Do You Test Your Web Site Often Enough?

If you bring up the subject of testing your marketing, most people let out a groan of exasperation.  Most companies don't like to test their marketing or their web site. The process to develop a web side is arduous enough, then to go and test can be even more work.

The honest truth is that testing your marketing message and your web site is one place that will make a world of difference in terms of your online success.  You should constantly be asking yourself if your marketing and web site are connecting with your end user.

The Right Kind of Testing
One problem companies have with testing their marketing or web site is the potential hit to their ego. Companies put a great deal of pride into their work.  In the case of the company web site, it's the company's version of a digital presentation.  Difficulties arise when companies can't separate themselves from their own pride. The company's ego is getting in the way of its' online success. The best kind of testing is accomplished when a company can separate itself from its' ego. Putting the user as your focal point will put more dollars into the bank, guaranteed!

What to Test

When it comes to web site testing the possibilities are nearly endless. There are a few core areas where you should definitely focus your efforts.

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Stop Drowning Your Users

Have you ever gone to a new web site and been completely lost upon arrival? If so, take note of that feeling. Too many business web sites have a tendency to overwhelm their users upon arrival.  It’s like getting hit with a fire hose of information. Instead of staying focused on a very specific message that connects with the user, web sites try to cram as much information onto the home page as possible. If you want to be successful online you can’t drown your users in information.

Being Bombarded by Advertising
Consider how much advertising you get bombarded with on a daily basis: billboards, television commercials, radio advertising, junk mail, etc. If your target user sits down to their computer after being bombarded with advertising, what is their frame of mind? They’re probably at their wits end and won’t entertain any more marketing ploys or advertising.

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The Audio Learning Advantage: Plug in and Learn

Over the last few weeks I've been doing a respectable amount of traveling. My last adventure brought me to Connecticut for the Thanksgiving holiday.  During my six hour drive I rediscovered the usefulness of learning new material from audio books. The best part about audio learning is when someone else's insight serves as the catalyst you need to solve a business problem or develop a new idea. Are you using audio programs to learn something new?

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Create a Better Event with Patron Feedback

Patron feedback can be an advantageous tool for improving your event. If you have an event on a regular basis and aren't collecting feedback, you are missing a huge opportunity. With the Internet it has never been easier to collect patron feedback on your event. The feedback you collect can be used for generating more revenue or saving or creating more effective marketing.

What Can You Learn From Event Patrons?
Feedback is critical for any marketing success. Ask yourself, "What can I learn from my patrons?" Even if you event is doing well on a regular basis, there is always room for improvement. By collecting feedback you might be able to learn information that will allow you generate additional revenue and save money.

Some questions to ponder

  • Was your ticket cost in line with your patron's expectations?
  • Did something happen at the event that you weren't aware of?
  • What can you do better for your next event?

Think about formulating additional questions that will allow you to learn as much as possible. 

Start with Your List

Having a high quality list is critical for getting feedback on your event. One important note is to make sure that you have obtained patron consent to send them information. Don't solicit feedback requests to people who haven't granted you permission. Ask for the opinion of people who have shown a genuine interest in what you have to offer.

Feedback After the Event

The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” - Peter F. Drucker

The easiest way to get feedback on your event is to ask your event patrons for feedback after your event. It can be as simple as an email asking "What did you think of our event?"  Another route is to make use of an online survey.  Services like Survey Monkey make creating a survey a very straight forward process. I prefer surveys because they allow you to built trends with numerous people. If 90% of your respondents indicated that they liked/disliked something, you should do something about it.

Take Your Ego Out of the Equation
If you genuinely ask people what they think, you can get some pretty good information.  Most people enjoy giving their opinion, unfortunately in the business world egos tend to get in the way. Everyone has an ego.  At times it can be a virtue or a vice. One of the most difficult things to do is to allow someone else to give you honest feedback. The most useful information is derived when you can separate your ego from the feedback people are giving you.

Next time you have an event take the time to consider gathering feedback from patrons.  The information you obtain can only help to make your event better and will probably lead to additional savings and revenue.

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Moving Forward with Your Ideas

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I had a brief discussion with one of my good friends regarding a business idea he started to develop earlier this year. His idea revolved around helping recent college and business school graduates quickly find a good job.

My friend decided to put his idea on the back burner over the summer. During our discussion I asked him why he hadn't returned to pursuing his idea, his ironic explanation,"I don't think I know enough about the subject area." I personally believe that he knows a great deal about the subject area and he comes off as being knowledgeable and helpful with his target market. I couldn't give him grief about not moving forward with his idea because I was guilty of doing the same thing with my own ideas.

Over the years I've learned two important lessons when it comes to implementing your ideas. First, don't wait to become an expert. Second, better to launch first and figure out improvements later.

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A Quick Way to Find the Dominant Web Page Element

In web design and web usability it is often important to know what elements on your web page attract the most attention. The dominant page element attracts the most visual attention on any given web page. Attracting attention can either be a virtue or a vice.  A vice would be when an element is distracting from a compelling headline. A dominant element might distract the user from accomplishing their goals on your web site. The first place to start is identifying the dominant element on your web site.

Blur Your Vision
The easiest way to find the dominate element on any web page is buy de-focusing or blurbing your eyes when you are looking at a web page. Blur your eyes just enough to make the text difficult to read. You don't want to blurb your vision so much that you start to cross fields of view.  While your vision is blurred, pay attention to what element or elements stand out the most on your web page. The part that stands out is your dominant element.

Where is the Emphasis?
Does the dominant element on the your web page that stands out too much or unbalance your design? Overly dominant page elements can distract from your messaging and dilute the effectiveness of your design. Traditionally the most dominate web site elements should be found on top of the browser window or adjacent to your most important messaging. Make sure that your advertising doesn't get in the way of your messaging.

You can bring less emphasis to elements in several different ways. If it's a matter of large imagery, reduce the physical size of the image on your web page. Bold, dark, and vibrant colors can also attract too much attention.  Consider using colors that strike an even balance to your overall design. 

Do you know someone who is a graphic designer or artist? Leverage a graphic designer's critical eye to identify dominant page elements. A graphic designer or artist should be able to give you very straightforward advice on how to bring more or less emphasis to your design.

Make sure you are bringing emphasis to the right areas of your web page.

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Squeeze Pages versus Splash Pages

Usability is an important aspect for any web site. Over the years I've changed my perspective on being a purist when it comes to usability. There are times when you have to ask yourself what's best for your bottom line. Is it more important to make money with your web site or try to make your web site as usable as possible? There are times when usability comes in conflict with effective marketing techniques.  One area of debate is in regards to splash pages and squeeze pages. Both Splash and Squeeze pages present challenges to making a web site truly usable.  Yet, one is definitely more valuable from a marketing perspective. Let's take a moment to consider both.

Splashing Them with Art
Splash pages are usually very graphical in nature and sometimes contain flash animation.  Splash pages are typically an opportunity for graphic designers to show off their artistic talents. A few years ago splash pages were all the rage for web development firms, yet times have changed. Developers started to clue in that users were bouncing from web sites that started with a splash page.  Users come to almost every web site for information not an art show. Compare a splash page with a Squeeze page.

Squeezing Information Out of Them
A squeeze page is a web page that forces people to give up at least their email and first name before they can proceed any further. A great example of a squeeze page can be found at Many usability people would argue that a squeeze page is also barrier to entry. But over the years I've seen the tremendous amount of lead generation and revenue companies have produced by incorporating squeeze pages. One of my friends has collected over 40,000+ email addresses in the last four years with a squeeze page. Squeeze pages are also analogous with landing pages.

One aspect that makes a squeeze page different than a splash page is the promise of good information to follow.
It's like the start of a relationship. The process usually starts with first name and email. After entering their information the user is expecting some pretty good information and follow up. If a company can deliver the information, they raise their level of trust and credibility with their users. Information needs to be put in front of sales pitch. Multi-million dollar businesses online are build upon this concept.

Squeeze Page Tip
If you are going to use a squeeze page make users bookmark the post-squeeze page. This way they can go direct to the information.

Anyone online should consider the advantages of using a squeeze or landing page somewhere on their web site. If you are going to use a barrier to entry on your web site, use a squeeze page!

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The Simplest Search Engine Optimization Technique

One of the most common terms used by companies to describe Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is "black magic." Search engine optimization is a complex art with no guarantee of success.  In all my years of doing search engine optimization projects there is one simple technique that has made the biggest impact for my clients in their search engine listings. Best of all, it's really easy to implement.

The simplest SEO technique is setting your page title properly for each individual page of your web site. Granted it takes a lot more than just a proper title tag to get good search engine placement. I don't want people to think that changing a title tag is ALL they need to do. But in ease of implementation and effectiveness, I believe proper title tags offer the best ROI for your time and money.

You don't need much computer experience to implement this technique. If you have a friend or family member that knows a little about creating web pages ask them for help.

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Event Marketing: Start Building Your List Early

You can never start building your subscriber list too early. For today's post I'm going to focus on list building from an event marketing perspective. The technique can also be adapted for selling and positioning a product or service.  Too many event organizers make the mistake of either not building a list building or starting the process too late. List building can be used both before and after your event. If you are an event marketer, think of your list as a direct marketing channel to customers who are most interested.

Give People a Reason to Sign Up
As soon as your web site goes live, try to get users to willingly volunteer their email. Just because there is a sign up usually isn't a compelling enough reason for users to sign up. Users are very sensitive to giving their personal information away. Think from the perspective of delivering value.  Do you have something unique that you could offer to entice sign ups? In the case of an event it might be an interview with a performer, advance ticket discounts, or highlights from the previous year's event.

Treat your subscribers like gold and don't try to sales pitch them too early.  Ask yourself, would you be more likely to purchase tickets to an event after 5 or 6 interesting and trustworthy emails? Or send a sales pitch out every time you send an email. Start with building trust and credibility from the beginning. It is important to remember that most people visit web sites never return. Collecting the user's email is a good way to reengage your users down the road.

Advance Sale Tickets
Consider offering early subscribers the best price on event tickets. A few years ago I attended an air show conference in Belgium. One of the presenters outlined the ticketing strategy they used for their event. Their advance sale tickets were discounted by almost 50%.  A number of event organizers might think that the process is counter intuitive, "We're going to lose too much money by discounting ticket prices that much." Ironically the presenters methodology worked.  Their event was paid for before a single person walked in the gate. In addition, the event broke records for attendance and revenue.

The Best Event Marketing Investment
Helping your own targeted subscriber list to grow is the best single investment you can make in your event marketing. Even if you don't have something to offer your consumer right now, think about the future. Lists can be used to target the people who have identified themselves as your target market. You can spend less on traditional advertising if you already have a qualified list of people interested in your event, product, or service. Use your subscriber list to your advantage.

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

How to Create Your Own Luck

One of my favorite activities is sharing success stories with friends and associates. I’ve always been inspired by people who turn a giving situation into extraordinary success.  For the longest time I thought that sharing success stories would inspire others to try something new or do something different.  To my surprise most people whom I share a success story with use the comeback “They got lucky!” or “They cheated.” Rarely is the response, “Hey, that’s awesome” or “How did they do that? Tell me more.” I believe that anyone can manufacture their own luck.  The equation is so simple that it is overlooked and discounted by most people. It goes like this . . .

  • The More Opportunities You Pursue the More “Luck” You Enjoy.

The concept is so simple that most people never make use of it. You can’t lock yourself in your room, do absolutely nothing, and hope to be lucky. One of my all time favorites, Thomas Edison, created his own luck. Edison was lucky because he tried more often. Most people don't remember Thomas Edison by how many times he tried, but what he accomplished. Try to be more Edisonian in your pursuits. The luckiest people put themselves in more favorable situations by trying more often. Consider the following . . .

"Babe Ruth is famous for his past home run record, but for decades he also held the record for strikeouts. He hit 714 home runs and struck out 1,330 times in his career (about which he said, "Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.").


Improving Your Luck
You can further improve your luck by refining how you target a challenge or situation.  Let’s consider advertising for a moment. If you are trying to market a product or service narrow your scope. Consider how many companies make use of advertising and try to cast the widest net possible.  I believe that you’ll have better luck approaching ten thousand people who have a vested interest in what you provide versus a million people who might be interested. It pays to narrow the scope of your opportunities. Just be careful not to be too limiting.

Ask an Important Question

If you really want to get the most out of a “good luck” story ask yourself, “How did they do that?” Most people discount other people’s success. The smartest people learn from the success of others and integrate that success into their own approach.  Maybe there is a successful technique you can incorporate that someone else has already discovered.  You would be surprised at how many successful people are willing to give a few minutes of their personal time to share their stories.

It isn’t that difficult to get lucky if you are consistently aligning opportunities in front of you. Most people never take the time to explore the endless opportunities in this world. It isn't a matter of no risk, no reward.  It's no risk, no opportunity. Without opportunity you'll never get any reward.

Additional Article Resources:


How to Shortcut Your Way to a Successful Online Business

Some of my experiences over the last few years have really reemphasized the importance of learning from people who are super successful online. Experts have "been there and done that." If you are facing a business challenge or numerous challenges it might be time to approach an expert in your field or a related field.

Learning From the Best
There are two common paths people travel down to engage experts. You can either build a relationship with an expert or pay for their services outright.  Both methods benefit your online endeavors.  The people who I've learned the most from and have helped me excel in business are the best of the best. Part of being the best means many experts charge a premium for their time.

Paying $1,000+ an Hour for a Consultant
Most people balk at high priced consultants, "Their rate is ridiculous, I'd never pay that much!" Let's be honest, there are too many consultants in this world that charge a lot of money and don't deliver any results. But, provided you've taken the time to find the best consultant for your field it might be worth considering an investment in consulting. Most high end consultants come with a proven track record. You should always verify a consultant's track record - CAREFULLY CHECK REFERENCES! Ask to speak with some of a consultant's previous and current clients. 

When considering the price of a high end consult ask yourself, "What is my time worth per hour?" As an example let's say you calculate your hourly time to be worth $35 an hour. If it's more, replace the $35 dollar rate with your rate. Consider the following examples:

  1. You can spend 100 hours of your time (at $35 dollars an hour) researching, implementing, and testing your ideas for a particular business challenge.
  2. Hire a $1,000 an hour consultant for an hour or two and spend the other 99-98 hours of your time implementing their proven suggestions.

I Don't Have $1,000 for a Top End Consultant
Not everyone can afford a high end consultant.  The consultants realize this and provide people a way to get around hiring them for a specific project.  Many consultants have created a systems or information product that anyone can purchase. The prices for some of the information products might not be as much as a consultant's hourly rate, but they can be expensive. These information products allow you to integrate a consultant's mindset or system into your business.  By integrating someone else's expertise you can spend the time focus on your strengths.

Everyone should decide what's best for them. Looking back at my own personal business journey, I would have hired more consultants and purchased more information products earlier in my career instead of spending thousands of hours of my own time to figure out a solution some else had already solved.

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A Hands-On Approach for Online Success

On Tuesday, Baeth Davis of was good enough to give me some of her time to conduct a phone interview. I would encourage anyone reading this post to give her web site a quick look over before proceeding further, Per her biography, "Beth is a professional palm reader specializing in non-predictive palmistry." Beth was just recently awarded the Glazer-Kennedy 2007-2008 Information Marketer of the Year.  She sells a Hand Analysis home study course on her web site, entitled "How To Read Your Own Hands: 5 Proven Steps To Bring More Health, Love and Money Into Your Life," and provides a variety of coaching and consulting services. During my telephone conversation with Beth, she gave some tremendously helpful advice and insider knowledge on how she's attained a high level of success. The best part is that her success continues to grow. Anyone looking for success on the Internet should read carefully and think about some of the ideas presented as they pertain to their own web site.

Going Beyond the Graphics

Too many businesses get caught up in how a web site looks. Beth does web usability followers proud by emphasizing the delivery of high quality content before graphic design. At the same time she doesn't believe that web sites should be ugly. She actually passed along a great quote regarding web design:

Continue reading "A Hands-On Approach for Online Success" »

How to Separate Yourself From Every Other Event Marketer

Today's post is a short riff on finding success online.  This post is geared a little more toward entrepreneurs, hopefully traditional business people can get something out of it. It has absolutely nothing to do with what technology or any given Internet strategy.  It has more to do with "stem power," brain stem power to be precise. Of all the great Internet techniques and strategies I've come across few if any are universal to every online success story.  One person might be extremely successful with something that doesn't work for anyone else. There are commonalities at the mental level and they have to do with you as an individual and your business approach.  If you have the right mindset and approach you'll probably be far more successful than the person with all the tricks up their sleeve.

Your Mindset
The first place any online entrepreneur needs to start is with their own mind set.  This might sound cliche but what you believe dictates your reality both online and off.  If you think that there is little opportunity online or off for you than that is your reality. The most successful online entrepreneurs see the Internet as a hotbed for opportunity. You need to adopt an abundance mentality. There is more opportunity than you could possibly imagine.

Don't Limit Yourself Because of Your Educational Background
Many of the most highly sought after Internet Consultants don't have a Masters Degree in Computer Science or Internet Marketing. Some super successful online entrepreneurs don't even have a college degree. There are certain people who can teach you more about being successful online in a few days than you'll ever learn from a top Business school and you'll save yourself $100K+.  Formal education is important, but it isn't required.  It is more important to educate yourself on a continuing basis than it is to have a traditional education in a specific field.

One of the best education steps you can take is "going to the top of the mountain." Find something your passionate about and then approach the very best in your field. Don't let the Monday Morning Quarterbacks try to tell you what to do. Attend the conferences and seminars where the best in your field are to be found.  You can also find a wealth of information online in blogs and forums. Follow the advice of the best, not the second or third best.

Execute Your Ideas and Embrace Failure
Focus in on ideas that you are passionate about.  Play around your ideas and then QUICKLY put your ideas into motion. I spent years on perfecting million dollar ideas that have never been launched. How many times have you heard the saying, "An idea is no good unless you do something with it!" You'll be amazed by what you can learn just from trying something new.

I have friends with unbelievable talents and ideas who started their own web sites.  They're not going to see their dreams come to fruition because the can't overcome simple challenges and minor failures. Too many people are easily discouraged.  Learn to embrace failure and quickly get back in the saddle.  Just like Thomas Edison it isn't about how many times you fail, it's being able to look at each "failure" as a valuable lesson. You can learn an abundance of things online without spending a dime.

The ultimate litmus test for any online business endeavor is dollars in the bank, regardless of what technique or methodology you use.  I've seen the most improbable web sites make money and the most pristine fail miserably. Tomorrow I'm going to follow up with a real life success story full of great actionable advice.

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Using Relevant Linking Throughout Your Web Site

One of the greatest legacies of the Internet is the ability to link one document to another.  Document linking is a tremendously powerful feature that has stood the test of time.  Document linking is simple and highly intuitive.

Document linking is one of the primary reasons that world wide web exploded back in the 1990s. You can lead your users from one piece of interesting content to another.  Linking is also a significant factor in the search engine optimization. Each time another web site links to your web site it is like a vote is being cast. The more links you have to your web site from other relevant web sites the higher the probability you will enjoy a higher search engine ranking.

Every web site owner should take the time to consider their own linking strategy especially at the individual page level.

Are you using internal links on your web site?
Internal links connect your users with relevant content on your web site. Is there information on one page of your web site that can be linked to another page of your web site? Wikipedia is a great example of a web site that uses good internal linking.

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Get Your Audience Involved Through Their Emotions

Last week I had the opportunity to do some brain storming with a new client. They were looking to create a promotion for their fitness center.  In my client's case the operative ad concepts were "pizza" and "fitness." My client was starting a new promotion with a local pizza company.  The headline of the ad was "Worried Your Pizza with End Up Here?" with several arrows pointing to a female cartoon figure's derriere. 

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Simple Customer List Building Suggestions

Every company or business owner should have there own dedicated list of customers, members, or perspective customers.  For all my years doing Internet development and marketing, I believe that list building is one of the best ways to generate interest and sales for your products and services. In a number of cases a well build list can significantly reduce and in some cases replace the need for traditional advertising.  For all the benefits a dedicated customer list has there aren't that many businesses that build a list. Even fewer businesses properly manage and leverage their list. Below are a few consideration that almost anyone can easily implement.

Permission Based List Building
If you are doing any type of list building, make sure it is permission based.  Always ask for permission and acknowledgment from every person you add to your list.  For list building purposes, acknowledgment comes in the form of the double opt-in.  In a double opt-in the person is asked to verify their intension with an email send back to them.  Most bulk email programs have the double opt-in as a standard feature.

If people are signing up for an email list, make sure they white list you in their email and SPAM programs. Contact information is no good if you can make contact with someone.

Start with The People Who Know You
The easiest place to start list building is with your existing and perspective customers. If you have a traditional brick and mortar company like a restaurant, consider asking your patrons to sign up first.  It is much easier to get emails and mailing addresses from people who have an affinity for your product. If you have an event web site that has been running for a few years, consider asking all the people that emailed you to become subscribers. It is important that you ask people to sign up for your list. Because someone emails you doesn't give you the right to automatically add them to a subscriber list.

Use a Contest or Promotion
Remember when the Nintendo Wii or the iPhone was released? People will jump through hoops to get something they really want for free.  It might be worth giving away a highly sought after product or service in exchange for people subscribing to your list.  Consider running a promotion or giveaway to collect email addresses.

Let people know what they are getting into when they sign up to your list. If you promise them coupons on a regular basis make sure you deliver on your promises.  Create a privacy policy that is easily accessible.  Be very specific in letting people know they won't get spammed. Last but not least, don't spam! The quickest way to negate the effectiveness of your list is by spamming list subscribers.

Consider a List Broker
List brokers are a great way to jump start your list building endeavors. You can give a list broker specific demographic parameters and for a reasonable fee they will return target list of prospects.  If you're just starting with list building a broker might be the easiest way to go.

Go Old School For Big Returns
There are so many businesses that are currently using email marketing that you might want to consider going retro. Some of the savviest Internet marketers use the web to generate leads online and then follow up with snail mail.  For some this might be counter intuitive, but it really does work. One of my client's enjoyed a 1200%+ return on investment by leveraging one of her mailing lists with traditional snail mail. In today's digital world people still like tangible items.

Think Small for Big Returns
An intriguing question for any list builder is the quality versus quantity dilemma. Some would argue that the bigger the list the better. Interestingly enough smaller lists have proven to be diamond mines for a number of Internet Marketers. A small highly focused list will always get you more than a large board list. You are better off building a solid relationship of trust and credibility with a smaller list, as opposed to a general list

I'll be revisiting the notion of list building in future posts. There should be enough information above to at least get you thinking about setting up and refining your own list.

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Using Photos on Your Web Site

There are times where I beat up on graphic designers. And there are other times when I completely support the advice they give.  One piece of graphic design advice I completely agree with is that every company should make use of professional photography. High quality photography is one of your best web site investments.  In terms of my usability roots, photography is an important part of high quality content. If you are designing or redesigning your web site make sure you take time to consider the photography.

Today Everyone's a PRO

In today's world of readily available digital cameras it is easy to get photography for almost any project.  If I'm working on a web project and ask for photography the client usually responds with "I have a guy who does photos for me all the time, he's great." To which I respond, "Is he/she a professional photographer?" Nine times out of ten the response is "No they are not, but the photos are decent." Here is my honest assessment: Professional photography gives web sites a professional feel. Amateur photos make a web site look amateur. Over the last 16 years I've found the previous assessment to be completely true.

Getting a client to spend money on a photography can sometimes be a difficult task.  In my own personal experience every client who spent money on a professional photographer usually grumbled about the price up front and praised the photos afterward.

There are rare occasions when you find an amateur photographer that takes professional grade photography. The easiest way to assess the quality of photography is by going to your graphic designer or web development firm to get an objective evaluation.

An Alternative
If you can't afford a professional photographer stock photography is highly recommended. Some of the photos might not be an exact fit for your web site. I would argue that you could make an exception for the perfect situational photo with a professional looking photo. Stock photography has become increasing more diverse and affordable.

The Caveat
There is one important caveat. My stress for using professional photography applies to company and business web sites. If it's a personal or family web any photography is good photography.

Using professional photography is a great investment that all companies should honestly consider.

Additional Resource:
Inexpensive Stock Photography - iStockphoto

Putting Directions Online and Your Event

Directions and parking instructions are an important consideration for almost every event organizer. The more information you can provide your patrons the better. It is in your best interest not to have your patrons guessing on parking procedures. Your web site is your single best place for distributing various forms of parking and event arrival information. I've include some points on directions and parking below for you to consider.

Provide Patrons with Hyper Accurate Information
You need to make sure that directions to your event are hyper accurate. In recent years there have been great improvements with online mapping services. Unfortunately, getting your directions from an online source isn't always the most accurate source. Have you ever used an online service for directions and found yourself lost? Make sure you have a real person actually go out and test the instructions.  It might seem a bit overboard to some, but imagine what would happen if hundreds or thousands of people used erroneous directions to get to your event? I've seen the emails before and they aren't pretty.

Depending on your event some people might not always arrive by automobile.  Do you have event attendees who are flying in to a local airport?  Are there special considerations they need to take into account?  Your event might be on the water front.  If it's a water front event is there any consideration that non-event attendees need to know?

A Real World Example
One great example of a highly refined directions is the Experimental Aircraft Association's Air Venture.  According to EAA's Dick Knapinski the area around Oshkosh, WI, where the event takes place, becomes the busiest airspace in the world for one week every year. They have tens of thousands of people arriving and departing in various aircraft from around the world. In order to achieve safe aircraft operations there are over 30 pages of instructions for arriving and departing pilots.

Beyond Plain Written Instructions
Can you include additional information aside from written directions/instructions?  Consider using pictures and photographs to help orient event attendees. With services like Google Earth and Microsoft's Live Search Maps satellite and aerial photos have become much more prevalent. Use the aerial photography services to build redundancy and provide additional information for your event. Today more people are using personal GPS systems to get their instructions. You might want to consider providing latitude and longitude information for your event parking.

Where are They Going to Park?
If your directions lead to a parking area there are few important points to remember.  First, let your patrons/customers know precisely where to park their automobile. Is there a parking fee? Let your patrons know up front. You should also let your patrons know where NOT to park their automobiles. A number of events make use of shuttle bus service. Is there shuttle bus service to your event after event patrons park?  Is there a cost to that shuttle bus service? The one thing you want to be conscious of is not upsetting your customers before they get to the actual event.

When the Event is Over
One place event organizers tend to run into trouble is when their patrons are trying to get back home.  Is there some information that can help people expedite getting back home?  Traffic might be a consideration. Are there alternate routes to get your patrons home? Let them know ahead of time using your email and web site. 

It is important to always think beyond the blatantly obvious for event organizers. Bad directions and parking instructions can have your patrons attending or leaving your event unhappy. Focus on creating event directions and instructions that are easy to understand, concise, and highly accurate.

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You Don't Always Need to Reinvent the Internet

As a web developer being able to build a custom application for a client can be both a virtue and a vice.  With all the technology and great programmers in this world it is easy to go overboard in creating an online application or individualized solution. Over the years I've seen a number of web development companies, including my own, needlessly toil with creating the perfect application or solution for various clients. Individual Web site owners face some of the same challenges. When trying to find a solution to your web needs take the time to consider third party applications. In many cases you might be able to find a solution has already been created by another person or company.  If a solution hasn't been created you might be able to find a third party application that can be easily modified. In many cases it is far easier to move into a space that is already built than starting to build from the ground up.

Find Solutions
The easiest way to find a third party solution is by going to your favorite search engine and typing in what you are looking for in the search box. In many instances the best solutions might be in the paid advertisement column.  Advertisers have taken the time to research keywords and phrases that match various user search phrases for products and services.  Another place to find a possible solution is in various software and developer forums.  It's amazing what information you can find with a well placed forum post or email.  If you know any friends that do web development ask them for a few minutes of advice on your challenge.

Focus on Being Simple
Shopping cart abandonment is a good example of creating too many bells and whistles. A number of online retailers suffer badly from shopping cart abandonment. A user comes to a web site and decides to purchase a product.  They place that product into the online shopping cart and proceed to the payment and checkout page. Shopping cart abandonment problems include too many steps in the checkout process or a confusing interface that leads to user uncertainty. When all the bells and whistles start to get in the way, users get confused at abandon the checkout process.  It's important to focus on simple straightforward solutions. People won't complain if you make a process very simple.  Ask yourself, "What does the user really need and what is the easiest way to deliver it to them?"

Break Down Individual Requirements
There are times when the solution can't be broken down with just one product. You might need to break down your needs at an individual application level. You might want to consider an open source solution. A number of web application technologies from shopping carts to databases are open source. This means that you can work off an existing framework and modify the source code at your discretion. Some open source communities have great technical and developer support you can leverage in your own endeavors. In some cases developers might grant you licensing to their software.  This licensing might include provisions for minor modifications. If you are using third party applications check to make sure that all the applications will work in harmony.

You can save yourself a tremendous amount of time, money, and energy by using an already built or easy to modify application. It might not be the sexiest of applications, but as long as it works well and is easy to use, users most users won't even notice. Stay out of trouble by not confusing wants and needs. Always put the needs of the user in front of what you think they might want.

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Before You Start Redesigning Your Web Site . . .

Last week a friend of mine began redesign work for his company's web site. It will be the second redesign of his company's web site in the last two years.  His reasoning for the redesign is based on an unhappiness with their current design and a lack of user interaction.  In the year since their last web site redesign, and to the best of their knowledge, not one person has called or emailed to inquire about their services.  Yet, people are spending a significant time on their web site. My friend started to make some critical redesign changes before even considering one of his most important redesign assets, web statistics. There are too many companies that don't take the time to consider their own web statistics before diving into a redesign of their own web site.  It is critical for you to consider you web statistics.

Taking Stock of the Situation
A review of web statistics will give you important information that will assist in making decisions in the web site redesign process. Your web statistics are like writing on the wall. Take the time to carefully decipher the message. You can save your company money and time by analyzing what users have done in the past. A few years ago I was involved in a usability and redesign project that decreased the size of a web site from over 150 pages to less than 20.  By analyzing our client's web statistics we could analyze critical metrics. Initially, the client expressed concern for a significant reduction in the size of their web site. In the end the smaller and more streamlined web site resulted in a significant increase in traffic.

Getting an Outside Perspective
I've always been a big proponent of companies getting outside advice on their web sites. A big challenge for companies, especially upper management, is separating personal desires from objectivity in the web design process.  Many companies insist on spending thousands of dollars and massive amounts of time for unjustified web site desires that bring zero return on investment.  If you are consider a redesign of your web site consider hiring an outside web developer as a consultant to review your web site. They don't need to do the actual redesign of your site. But an objective outside opinion and insight can prove to be tremendously helpful for any redesign.

It doesn't make good business sense to start redesigning something before carefully looking at the past. As long as you can look at your web statistics objectively, you can learn a tremendous amount in assist you with planning for the future.

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