Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Maybe it's Web Design

Some will blame the economy - but it could be web design.  While the economic situation has resulted in pensive inaugurations and sober Oscar ceremonies, minimalism is making a comeback in its traditional domains of art and design. 

Behold the latest Coke bottle.  The traditional white logo on a solid field of red.  No drop shadows, keylines or highlights.  New logos and packaging from other major brands show that Coke is not alone.

So has the economic situation begun to influence fashion?  Perhaps.  But, web designers may have a little to do with it.

Unlike packaging, web design evolves rapidly, even on very basic levels.  The iconic Coke bottle has changed little in over 100 years, so the canvas remains the same for Coke’s package designers. 

Now consider the web design canvas.  In the last decade, it has doubled in size.  Enhanced graphic chips have allowed more colours, more resolution and more options.  Animations, audio and video have added new dimensions that give web design a unique identity.  It is no longer an imitation of print work.

The result?  After evolving on tighter screens, web designs are now obliged to fill a larger area.  In the best designs, the void is not stuffed with additional elements, but with “whitespace” that allows existing elements to “breathe” and do a better job. 

While whitespace may have grown from an ever-increasing frame size and improved technology, it is now a necessary part of most successful web design and layout. 

A well-known example is the Google homepage, which has remained the same for over 10 years - a multicoloured logo on solid field of white.  Sound familiar?

By Stephen Da Cambra

Friday, February 20, 2009

Your Web Site & Your Brand

Ask people for a definition of “brand” and the answer will likely be interchangeable with the definition for “logo” or “trademark”; something along the lines of “a trademark or distinctive name identifying a product or a manufacturer” as one definition on Dictionary.com states.

Only part of that definition is correct.  A brand identifies a product or manufacturer; or person, or advocacy group, entertainer, assembly line worker, the crew of a dragon boat, a city, etc..  In short, a brand is identity.  A product is shown to be distinct from other similar products by its brand.

What constitutes an identity, or brand?  Not just a logo a trademark, but everything about an entity, everything it does, forms its identity (or brand). 

For example, how do you identify McDonald’s Restaurants?  By the golden arches? Or by the fact that their food has high fat content?  Or by the fact that they run a charitable organization that helps families of seriously ill children?  Regardless of your answer(s), for you, the McDonald’s brand, or identity, is the feeling you have about the company and that brand is affected by everything McDonald’s does, from the food they prepare to the programs they sponsor – and the golden arches too.

What is your company’s brand?  What comes to mind for your customers and prospective customers when they think of your company?

Now, look at your web site.  Everything about your web site is part of your company’s brand.  Not just the design, but the layout, words, links, images and its effectiveness at solving your customers’ needs. 

Does your web site support your company’s brand?

By Stephen Da Cambra

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hook 'em With Headlines

You may have noticed this blog, while professing to “simplify the internet” for SMEs, has mostly dwelled on internet marketing and web sites.  The former to encourage you to use the power of the internet to promote your company and generate web site traffic, and the latter to make sure that, when you do the former, your web site converts as many visitors as possible.

Our previous post on landing pages outlined the importance of confirming for your visitors that they are on the right path to a solution.  You have lit the path well when people choose to visit your site.

Following the advice from the previous post, when they do, they would land on a page that made it clear they are still on the right path.  In most cases, you have a few seconds to do so before your visitor loses the path and clicks away.  While the look of your page and images are important, you also need to confirm quickly in writing that the page has the information they seek.  But, they will not read very much, if at all.

Now what? 

Hook them with your headlines.  A visit to your landing page begins with certain visual clues, your company or product logo, perhaps an image of the product, but the real confirmation that the content is what your customer seeks must be in the headlines – that is, the main headline and a sub-head. 

We don’t have the space to get into the how-tos of great headline writing – as this blog matures, we will go into detail – but it is important to understand the importance of your landing page headlines.

If there is one overall direction that your headline, sub-head and indeed all your web copy should follow, it is to do everything possible to get your customers to stay on your path and take the next step.  In other words, reading your headline should lead them to the sub-head, and reading your sub-head should lead to rest of your copy.

If you want to learn more about web copy, but have limited time, start with headline writing.  

Sometimes that is all you will need.

By Stephen Da Cambra

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Happy Landing Pages

In case you are as confused as I was when I first heard the term “landing page”, let’s start at the beginning.  A landing page is the page on which web surfers land after they click on a link to your web site.  In many cases, your web site’s homepage will be the landing page for most links to your site. 

That’s all fairly straightforward, so let’s throw a curve.  Your homepage is probably not the best place for potential customers to land on your site. 

Why?  Because your landing page must fall naturally in the path your customer follows to get from “need” to “solution”.  If the page on which they land is not a natural step on the path, it increases the chance of them leaving the path and going elsewhere.  

Your homepage is a great place to land if they do an internet search for your company.  The problem is, unless your company has a high profile in the public’s eye, most potential customers won’t know enough to search for your company name.  Many might never have heard of your company – so how could they ever search for it?

Instead, they are more likely to search for generic products or services, similar to those your company provides.  When they do so, studies show shoppers look for a path that leads to what they seek.  If they lose the path, they look elsewhere for it.  Show them the path and they will come right to your door.

Customers will choose the path of least resistance – the easiest one to follow.  When they enter a term, millions of results might appear.  In the midst of that unfamiliar forest, they need a path.  They look for something familiar to help show them the way - the path of least resistance. 

As they hunt through the results, the most familiar thing to surfers is the thing they seek - the search term they entered.  Anything else seems off the mark and not a path worth pursuing. The better your link reflects the search term used, the more likely it is to be clicked on. 

But, you are not out of the woods yet, and your customers aren’t either.  What happens after they choose your link is very important.  If they land on a page that does not make it clear that they are still on the right path, there’s a good chance they will click away to look for another path.

That’s why your landing page is so important.  It’s also why your home page probably does not work as a landing page for all your products and everything your company does.

You will have a better chance of converting customers if they land on a page that confirms they have found the right solution.

By Stephen Da Cambra

Monday, February 09, 2009

Your Economic Stimulus Package - Internet Marketing

“Fantastic!”, I thought when our small company launched its first web site in 1996 (otherwise known as 2 BG – 2 years before Google).  I immediately grasped the awesome possibilities and saw the future of this powerful new medium -  “I won’t have to hand out so many brochures!”

If you choose to use your web site as a surrogate brochure or calling card, that's fantastic.  But, it is like using the roads for a donkey cart instead of a tractor-trailer.  A donkey cart can carry a lot, but a tractor-trailer uses the same roadway to do so much more.

As each new medium comes along, its content has a tendency to imitate the content of the media that came before.  Until we realized its power to entertain, radio programming was a rehash newspaper copy.  The first television stars were old radio personalities; doing what they did on radio, but in front of the cameras.

The same is true for the internet.  Even the old “information superhighway” name probably originated in reference to the idea that the web could convey any print, audio or video content, but it does not reflect what the internet has become.  

Like the media that preceded it, the internet has matured and forged its own identity by connecting all of us in ways that other media cannot.  Not just single lanes of traffic, like a highway, but multiple communication pathways, going in every direction – like a living organism.

When you use your web site only as a surrogate brochure, you are not taking advantage of the internet’s ability to connect.  Connect to your markets, connect to your customers, connect to your competition.

Internet marketing offers the opportunity to connect along those multiple pathways – whether your customers are “kicking tires”, or ready to buy; whether they need lots of info or they purchase on impulse and whether they are looking for the purple widget or green thingme.

When you connect with your potential customers on new levels that relate directly to their buying process, you increase the chance of converting them to paying customers.

With the right internet marketing, you can turn your web site into your leading source of business and business leads.  Just the economic stimulus package your company might need.

By Stephen Da Cambra

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Blog on the Horizon?

If you’ve been paying any attention to the internet for marketing purposes, you will have some appreciation for its power to attract and convert customers.  Blogging is a potential tool in your internet arsenal, which, when used well, can raise your web and business profile.  On the down side, when not done well, blogging can be a waste of time and money.

Unfortunately, blogging is rarely “done well”.  The basic problem is that many businesses mistake blogs for blogging.  Writing for a blog is one part of blogging, but, without the other parts, writing a blog soon becomes tedious and unproductive.

The next misunderstanding is the amount of time blogging consumes.  If anyone believes that blogging is a “minutes a day” task…well...they have never blogged properly. 

As a simple illustration, here’s how things might unfold:

You start your blog with your first entry; a one-way street of communication – you tell your audience something. 

The problems arise when, suddenly, an oncoming lane appears on your communication path, usually in the form of a response to your blog. 

More lanes of communication pop-up quickly when, before you respond to the first response, another one appears taking issue with the first response, but also posing a question that you can’t answer. 

Then Google ranks your blog for the unanswerable question.

Boom!  You are in the middle of the widest, busiest highway in the world with no clue of how you got there or where you are going.  Abandon blog.

OK.  We don’t have enough space for a scenario that outlines all the pitfalls, and rewards, of blogging, but, hopefully you get the idea.

Blogging isn’t for everyone.  If you think it is for you, please give yourself enough time to do it properly (compute the time to do it properly by estimating the time you think it will take to do it properly, then multiply by at least three and maybe you will be close).

By Stephen Da Cambra

Monday, February 02, 2009

Web Copy in the Newspaper

It finally happened. 

For more years than I will admit, it is my habit to spend Saturday and Sunday mornings supine on the couch, tea and toast at easy reach, reading the weekend papers by the light of the picture window. 

It takes a bit of time each morning to slowly detach from my world and sink into whatever might be happening elsewhere.  I haven’t quite settled in during the front page - it’s just a warm-up - and I’m usually not fully submerged until half way through the first section.

That’s about the point when ‘it’ happened.  I came across an article in which I was mildly interested, if only for a few sordid details.  I wanted to know the details, but didn’t want to read the long article.  My eyes started skimming through the copy, but I didn’t pick up the sordid scent and gave up quickly.  All I wanted were those few details!  My level of frustration seemed out-of-sync with the article’s relatively trivial subject.

The real problem hit me like a wake up alarm.  I couldn’t scan the article as I do with web copy.  That was ‘it’ – and there was no hitting the “snooze” button on this one.

Somehow, to that point in time, I had managed to keep my print reading sensibility separate from my web reading sensibility.  I wasn’t even conscious I had more than one reading sensibility.

I thought I might never be able to enjoy the weekend paper again – I had fallen victim to my web reading ways, which demand scannability.  (In truth, you’ll still have to tilt your head to look me in the eye on a weekend morning).

Web surfers prefer quick, scannable hits of pure information for a number of reasons.  Most of them relate to the sheer volume of information on the net.  Back in the age of print, if you wanted to learn about social issues in Mallorca, a visit to the library might yield 5 books that were generally about Mallorca, and a magazine article about the social issues. 

I just googled “social issues Mallorca” and got 42,100 results.  While the first few are about specific issues, none summarize the situation and, by the bottom of the second page of search results, the relevancy had dropped off to include:

Mallorca Cricket Club - About Us

The A.M.C deals with all the central issues for the Mallorca Cricket Club such as incoming tours, away tours, fundraising, promotional activity and social ...

A web search leads to exponentially more information than traditional sources, but much of it is irrelevant.

In any case, web surfers need to get through a lot of stuff – plus keep 12 conversations and one musical collaboration going on three different social media sites.  They don’t have time for the extra information, until they find what they seek.

Your web copy must be scannable – and we mean any web copy, even long copy.  Whether you use bullets, bolded text, short paragraphs, any combination of these or something entirely new, it doesn’t matter, as long as readers get a clear idea of the contents of your web page from a quick scan.

By Stephen Da Cambra