Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

Finding Time to Podcast

With how incredibly fragmented our lives are now days, it is hard to find time to do everything you want and need to do.  I’ve been wanting to integrate podcasting into my schedule but never seem to have the time.  Then it occured to me – I have a nice long drive into work every morning and I have a voice recorder on my cell phone that records to MP3 format.  So, I’ve started my “Brent’s Daily Drive to Work” podcast.  Without adding any additional time to my schedule, I’m adding another tool I can use to communicate with clients.  Here is an embedded player for my podcast:

Brent's Daily Drive to Work Podcast

In addition, some new exciting things will be coming in February in regards to podcasts – so stay tuned!

15 Second Pitch – Slow in Baseball, But Not Networking

Ok, I know this is a blog geared towards website development, SEO and online social media, but here is a cool tool that you can use for when you are meeting with new people at a networking event.  You know you are going to get that question “So, what do you do?”, so why not prepare a quick reply that sounds interesting, yet short and sweet.  It is easy with the Pitch Generating Tool from 15SecondPitch.com – just go to their website and follow the step-by-step directions.  In 10 minutes or less you’ll have an effective introduction to give at the next conference, Chamber gathering, business lunch or any other social occasional.

Using Usability to Make Your Site More Usable

Don't Make Me Think, Book by Steve Krug

Don't Make Me Think, Book by Steve Krug

There is a book in our office that has been required reading for all staff members for the last 3 years.  This book is called “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug.  The book is about usability of website design and how you don’t want to have your site visitors have to think when they visit your website.  There should be a clear purpose to the site that spells out to the site visitor what you want them to do next, whether it is to fill out a contact form, buy a product, pick up the phone and call you, request a quote now, search for a dealer in their area, refer your site to a friend or apply now.

The book is deceptively simple and most of the information in it seems so straight forward and obvious, because… well, it is.  It is a clear message that doesn’t require thought and offers examples of how to enact better usability on your website, or websites you produce.

It is easy to get caught up in the message of your site without thinking about how that message is being received by others.  Sure a 5,000 word dissertation on what your product does can be informative, but it can also be overkill, or even boring and not worth the time of a busy internet suffer who is just trying to determine if your product can provide the particular benefit they are looking for.

When you are the provider of a product or service it is easy to be too close to the message – too “in-the-know” to be able to see how the site is coming across to others who are not “in-the-know” on your product or service.  Maybe usability testing is something you should consider.  This is basically a test audience who does not know your company and it’s products or services.  Let them navigate your site and see if they get it as quickly as you think they will.

Usability studies can be as simple as inviting a trusted friend over to try out your site and give feedback to doing a full fledged study with hired testers, video taped sessions, surveys and reporting.  However you do it, do at least something so you have good, third-party feedback on your site.

Most importantly, think of your call-to-action – that clear purpose to the site that spells out to the site visitor what you want them to do next.  Make sure your call to action is ever-present, on every page, reminding your visitors what you expect them to do next.  Sometimes a little redundancy is ok.

2009 Will Be the Year of Big Internet Business

Yep, that is my predicition.

In 2009, while our economy continues to slug along, those that do a good job of marketing themselves online will have a very good year.  We’ve all probably heard stories of how a lot of people became rich during the Great Depression – because it is true.  Those that keep their eye on the ball when everyone else is distracted will continue to hit home runs – it won’t be as easy as it was before, but it will still happen.

Markets are shifting right now.  While mainstream for quite some time now, the internet is now starting to subplant other channels of distribution and marketing.  Newspapers are struggling, some either are, or are planning to go to internet-only distribution.  Video, which had the exclusivity of TV delivery, is now more popular than ever online (even traditional TV’s might be hooked up to a PC or Apple TV), Google searches are replacing Yellow Page look-ups, businesses are advertising online with pay-per-click advertising.  While lower than before, the spikes in gas prices over the last few years has more people getting used to the idea of staying at home.  A new generation is growing up not knowing of a world prior to high-speed internet.  Social networking is redefining public relations for major companies and public figures.

There is a fundamental shift that is taking place – while we thought we have already seen the impact of the internet on our lives, we are now realizing that the last 10 years was just a slightly advanced stage in it’s infancy.  A major grow spurt is coming in 2009 and a lot of companies that thought they had a “web presence” are going to get left behind, while a lot of companies that are “plugged in” to the coming changes will reap great rewards.

So, what are the nutshell nuggets of knowledge to pull from all this?

First you can’t be just a “web presence”.  You can’t be “static” online.  You can’t think of a website as the beginning and end of your online efforts.  Sure, it has worked in the past, and in many cases working still.  But at some point it no longer will.

Second, change the way you think about the internet – almost consider it a parallel universe.  20 years ago, they called the concept “virtual reality”.  It made a lot of buzz but died down as the real world realities of the internet’s limitations at the time softened our vision of this “cyber-space”.  Now we are seeing virtual reality slowly coming about.  Sure, it’s not a funny headset and Tron-like graphics, but the internet is becoming another place that we exist, or more importantly, where your customer’s exist.  They are not just hopping online to do a quick search with a keyword phrase to find your product or service and then signing off, they are living much of their life there.  So, you will need to be “plugged in” to where they are, what they’re doing and how to get their attention.

We are already seeing this shift in our business.  We are not a website development firm anymore, despite my old-habits-die-hard habit of calling us that.  We are actually an interactive agency now.  Developing the site for your web presence is no longer the beginning and end of our involvement.  Throughout 2009 we will be asked to build the “main” site, setup the blogs, create subsites, recommend lead tracking solutions, secure advertising, handle marketing campaigns, develop a social media strategy, manage company brands, oversee public relations, broadcast call-in radio shows, produce video, write copy, record podcasts, program applications, research keywords and provide consultation services.

By being prepared for changes in 2009 as the internet leaves behind it’s infancy, you can be a part of it’s growth spurt.

How I Planned My New Year

My goal for next year is to not have to worry about coming up with goals.

Seriously, it is kinda fun to plan out your new year, but the typical scenario is we have all these great ideas at the beginning of the year and if we stumble upon those ideas and goals at some point later, say around December 15th, we say “oh yeah, remember that goal – forgot all about it.”

So, I have been reassessing my methods and work flows to actually find a way to “stick to it” the whole year through.  Now days there are so many great online tools to help you with your productivity, some of these, such as Toodledo.com and Evernote.com I have discussed on this blog.  Plus, there’s CRM software, blogging tools, online data storage site, social networking applications, browser add-ons, widget applications and on and on.

We use a really nice online CRM tool called Salesforce.com which covers the bulk of my work and customer related tasks, plus we have some extensive in-house produced management applications that handle a lot of our infrastructure.  While Salesforce is web-based and has task-list management like using Toodledo for the speed of managing to-do lists as well as keeping merged lists of both work and personal tasks to do.  While Salesforce has calendaring built in, I still like merging data with my Google calendar.  And I love the concept of Evernote that lets me collect ideas and random content and store it in one location for future use.

But, it’s a new year and time to shake the tree and see what falls out and what stays.

First off, I’m changing the way I’m setting goals for the year.  In the past it was “I want to make this much in sales”, “I want to have this many new customers”, “I want to build this many relationships”, etc.  Now my approach is more incremental.  I’m looking at laying out my year based on what I need to do today or this week as opposed to this year.  This means a whole lot more little chunks of data that all has to be tracked.

First off, Salesforce and our in-house online managaement applications work great – no changes there other than maybe utilizing some of the additional features it offers that I’m not using yet.  But goal tracking for the year with mobile access from my cell phone and integration of personal non-work goals is the big picture here.

I have been using the free version of Toodledo.com but if I really want to track goals for the year, I explored the paid version (starting at $15/yr).  Running the trial version now.  Funny, but the advanced version just isn’t doing it for me and a great all around tool for handling to-do lists (still the best for that) is just not good for what I’m trying to do.

With Evernote, I have been using the free version too, but it is a very different tool and really not setup for goal tracking.  Ironically though, my need for Evernote is growing so I will be upgrading to the paid subscription ($5/month), just not using it for this task at hand.

I have been researching the internet for other options – I can’t tell you how many other online tools I’ve tried – which explains while I’m still in the process of goal setting for 2009 on the 12th day in January.  But I came across a tool called Springpad that is now starting to really win me over.  It is true life management that has features beyond what I was even looking for.  It is a new Beta application that appears to only have been out about 4 months, but it is already at an amazing feature set.  It syncs with Google Calendar, it has an amazing collection of “notepads” that you can setup on your account to manage anything, you can customize it and you can build your own lists.  Plus there are so many template notepads that it really can be called a life management tool.  I’ve been setting up a map of my goals and activities for 2009 with it and so far I’m impressed and it is the leading application I’ve found to handle my goal-mapping needs.  A Twitter exchange with one of the staff members with Springpad assured me a mobile version of the product is due soon – the only drawback I have been able to find with it.

http://www.springpadit.com

Your Website is Not Yours – It’s Your Customer’s

Too many business owners get caught in the trap of making a website something that they like as opposed to researching what type of site will best convert visitors into buying customers.  I commonly hear “I want” this or “I want” that without having answers to how a customer might percieve those things.  I’m not saying the site shouldn’t be an online reflection of your business – it should, and it should be appropriately branded – but, site usability, content displayed and specific features added should be geared towards your client’s likes and dislikes.

The site is a sales tool, and like all sales tools and marketing messages it can be refined and tweaked to better convert customers.  The only way to refine your marketing materials is to step back from being emotionally involved and look at your material from a strictly analytical view.

If your site is not a sales tool but provides a service itself, such as an e-commerce site or membership-based site, then you need to be even more aware of your customer’s wants and needs because with websites, you always have stiff competition that will try and woo your client base with features specifically tailored to them.

Regardless of your site, stay in communication with your customers and solicit feedback from them on their impressions of the site.  Ask them want they like, what they don’t like, what they wish the site had and what they would change about it.  Visit your competitor’s websites to stay on top of new features they add.  Keep track of your website traffic stats to monitor changes in traffic as you tweak your online message.

Design by Committee Causes Much Pity

No matter how optimistically it is presented, no matter how often it is mentioned that “everyone’s onboard”  and no matter how much you want to believe it will work for the better, design by committee is a process that delays the completion of a website that no one involved will be happy with.

I have seen this situation play out countless times on website development projects throughout the years.  When a committee is involved everyone has to compromise to some degree yet no one wants to.  Someone has to sign off on design work yet no one is willing to do so until everyone is in agreement.  Someone has to direct the design team and provide timely feedback yet no one wants do so independently without a scheduled meeting.

Everyday, sites with a single point of contact move quickly through the system.  There is less spreading out of the information that is shared, so consultations have more impact.  Impromptu meetings can occur on a moments notice.  Feedback is immediate.  All involved in the project stay engaged from start to finish.

Don’t let your website development project become a burden and use your committee as an excuse to procrastinate until later – have a single point of contact for your website that is committed to it’s delivery.