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January 17 2014

10:00

5 Tips for Pre-Launch Landing Pages

Launching a website, app, or digital product online will require some upfront work.

One of the things that need to be done is to set up a pre-launch landing page that helps people learn about your upcoming product and allow them to subscribe to updates about your launch.

An Ineffective Way to Launch

Let’s say you get a brilliant idea for a new product.

You believe in the idea so much that you can’t wait to build it. You dive in headfirst into wireframes, mockups, UI design and code.

You spend months putting in long days and nights, doing everything you can to perfect the core value proposition of the product and getting ready to ship it.

Finally, launch day arrives.

You push it live, activate your payment system, perhaps you email a few friends and bloggers about it, share it on social media, etc.

Now you’re just waiting patiently for people to come, hoping that all that hard work will pay off.

And then… *Crickets*.

A sale here, an account sign-up there, but certainly not the big launch you had hoped for, the type of launch you always see on Hacker News or TechCrunch.

Taking out the possibility that you built bad product — that it was poorly designed or the functionality was off — the problem probably comes from the lack of building anticipation and excitement prior to the launch date.

I certainly made this mistake in my earlier product launches, and now I’d like to share the lessons I learned from them.

Tip 1: It’s Never Too Early

First things first: Creating your pre-launch landing page should be one of the very first things you do. Do it even before writing one line of code!

The earlier you get your pre-launch page up and running, the better.

Use your pre-launch landing page to spark conversations with potential customers and to begin gathering feedback.

Your pre-launch landing page will also get you started on building your mailing list, as well as social media network.

When I decided to write and release my book, I designed and launched the landing page before I wrote the first chapter!

My pre-launch page provided a destination where I can begin promoting the book, building my mailing list, and creating some buzz.

More importantly, the pre-launch page allowed me to develop my "sales pitch" — the value proposition of my book. It helped me refine my ideas as well as pinpoint ways to make it connect with my intended audience better.

After writing the initial copy for that pre-launch landing page, and hearing feedback from people interested in the topic of the book, I had a much better footing as I began outlining and writing it.

I designed this landing page from scratch and hooked it up with MailChimp to manage the email sign-ups:

Getting Your Pre-launch Page Set Up Quickly

You don’t want to take away too much time from building your product. And often, a simple approach is the most effective one.

There are a lot of pre-launch apps that will help you develop your launch strategy. Here are a few of them:

LaunchRock provides a complete launching platform:

LaunchRock

Launch Effect Lite is a free WordPress theme for pre-launch events; the premium version has additional features and tech support:

Launch Effect Lite

LaunchGator helps you create a free "coming soon" page:

LaunchGator

KickoffLabs helps you develop your landing pages to increase lead generation:

KickoffLabs

Unbounce is a web app designed for online marketers to help them create optimized landing pages:

Unbounce

Tip 2: Provide as Much Detail as Possible

We’ve all seen pre-launch landing pages for startups that consist only of a logo, one sentence, and an email opt-in form to "get notified when the product launches".

Get notified when you launch what exactly?

Simple and vague landing pages might get some people signed up to your mailing list, but they won’t be pre-qualified potential users of your product because they don’t have an idea about what it actually is, or how it will benefit them. They might have just signed up to determine what it is you’re going to be launching, which is something that should have already been provided in the pre-launch landing page.

A better approach would be to include as much information as you can about your soon-to-launch product.

It’s okay that your product doesn’t actually exist yet. Be transparent about that.

But do explain the pain point and the solution you plan to offer, and how your customer will benefit from your proposed solution when it’s released. Express your value proposition clearly. Articulate your vision and plans.

Those who read through those details and subscribe to your mailing list are much more likely to become customers later because they know what you’re hoping to provide them.

Here’s an example of a good pre-launch landing page for the beta version of Updately:

Updately beta launch page

It does a great job of providing lots of details about the app using a mix of visuals and great copy to communicate all of the key benefits to their audience. At the end of the page, there’s a call to action to subscribe to their mailing list.

Tip 3: Provide Useful Information

Your landing page shouldn’t just be about selling. You can also use it as an opportunity to educate your audience and give them something to think and care about.

Go beyond just the pain point and your solution. Teach them about a key concept that drives everything you do.

For example, let’s say you plan to release a help desk app. You could include a section about customer satisfaction statistics related to companies having a help desk system versus those that don’t.

Anything that can be taken as a nugget of value can help build trust in your product. This type of thing can give your pre-launch page visitors just the nudge they need to go and enter their email address, and hopefully buy from you later.

Nathan Barry does a great job of educating his visitors on his product landing pages. His sales page for Authority, a book about writing books, not only gives people plenty of detail about what’s in it, but also dives deep into the first lesson (setting a strict writing schedule to complete your book).

The book is already on sale, so this would be considered a "post-launch" landing page, but the pre-launch version wasn’t much different conceptually from what you see today. It contained loads of information, detail and lessons — all providing value before any transaction is ever made.

Tip 4: Give Something of Value Now

As a potential email list subscriber, I need to receive some sort of value that I can sink my teeth into if I was ever going to be compelled to sign-up.

For example, if you’re going to launch a premium icon set, you could consider giving a subset of it away for free to those who sign up to your mailing list. If you’re writing an ebook, you could email your mailing list subscribers the first two chapters to give them a taste of what’s coming.

Put real thought and research into these resources, and keep them focused around the topic that your target customers really care about. If it’s something that really matters to them, they’ll want to get their hands on it.

Tip 5: Touch Base Regularly

I come across a pre-launch landing page for a product, and it looks great! It’s perfect. Just what I’m looking for.

It looks like something I’d be willing to pay for. So I enter my email address to be notified when it’s released.

4, 6, 8 months go by, and I don’t hear a word from them. Finally, 9 months later, I get an email from a name I don’t recognize, with the subject line, "We’ve launched!"

There’s no way I remember who this company or person is, or what this product was about. At this point, I don’t remember ever signing up for this list. It must be spam. Delete.

If that company had stayed in touch with me throughout their pre-launch period, with weekly or monthly emails to give me new information on the developments of their product, it would have led to a much better outcome.

Come launch day, I would have recognized the name of the person emailing me, I would have known what this launch was all about (because I had been expecting it), and I’d be much more likely to buy the thing if I was still an email subscriber at this point. And if I don’t end up buying it, at the very least I’d probably be more inclined to tweet about the launch because I’ve been tracking it for 9 months.

Conclusion

The pre-launch period is all about building up anticipation, priming your audience, and staying top-of-mind so that that when the day comes, they’re ready to buy and help you build buzz for your product.

I hope you find these tips helpful as you prepare to launch your next great product!

Share your tips and post your questions in the comments.

Related Content

About the Author

Brian Casel is a web designer and the author of Design For Conversions, a book to help startups design a better marketing site. Check out Brian’s personal site, casjam.com and connect with him on Twitter @CasJam.

The post 5 Tips for Pre-Launch Landing Pages appeared first on Six Revisions.

December 03 2013

14:30

What’s in a Story?

In 2006 and 2009, studies were published showing that fiction readers were more empathetic than their non-reading counterparts. In 2012, further studies showed that the areas in the brain that activate when a person tells a story are also activated in the listener. In other words, years of study led researchers to conclude something that most of us instinctively know: that the stories we (as individuals or as companies) tell our audience directly influence the thoughts and actions of those who listen.

Few people remember the year the Titanic sank, although most of us learned it in middle school history. Yet the movie Titanic immortalized every detail of the sinking ship in the minds of millions. Equally, content strategists and designers must constantly tell stories to inform the perspective of their prospective users.

Put simply: stories are more engaging than facts, and we all have the power to tell them. In this article we’ll review not only the importance of stories throughout the history of human beings, but also the ways that we, as content strategists and designers, can create stories that provide context for our target audience.

Why stories?

“People need stories more than bread itself. They tell us how to live, and why.” – Arabian Nights

Storytelling is an invaluable means of communication, dating back thousands of years. Greek and Roman mythology, for example, explained everything from the changing seasons to life and death. One Greek myth is that of Pandora’s box:

Pandora was the first human woman on Earth. There were Gods and there were Titans, but no humans. So each God gave Pandora a gift: beauty, charm, music, curiosity, and persuasion among them. Zeus, ruler of the Gods, also gave Pandora a box (or a jar, in the original Greek), and told her not to open it. Curiosity being one of Pandora’s gifts, she eventually succumbed and opened the box. Out flew disease, hatred, war—all sorts of terrible things. She managed to close the box before hopelessness could fly out.

The Greeks used this tale to explain all of the world’s evils and how humanity could hold hope in spite of them. True, the Greeks could have merely passed along “facts” from one generation to the next. They could have told their children “there is evil in the world, and yet you must continue to have hope.” Instead they used the power of story and, in so doing, created something that’s been with us for over 3,000 years.

Today, well branded companies use a similar approach. Many of us forget that sneakers are not an exciting purchase, yet Nike tells the stories of professional athletes who started out “just like us.” We buy their story and, consequently, the shoes that come with them. State Farm insurance doesn’t focus on paperwork, either. They tell a story about enjoying family time and having friends to help out in times of trouble. We purchase their insurance in hopes of buying into the camaraderie they present.

Content creators are storytellers

But information doesn’t naturally come in story form. On the contrary, many companies begin with “facts” such as “our sneakers decrease knee injuries” or “our application saves users time when they look up recipes.” This non-narrative approach may be less compelling, but what it lacks in panache it makes up for in opportunity. By adding context to facts, content strategists can provide their audience with a story rather than a table of benefits and functionality.

As a content strategist myself, I recently helped a company craft a story to provide the necessary context for their new online community. After speaking with a few of their target users—those in the “nutrition web” space—we began to establish the company’s story. We asked a second group of target users if they would like help finding healthy recipes for evenings when guests joined their family for dinner. We looked for chances to weave story into every aspect of the website: stories about family dinners, stories about children growing up, stories about busy days with only a few minutes to relax. Our target audience responded incredibly and traffic increased!

So how did we do it? In order to develop the best stories, we followed a four-step plan: We Researched our audience, Established our story, Added in details, and Distributed copies.

Research

The first step to communication is learning about our potential audience: where they spend their time, what information they need, what vocabulary they use. We do this through listening.

Ideally our companies have a sense of who their prospective users might be. By interviewing five people (be that as vague as “iphone users” or as specific as “moms in their 40s with teenage kids, full time jobs, working in the tech industry”), we obtain a gestalt of the vocabulary our users are comfortable with (also known as a vernacular or a lexicon) and some of the stories with which they might empathize.

There is no shortcut to this part, unfortunately. Just as there’s no shortcut to learning about a blind date—all the Google searches in the world won’t tell you what you’ll learn during an actual conversation—there is no better way to learn about users than to just sit with them and listen. We do that best by way of ethnographic interviews, interviews or conversations designed to do nothing more than understand who our target audience is and how they spend their time.

The questions to ask are simple: ask users to explain what they do at work all day; ask them to describe the details; learn what acronyms they use and how much work impacts their daily life; ask them about their families; ask them how they spend their free time. Most of all, ask them what frustrates them, at work or at home. Everyone seems to warm up when they’ve been invited to complain a bit!

Establish the story

Once we understand our user’s stories, it’s time to tell our own. For many people, this is the hardest part of the job: crafting a story our company wants to tell.

Nike’s content strategy team clearly follows a trope in which a beginner athlete moves to the pros. Perhaps this is based off research in which many members of their target audience said “if I had better sneakers, I would run more. I always wanted to run a 10 mile race.” Someone who responded this way would obviously feel a connection to a commercial in which an athlete transitions from beginner to winner.

The best product stories are aspirational, providing a gateway into a world created by using the product or service. In service of that story’s creation, content strategists need to frame things with a clear beginning, a middle, and end. Consider the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood:

  • Little Red Riding Hood wants to visit her grandmother. (Beginning)
  • She meets the wolf, who eats her and her grandmother. (Middle)
  • The huntsman kills the wolf, and Red Riding Hood lives happily ever after with her grandmother. (End)

Companies can employ a similar structure. If Motorola’s target audience includes “parents with full time jobs,” and Motorola knows those parents have a common thread of guilt—insofar as they wish they could be in two places, the office and home, at once—the company might craft a story like:

  • Joe wants to spend more time with his family. (Beginning)
  • Joe buys the new Moto X phone, which allows him to work from anywhere. (Middle)
  • Joe leaves the office early, to take his family on a picnic. (End)

Add details

Remember, stories give us context. A story that’s devoid of personalized details fails to create context and, therefore, fails to make a connection. This is why, according to Aberdeen Group, personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14%, and conversion rates by 10%.

Many content strategists miss the mark here. We create an outline (the beginning, middle and end) based upon our understanding of our audience, but we neglect to add personalized details. No one cares about a story of a person who goes for a walk, walks into a house, and then gets kicked out when the owners return. What makes the story interesting is what it expands into. The person changes to a little girl. The strangers become bears! The bears become a family. The family enjoys a morning walk. This explains why they were out of the house. The little girl becomes Goldilocks, a very curious girl, who is always poking into other peoples’ business. And on and on and on.

If Goldilocks had a Twitter account, it would likely be filled with reports on bears, recipes to make oatmeal, and pathways through the woods. These are the personalizations that make a story compelling. Over time, the number of details woven into a social media strategy might expand as the character of Goldilocks (or the brand personality) expanded. The Twitter feed might include information on her favorite types of breakfast, or personalized emails might mention even less-obviously-related items, like a book she happened to be reading.

The story behind our companies must expand in a similar way. What makes Home Depot’s Twitter feed so interesting is not just the deals it offers; it’s the non-hardware-related articles the feed promotes that still appeal to its customers. Customers who align with the Home Depot brand enjoy DIY projects, humorous contests, and family-centric holidays.

Distribute

Finally we have to distribute the story itself.

In theater, it’s commonly said that the show is not complete unless it has an audience. The same is true of a story. A story is nothing without its audience. The best part is that the same story may have multiple parts—and therefore multiple audiences—across multiple mediums.

Nike’s brand story, for example, is told through their commercials, their website, on their Facebook page, and on their Twitter feed. Nike tells different parts of that story in every communication with every user. They’re not trying to sell; that’s just a byproduct. They’re engaging their audience by offering articles, videos, cartoons, and other news that’s custom-tailored to a given interaction.

But that’s Nike. Not every audience can be found on TV, Facebook or Twitter. Some companies find their users on LinkedIn, or Quora, or Instagram. The key isn’t to go to a specific place. The key is that, through user research (remember step one?), we can learn where any audience member spends their time, online and off. Then we work to join the conversations whenever and wherever they take place.

Tell your story

For each individual brand, we can follow these steps to improve the overall user experience and better engage the user. Every story embodies a personality, which we can personalize for the target audience to make our product or company friendly and focused. Storytelling is in our genes, and it’s a tool everyone on the UX team can—and should—use!

This article’s lead image is copyright Mike Shaheen.


The post What’s in a Story? appeared first on UX Booth.

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09:01

Soup.io will be discontinued :(

Dear soup.io fans and users,
 
today, we have to share very sad news. Soup.io will stop working in less than 10 days. :(
 
It's breaking our heart and we honestly tried whatever we could to keep the platform up and running. But the high costs and low revenue streams made it impossible to continue with it. We invested a lot of personal time and money to operate the platform, but when it's over, it's over.
 
We are really sorry. Soup.io is part of the internet history and online for one and a half decades.
 
Here are the hard facts:
- In 10 days the platform will stop working.
- Backup your data in this time
- We will not keep backups nor can we recover your data
 
July, 20th, 2020 is the due date.
 
Please, share your thoughts and feelings here.
 
Your Soup.io TEAM
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October 02 2013

10:00

Using Your Design Skills to Get Website Traffic

If you’ve got design skills, you have plenty of opportunities available to you for generating additional site traffic.

In this article, I’ll discuss some ideas and show you some examples of website content that have the ability to bring in a lot of site visitors.

Infographics

Infographics creatively make complex information more interesting and easier to understand. Because infographics are so well-suited to conveying interesting information quickly — which is optimal on the Internet — they are an extremely popular form of Web content.

According to online marketing firm Smart Insights, the number of people searching for "infographics" has increased by 800% since 2010.

Source: smartinsights.com

A good infographic can spread quickly across social networks like Facebook and Twitter and social bookmarking sites like Pinterest, StumbleUpon and Reddit, giving you the chance to generate a lot of site traffic rapidly.

Here’s an example of an infographic about the Mobile Web:

The infographic above has over 650 retweets and close to 200 Facebook Likes. To date, it has gotten close to 12,000 pageviews.

Infographic Tips

Once you’ve designed your infographic, it’s time to kick-start the snowball effect.

You should host the infographic on your own website so that you reap the benefit of any incoming links and traffic.

As a next step, you should email relevant blogs and websites asking them to repost your infographic with a link back to your site as the source.

You can also submit your infographic to galleries like visualizing.org and visual.ly.

For inspiration, check out this showcase of 40 useful and creative infographics.

Freebies

Orman Clark is a top-selling WordPress theme creator, having sold over $1 million worth of WordPress themes on ThemeForest.

One of his main promotional strategies is to give away free graphic resources on his personal website, Premium Pixels:

On the download page for each freebie, Clark displays a gallery of his WordPress themes on the sidebar:

It’s possible this strategy is part of the reason for his success in being a top-seller of premium WordPress themes.

Next time you create something cool in Photoshop or Illustrator, package the file up for distribution and give it away. If the freebie is useful, website owners will gladly send you links and traffic.

Desktop and Mobile Wallpapers

A beautiful wallpaper can attract links to your website.

Better yet, there are literally hundreds of wallpaper galleries you can submit your wallpaper to such as Wallbase.cc and InterfaceLIFT. These sites can provide you with significant amounts of site traffic if your wallpaper gets featured.

For example, as part of my work at Microlancer, I organized a wallpaper to be illustrated and distributed on our site:

Besides being a nice little freebie for our site users, I was able to submit the wallpaper to dozens of desktop and mobile wallpaper galleries, and receive dozens of links and plenty of site traffic in return.

Wallpaper Design Tip

To give your wallpaper design the best possible chance of success, you should create different-sized versions of it for popular desktop monitor screen sizes and mobile devices.

Below is a list of common wallpaper dimensions:

Dimension (px) For 2560×1440 27” widescreen monitor 1920×1200 23-24” widescreen monitor 1680×1050 22” widescreen monitor 1600×1200 20-21” widescreen monitor 1440×900 14-15” (laptops) 1280×1024 A standard resolution for display monitors 854×960 Android smartphone 640×960 iPhone 4 640×1136 iPhone 5 1024×1024 iPad

Custom-Designed Article Layouts

When you open the pages of a print magazine, nearly every article’s layout is custom-designed to suit the article’s topic. Why not do the same with your blog posts?

Jason Santa Maria added to his fame by designing custom layouts for each of his blog posts, like this one:

Trent Walton also creates custom webpage layouts for articles on his website. Here’s an example of one of his custom-designed articles:

With custom webpage layouts, your blog posts and articles will be extra memorable and shareable on social media.

Minisites

A minisite is a small website that’s narrowly focused around one thing. Because minisites include so little content, you can spend extra time making it beautiful.

When Envato hit 1 million members, the company made a minisite to celebrate the milestone:

Another great example of a minisite is How much to make an app?:

A clever minisite can be built quickly and send traffic and links to your site for years to come.

Your Turn

What are other ways designers can bring traffic into their website? Share your tips in the comments!

Related Content

About the Author

Skellie is a blogger and content marketer based in Melbourne, Australia. She works for Microlancer, a marketplace for freelance services. Connect with her on Twitter as @skellie.

The post Using Your Design Skills to Get Website Traffic appeared first on Six Revisions.

August 05 2013

10:00

How to Create Better Content Using the Conversion Funnel Approach

Great content offers website owners a plethora of benefits.

That’s why brands, big and small, from Red Bull to your neighborhood’s coffee shop, are trying to better serve their customers by providing relevant and interesting content through various channels.

However, creating content can be very time-consuming and expensive, especially if you don’t have a large budget and a content marketing agency at your fingertips.

So how do you choose whether to create a viral cat video or invest in writing up a technical whitepaper? Or should you just spend time updating your website’s FAQ page instead?

I will share some tips and ideas for developing a good website content strategy based on the conversion funnel concept.

Conversion Funnel

From a business standpoint, a good content strategy is one that:

  • Represents the business well
  • Engages potential consumers in a non-intrusive way
  • Helps increase sales or meet certain objectives that the business has

Before you start developing a content strategy and integrating it with your website production processes, it’s crucial to understand the journey your customer takes from initially hearing about your company to making a purchase.

In general terms, we can refer to the journey that a person takes from being a non-customer to our customer as the conversion funnel.

A generalized conversion funnel can be comprised of four steps (borrowed from the marketing industry):

  • Awareness: The stage of initial contact with the customer. This is when the customer first learns about your company.
  • Interest: Once the customer is aware of your company, she might become interested in you.
  • Desire: After the interest of the customer is aroused, the customer could reach a point where she starts wanting your products and services, although no purchase action has been made at this stage.
  • Action: At this stage of the conversion funnel, the customer is not only wanting and daydreaming about your product/service, but also musters up the money, time, and effort needed to buy it.

The acronym AIDA helps us remember these stages, and it’s borrowed from the marketing industry.

Customer behavior differs widely across all these stages.

Someone who has just learned about your product (awareness), for example, will behave differently when compared to someone who already wants to buy your product (action).

The goal of content strategy is to quickly and effectively drive the customers from awareness to interest to desire to action by providing the right content for each stage.

Create Optimal Content for Each Conversion Funnel Stage

For our discussion, let’s draw out a hypothetical scenario.

Let’s say that we have created a new photo-editing application and we are now ready to sell it.

Let’s call our hypothetical software: Photoshot.

Photoshot’s target consumers are web designers and photographers.

As a marketing strategy, we have decided that online content is a means to getting our target consumers to buy our software.

Let’s discuss content strategy in terms of the awareness, interest, desire, action conversion funnel.

Awareness

Our potential customer is not yet aware of Photoshot.

At this point, our goal is to start him on the conversion funnel by first making him aware that our product exists.

What are some general questions that web designers and photographers have (our target consumers) about photo-editing software?

Some examples might be:

  • "What are some popular photo-editing techniques I can try in my design/photography projects?"
  • "Where can I see good design/photography work?"
  • "Who are the top designers/photographers in the industry?"
  • "What websites can I go to if I want to learn about design and photography?"
  • "What are some new web design/photography tools in the recent months?"

In other words, our potential customers, not yet aware of Photoshot, ask very general questions that anyone working with photo-editing software will encounter on a regular basis.

At the pre-awareness stage, our potential buyers aren’t specifically asking about Photoshot because they aren’t aware it exists.

If we develop content which answers these general questions, we could get their attention because we helped them answer something they need answered. We give them something of value.

By producing content that’s desirable to our desired customers, we are starting the conversion funnel; perhaps, when they finish reading our interesting content, they become interested in us.

Interest

When our customers become interested in Photoshot, their questions and demand for content changes.

For example, they might now be thinking of these questions:

  • "Is Photoshot better than my current photo-editing software?"
  • "What’s so special about Photoshot?"
  • "Am I missing out on anything by not using Photoshot?"
  • "How, exactly, does Photoshot work?"

Desire

If we are able to compellingly answer questions about our software, our customer might decide that he actually wants it.

Sometimes we can get him to take action quickly after he starts desiring our product.

But sometimes he might add it to his "wish list" of things to buy someday, rather than looking to buy it immediately.

The questions about our software at this stage might be questions like:

  • "How do I convince my boss that I need Photoshot when I already have photo-editing software?"
  • "Do I have an upcoming project that would benefit from this software?"
  • "Are there any ways to get this software for free so I can at least experience some of its benefits right now?"
  • "Do I really need to buy this now?"

Action

These are the questions that a typical customer might ask when they are about to buy Photoshot:

  • "What OS does it support?"
  • "Can my computer handle Photoshot? What are its system requirements?"
  • "Can I pay for my purchase easily? (PayPal, credit card, cash, etc.)?"
  • "Are there any limitations on how I can use this software?"
  • "Can I download it, or do I need to go to a physical store to buy it?"

The Optimal Type of Content Changes at Each Stage

The needs of our customers are completely different at each stage.

Therefore, when preparing our content strategy, we should go through each stage of the conversion funnel and tailor our content for each stage.

Focus on the Most Important Stages of the Funnel

You now understand how customers move from awareness to interest to desire to action, as well as what types of questions arise during the conversion funnel journey.

Developing content for all of these stages is a lot of work, so you need to prioritize.

It’s crucial to understand which stages of the conversion funnel would help you the most at any given time.

For example, if we only see 10 visitors per day on our website, our problem is awareness. Developing an FAQ on how to buy and install our software will not help because no one is interested and desiring our product yet.

Instead, we could start with a series of blog posts on design trends or guest posting in a leading design blog to help create awareness.

Alternatively, if we have a healthy level of site traffic but customers constantly ask us how to buy our product or how to set-up the free trial, then we need to develop content that addresses these types of questions — maybe a webinar or video on using the software — instead of routing our limited resources on creating viral infographics and guest blog posts.

You might be asking how you could determine which stage of the funnel are the most important at any given time.

There is no clear-cut answer.

However, it often makes sense to see where the bottlenecks are.

You might ask yourself the following questions.

  • "Do I see a lot of visitors to our website?"
  • "Do potential customers know about us?"

If not, we need to work on awareness.

  • "When we guest post on other websites, do the customers click through to our website?"
  • "Does our company interest them?"
  • "Do they wonder how it works?"

If not, we need to work on interest.

  • "Are the customers interested in buying our product?"
  • "Do they believe it is a great, necessary product?"

If not, we need to work on desire and prove the benefits to the customers.

  • "Do people understand how and where to buy our product?"
  • "Are my conversion rates similar or better to others in the industry?"

If not, we might need to work on action.

Distribution Channels

No matter how wonderful your content is, it will not find the customer by itself.

You also need to decide how you are going to deliver it to the customer.

The optimal content distribution channels differ for each stage of the conversion funnel, and therefore you need to learn where the customers typically find content at each stage.

For example, our customers at the action stage of the funnel are already looking for photo-editing software. They are probably using Google to search for various options. They might also look at industry blogs, forums, and review sites to find out what option is the best.

Therefore, in order to capture that audience, we will need to develop content that would answer the questions arising at that stage.

But more than that, we need to think of ways in which our content is disseminated. It could be search engines, blogs, forums, review sites, YouTube — we need to figure out what the most effective means of getting a piece of content in front of the right people is.

Our customers at the pre-awareness stage are probably not looking for our company at all. Therefore, we could get their attention by attracting them with an interesting topic, let’s say by developing a collection of inspirational photo-editing work, a tutorial on photo-editing that uses Photoshot, or a set of graphic design resources. The distribution channel could be our own blog or industry blogs.

Depending on the bottlenecks in your conversion funnel, you can now focus on creating the content for the stage that would help you the most at any given time.

Content Strategy Matrix

I have created a table that could serve as our map towards using content as a marketing method for Photoshot, our hypothetical software.

Stage Possible Questions Distribution Channels Awareness - "What are some popular photo-editing techniques I can try in my design/photography projects?"

- "Where can I see good design/photography work?"

- "Who are the top designers/photographers in the industry?"

- "What websites can I go to if I want to learn about design and photography?"

- "What are some new web design/photography tools in the recent months?" - mainstream media
- guest posts
- press releases
- webinars
- trade shows
- conferences
- social media
- display advertising Interest - "Is Photoshot better than my current photo-editing software?"
- "What’s so special about Photoshot?"
- "Am I missing out on anything by not using Photoshot?"
- "How, exactly, does Photoshot work?" - our website
- press releases
-
webinars
- social media
- display advertising
- review sites
- forums Desire - "How do I convince my boss that I need Photoshot when I already have photo-editing software?"
- "Do I have an upcoming project that would benefit from this software?"
- "Are there any ways to get this software for free so I can at least experience some of its benefits right now?"
- "Do I really need to buy this now?" - review websites
- our website
- SEO
- forums
- Google Adwords Action - "What OS does it support?"
- "Can my computer handle Photoshot? What are its system requirements?"
- "Can I pay for my purchase easily? (PayPal, credit card, cash, etc.)?"
- "Are there any limitations on how I can use this software?"
- "Can I download it, or do I need to go to a physical store to buy boxed software?" - our website
- Google Adwords
- SEO
- forums

Creating your own table can serve as your cheat sheet for your content-based marketing efforts.

Continual Improvement of Content Strategy

Finally, you should never rest on your laurels and assume that what worked yesterday will work tomorrow.

Your competitors are constantly thinking about how to produce the most compelling content and lure the customer’s attention.

Therefore, you should continuously experiment with various types of content and distribution channels.

Double down on the ones that work, while limiting your efforts on those which do not work.

Make sure that you measure your actions, try to understand which parts of the funnel require the most attention at any given time, see which content works best, and which distribution channels are the most efficient.

Related Content

* Box software graphic created using "3D software box" PSD.

About the Author

Dalia Lasaite is the CMO at CGTrader.com, a community-based online platform for 3D artists where they can sell, share and buy 3D models. She has been working in start-up marketing for the last three years in Lithuania, UK, and US. You can contact her at dalia@cgtrader.com or on Twitter @dalialasaite.

The post How to Create Better Content Using the Conversion Funnel Approach appeared first on Six Revisions.

July 10 2013

16:52

Why Designers and Content Strategists Need to Work Together

Content creation, content strategy, content marketing–these are all trendy terms right now, but nothing that web designers need to worry about, right?

Wrong.

Design and content are two sides of coin. They are both necessary for an effective website.

Imagine yourself in a grocery store searching for a package of flour. On the shelf, side by side, are two bags. Both bags contain the identical type and amount of flour. Both bags cost the same amount of money. But one bag is beautifully designed with an eye-catching graphic. The other bag is plain beige and the only design element is the word “Flour” in a plain font.

Which bag would you be most likely to notice?

As designers, you probably realize that bag with the eye-catching graphic is more likely to catch a customer’s eye. The well-designed bag is probably also the package of flour you bought.

Web design is like product packaging. Good design determines whether the content reaches its intended audience. Bad design means the content is likely to be ignored.

In this post, we explain why content strategists and designers need to work together. We also share some tips to help you add content strategy to your design process.

If you liked this post, you may also like Why Writers and Designers Need Each Other.

design-content

What is Content?

There are a lot of different definitions of content out there, so it’s important to explain what we mean when we say content.

Many people think that content is just about writing blog posts or articles, but really the written word is just one type of content. Content is so much more. Content can also be:

  • Images
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • And more

The purpose of content is to convey information. That information can be either informative or entertaining, or both.

Web content can be as simple as a single home page to sell a product, or as complex as an online magazine complete complete with a user forum.

Like good web design, good content strategy requires lots of planning. That’s why it’s important to coordinate the web design and content plan for a site.

The Designer/Content Strategist Relationship

Designer-relationship

A strong relationship between a designer and the person responsible for content leads to more effective website, which is a good thing for everyone involved.

A web designer creates a place where content can be shared effectively. Without good web design, content is unlikely to get noticed–no matter how valuable or interesting it is.

In fact, with a single glance, web design sends a signal to the site’s user. The message sent by a professionally designed site is that the content here can be trusted. The message from a poorly designed site is that the content here is likely to be junk or spam.

That’s why it’s a good idea to think of content and design as two parts of a whole. It’s hard to have an effective content strategy without good design.

Yet many designers ignore content entirely, choosing to let someone else worry about it. This could be a big mistake. If you’re looking for a competitive edge, forging a relationship with a content specialist could put you ahead of your competition. Besides, many design clients want the option of getting content and design from the same source.

Why Work Together?

To create the most effective website for their clients, designers and content strategists need to know much of the same information. The best way to make sure that the web design and content strategy complement each other rather than clash with each other is for the content strategist and web designer to communicate regularly.

The sharing of information and ideas ultimately results in a better user experience.

Here are just a few of the questions that both content strategists and web designers both need to ask:

  • What audience is this website is trying to reach? Both the designer and the content strategist need an accurate profile of the intended user for the website. They should understand what the user needs from the website and how they will interact with the site. The more details you both know about the audience, the better. Both the content and the design should be targeted to the intended audience.
  • What is the primary message this website is trying to convey? The purpose the website is important to both the designer and the content strategist. Both need to know what the reader is supposed to take away after visiting the site. Working together, they make sure that message is clear.
  • What is the right tone for this website? The designer sets the tone for the website using color, fonts, and images. A content creator sets the tone for the website by choosing the media to deliver the message. If the design tone and the content tone don’t match, the content effectiveness can be damaged. For example, you wouldn’t design a pink and white website (with flowers) to provide financial advice to financial analysts and expect that site to be taken seriously. But a pink and white design might set the perfect tone for an online magazine targeted to pre-teen girls, such as Girls Life.

If the designer and the content strategist come up with different answers to these questions, the result could be an ineffective site.

Rather then sending the same (or similar) questions to the client from two different sources (and risk different answers, the designer and content specialist should work together and share the answers to a single set of questions.

While you might see the value of coordinating content creation and web design, it might seem like an impossible goal to accomplish. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Tips for Working Content into Your Process

content-process
The design process and content strategy can be integrated to create a more effective user experience. With a little planning, content strategy can easily become a part of your design process.

You can begin to incorporate content into your design process by:

  • Planning for content early in the process. Don’t wait until the last minute to think about content strategy. If your client doesn’t explain what type of content they plan to include on their site, ask them.
  • Collaborating with an expert. Design requires a specific skill set. So does content creation and management. While some designers have both skill sets, many do not. Don’t be afraid to reach out to and work with a content creation specialist.
  • Communicating with the content specialist regularly. Communication is an important part of the design process. Just as it’s important to communicate changes to your client, it’s also important to communicate change to your content specialist.

Are you looking for more ways to include content strategy? Here are two more ideas for integrating content into the design process:

Your Turn

Do you consider content in your web design process? Discuss your answer in the comments.

10:00

Content is All That Matters on the Web

Content is All That Matters on the Web

The widespread issue of website owners neglecting the value of their web content is a big problem.

We should talk about this problem because, if you think about it, when people go online their primary reason for doing so is to consume content.

To read blog posts, to look at status updates of our friends on Facebook, to read reviews about a restaurant we are thinking of going to, to look at our credit card spending habits through our bank’s website, to learn about something that interests us — these are just some of the common activities we do on the Web.

And these activities are all centered around the consumption of content.

There are some companies that are starting to progressively rethink their strategies regarding web content. This needs to happen more often.

Allow me to go over the importance of a solid content strategy, as well as some starting points for developing your own web content strategy.

A Big Change in Website Planning Needs to Happen

In the process of website planning, we all already know that we should:

  • Produce user-centered designs
  • Focus on the user experience
  • Implement or develop the best web technologies to meet the needs of our user

The focus and widespread knowledge towards the importance of web design, web development, usability, and user experience is definitely positive, considering that only a few years ago most of the meetings I have had with clients had to start with an explanation of what the term "usability" meant.

However, what is missing in these discussions — what is in desperate need of attention — is web content and the creation of a comprehensive and unified strategy for it.

A discussion about web content during planning is often limited to who will be in charge of it. In the best of cases, sometimes there will be discussions about SEO or social media marketing of content.

Most of the time, that’s it. And that’s not close to being enough.

Rethinking the Content-Production Process

In addition to the commonplace disregard of web content in most websites, another big challenge is the coordination and proper design of the content creation process.

In large websites, for example, each website section/department/subdomain might have a different editor working without consulting other team members.

Then, the legal department might also put their two cents in and require the modification of content out of the context of the main objectives, and without considering the entire collection of the site’s content.

Then, after all is said and done, the CEO/client/decision-makers — all of whom always know best — might ask for revisions.

And voila! Instead of a consistent message across the entire site, we have a mishmash of content.

It’s impossible to develop a consistent tone of voice with a content-production workflow like that.

Our web content strategy must be unified, and our content should work together in unison to make a better overall user experience.

Why Content Matters

Losses that stem from a deficient web content strategy are easy to imagine.

In general, Web users are more discerning and choosy than ever before about the content they choose to consume. A poor user experience with your content will have very little chance of being read by your target audience.

And, let us talk in terms of online marketing and sales: None of your marketing messages will be able to sell a product without being useful and without being well-crafted.

If the content across the funnel is a mess, forget about conversion.

Hard-to-read product descriptions, bad photos, vague purchasing/check-out processes with clumsily written and confusing web copy and UI labels — errors like these will cost your website a lot of lost revenue.

How to Give Content a Royal Treatment: A Look at Some Good Examples

More and more companies are realizing the facts related to the importance of web content and the need for a solid content strategy framework.

One of the best ways to start a discussion about web content strategy is by looking at successful cases.

Looking for case studies on web content strategy, I was able to discover efforts taken by some really big brands and organizations. Here are three of them.

"Content 2020" by Coca-Cola

A great illustration of a well-thought-out web content strategy is the recently announced communication strategy from one of the giants of the business world. Coca-Cola Content 2020 is a far-reaching plan organized completely around content and its flow between the Coca-Cola brand and its consumers.

The fact that such a big player makes up all of the marketing around content is an admirable thing to look at.

The YouTube video discussing Content 2020 is, in itself, proof of the Coca-Cola content strategy’s efficacy: The video attracts attention with its originality, being full of informative details and candidly presenting the change that the concept will introduce.

The result? 300,000+ YouTube views and many enthusiastic comments.

"Create Once, Publish Everywhere" by NPR

National Public Radio (NPR) has developed an inspiring strategy called Create Once, Publish Everywhere.

The concept is simple: Produce content that will be available in all forms of media.

Red Bull Media House

A leading example of a company associated with good content strategy is Red Bull.

Red Bull, an energy drink company, even has its own media house! That is a testament to the brand’s dedication to content.

We can observe Red Bull transitioning from the typical sponsored posts, sponsored reviews, and press releases, to producing their own interesting and enriching online content.

What Can We Learn from These Examples?

Looking at these examples, we can see a couple of patterns emerging.

Good content is not accidental.

Good content is a result of a good content strategy; a strategy that puts the emphasis on producing valuable, useful, and interesting content.

You should decide right at the start that the primary objective of your content strategy is to meet the needs of users, not the thoughtless promotion of your brand.

Content strategy must be fully integrated with the company’s other processes; it should not be an afterthought.

Good content requires patience and consistency.

Instead of aiming for a spectacular one-time-big-time viral success, it’s necessary to build a solid foundation and plan for the long haul. It can take months, even years, to develop an effective content strategy.

Setting Up the Stage for Good Content Strategy

Here is my company’s content strategy development workflow:

I will discuss some key parts of this workflow in just a little bit.

The essential concept behind a good content strategy is that each component of it should benefit the user.

If a certain piece of content does not serve the user, we should remove it or revise it.

The key to effective content-planning may be the 70/20/10 rule Coca-Cola formulated (shown earlier).

According the 70/20/10 rule, we should take the following proportions to creating a body of content:

  • 70% of the content should be low-risk content that we use to fulfill the basic communication objectives of the company.
  • 20% is innovative medium-risk content that enables the brand to take a slightly different approach and to experiment with various forms of content marketing. If these new content types are successful, it becomes low-risk content over the time.
  • 10% is high-risk content that have a significant chance of being unsuccessful, such as viral content.

Let me now discuss some key stages of the content strategy development workflow.

Audience Analysis through Personas

Personas are an effective way to capture the essence of the various segments of the website’s audience based on the information we derive from them. The key to content strategy success, after all, is to understand who our users are and what they expect from us.

Representing target groups in the form of a person’s profile may seem simplistic, but the result will be stuck in the memory of team members and content producers.

For content strategy projects, my company, Symetria, uses a persona template that helps us relationally evaluate key benefits and concerns of a specific persona against the client’s business goals:

Feel free to download the full-size image here.

Establishing Content Objectives

A clear definition of our customers enables us to analyze how they might prefer to consume web content.

After that is done (through personas), we are ready to prepare for content production.

Content Inventory and Gap Analysis
We can conduct content auditing and gap analysis to see how our current online communication (on the website, social media, email, etc.) responds to the needs of customers.

Content auditing using spreadsheet software. Source: uxmastery.com

The important things to determine at this stage are:

  • What type of content is missing in the system?
  • Is there content that needs to be removed or revised?
  • Are individual pieces of content being represented in the proper form (text, graphics, video, audio, etc.)?
  • Are there any pieces of content placed in the wrong part of the customer journey?

Knowledge derived from these activities will be a strong foundation to work on top of, and will describe the basic guidelines for the content production process.

But this stage is only the starting point to results and deliverables. We now need to move on to production.

Developing Content-Production Guidelines

Once we are current with the existing content and after we have identified our content’s objectives, it’s time to plot out a strategy for creating content.

Content Maps
To produce harmonious web content you can use a popular technique called content mapping.

Content mapping will answer these questions for you:

  • What are the key messages we need to include within our website’s copy and beyond?
  • What type of content will be used for a particular topic?
  • What is the structure of each content type?
  • What is the purpose of each content type? Is it to help the content consumer with an issue? Is it to educate? Is it to result in a purchase?

Content mapping should be a comprehensive illustration of how a piece of content will affect the content consumer.

Each piece of content should serve a specific task.

This task may be to bring prospects closer to a purchasing decision. It may be to improve customer satisfaction after a purchase has been made. It could be about building a relationship between the brand and the consumer. Whatever task that is, it needs to be identified at this portion of the process.

Content Templates
While the content map shows us the overall relations of different content types and pieces of content, the specific guidelines are defined within content templates.

Content templates are created as we break down the microstructure of each content type, defining goals and rules for every chunk of content.

Content templates serve these functions:

  • Content templates specify requirements as to the form, length, and style for the individual piece of content
  • Content templates categorize our pieces of content by objective, priority, and relationship to the entire content ecosystem
  • Content templates contain style and tone guidelines

Content is All About the User

Doing the steps above will give you a solid foundation to build on top of that will set the stage for a good content strategy.

We live in an era where "experience" is a commodity.

We expect every single moment we experience on the Web to entertain, develop, and enrich us. And content is a powerful experience transmitter.

Content consumers are very selective of the information they receive, and expectations from content producers are high. Let us not take this fact for granted.

Related Resources and References

Related Content

About the Author

Wojciech Chojnacki is the Strategy and Development Leader at Symetria, a Polish company that provides comprehensive e-business and user experience services. Wojciech has 7 years of experience in UX and user-research, having worked with companies like Philip Morris International, LexisNexis, and Orange.

The post Content is All That Matters on the Web appeared first on Six Revisions.

June 26 2013

10:00

6 Steps to Writing and Selling Your E-book

Advertise here with BSA


Writing and Selling Your E-book

E-books are a good way to earn extra money. The great thing is, as a designer or developer, you’ll also have your existing expertise and knowledge to look to in order to come up with a viable e-book topic, and many of the skills you already possess will make the e-book production process easier.

You have to know (or learn) quite a lot about online marketing in order to successfully pull it off, though.

In this short guide, I will outline a fundamental strategy for writing and selling an e-book, breaking it down in only 6 steps.

But first, for inspiration, let’s look at a few examples of web designers and web developers who have produced income from e-books.

Can You Generate Income by Writing E-books?

You might already know that some web designers and web developers are making thousands of dollars online with their e-books.

Examples:

  • Sacha Greif made $15,000+ with his "Step by Step UI Design" e-book
  • Jarrod Drysdale made $38,000+ with his "Bootstrapping Design" e-book
  • Nathan Barry made $40,000+ with his "App Design Handbook" and another $40,000+ with his "Designing Web Applications" e-book

You can read more e-book success stories here: Web Designers Making Thousands of Dollars in Passive Income.

What follows are my steps for writing and selling your own e-books.

Step 1: Pick a Problem to Solve

I once did an interview with Neil Patel, the founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics.

I asked him this question:

"What are the most important things that people who want to start an online business should be aware of?"

Here is one piece of advice from that interview that really made me think:

"The number one thing that you should be aware of is this: Don’t create an idea that you just want to create, create a business that solves a unique problem that people are facing right now and they’re willing to pay to solve it. This is the number one thing that you should be aware of, because if you’re not able to do that, you won’t be able to create a business that’s doing well."

Many people miss that very important thing. In order to make money with any product, you have to find and solve a real problem.

It’s not about what you think would be cool, it’s about what your potential customers actually need and are willing to pay for.

Step 2: Validate the E-book’s Idea

Even though you have found a good problem to solve, an e-book subject you think people will pay for in order to solve a knowledge gap they have, you might still get on the wrong path because it isn’t easy to predict what people actually need.

You don’t want to spend your valuable time and resources building something that nobody wants. An e-book can take weeks or months to produce, so it’s important that the effort can produce a good outcome for you.

That’s why you should validate the e-book idea before you start putting in some serious work into it.

How to Quickly and Affordably Validate an E-book Idea

The easiest way to see whether someone is actually interested in your e-book idea is to do this:

  1. Create a landing page that describes your potential e-book.
  2. Have an opt-in email sign-up form for people who are interested in the e-book and want to know when it comes out. You can use an email marketing service for this, which I’ll discuss at the end of this guide.
  3. Drive traffic to that landing page as best as you can, through social media, guest posting on popular websites in your niche, emailing your friends, asking industry leaders to share your landing page on their social media accounts, and so forth.
  4. Evaluate the results.

It’s important to understand that you can’t expect to sell a lot of copies of your e-book if you can’t even get people to subscribe to a free email list.

However, if you manage to get 100-200 subscribers, that’s a solid indication that there is at least some interest in your e-book idea, and that it might be good to move forward with it.

Step 3: Build an Email List ASAP

Many people make the mistake of trying to sell something to their potential customers right off the bat.

Nathan Barry explains this mistake very well:

Imagine you and I meet for the first time on the street. After a quick introduction I ask, "Do you by chance work with software?"

"Yes, I’m a developer." you respond.

"Perfect! I just wrote a book about designing better web applications. Would you like to buy it?"

How many copies do you think I could sell this way?

Right then you are probably thinking that we just met 30 seconds earlier and you have no reason to trust me. What indications do you have that I even know anything about designing software? It’s probably a good time to say something noncommittal like, "I’ll check it out," and find a way out of the conversation.

This scenario seems completely ridiculous when described as an in-person encounter, but it actually happens all the time online.

People tend to buy things from individuals and companies they trust. You are not likely to get someone to trust you by bombarding them with endless sales pitches.

People trust those of us who prove ourselves by adding value over an extended period of time.

Only when you have gained that trust can you expect to sell something.

Email marketing is an excellent way to build trust over time.

You offer people something valuable as an opt-in incentive to your email list (free e-book, design resources, videos, courses, etc.)

Then, you send them a useful email (no sales pitches!) every few days, making sure that every message adds at least a bit of value to your subscribers.

You only make your offer after you have given your subscribers a lot of free valuable material.

Good news: You can automate this whole process. You only need to create content and set up an autoresponder sequence once. Then, you can focus on driving traffic to your landing page and getting more subscribers, and your autoresponder sequence will take care of the whole pre-selling part.

Step 4: Prepare Yourself for the Task of Writing an E-book

Writing an e-book might seem like daunting task, especially if you are a web designer or a web developer, and not a writer.

It’s very doable though, presuming that you approach this process the right way.

What do I mean by "right way"?

Here are some things that professional writers do when they tackle big projects.

Make an Outline

Writing without a plan might work for fiction writers sometimes, but if you write non-fiction books, you have to plan ahead. Otherwise your writing will be incoherent and hard to follow.

Write First, Edit Later

Writing and editing at the same time is a recipe for writer’s block. You have to write first and edit later, otherwise you will waste hours and hours staring at a blank Word document.

Have a Daily Quota for Words

You can’t sit around waiting for inspiration if you want to get any writing done. Set a daily quota of, let’s say, 1,000 words and keep pushing no matter what until you have your e-book. Writing is a lot less about needing inspiration or motivation, and a lot more about consistency than people tend to think.

Don’t worry too much about your writing skills. Keep in mind that you are writing a book for web designers and web developers, who bought it to learn particular things, and couldn’t care less about your writing style as long as they learn whatever it is they need to learn in a quick and efficient manner.

Step 5: Launch Your E-book

Most email lists convert somewhere within 1%-10% range. I usually use 5% as an estimate when I try to guess potential revenue for information products.

This means that 50 out of 1,000 email subscribers will actually buy your e-book 24 hours within the launch.

Also, most people make the biggest lump of money in the first 24 hours within the launch and then sales decrease dramatically — this pattern becomes clear when you take a look at Sacha’s, Nathan’s and Jarrod’s e-book launches.

That’s why I’m suggesting you wait until you have at least 1,000 subscribers if you want to have a profitable launch.

Here are a few tips for your launch.

Keep Your Email Subscribers in the Loop

Give your email subscribers updates on your upcoming launch. For example, you can mention in an email blast that it’s going to be next month, then once you know a certain date mention the exact date, then a few days before it, let them know that it’s only few days left until the big day, etc.

Build Some Buzz

Give your subscribers a sneak peak into the upcoming e-book to whet their appetite (e.g. send them a preview version or a free chapter).

Offer a Special Discount

Offer your subscribers an "early bird" discount for the launch day/week (e.g. let them know that your launch price will be with 25% off your normal price).

Do Most of the Work Before the Launch Date

I don’t recommend pouring your efforts into trying to create a big buzz on the launch day, because that is too late, and you’ll be extremely busy that day with a lot of other things.

You want to build your own audience that is eager to buy your e-book by driving traffic to your landing page, converting that traffic to email subscribers, and putting those subscribers through your autoresponder sequence. That will allow you to have a successful launch once the big day comes.

You must do most of the work before the launch — not during or after it, otherwise your product is very likely to fall flat.

Step 6: Have an Evergreen Launch

What do you do once you had your successful launch and want to keep making sales?

The best way to go about this is by way of an evergreen launch.

An evergreen launch means that you set up your email autoresponder sequence in a way that every subscriber goes through the same sequence of emails that escalates from messages that add value, to emails that mention your e-book, to a sales pitch, to a follow up to a sales pitch.

That allows you to automate both pre-selling and selling parts.

Your focus should remain pretty much the same as it was prior to the launch:

  • Drive traffic to your landing page (update the page since it’s not an upcoming e-book anymore)
  • Convert that traffic into email subscribers (you can now offer a free e-book chapter as an opt-in incentive)
  • Put those subscribers through your email auto-responder sequence

The beauty of this strategy is that hardest parts of the process (pre-selling and selling) are automated, and your job is done once a person has subscribed to your email list.

You can relax and watch the sales come in.

Tools You Need

To implement the strategies I have discussed above, these are the things you need, at the bare minimum.

Email Marketing Software

You will need a reliable way to handle email marketing such as Aweber, Mailchimp, Constant Contact, etc.

There are tons of options, so give ample time to researching and deciding on what email marketing service you eventually end up with.

E-book Distribution Platform

You will need a reliable way to handle payments and e-book downloads.

There are quite a few options for that, the most notable ones being Gumroad and E-junkie (my personal preference is Gumroad).

Online Payments

You will most likely need a PayPal account for getting money from your e-book distribution/payment gateway.

To see other options for taking in payments online, read this: 10 Excellent Online Payment Systems.

Other Things to Know

There’s much more to writing and selling e-books, and I have merely provided an overview of the writing and selling process so that you can get a preview of the things that lay ahead, should you choose to write and sell your own e-book.

There is plenty of content that you can find online about this topic. You will need to do a bit more additional research on specific parts of the e-book production process.

Hopefully, though, this short guide can help you on your way.

Here are some topics that you might want to take a closer look at.

Copywriting

Copy is what makes or breaks a landing page, an email autoresponder sequence, or a sales pitch. Take time to learn at least fundamentals.

The Copyblogger blog is a good place to start.

Autoresponder Sequences

This is also sometimes called an "autoresponder series".

Setting up an autoresponder sequence that performs well is not as easy as it might sound.

You might want to register to as many newsletters in different niches as you can, in order to see what techniques people use to sell through email. This will give you a lot of ideas for your own autoresponder sequence.

Online Marketing

You will find it hard to sell online products if you don’t have a clue about online marketing, therefore I suggest looking into this subject.

There is plenty of content on the Web about this topic. For example, check out my own site FounderTips — a site where web designers and web developers can go to learn how to make money online.

There are books about online marketing as well.

Wrapping Up

Interested in writing and selling e-books? Give it a try!

E-books are a great way to get into online entrepreneurship.

Why?

Worst case scenario: You have wasted your time on creating a product that nobody wants. You have learned a lot of valuable business lessons, though.

Best case scenario: You’ve sold many copies of your e-book and have made a lot of money. You have also learned a lot of valuable business lessons.

Time will pass anyway. Why not put it to a good use?

Related Content

About the Author

Agota Bialobzeskyte is a writer at FounderTips, the only online marketing blog for web designers and web developers.

June 18 2013

13:30

A Confab Recap

Kristina Halvorson issued a strong call-to-action during her opening keynote at this year’s Confab Minneapolis event, saying: “Part of my job as a content strategist is to get people on board with content strategy. You are a salesperson.” Through the next two days of Confab, speakers provided tools to make this challenging dream a reality.

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of interviewing two Confab speakers, Jonathon Khan and Melanie Moran, in preparation for my attendance of Confab Minneapolis. While writing the introduction for that interview, I spent some time reflecting on why Confab is such a meaningful conference to me:

[Speakers at Confab] talk about writing from the perspective of thinkers – journalists, creatives, researchers, and readers – instead of merely dwelling on its marketing value. It’s a whole new world, connecting writing to design, turning copy into content.

Kristina’s call-to-action during this year’s event – “You are a salesperson” – especially rang true. As an independent content strategist, I work with three types of clients:

  1. Clients who know what I do and value it
  2. Clients with a rough idea and interest in what I do, and
  3. Clients who simply don’t “get” content strategy.

By far, the third category is the most difficult: in addition to doing my job as a strategist, I have to teach these clients about governance, content creation, content curation, and content modeling. I also have to continually prove my own value. It’s the single most frustrating aspect of my work.

Communication techniques

Fortunately, this year’s speakers also taught me how to value both my clients who understand my work, and the clients who need me to be their guide. It’s advice I’m excited to put into practice.

Show them you care

Some clients love content strategy, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s on board. The easiest way to get people invested in content strategy is to listen, not speak. Listening shows clients that we want to understand the problem at hand. Stakeholders may not care about content strategy, but they do care about finding a solution to their problem. Once they hear their solution lies in a content audit, authoring guidelines, a governance plan, etc, they’ll jump on board. We might call it content strategy; they just call it “what works.”

Ask the right questions

During her keynote, Kristina focused on the top 10 issues that content strategists face. Many clients want future-friendly, multi-channel, single-source, magical-unicorn-meat content. It’s depressing to be the bearer of bad news, telling clients they need to trudge through the boring world of organizing content before they get to the fun “future” stuff. The solution is to remind clients that we’ll get to the future-friendly, multi-channel, single-source, magical-unicorn-meat content by starting with simple questions, such as: why do we need it; what already exists; and where is it?

Find your voice

The first step in building a content strategy isn’t necessarily a big, expensive, full-site, multi-channel redesign. Tiffani Jones Brown explained the value of starting small in her talk, Voice Lessons: Finding Your Company’s Personality. Voice is a combination of personality, energy, and the experiences clients have with your company – all the words that represent a brand. Before touching a page on the website, it helps to reassure clients that we’re not starting from scratch; we’re making a record of, and using, their own, personalized language.

Be Honest

One of the most valuable talks I heard at Confab this year was Ahava Leibtag’s talk, Winning the Work: Making the Case for Content Strategy. Ahava drilled down to the heart of a common content strategy concern: what if I’m not right for the job? Her advice? Be honest. In a worst case scenario, you are freeing up your time for projects to which you’re better suited. And in a best case scenario, the client decides to work with you, and has reasonable expectations! In addition, every prospective client appreciates working with someone who recognizes their own strengths and weaknesses.

Put the “Strategy” in content strategy

Many clients fear the unknown of “content strategy,” and they want to see either a process, or a list of deliverables, neither of which come naturally to a flexible content strategy. In Responsive Web Projects: How to Plan a Successful Discovery Process Steve Fisher and Alaine Mackenzie offered some suggestions for helping to create a process that clients can understand… even if the process doesn’t exactly match the sample one that ships with Microsoft Project.

Stay out of the silo

Silos are for farming, not content strategy,” Steve Fisher told us. It’s easier said than done. Even as a proponent of knocking down silos between development, content strategy, and design, content strategists occasionally advocate for silos when working with management! A “heads down” approach and preference to work with clients who already “get” content strategy builds a wall between the strategist and the client; part of breaking silo walls down is teaching clients what they don’t understand.

Get started

Every conference leaves my head awhirl with new plans to change the way I work with my own clients. Starting now, I’m getting out of my private “content-knowledgeable” silo and advocating for content strategy. Feel free to follow my lead with these first steps:

  1. Provide some therapy for new clients. Ask them what keeps them awake at night, and how they feel about their content.
  2. Offer content strategy as the solution, not the issue. For clients who haven’t worked with a content strategist before, this will help frame the process.
  3. Talk about the process. The process is flexible and ever changing, but it does exist.
  4. Stay honest, stay optimistic. It’s easy to get jaded when “selling” your skills, particularly if you feel like you’re doing false advertising. Instead, engage in honest discussions with new clients; that’s enough to sell the value of content strategy!

The post A Confab Recap appeared first on UX Booth.

June 10 2013

13:00

How Content Marketing Helped the Businesses of Famous Web Designers

Are you missing out on the benefits of content marketing? Most likely yes, you are.

Does it even actually work as good as everyone is saying it does?
No, content marketing works even better than what you have heard about it.

As long as you use it wisely and don’t shoot blind.

So here are four guys from the web and graphic design industry who will make your doubts disappear.

But before you scroll down.
Remember – content marketing is not your average marketing strategy.

No Pushing, No Forcing, No Arrogance and No Spammy Attitude.

Keep that in mind and there is no reason why you could not be included in a list of successful stories like this one.

Ready?

Chris Spooner

Chris Spooner

Image Courtesy of  Richard Shepherd

Chris is a creative designer, avid blogger and is generally crazy about pretty colours and shapes. His two main hobbies/interests in life are design (obviously) and gaming. Chris also enjoys creating videos to capture exciting events.

Follow Chris On Twitter.

1. Do you believe content marketing (blogging) has contributed to your business’ growth? If yes – how exactly do you think it has contributed.

Absolutely! Since around 2008-2009 just about all my business was generated as a result of my blog. My blog posts and tutorials were gaining substantially more exposure than my portfolio website, so my work was being put in front of a much wider audience.

Not only this, but the quality of projects were often much higher. Instead of clients finding me through a generic Google search, they were choosing me because they enjoyed my content and saw how much was involved when creating a particular design thanks to the breakdowns I presented through tutorials. This meant projects ran much more smoothly without the usual client nightmares.

2. Could you tell me which one of your blog posts has received the most attention? And why do you think it happened?

The most popular article on my blog is “50 Illustrator Tutorials Every Designer Should See“. There’s a couple of major reasons this post is the most popular. Firstly it provides the exact result designers are searching for when they Google “Illustrator tutorials”, and saves people the leg work of finding these articles themselves.

This post has gained the number one position for “Illustrator tutorials” in Google search, so with it being a pretty popular search term it makes up a considerable portion of my overall traffic stats. Secondly the title is quite catchy with it including the “Every Designer Should See” wording. It makes it a little more intriguing and entices people to click it in the results page.

3. If you started blogging today would you do something differently? What would it be?

It would be much more difficult today, but I’d follow my basic rule of creating content that helps people out. I kind of started from scratch recently with my gaming channel on YouTube. I set myself up in a community where I had zero subscribers and built up exposure by creating videos to share my knowledge with others.

4. What is your advice and tips to others who would like to taste the benefits of content marketing?

My basic rule is to create content that provides answers to what people want to know. In my case this was in the form of Illustrator tutorials. A relatively untouched topic will be much easier to become the “expert” in, but above all it has to be a topic you’re thoroughly passionate about. Keep grinding through the early days when no one is reading your content and you’ll soon start to see your readership and exposure grow.

David Airey

Image Courtesy Of Herman Miller

Image Courtesy of  Herman Miller

David is a graphic designer and occasional author who specializes in designing brand identities. He has worked with companies like Yellow Pages, Giacom, Asian Development Bank, and Berthier Associates.

Follow David On Twitter

1. Do you believe content marketing (blogging) has contributed to your business’ growth? If yes – how exactly do you think it has contributed.

Undoubtedly. My blog used to be my only marketing tool. Now I have my blog and my books, but I wouldn’t have the books if it wasn’t for my blog, so that’s where everything started. Many new business inquiries arrive through my website as a result of organic search queries for relevant design terms. It’s my 24-hour promoter.

2. Could you tell me which one of your blog posts has received the most attention? And why do you think it happened?

Back in 2007, in the early days of my blog, a Gmail security flaw allowed a thief to steal my .com domain and try to sell it back to me. I blogged about it on my .co.uk domain and the story went viral, hitting the front page of Digg, Reddit, and on the New York Times website. With the help of the design community I got it back, and you can read the initial post here: Google’s Gmail security failure leaves my business sabotaged.

Why was it so popular? Because so many people use Gmail. It could’ve happened to them.

3. If you started blogging today would you do something differently? What would it be?

I’ve made a ton of mistakes along the way, so yes, I’d do quite a lot differently. It’s a topic I wrote about in another popular post from 2007: Seven blog mistakes to avoid. It’s old in blogging terms, but there are still some valuable lessons in there.

4. What is your advice and tips to others who would like to taste the benefits of content marketing?

It’s time-consuming. You need to be prepared for the long haul. I didn’t know what I was doing at the beginning, but in a way that helped, because you can plan and plan, but the best thing to do is start. The following post is another popular one, a bit more recent, and it covers a lot of the advice I’d give: How to get 87,698 blog subscribers in five years.

Paul Boag

Image Courtesy Of Treehouse

Image Courtesy Of  Treehouse

Paul has been working with the web since 1994. He is now co-founder of the web design agency Headscape, where he works closely with clients to establish their web strategy, he is also a prolific writer.

Follow Paul On Twitter

1. Do you believe content marketing (blogging) has contributed to your business’ growth? If yes – how exactly do you think it has contributed.

Absolutely. My blogging and podcasting are the primary mechanisms by which my web design agency brings in new business. We estimate that approximately 90% of new leads come via my blog. The blog not only helps us rank well on search engines, but also demonstrates our expertise and establishes us as leaders in our field.

2. Could you tell me which one of your blog posts has received the most attention? And why do you think it happened?

My most popular blog post is “10 techniques for creating effective calls to action“. This post rates number one on Google for the phrase “calls to action” and for a long time was extensively linked to throughout my blog. Its success is primarily down to the fact that it is a list post containing solid practical advice that can be easily applied to any website.

3. If you started blogging today would you do something differently? What would it be?

I would more closely associate my blog with my company. Currently the blog exists on a completely separate domain name to my web design agency and so I do not believe the blog is as effective as it could be at driving traffic to my web agency.

4. What is your advice and tips to others who would like to taste the benefits of content marketing?

My advice is simple “don’t give up”. Too many people launch a blog and post for a few months before being demoralized and giving up. Others continue to blog, but do so on such a sporadic basis they never build up a solid readership. The secret to successful blogging is to put out content on a regular schedule and to do so over a number of years. Content marketing is not a quick win but it pays off over the long term.

Jacob Cass

jacob-cass-just-creative

Jacob is a self-employed graphic designer, specializing in the fields of corporate identity (logo) design, web design, print design, and branding. He is also the founder of ‘JUST™ Creative’.

Follow Jacob On Twitter

1. Do you believe content marketing (blogging) has contributed to your business’ growth? If yes – how exactly do you think it has contributed.

Blogging is really the backbone of my business… not only does it bring in traffic, passive income and freelance clients, but it has also got my name out there, and subsequently my services are now in more demand, thus allowing me to increase my costs. Essentially my blog has made me be able to “work less, but charge more”, meaning I can do more of what I love (designing) and less of the nitty gritty of business.

2. Could you tell me which one of your blog posts has received the most attention? And why do you think it happened?

The classic list posts get the most shares and traffic, but there are a number of other articles such as Branding, Identity & Logo Design Explained  that also get a lot of attention. I think this post stands out because of its simple explanations and it’s not just another list post.

3. If you started blogging today would you do something differently? What would it be?

This really is an extraneous question as the internet changes so much every year and you gain so much knowledge over time. This quote comes to mind: “Wisdom does not come with age, it comes with mistakes made.” I’ve made many mistakes along the way, and it’s all about learning from these mistakes and improving on them for next time.”

4. What is your advice and tips to others who would like to taste the benefits of content marketing?

Stick at it for at least six months, these are the hardest months and when you will learn the most. Be a sponge and take it all in, network with others like crazy and utilize all the resources available to you… it will pay off.

So, did these four guys open your eyes to content marketing?

I want to know, do you have any more questions left? If you do – please fire away. I’m here to listen.

May 21 2013

13:30

A Taste of Confab 2013

“Content is king.” It’s been the prevailing trend the past few years, but at Confab – a conference of Content Strategists – attendees seek more than just trends; they seek stories. UX Booth editor and resident content strategist Marli Mesibov reached out to some of the strategists speaking at this year’s Minneapolis-based event to learn more about what’s driving their current narratives.

When I first walked into Confab in 2012, I felt as though I had finally found home. During their workshops and talks, speakers discussed the “hows” and “whys” of writing, rather than merely the benefits of having content. They talked about writing from the perspective of thinkers – journalists, creative, researchers, and readers – instead of merely dwelling on its marketing value. It was a whole new world, connecting writing to design, turning copy into content.

It’s no wonder, then, that I’ve been looking forward to Confab 2013 since the day I left the event. And now that it’s only two weeks away, I can barely contain my excitement! In the weeks leading up to the event, I’ve begun conversations with this year’s speakers in order to learn more about areas of content strategy we don’t often hear about. Jonathan Kahn and Melanie Moran share their stories.

Digital Governance Fails Because We’re Afraid of Cultural Change

Let’s begin with Jonathan Kahn. He’s a busy man. Jonathan organizes events (Dare Conference, Confab London, London Content Strategy Meetup), presents worldwide (Webdagene Oslo, CS Forum Paris/Cape Town, IxDA Dublin), and writes extensively (A List Apart, Contents, lucid plot) about the revolutionary changes facing organizations, and why it’s so hard to overcome them.

With a background in web development, he’s also worked as an information architect, user experience consultant, and content strategy advocate. Jonathan is the Principal of Together London. He shared the story leading to his presentation, Digital Governance Fails Because We’re Afraid of Cultural Change.


For most of my career I told myself I was a firefighter, rushing in at the last minute to fix screwed up web projects. Recently, though, I discovered why I told myself that story: I was avoiding the scary part of my work, the difficult questions.

Today, things are different. My interactions with the content strategy community have helped me craft a new story, and it goes something like this:

  1. The internet puts new demands on our content. Customers expect useful, usable content across channels and devices, all the time.
  2. Organizations (usually) aren’t setup to deal with this reality. People avoid talking about content because it’s messy, political, and hard to do well.
  3. So our content is a mess, and nobody takes responsibility for fixing it. This creates problems for both the business and the customer. It also drives us crazy.
  4. Content is important, damnit! It’s a business asset. Content strategy provides a way for us to fix these problems, helping us spread the word about the value of content throughout the organization and around the world.

The content strategy story is all about asking hard questions: What content do we have? Is it any good? Why do we need it? What’s our messaging architecture, our voice, our tone? Which other departments do we need to work with? How can we create a sustainable plan for commissioning, editing, publishing, and maintaining content over time?

This story is a framework for making content strategists vulnerable. Brave. Able to put more of ourselves into our work. At the same time, there are ways in which this story can be limiting. To understand why, it’s important to discuss a challenge that almost all content strategists face: governance.

Governance

Governance includes the standards, policies, and procedures made to allow an organization to care for its digital operations over time. In theory, a governance plan ensures our content strategies stick, but it rarely works. Writers don’t follow our voice guidelines, marketers ignore our message architectures, and developers create apps without considering the complexities of content.

We’re doing good work, but it isn’t sticking, which feels like a terrible waste of time. Why won’t people follow our guidelines? Recall the first point I made in the content strategy story above: “the internet puts new demands on our content.” While that’s true, we’re scared to ask the obvious follow-on questions:

  • Why does the internet put new demands on our content?
  • Why is the business environment changing so quickly?
  • What does that mean for our business models? our siloed organizational structures? our “waterfall” development process? the software we buy? the agencies we hire?

These questions terrify us because we’re afraid to face the truth: content strategy is just one piece of the challenge of digital transformation. Our governance attempts fail because we’re working backwards: governance can only sustain culture, it can’t create it.

So what does governance look like when backed by the notion of digital transformation? To make our organizations sustainable, we need to change culture in a way that’s broader than content strategy, incorporating practices we know little about: service design, agile development, and cross-functional teams. Once we understand this, we can start changing our organizations’ culture, today.


Readers can learn more about how to affect a cultural change within their organization by attending Jonathan’s talk. It’s happening at 2:50pm on day two of Confab Minneapolis.

Content Strategy in Higher Education: Uniting Print and Web

Next we hear from Melanie Moran. Melanie is the Director of Integrated Communications at Vanderbilt University. Her presentation this year, “Content Strategy in Higher Education: Uniting Print and Web,” highlights her team’s year-long, ongoing journey towards cohesive, cross-platform storytelling.

She’s looking forward to learning from content experts from many different sectors and bringing home a passel of great ideas. In the meantime, she shared the thought-process leading to her presentation.


I’ll always remember when the light bulb went on for me – when I learned the importance of content strategy. I was sitting in a meeting of campus communicators at Vanderbilt University. I had just returned from conducting an hour-long interview with a faculty member, a professor whose research explored neuroscience and education. I needed his thoughts to inform a story I was writing for the web.

Just then, across the room, a colleague from another office reported that she, too, was writing a profile of a faculty member – for one of our print magazines. And wouldn’t you know it, it was the same guy. She had conducted the same research and was writing the same article.

This is crazy, I thought. Why was web not involved in planning for digital content to support print stories? From that moment forward, my colleagues and I began seeking ways to shake content out of its container – be that container print, web, video or even a press release. It eventually paid off in more innovative storytelling, expanded social media impact and a more strategic use of print.

How did we do this? Here are some of the key elements that informed our content strategy:

  • Story first

    Forget the deadlines; forget the Facebook and Twitter beasts that need to be fed. Forget about that for just a minute and ask, why is this a great story? You can have the most interactive website or jaw-dropping magazine around and no one will read it if the stories are lame. Story first, always.

  • Exploit the platforms

    Now that you’ve got your story, think about the many ways to tell it across different platforms. What is told with a photo or graphic on Facebook can then push to a feature on your website; can be explored in detail in your print publication; can be told via a video on YouTube. You get the idea. This will likely mean writing different headlines, using different images and even showcasing different parts of the story for different media – but that’s okay. Let go of the need to show everyone everything on every platform and disaggregate the story for maximum portability.

  • Strategy, not reflex

    We all know the perils of the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset. And I know it’s 2013 and many of us have already mourned and moved on from print, but for many people it remains a relevant, effective way to reach their audience.

    Vanderbilt’s alumni magazine, for example, lives in the homes and offices of alumni around the country and world. Its physical presence connects them directly with Vanderbilt through dynamic storytelling and gorgeous photography and illustrations. We support this connection heavily with digital, of course, but print remains an important and compelling component of our strategy.

  • Analytics, analytics, analytics.

    It was beautiful, it was epic. You laughed, you cried. …but did anyone read it? How was the social media engagement? Did it drive traffic back to your website? Picked up by media? Put yourself on a pretty strict plan of analytics tracking and use it to refine your content strategy. Then share what you find with decision makers, as data drives most organizations. Being able to provide it in relation to communications will elevate others’ understanding your work and the impact it has on your brand’s strength and reputation.


Readers interested in learning about cross-channel storytelling should join Melanie Moran at Confab Minneapolis. Her session begins at 9:40am on day two of the event.

See you there?

So, there you have it. Confab Minneapolis begins on Monday, June 3 and – in addition to Jonathan and Melanie’s – the workshops and talks range from content measurement and modeling to creating content in a zombie apocalypse.

As always, Confab features a mix of well known and up-and-coming content strategists. I’m particularly looking forward to Catherine Toole’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s “Write Like a Human, Think Like a Robot.”

Who are you looking forward to seeing?


The post A Taste of Confab 2013 appeared first on UX Booth.

March 15 2013

13:30

What a CMS Won’t Do for You

Jonathan reads the New York Times, from his computer every day. Sarah prefers her RSS feed. Tom emails articles to his friends and family. Lisa, like Jonathan, reads the Times online, but does so from her smartphone.

For a newspaper whose content is naturally divided into “chunks” – such as headlines, excerpts, article bodies, images, and video – delivering content everywhere is a challenge, but not an overwhelming one. For other companies it can prove much more difficult. A CMS can help, but content strategists must take an active role in designing the right CMS for their organization.

A content management system, or “CMS,” is a program that enables a company to collaboratively edit and publish content. Because CMSs provide structured templates, multiple content authors can publish identically formatted content.

And yet they get a lot of flack. To quote Jared Spool:

If we try to pick out the most frustrating parts of all of our users’ experiences, including those of the content governor, we’re likely to find our CMS at the top of the list. As responsible designers, we need to take the CMS design seriously and give the content governor an interface that makes it easy to create and manage great content.

Jared Spool, UIE

Content strategists or content governors – those in charge of updating content once it has been created – are frequently frustrated by CMSes because the structures mandated by these platforms can feel creatively stifling. For example, if the content-authoring templates of a CMS provide space for both a headline and a sub-header, then an author who wants to replace the sub-header with a quote – or any other uniquely formatted type of content – is out of luck.

This means that CMSs must be designed with an eye towards the future: will authors ever need to use quotes in place of sub-headers? Should the system account for this? Jared Spool puts the impetus on designers, but why are they responsible for learning what content strategists and content governors need? In reality, it is the content strategist’s obligation to take an active role in CMS creation and implementation planning.

Adaptable content

Responsive design suggests that the ideal format for displaying content is entirely dependent on the situation in which it is accessed. In order for content to fit the variety of formats demanded by responsive design, that content needs to be separated into a series of tagged elements, thus making it “adaptable.”

Adaptable content is flexible, and thus contextually appropriate within a range of environments. Tablets, phones, laptops, desktops, all with multiple size and screen options? This is the present. It’s also the future. An approach championing both responsive design and adaptable content is the only responsible way to ensure that an experience designed for one device will translate to another.

Content strategists must therefore plan for content with the expectation that it will exist in multiple contexts. In the past, authors might have written articles as “content blobs.” Today, it is up to content strategists to facilitate the creation of (for example) a synopsis, tag line, headline, primary story, and image for every article. The resulting CMS then provides an organized space to separate out all of those different elements.

Allen Tad does a wonderful job of presenting the spectrum of possible CMSs, ranging from low effort with low flexibility, to high effort with high flexibility. At one end, content creators work with inflexible forms (as are sometimes found in out-of-the-box CMSs); at the other, a flexible, custom-made design exists for each new piece of content. Allen concludes that the future of content management systems is essentially a more advanced CMS, with options tailored to the content itself – the “interface that makes it easy,” as Jared Spool mentioned above.

So, why not out-of-the-box?

The default article template for WordPress – arguably the most popular CMS on the market – provides spaces for tags, titles, and categories, in order to encourage content managers to create adaptable content. Its out-of-the-box installation also provides areas for a featured image, a synopsis, a headline, and the article itself.

And for many content managers running company blogs, this is a good thing; it’s an approximation of the ideal publishing experience. But purchasing and implementing out-of-the-box CMSes without proper planning leaves content strategists with only two options:

  1. Follow the default templates, regardless of the lack of flexibility they afford.
  2. Learn the ways of the CMS. Add plugins at will. Be a one-man/woman team.

Fortunately there’s another way. Rather than waiting to become involved until after the CMS has been purchased and implemented, content strategists would do well to get involved in brainstorming sessions and CMS discussions early on. That way they can work with designers and developers to help specify templates, categories, and other customizable aspects of the CMS before they become part of the organization’s publishing culture.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher details the value of content strategist involvement in her recent interview with UX Booth:

The problem is that quite often, CMS purchasing and configuration decisions are being made by an IT person with a checklist, rather than someone with deep knowledge of the content being managed. The content crowd is oftentimes too daunted by the technical bits to try to poke their nose into the conversation. What I want is for content people to see that CMS decisions affect the success of their work, and to get comfortable enough with the vocabulary that they can be an advocate for users, and for the content itself, when CMS decisions are made.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher

Once content strategists take part in the CMS discussion, the choice of out-of-the-box CMS becomes far less important than the customizations the team decides to implement.

Content (strategy) everywhere

There is no one-size-fits-all CMS. For every team that needs pages with three custom images across the top there is another team that needs 2px borders surrounding every third block of text. The frustrations that content creators face have more to do with nuance than with any particular flaw in the options available today.

The solution is forward thinking. Content isn’t meant to be perfected for one page, where it will live forever untouched; it’s meant to appear on Jonathan’s desktop, Lisa’s mobile phone, Sarah’s RSS feed, and Tom’s email. That level of detail and flexibility means content creators need to work harder and smarter.

We need to get involved!

Talk to developers, and discuss what pre-made templates are required, and what design elements need to be incorporated. Learn about responsive design and adaptable content; determine the structure your CMS needs to provide in order to accommodate. If one CMS solution isn’t working, list the missing elements, and identify the new requirements. What strategy works best for your organization? What sort of system(s) do(es) your content require?

The world of content is vast, with many, many CMSs. These ideas barely scratch the surface of what a CMS could do for your (adaptable!) content. The key is just getting involved. No one knows where the content is going better than content strategists.


The post What a CMS Won’t Do for You appeared first on UX Booth.

August 29 2012

10:00

How to Bake Content Strategy into Your Web Design Process

Advertise here with BSA


How to Bake Content Strategy into Your Web Design Process

I had a big problem building up my digital agency: organizing content.

Content was an outstanding bottleneck for most of our projects. Gathering content from clients is difficult enough, but even more troublesome is managing the infrastructure, workflows, publishing technicalities and approval process.

Let’s face it, content development is still a massively frustrating process. Clients spewing a 200-page word document at you, alongside a CD full of unorganized images, remain a somewhat accepted part of the process. How much time do you waste playing word document tennis over email?

I want to share 3 content development stages we used to tame the madness, based on my experience running a 14-person studio.

  1. Planning content: Asking the right questions, getting the requirements down, creating maps — information architecture.
  2. Developing content: Getting content from clients, keeping an eye on the requirements, editing and getting approval.
  3. Maintaining content: Keeping the map alive, conducting audits, keep the requirements fresh and keeping the content accurate.

Having these helped us streamline the way we plan, organize and publish content, in harmony with our clients.

Let’s talk about these three stages of content development.

Planning Content

Planning content is the most substantial part of the process, and it’s absolutely worth investing as much time (and people) in as possible.

The more time you put in now, the less time you’ll have to put in later. Involving as many people early on in the process as you can will minimize confusion, help set expectations, and provide a better understanding of your content strategy for the entire team.

There are few things you should cover when planning content, let’s talk about them next.

Discovery

Discovery is about taking what you already know about your client and using it to work out what content they need.

By getting your client involved in the discovery phase, you can gain insight into what content your client requires, how they see their content being organized and why they think it should be organized in this fashion.

Never forget that our clients understand the minds of their customers far better than we do.

Try experimenting with the following techniques:

  • Mind-mapping: A great way to brainstorm what content you need and why you need it.
  • Card sorting: A fun way for usability-test-users and clients to define how content should be organized and grouped.
  • Sketchboarding: Helping you take a more detailed look into your site’s structure.

These content organization tools and techniques are good at working out what content you need and how they should be organized, and they will get the client to see the importance of their site’s content. And getting the client’s buy-in is incredibly valuable as it will encourage them to see how their content is linked to their business goals. In turn, they’ll be more likely to think about the content they provide and to submit them on time.

Requirements

An important outcome of the discovery phase is that you should have some clear requirements for your content. It’s good to note these down as early as possible since these are essentially the rules to which everything must align. Making everyone aware of these will prevent things from going wayward.

You can consider different kinds of requirements:

  • Legal requirements: For example, in the UK, trade descriptions for products and services must be accurate.
  • Business identity/branding requirements: For example, some organizations have guidelines on how to use their logo.
  • Creative requirements: For example, MailChimp has tone-of-voice guidelines.
  • Technical requirements: Some sites, for example, require photos to be a maximum of 550px.

While it’s important to keep your individual requirements brief, don’t worry about having quite a long list of them.

By asserting strict rules for content early on, it’s likely you’ll avoid big delays as the project moves forward.

Content Mapping

So you’ve got a clear understanding of the business goals of your website, you know what content will be required to achieve these goals and you know the ground rules for your content.

At this stage, you should have a rough idea of how the site will be structured and what content will go on each web page.

However, I urge you to take a moment to create a content map. Make a content map even before you begin wireframing the layout of any web page, and even before mapping out a site map (site maps usually end up becoming a web page on a site, like Apple’s site map).

Content maps can help you develop a better site map, like Apple’s site map above.

Creating a content map should only take a matter of minutes, and is a great precursor to a site map.

Going beyond internal web pages, your content map should include content like emails and newsletters, as well as externally hosted blog posts and videos, etc. This provides a holistic view of the flow of content around your website.

You can use MindMeister to make a content map.

Present Your Findings

Now that you’ve got a solid understanding of the layout of your content, you can begin matching this to the layout of your website. You can actually begin designing.

By showing designers the fruits of your research, they can build a home for your content which is truly optimized for it.

Gather and Edit Content

When it comes to identifying who’s going to do what, I found it to be really useful to open up discussion between contributors and encourage collaboration. To do this, you’ll need an online platform where these conversations can take place, around the content.

I’m sure you’ll be aware of some of these tools:

Using these tools allows everyone to see a clearer roadmap for a project and to see how they fit in.

If someone can clearly see how a delay on their part will affect the entire project, it’s likely they will avoid these delays.

Developing Content

You may imagine the "developing content" stage of the process to involve everyone simply returning to their seats and working on their individual deliverables.

You’ve planned what was required, given everyone their objectives, and now all that remains is to wait for things to be done. In my experience, that’s really not the case.

Even with detailed content requirements, style guides, content maps, site maps, wireframes, due dates and an amazing CMS; expecting everything to naturally fit together is nothing short of insane. You could compare this to giving two designers the same grid structure, color palette and set of images and expecting them to create two totally complimentary web pages.

With this in mind, I would encourage as much ongoing communication, reviewing and discussion throughout the actual production process as you can afford.

Some suggestions:

  • Constant communication: Keep things consistent by discussing details early on.
  • Keep everyone involved: Clients, content strategists, designers, developers, etc.
  • Regular technical reviews: avoid hiccups, and smashed faces.

By involving the client in regular content reviews, you’ll also open them up to the idea of a more agile and continuous approach to the development of content; this ethos will come in extremely handy when you talk them over the process of maintaining and updating content.

Maintaining Content

So your site is live, your content is being consumed and everything is going to plan. This is another point where you might consider heading home and cracking open a nice, cold beer.

I’m afraid it’s not time for that yet.

It’s extremely rare to have a project in which the content never gets outdated and having a strategy (and a budget) for updating and maintaining site content is an important means to keep things fresh, relevant and working in your interests.

Developing a strategy for content maintenance is quite simple and should consist of the following elements:

Keep Content Accessible

You don’t want to finish a project and suddenly cut off all access to content. By keeping your content open (as well as organized), it will be much easier to locate and update individual chunks.

The means to this open repository may vary, if you don’t want to allow your content contributors direct access to your CMS, you should consider Perch, GatherContent or even a simple, shared Dropbox folder.

Set Out an Editorial Calendar

Fairly self-explanatory; what’s important is that your clients and team members understand what’s expected of them (and set aside enough time to deliver this).

Conduct Audits on Both Ends

Content audits (sometimes called content inventories) are the key to maintaining a well-oiled content strategy. They’re also known for being a difficult task to carry out.

A tool which may aid your auditing process is Page Trawler, which can automate a huge portion of your link checking.

What’s important is that you not only assess customer-facing content, but also look behind the scenes at the more back-end aspects of content, such as testing your SEO, content labeling and the reliability of links.

Other common troublemakers are inaccurate dates and prices, the availability of services and details about staff members of the site.

Analyze and Experiment

A final consideration when it comes to maintaining and optimizing your content is the use of analytics to test quality, effectiveness and to gain insight through experimentation.

Remember analytics techniques such as A/B testing and experimenting with web page layouts can work extremely well as a means to increase the effectiveness of your content. (See A/B Testing with Google Analytics Content Experiments for ideas.)

Summary

My three stages of content development:

  1. Planning content: research content requirements, involve your clients in the research and help them understand the importance of content for their website and for their business.
  2. Developing content: work well with others, collaborate and follow the roadmap, instigate an ethos of an ongoing workflow. Host regular discussions and keep people aware of the greater purpose of their content.
  3. Maintaining content: Introduce strict editorial calendars to keep things fresh. When conducting content audits, also consider technical back-end aspects of content.

It may seem like a lot, but the benefits are quite simple: By baking content strategy into your web design process, you stand to build better websites, with less stress and more time to spend on other important things.

Content isn’t complex in itself, it’s simply a lack of planning (and guidelines) that cause delays and distress.

I hope that through these guidelines you can have more fun managing the content for your projects; reaping the rewards of an integrated content strategy.

Related Content

About the Author

James Deer is passionate about digital and has distaste for unorganized content. He’s the founder of GatherContent.com and founded DEER/digital, one of Scotland’s leading digital agencies. He loves his wife, two pugs and snowboarding. Connect with @jamesdeer on Twitter.

July 03 2012

13:30

Design for Readability

Compared to their print counterparts, the web versions of many magazines give readers a decidedly poor reading experience. Most websites follow a lackluster design model. Will digital publications ever be able to compete with the reading experience that printed ones have bought readers to expect?

Web designers have it rough. Translating ideas from designs to fully-coded websites is a process fraught with challenge and, due to factors often outside of their control, most find themselves in a perpetual state of compromise. Fortunately – for writers, readers, and everyone in between – the gap between what we can imagine and what we can create is closing, pointing the way to a more beautiful, readable web.

The Standard Content Design Model

Everyone who has used the internet is familiar with what I call the Standard Content Design Model (or SCDM for short): the prototypical blog format, where “content” fills one, long, vertical column. It dominates nearly all digital publications (Hi, UX Booth readers). The SCDM is so versatile that it’s used to display search results, news feeds …anything you can imagine!

It’s the norm largely because, by default, that’s how browsers present text. It looks like this:

Three versions of the SCDM.

Cause, meet effect

A number of milestones in the history of the web have had the power to change browsers and, potentially, uproot the SCDM. With the release of CSS in December 1996, for example, designers gained the ability to quickly, easily and consistently define the layout of their designs. In theory, this was a death knell for the SCDM.

But not in practice.

Perhaps early web designers were so focused on making elements of their designs (headers, main navs, sub navs, footers, sidebars, links, ads, etc.) behave consistently that the content – the one, true variable – became an afterthought. Another (more likely) cause is due to the popularity content management systems (CMSs) gained as a consequence. Instead of having to worry about coding, CMS + CSS allowed publishers to swap out designs with the click of a button. This left them with more time to focus on content.

How would you like your content? Vertical? Vertical? or Vertical?

For those of you who’ve built a site or two before: there’s nothing new here. This is the current state of affairs with regards to publishing. And back when WordPress was only used for blogs, it was good enough.

Today, though, WordPress is used to maintain large websites with many different types of content. Applying a custom design to one post, or to a whole set of posts, is difficult and time consuming. As a result, ventures outside the SCDM are still rare – a full sixteen years after the release of CSS!

Why? It probably has to do with how we think about content in the first place.

Design before content

In the standard content model, the design (form) of a site precedes its content (function). Many people agree that this approach is off piste; function should come before form because, in many ways, it serves to define it. Jeffrey Zeldman writes:

Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.

Jeffrey Zeldman

Instead of designing for content in a way that gives users the most enjoyable reading experience, web designers have been making designs (using the “standard” model), and plopping their content into it. As an afterthought.

This mindset seems to be the primary difference between designing for the web and designing for print. On the web, design often precedes content, yielding to the SCDM and the subpar reading experience that comes with it. In print design, content comes before layout and readability shines.

Head to head

Let’s investigate this discrepancy courtesy of Esquire magazine. Take this article about Bruce Jenner, father of the youngest two Kardashian’s and former decathlon Olympic gold medalist, in the June/July 2012 issue of Esquire.

On their website, the article is a perfect example of the SCDM in action. The page has 3 columns, with navigation on the left, links and ads on the right, and the article straight down the middle. The text of the article, the central content of that page, is crowded on all sides by links and ads that distract me when I’m reading. Nevermind that the article is paginated, which studies have shown decreases readability.

Now let’s take a look at the magazine version. First of all, I’ve got to include more images because the intriguing title page is a two-page spread with a photo. (Side note: was that Wheaties box designed before I was born?)

The style of this spread makes me want to read more. Varsity-style lettering is a fitting choice when your subject is a former Olympic athlete and the color scheme of the typography and section dividers match well with the photo, giving everything a sense of balance.

Turning the page, we come to the article itself. Again, custom typography plays a major role in the design. It serves to separate sections of the story as well as for decoration and contrast.

The photo here you may recognize from the screenshot of the web version, but it’s much bigger and clearer in the print version (you can’t even enlarge it on the site). The text of the story has more room to breathe, here, because it takes up all of the real-estate, instead of being confined to a fixed width down the middle of the page and crowded further in by ads, links and nav items the way the website is. Finally, the text in the magazine layout is broken up into columns so that the reader’s eyes can travel naturally from top to bottom, and from left to right.

Overall, the magazine makes for a much more pleasant reading experience. The website serves its purpose – the same content in print is available online – but if you were given both options, which would you read? I have to wonder if the poor design of their web content has a secret agenda. Maybe they designed it poorly to drive readers to buy the magazine, instead.

Designing for readability

All is not lost, though. We’ve recently seen the addition of media queries, responsive typography and web fonts to our toolbox.

Thanks in part to these milestones, the web continues to be a playground of innovation. Some designers are pushing the boundaries of what it means to properly Design around their content.

I Love Typography

I Love Typography makes custom designs for each new article they post. This one is called The Design of a Signage Typeface.

The font is big enough to embrace, the different background colors make it easy for the reader to keep their place, and the two column format allows our eyes to travel in both directions, a familiar experience because that is how we read print.

I Love Typography doesn’t always go with a two column format in a custom design, but I wish they would because it reduces the amount of scrolling. It seems such a waste of perfectly good real estate when there is only one column on the left (as they use here).

I Love Typography’s custom-designed blog posts are also designed responsively. See for yourself. (Note that on a mobile device the design reverts to one column for obvious reasons.)

Jason Santa Maria

Jason Santa Maria is famous for redesigning his website with each new piece of content he publishes. His candy series is no exception, and this one in particular, formatted in two, wonderfully even columns, is a sweet treat. Again, emulating multi-column magazine formats improves the reading experience, and requires less scrolling, which is nice.

Similarly, Santa Maria’s archive uses three columns, allowing readers to scan quickly across months and years to find what they’re looking for. As an added bonus, articles with custom layouts are accompanied by screenshots, to help the visually inclined find them more quickly.

Craig Mod

Craig Mod’s journal has an interesting design. I usually dislike type set this small, but because the columns are well spaced and each section is appropriately titled it’s enjoyable. The titles serve to break up the sections, so user can quickly scan the content. Users often scan – as opposed to read – web content, so it’s important to include subtitles.

The Great Discontent

The Great Discontent publishes artist interviews. Each interview starts with a huge header image that takes up the entire browser, much like the Esquire article we examined above (the magazine version, not the web version). No confusion who this interview is going to be about.

The interview itself occupies the middle column of the design. The top of the left column is used for the “About” section, where you can learn more about the artist being interviewed. The right column and the left column below the “About” section reprint memorable quotes from the interview, or relevant quotes from related sources. The reprinting of quotes and inclusion of relevant outside material are an old magazine technique that allows readers to scan to find the good stuff and important takeaways. It also helps hook the reader. Maybe you weren’t interested until you read that quote halfway down. You might go back and read the whole thing after that.

Usually about halfway through the interview, a second image or video is included. Notice how these images, accompanied by quotes and links, take up the whole three columns, effectively interrupting the interview itself. This is a nice break for readers. It allows them to rest their eyes, but if they want to keep reading, there’s no one stopping them from scrolling.

Finally, the previous and next arrows are displayed on the right and left at all times. These arrows subtly inform the user that there are more interviews to be read without distracting from the reading experience the way a sticky top or side nav would. It also avoids burying the prev/next links at the bottom of the article, in the usual way, so that even the reader who didn’t read all the way to the bottom knows that there is more good content to be found.

A more readable future

Fortunately, web technology develops rapidly. Over the next few years it will become easier and easier for designers to give content the attention it deserves. In the meantime, designers can do their part by putting in the extra time to design more readable content. Yes, there are hurdles to jump, but the tools are available now and some industry pioneers are already leading the way.

Developers can speed the process by focusing their energies on creating more flexible methods to format readable content (flexible templates, more custom content types, on-the-fly paragraph division to form even columns out of long content, etc) that don’t break designs and layouts.

And if designers and developers learn to work closely together, anything is possible.


The post Design for Readability appeared first on UX Booth.

April 19 2012

13:30

Enhancing Your eCommerce Site’s Credibility: Part 2

In the previous part of this series I addressed the role that credibility plays in online retail sites. Because an increasing number of users are leaving these sites, it behooves us to ensure that the ones that we design are perceived favorably. I then explored a few ways to do this–to increase a retail site’s perceived credibility– including both security and ethical considerations.

Picking up where my last article left off, I’ll now discuss how certain communication and user assistance strategies can be used to further improve your perceived credibility. Let’s jump right in!

Communicate effectively

Wherever possible, information should be presented using plain language and an appropriate tone of voice. Ensure that any information you provide (including product reviews, descriptions, comparisons, policies, or disclosures, etc.) is communicated in a way that helps users’ make decisions. That is, quite often, what they’re there to do.

Provide relevant product information

Customers can feel a little like Goldilocks when trying to choose the right retail site by way of its product descriptions – some are too flowery, others include a great deal of exaggeration, and still others are too technical to convey any real meaning.

Aim to get it just right. Provide product information that’s meaningful to your users. Convey relevant information that actually helps them to discern the pros and cons of their choice. If you’re in any way unsure, conduct user testing to test your hypothesis.

Lowes.com

Lowes shows the advantages and disadvantages of a product, enabling users to make a rational buying decision.

Use product comparison tables

Though product comparison tables are common, the metrics used within them can be difficult to understand – especially when it comes to raw materials, ingredients, and industry-related jargon. Explain the meanings of all attributes – as either in-line help or tool tips – so that users can actually understand the advantages that one product might have over another.

Lenovo.com

On the Lenovo site, users can view additional information about a comparison attribute on mouse-over.

Guide users to product recall information

People are often none-the-wiser when it comes to product recalls. As usage of some products can prove hazardous, it’s imperative that you bring such products to your users’ attention.

Consider guiding users to product recalls using your site’s home page. Timely guidance shows that you not only care about your users’ safety and well-being, but that you can be trusted to do so in the future.

Target.com

Target’s product Safety & Recall page reiterates its stand on consumer safety.

Explain terms and conditions

Lengthy terms and conditions often confuse and frustrate users. Explain your terms and conditions in plain language to help users better understand the experience you wish to provide. This includes your policies related to site usage, privacy, shipping, returns, repairs, warranty, discussion forums, and commenting. Throughout, use proper paragraph breaks, categorizations, labels, and a comfortable font size.

topshop.com

Topshop’s terms and conditions have been well articulated and categorized, making it easier for users to understand the various policies and limitations.

Explain international shopping

Though online retail sites have made it easier than ever for people to shop across borders, ambiguity surrounding basic things – such as time taken for international shipping, customs duties, and return policies – can make it difficult for users to actually proceed with cross-border online shopping.

Therefore, provide information such as what products are eligible for order internationally. Explain how an international order affects delivery times, a customer’s ability to return a product, get support on a product, etc.

If your business is based out of the United States and you comply with the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor program, let your European users know that you are in compliance with their privacy protection needs. Additionally, inform users about your policies and limitations around shipping goods to a restricted area, like a US Military address (APO/FPO/DPO).

Childrensplace.com

Children’s place has an FAQ devoted to international shipping that answers some basic questions that users may have.

Provide reviews, both positive and negative

According to data released by Bazaarvoice in Talking to Strangers: Millennials Trust People over Brands, 84% of Millennials (people born between 1977 and 1995) say that user-generated content (UGC) has a significant influence on what they buy (compare that to 70% of so-called “boomers,” or folks born between 1946 and 1964). Because a huge chunk of users will likely base their opinion on what strangers’ feel about a product , its imperative that you display user-generated content in a straightforward, honest way. To avoid frustration, have a concrete policy concerning the moderation of comments, reviews, and ratings.

Make all user generated content (such as reviews) easy to comprehend. Provide a dynamic summary showing the percentage of negative and positive comments/reviews and give users the ability to sort and search for specific types of comments/reviews.

Sony.com

Sony allows users to filter comments and also provides a graphical summary of user comments of its own products.

Continuous assistance

The last credibility strategy is certainly not least: provide online shoppers with continuous assistance throughout their experience. Here are a number of ways to do that.

Prominently display contact numbers

Though contact numbers are displayed commonly on retail sites, many times they are difficult to come by during an “emergency,” such as before making a buying decision and during checkout. In these situations, it’s especially important to help users on their way. If you’ve got it, after all, why not flaunt it?

Dealsdirect.com

The customer care number on the Deals Direct site is shown at several places on product pages and persistently on the header.

Allow users to contact previous buyers

Despite their apparent trust in product reviews by strangers, users are occasionally skeptical. What if the marketing department’s “cooking the books?” To overcome such doubts, consider facilitating communication between a potential buyer and someone who has already purchased a product.

You could also invite frequent buyers or selected members of the community to support new users by guiding them through the buying process. Ask and answer-type of services and user-moderated communities are two examples of such efforts. Encouraging users to contact previous buyers will instill confidence that the information shared on your site is authentic and unbiased.

direct.tesco.com

On the direct.tesco.com site, potential buyers can get feedback directly from actual buyers.

Provide help documentation

Help is commonly provided to users in the form of manuals, write-ups, articles, descriptions, and textual how-to’s on retail sites. But that’s old hat. These days, context-sensitive help, embedded, and inline help are quite common, as is live chat.

Because of the time it takes to read documentation, users are likely to prefer a quick how-to video. Research conducted by Nielsen has shown that video consumption across multiple platforms has risen globally. About 70% of global online consumers watch online videos, while mobile video is watched by 11% globally. Considering that the adoption rate for videos is significantly high among desktop users (and catching up among mobile users), consider providing demos, how-to- videos, and interactive presentations to help users quickly understand a product or service.

made.com

Made.com provides short product videos that describes the product and helps users to visualize how the product may look physically.

Respond to feedback

The absence of a timely and sincere response – especially to negative feedback and grievances on forums linked to your site – may give the impression that you do not really care about your users and their concerns.

Always respond maturely and promptly to negative publicity, without being defensive or rude. If you have made a mistake, there is no better way than to come clean. A show of aggression or indifference, on the other hand, is best avoided at all costs.

A JetBlue representative responds on Twitter.com

In this example from its Twitter page, a JetBlue representative responds to an aggrieved flyer by informing him proactively about its Customer Bill of Rights.

Conclusion

Over the past two articles, we’ve considered many factors that may enhance or detract from the credibility of your website. Whatever mechanisms you choose, ensure that they are sustainable in the long run. Credibility and responsibility are essential qualities to the trust in any relationship.

Finally, I leave you with a rough heuristic for improving your site’s credibility:

  1. Reconsider your business’ actual stance on credibility and reflect this on your site through a mix of design and content.
  2. Consider elements that are currently on your site that (might) affect its credibility.
  3. Consider elements you could add or change on your site that would increase its credibility.
  4. Triage everything: consider what’s the easiest or fastest thing and the hardest or slowest thing you could do. Features that are relatively easy to implement include showing the total cost of a product upfront or providing navigation cues to your shipping policy. The ones that require some amount of investment, organizational motivation, and approvals include: making actual changes to policies, creating product videos, defining a plan for social engagement, etc.
  5. Put a plan into action.
  6. Implement changes in a phased manner. Give it at least three months to have an effect.
  7. Test your hypothesis using a combination of web analytics and usability testing.
  8. Keep testing and make necessary changes based on feedback till you see actual changes in users’ behavior and your Return On Investment (ROI).

You can use the above points as the base to create a realistic site strategy that has credibility at its core.

To conclude, in Fogg’s words, “those who design for credibility gain a strategic advantage,” as credibility gives site owners the power to change users’ attitudes and behaviors.

Series references


March 16 2012

10:10

Designing Landing Pages That Work

Advertise here with BSA


Designing Landing Pages That Work

Having knowledge on how to create an effective landing page can increase the number of site visitors that take the desired action of the web page. Lets discuss factors and considerations that can lead to a better landing page design.

What is a Landing Page?

Before we begin our discussion, it’s worth quickly defining what a landing page is.

  • From a web development/technical standpoint: A landing page consists of the same basic elements as any other web page (HTML, CSS, content copy, images, videos, etc.)
  • From a business standpoint: It’s a web page that asks users to perform a specific task such as purchasing something or subscribing to an email mailing list.
  • From a user standpoint: It’s a page they see after clicking on a hyperlink on another site (Google searches, a URL contained in a tweet, banner ad, etc).

Three popular reasons for creating a landing page are:

  • Get people to sign up (whether it’s for an account, a newsletter, etc.)
  • Sell a specific product in a specific situation (like a sale or a promotion)
  • Get people to download and install software

Guidelines to an Effective Landing Page Design

Let’s talk about important components and factors of a good landing page design.

Call to Action

A call to action clearly asks and compels the user to take a specific, desired action. An example of a call to action is "Subscribe to our mailing list". Oftentimes the call to action requires the user to click on a web page element (such as a hyperlink or a button) or to fill out a web form.

Tips:

  • Be clear. Be direct by succinctly stating what action the user should take and what the result of the action will be.
  • Limit the number of call to actions. By only having a few call to actions, you can focus on getting the user to take the preferred action you want as quickly as possible.
  • Use buttons for actions requiring a click. Buttons are conventional UI controls that users will know is clickable. Additionally, when designed well, it can draw attention to your call to action.
  • Have supporting information ready and close by. Users need to be compelled to take action, make sure you have things on the landing page that encourage them to perform your desired action.

The landing page of Square is a perfect example of a good call to action. (The call to action is to sign up for a Square account.) They clearly state that they would like you to sign up and, as a reward, they will give you a free Square Card Reader.

Headline

An effective landing page has to have a power headline. The headline sends the main message of what to expect in the landing page and it lets the visitor know that they’re in the right place.

Headlines have only one task: to entice the site visitor to stay on the landing page. That’s the main goal to have in mind.

When crafting your headline, ask yourself: Is this headline interesting enough and does it make the visitor want to keep reading?

Tips:

  • Keep your headline short and direct. Don’t waste the user’s time, give the user an idea of what they can achieve on the landing page as quickly as possible.
  • Design to grab the viewer’s attention. Use a large font and place your headline prominently on the page. The headline should be at the top of the web page, where Internet users expect it to be.
  • Consider using relevant keywords. Use keywords and phrases that a search engine user might use to find your page. Use an HTML heading element (such as <h1> or <h2>) to help search engines index the content of the page better.

The Shopify landing page displays a good headline. The copy is short and gives the reader a quick overview of what the service is. It’s designed using a big font and is placed in a prominent location so that it quickly grabs the user’s attention. The use of the key phrase "online store" in the headline may help in Shopify’s SEO efforts.

Simplicity

Landing pages should be simple. If the landing page is too complex, the site visitor might be discouraged to remain on the page. The more complex landing pages are, the smaller the chance users will go through with the desired action. The message needs to be clear and only the essential stuff should be included.

Tips:

  • Every element on the page should encourage the user to take your desired action. Use the concept of Reductionism to help you eliminate needless items and copy.
  • Have only one primary call to action. Keep your landing page’s objective simple. Pick a task you would like the user to take, such as downloading your software or signing up for your mailing list, and limit it to just that. Any additional call to action should reinforce your primary call to action.
  • Use ample amounts of whitespace. If things are too cramped together, it might visually intimidate the site visitor.

The Dropbox landing page is very simple. It has a logo, a video and a call to action button. The primary call to action is to download the software. The secondary call to action, "Watch a video", supports the primary call to action by showing you some information on why you would want to download and use Dropbox.

Eye Flow

To make sure that the visitor encounters all the landing page elements that will help them make a decision to take your desired call to action, the eye flow should be well-thought-out.

Good eye flow makes the consumption of the information being shared in the page quicker for the site visitor and ensures that they end up seeing your desired call-to-action.

Tips:

  • Arrange web page components in a logical visual hierarchy. Determine the order in which you want the viewer to look, and design your web page to support that order. To learn more about visual hierarchy, read the following guides: "Working with Visual Weight in Your Designs", "Creating Focal Points in Your Web Design" and "Using Power Structure and Gestalt for Visual Hierarchy".
  • Use graphical elements to your advantage. Arrows, icons and attractive images can help direct the eyes of users towards an area of a web page.
  • Use high-contrast foreground colors on certain web page components. If an element has a bright color relative to its background and surrounding elements, it’s likely to garner attention.

The Let’s Do This! website, which asks site visitors to donate to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization, presents a good example of how to direct users towards your call to action. The web page is laid out logically so that you can see the primary call to action right away. Using arrows points your eyes to the call to the "Donate" button. The button and the surrounding arrows have high-contrast colors compared to the dark gray background, making sure it stands out.

Relevance

Every visitor comes to your landing page from a specific source. The landing page has to be relevant to that source. For example, if your ad says that by clicking on it, the user can buy iPads for half the price, then your landing page better be selling iPads for half the price. Relevance is key.

Tips:

  • Consider creating landing pages for each marketing campaign. For example, if you have a Facebook marketing campaign, create a landing page that caters to Facebook users.
  • Customize the landing page depending on the source. Add special content, discount codes and call to actions depending on what site the user is coming from.

Reduce the Risk for Taking Action

Internet users don’t like taking risk, that’s obvious. We are often concerned about security, privacy and of being scammed.

Tips:

  • Offer a compelling guarantee. For example, if you would like the user to buy a product, consider giving them a way to recover their money if they are unsatisfied with their purchase.
  • Anticipate any concerns that the user may have and address them. Before taking an action, users may want to know more about the result of that action. These concerns are often related to cost, time and security.
  • Offer a free trial (if possible). For example, if the landing page’s goal is to ask users to subscribe to one of your paid plans, consider allowing users to try it before they need to provide credit card information.

Squarespace displays good examples of reducing the risk to signing up and using their web service. By clearly telling users that no credit card is required, that the signup process only takes 30 seconds, and that there isn’t any permanent commitment, they have successfully addressed concerns related to cost, time and security.

Scarcity

One way of designing landing pages that work is by creating a sense of scarcity. If the user feels that the product might run out of stock or that the discounted price might end soon, they may be compelled not to procrastinate and take action now.

Tips:

  • Use convincing copy that conveys a sense of urgency. For example, clearly stating that the special discounted price will end soon might urge users to purchase your product now.
  • Provide dynamic information that conveys scarcity. For instance, if you’re only selling 100 units, on your landing page, display how many units are left whenever someone purchases a unit.

On Mighty Deals, they display a countdown of how long until a deal expires. This may prompt site visitors to buy a deal immediately.

Trust Elements

There are many ways to provide users with reassurance that taking the action being solicited from your landing page is safe and secure.

One way is to provide social proof. Social proof can be in the form of displaying tweets about a product, testimonials from previous buyers, and positive reviews on third-party/non-affiliated sites such as review sites and blogs.

Other ways include displaying certificates and badges from third-party companies.

Tips:

  • Provide social proof data from reputable and well-known web services. For example, displaying the number of Facebook Likes is a good way to show social proof.
  • Locate trust elements close to the call to action. It’s important that the user is able to see these trust elements around your call to action.
  • Be honest. It goes without saying: Don’t publish fake testimonials and bloated social media follower counts.

On the FreshBooks landing page, you can see three trust elements: (1) The number of people using their web service, (2) quotes from reputable and well-known sites such as the New York Times and (3) their privacy certification.

Conclusion

The design of landing pages is crucial in prompting users to take your desired action. By following the simple tips mentioned above, you’ll be well on your way to creating effective landing pages.

Related Content

About the Author

Karol K. (@carlosinho) is in his 20s and is a web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland who shares his thoughts at newInternetOrder.com. Tune in to his site to get web design tips and content on online-business-related stuff.

November 15 2011

10:14

Creating Websites Optimized for Google’s Panda Algorithm

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Creating Websites Optimized for Google's Panda Algorithm

Whether you’re in the process of building a new website or redesigning an existing site, it’s vital to build it with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind.

The king of search engines, as everyone knows, is Google, making up over 65.3% of all search traffic (in October 2011).

Google’s goal is simple: to give their users the most relevant, high-quality search engine results as accurately and quickly as possible. So in early-2011 Google introduced an update to their search engine algorithm, dubbed Panda, as part of the company’s continual pursuit of that goal.

For those of you who are unaware, the Google Panda update reportedly affected the rankings of almost 12% of all search results — more than any other update before.

Since then, Google has rolled out several other updates to Panda, dramatically changing how thousands of websites are ranked.

Those that were considered to be high-quality sites saw their rankings improve, while those of supposed low-quality essentially vanished from ranking at the top.

So now, the obvious question is this: How can we make websites that are seen as high-quality in the eyes of Google Panda?

Read the following tips to make sure your site is optimized for Google Panda.

Design for Engagement and User Experience

To put it simply, Googlebot is starting to view websites more and more like humans. Thus the design of a site is going to start playing a much larger role in how it’s ranked more than ever before.

The Panda update is looking closer at several metrics to see how engaging and user-friendly a web page is. Some metrics that help quantify engagement and user experience quality are:

  • Amount of time spent on the website
  • Bounce rate
  • Number of web pages per visit
  • Page response times
  • Conversion rates

These metrics give you a clue as to how good a website is in keeping visitors engaged. For example, a website with a high number of web pages per visit could mean that the visitor thinks the website is interesting and engaging.

Well-designed sites are typically more visually pleasing, easier to understand and often fare well in the metrics mentioned above than those with poor designs.

Thus, your goal is to craft a website with a great user experience that captivates your audience. In addition, make sure that the website is optimized for speed, as this also affects the user experience and the site’s usability. Remember that usability and SEO go hand in hand.

For tips on improving engagement and the user experience, read the following articles:

Spelling and Grammar is Important

This might sound obvious but you will be very surprised at how many websites suffer from poor spelling and/or grammar. Google does evaluate content quality of websites. In fact, Matt Cutts, a highly-regarded individual in the SEO community and member of the Search Quality group at Google, addressed this in a YouTube video.

Cutts said, "We noticed a while ago that, if you look at the PageRank of a page — how reputable we think a particular page or site is — the ability to spell correlates relatively well with that. So, the reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well."

Focus on Content Quality

Google likes content. This is not a newfound idea, but it is one that is often neglected. You have to be dedicated to developing high-quality, original content.

Try to become an authority in your industry by writing content that visitors would want to bookmark, share or recommend.

Google specifically states what they look for in a high-quality site by providing you questions to ask yourself. Here are just a few questions they suggest you ask when you produce content:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?

As you can see, a large emphasis in quality is being placed on the creation of content. This must be at the forefront of any design or website management duties.

For tips on improving content quality and content strategy, check out the following articles:

Avoid Too Many Ads

Again, this goes back to designing with humans in mind. Having too many advertisements can make Google think the site exists just to serve ads rather than provide authoritative information.

Avoid Duplicate Content

Avoid having the same content being displayed on any pages. Each web page should have their own unique content specifically tied to what that page is about.

A web page should also have its own unique meta description and meta title attributes. For more information on this topic, read 5 Common SEO Mistakes with Web Page Titles.

Less is More

Over time, if a website is not regularly tended to, it can begin to have hundreds of pages that, many times, even the website manager is unaware of.

Google states that having a lot of poor quality pages on your site can bring down your rankings, even if you have plenty of high quality pages.

In these cases, it is best to consolidate to create a cleaner experience for the end user.

Ensure High-Quality Code

It is important to run your website through code quality assurance processes. Good markup hints that the quality of the website is also good. At the simplest level, you can just use the W3C Markup Validation Service to ensure your HTML complies with W3C standards.

W3C Markup Validation Service

To get tips on how to improve your site’s code in terms of quality, standards compliance and web performance, read the following articles:

Conclusion

As the Web continues to evolve and become more humanized, it’s imperative that you take these tips into account when dealing with your current or new website. Search engine algorithms will only become better with their ability to distinguish what makes the end user happy. And if they are happy, you will be happy too!

Related Content

About the Author

Adam Heitzman is a web designer/developer with a strong background in SEO. He’s a Managing Partner at HigherVisbility, a Memphis-based internet marketing agency that offers a full range of marketing services ranging from SEO, Pay Per Click Marketing, Web Design and Development, and Social Media Marketing. Connect with HigherVisibility on Facebook and Twitter.

October 17 2011

14:00

7 Blog Design Tips from a Content Strategist

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7 Blog Design Tips from a Content Strategist

As a content specialist, I prefer web designs that support content rather than conflict with or ignore it. Web designers should have a real appreciation of content strategybecause it is crucial in launching a successful blog.

For blog design, content issues are particularly important to pay attention to, because, fundamentally, the purpose of a blog is to deliver quality content to a strategically defined audience or community.

For that reason, web design and content must never work at cross-purposes. Here are a few tips for web designers creating weblogs.

1. Design with the Topic, Value Proposition and Audience in Mind

Here are the three main factors that should drive design decisions for a blog:

  • What is the blog about?
  • What is the blog’s unique value?
  • Who is the audience?

Topic: What is the Blog About?

Obviously, a blog about woodworking should look like a blog about woodworking, not like a blog about parenting.

From a design standpoint, this means creating a website header design that clearly conveys the subject matter, and also selecting imagery, fonts and other design elements that have a woodworking feel about them.

We want the woodworking enthusiast to recognize this is a blog designed for him or her — without having to read a single word. Tweaking standard themes usually isn’t enough to accomplish any of this: a blog with a generic feel won’t inspire visitors to explore the content. If a blog has a high bounce rate, consider punching up the design.

Value Proposition: What is the Blog’s Unique Value?

Once the woodworker grasps the blog is about woodworking — the next question is, "Why should I read this particular blog about woodworking?"

Every blog should have a value proposition. In this case, options include tips for woodworking on a budget, tips for the master craftsman, or tips for the beginner.

Again, the blog’s value proposition should be immediately obvious in the header, and brought out in the texture of the entire design. This is a common weakness in blog design. If there is a value proposition in the header or sidebar at all, it is often overwhelmed by other design elements that compete with it for attention rather than draw attention to it.

Audience: Who is the Audience?

How would the design of a woodworking blog differ depending on whether it was geared to master craftsmen or beginners? A dense design packed with links and information would intimidate a beginner, whereas a master might dismiss a design with a grade-school feel. Using a plain, rectangular cutting board as the header image might attract the beginner, but appall the expert.

The point is to make the target visitors immediately feel at home when they land on the blog. Of course, in order to do this, the designer needs a crystal clear understanding of who the audience is, which comes back to content strategy. As a side note, no amount of design wizardry can compensate for a blog lacking in strategic focus.

2. Pay Attention to Details

With all things, the devil is in the details. Even if we get the big things right, users will have a disappointing experience if the little things are executed improperly. Here are a few design details that I hope you will agree are important to get right.

Author Attribution

Nothing is more off-putting than a blog post authored by "Admin." Blogs are a personal medium: names, and sometimes author thumbnails and bios, are crucial to establishing a human connection.

CSS-Tricks displays the author attribution right after the post title.

Internal Search Feature

Users get frustrated if they are looking for something specific and cannot see where to search for it. A surprising number of blogs offer no internal search engine at all, or position it in a place that is harder to find than Atlantis.

Catalyst Studios has its internal search feature at the top-right of the layout, a common location that users look to for search forms.

Blog Excerpt

Most blog themes provide the ability to display short text snippets of posts on the blog’s home page. Snippet length and formatting should be carefully calculated; when this is not done, the blog can look like the visual equivalent of alphabet soup.

N.Design Studio displays blog excerpts on the home page.

I could go on and on in this vein: seemingly minor features such as clickable titles, prominent "read more" links and image size and style consistency can make or break the blog. The main takeaway is that details are important.

3. Don’t Be Too Unorthodox: Follow Blog Design Patterns

Two places where designers should not flex their creative muscles are social buttons and subscriptions. To get users to follow on Twitter, connect on Facebook, tweet and Like posts and subscribe to the blog, the imagery and positioning of these features must be familiar.

Vandelay Design Blog places subscription buttons at the top-right of the blog layout using recognizable icons.

Joining a blogger’s community should be like buying gum at the checkout counter. If users have to exert effort to join your club, conversions are going to be terrible unless your content is irresistible. But even if it is, why make life difficult? I’ve never yet heard anyone say, "I subscribed to this blog because it had a really unusual RSS button."

Social sharing buttons are tricky. If you display buttons for every social network under the sun, you may wind up confusing the visitor. On the other hand, if you only include a few networks, you may sacrifice powerful shares on networks you don’t display.

As a default, my company includes share buttons for Twitter, Facebook and Google+. If we can identify other social networks that have particular strength with a blog’s audience, we will add them as well.

I like to display share buttons at the top and bottom of the post: some people will share just on the strength of the title and never even read the post; others will read the post thoroughly and be inclined to share at the end if they really like it.

The point is this: There are certain blog design patterns that you should be implementing and maintaining on the site’s design.

4. Have the Sidebar on the Right of the Web Layout

A common blog design pattern is having a section for auxiliary content, containing things such as a short description of the blog, a search form, banner ads, a listing of top blog posts and so on. This is typically a column in the web layout and is usually narrower than the main content area column (to denote visual hierarchy). This section is often referred to as a sidebar (infrequently, it’s also called an aside).

Squarespace’s blog positions the sidebar on the right.

Nothing is quite so vexing to me as a blog whose sidebar is on the left. The natural movement of our eyes is from left to right: if we want visitors to read our blog post, we want their eyes to land on it first. This idea is reinforced by usability studies done by renowned usability expert Jakob Nielsen (e.g. Horizontal Attention Leans Left).

Some bloggers opt for the left sidebar on the theory that it will lead to more ad conversions (because ad banners are typically placed in the sidebar). While monetization is a worthy blogging goal, my belief is that on a blog, ad conversions are earned by enthusiasm for a blog’s content rather than mere positioning of an ad. Putting obstacles in the way of content put obstacles in the way of monetization.

5. Image Placement and Selection Need Serious Consideration

One statement with which writers and bloggers violently agree is that images enhance the appeal of a blog. However, where images are placed makes all the difference.

Best practice is to place images at the top of a post and/or top right. Similar to the sidebar issue, we do not want images to fight with the post for attention. Rather, we want the image to reinforce the message.

Beyond image placement, using (attractively styled) captions with images is an outstanding way to reinforce messaging. Images get more initial reads than text; a strong caption entices a visitor to read the post.

Matt Brett styles his images and captions well on his blog.

Outstanding blogs have a definite strategy behind their image selection. Blogs that appeal to technical folks often rely on annotated screenshots. Blogs that appeal to a more general readership tend to choose images that arouse curiosity or convey a message humorously. Our agency blog has taken the latter route and we’ve gotten very positive feedback from our readers.

Infographics are a fabulous image strategy since they have the potential to become viral. The challenge is the time and effort to create a series of useful and captivating infographics.

6. Put Careful Consideration on Ad Placement

Internet ads are, by nature, interruption marketing. Blogs, on the other hand, are social marketing. Mixing the two is like oil and water.

Make sure you understand your audience before saturating a blog with ads — you could be inviting a nasty backlash. Ongoing split testing of ad layout and positioning is time and money well spent if ad revenue is important. (If it isn’t important — why display ads at all?)

Do not use pop-up ads because they are annoying. Avoid places where ads detract from the content.

Instead, place ads above the post title and on the sidebar. These areas are widely regarded as appropriate for advertising; even "purists" who disdain blog advertising in principle probably won’t be put off, provided, of course, that the content is good.

7. Determine What’s Appropriate: Diary or Magazine Format?

We recently switched our agency’s Internet marketing blog from diary to magazine format. Our decision included the following considerations:

  • The blogosphere is saturated with diary-formatted blogs, and we wanted ours to stand out from the crowd.
  • In general, our posts are not time-sensitive. Chronology is not especially relevant to our readers.
  • We wanted to do away with post snippets altogether, as they looked rather clumsy despite our best efforts. Posts displaying titles only look cleaner in a magazine layout.
  • The magazine format gives more emphasis to our images, which we feel are strengths of the blog and motivate visitors to read our posts.
  • The magazine format visually separates individual posts more strongly than the diary format, where everything tends to flow together in a continuous stream.

Hopefully our experience will help you discern which format is best for your blog project. Without doubt, there are design solutions to the difficulties we experienced using a diary format, but regardless of which way you go, all of these issues affect readability and must be dealt with somehow.

Conclusion

What I admire about web designers is their ability to convey complex ideas with a simple yet powerful visual. If a designer understands what a post is trying to say, and what a blog in general is trying to say, the design will get the message across — often more powerfully than words.

So I would encourage designers to always ask questions of the client, the blogger, the creative director, the project manager and whoever is involved with shaping the content strategy behind the blog.

If you have doubts about the objective of your design work, the entire success of the blog is in doubt. That’s one thing I’m certain of!

Related Content

About the Author

Brad Shorr is Director of Content and Social Media for Straight North, a Chicago-based Internet marketing firm that specializes in B2B. He works closely with technical clients including BluePay, a provider of merchant processing services and TSI, a performance measurement solutions manufacturer. Follow him on Twitter @bradshorr and Facebook.

September 06 2011

11:00

Viral Content: Why We Share Some Things and Not Others

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There’s been a lot of talk lately in the bustling world of journalism about why some newspaper and magazine content goes viral and other bits fall and fester. As the print industry slowly wanes, magazines and newspapers are hyperaware that online, they have greater control over how their content is received, thanks to quick turn over and tangible reader reaction (I hear these discussions all the time at my day job).

They all know that some of their content gets tweeted more than others. Some of it hits Digg like crazy, some shows up on Reddit.

Surely, there are some common denominators for the good stuff, right?

This is a question the magazines and news rags are all asking, all tightly crossing their fingers that some deeply mysterious algorithm exists that bears the secret to the Almighty Viral Content.

This problem is best approached in two steps.

First, why do people share?

Second, what do they share?

By attacking this problem via users and content, we get the best illustration of what’s actually going on. It’s all triangulation from there.

Cats. People share cats. Image by red.dahlia.

The New York Times, which has one of its articles tweeted every four seconds, recently went ahead and asked the first question — and asked it of Science.

The tweet counts per minute of a New York Times article. Image from New York Times.

To complement this research, I invoke another study called What Makes Online Content go Viral published in the Journal of Marketing Research which attempts to address the second question.

Articles, videos and songs go viral because they engage their audiences, which is something any content officer should be concerned with. Dead content deadens users.

This isn’t a discussion to further hammer in the now-rather-trite idea that "content is king." What I hope to do here is to share what’s been discovered by marketers and researchers, and see what valuable bits web content developers can take away.

Too little science is covered in the web development community (this applies doubly in content-centered forums), and when it is, it’s often done so by someone trying to sell you on something.

But not this stuff, which is why you should read on.

The Research

When I discuss scientific research, I typically provide a series of caveats centered around the funders of the research, if applicable. For instance, check out this story about how dairy makes women stronger and less fatty. It was paid for by Big Dairy, which is a tiny conflict of interest.

But the two studies I’m talking about now exist in one of the rare areas where businesses and large organizations are paying for bona fide scientific and statistical research.

I say "rare" because, at this point, so little is understood about viral content patterns that no interest group stands to gain anything by tweaking the results; although The New York Times has sanctioned some of the most targeted research, they get nothing if the results simply say "content goes viral because Times’ articles are just awesome."

Granted, this is hardly an academic pursuit — many, many businesses stand to gain a great fat ton out of this type of information. But — and I truly hate to say it — one of the big differences between academic and privately driven research is how immediately practical it is.

So with these things in mind, let’s get to it.

Why Do People Share?

It probably comes as no surprise, but people share things to make themselves feel good, one way or another. It’s very human. It’s what we do.

For those of you unfamiliar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, once we have our physiological needs taken care of, we search for safety. Once we feel safe, we look for a sense of belonging. Then comes self-esteem. Finally, when all else is covered, we search for the "higher" concepts like morality, equality, and other idealistic "alities."

Image from Wikipedia.

It’s the top two tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy that drive us to share — be it tweeting, watercooler chatter or half a cookie with friend. People want the respect of others, and they want to feel a sense of belonging.

And tweeting helps how, you might ask? Well, according to the NYT’s Consumer Insight Group, whose study consisted of 2,500 subjects, people are sharing content not only to "enrich the lives of others" in their online networks, but also to define themselves in whatever community they’ve taken part in. And we keep sharing to make sure we stay connected.

Of course, that’s a sweeping generalization. The study would be amiss without discussing the different types of sharers. These boil down to some basic personas.

Some people are more geared toward self-promotion, for instance. Others want to get the word out about some cause, and they use social media as a soapbox. Some people are just hipsters, and share things that make them more hipstery. (That’s seriously in the study mentioned earlier; not verbatim, but "hipsters" is a persona.) Others are hyper selective and only interact with a tight community.

But from hipsters to altruists, they all have those top two Maslow tiers urging their behavior.

What Do People Share?

Think about any recent content you’ve shared. Clearly, if you were driven to share it, it struck you as worth it. Let’s see, for me it was a scientific article about researchers making mouse embryos transparent. The one before that was an io9 article about Neil Patrick Harris guesting on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time.

I shared these things for a number of reasons, but it all boils down to what the researchers in the virality study call emotional valence.

Think of this as graph: on the y-axis, you’ve got anger and sadness, the latter being on the negative end. On the x-axis are happiness and relaxation.

Both "positive" values — anger and happiness — are factors that are very good indicators of what gets passed around the Web.

The more highly charged those "positive" emotions, the better the chance. People want to be surprised and shocked, too (hence the old journalism adage, "If it bleeds, it leads"). And almost universally, people want to laugh.

So What?

These studies have narrowed down the characteristics that make content resonate with readers; I urge content wizards and wranglers to read the studies in full. I’ve by no means been exhaustive here.

As with a lot of psychological or statistical research into human behavior, much of this might strike you as intuitively obvious. It did for me.

But what’s not obvious is how anyone dealing with the direction of Web content should learn from this.

Viral content goes viral because it hits people upside the head, which is good.

It’s not forced. Just ask any marketer, business person or writer — no matter how much we’d love it, we can’t force content to hit home.

Keep viral characteristics in mind when developing and directing any content. All niche communities have their own versions of viral (Keyboard Cat, for instance, might not be super relevant to the antique tractor collector community), so as always, user research is the keystone no matter the content.

Writers must know their audience. Web and content developers, their users.

Related Content

About the Author

Kristina Bjoran is a science writer based in San Francisco, California. She works in editorial at Wired magazine and is a managing editor at UX Booth. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

August 01 2011

13:34

How to Develop Your Website’s Tone of Voice

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How to Develop Your Website's Tone of Voice

There are two branches of Starbucks near my office, but I will always go to the one that’s slightly further away. Both sell exactly the same products, the decor is identical, and the queues are always a similar length.

Why go to the one that’s further away? I like the way the barista talks to me.

Although the content of our brief exchanges is no different from the conversation I’d have at the other branch, there’s something very different about how this interaction sounds and feels: tone.

His tone is unfailingly friendly and upbeat, which always leaves me with a smile and keeps me coming back to that particular branch.

My loyalty is certainly not unique. In a competitive market where businesses strive to match each other on cost and quality, most consumers’ choices will be influenced (consciously or not) by the tone of voice in which services are presented and delivered.

In many ways, it’s easy to choose an effective tone when your customers are standing right in front of you and you can see their reactions. However, a huge proportion of business has shifted from the verbal face-to-face into the textual via websites, emails and social networking. In this shift, many businesses lose their voices.

Faced with the task of writing web copy, someone whose spoken tone of voice is friendly and confident can turn mechanical and distant as if they were tasked with producing a formal report. What’s most dangerous about this is that they can’t see this unnecessary tonal shift putting off their customers in the same way they would if they were to conduct a meeting with a client in the same way as they write.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the common problems with tone of voice in web copy and how to avoid them. Beyond that, we’ll consider how to go about developing an effective tone of voice for a website and maintaining it through the use of tonal guidelines.

Voice vs. Tone

Before diving in further, we should first examine the distinction between tone of voice and voice itself.

Tone is a verbal expression of mood best adapted according to the audience. You present the same information very differently to, say, a 4-year-old as opposed to a 40-year-old. You do that through tone of voice: the words you choose and the way that you structure them.

Your voice, however, is your overall verbal personality. Regardless of whom you’re communicating with and at what level, your voice remains the same. This should be true for the voice of a business as well. Different media geared to different audiences may demand an alteration in tone, but voice should remain stable.

For an example, let’s take BBC News and their youth-oriented site, CBBC Newsround. Both are from the same organization, both cover similar material, but, as shown below, the tone is markedly different to match the respective audiences.

From BBC News, "Wimbledon 2011: Relaxed Murray ready to ‘up his game’"

From CBBC Newsround, "Wimbledon: Andy Murray says he’s ready for Nadal showdown"

It’s clear from the word choice and structure that the tone of the second example from CBBC Newsround is geared towards a younger audience than the first: it’s lighthearted and lively, whereas the first example is more serious and composed.

Despite the difference in tone, though, it’s evident that the source is the same — there is a consistent voice across both websites.

Setting the Tone

There are two key points to determine before defining the appropriate tone for your website.

Who is your target audience?

  • What is their age group?
  • Where are they located: urban or rural, domestic or international?
  • What sort of values do they hold: conservative, ethical, cautious, impulsive or economical?
  • More importantly, what do they want from you?

What does your website want to achieve?

  • Is it an e-commerce site designed to generate sales?
  • Is it a portfolio of your work?
  • Is it educational?
  • Does it offer an online community for users to engage with?
  • Is it meant to draw in new consumers, support existing ones, or both?

These are both points that should have guided the visual design of a website and, equally, they should be the force behind its content.

Forgetting the target audience or the ultimate purpose of the website sounds like an unimaginable faux pas, but it happens surprisingly frequently.

Let’s consider the example of Goldman Sachs below. The company has invested large sums of money to make the company appear competent, ethical and approachable, but their website tells a different story.

The above example isn’t just poorly written and unpersuasive, it also conflicts with the stated values of their brand. The grammar issues make them appear incompetent and the tone is distant and cold.

Developing Tonal Guidelines

Once you’ve determined your audience and your site’s purpose, you’re halfway to deciding on tone of voice. It may be helpful to consider the personality of an employee you’d want to represent your brand at this point.

For example, if you’re advertising housing for students, you want someone friendly, open and fun. If you’re selling organic fruit on the Web: you want your representative to sound healthy and ethical. If you’re describing services at a care home: you want someone kind, professional and understanding. You get the idea.

These adjectives are a good start, but they’re all subjective. The next step is to start defining what these adjectives mean and don’t mean.

Let’s take the student housing example:

  Friendly Open Fun Does mean Informal: avoid jargon.
Conversational: could the copy be read aloud to students without sounding misplaced? Inclusive: use uncomplicated language for students who don’t speak English as their first language.
Personal: use active voice. Enthusiastic and upbeat: be passionate about the services on offer. If the copywriter believes in the services they’re writing about, that impression will be transferred to the reader. Doesn’t mean Unprofessional: avoid grammatically incorrect language, even if it’s common in verbal conversation.
Overuse of slang: use it sparingly. Untrustworthy: open and honest with students, and confidential with their data.
Patronizing: be straightforward but don’t "dumb down" any necessary information. Excitable: don’t overuse exclamation marks or other punctuation to get the point across.
Unrealistic: don’t exaggerate to get the reader’s attention.

Guidelines like these don’t take long to put together, but will offer an invaluable reference to your copywriters, be that you, another member of your organization, or an external copywriting agency.

Going a step further and including examples of copy you do and don’t like is also worthwhile, because it’s easy for different people to interpret your guidelines differently.

Consistency is Key

Take your tonal guidelines and apply them to your whole website, including your contact information, your terms and conditions and even your 404 error pages.

Of course, readers will expect different vocabulary for legal information but that doesn’t necessitate a shift into passive voice and stuffy, "authoritative" language. Take a look at this section from Twitter’s terms of service:

The vocabulary is appropriate to the legal subject matter but continues in the active voice, even slipping in a pun in the middle to maintain a lighthearted tone.

Being bold enough to stand apart from aging conventions communicates confidence.

Things to Watch Out For

Watch out for other basic inconsistencies that will blemish your hard work on tone. No matter how seamlessly professional your tone is, a typo or misplaced punctuation mark will make you look foolish.

Here are two tips:

  1. A proofreader is not optional. Of course, the writer should proofread the first draft, but there is no substitute for a fresh perspective.
  2. Edit without mercy. Cut, cut, cut. If you can indentify unnecessary words, then remove them and get to the point.

Summary

To briefly outline the points we’ve covered:

  • Tone of voice, used well, will strengthen brand loyalty and set businesses apart from competitors.
  • Tone can be adapted according to the audience and platform, but ensure that the voice remains constant.
  • The key considerations in choosing a tone of voice for your website are 1) the target audience and 2) the type of interaction you intend them to have with your site.
  • Producing a tonal guideline sheet (example shown above) will help establish and maintain a distinctive tone of voice. Used as a reference by copywriters, it will yield consistent results, especially where multiple authors are involved.

Related Content

About the Author

Ailsa Partridge is a copywriter at Cooper Murphy. Cooper Murphy is a copywriting agency that writes copy and develops tone of voice for the world’s biggest brands.

June 22 2011

10:00

What Potential Impact Can HTML5 Have on SEO?

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What Potential Impact Can HTML5 Have on SEO?

Although still a work in progress, HTML5 is the next major revision of the HTML standard. HTML, which is the markup language that allows us to structure and present our web content, is the primary factor in search engine optimization efforts. HTML gives search engines the needed context they need to understand what’s contained in a web page.

How might HTML5 change the way we approach SEO? What are the possible impacts of HTML5 in search engine algorithms? In this article, I will attempt to answer these questions.

Web Page Segmentation and Increased Semantics

One key component of HTML5 is that it adds new elements that help us better express what’s on a web page. This helps improve web page segmentation so that different parts — such as the header, footer, main content area, etc. — can be easily be distinguished from one another.

Once HTML5 becomes more widely adopted, search engines can use these new elements to help them find page elements of interest to them.

Currently, we use <div> elements to organize and segment a web page.

The issue with using <div> elements is that the element is meaningless. It doesn’t add semantic value or give context to what’s inside it.

With new elements such as <header>, <article>, <aside> and <footer>, the segmentation of the web page becomes more meaningful.

The benefit of this is that it will allow search engines to easily crawl the website, possibly skipping sections such as <footer> or <header> or using them for different indexing purposes (such as identifying copyright information or finding the site’s name or logo). Search engine indexing will thus be more efficient, meaningful and possibly more advanced.

HTML5 Elements That Can Affect Search Engine Indexing

Below are some new HTML5 elements that can have a direct impact on SEO.

<article>

You probably already know the importance content plays in your website’s search engine ranking.

The new <article> element is probably one of the most important additions to HTML5 when it comes to SEO. It allows you to indicate the main content of a web page.

One potential change to search engine indexing is that search engines may put more weight on the content inside the <article> element.

<section>

The <section> element is meant to indicate various sections on a page. The advantage is that each section can have its separate HTML heading. This can give search engines a better understanding of how the web page is segmented and structured. Search engines might be able to tease out the information hierarchy of the HTML document based on <section> tags.

<header>

The <header> element can give search engines a clue as to where the site name and logo is on a web page or where the primary navigation is (as this is often the place where navigation menus reside).

<footer>

In web design, a footer usually contains auxiliary information such as copyright information, licensing terms, privacy policy information, links to static pages, and links to social media profiles. This section could be used by search engine spiders to identify items related to copyright, terms of use, privacy policies and social media profiles.

Since <footer> contains auxiliary information, will its content be heavily discounted in search engine algorithms? Possibly.

<nav>

This new element can give search engine indexing algorithms clues to the information architecture of your website, (just like how sitemaps help them gain a better understanding of the website’s structure).

Link Types

One of the ways search engine rankings are determined is through hyperlinks in a web page. Search engines study links in a web page to see what web pages it points to as well as to see what web pages point to it.

Link types in HTML5 allow us to give our links better meaning. This gives search engines greater context for each link they encounter.

You are probably familiar with rel="nofollow", which was a non-standard rel value in HTML4 that many search engines use to identify links that the current web page doesn’t endorse. The new link types, which also use the rel attribute, works the same way.

New attribute values like rel="author" and rel="license" essentially allow us to describe our links better. The rel="prev" and rel="next" attributes, which is a link that points to another web page that is related to the current web page, can be used in circumstances where a blog post is broken up into several web pages.

Below is a table containing interesting link types for <a> elements that can influence search engine indexing in the future.

Link Type Description alternate Links to an alternate presentation of the current web page author Links to a web page related to the author of the web page external Links pointing to external domains help Links pointing to relevant help pages license Links to licensing terms of the current document next In a series of web pages, this links to the next web page nofollow Indicates that the link is not endorsed by the site prev In a series of web pages, this links to the previous web page

See a full list of link types here.

Improved Media Handling

The addition of native multimedia elements such as <audio> and <video> can mean increased interoperability with search engines. Google, for example, presents YouTube videos in search engine results. Google already indexes images in Google Images. We could see video and audio being treated like images indexed in Google Images.

Related Content

About the Author

Adam Heitzman is a web designer/developer with a strong background in SEO. He’s a Managing Partner at HigherVisbility, a Memphis-based internet marketing agency that offers a full range of marketing services ranging from SEO, Pay Per Click Marketing, Web Design and Development, and Social Media Marketing. Connect with HigherVisibility on Facebook and Twitter.

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