Are Your Online Forms Usable?

It is difficult to go online and not come across an online form. From short to long, online forms are everywhere.  My most recent experience required me to fill out a long form just to watch a video clip.  Where is the justification in taking five minutes to fill out an online form to watch a two minute news video clip?  Before using forms on a web site spend some time thinking through the process from a user’s vantage. 

Questions you should ask yourself:

  • Is the form easy to use?
  • Has the form been tested?
  • Am I building enough trust to compel someone to fill out my form?

Ease of Use
Keep online forms short and easy to use.  Shopping carts are a perfect example.  Users abandon shopping carts because of poor usability factors.  Check your web log data to make sure people aren’t bouncing out during checkout.  Shopping cart forms can be too long or cumbersome for users.  Always think from a user’s perspective. Let the user know if the item is actually in stock before filling out any information.  Use an indicator bar on each page to show checkout progress.  Disclose shipping options up front.  Users can be quickly turned off by high shipping rates.  Make the checkout process as painless as possible.  If it isn’t a shopping cart keep the form short and too the point. Only ask for minimal information, name and email.  Asking for more without user trust is very difficult.

Test Your Forms
Always test online forms with your user base.  Take a few people from your demographic and have them go through your online form.  Take note of where users are encountering usability problems and make applicable corrections. The benefit of usable forms speaks for itself.  More users will fill out more forms if they’re usable.

Build Trust
A number of web sites are now requesting you to fill out personal information to watch video or listen to audio.  Trust and credibility are large factors in determining if users enter their personal information.  Most people are reluctant to enter any personal information.  Can users really be blamed? Everyone has felt the effects of SPAM.  SPAM is beyond annoying and a waste of time.  The user needs a very good reason to give up personal information.  One of the easiest ways to overcome this hurdle is with a privacy statement and promise not to SPAM.  Let people know exactly why you need their information.

The bottom line on forms is this: build enough trust with the user to have them fill out an online form.  When you’ve established the user’s trust, make it an easy process to collect their information.  The Internet is an interactive medium, keep that interactivity usable.

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Business Problems and Customer Service

Everyone can recall examples of good and bad customer service.  Recently I witnessed the demise of a promising business. There were numerous factors that lead closing the business. Customer service was one of the largest issues.  In this case customer service took the form of a lack of communication with patrons.  Last Friday, I went to visit a business I kept a membership with for the last five year.  The doors were locked and a sign posted indicating they’re out of business.  I knew that the business had been having difficulty and that it would possibly be sold or closed down shortly.  Yet, the closing came with no advanced notice to most of their other patrons.  If you are experiencing an unusual challenge with your business let your clients or patrons know about the challenge. 

Regardless of the business situation, good or bad, keep the customers informed.  There are a number of instances when things are going bad and businesses aren’t forthright with their clients.  Most businesses won’t acknowledge problem until it is too late.  If you’re in a sticky business situation, let your customers know about the situation immediately.  You don’t have to divulge minute details. But at least acknowledge that there is a problem and a resolution is being implemented or planned.  It is always in your best interest to keep customers informed.

When customers start to speculate or become uncertain about a product or service they’ll start to look elsewhere for their needs.  This is exactly what happened in the situation I witnessed.  When people heard rumors about the business possibly shutting down they started to look elsewhere.  The customer’s loyalty became strained and they started to lose faith in the company.  Without customer support overcoming challenges can become significantly more difficult.

I’ll point back to an important statistic from a previous post: “95% of unhappy customers will do business again with you if their issue is resolved immediately.” (Source: Technical Assistance Research Programs) The problem was never acknowledged or resolved immediately. 

It is in your best interest to always keep your customers informed.

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A Web Centric Marketing Example

West_herrA Web Centric Marketing Example
On my way home from the air show conference I decided to stop in Buffalo, New York.  During a stop at the Walden Galleria shopping mall I noticed the pictured advertisement.  It is a large indoor banner advertisement hanging in the middle of the mall.  The banner ad is a decent example of web centric marketing.

It has a few elements that help it stand out from most of the other advertisements I viewed.  It was the largest advertisement in the mall.  Because of its size it was difficult not to notice. Regardless of size it was positioned in a good location, right in the middle of a high traffic area.  Your almost forced to look at it because of size and position.  I doubt anyone goes to the mall with the intent of purchasing a new or used car.  But, shoppers might have the notion of needing to make a car purchase before or after visiting the mall.

Other elements that stand out on the pictured advertisement:

  1. The headline, which is arguably the most important element of any advertisement, is at the top.

  2. The person who I believe is the owner of the auto dealership is the person pictured. The individual pictured is also the dominate element of the advertisement.  This draws attention.  Around the person are a series of various car company logos.
  3. Below the picture and logos is the company's logo and associated tag line. This component establishes brand awareness.
  4. If you are interested in learning more about what West Herr has to offer they give you a web address.  The address is the smallest sized font on the advertisement, but it does stand out.  If someone is interested in more information, they can visit the web site.

The key to web centric marketing is getting people to come to your web site to find out additional information.

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Point, Click, and Follow - Usability

After a plethora of usability studies you start to pick up on some of the finer details. Each day there are great technologies that emerge and make usability testing increasingly more accurate. It isn't always easy to make something simple, especially on the Internet.  One tremendously helpful piece of technology is eye tracking software. The software produces overlays of individual web pages indicating which areas get the most attention. Check the Importance of Organic Search post for an example of a heat map. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the budget to utilize high end eye tracking equipment to improve the usability of a web site. There is a simple alternative.

Usability Eye Tracking Done Inexpensively
The underappreciated mouse can give you great information about what the user is thinking. It is
analogous with body language.  You can learn a lot from watching the user's mouse actions.  Where is the cursor going on the screen and what is it doing?  The mouse pointer is an on screen discovery tool.  If a user is unsure of something they'll usually hover over an on page element (links, images, and other interactive elements).  Take note of user mouse pointer behavior.

Try it Out
Sit down with a friend or family member and take them through a web site of your choice. Watch their mouse pointer behavior. If a user gets confused about navigation they’ll roll the mouse over areas on the page to see if they’re clickable. Mouse pointer movements go up during active interactions and navigating. Users will point and click on various areas of the page to discover interactive elements.

One exception to the tracking is when the user is reading or skimming information on the page. If a user is reading the cursor is usually at the side of the page.

If you do sit down with a user and test your site, encourage them to vocalize their experience. You’ll find that they use the mouse to point to various elements are important or confusing. Make note of their feedback.

When taking someone through a simple usability test, always note the simple things. You can learn a lot from simple things in life.

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Do You Just Have A Web Site?

Greetings from Niagara Falls ARS.  This weekend my time is dedicated to the North East Council of Air shows' Annual Conference.  It is an excellent opportunity to catch up with some of the best pilots and organizers in the air show industry.  If it is air show related it always involves a bar(somewhat responsibly) and socializing.  As with most industries business is usually done at the bar.  You get the drink, engage in conversation, and press forward. 

Being the resident geek it is almost guaranteed that web sites come up in conversation. Through the late 1990s and 2000s people gave a great deal of credence to those with a web site. In today's business world it isn't enough to just have a web site.

People still check if you have a web site.  It is the first step in establishing credibility for a company or service.  After the first step, most businesses don't have a second step.  One of the most common lines said: "We have a web site and it isn't doing anything for us." It is imperative for companies to look beyond just having a web presence.  If you already have a web site, ask the following question: "How is my web site facilitating to acquisition of new business or supporting my current business?" Most people, who have a business web site, don't have a decent answer to that question.

In order to be successful online you need to be able to leverage your web site. Companies have spent millions, possibly billions on ineffective web sites.  Think of ways to use your site to not only build trust and credibility, but to also act as an active way to generate new leads or business.

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Why Think Globally?

When thinking of user demographics how often do we think globally?  A quick look into an established web site’s log files can provide you with a tremendous amount of information.  A web site allows anyone to push the confines of geography.  Anyone in the world can become a potential customer.  Knowing that the Earth is a global market place is quintessential to almost every web site.

Where to Start
The first place to start is with a frame of reference.  We’re all creatures of habit. If a familiar market place is local in nature we tend to think locally.  The easiest way to start thinking globally is to put yourself into a foreigner’s frame of reference.  Assume that a particular person reads your (web site, email, brochure, sales letter) and is fluent in the language used.  Do they know your location?

One client sends out an electronic newsletter on a regular basis. One particular newsletter was for a workshop announcement.  An interested participant responded from out of state wishing to participate not knowing the workshop was being held locally.  Always make sure to include details such as full address, plus telephone numbers with area codes and country codes.

Geographic Search Engine Optimization
The same methodology can be applied for search.  Ask yourself, are you listed properly in a geographical context?  I reside in Rochester, New York.  If an Internet user were to enter the search phrase: “Rochester Restaurant,” is that person searching for a “Restaurant” in “Rochester,” New York, Minnesota, New Hampshire, or United Kingdom?

The Internet gets new people every day.  Presenting the user with finer details can help you better focus your message and marketing efforts.  Remember your users could be coming from anywhere in the world.  Plan accordingly.

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Countering the Weather & Event Marketing

Greetings from the frozen and snow filled Rochester, New York.  Over the past 24 hours almost two feet of snow have fallen.  Today the roads were a mess and more than a few businesses and organizations have been adversely affected. There are few things in this world that have as much indirect impact on a business as weather.  Thought you can’t control the weather there are certain actions you can take to minimize its impact.  One such action is using your web site and the Internet to keep your users or customers better informed when the weather throws you a curve ball.

The Ability to Quickly Communicate
Use the Internet to counteract the unpredictability of Mother Nature. The Internet offers you the ability to disseminate information in a very rapid fashion.  If a business is impacted by the weather you can use the Internet to inform employees and staff using the web. Compare and contrast one simple email blast to the time it takes to contact people over the telephone.  One important caveat is making sure your message is easily understood.  Emails or text messages can be easily misunderstood, stay clear and concise.

Multiple Channels
There are multiple channels for contacting people via the internet: web page, email, and messaging services. The first place you can start to inform people is right on your home page.  A simple update to a web site might be all that is required, if people know to check the web site for updates.  One example is a school district that is closed because of inclement weather.  An updated to the school web site helps parents in not having to search aimlessly to find information via more traditional forms of media.  They’re only a few words or a bookmark away from additional formation. 

Outdoor Events
Do you have an outdoor event?  It can be anything from a sporting event to an airshow.  The weather forecasters try their best, but they aren't always right. Airshows can lose thousands in potential revenue because of an incorrect weather forecast.  All it takes is the implication of inclement weather and people won't show up.  If you have emails for your patrons, use that to your advantage. 

Use technology to your advantage.  It can save you time and money. There are several options to choose from.  The Internet provides you an opportunity to send one universal message to countless people almost instantaneously.

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The Internet and User Demographics

Users are an essential ingredient to any online venture.  Without users web sites have no means of survival.  Concentrating on just any user won’t suffice.  Web site users need to be qualified.  What makes a qualified user?  Qualified users are those who fit into the profile of your Internet User Demographic and have an affinity for what you have to offer. Each web site will have different demographics.  Knowing your user demographics is an important part of facilitating web site success. If you know what a majority of users want it is easier to provide for them.  It also helps you keep your marketing more focused.  More focused marketing can help reduce wasted advertising budget.  The Internet is brutally simple with respect to demographics. Web Sites that don’t provide for their users won’t survive.  Do you know your user?

User Demographics and Psychographics
Start looking at traditional demographic factors such as age, gender, education, etc.  Who are the people using your web site or purchasing your product or service?  Fill in the blank for each variable. When considering user demographics you should also take into account psychographics.  User psychographics refer to the values, attitudes, and various interests of the user.  The combination of demographics and psychographics should allow for a decent understanding of a web site’s target audience.  All efforts on the web site need to focus on the target user. From a marketing standpoint there is little value in targeting a market that lacks an affinity for what is being offered. 

Use "In the Can" Demographics
In many industries the user demographic has already been identified.  A quick glance at an industry guide or trade publication should provide you with the necessary information.  Look at the advertisements and articles. Take a visit to the library and see if they might have some information.  If the product or service is new there might not be a predefined demographic. If so, is there a closely related field that can provide a demographic starting point?  If you can’t find any information you have to do your own research.

Who's Our Demographic?
You can determine a demographic by using your existing web site.  Log files and online surveys are great resources to better understand a web site’s demographics.  They contain potential data for building a sketch of your web site demographic.

Analyze Log Files
Web site log files can be a gold mine of demographic details.  Data such as referrals and keywords used in search can help paint a better picture of your user. Look where users to your site are being referred from. Send off a simple email to the referring site owner asking for demographic information.  Make sure you are cordial in the request and explain why you are seeking the information.  You might be able to form a strategic partnership with other web sites.  Do the keywords in your log files give you any additional hint?  Certain phrases might point to one gender or another. E.g. “hot pink ipod.”

Conduct an Online Survey
If there are only a few people visiting a web site that might be enough to conduct an online survey.  Ask simple questions in the survey based around standard demographics (age, gender, education, income, etc.) Include some psychographic questions (general interest, values, and attitudes.)  Surveys should be short and sweet. 

Build Your Web Site For the Target Audience

Any web site should be built and presented for the benefit of the user.  Too many companies try to put their interest in front of that of the user.  Don’t make the same mistake.   If you have good target data on your users and adhere to their needs you're a step ahead of most people.  Always concentrate on the user.

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Reaching Online Critical Mass

At what point does a web site reach critical mass?  The notion of online critical mass comes up a number of times when you’re building an online presence.  People always ask “what does it take to be successful online?” Your web site needs to reach critical mass. Your site should reach a point where it becomes self perpetuating.  You no longer have to fight for traffic or sales.  It’s the online version of easy street.

In the simplest business sense critical mass is usually achieved when a business meets some predefined threshold.  This is usually profitability or a certain amount of market share. (Source: Netlingo)   When it comes to your web site it becomes a matter of finding enough users to support the goals of your site.  Two critical components to reaching online critical mass are content and leveraging search engine optimization.

On Content
You need enough high quality content to lure users to your site and keep them coming back. Keep your content fresh and up to date. This is a big reason why news web sites and blogs are so popular. Updating your content on a regular basis will help you get new users.  If you establish the trend of regular updates try your best to keep things updated.  The most important part of your content is making sure that you keep it relevant to your users.  Focus on serving their needs and desires.

Search Engine Optimization
SEO is important in getting visitors to your web site.  If you have a significant amount of high quality content you are in a good position to make the most of SEO. A number online success stories can attribute SEO as a large factor to their success. Search Marketing is going to allow you to build a stead stream of targeted traffic to your web site. One thing to keep in mind is that search engine optimization is not a fire and forget tactic.  You need to be constantly working toward improving your search engine traffic.

A Matter of Time

One particular quirk to online critical mass is the notion of time.  Because the web is perceived to be fast, people’s expectations are set accordingly.  This keeps web site owners on their toes in hopes of serving up the latest and greatest.  Too many people expect results in a very short time frame. When they don't reach their goals they give up.  Make sure you aren't this person.  Time is especially important when it comes to implementing an SEO campaign.

Keep Learning and Trying
I have yet to meet a highly successful web site owner who had zero training or experience.  Some people are lucky and others fail miserably.  Those who succeed online are smart enough to learn from their experience and march on! Nobody ever gets it right the first time.  The Internet allows you to fail very quickly.  As long as you're learning from the experience, fail as often as possible.  There are only so many times you can get it wrong before you get it right.

In order to reach critical mass online you need content, traffic from search, and a little bit of time. Always keep your web site moving in the right direction, up!

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“The Secret” Marketing Method

Have you heard of “The Secret”?
For those not familiar with “The Secret” it is a feature movie and book focusing on the law of attraction for creating a better life.  Learn more about the Secret.

During my visit to a local bookstore I overheard a discussion regarding “The Secret.” There was a woman at the customer service desk asking for information regarding “The Secret.”  The customer service person responded with “we don’t have anything left, no books, no audio, nothing.  It’s all sold out!”  The Secret was recently featured on Oprah. If you go to Amazon.com “The Secret” is a best seller. There have been a few conversations where I’ve overheard people discussing the secret.  Two bookstore employees were baffled by The Secret’s sudden success.

The creators of The Secret smartly leveraged the Internet. They use the Internet to position their product and create a tremendous amount of buzz. Anyone can utilize the marketing process that made The Secret a tremendous success.

When I First Discovered The Secret
Back in late 2005, I stumbled across a web site and trailer advertising “What is The Secret.” In typical internet marketing fashion they asked for your email address to get more information. To satiate my curiosity I entered my email.  Every once in a while I would receive another clue or morsel of information.  When ever an email came through it was always something interested.  You were never spammed.

The Secret was originally suppose to air on network television, but was deemed unmarketable.  The television station was so convinced that The Secret wasn’t going to be successful that they gave up their rights.  With no network to broadcast, The Secret debuted online in 2006 and was available on DVD. Since its release last year the program has generated over $22 million USD in revenue. (Source: Not a Secret for long, The Age.) This is more than four times the cost to produce the movie.  This doesn’t include any of the ancillary products.  What was suppose to have been a bust turned into a bang.

Use The Secret’s Marketing Methodology
Whoever created the marketing plan for the Secret deserves a great deal of credit.  They used curiosity and a high quality product to create a fire storm of interest. If you check out the Alexa rankings for the site it shot up vertically from nowhere after the Secret debuted online. You can use a similar methodology for your own purposes of marketing a product via the Internet.  Focus on building product anticipation and delivering a high quality product.

Build Product Anticipation

Anticipation is probably one of the biggest reasons the Secret enjoyed so much success. The creators utilized an email marketing to build a tremendous amount of buzz.  Not only did I get emails directly from the Secret site, but also from some of the experts who contributed and endorsed The Secret.  If you have a product you are looking to launch use the web to build anticipation. The Secret’s hook was curiosity. Can you think of a way to build curiosity for your product?

Create a High Quality Product
The production cost of “the Secret” was millions of dollars.  Obviously we all don’t have that type of investment capital.  But that shouldn’t stop us from creating a high quality product. Use your web site to test your product before it’s released.  Surveys and user feedback are great ways to get people excited about what you have coming and allow you to make product improvements. The Secret was segmented into books, audio, and video. If you have an information product how many different ways can it be delivered?  Are there opportunities for ancillary products?

The Internet is a great way to build product anticipation and make improvements.  There are a number of successful models you can emulate.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Go online and find one today.

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Who Else Wants Great Clients?

Aaron Wall of SEOBook.com was good enough to give me a few minutes of his time today.  I called him up to ask about some of the challenges associated with Internet consulting, specifically as it relates to selecting the right clients. There are a number of people I know who have been on roller coaster rides with clients, myself included.  The advice Aaron passes along is a fresh take on things and helps refocus on the possibilities the Internet has to offer.

Here is a summary of some of the helpful advice he passed along with some of my interjected anecdotes:

Be Highly Selective of Your Clients
Finding_clients You can solve 90% of you client frustration problems by being highly selective of clients.  Match yourself and your services with companies who are a good fit.  Your interaction with another company or client is two way street.  Too many people focus on money they might get as opposed to the opportunity.  If you end up with a difficult client it can take the wind right out of your sails and you work will likely suffer. Aaron said he has been fortunate enough to work with some really good clients by virtue of being very selective.  The better the client the more you can accomplish together.

Brain Tracy has a great quote when it comes to selecting the right clients “Fish for Whales, not minnows. Remember that if you catch 1,000 minnows, all you have is a bucketful of fish. But if you catch a single whale, you will pay for the whole voyage.”

Develop Passive Revenue Streams
Aaron points out that it is easier to be more selective of clients if you aren’t worrying about money.  The Internet is full of opportunity, but you need to act upon it. Aaron has created a great ebook that you pay for and can instantly download.  It contains a plethora of helpful information on Search Engine Optimization and is being constantly being updated.  His book establishes him as an expert and generates leads every day.

Abundance Mentality
The Abundance Mentality goes beyond just being positive in everything thing you do. You need to realize that there is more than enough of anything to go around.  Focus on the infinite possibilities the Internet has to offer.  Stay focused on your goals, but don’t be greedy.  You can’t get anywhere online without the help and support of others.   

Provide People with Value
Give away great information with everything you do.  In his SEOBook, Aaron mentions the impact of his Blog in helping him sell his ebook "there is probably about a 99% chance you would have never bought this e-book if I did not write the associated blog.” Years ago one of my business mentors gave me the advice to give away as much free information as possible.  At the time I really didn’t think this was the best course of action.  Today I’ve changed my mentality.  The more you give away the more you get back.

To find out more about Aaron Wall and Search Engine Optimization, visit his web site at SEOBook.com.

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Clean Code and Better SEO

Yesterday evening I had a short telephone conversation with one of my friends.  He maintains a very large web site that gets tens of thousands of visitors daily.  A few months ago we sat down for dinner and he told me about some of the changes he was making to his web site.  At that time, he was in the arduous process of cleaning up his code.   The end result was well worth his time.

Sloppy Code and SEO
Search Engines don't like sloppy code.  Think of it like trying to read someone's really sloppy hand writing. Now imagine having to read through pages of sloppy handwriting.  There probably would come a point in time when you would want to give up.  The search engine spiders are the same way. If there is a significant amount of code that is clogging up your individual pages the search engine spiders just stop.  This has a negative impact on your search engine optimization.

Recently Google has become much better with reading CSS and Javascript. You can still miss out on getting important pages indexed properly or not indexed at all. It is in your best interest to keep your code very clean.

Continue reading "Clean Code and Better SEO" »


You Can Be Successful Online Without Programming Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources:


The Shift in Internet User Demographics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ego: How to Destroy Your Business Web Site

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

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

Too Company Centric

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

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

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

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Merging Web Usability and Online Marketing

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

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

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

Rooted in the Past

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

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

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

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

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How NOT to Make a Submarine Sandwich

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

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

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

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

What's the Big Deal?

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

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

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

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

In most cases people are happy to oblige.

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

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Cashing in On Online Speed

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

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

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

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

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

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Starting on the Internet, Slowly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Persistence and Online Patience

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

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

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

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

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

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