Archive for November, 2010

Online Marketing with Cyber Monday

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Welcome to Cyber Monday! If you survived Black Friday, the traditional shopping day that put’s retailers in the black for the first time in the year, you can follow up with Cyber Monday Steals and Deals.

Cyber Monday is when retailers with an online presence do deep discounting in an effort to match the frenzy of Black Friday. The National Retail Federation estimates 88% of online merchants will have deals, free shipping or participate in other ways in Cyber Monday.

ComScore, a digital marketplace research firm, expects online sales for the 2010 holiday season will reach $32.4 billion, marking an 11% increase over the previous year for the combined November-December gift-buying period.

Giant Amazon has fourth quarter sales forecasts ranging from $12 billion to $13.3 billion—an increase of 26% to 40% over Amazon’s fourth quarter sales of $9.5 billion in 2009.

Just how big are online Christmas sales numbers? The past two years, due to the economy are giving somewhat muddy numbers, but by any statistical analysis, holiday sales online are at least doubling every year. With sales projected to be at least 10% of all holiday shopping, within a year or two, experts expect online marketing efforts to account for one out of every four sales.

Furthermore, the average sale is also increasing. Last year saw it climb to $190 from the 2008 figure of $171.

Whether you sell hard goods or services, making 2011 the year you join the Amazon behemoth should be one of your iron clad New Year’s resolutions. No matter how you look at the numbers, Amazon has the lion’s share of the online sales pie. One of every $3 spent online goes to Amazon.

It’s not difficult to get eBooks, videos and hard goods into the Amazon Marketplace. Sure they take a cut, and yes there are rules. But the percentage isn’t bad and varies by the type of product and industry you are in.

Amazon has built an incredible level of trust with shoppers, which is a major factor in it’s success. Following those rules means Amazon continues to build that all important trust factor for your benefit as well as Amazon’s.

They have a wide variety of ways to move products. Offering everything from a quasi auction model to individual store fronts, Amazon covers all the bases. They even have low cost book publishing services and mass produced DVD’s. Go with a Kindle ready electronic version of your product, and have a paperback ready to ship as well.

How well does Amazon work for small business? I had a client a couple of years ago who went on Amazon based on my recommendations. In less than six months Amazon sales were half of the online store sales. In a year they were equal to the online store. Last year Amazon sales alone bypassed the brick and mortar sales for a store that had been place over 25 years.

Impressive? I think so. So did the owner who credits Amazon with saving his business. They didn’t even discount their products on Amazon. Main street store, online store, or Amazon – the prices were identical no matter where the shopper found the product. Nor were they the lowest. Other Amazon merchants were often 10-15% lower.

If you are looking for an online channel to garner more leads, more sales and more money with a minimal investment and low ongoing costs, you need to take a look at Amazon. It should be a part of every online marketers toolbox.

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Giving Thanks To The Net

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Tomorrow is Turkey Day. A day given to reflection and thought and thanks for what we hold dear in our lives. Looking back on my Thanksgivings of the past, I can see the progression of computers and the net as they have woven their way into our society.

Our family used to wander over to partake of the stuffed bird feast with some friends. We’d take our computers and laptops and hook up a maze of wires that put each one in communication with the others. It would often take a couple of hours to get things right, with every electronic box talking to each other, but we didn’t care – we were in Geekdom Heaven.

We’d then play the newly minted StarCraft, filling the room with shouts and evil laughter while my husband and the lady of that house filled the air with the tantalizing aroma of roasted bird.

As we moved into the internet age, our game days went by the wayside. Instead, a home video filmed with a bulky, heavy camera, made a very early YouTube debut. It featured me dropping the bird on the kitchen floor after thoughtlessly plunging my hand into it’s nether regions as I removed it from the oven.

My diabolical offspring discovered the joys of viral video sharing with that little escapade just a few months after YouTube had been born. True to the genes I passed on to them, they also posted it to Google Video and a few other sites that no longer exist to see if they could get the view count up, and maybe get ranked for a few key phrases.

They were awed by the power of the net, watching the stats climb as those few moments of infamy became one of the first YouTube viral videos. And yes, they did get rankings for “stuffed turkey accident” and a couple of other Thanksgiving terms.

Seeking to repeat their success the next Thanksgiving, that camera was everywhere. Fortunately, even though there was a filmed incident that I will not describe here, other netizens had discovered the power of viral video. They flooded the net with exploding turkeys, live turkeys dressed in pilgrim outfits, turkeys chasing axe wielding humans, and many other funny, silly or downright stupid turkey tricks. Thus the previous year’s success was not repeated due to much heavier competition. That was something I was VERY thankful for!.

This year I will spend some time with my kids and friends. Even though we all can’t be together in the same room, we will be sharing the same online experience. We’ll be in a voice chat, playing some sort of online game as we catch up. We’ll talk marketing, and seo, and business startups and hardware advances for several hours before sitting down to our respective tables.

We’ll compare notes about online sales at Amazon and NewEgg. We’ll laugh about the “old days” as we auto connect to our wireless networks. Urls for favorite sites will be passed back and forth. We’ll compare site visitor stats and bounce rates and discuss how current events are affecting sales in our respective industries.

And when I sit down to give thanks for what I have, I’ll thank the technology and constant innovation that have made my Thanksgivings joyful memories for so many years. No matter how far flung my family and friends may be, they are as close as my mouse and my monitor thanks to the online world we live in.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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Tis The Season For Internet Marketing

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

It’s here. It’s been creeping up. It’s been whispering sweet nothings in the ears of millions of shoppers. Yes it’s the time of the year to turn the bottom line from red to black – Black Friday!

Are you ready? Are your customer service lines staffed with friendly, knowledgeable people? Are your warehouses jammed with product? Is your site being found in the search engines for the right keyterms. Is it in the local directories? Is it mobile friendly?

Can users navigate to the products they want, filling their carts and then checking out with confidence that their details are safe? This is the time to turn the bad economy and lackluster sales around.

If you’re like many retailers and ecommerce companies your sales this year are vital to the continuation of your business. Whether you’re in a mall or on Amazon, the next 29 days can decide the future of your business.

With the season upon us, it’s too late to make any major changes now. But if you’re a brick and mortar store just thinking about coming online, maybe this factoid will help you embark on an online venture in January.

Recent studies published in The Real Cost of the Digital Divide state “being online adds up to almost $8,000 a year in savings– and that’s after taking the cost of being connected into account. While online shoppers may save more by being connected, online bargain hunters may still spend more money.

Who can blame online shoppers for handling Black Friday events from the comfort of their favorite living room chair? I know I do everything I can to avoid the crowded mall parking lots, wishing for a personal urban tank of my very own if I have to venture anywhere near them.

With the convenience of easy price comparisons, shipping guarantees, and no hassle checkout, it’s no wonder the internet has become the largest shopping mall ever imagined.

But if you are a retailer and you’re not online, you are missing out on those sales that could put the black into Black Friday. If you’re already online and not being found in the right places, not being sure your site is a part of the mobile explosion, and not using internet marketing techniques effectively, you could be wondering what all the fuss is about.

In the coming weeks you, dear reader, may get tired of hearing me say four words – social marketing and mobile friendly. But I and other internet SEO and marketing experts know that those two phrases are vital to your online success in 2011.

If your site is not mobile friendly you are ignoring the 100 million people who use Smart Phones. Let me give you a real world example that happened over the weekend. I was having lunch with my son’s fiancée and her sister and brother in law. All 20 somethings, they all had their iPhones and Droids handy. The girls were strategizing their Friday shopping, hitting  web sites for price comparisons, coupons, and deals. They had a list – broken into two columns. One side was “hit the mall” the other was “hit Amazon”.

They pulled up the mall map and marked the stores each would check, and detailed how and when they would stay in touch via phone to maximize their bargain hunting efforts. Fast forward to next year and the bar code readers that work within smart phones will be linked to the comparison sites. Perhaps even feeding the all important customer reviews into that screen as well as other relevant information like warranty limits or recall notices.

Some of their decisions were even made by browsing the company website. Laughter exploded as they looked at some stone age sites – “Ewww look at this thing. Would you EVER want to buy from a site that looks like that?”. “Oh good grief when will these guys stop doing things in Flash. I can’t see a single product pic. I’ll have to go to the store and hope they still have one.”

Mobile is big – it’s getting  bigger every day. It is a part of the shopping experience for many, and will become a mainstay of that experience in the years to come.

I know that Amazon is huge. I know this from my beloved stats. I know the net is made up of real people doing real things online. But to watch two real people bypass every website except Amazon while planning their shopping trip, was enlightening. If you aren’t on Amazon, get there – today. There is still time if you burn some midnight oil to become a part of this behemoth.

And seeing these young ladies checking Facebook pages for customer reviews and company interaction was also enlightening. A major retail chain which will remain nameless was a turnoff to these shoppers because of how they mismanaged a customer post.  Presence matters, but engagement matters more.

My wish for you, Mr. or Ms. Retailer, is that you have a stellar Christmas selling season so we can continue our conversation on engaging netizens and turning them into customers far into next year.

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Site Design DOES Matter

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

There is one area of internet marketing that is often overlooked. Site Design. While good navigation and a pleasing, easy to read page is conducive to converting lookers to buyers, recent changes at Google have made site design an even more important element of search engine optimization.

Google has always cared about the proper use of HTML and CSS code, page load times and other “backend” design elements, but with a recent test by Google, site design is about to become even more important to search results.

In the past couple of weeks Google has been experimenting with “page preview”. Enter a search term and click the magnifying glass next to a result to turn this feature on. Now scroll over the results and you’ll see something like the image below.

The keyword you entered will be highlighted on the page preview.

What effect will this new feature have on your online marketing efforts? Let’s look at two examples of a page preview.

Notice the broken Flash video image? The rest of this page isn’t bad, and it still could attract visitors. BUT the keyterms I entered to find this page are not highlighted within this preview. It won’t take long for visitors to start bypassing pages and sites that don’t have their key term prominently displayed and highlighted in the Google Page Preview.

Let’s look at another preview page.

I went to this page to find out why it was displaying so much white space. Java popups, old style html code and lack of CSS contributed to hide content from the page preview. This site – according to a quick look at it’s source code – is using site design style from the 1990’s. Do you think this page preview will result in visitors? Ummm probably not.

Most sites I review from an SEO perspective need some help. Titles, descriptions, code rewrites and other elements frequently need to be updated and redone. Most sites I see online are not “mobile friendly”. Many are confusing to visitors with poor navigation and overall site layout. But now the stakes have been raised. Now poor site design will be evident to everyone before they ever click your link in Google search results.

Make a New Years resolution to check your site and update as needed.

  • Check it in Google’s Site Preview
  • Use the index card or business card  test – how much of your site can be seen in a 3″ x 5″ or smaller area? That’s what a mobile device sees.
  • Dump Flash. Even if Apple were supporting it, it’s old, it’s tired, it’s a security risk and there are better, quicker, well supported alternatives to a Flash video.
  • Think “cross browser” and “cross platform” compatible. Be SURE your site can be seen on IE, FireFox, Safari and Chrome. Be SURE it’s Smart Phone and iPad ready.

And be SURE it looks inviting to the Page Preview browser! (HINT – Bing is also going the Page Preview route.) Spending the time to get a good ranking in Google and then losing the visitor to bad site design will mean your Christmas stocking will be full of coal next year.

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Internet Marketing Lessons My Sales Manager Taught Me

Monday, November 15th, 2010

A long time ago in what seems like a distant galaxy, far before the world of the internet, I had a most amazing sales manager. We were selling the first PC’s – Apple was only a scant 14 months out of the garage. And yet what this guy taught me was probably the best training for successful  internet marketing I ever got.

Ralph was an inveterate people watcher and we used to stand outside the store on the busiest street corner in Cleveland. Yes, Cleveland really did have foot traffic once upon a time and was the home to an astonishing number of Fortune 500 companies.

As people hurried by on their way to their cubicles and glass enclosed office suites, Ralph kept up a running commentary on what job they held, what their likes and dislikes were, even what they enjoyed doing  in their off time. Being fond of fact not fiction, I challenged Ralph to prove that he was right with what I considered to be guesses.

We started a “customer survey” with just five questions – what is your job title, do you use computers in your office, how long have your held your current position, with what you know about computers do you like them, hate them or are you afraid of them, and what do you do most in your off time.

We gave away an Apple logo’d sticky note pad and pen to everyone taking the survey. Ralph was incredibly accurate. The answers he gave for an individual before they took our survey had at least 3 of the 5 questions pegged correctly.

After about a week of running our little impromptu sampling I asked Ralph two questions. How was he able to size people up so quickly and how were those answers applicable to sales?

Ralph’s reply was that to successfully sell anything to anyone you had to know as much about them as possible in as short a time as practical. He would ask  seemingly friendly “warm up” questions to determine their level of computer experience, how they felt about computers in general, what “tribe” they belonged to, and anything else he could to determine exactly how he would respond to the customer and close the sale.

He also turned himself into that customer. He was a huge man – 6′ 4 and well over 200 pounds. But he could become a timid accountant in a heartbeat. His entire demeanor would change from the self confident sales leader into a hesitant, quiet, cubicle dwelling number cruncher. The prospect became comfortable with this mirror image of himself and would express his inner fears and sales objections, allowing Ralph to gently put them aside and close the sale.

If the self made tool and die millionaire wandered in, Ralph’s voice would boom through the store as he shook hands firmly with that kindred spirit. It was a lesson in the art and craft of salesmanship that I will always treasure.

When I began my online marketing career, Ralph’s lessons came to mind. I found that my most successful websites and clients were the ones that spoke the language of the unseen customer. The copy struck the right chords, resonating with the right “tribe” and matching the benefits to their objections,  and closing the sale.

Online marketing and salesmanship is more challenging than in person sales. The prospect is unseen, no visual cues are evident. But if you have truly taken the time to research your niche and it’s denizens, you know who they are, where they hang out, what is important to them and what product features they are interested in. You speak their language and walk their walk. By doing this, you identify yourself as a member of their “tribe” and build trust.

Yes, you understand their need. Yes, you are able to stop the pain and solve their problem because you understand THEM. You need the right keyterms to attract them to your site – the words they use, not necessarily the ones with the highest search volume.

If your market is fragmented – use landing pages to appeal to each segment. Use the language of that market segment to attract and engage. The voice in your copy needs to speak only to that segment, and not try to be all things to all people.

To paraphrase Caddyshack “be one with the customer, become the customer” and you will set sales records just like Ralph did.

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Is Your Brand New Site Already Old?

Friday, November 12th, 2010

I love marketing. It’s a constantly changing landscape powered by masses of real people, buying real products that change how they do business and run their lives.  When it comes to the net, predicting what will be “big” and what won’t is not usually very easy. I mean be honest here – did you actually think that little blue bird or Farmville would be the stuff fortunes are made of?

But other technology use can be a strong indication of things you should or should not do to capture the hearts and eyeballs of your visitors. I was in a large shopping mall the other day and began grumbling to myself about the Christmas promotions that were already in full swing. But then I started watching the people. Barnes and Noble had a throng of shoppers around their eReader while the rest of the store counters had few, if any, shoppers.

In the concourse, groups of people were gathered around the various cell phone kiosks. No trip to the mall is complete for me without a visit to the shrine of the fruit – The Apple Store. Here, the iPad displays had knots of people 5 deep waiting for their turn to play with that sleek addition to the Apple line.

Many other stores boasted staff members but no shoppers. I have a feeling smart phones, iPad devices and Kindle type readers are going to be under quite a few Christmas trees this year.

To date, 85 million iPhone and iPod touch devices have been sold to which you can add a predicted 7 million for iPads in its first year alone, according to iSuppli and Apple Insider. Simple math means that there are close to 100 million people using these devices. That number is sure to climb in the coming months.

But is your website ready for these visitors who may be giving up their laptop to browse the web via handhelds?

A recent study by Nielsen showed that by 2014, nearly 60 percent of the 142.1 million U.S. mobile population will access the Internet using mobile browsers. So, how does your site look to the 85.5 million mobile users who will see it from their mobile device?

Have you checked it across multiple platforms? Does it load quickly enough for a mobile user to see your content quickly? Does it pass the “business card” test? Hold a normal business card up to the screen – how much of your content will fit into that area?

Do you have a mobile friendly version of your site? Is it configured correctly so it “sniffs” out mobile visitors and serves that version of your site to them?

Apple iPad and iPhone users don’t see Flash. For about a year I’ve been preaching that Flash is on the way out. Videos and web site elements should not be done in venerable Flash. It has security flaws almost as bad as Microsoft, it isn’t seen by over 100 million users and there are better alternatives like HTML 5.0 and CSS 3.

Was your website written in HTML 5.0? Are your videos available in mobile surfing size?

Are your pages heavily laden with hundreds of lines of text? Mobile surfers browse – and they aren’t going to stick around for long if that page scrolls on forever in small, hard to read lines of text. Get to the point of the page and send them to another page if you have more info. Break your pages up into easily digested chunks of info – this is better for your SEO efforts and better for your mobile visitor.

Keep your copy short. It is true – nobody reads anymore, at least not a web site. Tests have shown that only 30% of the words on your page are actually read. Make sure that 30% are the most important words for your product or service.

CHECK YOUR ANALYTICS. Please check your stats. See where your visitors are coming from, what operating system they are using, what screen resolution they are surfing in. Mobile device use on your site stats will jump out at you, believe me.

Smart phones and tablet devices aren’t going to go away. But if your site isn’t ready for their use, your business just might.

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Don’t Let SEO Ruin Your Content

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

When it comes to keyword research, every person who has ever looked at keyword suggestions knows that there’s a million ways people search for the same thing.  There are regional differences – here in the U.S. some regions called canned soft drinks “pop” others call them “soda”.  And still others call them by a brand name, while some segments use the term “soft drink”.

If you check your server stats or other analytics, you can see what people use to find you. It’s eye opening and mind boggling. I always end up saying “huh I never would have thought of that ONE” when I see what real people use to find a particular site or product.

Most of the phrases are similar, and often highly competitive. Check out rental cars versus car rental for example. So the problem search optimization experts have is organizing and optimizing content for similar, yet different keyterms without making content pages read like a forced exercise in keyword research.

Ideally you would have one page that focuses on just one or maybe two keyterms. But when they are as similar as car rental and rental cars, that’s hard to do. You could take an existing page for car rental and change every instance of that term to rental car, but then you’d loose your ranking for rental car.

The best way to look at similar keyterms is to group them into “themes”. For example, let’s take a typical car rental (or rental car) location. Their themes could be discounts, locations, amenities, etc. Within each theme set up groups. Let’s take discounts. How many types of discounts are there? Each one and each way of saying that term becomes a key phrase.

Develop a page for each theme. Sprinkle the keyterms from that theme throughout the page. Be sure to add a few to other pages as well. Here’s how I do it.

  1. Set up the themes for the site
  2. Add the theme keywords, listed from best to worst according to traffic
  3. Add the #1 keyterm from each theme to the front page
  4. Use the #1 keyterm in the title and description for the theme page – trying to get the #2 and #3 in there also
  5. Use all of the keyterms for that theme on the theme’s page

Add the #2 or #3 term to other pages as appropriate

Your lower ranked keyterms will probably not have as much traffic as your top theme words. But they also probably won’t have as much competition either. Thus you get those other words into your site, but the spiders always know which theme words are #1 because of where they are placed – on the first page and in the title and descript of the theme page.

This method means you won’t be trying to shoehorn in phrases that don’t really match the page content. You will be writing for the Search Spiders but also writing for people – the most important element of search.

The very best way to make search friendly, customer ready, themed keyword rich pages is to blog. I love blogs – although for the record I”m not a fan of Word Press but that’s my techy side grumbling. If I see that people are finding me with some weird new combination of words I hadn’t thought of – no site rewrite required – I just start dropping those terms into my blog posts. If they are really good, I add them as categories.  And of course I get them into titles and tags.

Don’t put your blog somewhere else. Make it a part of your site. It will help your site in the rankings and it can’t do that if it is somewhere else in the web universe.

So there you have it – theme your keyterms, make pages for those themes and don’t try to jack in too many dis-similar words on a page. Your content will flow better, your rankings will improve, and both your customers and your banker will be happy.

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How Brick and Mortar Transfers to the Net

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Many business owners from the brick and mortar world come to the internet and feel that that it is alien territory, bearing no resemblance to anything they have handled in their previous brick and mortar world. Yet there are more similarities between online internet marketing and a store on Main Street than you might suppose.

Some business owners come to the online world thinking that like Jack, they have found a magic bean that will grow them an instant money tree. While in some rare cases this may happen, sales will grow over time online, just as they do on Main Street.

The net is not a replacement for a brick and mortar operation, at least not in the beginning. It is an enhancement. Old school brick and mortar techniques are still useful online.  The basics of marketing and advertising are still the same. The goal of attracting new customers and retaining and building old ones is still the goal of online marketing. The only difference is the marketing method.

Here are more similarities between the two:

Location. Your business location on Main Street is vital to foot traffic, your brand, your very presence in the area. Online your ranking – where you appear on the search page results is just as vital. Just like your brick and mortar location, your internet location needs to be easily found by the right target  audience. You would never open your storefront in a back alley. You never want your site to be relegated to the back pages of the search engines.

In the B&M world you can change your location by renting new space. You can’t do that online. You need to have a search engine expert help you rank on page one for the keyterms that your target audience is using to find your products – whether they’re trying to find you or a competitor selling the same or similar items.

Demographics. In the brick and mortar world, you chose your location based on research. You want to be close to your target audience. You don’t want to be miles away in a strip mall when the people buying your products and services are visiting the Mall of the Americas.

This demographic research needs to be done online, too. If you don’t  know who your target audience is, how can you sell to them? How will you write copy that will appeal to them? How will you know where they hang out? How will you know how to talk with them, how to engage them?

In the world of internet marketing, this research has an added element. Keyword research. Too often business owners (and even some search engine experts) look at only two factors – how many people are searching for that word and how many competitors are going after that word. This information is only one small part of  keyword research.  Using keywords that come from that research without digging deeper and finding the “right” keyterms is not going to result in good sales numbers.

If you’re selling ladies coats, and you insist on ranking for “coats” you will get more traffic. But you will also have a lower ROI due to the number of visitors who are NOT ladies and thus are not finding the product they are looking for. Don’t make the mistake of having “pet” keyword phrases. Let your market be your guide. They use their own pet terms to find you, and their language and terminology should be what you use to attract them.

Marketing. The same marketing you use in the brick and mortar world can be used in online marketing. Yellow Page adverts? List and/or advertise in the Yellow Pages online directories – there are about a dozen of them that reach world wide.

Weekly circulars? Set up an email campaign that is targeted to your buyers, your prospective clients or special interests.  Online coupons are just as effective as print coupons. An opt-in box on your site with a good giveaway can entice prospects to trade their email address for the special free offer to grow that mail list quickly.

Phone solicitation? Use social media – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Squidoo like sites. Used wisely and well these social sites will bring the customer to you – rather than cold calling and phone hangup frustration.

TV ads? One word – YouTube. Video is even more powerful as an online marketing tool than a 30 second spot on a late night cable show. And in actual fact you can use Google TV ads to make your own ad for commercial TV.

The best way to create an effective internet marketing campaign and successfully bring your business online is to remember the lessons of brick and mortar marketing. They compliment online marketing, they don’t compete with it. As a successful brick and mortar business, you are one step ahead of competitors who only know the online world. Use that hard won knowledge to carve out your online niche.

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Web Design – Navigation Mistakes

Friday, November 5th, 2010

We’ve talked about several web design problems, but the one area that will affect your visitors and impact your sales the most is how they get around your site. Navigation – clear, easy-to-follow navigation needs to be built into every design. The rule is simple – tell your visitor exactly where they are going to go and then take them there.

1. Forgetting that your visitor doesn’t know your website as well as you do. What might be easy for you to find could be very difficult for someone coming to your site for the first time. If you force them to do things like mouse over a navigation link to see where it might take them, you’ll find them taking themselves to another site.

Don’t hide your links. Don’t make them look so much a part of the page that they stop looking like what they are – a map to the rest of your site.

2. Forgetting to check your navigation links. Once your visitor has found your links, they will expect that you are true to your word and when they click that link it will take them where you said they were going to go. If they wind up on a page for cat supplies when they think they are going to a page for dog supplies, you’ll lose the sale.

If they wind up on an ugly error page telling them the cat supply page doesn’t exist, they’ll probably leave and not come back.

No one will trust a site that can’t send them where they expect to go with hard earned dollars.

3. Forgetting the visitors need come first. Organizing your navigational links in the order that fits your needs and not theirs is a sure way to lose business. Think like a visitor – what would they likely want to see first? Then where would they want to go next?

Use a menu tree to group your navigation links into logical categories. But don’t make each branch too laden with twigs. In other words, don’t have a menu structure on the first page that is so full of links it becomes confusing. It’s ok to just have category links on the first page and then more links on that category page.

If you’re finding that your menu tree is running to three or more sub categories, your menu is too overwhelming.

Always remember to give the visitor a way home. While ruby slippers may not be appropriate, a “home” link on every page is a must.

4. Forgetting that not everyone is flash or java enabled. There are millions of cute little java or flash menu and navigation scriptlets out there. And it’s really tempting to grab some of them and use them on your site.

Before you do, be sure they are simple and leave a small footprint on your page.

Be sure they can be “externalized” so every page can call them in from the same place as needed.

Be sure they are not cluttering up the code on your page making the poor, overworked search spiders go through 200 lines of menu code to get to the good stuff.

And always remember that not everyone has Flash or JavaScript enabled on their browser. Nothing is worse than having your menu NOT work at all for some visitors.

Navigation must be able to answer these questions:

  • Where am I?
  • Where have I been?
  • Where can I go next?
  • Where’s the Home Page?
  • Where’s the Home Home Page? (This is NOT a typo!)

Navigation must be simple and consistent.

Have a category Home page if needed and have a Home Home page as well.

A good, clear road map of your site will lead to customer satisfaction, increased trust, and more sales.

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More Web Design Faux Pas

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

In the last post we looked at the three most common issues that afflict websites. Today let’s delve into some simple but deadly-if-ignored, design flaws.

1. Forgetting not all of your visitors have Superman laser vision. While the Man of Steel can read tiny, badly contrasting text, most of your visitors can’t. There was a time when orange text in a 6 point serif font on a black background was common. Today, you’re probably only going to find that on gaming enthusiast sites that have been built by use good contrast on your text so it can be read easilytwelve year olds.

However, a new villain in text readability has crept into the mix. Grey text on a white background. You really must be certain that the contrast and the type font and the type size are readable by ALL visitors, not just the ones with super powers. If your visitor can’t read your web content, how do you expect to solve the problem that brought them to your website to begin with?

This goes for graphics, too. I often see graphics that create a bad contrast problem for parts of the text even if some of the page is readable. When you place an image behind the text, be sure that text can still be easily read!

Solution: Have your 90 year old grandmother check out your site. If she can read it – you’re good to go. Seriously – check every page of your site and be sure it passes the contrast test. Use black text on light backgrounds, or white text on dark backgrounds. Use a sans serif font, and unless you’re making a page like a privacy policy that no one ever reads anyway, don’t go lower than 10 points on the font size.

2. Forgetting to get out of the way of a sale. The golden rule of internet marketing is “Don’t do anything that gets in the way of the sale.” And yet I see this rule broken over and over again.

When I”m ready to buy, I want to buy NOW. I don’t want to go through a confusing or convoluted checkout process. I want to see ONE page, with a summary of what I’m purchasing, and all the details I need to enter to complete that purchase. I’ll sit still for two pages – but if you start hitting three or more, I’m outta there! As are most customers.

And boy howdy you better make sure all the links in that checkout process work! Every page, every process, every form field you throw in between the beginning and the end of the checkout process adds to the potential of a lost sale.

Solution: Use a one page checkout system whenever possible. Keep the information you’re asking the customer to fill in to a minimum. Start asking survey questions at checkout and you’ve lost the sale. Use a cart system that saves customer info so they can come back later and complete the process if they need to leave the page. CONFIRM THE SALE. Even if you send an email confirmation – and you should – have a “Thank You For Your Order” page to let them know you have successfully recorded their info and the sale. Showing a review of the order is a nice touch, but do SOMETHING to let them know you have the order.

3. Forgetting that text is text. Are you writing words? Use text. Are you displaying pictures? Use images. With the advent of CSS, designers can do almost ANYTHING with text. Images are pictures. Text is text.

Text is read by search spiders, images that say things with text are not. Image text is harder to correct. Image text adds to the size of the page as it loads. Image text is often hard to read. Use it sparingly – if at all.

Solution: Use CSS to add spiffy effects to text when needed. Save images for pictures.

4. Forgetting that not everyone loves Flash. This is probably my own number one pet peeve on the net. Flash intros are slick – and some of them are jaw dropping in design and function. But if I have already seen it once, do NOT make me watch it every time I come to your site. And don’t force me to watch it before I can get to the content.

The problem with Flash is that it can enhance a site or it can make it painful to visit. Poorly designed Flash elements get in the way of good user experience. Add to that issue the fact that not everyone is surfing on a fiber optic network or some <gasp> may not have Flash installed, or some may be using a Mac or a browser that may not support Flash.

Solution: Have an opt out button on your intro. Let me watch it if I want to or skip it if I don’t. Look at every Flash element on your site very carefully and answer question “Does this add a valuable customer experience?” for each one. If the answer is anything but a resounding YES, find another solution. Have a non Flash version of your site for your visitors to choose if they can’t or don’t want to have the Flash experience.

Tomorrow we’ll go over the last of the web design mistakes on our list, starting with the all important site navigation.

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