Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Soap Opera Names

Today someone told me that I have a Soap Opera name. Hmm. I'm not a soap opera actress, though my life does resemble a soap opera from time to time. I'm just a lowly project manager at a Denver web design company.

Here is a list of what I think are good soap opera names. Please add yours to the list.

Dr. Rick Slater
Alan-Michael (This is a real character on Guiding Light played by my longtime friend, Michael Dempsey. Isn't he cute?)


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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Planning a Web Site Design

The Denver web design company I work for, Fusionbox, almost always has clients who call with rush jobs. Sometimes we miss out on jobs because we insist that the project cannot be done correctly within a certain timeline. What we have found is you can do it quickly, or you can do it right.

Seventy-five percent of a successful project is planning. That means beginning with measurable goals and objectives. Your goals and objectives should always tie back into your company's mission. So, if your company's mission is to be the market leader in widgets, your site's purpose should be to do that. It's also important to set measurable goals. This will prove that investing in your web site, pays off. Plus, it'll make you look good to your boss.

Once the goals are set, your planning is still far from done. You'll want to examine your target audience or audiences and get in their heads. This means finding out who they are and why they are on your site. Then, you'll need to make sure you are fulfilling their needs. Identify what actions each target audience will take on the site. If it's someone purchasing a widget, make widgets easily available from the homepage. Research show that people who buy on the web want to see products right away and they want to see images and prices. Put your widgets on your homepage with a small image, title, description, price (users hate to drill down to get pricing), and a "Buy Now" link.

The next step is to determine the specifications of your functionality. It sounds scary, but it's not. Most developers can work with a list of statements like, "I want a user to be able to rate products on a scale of one through five." Write down everything you want the site to do and even include what you might want it to do. For example, "An adminstrator should be able to log into a content management area and add a press release." You get the idea. Along with your specs, you'll need to include a database discovery. This means determining all the possible fields for everything that might be stored and served in a database. For example, a product might have an image, a title, a description, a price, a product number, etc.

Now that you know who your target audience is and you have identified key user paths and you know what the site should do, it's time to start creating your information architecture. This determines the flow of the site. Build the flow of the site to best accomodate those key user paths. These should give the user what he or she is looking for in three clicks or less.

After you have determined your information architecture, it's time to create wireframes. Wireframes are like a blueprint of your web site. You'll want to identify all of the content that will be represented on each page including navigation, logos, images, and content. This is a very important step because it takes all the guess work out for the designer, and you can do a usability gut check on your key user paths and the flow of the site itself. You can even build a test site based on the wireframes and run a usability test.

The next step is to get your content together. Start with a content strategy. What are you trying to accomplish with your content? Don't forget to include a search engine strategy that defines what your key words are and how you will leverage them in your content. Is all of your content working toward your goals and objectives? Too often I see meaningless stock images like the ubiquitous handshake. Web users are jaded amd images like these just distract the user from their mission. Do yourself and your users a favor and leave it out. Instead, use images that are meaningful and I'm not talking about the butterfly that signifies growth.

Only once all of the above steps are taken should you even start to think about design. So many web design companies lead with design. Then the client ends up with a site that may be gorgeous, but doesn't support goals and objectives. It is also of the utmost importance to design around content rather than creating a design and then stuffing the content into it. Your design should support your brand and serve as the wrapping paper to the gift. And again, make sure the design supports those key user paths; the first question your web designer should ask you is, "What's the first thing you want users to do when they come to your site. Don't forget to integrate the look and feel of your site with your offline materials-- if you don't, you'll just end up diluting your brand and your marketing efforts.

Your planning is still not done. The last bit is to plan the actual work--who is going to do what when. Who needs to give approval for what when. Throw in some milestones, stakeholders, and deliverables and you're done. In other words create a project plan. And by all means, plan the launch of the site. Make it deliberate, not an incomplete, rushed event because someone has it in their head that this just must be done before the end of the year, or else Create some buzz and PR for the launch of your new gorgeous and effective web site. Remember, you only have one chance to gain or lose users; if a new user comes to the site and does not see what their looking for, they're gone, forever, and you've just lost a possible new lifetime customer.

By planning, and doing it right instead of quickly, you'll have an end result that is not only effective but also matches everyone's expectations-- your boss, your sales team, your marketing people, and most importantly your users and your bottom line.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fusionbox is #1

Hooray! Fusionbox has achieved number one ranking on Google for the keywords "Denver web design and development". At least for now!! How cool is that?

We've been spending about two hours a week for the last three months improving our organic listings. We weren't even in the top 1,000 results three months ago, and now we are on the first page of Google.

I'm not going to tell you how we did it. Let's just say we know what it takes to get there. One of the techniques is not even being used by Denver internet marketing companies. And, the best part is, it's not that hard to implement.

If you need help with your search engine results, contact us.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Creating Targeted Landing Pages

Marketers often make the classic mistake of launching a pay-per-click campaign and having users land on a page that is not targeted towards that PPC ad.

Take this example. A Denver oil and gas company, which will remain anonymous, has a suite of products including land management, an ERP System, and Accounting Software. They launched several targeted PPC campaigns (good idea) but had each click-through land on their homepage (bad idea). The homepage unfortunately does a miserable job of describing their various services. So, what they found was users would click on the ad, go to the homepage, and then bail.

It's so important that you have users land on a page that is clearly tied to the contents of your ad. You'll also need to include a strong call-to-action that is directly related to the ad. What good is it if a potential client comes to your site and then fails to become a lead.

By giving users what they are looking for and what they expect, you'll ensure that you maximize your PPC spending dollar.

Here's more information on our Denver web design company, Fusionbox. With this, and other tactics, we can help you make the most of your PPC budget.

Ten Ways to Instantly Improve Your Usability

Whether it’s an e-commerce site, an online tool, or just your company’s corporate sites--smart marketers know that web site usability is key to the success of any online presence. What a lot of marketers don’t know is the basic principles of web usability and how to apply those rules to their own online presence. Here are ten very easy ways to make an immediate impact on the usability of your site:

1. Home – Users want a home and they expect to see a link to home in the same place: the top left-hand part of your site. Don’t try to be creative and place your link on the right hand side, or at the bottom of a left navigation, or even worse, leave it off your navigation completely. You’ll just end up frustrating your users.

2. Links – Make links look like links. Designers hate the ugly blue, underlined text that indicates a hyperlink, but users love it. The standard blue, underlined text shows users implicitly that the content is a link. Now you don’t have to use that blue, underlined text, but do make sure your links look like links. You’ll want to also make sure that a visited link changes color.

3. Text Size – Another Designer pet peeve is text size. Designers tend to use the smallest size they can get away with. If users can’t read your text, they’ll bail out. Make sure your text size is 11pt. or above. One of the great trends that stemmed from Web 2.0 is the use of really large text, buttons, and features.

4. Navigation – Your navigation is central to the usability of your site. Your navigation should be placed on the top of the page under your logo, or down the left side. Never place your navigation on the right hand side, or worse change the location of your navigation Users are used to seeing navigation in the same place. If you make them hunt for it, they’ll bail and you’ll lose out on that sale, lead, or client.

5. Orientation – If your site is deep, meaning it has a lot of pages and many levels of navigation make sure that users know where they are in the site, and how to get back. A great way to accomplish this is by adding a breadcrumb trail. This basically shows users their click path. For example, a user who is shopping for skirts might see: Home > Women’s > Clothing > Skirts. Each of these categories should be a link that takes the user back to that category.

6. Content – Though content is usually not mentioned as an aspect of usability, it is so important to use web best standards for your written content. In this case, less is always more. Your site is NOT an online brochure. Web users don’t read, they scan. Use short, active sentences and calls to action that are engaging. You can do this with bold, bullets, buttons, and call-outs.

7. Placement – Put features where users expect to see them. Your logo goes on the top left and is a link to the homepage. Search belongs at the top right hand side. Contact Us should be the last section in your navigation. Login should be at the top left. Eye tracking studies show that users start at the top right, scan back and forth from left down the page, and end up at the top right expecting to complete an action.

8. The 30 Second Rule – The 30 Second Rule states that users should know who you are, what you do, and what they should do next on your site. Do a gut check and make sure you pass. Ask anyone who is not familiar with your site or business to perform this test.

9. Search – Fifty percent of users prefer to use a search tool rather than drill down through your navigation. Give your users search so they can find what they are looking for fast.

10. Speed – Users hate nothing more than waiting. Do you think they really care about the fancy Flash effects your designer talked you into? Every last study also says that Flash-based intros are useless. So, if you’re considering spending good money on a fancy intro, think again.

At least 8 out of ten websites are breaking at least one of these rules if not all of them. Do your users a favor and fix these issues right away; your bottom line will thank you for it.

Ivy Hastings is an Internet Marketing Expert at Denver web design company, Fusionbox.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Web 2.0 Finance Tracker

I found an amazing web 2.0 tool today, wesabe.com. It combines finances and social networking to help people take control of their finances. I found it thanks to one of my very favorite sites: lifehacker.com.

Wesabe allows you to upload your bank statements and categorize them by tags, for example restaurants, bars, movies--three of my very favorite ways to spend money. You can set goals, get tips from other users, and just keep track of what is going in and what is coming out. For the checkbook-balancing resistant, this is the ultimate tool.

The best part is that they have created an RSS feed, so you can't not keep track of your finances. If you are on Google Reader, for example, your balance is their in front of you constantly. And, with all the help of your newfound online friends,you may just save a buck or two here and there.

Wesabe is free for basic membership and while your data is 100% secure, Wesabe aggregates information on spending habits--a marketer's wet dream!! They've promised not to collect revenue from advertising because, "The problem with ads is that they generally show you ways to spend your money. There are tons of sites and services that will help you spend your money � we want to be the one that helps you save it." How can you not love that. Plus, the site is amazingly usable, employing AJAX the way it should be--by enhancing user tools and creating a truly simple-to-use web-based application.

So abandon Quicken and sign up for wesabe. isn't it fun when you can get rid of fee-based, client-side Microsoft applications? Oh, and I swear I am no on Wesabe's payroll.

Ivy Hastings is an Internet Strategist for the Denver web development company, Fusionbox.

Friday, February 09, 2007

I am Anna Nicole's Baby Daddy

No, I'm not. I'm missing a Y chromosome, but maybe this blog entry will get me some traffic. That's what some marketers call the YouTube effect. When YouTube started to get hot, smart spammers and some legitimate marketers splogged or wrote about YouTube to attempt to draw in traffic.

So, if you're able to pick up quickly on the hot topic du jour, and optimize and add content quickly, you may end up with quit a bit of traffic. Is it misleading? Yes, in some cases it is, but if you have something legitamate to say, why not capitalize on some good organic search results, and some social marketing visibility?