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February 2007
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April 2007

The Myth of the Magical Online Bullet

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a perspective client. They are looking into the possibility of redesigning their web site.  As with almost any web site conversation, the myth of the “magical online bullet” was brought up.  The magic bullet myth goes like this: “If you build a great web site the flood gates of traffic and sales immediately open up to your company.” Too many companies and web site owners think this way.  In order for your web site to be successful you need to approach marketing in a holistic manner and beyond just your web site.  Business success involves both online and offline marketing.

Diversify Your Marketing Investment
A web site represents one important aspect of a company’s overall marketing and sales strategy.  Yes, web sites have amazing versatility and capability. But you can’t place all your eggs into one basket.  Too many companies hedge their marketing bets entirely on their web site.  Look at traditional investing as an analogy.  Any financial planner is going to tell you to diversify your portfolio. The same should be done with your marketing strategy. Spread your marketing strategy across both online and offline marketing.

The Holistic Approach
Recently I listened to an interview with marketing guru Dan Kennedy and the late Corey Rudl.  Savvy marketers combine a variety of techniques with both online and offline marketing.  There is no magic bullet or perfect web strategy. Successful marketing requires constant analysis and time appropriate changes.  It’s also important to recognize you aren’t going to get it right the first time around.

Online Leads – Offline Follow Up
One of the examples from the interview touched upon lead generation. Web sites are great for lead generation via permission based marketing.  At the same time email marketing is becoming so saturated that people are starting to ignore it.  You take the leads you acquire online and apply them to the offline word.  What takes months or weeks to get old online could take years and decades to get old offline.

How Many Times do you Follow Up?
How many times do you follow up with current clients and perspective clients?  Most people follow up once or twice.  There are some marketers that have a follow up process that is over 50 steps and they’re extremely successful. Those 50 steps are 49 more than most marketers are willing to take.

Ultimately, the most successful online strategy is carefully married to smart offline strategy.  Learn how to leverage both and get the most out of your marketing. There are no “magical online bullets” that will guarantee you success.

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Events - Online Ticket Sales

Over the last few years I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a number of public events.  These events included everything from Ukrainian Festivals, Rock and Roll Concerts, Dinner Banquets, to Air Shows.  A few years ago I had the opportunity to try my hand at online ticketing.  Event producers can leverage the advantages of online ticketing to benefit their event and bottom line.  Below are some ideas.

One advantage the Internet offers is instant gratification.  Users crave the ability to buy something and have it immediately.  Online ticketing is available 24/7 regardless of location.  Some online ticketing services actually allow users to print their own tickets right from their home printer.  Another convenience of online ticketing services is that users don’t have to wait in line or travel to purchase tickets.

The Ability to Add Value
Added value can be combined with a discounted ticket to offer an additional incentive to purchase tickets online.  There are online ticket services that allow you to add sponsors and additional information to the ticket.  Why not offer a great coupon for the purchaser courtesy of one of your sponsors? 

The Ability to Send Additional Information
You can send additional information to customers via email after they’ve purchased tickets.  This information can include anything from maps and directions to a small guide for your event.  Because the information is digital it can be passed along almost instantly and don’t have to worry about additional printing or distribution costs.

Determine Marketing Impact

Data collected from online ticketing purchases can be used to gauge marketing impact.  Event marketers can quickly determine if one type of advertising outperforms another. 

Future Sales
Does your event take place yearly? If the customer was satisfied with the event and sales process you might be able to approach them again in the future.  Make sure any information that is collected adheres to the principals of permission based marketing.  You can then use the email list to conduct follow up surveys of your event and start to generate interest for the event in the future.  When the event happens again approach those who purchased last time

Online ticketing holds a number of incentives for both event producers and consumers.  The process can be used to save time and money for the consumer and the event producers.

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Money Back Guarantee

Money back guarantees are nothing new.  They have been around for decades if not hundreds of years. Guarantees help to alleviate the risk of buying.  I’ve seen guarantees for products and services priced from $9.97 to $4,997.00 and higher. Many business people are averse to offering any guarantee.  The biggest fear is that too many customers will try to use the guarantee and a company will “lose their shirt.”  In reality this rarely happens. Some people I know say their return rate for their money back guarantee is in the low single digits, less than 5%.

A Real World Example
It takes a little daring to offer a guarantee. One of my business mentors, Ray Justice, was the first to offer a 24 hour “clean car” guarantee in the car wash industry.  If you car became dirty within 24 hours you could get it washed for free.  At that time people thought he was dooming his business with such an audacious idea.  Today most car washes offer at least a 24 hour “clean car” guarantee.  Some car washes offer a week or longer clean car guarantee.

Money back guarantees aren’t for every business person or service offered. But if you take some time to implement a guarantee you can make the potential purchase of your product or service even more attractive.  Think through the process carefully.  Below are some points and suggestions.

Some People Will Abuse the Guarantee
There are some people who will take you up on your guarantee.  They’re going to purchase your product or service knowing that they’ll make use of the guarantee.  This happens in every industry regardless of how good the product or service.  Remember most guarantees are measured in single digit percentages.  You’re going to need to accept a little risk with the opportunity for greater reward.

Set a time limit on the Guarantee
Depending on the product or service the length of guarantee can vary.  I’ve seen guarantees as short as a week to an entire lifetime.  Make the time frame long enough to properly evaluate the service or product, plus additional time to evaluate the benefits.  Again, take some time to find the right length of time.  Look towards your competition and see what they are offering.

Well Defined Return/Refund Process
Let your customers know what is required to properly process a guarantee. Be very specific and clear on the return process. Leave nothing to chance.

Use a Guarantee to Improve Your Product or Service
If a customer is unhappy and request a refund use the opportunity to collect feedback. Use the customer feedback to improve your product or service.  This will lead to a better product and fewer returns in the future. 

The Content King of the Internet

How many times have you heard the old cliché “Content is King” on the Internet?  A majority of content is in the form of text.  Users can’t do much on a page that doesn’t contain words.  “Click Here, Buy Now, Play, etc.” are just a few examples. Text is the simplest yet most powerful asset to any web site.  Contrary to what some people may tell you, words are still the foundation of online communication. Are you making the most of the words you use?

“The Internet Will Make Libraries Obsolete”
Years ago a number of people predicted doom and gloom for the book industry as the Internet grew in popularity.  They said libraries would go dark and bookstores would be a thing of the past. Better content would be available online.  Online you have a full range of multimedia, from music to online videos. A book is just a bunch of words and maybe some pictures. Contrary to some predictions both bookstores and libraries are thriving.  In fact, one could argue libraries and bookstores have become more popular as a result of the Internet. It comes back to words. Today you can download digital versions of a number of popular books.  But, when is the last time you read a digital novel?

Words Are Still Extremely Popular and Very Profitable

Some of the most popular sites on the Internet are primary text based.  News web sites and Blogs are just two examples. If all the videos, sounds, and pictures were taken away would users stop visiting a news web site?

Several companies are cashing in on text.  An Adwords advertisement is probably the most unassuming piece of adverting on the face of the Earth.  But Google makes billions of dollars annually from just text.

The power of the pen has been replaced with the keystroke.  Yet it’s still black and white to the user.  The power of words isn’t going to fade any time soon. Those who can craft compelling copy stand a much better chance of online success.

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"Why Isn't the Web Site Updated Yet?"

Yesterday I received a concerning email from a client.  They expressed concern over a web page that hadn’t been updated in a few weeks.

About 30 minutes after receiving the original email someone further up the chain of command called me expressing their concern regarding web site updating.  They told me, “People are checking the web site and things aren’t up to date.  That’s creating problems for us.” More frustration was expressed.

Here is the funny part.  The web site had been updated almost two weeks prior.  Because of an undetermined reason the client’s computer had a cached copy of the site showing up that didn’t reflect the changes.  This simple problem probably wasted about an hour of time for everyone involved and created far too much unnecessary frustration.

The above example is experienced by web developers on a regular basis.  For whatever reason their browser wasn’t refreshing and displaying the most up to date web page.  Usually this is a result of a user browser caching problem or proxy cache issue.

Pick Up The Phone and Call

The above problem could have been resolved without frustration via a quick telephone call. In my humble opinion, too many people rely on email to conduct business. Emails don’t always get the point across effectively. Encourage your clients or customers to pick up the phone and call with problems.  I’m a big proponent of encouraging clients to call if they have questions and concerns.  If you can resolve an issue or question over the phone in 2 minutes versus multiple emails, go with the telephone route.

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Does Your Web Site Stick?

Do you have a sticky web site?  To some people this notion conjures up thoughts of your fingers after handful of cotton candy.  When it comes to the Internet a sticky web site is desired.  Some companies spend years trying to create a sticky web site.

Why is a Sticky Web Site Beneficial?
If a web site is sticky users not only stay on web site longer, but also visit more often.  The benefits speak for themselves.  You get more traffic, more often, and they’re interested in what you have to say.  The easiest way to make a web site sticky is by asking yourself: “what can I do to attract users to my web site and get them to stay longer.”

What Makes A Web Site Sticky?
Sticky web sites are usually updated often and deliver high quality content. Content and regular updates are craved by users.  Jakob Nielsen’s HOME RUN Acronym is an excellent base for creating a sticky web site. Web sites aren't aesthetically driven, they're content driven. It's an old cliche on the Internet: "Content is King!"  Web usability also plays its role in web site stickiness.  The easier it is for a user to get around a web site, the easier it is from them to stick around.

Examples of Sticky Web Sites

News web sites and Blogs are inherently sticky.  They always have something new to offer.  Humor web sites are another great example. How many times have you received a link to a funny video or picture?  When you click on the link you usually end up at a humor site. Niche marketing is also very important.  Blogs are a great example of niche marketing.  Many Blogs serve a very narrow audience. 

A Virtue and a Vice

Content and often updates are a virtuous part of any web site.  Regular updates can create user loyalty and trust. The vice comes when a web site that has built the user base’s expectations.  In today’s blistering world of trying to get information users expect information immediately. Would you continue to visit a news web site, Blog, or sports web site that stops posting regular updates?

The bottom line is you need to give users a reason to come back to your web site.  Are you offering your users incentives to return to your web site?

Below are links to articles on creating a sticky web site.

Off site Links:

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The Future of Online Retail = Trust

As we move toward the future more Internet user are going to make purchases online. Smart companies are positioning themselves for the future starting now.  Consider the following information offered by Jupiter Research …

By 2010, 71% of online users will use the Internet to shop compared to 65% in 2005, however, online retailers will find it difficult to find new non-buyers to convert. Online retailers will rely heavily on existing online shoppers to spend more than compared with previous years.

"Retailers can expect to be dealing with an increasingly experienced population of online shoppers," said Jupiter Research Analyst Patti Freeman Evans. "The online retail environment is maturing, and online buyers have become more savvy about finding free shipping and deeper discounts," added Freeman Evans.

Source: Jupitermedia Corporation

Not About Getting Found
One of the biggest fallacies that most novice web site owners make is assuming people will buy because they find you online. This sound advice is given by Internet experts all the time: “Most people visit a web site and never return.” Are you doing something to capture their information?

Permission Marketing
If you can capture a potential consumer’s information through permission marketing, you’re one step ahead of most people.  Users require a very good reason to give up any type of personal information.  The most successful online entrepreneurs have a process in place for soft selling users.  Instead of one chance to make a sale to a user they create several selling opportunities.  It is a matter of establishing trust and credibility.

Friends Buy From Friends
One of my business mentors always reminds me of an important business lesson.  It is true to both the online and offline consumers.  It goes like this, “when all things are equal friends buy from friends.  When things are unequal, friends still buy from friends.”  When it comes to products and services, price doesn’t always matter.  For the consumer, it’s about who can you trust.

Are you doing what it takes to build trust and credibility with your user over the long run?

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Do You Make These Costly Web Site Mistakes?

On occasion we can do things that make our web site harder to use.  In Mark Pearrow’s The Usability Handbook, he outlines some commons causes that adversely impact web site usability. What starts as a small usability issue can grow into a larger problem. Most web sites can be successful without being completely usable.  Yet, the piling up of small usability problems can have a negative impact a web site’s performance and bottom line.  Are you making any of the following common mistakes?

Getting too Technical
When you’re in the technology industry it is very easy to get caught up in the "latest and greatest." Many Web developers and site owners focus too much on technological "bells and whistles." It might be an interactive calendar that is packed with features that nobody understands how to use. Technology tends to get complex. It is imperative to know your web site user and design for them. If you want great examples go and check out Google or Yahoo. Both companies have amazing technology behind them, yet use a very simple facade. Keep things as simple as possible and focus on making the user experience as painless as possible.

“Someone” Centric Web Design
Geeks speak techno terms and humans speak human.  Graphic designers are highly creative, yet their design might be above the user’s understanding (artsy-fartsy).  If Geeks and Graphic Designers don’t design for the user your web site can quickly leave the user dazed and confused.  Users aren’t going to embrace confusing or difficult to use web sites. This happens when a company tries to present information in corporate terms.  Bring it to the user’s level. Create a web site that focuses on the user’s ego in both verbiage and design.

Not By Chance
Usable web sites don’t happen by chance.  They are usually a result of a well thought design combined with a smart web strategy.  Too many companies approach their web site with the “if you build it, they will come” attitude.  The most successful web sites embrace an Edisonian approach.  Successful web sites are always testing and evaluating their progress.  The web is not a fire and forget environment. You must always seek to understand and evolve, or else you will never be successful online.

Decision Makers
There are too many times when the wrong people within a company are making crucial decisions about a web site. Yes, this even includes upper management. Ego can quickly destroy any web site. The number one decision maker regarding web site policy is the web site user. Get into your user's psyche. You can also learn a great deal from looking at you web stats. I cannot think of one successful web site that isn't catering to the user.

Poor web usability doesn’t happen because of just one thing.  It is the combination of small things that add up.  Keep the issues in check to ensure your site is usable.

Source: Pearrow, Mark. The Web Site Usability Handbook.

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Smart Advance Ticket Strategies

Swiss_flag_event_tickets Today's post is another riff from my involvement with air shows and event marketing. Advance sale tickets are like gold for almost every event producer.  Who wouldn’t want to cover their costs prior to an event?  Every event producer agrees on the importance of advance sales tickets, yet few are able to capitalize on the concept.  It’s one of those things that’s “good on paper.” In many cases event producers are risk adverse when it comes to discounting ticket prices and creative ticket bundling.  For those that are willing to assume a little risk there is the potential for great reward. 

Some Swiss Schooling
One of the most powerful lessons I learned about event marketing came while attending the European Air Show Conference.  There was a Swiss Air Force Colonel who gave an excellent presentation highlighting various aspects of his air show.  The air show took place every few years and featured some amazing acts.  Their last event featured 6 military jet demonstration teams. One of the most compelling success stories from the air show encompassed advance ticket sales.  The Swiss Colonel illustrated important marketing techniques related to ticket discounting and family pricing.

Discount Tickets
Perceived value is crucial in getting people to purchase advance sale tickets.  One leverage point for purchasing tickets in advance is discount tickets.  Many event organizers are very hesitant to discount ticket prices to their event. In the case of the Swiss air show their advance sale tickets were discounted 40% for adults, children, and family tickets. Most event organizers would gawk at such a discount.  Yet in the Swiss example the air show was paid for entirely before a single person entered the gate courtesy of advance sale tickets.  Can you think of creative ways to get the consumer to purchase early?  Does your event offer online tickets?

Family Packages
Another successful aspect of the Swiss air show came in the form of family ticket packages. The decision was made that an average family was 2 adults and 2 children. The family ticket price was set accordingly.  Regardless of how many children in a family the ticket price stayed firm.  Most event producers get concerned with lost potential revenue.  Did the event organize lose a few dollars of potential revenue on the ticket price? Yes.  But any lost revenue was made up in food and beverages purchases once a family was inside the air show.

Event organizers need to look beyond just the ticket price as a source of revenue. Thinking of creative ways to get people to buy early can help almost any event organizer offset cost and risk.

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Event Marketing: What is the Perceived Value?

Are you conveying the perceived value of your event, product, or service? Perceived value is extremely important to the consumer and a crucial element of marketing.  Perceived value isn’t always determined by how much a product or service costs.  In many cases it is what the consumer expects to receive or experiences that determines value.  A good marketing plan both online and offline can help establish the perceived value of an event or product.  It's far easier for consumers to buy when they recognize the value of your event.

The Tale of Two Air Shows
One of my favorite examples of perceived value comes from the air show industry. A few years ago there were two air shows held on the same weekend. Both shows are located almost equidistant from a major metropolitan area in the United States. Each had a military jet team (huge draw).  One show charged a gate fee and the other show was free.

Can you guess which show had three times the attendance of the other air show? Most people respond “it’s the free air show!”  In fact it was the show that charged a gate fee that was significantly more successful.

People Won't Spend If They Don't See Value
Consumers are willing to pony up their hard earned money - if they see value.

One of the biggest differences between the two events above was the marketing. The show that charged admission spent a significant amount of money on marketing.  They started their marketing campaign months in advance.  Marketing, publicity, and advertising can translate into value. The free air show in the above example spent almost nothing on marketing. Ironically, most free events have little value in the prospect's mind.

Here is what it essentially comes down to - If people don't know about your event, or care about your event . . . nobody is going to show up.

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Master of Your Domain

Recently, I ran into some challenges with a prospective client and domain registration.  The experience reemphasizes the importance of vigilance with one’s domain name.  You always need to make sure you know exactly what is going with your domain.  When it comes to domain names there are some issues everyone should take into consideration.  First and most important is ownership.  Do you own your domain?  Other factors include branding and search engine optimization.

Who Owns The Domain?
Make sure your domain name is registered in your name or your company’s name.  One perspective client invested thousands of dollars into a domain they didn’t even own.  It was registered to the web site developer building their site. This can create a number of headaches, especially if you’re the one who should own the domain. 

Branding and Identity
In regards to branding and identity, your domain name is the leading edge of your online marketing efforts.  Users are going to have an affinity for the domain you have been marketing. If you are going to change your domain name keep the old domain up and running. There have been instances when companies have deactivated their old domains prematurely.  People who tried to find their web site through search engines were met with an error page.  If you’re registering a new domain name use a redirect to send the traffic from your old domain to your new domain.

Search Engine Optimization
Make sure that your web site stays visible to search engines. Frequently it is a time-consuming and uphill battle to get a proper search engine listing.  Some search engines give credence to the age of your domain.  Over the years you would have built up links to your web site.  Make sure all that hard work doesn’t go to waste.  Also give consideration to any links that have been built up over time.  Sometimes it's easier to buy an existing domain than it is to start a new one.

Whatever you decide, make sure you think through the process.

Additional Resources:

Event Web Sites: Saving Money and Time with a FAQ

The accessibility and versatility of the web can help you save a tremendous amount of time.  One place to leverage all the great information you have stored up is with a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page.

FAQ and Event Marketing

When it comes to event marketing FAQs are a tremendous help.  It is in an event organizer’s best interest to put together a well thought out and easy to use FAQ.  Leading up to an event people are always going to try and check for information online.  Are you prepared for this scenario?

Save Yourself Time
Think through the following scenario.  Each year that an air show takes place in Rochester, the show organizer can receive anywhere from 300-1000 emails.  If each email takes about 5 minutes to read and respond that adds an additional 25-80+ hours of additional customer service. If you can answer your customer’s questions via your web site, you’ll spend less time answering questions over the phone or email.

How to Come Up with Questions

Start with some common sense.  Even though you might think the information is 100% obvious to the user always think of ways to remind them. 

If your web site has been up for a few years you might already know a majority of the questions users will ask. Take a look through all the emails you received with various requests and questions.  Are there any specific questions or topic areas where people are apt to ask questions?  Use their questions to flesh out additional questions.

To the Point
Keep the length of the page and number of questions reasonable.  No user will take the time to go through an FAQ page with hundreds of questions and answers.  Also make sure the information is easy to understand and navigate.

No FAQ page is going to be 100% complete.  But in trying to answer as many repetitive questions as possible, you can save you and your organization numerous hours of customer service.  Your web site is there to save time. Make sure you are using it proactively.

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Keeping Your Web Site Simple . . .

Technology tends to complicate things.  This is especially true online.  With all the technology available it is difficult to know where to start.  Anyone with a web site should strive to keep things as simple as possible for the user.

Web Navigation
Consider how web navigation has evolved. Originally it was just a simple HTML link.  Developers then transitioned from HTML to Javascript image rollovers.  Javascript wasn’t about to be outdone by Flash navigation and all the bells and whistles that followed.  Thankfully the web is coming back around to being simple.  Developers are realizing that users seek out simple over being cool.  Many web sites are reverting back to simple CSS navigation.  Simple navigation is easy for users to understand and also helps with search optimization efforts.

A KISS Mentality
The old adage “Keep It Simple Stupid” is great advice when it comes to all aspects of creating web pages.  Users will always choose the simplest route.  Provided a web site could be trusted and provides you what you were looking for, where would you spent your money?

  1. A web site that is complex and difficult to use.
  2. A web site that is simple and to the point.

Always put yourself in the user’s frame of mind.  Is there something that you can do on your web site to make it easier to use or understand?

Simple usability questions to ask:

  • Can the users easily understand the web site in under 15 seconds?
  • Is the navigation easy to use and intuitive?
  • Do the pictures and photographs match the context of the web site?
  • Does the navigation placement and function stay constant throughout the site?
  • If you have an online store, is the checkout process short and streamlined?
  • Can users easily determine what’s clickable on each page?
  • Is the user provided easy to find and reliable contact information?

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Web Usability ISN'T . . .

If you ask ten different people the same question, you’re most likely going to get ten distinct answers.  Even among the experts it is difficult to get a straightforward definition or explanation of web site usability. Instead of concentrating on defining what web usability “is,” we’ll look at what web usability “is not.”  Two critical components for any web site are accessibility and marketing.  Each is unique and distinctly different than usability.  It is important to know the differences and how each aspect is ultimately important to any web site.

In Mark Pearrow’s Web Site Usability Handbook, he makes several distinctions about what isn’t web usability.  One of the most common misconceptions is viewing usability and accessibility as the same thing.  Accessibility specifically concentrates on making a web site available to as many people as possible.  People with disabilities are an important focus of web accessibility.  Web accessibility allows people with disabilities such as hearing or visual impairment to access a web sites.  Web standards and technology are used to compensate for people's disabilities. Accessibility also delves into the challenges of delivering a web site over a variety of devices.  You can access web sites from PDA's, Smart phones, Laptops, etc. Accessibility ensures that users can get to a web site regardless of the type of device they're using.

Pearrow also points out that “usability is not marketing research.” Online Marketing focuses creating awareness and interest for a product, service, or web site. Usability focuses on making sure that the product, service, or web site is easy to use.  A marketing centric approach might try to guide users along a predefined online path or compel them to purchase something.  Usability ensures that regardless of whatever path a user takes, they’ll find the information easily. 

Accessibility and Marketing are both important to online success.  Yet they shouldn’t be confused with usability, which focuses on making something easy to use and understand.

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Focus Groups versus Usability Testing

This post is for my friend Peter who feels so passionate about focus groups.  Steve Krug makes some excellent points in Don’t Make Me Think regarding the differences between focus groups and a usability test. There are a number of people in the business world that confuse focus groups and usability testing.  Each discipline has its own unique approach, but the type of information collected and methodology are different. 

Focus Groups
Mr. Krug points out that focus groups are “a group process, and much of its value comes from participants reacting to each other’s opinions.” In a previous post, Beware! Dominant Users and Focus Groups, the dangers of a dominate user are briefly explored. This is in contrast to a usability test in which testing is usually conducted one on one. Krug believes focus groups are beneficial in obtaining quick feedback. This involves a better understanding of user needs, wants, likes and dislikes. I believe that focus groups are also great for brainstorming ideas.  An argument is made against focus groups in regards to determining if a web site is easy to use and what requires improvements. This is where usability testing comes into play.

Usability Testing
Usability testing concentrates on making sure a web site is functions properly and where to make improvements.  Krug argues focus groups “won’t tell you whether people can actually use your site.” This is best accomplished with usability testing. The one on one usability testing can help you refine how individual people interact with a web site.  Individual people won’t have their opinions modified by what someone else might think.  That’s the beauty of one on one test.  Users usually don’t surf the Internet in groups.  Individual usability tests also all you to concentrate on finite tasks and details.

Both focus groups and usability testing provide you with valuable information.  Use each accordingly and wisely.

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Where's the Web Site Link? ( I'm confused . . . )

How many times have you clicked on something thinking it was a link?

Focus_dir I ran across the article pictured to the right today.  The article about falling ice from the CN Tower in Toronto easily prompts one to watch the related video.  At the end of the short article the reader is prompted to “Click on the video icon to see the ice falling.”  My first natural inclination is to click on the picture to the right of the article.  I quickly found out that this isn’t the link for the video.      

One challenge is that I’ve trained myself to ignore advertising on the screen.  Many users have learned to tune out anything that looks like advertising, including things that aren't advertising. In this case the video icon is directed above the advertising block on the right.  Did I completely miss the link because it was right above advertising?  Two things made finding the video link difficult: informational relationships and linking to the most logical piece of information.

Informational Relationships
If you’re presenting information on a page to the user keep related items grouped together.  It seems logical enough, yet web developers break from this simple standard all the time.  Think in terms of informational relationships. In the case of the CN Tower article having the video link immediately after would have made the most sense.

Making It Linkable
If it looks like a link and it should be a link, make it linkable.  When designing web sites it is very easy to detach form a typical user’s behaviors.  Sometimes a link is put into a page without giving much thought to how a user might interpret the link.  Always look at links from the user’s perspective.

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How Accurate Is Online Information?

How much credence can we give to information found on the Internet?  I know a number of people who read anything online and consider it fact. How many times have you received an email attempting to rewrite history?  You might question the validity of the information, but that isn’t the case with everyone.  The speed of the Internet can be both a virtue and a vice.  Consider the impact of Blogging in the last Presidential campaign.  Some people with their own personal Blogs have become their own news service.  Where does one draw the line between fact and online fiction?

Some educators won’t accept any sources of online information.  They either want it straight from a book or some other accredited organization.  Recently I visited one of my former teachers.  She indicated that their educational standards don't allow students to cite online resources.  If a online citation is provided it needs to be held to the programs standards.  Wikipedia isn't considered an authoritative source.  Wikipedia's validity has been questioned on a number of occasions. Yet it is difficult to search on something without a Wikipedia link appearing near the top of the SERPs.

Several universities and accredited organizations publish their findings online.  Does information found on a .gov or .edu carry with it an acceptable level of validity?

Web users are left with an interesting juxtaposition.  In many cases some of the most innovative ideas can be found online months if not years before appearing in books.  At what point in time do we acknowledge online information as valid or invalid?

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How to Quickly Orient Users

Are you quickly orienting users to the purpose of your web site?

There are a number of web sites that suffer from poor user orientation.  A user loads up the web site and has no idea what the site is about.  Regardless of all the text and pictures found on the page being loaded, users can quickly become lost.  Business sites need an effective way to quickly pass along their purpose and service or product benefits.  In many cases users can be oriented with a web site’s purpose through a tagline.  A short and well crafted tagline can orient users and draw them into your web site.

In Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, he offers some tagline suggestions:

  • Taglines are located above the fold usually next to a company’s logo or identity.  Most users know to look near the logo for some hint regarding the purpose of the web site. Take a look online for tagline ideas, almost every major site has one.  Some companies don’t really need a tagline.  Amazon is a good example.  So many people are familiar with what Amazon does that their reputation alone orients users.
  • Taglines should be clear and concise. There is little benefit to being overly wordy. Try to keep your tagline less than ten words.
  • It is important that the tagline pass along a clear benefit regarding the company, service, or product.

Don’t confuse a tagline with a motto, like “We bring good things to life,” “You’re in good hands,” or “To protect and to serve.” A motto expresses a guiding principle, a goal , or an ideal, but a tagline conveys a value proposition.
Source: Krug, Don’t Make Me Think

If you don't already have one, spend a little time coming up with a good tagline.  Don’t assume you will be able to create something in a few minutes.  Some companies take weeks to create a compelling tagline.  When a good tagline is in place you will quickly convey a powerful message that connects with your target market.

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

Don’t Pollute Your Web Site

Advertising is an important aspect for most web sites.  If a web site has decent traffic it can drive additional revenue from advertising.  Some web sites base a significant part of their online business model around online advertising.  If there wasn’t online advertising revenue some web sites wouldn’t exist.  The challenge becomes delivering advertising without interfering with content delivery. Remember that the primary reason users are coming to your web site is for content.  Users are not visiting your web site for advertising.  Are you polluting your web site with excessive advertising?

Sticking it to Ads
There was an article published years ago citing user reactions to excessive advertising.  Some users became so annoyed with advertising that they put stick it notes on their monitor to cover up annoying ads.  An important advertising fundamental from a usability stand point is balancing content and advertising.  Make sure that online advertising doesn’t diminish the content you're trying to present.  It is less of a matter of "how much is too much?" versus "Is the advertising getting in the way of delivering quality content?"

High Quality Content

Cnn_ad_cap Focus on keeping the dominate page element the content.  Advertising shouldn’t get in the user’s way when it comes to getting through web site. Web sites that keep the advertising layout consistent site wide are good examples to follow.  Many of the larger new organizations follow this model. There are predefined areas that are reserved as advertising space. Many of the larger portals have gone so far as to label the areas as advertising.

Matching Ads with Site Content
Be vigilant about the advertising you have on your web site.   Does the advertising match the context and theme of a site web?  Users are less apt to get annoyed with advertising if it’s at least related to the subject matter found on a web site or article.  Also be careful to ensure that site content isn't confused with advertising.  Users have modified their surfing habits to ignore anything that looks like advertising. Is there something on your web site that a user might confuse with advertising?

When it comes to advertising and usability, make sure the advertising isn't clouding the message.  Keep the focus on content.

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

How To Remember and Use Your Ideas

When is the last time you had a really great idea and a few minutes later it disappears from your memory? For many people this is a regular occurrence.  Our mind is bombarded with thousands of sights and sounds on a daily basis.  To remember a quick idea can be a daunting task.  The shame of the matter is that it’s the small things that can make a big difference.

Back to Basics
Start by finding a pen and a small notepad. Make sure both are compact enough to carry along with you on a daily basis.  Moving forward, keep a pen and notepad with you at all times. When you have an idea, write it down in the notepad.  Don’t discriminate.  Too many people discount their own ideas for a number of reasons. Every idea no matter how insignificant could potentially lead to something great.

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