…or How a Blog is Like a Puppy

Blogs are the new “it” internet technology. All the cool kids have one. And everyone seems to be buzzing about all the great things they can do for you:

  • Build organic traffic from search engines
  • Establish you as a trusted authority in your field
  • Build buzz for new products and developments
  • Serve as a communication tool between your company and your customers

All of that is true, but if you don’t consider all the responsibilities that come along with your brand new blog, it may just come back to bite you… […]

In this installment of my “Top Ten” tips to better Search Engine Optimization, I’ll be reviewing “10 Things to Avoid When Optimizing Your Website”.

SEO isn’t easy! Let’s just call it what it is, Hard and Time Consuming. A major mistake that a lot of people make, in an attempt to make things easier, is looking for short cuts to optimize their website. Many of these shortcuts provide short-lived result, but can harm your rankings in the long run (or even get you black-listed from search engines!). This is where I like to refer to a couple of old sayings to help remind people to stay focused:

–          “If it’s worth doing… It’s worth doing right!”

–          … and, “If it’s too good to be true… then it probably is!”

Keep your eyes on the prize folks! Don’t let other people take advantage of you and your business. Avoid bad neighborhoods, link exchanges and farms, don’t keyword stuff and… well… just keep reading, and Good Luck!

[…]

Feb 2, 2010

What is Whitespace?

Whitespace—or, negative space—is the open space between elements in a design. The space can be a color other than white, as long as the area is void of elements.

whitespace

It’s common for whitespace to be seen as “wasted space,” especially when you are working with a limited area. After all, why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of every inch of space in your advertisement / brochure / website?

You may be surprised to know that the space that is empty is just as influential as the space that is filled with text and photos.

Using Whitespace to Your Advantage

When there are too many elements in a design—whether those elements are photos, fonts, or headlines—it appears cluttered and crowded. Imagine a room filled with people that are talking at the same time. Would you know who to listen to first? How long would you stay?

Removing unnecessary elements in your materials not only de-clutters the design, but it also places more emphasis on the most important message.

One company that has learned this lesson is Apple. Their advertisements are famous for their simplicity and use of whitespace. Take a look at their homepage from October 2009:

apple-screenshot

Immediately, you are presented with three things: An interesting image that grabs your attention, a short explanation of their latest product, and their call to action, “Watch the iMac video.” They are using whitespace to direct their customers to the most important information within seconds, and to show them where to click next.

Now, Apple has the advantage of being a household name with millions of fans worldwide who are already familiar with their products. Most businesses will probably need to present a bit more information, in order to convince potential customers that their products or services are worth the price. However, the same concept still holds true — adding unnecessary information only distracts from the goal you have set; whether that goal is to click on a link, call your phone number, visit your website, or buy your latest product.

Why Simplicity is Important

Billboards are an example of one medium where a simple message is absolutely necessary. Drivers are — hopefully — concentrating on the road, and only glancing up at signs and billboards for just a few seconds. If you can’t condense your advertisement into 6 words or less, then the driver won’t have enough time to read your entire message.

Designing for websites is similar. The average user will decide whether to stay or leave your website within just a few seconds. That means you need to immediately grab their attention, reassure them that your website has the information that they are looking for, and convince them to stay on your website a little longer.

The only way you can accomplish all this is to decide on the most important information, make it the most prominent part of your marketing piece, and get rid of anything that is a distraction. By de-cluttering your designs, you are able to guide your potential customers to the information that you want them to read, and create truly effective promotional pieces.

Some Tips for Reducing Clutter

  • Use headlines and sub-headlines to break up large areas of text. This allows the reader to quickly scan the text to get a summary, and to skip to the section that interests them.
  • Use simple language. Make your text easy to read and understand, and avoid overly technical language that would be overwhelming and confusing. If your text looks like a lot of work to read, your readers will simply go elsewhere.
  • Create a focal point. If you have several images on a page, your viewers won’t know where to look first. Make one or two of your images more prominent, and place your call-to-action nearby.
  • Create Relationships. Group related items (like a photo, description, and link) together so they are seen as one element instead of three. You can do this by making the space between these elements smaller than the space that surrounds them.
  • Add Whitespace. Make sure there is enough space in your margins, between paragraphs, and around your elements so the overall design is clear and easy to understand.

A lot of time and effort goes into setting up a website when it is first created, but once the website is launched, the work is not over! Think of your website as a constant work in progress. Every day is a new chance to make a great first (or second, or third) impression.

How often you update your website should be based on how often you expect visitors to return. If you have a blog and want people to come back every week, make sure that you have new articles every week. If you have a simple, service-based website that people don’t need to visit that often, then just check back once or twice a year to make sure the information and links are still accurate.

Here are six reasons why you should be updating your website content on a regular basis: […]

What is a Content Management System?
A content management system (CMS) is a web application that allows you to easily manage your website. A CMS can be an extremely powerful tool allowing you to create, manage, distribute, and publish information. Or it can be as simple as allowing you to update just one page of your site. […]

Empty plastic bags roll through a cracked and patched pavement parking lot. Shopping carts are scattered about… some maneuvering themselves unmanned through the rows of unpopulated parking spaces of the Electronics-O-Rama. The store signage is in disarray, and the glass of the storefront is fogged and dirty. The color scheme of the decrepit building is like that of a circus tent, plastered with fliers and promotional signs made with poster-board and Sharpies. However, on the inside of this dilapidated place of business is the brightest team of individuals ever to be in customer service, and their product is one in a million. No one comes close in either quality or customer satisfaction, but few customers have even thought twice about giving them the chance to prove themselves.

Electronics-O-Rama suffers from poor perceived credibility. The surface of their business, the “visual handshake,” is lacking a quality that the competition offers, though the competition can’t offer the same quality product or service.

Just how important is perceived credibility? Many small retail establishments have faded over the years to flashier, bigger, chain retailers providing the same products with worse customer service, or in some cases worse products (and customer service). What makes Best Buy more credible than Joe’s TV’s? The answer…

[…]

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.