The $martest Advertisers Recognize the Need To Test

Over the last two years I've spent a tremendous amount of time studying some of the most successful marketing strategies on the Internet and from traditional marketplaces.  Most, if not all, of the top marketers test their marketing materials. Those that fail to test their online efforts: web site, email marketing campaign, Adwords campaign, etc. are setting themselves up for failure.

Test, Measure, Change, Retest
The ability to test and measure a web site or a piece of marketing material, e.g. an Adwords Ad, can make a significant amount of difference in your marketing efforts. Tested ads save advertisers money and increase their revenue. Too many companies and individual are turned off by the prospect of repeatedly testing a web site or their ads for effectiveness. Some classic excuses are "we don't have the time" or "we tried X once and it didn't work."  Consider your Google Adwords Campaign.  Do you test, measure, and retest changes to your Adwords copy and associated landing pages regularly?

The Internet is one of the single greatest testing mediums available to almost anyone.  Thanks to live web log analysis and the ability of online interactivity you can test marketing ideas in just a few minutes.  One caveat to this that you are giving other an opportunity to see "the cards you are playing." But if you test smartly and regularly the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Testing Outside the Company
Another mistake prevalent to testing of ads, marketing pieces, or web sites is failure to test with the intended audience.  Numerous companies test inside the company with their own employees, but this isn't true testing.  It is very difficult to understand the user's perspective objectivity unless you are testing with the intended audience.  Whenever and whatever you test make sure you make use of real users from a targeted demographic. Someone in the next department doesn't work.

It is possible to get carried away with testing at times so make sure to set reasonable limits.  Some testing is far better than no testing at all. From my experience, as it pertains to web site testing, companies are amazed by user feedback derived from web usability testing. Objective user feedback can give companies information and insight they might have never considered.  Dollar for dollar testing your advertising or web site shouldn't even be a discussion, just do it. Provided the web site or ads are tested properly, they'll always perform better than untested ads.

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Delivering High Quality Service Via Valuable Information

On Wednesday, I had a meeting with to a client to discuss the possibilities of their participation in an event marketing coaching program.  The emphasis of the coaching program teaches companies how to inform their clients, members, or patrons about their various events in a timely and effective manner using proven Internet marketing techniques.  During the meeting the client raised a number of valid points questioning the value of coaching program to their organization and specifically to their patrons.  Their primary goal is to provide their clients the highest possible quality of service. While being asked all the questions by the client regarding the service an interesting (yet completely unoriginal) thought came to my mind, can you deliver high quality service through relevant and timely information? I believe the answer is absolutely!

The Value of Information
All information has value.  Depending on the type of information, its' presentation, and ultimately how it is used, the value of that information could be insignificant or massive.  It's intriguing to see how people and organizations value and act upon various forms of information.  If you're a consultant or web developer, how many times have you given away free professional advice only to have it fall on the client's deaf ears?  As soon as you take the same exact information you gave away for free and charge for it, the perceived value of the information changes dramatically.

Someone Has Figured It Out
Information marketers are a neoclassical example of selling information which possess a high perceived value.  Over the years I've purchased a number of expensive information marketing programs that were crammed with great information.  The irony is that you can find most of the information contained in the programs I purchased for free on the Internet or local library.  At the same time, it would have taken hundreds of hours of my own time collect all the information. What's worth more to you, hundreds of hours of your personal time or hundreds of dollars from your wallet?

What's Important to Them
One of the key factors to valuing information is asking the question, "What is the value of the information that I'm providing my clients, members, or patrons?" What information do they think is of higher value and what is of insignificance to them?  A lack of know the answers to the previous questions is one of the largest disconnects when it comes to companies and their customers.  Numerous companies believe that they know what's best for their customers.  Trouble arises when companies "think" they know what their customers want and the customers know what they want. That disconnect forms the basis for testing a product or web site repeatedly.

I believe that any organization or consultant that can provide clients, members or patrons, information of that relevant to them and time delivers a tremendous amount of customer service.  How can anybody not be satisfied with a company that meets all their wants and needs when it comes to customer service? The challenge is providing the right information to the right people at the right time.




Striving for Web Site Perfection, When Good is Good Enough

There was a powerful passage I recently found that really struck a chord for me from Tim Ferriss' The Four Hour Work Week.  It illustrates a point that needs to be carefully considered with anything done on the Internet. Below is an excerpt from Tim's book:

"Most endeavors are like learning to speak a foreign language: to be correct 95% of the time requires six months of concentrated effort, whereas to be correct 98% of the time requires 20-30 years. Focus on great for a few things and good enough for the rest. Perfection is a good ideal and direction to have, but recognize it for what it is: an impossible destination."

Ferriss, Timothy. The Four Hour Work Week, Crown Publishing, 2007.

There are many times when other aspects of life can teach you something about creating a successful web site. I have yet to stumble across the perfect web site. Tim's point of learning a new language can also be applied to the time vested in creating or maintaining a web site. Web project management and web strategy are each very distinct and through disciplines.  I'm not trying to diminish their value in any way.  Yet the decision makers involved should always ask themselves "Is X worth the time and money on this project?"

There are web development companies who hedge their entire development budget on very specific details that bring no additional value to a web site. I've been in the same scenario myself.  You get passionate about a belief that you personally think will make a huge difference only to ultimately find out that the 20 extra hours you spent tweaking something goes completely unnoticed and has no positive impact.

Good is Good Enough
The marketing great Dan Kennedy is a big proponent of "Good is Good Enough!" Take a look a Dan's web site. There are plenty of web sites that are visually unappealing to say they least. Those same visually unappealing make a ridiculous amount of money for their owners. The notion of "Good is Good Enough" shouldn't be confused with sloppy, reckless, or lazy. If it isn't a well thought and properly implemented effort then it's "Not enough."

The Yang
At the opposite side of the spectrum there are far too many companies who also do far too little with their web site.  The "shiny" new web site gets all the care and attention after being launched only to get moved to the back burner in a month or two.

Companies can get far more out of their web sites by focusing on the right things as opposed to focusing too much on the wrong things. Thinking objectively is one of the easiest ways to refocus on the right things. Instead of thinking of what's going to best represent your company online, think of what might best serve your user's needs.

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Reading the User's Mind and Then Doing Nothing About It

Want to find out what users of your web site are thinking?
The simplest place to start is by looking at your web site log files with an analytics program. Right now, I know that a number of people reading this are saying to themselves "Thank You, Dr. Obvious!" Of course if you look at your web stats you'll get better information on what the users are thinking.  Each user movement through your web site tallies up in various trends for interpretation on web reports.  The process takes a good portion of the guess work out of the equation as it pertains to "what are the users thinking?

Doing Nothing With Good Information
I've seen more web reports than I care to recall.  These reports include everything from a short synopsis of user activity to 75 pages of data that a statistician would drool over.  For all the great analytics packages on the market, some solutions being absolutely free, most companies don't take the time to implement web strategy changes in accordance with their web stats.  At web stat review meetings  everyone is "amazed and really interested in all the findings." After a review meeting most findings fall to the way side or nothing gets changed.

Linking Your Statistics with Goals
I discussed the challenge of web stats falling to the wayside with my friend Matt from ITMonkey.  He shared some of the same concerns and suggested some very practical advice. Matt said it starts with "creating realistic and measurable goals that you can reference against your web stats." You need to go beyond the standard metrics such as visitors, page views, average time on site, etc. Some simple goal oriented suggestions include the following:

  • If your goal is to increase the usability of your web site, your web statistics are a great starting point for any usability testing.  The history of your site gives a historical retrospective on who, what, when, where, as it pertains to users. You can also test new strategies against old trends.
  • Web statistics are a great bridge into establishing or refining a Search Engine Optimization campaign.  Again use collected keyword data as a starting point.  Are your new keywords as effective as generating traffic?
  • Are links you've recently traded or purchased to your web site providing you with an appreciable return on investment?
  • If you have an advertising campaign you are running in the traditional media use your analytics software to track the effectiveness of your marketing.  There was one campaign that was run earlier this year that actually showed a better return on investment from Pay Per Click Advertising versus radio advertising.

Companies need to go beyond just reading web statistics for all the obvious reasons.  Look deeper and tie the statistical data to measurable goals over time. Companies are getting a pretty precise map of what their web users are thinking and doing, but what's the use of a map that you never reference?

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Bring Your Offline Marketing To The Online World

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with a local business owner regarding a marketing campaign for her business. She had recently integrated portions of a print ad into a Craigslist post.  The strength of the ad was rooting in a compelling headline, a good unique selling proposition, and a specific call to action. Within a short time of posting the online ad she had a number of inquires regarding the promotion. The ad reinvigorated a promotion that the business had been running for a few years with only some success.

Have you run successful marketing campaigns offline?
Businesses should explore the possibilities of bringing some of their offline marketing campaigns to the online world.  Do you have an ad or piece of print marketing material that could be easily integrated into an online campaign? One of the easiest ways to integrate your traditional marketing materials to online marketing is through a keyword based pay per click (PPC) campaign. PPC campaigns allow advertisers to setup an ad and test its effectiveness in a matter of a few minutes. Not only is the advertising time frame to market shortened, but so is the cost involved.  You can start most PPC campaigns for less than $10 USD. I cannot think of any other form of advertising that allows you to test advertising with so little initial investment.

If you want to take the test a little further, setup a specific landing page to expand on your offer and give users even more interest in what you have to offer.

Beware Watchful Eyes
As with most things in life, for every virtue there is a vice. One of the dangers of bringing marketing items from the offline world is that competing advertisers and marketers will see your ad almost instantaneously.  Savvy competitors can quickly reverse engineer one of your ads for their own purposes.  The offline world allows marketers to run certain campaigns for a few months, in some cases a few years, before they need to make changes to their headlines, copy, or unique selling proposition. Unfortunately the speed of the Internet can create a marketing liability for certain marketers.

Regardless of some of the vices associated with bringing your offline marketing to the traditional world, every business owner should consider the possibilities of modifying offline campaigns for the online world. The results might just be a pleasant surprise.

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Beyond the Obvious: Regarding Your Web Site . . .

One of the most common questions asked in the business world is "Do you have a web site?" The question is somewhat of a self validating factor for many companies. "If you build it, they will come" worked wonders for Kevin Kosner in Field of Dreams, but as many companies and individuals find out that mantra doesn't pan out so well on the Internet.  There have been companies that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their web development with little or no return on their investment.  Companies should view web sites as an extension of their marketing, not as a piece of artwork to be admired.

All Looks and No Brains
There are company web sites that are visually extraordinary and do absolutely nothing in terms of generating leads or revenue. The lack of return on investment then prompts these companies to dump even more cash into a hopeless cause. At the same time there are web sites that look visually horrendous yet bring high quality leads and thousands in revenue month.

In my experience the companies that have the most successful web presence are those that are steeped with good marketing experience.  Those companies take the basics of good marketing and bring that to their web site. The best web sites are a amalgamation of directing marketing basics, strong copywriting, consistent testing, and lastly decent design.  Design is one of the most over emphasized components on the web.  Design is important to any web site, but it isn't the most important element. Users will almost always opt for simple and useful over superior graphics and technologically advanced web sites.

It helps to set practical marketing goals for your web site. How many sales leads did you generate from your web site last month?  If you didn't generate enough leads, what are you doing to correct the problem? 

Think about the following questions as they pertain to your web site:

  • Is your web site part of your current marketing plan? If not - why?
  • How does my web site contribute to additional sales or services for my business?
  • Do you integrate feedback given by your users?
  • When was the last time you looked at your web statistics?

Companies need to start thinking of their web site as a tool for marketing and extending their business, not just something you have "because everyone else has one."

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

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

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

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

Simple Web Site Compatibility Checks:

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

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

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

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

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

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Words with Pizzazz and Razzle Dazzle . . .

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

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

Are you hooking your reader's interest?

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


Type, Audio, and Video

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

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

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

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

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Online Objectivity Paves the Way to Online Success

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

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

Ways to Meet User Needs:

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

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

Additional Resource:

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The Most Powerful Form of Online Advertising (Part II)

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

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

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

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


The Most Powerful Form of Online Advertising (Part I)

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

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

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

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


Web Usability Versus Internet Marketing

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

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

Bridging Usability and Marketing

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

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

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Event Promotion: Online Coupons and Discounts

Have You Considered Using a Coupon or Discount lately?
No discussion on internet marketing would be complete if you didn't bring up the topic of Coupons and Discounts. Coupons and discounts are a great way to get prospects to take near immediate action online. It's hard to debate that people are LESS likely to buy your products or service if they have a coupon in hand. In spite of a coupon’s versatility beyond just discounting, few businesses choose to make use of them. You can do the same - use coupons to drive sales, track marketing effectiveness, and create lifetime value customers.

Coupons are a Waste, Right?
A few years ago I tried to convince a client to provide coupons to his customers. The client is involved in the restaurant business. Up until that point in time he considered any type of coupon as bad.  We ran a test . . . give away a 25 cent to produce product and see what happens. The average ticket was over $30 per party.  Then the client said this . . . “What happens when people make copies and there are thousands of coupons floating around? I think that makes us look cheap.”  I would argue that thousands of people with a coupon for your restaurant is a good thing - especially when you're raking in an average of $30 per party. 

Correct Pricing
A number of business owners think coupons and discounts are a money losing proposition.  If you’re loosing money on coupons or discounts, you’re doing something wrong. (This doesn't include loss-leaders) The proper pricing of the product or service needs to be done with discounting in mind from the beginning.  If you set your price point intentionally high, you can avoid dipping into your profit margin. If you're going to start using coupons, target high margin items. Is there anything you can set to a higher price and then coupon?

Tracking Marketing Effectiveness

Coupons can also be used to track your marketing efforts. I'd argue couponing is less about giving a discount and more about finding out what advertising channels work. Have you ever checked out of an online store and entered a promotional code or discount coupon?  That is most likely tied back to a strategic marketing campaign.  Consider using a free consultation (coupon) as a way to lure perspective leads.

Creating Lifetime Value Customers
You can’t look at the single transaction as the ultimate indication of success.  Too many business owners think in terms of “If I could just get each person to buy X.” The question that needs to be asked is what is the value of your customer over time?  The value of a one time sale is minimal, the value of a lifetime customer is massive. Coupons can be used to assist you in creating lifetime value customers.

Use coupons to drive sales beyond just one transaction. Coupons should be part of your long term strategy. It's all about the lifetime value of a customer.

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Others Do the Work, You Save Money

In the Think Big, Start Small post I suggested the idea of an online field trip to find web site concepts that might be applicable to your own web site. Some of the most successful web sites borrowed their ideas from some other site. For whatever reason, people have a pressing need to reinvent the wheel on the Internet.  It costs money to reinvent the wheel.  In many cases you can find a web site that is doing reasonably well, borrow some of their ideas and do even better.  The process allows almost anyone to save time and money on their web project. 

Looking At The Competition
A few years ago I headed up a usability study for a local private school that services the deaf and hard of hearing.  Part of the usability study focused on looking at the client’s competition and similar topical web sites.  The information derived from analyzing other web sites was tremendously helpful.  It allowed the client and the developer to integrate user approved concepts thereby reducing project time and cost.

Direct Marketing Methodology
The same methodology is used in the direct marketing field on a regular basis.  Most of the great copywriters encourage their students to collect junk mail.  Companies pay top dollar to create advertising campaigns that most people classify as junk mail.  If you can clue into the successful campaigns (those that run often) you might be able to integrate some of the ideas.  It takes time but is well worth the effort.   

Where to Start
The process is very straightforward. Find web sites that offer a similar product or service to your own.  Those will be the sites that you’ll look to gather information from. Take into consideration the factors such as user demographics and the size of a site as it relates to your site. 

You can conduct the testing on your own or make use of family or friends.  Consider looking to users outside your organization to conduct testing. People outside the organization traditionally have less bias as it related to your company or product.

Likes and Dislikes
Ask people to identify their likes and dislikes on the competing or similar web sites.  Make a list of your findings. Are there any ideas or concepts that you might be able to improve upon?

It is important to emulate as opposed to creating an exact copy. There are still copyright laws that need to be observed.

You can save a significant amount of money and time on development costs by emulating others.  There is nothing wrong with taking someone's idea and expanding it or modifying it.  It is the essence of the Internet.  Almost everyone is a copy cat.

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Start Small, Think Big

“I want a better looking web site!”  That is one of top comments I hear when companies look to rebuild or redesign their web site. Far too many companies waste a ridiculous amount of money on web sites that fail to bring a return on investment.  At the same time, companies and individuals with far less money for their web site make the mistake of investing in their wants versus their needs. You’re better off concentrating on your needs first.  You can save a significant amount of money and time by investing a few hours to think through what your web site needs to accomplish before starting any work.  There is no need to build the biggest and best web site right from the beginning. Below are some simple questions and suggestions.

Beyond Visual Design
Don’t make the mistake of over focusing on a web site’s visual appearance.  This isn’t to suggest a web site should be devoid of design.  There needs to be a consistent look and feel that’s easy to navigate.  Too many companies overemphasize a web site’s visual design.  There are individual with simple one and two page web sites that do six and seven figures in revenue annually.  Their web sites are visually bland and they have no programming skills.

All the Eggs In One Basket
A number of companies insist on vesting themselves heavily in web sites.  Web sites offer just one marketing channel.  Yes, web sites are great at automating some tasks but they aren’t a magic bullet.  Do you have an offline process for marketing and doing business?  If all your eggs are on the Internet, you are limit yourself.

Take an Online Field Trip

What does your web site need to accomplish? Get a piece of paper and start to jot down some notes.  Do you have any competitors in your market place?  Visit their web sites and write down your likes and dislikes.  Are they doing something particularly well that you could “re-purpose” on your web site. You can modify something that an existing company is already successfully utilizing. Most web sites build off what others have already done.

Interaction and Conversion Is Key
At a minimum a web site should give your users the ability to interact with you.  Make sure that you can drive traffic to your site and that it has some sort of conversion process in place.  Remember, most people come to a web site never to return.  Is your web site Sticky?

What Is Your Web Site Worth?
A web site’s worth comes down to a number of factors beyond just cost.  In what ways can you use your web site to reduce costs, increase revenue, and save time? With some simple math you can approximate cost and time savings, plus forecast additional revenue.

There are a plethora of additional factors.  Hopefully what’s listed above will get you at least thinking beyond “something that looks better” when you are rebuilding or starting a new web site.

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Keeping Email Marketing in Perspective

In a previous post, “A Simple Way To Sell More,” I explored the importance of delivering value in every email you send.  Delivering value is a critical element in any sort of email marketing campaign.  Today I’ll look a little more into email list performance, tracking, and some other simple suggestions. 

Delivery Tracking
Make sure if you are sending emails you employ some type of delivery tracking.  Most people would be surprised how many companies DON’T utilize some sort of tracking for their email campaigns.  Many companies assume that just because they send an email that users open everything they receive.  It is critical from a marketing perspective to employ some sort of performance tracking on your emails

Email Open Rates
Recently I looked at open rates for all my clients who do email marketing and asked friends to submit their data.  Of almost 70 separate emails broadcasts sent to permission based opt-in lists the approximate average open rate was around 40%.  The data isn’t to discourage people from email marketing, but to give perspective.  One of the biggest shocks to clients is seeing how few people are opening emails. It is important to keep expectation grounded in the reality.  Nobody gets 100% of their subscriber list to open an email.

Home Grown
The best email list is the one you grow yourself.  There are lists that you can purchase, but you are better served building your own.  Always think in terms of the user’s perspective. Users won’t sign up to an email list that isn’t of at least some interest to them.  Focus on your target market and giving them a good reason to sign up.  Also make sure you properly advise your list subscribers on how to setup their SPAM filters.  You wouldn’t want them unintentionally blocking your email.

List Size - Quality Versus Quantity
You need to keep the highest quality list possible. Too many list owners focus on the size of their list compared to the quality of their list. You’re better off with a smaller list of interested readers who are excited to dive into your offers.

The Copy Factor
The more I read, learn, and experience, the more credence I give to good copy writing.  I would argue that the single most important factor to any email marketing campaign is the ability to create compelling copy.  Regardless of how nice the pictures, users need words to give perspective and incentive.  Headline, benefits, and a call to action are just a few things to keep in mine.  The importance of copy is a lesson few ad agencies and graphic designs truly understand.

Email Marketing is an important step for keeping in contact with customers and clients.  But it is only one facet of an overall marketing campaign.  Make sure you diversify your marketing both online and off.


Two Click Usability and SEO

A number of web sites unintentionally bury their best content.  In some cases users might completely miss the most important content a web site has to offer. This usability challenge can also have a significant impact on e-commerce web sites. Companies and web site owners need to ask themselves: “Is the content on my web site easy for users to access?” Less clicks can also help you with your search engine optimization efforts.

Below are some simple suggestions for making sure you best content is getting to the user:

The Two Click Suggestion
One usability suggestion is making sure important content is no more than two clicks away.  Users should be able to access most of your pages without having to click more than two times.  The ‘two click’ suggestion is also applicable for search engine optimization purposes.  Most spiders will only crawl web sites so deep before they stop.

Let the User Decide
Another helpful way to determine what content is most important to the user is by looking at your log files. Think of your log files as an informal voting system.  In many cases the users choose pages or article that a web site owner wouldn’t have considered important. Use the log files to your advantage.

Questions to Ask:

  • Are there individual pages or article that get a comparatively large proportion of requests?

  • Are there pages or article you believe to be important that are being missed by users? 

Using Anchor Links in Each Page
You can use HTML anchor links within each page to point related pages on your web site.  If a user is interested in the related information they might be apt to click on the link.  Keyword targeted HTML anchor links also help search engines to better index your web site.  If you can't integrate HTML anchor links into your body content, consider placing them at the bottom of each page.

Getting Big With Blogs
One web site format that offers a surprising amount of versatility and usability is a Blog.  A Blog's hierarchy is a great way of organizing web sites that have a large number of individual pages. Blogs are usually categorize by topic area and in most cases archived by date.  A Blog format isn’t for every web site, but that doesn’t mean you can adopt some of the information architecture related to categorizing content.

Blogs also have Search Engine spiders have a much easier time crawling Blogs because HTML links.  If you choose the right keywords and topic areas, you stand to get better indexing in the search engines.

It is in the best interest of almost every web site to keep content as easy to access as possible.  When good content becomes difficult to reach it makes it tremendously difficult to create a sticky web site. It is not only good for the usability of your web site, but it is also good for your bottom line.

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


A Simple Way To Sell More

Over the past few years I’ve been doing a decent number of electronic newsletters (ezines) for clients. One of the hardest things to get any client to understand and incorporate is the concept of delivering value before asking for a sale.  The concept isn’t just limited to electronic newsletters.  It can be anything from the sales process used by a company to a sales letter or email. 

A History Lesson
Last year I worked on an electronic newsletter project that was visually spectacular. The ezine contained a number of articles that were loosely related to their company’s areas of expertise. There were two offers displayed within the ezine for services the company provides.  Much to the client's dismay the ezine failed to provide any leads or sale.  The client sent the ezine once and has yet to send another almost a year later.  This is a typical scenario for many companies.

Those Who Win
At the same time there are people who generate thousands of dollars each month via their electronic newsletter or sending a sales letter via snail mail.  One of the big differences is that those who are successful with their newsletters place an emphasis on delivering value first and asking for a sale later.  In some cases the successful people ask for the sale much later.

An Abundance of Value
Dr. Joe “Mr. Fire” Vitale has a great standard that he uses when it comes to delivering value to your user base.  He suggests providing your user base with 95% information and 5% sales pitch.  I completely agree with his statement.  The concept of delivering value also plays into trust and credibility.  Regardless of how compelling the offer, perspective consumers buy from you if there isn’t a high level of trust and credibility.  When you provide value you raise the level of trust and credibility.

Whom to Buy From
Who would you rather buy from?  Someone who pushes an offer in front of you every opportunity they get, or someone who your trust and they go out of their way to provide you value first? Always provide the client with value several times over, before asking for the sale.  It can be a difficult concept to integrate, but eventually leads to a great return on investment.

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

 


Finer Typography Points

As a follow up to last week’s post Watch Your Typography, I came across an article getting into research around the use of typefaces and readability. The article points to research conducted by the Wichita State University Software Usability Research Laboratory.  The research provided given some scientific insight into user interaction with type.

Check this out ...

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