.

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How NOT to Make a Submarine Sandwich

Sub Can anyone identify what is wrong with the submarine sandwich you see in the picture to the right? Check out all the meat that's in one corner of the sub.

Knowing how NOT to make a submarine sandwich is just as important as how to make a good sub

I admit that I have a bias when it comes to submarine sandwiches. My first job was "making subs" and scooping ice cream. They would relentlessly remind us to "make sure everything on that sub lays even and flat!" The picture above is a regular occurrence at a number of sub shops. (The submarine sandwich picture is from one of the most revered sub shops in Rochester, New York.)

Bad sub construction is a problem that plagues the sandwich industry on a daily basis.  A simple change in how a submarine sandwich is made can make all the difference between a lousy sub and a great one.

What's the Big Deal?

Here's my rub . . . When you are paying good money for a submarine sandwich the meat SHOULDN'T be rolled up in one corner and your vegetables and condiments in another corner. What ends up happening is you go from biting between an all meat sandwich to a veggie sub. This happens all the time.

The shame about the submarine pictured above is that everything else about the sandwich is great.  The meat and the vegetables are always fresh and the bread is excellent.  It all comes down to a matter of laying everything flat.

Get Your Sub Made Right!
Here's how to make sure you sub is made to taste great. When you go to order your sub, make the following request:

"Can you do me a favor? Make sure when you put the meat on the sub that everything lays flat when you close it up.

In most cases people are happy to oblige.

Lay It Flat and Even
My request to the submarine shop industry is this: Make sure when you close up your submarine sandwich that everything lays flat.  That means that the meat and toppings aren't crammed into opposite corners.  It makes a huge difference in taste.

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Cashing in On Online Speed

This post is a small side note to "The User Attention Span" post.  The "Attention Span" post briefly discusses how users want their information faster than ever. If you cannot load your web site quickly users will find alternatives. Your web site load time can also translate into dollar signs either positive or negative.

Money and Load Time
Lee Dodd had an interesting comment from a user on the relationship of speed to revenue. "It’s only been a few days, but I’ve already noticed an increase in traffic, page views, and ad revenue. What does that mean? Simple: Slow Servers = Less Traffic, or more importantly, Faster Servers = More Money“. It is true that search engines and end users DO NOT like slow loading sites."  Is your web site performance hindering your online revenue potential?

One place you don't want to have an extra load time is with your shopping cart solution.  There are already a number of factors that increase shopping cart abandonment.  Don't give your users another reason to abandon your cart.

Determining Page Size 
This past week someone asked me if there was an easy way to determine page load times. During some perusing of the Internet I found a link on Lee Todd's Blog that gives you size and web site load time information.  The utility allows you to enter multiple domains at one time.  This allows you to do a simple compare and contrast between your site and other web sites of your choosing.

Users like web sites that are quick and to the point.  The quicker you load your web site, the faster you have an opportunity to make money. Make every effort possible to decrease your page load times.

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Starting on the Internet, Slowly

If you are thinking of starting a web site you might want to consider setting up a temporary web page.  A one page site is a great way to get your feet wet without committing large sums of money or time.  Start with a one page site and take a "Baby Steps Approach."  Build as you go and don't over commit. The emphasis should be on keeping things small and simple.  Your site can be used for business or personal use.

Inexpensive Entry
Hosting and domain name registration have become inexpensive.  In most cases you can register a domain and host a web site annually for under $75 USD.  No other form of advertising can offer you the flexibility found on a web site.  It's the "world's most inexpensive printing press."  You can test your concept or ideas online without over committing your time or finances.  You'll find a link below to help you with selecting a domain name.

One advantage of setting up your web site early is getting yourself established with search engines. Ask family or friends with a web site to link to your site.  This will help you get listed and build trust with the search engines.  This simple methodology will help you if you decide to stay online for the long haul.

Get Some Help
Before you start, spend some time researching other web sites, seek out someone in the web industry to help you out. You would be amazed at how many people are willing to pass along great information in trade for buying them lunch.  Go to your local library and check out some books on building web sites.

If you are apprehensive about building your own site, look toward a local university.  You might be able to find a student to assist you in setting up your site.  If you are going to get someone to work on your web site make sure they are trustworthy and reliable.  Ask for work references and call them. Keep some controls in place to make sure you aren't left high and dry. Make sure they provide you with backup copies of all the files, passwords, and all other relevant information.

Present High Quality Information
You can present comprehensive information on your web site, but don't bore people. Setup an email address and take advantage of two way communication.  Make sure your information is relevant to the user.  You would be surprised at all the one and two page web sites that are generating respectable amounts of revenue.

One thing too many people and companies do is neglect what they've started. There are numerous web sites on the Internet that were started, never to be finished. In another scenario too many people wait until they have all their information read before posting anything online.  As long as the information is high quality content, you can post something.  One thing you don't want to do is post an empty page or "under construction" graphic.

At a minimum have some information on what you do and contact information. Below are links to articles that should help you get started.  Gook luck and Enjoy!

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Persistence and Online Patience

How many times have you heard the phrase “Patience is a virtue”? That same idiom is applicable to the online world. Unfortunately most of us live in a world that has set its goal expectation levels at “I expect it now!” or “I expected it yesterday.” The same expectations are prevalent in regards to web sites and web strategies. When people or companies don’t see an immediate return on investment from their web site or web strategy they quit. This mentality is probably one of the biggest reasons why web sites fail. The opposite is also true. You shouldn’t wait too long for results or invest time and money into a pipe dream. One of the biggest online disciplines is truly understanding when to move forward with a process and when to wait.

SEO and Patience
Search Engine Optimization is a perfect example of where patience and persistence is so important, yet lacking.  Too many companies look at SEO and expect immediate results. “We’re going to hire you and you’ll get us on top of Google in a few weeks, correct?" That was said by someone after a SEO presentation. You try your best to thoroughly explain the process and expectation levels, but people and companies refuse to listen. They’re too focused on immediate results. Yes there are things you can do to get immediate results online, but SEO isn’t a quick fix. Those companies that listen and take the time to understand the process are usually very successful online.

Six Months of Blogging
Blogging is another classic example of patience and persistence.  Of the group of “Blogeteers” I started Blogging with none of them are still posting. They’ve abandon their pursuits. Online guru Dave Taylor had a great suggestion when it comes to people or companies Blogging “you need to give it at least six months.”  You need to update a few times a week and stay committed to your pursuit.  To which I’ve heard the all too common response “I don’t have the time.”

Your Rate of Return
You can look at your web site like an investment medium. But unlike traditional markets, you have direct control on your rate of return. Some people only get a few percentage points on their return on investment, whereas others get astronomical rates of return. If you make the right decisions and implement the correct strategy you can increase you rate of return and beat almost any other form of investing.  It is important to remember web sites are like investing, value is built over time, not in a few days or weeks.

There is a fine line between patience and knowing when to move forward. I have yet to find a strategy that is definitive in determining when to move and when you should be patience online. It’s far better to smartly wait and see how a situation pans out as opposed to getting impatient, not learning from the experience and quitting. Try to be patient and persistent with everything you do online, but don't drag your feet. You aren’t wasting time if you’re learning a valuable lessons on the way. Reapply those lessons and move forward!

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