<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Ignite Your Site: October 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Website Usability - Is Your Site Making the Grade?

A website is about more than just displaying your product or service information. A website is an experience that directly relates to your business and reputation. Last post we spoke about your home page and how important it is to make a great first impression. This post we expand on that and explain how that impression needs to extend beyond home page.

Navigation is key
Navigation is the most important part of a website. It is how your visitors get from one place to another. Think of your navigation as your street map or directions from old aunt sally! How annoyed are you when those directions or that map aren't easy to read or to follow? I know I get steaming mad when I'm told to make a right, only to realize they meant to say left.

So why put your visitors through that same type of turmoil? Your navigation needs to be visible and easy to follow. You shouldn't mix in company links with product and service links, and you shouldn't have more than 2 sets of navigation if possible (ie: Top Bar Nav, and Side Bar Nav). Many times people think if they give people 20 different navigation options they will be able to more easily find the page, but what you wind up doing is confusing the visitor into wondering if all of the links go to the same or different places.

Page Content and Page Structure
After you have successfully navigated your visitors to the correct page, the structure and content on those pages is just as important as how they got there. How you order the content in a page can directly relate to the number of conversions you make. For example if you have site where you sell roller blades and you get to a product page for a particular pair of blades, a visitor should be shown an image, short description, price, colors, etc and a buy now button. If instead they are shown paragraphs and paragraphs of information, and the very last thing on the page is the buy-now, you can bet that your conversion ratio is going to be pretty low.

Content as mentioned above is also very important. With that roller blade website example from above, the overview should be brief but highlight the key reasons that pair of blades is the right choice. For those visitors that might be more interested in the in-depth information you provide that but either further down on the page, or on a "more-details" page/tab. With this approach you are giving all your visitors what they want.

Clear conversion method
You've now effectively navigated your visitors to the correct spot and have the content and the structure of each page just right. What's next? Well what are you hoping your visitor will do? Do you want them to email you, send you a request for quote form, purchase an item, or pick up the phone and call you? Before you can decide on which conversion method to use, you have to answer that question; visitors aren't mind readers and without a clear way to finalize their process they may just hit the back button and be gone forever.

Once you've made the decision of how you want to have your visitors contact you, its time to implement it. You want to remember while you are configuring your site for the final conversion, you need to make it clear and easy for your visitors. Put the 800# large on the page if you want them to call you; make a nice "email us now" button that stands out if email is what you prefer; ensure your "buy-now" button is prominent on the page if purchasing is your method. Just keep in mind, if it is confusing for you, how do you expect your visitors to figure it out?

Remember: Usability is about your visitors, if you make it easy they will come!

Ignite MediaLLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Monday, October 27, 2008

It's Your Home Page, Not Your Company Profile Page!

That's right, your home page is not a place to be presenting your company history or your company philosophy. Your home page needs to be as direct and to the point as possible, but not about who you are, rather about what you offer and why you are better.

The home page is like the cover of a book
Would you pick up a book if the cover was a diatribe about the author? Would you even look twice if the cover looked more overwhelming then you had time for? The answer is probably no, or at least I hope so, otherwise you have a lot of time on your hands!

The cover of a book usually has a very catchy title, the authors name, and most times a picture to give you some insight as to what it is all about. You may also see a brief intro like "the best thriller novel you'll ever read". Within a few seconds you are able to get a sense for what that book is about and whether it will suite your reading needs. It's not until the inside or back cover that you get a bio of the author.

What should my home page be then?
It should be that intro that serves to quickly and effectively inform your visitors of whether they are at the right place or not. Take for example the website image below, the first thing you notice is the company logo is in the top left corner (A). This allows you to see if this is the right company and/or what company website you are at. The second thing you notice is a brief intro of what the company does and what products/services they offer (B). After that you see a group of content buckets (C) that represent important areas of the website. Content buckets are meant to guide visitors to the most important areas of the website, cutting down on search time. Along the left side you have the product/service navigation (D) which allows visitors to dig more deeply into the area of the site that interests them. And last but certainly not least there is a clearly visible call to action (E).

Within seconds a visitor has been able to identify, understand and assess the site and the company. They know right away whether the site will offer what they want.

KISS - Keep it Simple Stupid.
As with most things, the best approach is to keep things simple and straight forward. Don't add more then you have to, just get your message across and let the rest of the site handle the "fluff". Keeping it simple is something that is truly under-rated especially when it comes to websites, but you'll learn in time that some of the most simple sites are the most effective.

Remember: You're selling your products/services not your company history.

Ignite MediaLLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Website Analytics – Beyond the Dashboard

**PLEASE NOTE: This is not meant to be an in-depth analysis of Google Analytics, but rather a basic overview of what people can find if they dig a little and start using their analytics program past the dashboard. We’ll be giving an overview of the various sections and how it might help you with your overall marketing efforts.

More often than not when speaking with clients and or potential clients about their analytics they often only refer to a few things, visitors, hits, and/or keywords. This leads me to believe that many companies don’t ever look past the dashboard of their analytics program. They don’t dig down to really see what is going on with their website. In this post, I’m going to do my best to explain the various areas of Google Analytics and what it can show you as a client. We use Google Analytics as an example because most people can relate, and if you don’t have a GA account, your analytics program most likely has similar areas (dive in and you’ll be surprised by what you find!).

*All images are screen shots are courtesy of Google Analytics - https://www.google.com/analytics - all data has been removed to protect the site being analyzed.

Below we will show you some of the different areas available via the left navigation bar of Google Analytics, as well as giving some insight as to what you can find within that particular area and how it might be useful to you and your organizations marketing efforts. Please keep in mind that there are many other ways in which the different areas can be useful to you, but our examples will help those who have never look into them.

Visitors Section:
In this section you will find another dashboard that gives you an overview of data from the different areas dealing with visitors.

  • Benchmarking – In this area you can compare your sites that are relatively the same size as yours. You can also select which industry category your site falls under so you get an even better idea of how your site stacks up. This is a great way to see how well your site is performing compared to the rest of the industry in a broad view.

  • Map Overlay – This area lets you see what countries/regions your website visitors are coming from. It even shows you on a colored scale, which countries are referring more visitors than others. It may not seem important at first, but if you have a campaign targeting Europe, you could look here quickly and see whether or not it’s working (generally speaking).

  • New vs Returning – Here you can see what percentages of visitors are new versus visitors that have come back to your site after already having visited you at least once. Again his is great to look and to get a quick view of whether your site is gaining any new potential customers/clients.

  • Languages – Just what you thought it would be, this area gives you an idea of what languages the people who visited your site spoke. So let’s say you have been debating whether or not to have different translated version of your site. You can quickly come up with a priority list of which languages you should concentrate on and in what order.

  • Visitor Trending – This area is packed full of information. You can see how many of your visitors are unique each day, how many page views each visitor had, what your bounce rate is, how much time the average visitor spent on the site, etc. The usefulness of this data is endless, you can easily see whether you are keeping visitors at the site long enough to make a purchasing decision, or whether your site is “stickie” by seeing how high your bounce rate is.

  • Visitor Loyalty – Want to know how many times repeat visitors are coming to your site? You can get the breakdown of what percentage of visitors came back once, as opposed to two or three times or more. If you have a social networking community this would be extremely important information to have, as you certainly want to have your return rate as high as possible to keep the community active.

There are other areas in this section (Browser Capabilities and Network Properties) that get into the more technical aspects of your website. For example what browsers visitors are using to see your site. This would help your web designer when considering what to implement and how to test the site. Since this post is geared more towards the average company owner, we’ll stick to the areas that will have the most value to you (not that it’s not valuable information, but chances are you aren’t coding your own site!)

Traffic Sources Section:
In this section you will find another dashboard that gives you an overview of data from the different areas dealing with where your traffic is coming from.

  • Direct Traffic – Here you can see the number of visits that you received by the visitor typing in your website address directly into the address bar of the browser. This is a good indicator of how memorable your website address is.

  • Referring Sites – These reports let you quickly and easily see what sites your visitors were at that linked them over to your site. Knowing where your visitors are coming from can give you some great insight on whether that link you got on a related site was worth it or not.
  • Search Engines – As you might guess this section lets you see which search engines are referring traffic and how much. You may think that Google is the end all be all, but a quick look at this report can fill you in what other search engines matter to your visitors.
  • Keywords – Want to know what people actually typed in to find your website? You can, you just need to look here! That’s right, this area lets you see what your website visitors actually typed into the search engines to find you. Thinking of doing a PPC campaign, this is a great place to start when trying to figure out good keywords to use. A great post was recently written on the value of analytics and this section when doing keyword research by Unstuck Digital – Leveraging Analytics for Keyword Research.
  • Adwords – Do you currently have an Adwords campaign running? Great, you can track its effectiveness here. Drill down and see on a granular level what people did after clicking your ad.

Content Section:
In this section you will find another dashboard that gives you an overview of data from the different areas dealing with what content your visitors are seeing and going to.

  • Top Content – What content/pages are your visitors going to the most? Within this section you can see what content is most viewed. This is extremely valuable because if you know that a particular product page is getting most of the views, you might think of adding a call to action or reference link to other areas of the site or to order now!

  • Content Drilldown – What path did your visitors take once on the site? You can see that here, figure out which pages they viewed, and in what order they viewed them in. This helps in figuring out if the site you thought was intuitive really is as intuitive as you thought.

  • Top Landing Pages – The home page isn’t always the first page that website visitors see! That’s right, you read that correctly. Search engines try to provide the page that matches the closest with the search that was performed, so now you’ll know what pages are matching those searches.

  • Top Exit Pages – Just as important as the landing pages are the exit pages. What pages are people leaving your site at? Let’s say you run an ecommerce store and aren’t getting the number of orders you think you should be. One look at this could tell you that a majority of your visitors are leaving at the check-out first step. Now you can look and see why that might be.
  • Site Overlay – Ever wondered what buttons on a particular page are being used most often? Well now you can, this section lets you see the number of clicks on any linked part of that page whether they be navigation links, body text links, etc. Thought everyone would click the big red buy now button but they aren’t? Try it in a new spot and watch to see what happens, or change the color and see the effect.\

Now these sections are not the only ones in Google Analytics but if the dashboard was your main information source before, just going into these three main areas will give you a whole new wealth of knowledge about your site and visitors. You don’t have to be a ‘computer geek’ to understand the information either. Even having the most basic understanding will help you in conversing with your marketing team.

Remember: Knowledge is power, and analytics is powerful knowledge.

Ignite MediaLLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Monday, October 20, 2008

3 Types of Contact Forms and When to Use Them

Contact forms are on almost every website that you go to. Sometimes they are long and drawn out, other times they are short sweet and to the point. Although many of us may not love the long drawn out ones, there are times when each is appropriate. When you break it all down there are three basic varieties of contact forms 1) In Depth 2) General Information 3) Quick Contact. The trick is knowing when to use which form.

In Depth Contact Forms:
These forms are the ones where you are asked for everything but what the first word you said as a child! Seriously, they are very specific about what information they are asking for and are usually at least 15-20 questions long. At first thought this may seem like a complete waste, and that no-one would ever fill out a form this long.

In depth contact forms are good for a variety of applications such as on a real-estate site, an insurance site, or even a medical site. On each of these sites the company needs to know as much information as they can in order to assist you as quickly and efficiently as possible. The one thing that you want to make sure of when using a form that involves gathering some highly personal information (such as social security numbers), is to have the information collected in a secure database that can only be accessed through an administrative area requiring you to login.

A poor use of an in depth contact form would be on an ecommerce website. You don't need a persons social security number, age, or date of birth (typically) in order to sell someone a product. Using this type of form on a "simple" site can have some pretty devastating effects on you conversion rate.

General Information Contact Forms:
These types of forms are probably the most common type of form seen around the internet. They typically ask for the basic information such as name, tel, fax, email, comments, etc. They are usually only 3-8 questions long and take very little time to fill out and submit.

A great place for these types of forms is on any website where you are looking to have people get in touch with you for general inquires. For example on a website that sells bikes you may want a general contact form for people who have questions about parts, style bikes, etc. This allows a website visitor an easy to use option to contact you and give you some information on what they are looking for without having to pick-up the phone. These types of forms can generally be sent via email, and don't usually require a secure area to be stored in as nothing personal is really being sent.

A poor use of a general contact form would be on a car insurance website where you want to provide customers a way of requesting an insurance quote. These types of forms usually do not request enough information to give any type of valuable quote to a customer.

Quick Contact, Contact Forms:
These are the short, sweet and to the point forms. They generally only require an email address, name and description, sometimes a phone number also. These are great for visitors who know your company, know your site and just want to quickly reach out to you for a question or for you to get back in touch with them.

These forms are great to use in conjunction with a full contact us form page. You can use these quick forms throughout the site as they take up very little room and provide a great call to action area. For visitors that need more in-depth information they can easily click the contact us button where a more general or in depth form will await them.

Remember: Providing the right means of contact can mean the difference between a visitor and a client.

Ignite MediaLLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Don't underestimate your visitors

All websites are built for a reason, and that's to have visitors be able to see it and hopefully contact you. Why then do we underestimate how smart these visitors are? Time and time again I've heard web designers, SEOs and other marketers say "but our visitors won't get that". I think that what we are forgetting who those visitors are.

Website visitors aren't just computer-illiterate users!
I know it may be hard to believe, but people who visit your website may have actually used another website before! They may have even been on other computers too! OK, enough with the sarcasm, but I honestly think that we sometimes think our website visitors are coming to our website on their first day of using a computer. But lets stop for a minute and think about who those visitors might be.

Lets say that you own an electronics store, and you sell everything from laptops to flat panel TVs on your website. Now lets consider who typically is buying these things. They are usually pretty tech savvy people, and if they aren't their friend or relative is who is helping them purchase the item. Those tech savvy users like to know the details of what makes that particular digital camera work, they want to know about the mega-pixals, zoom ratio, etc. So it would be smart of you as the store owner to provide that information.

Now what about a more simple product like clothing. Well that visitor could be anyone, but lets narrow this down a bit to baby clothing. Your typical shopper is going to be the mother/father or relative. You can bet that the expecting mother wants to know what the article of clothing was made out of, how it washes, and if it has been fire tested. So again, why not give them this information?

Too quickly, we dumb things down:
It seems that we are often times overly concerned with saving time, and dumbing things down. These things certainly have their place, for instance in an emergency you don't want an exit sign that gives every turn; rather a sign with an arrow that leads to the next sign with an arrow is much quicker and more efficient. But the last time I checked, we aren't looking for our visitors to find the quickest way out.

Providing a valuable product along with relevant information, even if it seems like "the visitor won't read it", is important. Sure, not everyone who comes to your website is going to read it, but some people will. For those people that want the information your site has just stood out from the crowd. You've provided that visitor not only with the information they were looking for but the trust that they can count on you to educate and inform them on what they are purchasing.

Quality is more important than brevity:
I would much rather have quality information that happens to be a little on the lengthy side in terms of information then have a site that is so brief on information it doesn't answer all of the visitors questions. You have to remember, these people are purchasing something from you that they could purchase somewhere else if they don't feel like you've satisfied their need, so make sure you are providing as much information as possible, not just the shortest amount of information.

Remember: You are a visitor at other sites, do you like being treated like a toddler? Probably not, so why treat your visitors that way?

Ignite MediaLLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Trust and Marketing - Shouldn't You Trust Your Firm?

This past week one of our clients explained to me "we work with you because we trust you and you explain everything to us". I couldn't have been more elated when she said that, it is everything that Ignite Media was founded on. Trust and education are two very important qualities when it comes to any business relationship.

What does trust have to do with it?
What doesn't trust have to do with it? If your clients trust you, then you have clients for life, if they are suspicious of you then they are always watching what you are doing wondering if it is the right thing. It's never a good thing when someone is constantly looking over your shoulder to see if you've screwed up, and it certainly isn't a good thing when your clients are doing it.

How do I build trust?
Be Honest and Educate! That's it, if you can do those two things, 9 times out of 10 you will have a customer for life. So many companies out there are afraid of being honest, and telling their client exactly what they are doing. "We might give away the family secret", or "what if they don't want to hear the truth", are two things that cross the minds of those businesses that don't believe in being honest or educating their clients.

Yes, there are times when your client probably will not want to hear the truth, but in the long run you'll both be much better off that they know. They won't have any reason to think that you are playing games with them and you won't have any reason to be worried that they might find out something down the road. The air is clear, the discussions can continue on and most likely the working relationship will be stronger for it.

What do you mean educate?
You don't have to sit down and teach them every aspect of your business, but you should explain to them what you are doing for them. Let them in on your process and why you do things the way you do. I'd even suggest going as far as writing it all out for them and letting them see that you do indeed have a method. "But what if they show that to the competitor"? Do you really think your competitor doesn't know how you do things? Just think about the last employ that left your company, do you think they've never told anyone about how things are done at ACME corporation?

An educated client is a better client because now they are part of the process. They understand what it is they are getting and why you have to do things before other things. They start to realize that the money they are spending is being used in the right ways and that they can feel confident going back to their board members, or partners and explaining what is going on and what will happen next.

For the most part there are no family secrets. I mean you don't want to publish what you are doing for each of your clients online, but as far as a process goes and your methods there's nothing secret about it. Chances are you are just one of 100's of companies that do the same thing, but what makes you different is that you don't hide what you are doing for your client! Now doesn't that sound like a great conversation point with your next potential client?!

Remember: "If you give a man a fish he will have a single meal. If you teach him how to fish, he will eat for life" - Kuan-tzu

Ignite MediaLLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Clients, Visitors, Customers - Whatever you call them, they come first!

I just finished reading a really interesting blog post entitled "The Power of Accidental SEO: A Case Study", which tells about a women who was so into her business that SEO was something that happened because of her, not by her. I encourage you to click the link and take a read, it will be well worth it I promise.

So what does "the accidental SEO" mean to you?
At the very least it should show you that although SEO is important, what is more important is that you engage your customers/clients/visitors. Having a site just because it's what you needed, or running a blog because it's what everyone else is doing will greatly decrease your chances for success.

We at Ignite realize that not everything can be done through passion and pure love, but there needs to be at least a little of each in order for other people to 'buy-in" and take hold of what you are presenting. Whether it be through writing, talking, or actions people can tell if you are really into what you are presenting.

Should I stop my SEO than?
No, and I'm not just saying that because it's a service we offer. If I thought SEO had lost its luster I would stop offering it as a service and make sure I preached to all my clients that they didn't need it anymore, but as of right now that is not the case. SEO is important and will help, but you the client also need to get involved and give your site/blog/article something extra, something that makes people realize you really do understand their needs and care about what they want/need.

Remember: SEO is not the cure-all, it's merely one of the ingredients in a well thought out marketing plan.

Ignite MediaLLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development

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