Looks Lousy, But Performs Like a Champ

I can’t help but come back to this conclusion time and time again: some of the most successful web sites are visual bombs.  These visually unappealing web sites usually follow a systematic method which includes a specific focus on proven direct marketing principles.  When you ask most companies what they'd look to improve with their web site, the most prevalent answer is: "We need to make it look better." Few web site owners or companies say "we need to find a better way to generate leads or increase our online conversion rate."  What is your online litmus test for success?

Flashy Air Show Web Sites
One industry that is very visually oriented when it comes to web sites is the air show industry. There are some extraordinary looking web sites produced by very talented artists. Yet, I honestly question weather most of the flash and dash air show web sites bring their owners an appreciable ROI. Yes you should look good, but at the cost of increased sales or marketing potential?

Stay Marketing Focused
Most web site owners are better vested in spending more time focusing on sound sales and marketing principles as opposed to focusing too much on the visuals. Dan Kennedy has some very interesting viewpoints as it applied advertising and marketing:  “Some of the most productive, profitable advertising and marketing in the history of the planet could never qualify for any of the awards.  Much of the best marketing gets its results in an ugly way.”

Kennedy also points out some of the challenges faced by most web sites. “Most web sites are designed by techno-geeks and/or graphic artists who are not sales people. They do not know how to sell. They do not know when they are disrupting or destroying the selling process with their technological bells and whistles.”

It isn’t about what a web site looks like, it’s what the site can accomplish.  Is your web site generating good leads for your business and helping sell your products or services? That should be the ultimate question for any business oriented web site.

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Getting The Best Info – First!

One of the great things the Internet offers is the ability to share information almost instantaneously.  If you have an RSS (Rich Site Summary / Real Simple Syndication) reader you can get web site updates as soon as they’re published. You can educate yourself quicker and faster, provided the information is legitimate. The topic of online legitimacy was covered in a previous post: How Accurate Is Online Information? One of the largest online information hurdles is determining what information is good and which should be ignored. 

Anyone Can Become an Expert
Today anyone can buy a domain and have a web site up and running within a few minutes.  This allows people to publish worldwide at little or no cost.  Online information can be used to control and create either positive or negative outcomes.  There have been presidential elections impacted by what a person posted on their Blog. In the last US presidential election a Blogger challenged the traditional media when it came to President Bush’s military records.  How many times have you received an email or been given a link to an article that’s supposedly legitimate? A few minutes later someone is trumpeting around the office with the “shocking news” they received. Unfortunately all the junk floating around dilutes the credibility of the legitimate information.   

It’s Online First
Provided the information you find can be legitimized there is some great info to be found online.  Top experts write some of the most up to date information on their Blogs before any information gets published in traditional mediums.  If you’re reading it in a book, chances are the information is at least 6 months to a year old.  Some of the best information I get is directly from Blogs I believe to be highly credible.

There are reasonable steps anyone can take to make sure the information they’re getting is legitimate.  This allows you to be at the forefront of new and helpful information.

Ask yourself the following questions in regards to the information you find online:

  • How long has the web site been operating?
  • What are the author’s credentials and experience?
  • Is the author of the web site or Blog published elsewhere?
  • Is the web site updated on a regular basis?
  • Does the information come from a .gov or .edu extension?
  • Has the author been featured as a keynote speaker?
  • Does the web site provide good contact details?
  • Is the information presented in a balanced and objective manner?
  • With what organizations is the author or web site affiliated?

Be vigilant in making sure you’re getting the best information possible.  Below is a short list of Blogs that I trust and visit on a regular basis:

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Radio versus Pay Per Click: Snapshot

This is a follow up to last week’s radio advertising post.  That post revolved around a buzz marketing web site, Pony-Hawk.com. Because of the short run of the project the following information should be considered more of a casual observation as opposed to any type of definitive and tested evidence.  One of the most intriguing findings was the difference of radio impact versus the performance of a simple PPC campaign.

To My Surprise
I thought that having the web site pushed on a local FM radio station with tens of thousands of listeners would result in more web traffic.  The premise and content were an ideal match for the station’s demographic.  It was mentioned on the radio at least three times during the morning hours and then numerous other times during the day. The associated graph shows the start of radio coverage and resulting traffic.  The highlighted numbers represent web site visitor counts.Radio_ppc

PPC Numbers
The PPC (Pay Per Click) campaign was run with a budget of $5.00 per day and bidding on two keywords, sanjaya and pony-hawk, in Google Adwords.  A number one position could be bought for 4-5 cents per click.  $4.80 delivered an average click through rate of approximately 2% on 6300 impressions and approximately 113 visitors. The PPC campaign was started after the noon hour.

One thing to keep in mind is that the site had not been indexed by search engines.  This made organic search engine optimization extremely difficult and an Adwords PPC campaign the first choice.

The entire process gets me interested in comparing and contrasting a well implemented radio advertising campaign with a pay per click campaign.  Every web site owner should understand the importance and usage of basic web analytics to track and measure advertising impact.

Additional Resource:

Continue reading "Radio versus Pay Per Click: Snapshot" »

Using A Little Sex Appeal

Vincent Flanders, who authored Web Pages That Suck, came up with a quote years ago that sums up what people will wait around for online: “If you've got a picture of a naked body -- hey, people will wait forever.”  This was especially the case in the days of the dial up Internet.  Today a large number of users have high speed access and they are impatient as ever, but they’ll still wait and give you their attention courtesy of a little sex appeal. Sex appeal can’t be applied to every web site, but some companies have found a way to take advantage of it and still stay classy. 

An Unexpected Fortuitous Disaster
We all know that sex appeal can have a significant impact on getting attention to a web site.  One of the first mass web broadcasts in Internet history came courtesy of Victoria’s Secret.  They attempted to do a live online broadcast of one of their fashion shows.  Superbowl advertising was bought to promote the online broadcast.  Most people who tried to log on to watch the live web cast weren’t able to log on. From a technology perspective it was a massive failure. 

At the same time, the technological fiasco turned out to be a stroke of marketing genius.  The Victoria Secret web site was flooded with traffic after people couldn’t access the event.  The show was later posted online driving even more traffic to the Victoria Secret web site.

A Real World Example
Maria_kermit One web site that makes use of sex appeal tastefully presented is Yahoo’s “THE 9.”  Host Maria Sansone strikes a good balance that appeals to both men and women. The video format and interactivity make it an easy winner with users. Somehow I don't think that Barbara Walters would have as much success as Maria enjoys online.  The appeal needs to be a good match for the audience and the medium.

It isn’t for every site, but the benefit of a little sex appeal can send significant traffic to a web site.  There are a number of tasteful choices.  The hard part is finding a good one.

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When They Have To Hit Submit

Today I’m going to briefly approach the submit button from a trust and credibility standpoint with some usability added to the mix.  It is possible for one simple thing like the submit button to have a noticeable impact on a web site.  There are many times when a developer will take for granted the placement and implementation of a submit button.  This article stemmed from a client expressing their opinion on the poor implementation of an online form during a recent review meeting.  There are certain factors that can be addressed to make it easier for a user to submit.


The placement of a search or submit button can impact click through rates for form submission.  Regardless of the logic of placing a submit button at the end of a form, the bottom might not always be a logical place.  In some instances it might be beneficial to think logically before thinking visually in regards to submission button placement.

Where does the information go?
One question that comes up during usability studies that involve submission forms is “where does the information go after I hit submit?”  Users are particularly sensitive when they are filling out personal information.  Let the user know exactly where their information is being sent. 

Privacy Policy
Another piece of information you should nest near the submit button is a privacy or SPAM policy.  Make users feel more comfortable by ensuring the user that their privacy and data will be safely protected. Also letting them know they won't be inundated with email might give them more incentive to submit their information.

Give Feedback
After the user hits the submit button let them know that the information has been successfully sent.  This can be as simple as a thank you or acknowledgment page. If you have an autoresponder setup let the user know to check their email.  There have been a few instances when a client inadvertently broke an online form.  The issue wasn’t detected until a few weeks later.  Users are usually the last to know if a form is properly submitting information.   

Is there an alternative option?
There are instances where an online form might stop working.  In some cases the web site owner isn’t aware of the problem.  Always provide the user with an alternative method of submitting information like email or via telephone.   Keep that information near the submit button.  Let the users know there is an alternative.

Always be away of the small things you can do that have a larger impact on the user.  The ability to submit information is an important interactive element to many web sites.  Keep the process simple and provide the user with feedback.

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Radio Advertising: What You Ought To Know

Last week I started an interesting project with a friend revolving around buzz marketing. We decided to setup a niche web site for American Idol’s Sanjaya Malakar. The web site focused on Sanjaya’s “Pony-Hawk.” You can visit Pony-Hawk.com for more information.  One of the marketing channels that we had at our disposal was FM radio. We were able to secure a number of “plugs” from a local radio show.  The station we selected was an ideal demographic match for the web site. 

Our project didn’t involve actually buying advertising.  The station agreed to feature the web site a number of times during the morning as part of a cross promotion.  Each time the web site was mentioned the listener was prompted to visit the site.  Pony-Hawk.com led to some interesting observations when it comes to radio advertising.

Compare Ad Run Times with Web Traffic
If you are advertising on a radio station make sure you can get a report of when your ad is broadcast. To my understanding this is something the radio industry will provide clients as part of their advertising package or upon request. Use your web statistics and compare the advertising times with when people are visiting your web site.  Use the correlation to determine a rough return on investment.  It might take a few weeks of advertising to get accurate and good data.

Try To Advertise When People Are Using Their Computers
It’s so easy to forget a domain name by the time you get in front of a computer.  There are also times when you can’t even search for the company or service because the web site isn’t indexed properly.
Try to run radio spots when people are at work or in front of their computers and listening to the radio.  Companies try to dissuade personal internet use during work, but people check the web all the time.  If someone hears an ad and is interested in the product or service, they might be apt to visit the web site.

Some Other Radio Advertising Points To Remember

  • Is the domain name easy to remember?
  • Is the domain name repeated at least three times during the ad?
  • Does the radio add have a USP and call to action?

Our radio results for web site mentions that translated into web site traffic were fairly low.  This isn’t to suggest that radio advertising doesn’t work.  I’m a big believer in consistent messaging across multiple channels.  You can’t just advertise for short period of time expecting big results.  At the same time I don’t believe you should advertise on a medium with no ROI.  You statistical data can help determine if you’re missing the mark.  Dan Kennedy has great advice when it comes to marketing: “get the right message to the right people via the right media and methods.”

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News and a Greater Attention Span

There was an interesting article I found the other day regarding the reading habits of users.  The study compared the reading habits of how people read online versus reading information from traditional media like newspapers.  When users found something of interest to them they tend to read word for word.  This contradicts with the popular web usability notion that users are more apt to skim.  “The EyeTrack07 survey by the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism school, found online readers read 77 percent of what they chose to read while broadsheet newspaper readers read an average of 62 percent, and tabloid readers about 57 percent.” (Goldsmith)

Questions and Bullets
The article supports the traditional usability recommendation to break information into easier to digest chunks and make the information interesting. “People paid more attention to items written in a question and answer format or as lists, and preferred documentary news photographs to staged or studio pictures.” (Goldsmith) Thought provoking questions are a great way to hook the users into your content.

Online Versus Offline

The study also points out some key points of focus being different for online versus offline readers.  In newspapers the readers focused on large headlines and photos. When a reader was on a web site their initial focus was on navigation and story teasers.

What's the Impact?
It will be interested to see how some of the gurus in the usability industry react to the findings. A number of findings reemphasize what current web usability already supports, but there are some counterpoints.  You still need to give the user a good reason to click on an article.  Users aren’t apt to read anything that doesn’t hold their interest or is poorly written either online or offline.

*Source: Web news readers have greater attention span: study

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The Myth of the Magical Online Bullet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Events - Online Ticket Sales

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

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

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

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

Determine Marketing Impact

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

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

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

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Money Back Guarantee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Content King of the Internet

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

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

Words Are Still Extremely Popular and Very Profitable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick Up The Phone and Call

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

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Does Your Web Site Stick?

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

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

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

Examples of Sticky Web Sites

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

A Virtue and a Vice

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

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

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

Off site Links:

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The Future of Online Retail = Trust

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

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

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

Source: Jupitermedia Corporation

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources:

Do You Make These Costly Web Site Mistakes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Smart Advance Ticket Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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Event Marketing: What is the Perceived Value?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Master of Your Domain

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

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

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

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

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

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Event Web Sites: Saving Money and Time with a FAQ

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

FAQ and Event Marketing

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

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

How to Come Up with Questions

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

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

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

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

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Keeping Your Web Site Simple . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Simple usability questions to ask:

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

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