Archive for the ‘Website Development’ Category

Star Wars and Spambots

Ever see Star Wars?  Of course you have.  Remember C-3Po, the annoying robot nobody wanted showing up to the party?  Of course you do.  I mean, come on, it’s Star Wars.  How could you forget.

Well, if you have a website with a form on it, you likely have become acquainted with one of C-3P0’s distant relatives.   You know what I’m talking about, you see a form submission that looks something like this:

Name: owihe0wlerjlwrrwer
Email: iru98uououou
Comments: wooeoeirororwieoirj

Yep, you have been visited by a spambot – impossible to avoid on standard web forms.  At some point they find you and start submitting random gibberish junk that makes about as much sense as R2-D2’s bleeps and blips.

You have probably seen CAPTCHA fields on forms where you are required to type in some random letters or words before you can submit a form?  These are used to keep the spambots out as the spambot, lacking the intellect of C-3P0 (I think it is a product of robot inbreeding), can’t reason with a CAPTCHA entry box, only a human can.  Problem is, humans tend to hate CAPTCHA fields.

You can add a CAPTCHA field but by default we don’t do this for our clients, since humans don’t like entering CAPTCHA fields, it can reduce the number of submissions you get. Also, we don’t use CAPTCHA fields on our forms for our own site, so we get a few of these spambot entries each day.  We just trash them as our time to trash a couple a day is worth the few legit ones here or there that we may not have gotten else-wise.

This is not to totally rule out CAPTCHA fields.  If you are having security hack attempts happening, then it can make sense to tighten down the site – which is why you see CAPTCHA fields on high profile sites.

If the spambot is coming from one or just a few IP addresses, you can also look at IP blocking to keep the offending bot away.  But again, it is usually easiest to just delete the spam.

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Should You Put Your Pricing On Your Website

This is a great question that comes up frequently when I speak with clients.  The short answer, in most cases, is yes.

The idea for this blog post came from an eNewsletter I recieved from Judy Dunn of Cats Eye Marketing – a professional copywriter who is part of my network of Biznik and Twitter.  Here is a link to an archive of the article:

http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs018/1102365023179/archive/1102555462571.html

The main points of the article are, if you are selling a product, by all means put your pricing on your site.  But if you sell a service, then you need to build value before providing a price.  It’s all pretty common sense stuff, but worth sharing if you are on the fence.  Give it a read.

Internet Explorer 8 and Site Compatibility

Microsoft just released Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) last week, and we’re already seeing a lot of incompatibility issues with pre-existing websites.  Microsoft is taking a lot of flak on this newest browser due to them touting it as being a standards compliance browser, but it is actually ranking lower in compliance than all the other major browsers on the scene – Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple Safari.

Some of the main issues we are seeing are issues with Javascript and the handling of modal windows – pop-up windows that are very commonly used for displaying overlaying content on a webpage.

What this means to your website is that you need to check it in IE8 to see if it is working correctly in this new browser.  It also means you might have to make a decision on what version of IE you want your site to be coded for.  As more browsers enter the scene and more versions of those browsers are released, having a site that is 100% compatible with all internet users is not achieveable.

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.

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.

Websites – Not Just For Simple Contact Forms Anymore

Contact forms on your website are great.  A customer can fill it out and submit it and presto, you have an email from a new lead.

But are you using the contact form as successfully as possible?

If you are truely marketing your website, you will want to track visitors to see what marketing actions you are taking are yielding the best results.  Are leads coming from your search engine listings, your pay-per-click listings, your magazine ad, the phone book or referrals?

Take some time to determine what you want to track and there is likely a way to do it.  Unique landing pages from pay-per-click ads, unique phone numbers for each of the different marketing campaigns you do, conversion tracking or even a simple multiple choice question of “How did you hear about us” is better than nothing.

Also, how about jazzing a contact form up some or use it as a “Download Literature” form.  Give enough juicy details about a new product offering you have and then tell potential customers to “Click here to download product brochure”.  They click the button and are asked to give a few simple bits of info to download the information such as name, email and phone.

Just a few initial ideas to get you thinking.

Copywriting Tips for the Web

Struggling to put together an online message for your company’s website?  Try these tips:

1. KISS your words – Keep It Short and Sweet

As a web professional, I live on the web.  I can find anything on the web, including books and online magazines.  But I still go out and spend my hard earned money on printed books and magazines at Books-A-Million or Barnes and Noble.  This is because I hate reading anything lengthy on my computer screen.  The resolution is not as good as a cleanly printed book and the glowing pixels and reflective screens burn out my eye sockets.  Because lengthy text doesn’t play out well online, don’t be long winded online.  People will skim or even skip your text altogether if it is too much work, negating all that hard work you put into it.

2. Think about Search Engines – As well as your Visitors

Everything you write for your website will be read by visitors to your site as well as those cold, impersonable search engine spiders.  Think about what is your most important point to cover and cover it early in your text.  Don’t take forever to make your point – it will bore your visitors and the search engines will miss your point altogether as they give higher weight to text that is higher up on your page.

3. Organize Your Text with Headers and Sub-headers (like these!)

Don’t plop all your text on a page in a series of paragraphs.  Try to use headers and sub-headers where appropriate to break up the information and make it easier for visitors to assess.  Bullet points work well too and a picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words, so see where you can replace excessive text with a picture or two.

4. Clarify What You Do or Sell – Be Specific

Avoid generic catch phrases and fluffy text that sounds smart but doesn’t teach.  For example:

“We think outside the box so you can leverage your assets to get the best return on investment and work more efficiently.”

Um, ok… but what do you do?  What do you sell?  Tell your visitors by being specific.

5. Have a Call to Action – a Sense of Urgency

Direct your visitors to the action you want them to take.  Just as you have to pass the cash register in any store you visit before you leave (the brick and mortar call-to-action), make sure a visitor to your site can’t miss your website’s call-to-action before leaving.  Sure, this might be a fancy graphic a designer is creating for you, but work it into all of your text copy too.

New Websites Go Live

In the last couple of weeks we went live with 2 new sites – both from repeat customers we have had the pleasure working with – Brian Ehlers Construction and Mike Scott Plumbing.  Both clients were actively involved with our design and programming team which helped us create sites that matched their vision.  The sites each feature content management systems for easy updating and improved SEO coding for better search engine visibility.

Brian Ehlers Construction Website

Brian Ehlers Construction Website

Mike Scott Plumbing Website

Mike Scott Plumbing Website