Words can hurt, especially typed words. So when I spew this hot bloggy venom about poor Internet habits that need to be copy-and-pasted into a Word document, printed and lit on fire while being shredded, I’m saying it…because I care. Like a mother fawning over her newborn babe, I only want what’s best for your Internet experience. I want our Internet forefathers to look down from their white space and smile admirably at your digital choices in life. I don’t want them to see you staring at an empty black spot on your screen that, to most users, is some fragment of HTML5 that should be printed and hung in The Louvre. I want you to see it as I see it — for it’s vast array of color, pagination and imagery that just so happens to supply us with the information we desire.
But alas, it’s 2015, and a large portion of our Internet population is living in the past. I didn’t want to call anyone out, but I’m staring directly at you, Microsoft Windows 7-slash-Internet Explorer 8 user! You and your other outdated-browser buddies are ruining the Internet design experience for the rest of the lot! Sigh. But it’s not entirely the user’s fault. Some businesses are stuck in a site design rut, too. Why just the other day I ran across a company’s site that’s built entirely in Flash. Look, if you have to build a warning to users before they enter your digital home, you’re Internetting wrong.
Fear not. Bad Web habits were made to be broken. Once you’ve accepted your problem, we can identify the issues and perhaps offer a few solutions allowing you to see the world seamlessly across multiple devices. And in some cases, allow your customers to actually see your site. Let’s start with a simple one.
By now, you’ve probably seen the TV spot for Squarespace, which promises “Better websites for all.” Or maybe you’ve heard of Wix, which claims to “make it simple for everyone to create a beautiful, professional Web presence.” No doubt you know WordPress, which, for years, has been the go-to blogging platform-turned-world-leading content management system (CMS). These Web-building tools and others like them have really come into their own over the past couple of years, giving all people the ability to create powerful, advanced and aesthetically awesome websites without a lot of design or development experience. A few years ago, I might’ve turned my nose up at these template-based, semi-customizable websites, but not any longer.
From a design/development perspective, most templates are actually really good these days, and some are outright stunning. Not long ago, templates were created by less talented designers and built by developers with limited skills. But today’s Web-building tools help average Joes launch clean and sophisticated websites with large-format imagery. They’re coded in HTML5 for some of the most advanced functionality available, and many are responsive so they display and function beautifully on devices of all sizes. What’s not to like?
If you’re not already personalizing your marketing, you better start. Personalized messages are more relevant, which makes them more compelling. Compelling messages help generate more interest, which will lead to more sales opportunities. And that’s going to make you and your business more successful.
Don’t believe me? In a recent study conducted by Adobe, marketers identified personalization as the top marketing priority in the future. Ginger Conlon, editor-in-chief at Direct Marketing News, says “Personalization is what captivates high-value customers.” So true.
Personalized marketing to address customers’ preferences or needs can take many forms. While slapping a first name on the front of a postcard is technically personalization, I’m going to share a couple of more meaningful examples with you. A longtime client of ours, Hudson & Marshall, is in the real estate auction business. While the auction aspect of their business gives it a niche, it stills play in the same highly competitive sandbox as most other real estate companies. Therefore, the company takes advantage of personalizing its ads every chance it can.
Not even five years ago, there was a word that was downright dirty amongst professional Web designers: template.
If you worked with a template, especially on behalf of a client, you weren’t worth much to anyone – after all, a template was supposed to be something anyone, even a layman, could effectively implement on their website. Well…things changed. Looking back on Web development over the last few years, I’ve figured out why.
We all know the old saying, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This concept as applied to modern Web design might read, “If a website has an amazing design and cool/advanced features but takes too long to load, will anyone use it?”
And thus is the struggle of the modern day Web designer. Of course, we want our designs to be striking and our websites to have cutting-edge features. But at the same time, we don’t want the design or features to overshadow the ultimate goals of the website. Maybe just as important, we don’t want the site’s features to adversely affect the site’s performance: slowing down load times or overcomplicating the interface, which could turn users away.
Recently, I attended a Dallas User Experience Group meetup. One of the featured speakers, Jeff Whitfield, touched on this topic during his talk. At one point, Jeff started to draw a pyramid on the whiteboard and related it to a user’s experience on a website. This idea referred to an outstanding article written a few years back by Smashing Magazine called, ‘Designing For A Hierarchy Of Needs,’ which applied psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory to Web design. (This article has a solid explanation of Maslow’s theory, as well as a great application to Web design. See visuals below.)
At the heart of the Smashing Magazine article and Jeff Whitfield’s talk was this question – In terms of the experience of a website, what is the most important thing vs. the least important? As he drew the pyramid, Jeff explained that the base of the pyramid is the most important. As applied to design, the base is functionality: does the website work/load correctly/address the user’s basic needs? If the website does not load correctly, or takes too long to load, or doesn’t have the content the user is looking for, they will leave your website. Quickly. The user in that case won’t get to experience the amazing looking features you spent months creating. The same goes for general human needs. If you don’t have enough food to survive, you won’t get to achieve the higher level needs we aspire to in life: like peace, knowledge and self-fulfillment.
Since the dawn of the Internet, the workflow process of website development has been pretty straightforward and unchanged. Essentially, it went like this: When Web/browser technology, design styles and/or a client’s business model evolved, we recommended a project to design and build a completely new website to replace the previous one. So every few years, it was out with the old, all of the old, and in with the new, something entirely new.
Recently, my mindset had a seismic shift about how this process should work. To be honest, I can’t take credit for it. It’s been bubbling under the surface of the most forward-thinking digital interfaces for a year or two. I first heard about it at SXSWi two years ago, and this year, at the same conference, I learned a little more – just enough to make me want to dig deep into the topic when I returned home. Now, having researched this idea a good deal, I feel like I’ve entered a new age of Web design enlightenment, and I’d like to share it with you. My new nirvana is called iterative design.
In general, iterative design is a cyclical process of prototyping, testing, analyzing and refining. The designer changes and refines the product to improve the quality and functionality of the design. User interaction becomes material to research and inform each successive version of the product.
The creative development process is exciting and rewarding. There is nothing quite like going from a blank screen to something that captures the imagination, tells a story and compels action in just a few seconds. But for all that excitement, great creative is only as good as the media plan that connects the creative to the right audience. Despite the spreadsheet appearance of a media plan, it holds the key to creative success.
Here are four recommendations for unlocking the door:
They don’t make the Internet like the used to; or at least, they shouldn’t.
Replace “they” with “we,” and you have a major theme of SXSW Interactive. You might know it as Responsive Web Design. According to CNET, almost 30 percent of adults in the U.S. own a tablet or e-reader, up roughly sixteen slamjillion percent* from three years ago.
*Not a real number, but it used to be like 2 percent
Almost everyone has a smart phone of some nonstandard size and shape, and we’ve gone from viewing websites in a desk chair to viewing them in the middle of a crosswalk. How did we get here?
For most of its history, the Web looked like a desktop computer. The only major change came when we threw out those 70-pound CRT monitors and got some fancy LCD screens.
So we kept right on crafting our stories in the same way. (We were so young…) Now, the Web looks like this:
If you’re a creator, curator or creatorator* of this shiny new Responsive Web, the time has come to think differently about experiences. This is not just for designers. Design and development will go through obvious changes, but they’re not the whole story.
*This one IS real.
Story. That’s what we’re all about, from traditional advertising and PR down to any basic human interaction. We share stories and create experiences around those stories to make them easy to consume and enjoy.
Over the past couple of centuries of marketing, writing for the audience has always led to communications success. Looking back on traditional communications, the process was relatively simple – headline, body copy and call-to-action. However, the onset of the Internet age brought new complexity as copywriters wrestled with a whole new vehicle – the website. The challenges were three-fold – finding a way to cram in as many keywords as possible (for search success) while preserving the natural flow of the copy, encouraging the audience to click from one page to the next and ultimately prompting the audience to open an immediate dialog with the site owner through a contact form or email link.
As if juggling all these priorities weren’t enough, today’s digital marketing presents writers with yet another challenge, accounting for the various device types the audience uses to interact with the message. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to stick with the example of websites although many of the same principles apply to other digital vehicles, such as banners and online video.
Usually a trusted source within the PR and advertising industry, Ragan’s PR Daily recently posted an article, “17 types of content that Google loves.” Although we typically enjoy the site and find it interesting, we found the content from this article could be confusing for those just now dipping their toes in the SEO pool.
As a leader in SEO for clients, we thought it would be a good idea to go through the 17 points and clarify them.
For starters, the article’s title is misleading. You should create content not for what Google loves, but for what searchers want, because Google doesn’t love anything. Google tries to show unique and informative content based on the searcher’s “intent.” For example, are you trying to buy something, find something, learn something, etc.?
Then there are the types of content recommended for a successful Google-oriented strategy. Here’s our take: