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design & marketing blog

Marketing, design, and technical resources for making your digital and print communications more effective.

What you should know about Web design

November 5th, 2007

Web design, when compared to printed design, has some unique pros and cons. A big “pro” is the flexibility of publishing to the Web. A printed marketing piece is designed once and published—most organizations don’t find it plausible to go back and reword a paragraph after 10,000 copies have already been printed.

With Web publishing it’s relatively easy to have a Web developer make changes after the initial publication and the cost is nominal. Content Management Systems like our own WebSite 2.0 take this benefit a step further by allowing even those who aren’t trained web developers to easily login to their site and make text and graphic changes.

On the “con” side of Web publishing a big challenge is insuring your target audience views your publication as you intended. Each type of Web browser interprets how to display any given page of HTML code—for example Internet Explorer may display a page of HTML differently than FireFox or Safari. Noticeable discrepancies can manifest even within different versions of the same browser. So, a site design tested only with Internet Explorer 7 may look great in that browser, but look like a mess in another. While this is a challenge, the risk can be mitigated by testing the majority a site’s design and layout on the most popular browsers which are reported monthly by W3C and presently consist of FireFox, Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7.

Not only should a Web sites appearance in popular browsers be considered, but also the individual operating environment that any given user may set themselves should be taken into consideration. For example, if the default font size is set too small by the designer (a common occurrence in my observation) users may be inclined to increase the text display size in their browsers. When this happens the browser will reformat a Web page to fit the larger text. It’s prudent to first choose a readable text size and then to design a site to look presentable when text size is kicked up a notch or two.

Another important consideration of your site should be the size of monitor (i.e. the pixel resolution) that your target audience is likely to be using. There are two basic types of design to accommodate this: fixed width and liquid or floating width. There are a lot of considerations when deciding which route to go, but in general, business sites are most often fixed width (as you’ll notice by surging through Fortune 500 sites) with liquid width sites typically being to best suited for sites with lots of text copy…reference sites, academic sites, or blogs for example.

Business oriented sites often fall into two categories. The first, to take fresh prospects through a sequential process of establishing your credibility/trustworthiness and persuading them to become a customer. The second is accommodating existing clients who are retrieving information, executing transactions, making a payment, viewing schedules, etc. The best practice principles of persuasion and usability lend themselves most often to fixed width design because fixed width designs allow more control over the visual presentation quality and encouraging concise bill-board style statements and discourage verbose copy that statistics show most people don’t read and find counter productive to their goals of being on a site.

Sometimes, there is an impression that the “white space” displayed to left and right of a fixed width design is undesirable. While each situation is unique, this empty space is often a benefit when attempting to communicate to a Web audience. A computer monitor full of text/graphics dilutes messaging by creating clutter. As Steve Krug points out in his classic, Don’t Make Me Think, one of the most common roadblocks to creating persuasive and effective Web sites is too much copy . . . he advocates designing Web sites with a “billboard” mindset—concise, appealing messages that tell the target visitor what they need to know without having to wade through clutter.

The white space, which coincidentally is only noticeable on displays larger than the site was optimized for, can in fact create a very desirable mechanism to funnel your prospects attention to the most important statements about your organization. That’s why you may have recalled seeing those full page Wall Street Journal ads, that some deep-pocketed corporation paid a large sum for, that are mostly white space. It’s draws a reader who is being overloaded with pages of information like an oasis in the deserts and captures their full attention.

At the risk of this post becoming verbose itself, I’ll stop here and post more on this topic in the future. As I’ve done before, I highly recommend that anyone responsible for a professional Web site read the aforementioned book by Steve Krug. It’s not a book about the technicalities of Web design, but provides an invaluable executive guide to understand the fundamentals of an effective and profitable Web site.

Serve Your Customer

October 7th, 2007

I recently read a good piece on CNN that demonstrated how a few select entrepreneurial companies understand their customer is the lifeblood of their organization. This subject is important to me as I witness more often than not companies not taking customer orientation seriously. From one particular semiconductor company here in Boise, I hear it stated quite often that its goals are “market orientated,” yet the strategic goals and the advertising campaigns are constantly focused on its products and production procedures. Listen up, it’s not about what you do, who you are, or what you sell, but rather about who you sell to and what they need. Successful companies know how to empathize with the market by understanding the wants and needs of existing and potential customers.

Furthermore, employees are typically patronized by their top management on how they are the engine that makes the company go, but in reality, no company exists without customers and organizations should be structured and focused on addressing that principal. Yeah, happy and excited employees make for a better productivity; but I’ve worked for several companies that lose money and customers and the end result is always the same: low moral despite catchy internal motivational slogans or non-customer related group incentive programs. Getting straight to the point, quit wasting time on slogans and pep talks and goals that have nothing to do with serving the customer.

To conclude my mantra, organizations exist for one purpose and one purpose only … and it’s not in business to build widgets, to be innovators, to motivate employees, or to attain the most marketshare … but to serve those customers who keep your company afloat.

Growing your business with blogs

October 3rd, 2007

Here’s a good article on the potential relationship between blogging and increased sales. A lot of basic information provided here and some interesting references like the South African wine producer Stormhoeks’s who doubled sales in less than twelve months through a blogging campaign. >>Read the full article

Beware of Bogus SEO Firms

September 12th, 2007

Have you ever received an unsolicited email like this:

Dear Website Owner,

If I could get you five times the RELEVANT traffic at a substantially reduced cost would you be interested? <company name> can place your website on top of the Natural Listings on Google, Yahoo and MSN. … We do not use “link farms” or “black hat” methods that Google and the other search engines frown upon and can use to de-list or ban your site. The techniques are proprietary, involving some valuable closely held trade secrets. Our prices are less than half of what other companies charge.

If you’re an owner of a business web site, chances are you’ve received quite a few. We get questions from clients about the validity of such companies on a pretty regular basis.

There are a lot of, maybe even most, SEO companies out there that are basically trying to work the system to create online spam. It might benefit you in the short run, but it breaks the whole legitimate ranking system and ultimately it can hurt a site more than it help. Just like how spam email marketing can produce some positive short-term results
but in the end runs the name of the offending individual/business to the ground (or even to criminal court in some cases).

SEO is simply creating value and relevance for your target clients and making it easy for them to find you. This does include some legitimate professional service roles like getting your site listed in as many relevant directories, esp. local

directories, as possible. However, what should make us leery of SEO firms is terminology like “proprietary closely held trade secrets”…big red flag, there is no secret to SEO, it’s actually quite simple as described by Google.  The real problem, like with so many other things, is that real SEO (aka building value) takes a lot of time and hard work. The temptation is great to want to believe that there is a “get search optimized quick” solution out there thus the proliferation of the SEO scam artists. I’ve blogged on this topic a number of times, the related posts are all on this SEO page.

Outside of the SEO involved in coding and developing a site (which actually is quite involved) we don’t provide ongoing SEO services of the type this company is advertising…we do provide some services to build long term value like blog writing services though. If you need help, we refer out to a few real SEO (value building) and Pay Per Click services companies
on a case-by-case basis…just let me know.

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