Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Solving Video Display Once and For All

I recently had the opportunity to do a small job which was to simply determine the best way to display video for a given device.

There are hundreds of browsers out there, and one size won't fit all!

Solving the problem was easy - once all the variables were determined! Every browser has it's preferred method of playing video files; in this case I was using MP4s.

When it comes to design, coding and laying out a website, it is very important to reduce everything to common denominators. The problem comes from varying proprietary offerings from the usual suspects: Microsoft, Apple and Google. Toss in a little third-party techno-warring from Adobe, JW Player and the like, and you have a confusing mix of possible solutions.

My approach was typical. How do we satisfy the most likely users with the least amount of work. Here was a simple logic grid.

- Google the most popular browsers (keeping in mind a fall back to a download link. IE: Netscape 2 c. 1995!)
- Find a player or players that would solve the problem.
- Code for native Apple player.
- Code for native MS player (yeah right)
- Code for Google Chrome

Then there were the mobile units such as the Android, the iPad, iPhone and various tablet operating systems - some which hate Flash. RIP Steve Jobs.

I ended up coding 5 separate solutions so that the video played on over 100 different browsers/devices.

If you are looking for expert help with video, drop me an email.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Purpose Driven Website

There are billions of websites on the Internet. Each one of them has a purpose, or so I hope that's true.

I hope we are are past the "I need a website because" stage.

I can't tell you how many conversations I have had with people that wanted a website but weren't really sure why. Here are the Top 5 assumptions for having a website.
  1. In this day and age everyone has one.
  2. If I have a site I can sell my widgets to everyone.
  3. Brick and mortar business and foot traffic is off, so I can make it up on the web.
  4. When people come to my site they will call, click or email an order.
  5. If I get a million people to my site and each one spends a dollar....
All of these assumptions assume that the website will magically attract visitors who will purposely and profitably interact. It's is NOT that simple. It's even tougher for localized business that require local interaction.

Before you begin a website, or redesign an old one, you need to answer these two questions:

  1. Why do I need a website, and what is the purpose of the site?
  2. If my website is 100% successful, what would it do?
It is not enough to have a website taking up a few thousand kilobytes on the Internet. Your website needs to accomplish a purpose - have an objective and drive visitors to a specific action or set of actions. What are those actions? Well, part of that depends on what your business or organization does. Here are some examples:

  • Purchase a product
  • Book a service or appointment
  • Get directions
  • Ask a question
  • Have a question answered
  • Get additional marketing information IE: features and benefits
  • Get detailed information about products and procedures IE: Medical procedures, user manuals
  • Customer service requests
  • Provide social interaction
Those are purposes for having a site. Of course there are other questions that need to be answered such as:

  • How will I be found?
  • What information an I offering to attract visitors?
  • What exactly do I expect my visitors to do?
  • Does my site have a realistic revenue model?
 I'd like to ask the question again: If you website is 100% successful, what would it do?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fast-Track to Creating a Website! (And Save Time & Money)

If you are reading this, you probably have or need a website. Today I would like to help you speed up the process of making changes and give you some tips on achieving your desired website results.

Depending on where you are in the process, you may just need some simple content changes, or a complete new website that even you are not 100% sure what it needs to look like. Are you certain what specific functions it should or will need to perform? And worse, maybe your current website is not performing the way you had hoped; the orders are not coming in, the hits did not go up, and you spent a lot of money. :(

It may be time to speak with a web solutions architect.

An architect will take into consideration not only your marketing or sales goals, but design a site that achieves those goals. He/she should be well versed in graphics (aesthetics, and content placement), front-end design (what the page does that you see) and back-end development that supports the data and usage needs of the site. (the part you don't see)

Here are some tips to get the website you really want, and save time and money by speeding up the process.
  1. Content: I have worked on thousands of websites and the number one delay is content. If your copy and photos aren't ready, your website developer will be waiting on you.
  2. Pages/Sections: The structure of your site should be well established. It not only needs to make sense to you, but to first time visitors too! Sitemaps are helpful (but no one uses them!), however; a flow into the site so that it is intuitive is far better. Be sure to define the main sections. IE: Home, About, Store, Contact, Downloads, Press etc. Then document a flow that gets the job done.
  3. Function/Action: An effective website needs to have a purpose. In marketing we call this a "call to action." When visitors come to your site, what do you want them to do? Buy a product, sign up for an email list, or follow you on Twitter? If your action is defined, the site needs to support that action.
  4. Best Practices: Intuitive websites often have a small group of links that make standard information quickly available! They should be part of every website to help first-time/new users, while staying out of the way of experienced users. They are Home, About, Contact (Customer Service), and My Account (sign in) for account based sites. If it a store My Cart is a standard.
  5. Priorities: Your site needs to manage your priorities and objectives. One page (actually 1.24 pages) is probably all the time you get to capture the interest of a user and entice them to read more, or act. Each one us of us visits at least a few sites a week if not a few each day. How long do you stick around? How hard was it to find what you were looking for? Your site needs to manage your calls to action and the process of building customer confidence in your brand to achieve that goal. Page real estate is ESSENTIAL! A good architect can maximize your "hits" to guide users to the desired content/actions by effective use of page real estate and menu system.
If you do your homework before engaging a developer, your site will be cheaper and finished in less time.

Is your website performing the way you want it to?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Profits of Paying it Forward

In today's vernacular, the term for charitable giving is paying it forward. Entrepreneurs and companies who give time and money, even lend their name to charitable and non-profit organizations, provide an emotional link to their customers by connecting them to causes which are important to them.

Like "buying American" after 9/11 and "going green" a few years ago, this market trend can be a powerful tool for energizing your web site.

Causes marketing is a double edge sword. Choosing neutral causes is a much better choice than choosing a more controversial one. If we choose cancer research, it's hard to go wrong unless that organization or cause has a negative press experience. It's usually best to stay away from politics and religion because those causes are often polarized and may alienate potential customers and clients. The only caveat would be a time when your customer base is identical to a cause you support.

Another word of caution, jumping on the band wagon too soon after an event is perceived as "taking advantage" of peoples emotions, and is negative. Profiteering is negative marketing. People like to have time to make up their minds about events; particularly emotional ones. Wait for the end of a news cycle and work to regenerate interest in your cause.

How do you participate in paying it forward? There are lots of ways.
  • Forward letters of support for causes you care about on behalf of an organization
  • Like a cause on Facebook with your fan page
  • Send out a letter or snail mail piece outlining your contributions
  • Volunteer your time and post pictures on Facebook and your web site
  • Participate in an event, a walk, or a 5K race
  • Provide food for the needy
  • Work in a soup kitchen
  • Donate money or products to your cause
Here is brief list of causes which I support because they matter to me. I often run races which help generate interest, awareness and funds. I also donate time and money as I am able.
  • American Heart Association - because I had a heart attack.
  • Pancreatic Cancer Action Network - because this is the disease which my mother died of.
  • My daughter's PTO because it provides supplies for the classroom.
  • The Local College and High School Hockey teams because I like hockey.
  • The local youth hockey organization because my child is involved.
  • Food Pantry
  • Cancer research
Not only are causes a way to contribute to your community and feel good, it benefits those who are less fortunate - I don't think that anyone has an issue with that, and most people will support you because they perceive you to be not just reputable, but compassionate.

Do you pay it forward?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Internet is for Information!

Everyone in business needs some sort of web presence. Even if you don't need new customers, it's a way to take care of existing ones, while offering 24/7 information about your company or services. It's more than hours, products and services, it's about your personality and expertise.

Just "Google it" is a pretty popular phrase these days. Some times you are running late and decide to order out. At the stop light (which is illegal in most sates) you Google "chinese menu" + your zip code. On your smart phone screen appears links for a couple of local places.

As an architect, I want good design to not only achieve marketing objectives but also to provide intuitive functionality and quality information. The information superhighway has, for the most part, grown up like weeds in a garden. It becomes hard to find the information that we really want. And amazingly, sometimes it is just not available at all!

Of course the web is mature in many ways. Our online banking, eCommerce and social media sites are really well designed, easy to use, and provide important day-to-day functions. There are some other genres of business which seem to be lagging behind. When I think of some of the things that  cannot easy find, I wonder why?

Here are a couple of examples:

- I had shoulder surgery and my own doctors office had zero information on their process, recovery and realistic expectations for things like pain management, possible complications, how long before I could go back to work, or a layman's explanation of exactly what they were going to do while I was in la la land. I found the information at another site, but it didn't give me all the answers, so I printed the info from the other site and brought them to my pre-surgical exam to do some fact checking. What was difficult, is that I didn't really know what questions I might have asked.

- I need an owner's manual for my 1985 Honda V65 Sabre motorcycle; there were none that I could find (lots of repair manuals). I found some information in a couple of news groups, and an old review from a magazine, as well as a partial spec sheet, but no original owner's manual. Nothing on how the suspension adjustments work, maintenance items or what the little air valve is under the right side cover is for. Honda seems content to manage things for those that are going to buy a new bike, but the rest of us seem to be out of luck. I did find one for a similar model that was helpful for now.

Nearly 20 years ago I designed a site for a bank. Of course they wanted to tout their products and interest rates as well as the features and benefits of doing businesses with them. I simply asked one simple question, "What information are you going to provide for people who don't understand banking and finance terms?" The decided to post a glossary of banking terms and for a number of years it was their most popular page on their site followed by the mortgage and loan calculators.

The Internet is still about information, and I suspect it will be for a long time to come.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Graphics Matter

After years of surveys regarding website content, one of the greatest barriers to "credibility" is your graphics.

Let's face it, cheesy graphics make you look cheesy regardless of how good your product or service is.

Even a talented entrepreneur such as Steve Jobs hired someone to do the Apple logo. His name was Rob Janoff. Although Jobs was a Beatles fan, he denied the relationship. He added the color to humanize the company and give the impression that the Macintosh could display color graphics. The bite was meant to symbolize data bytes.

As you can see, a lot of thought went into just the logo, and when the web emerged in the 1990s, Apple had to come up with graphics to go with it. Archive.com gives us an idea of how they handled it. Of course they axed the colors and went to the more modern and clean looking monochromatic logo that is in use today. You might enjoy the whole story on Edible Apple.

Your logo is just the beginning of your website graphics. You'll need to make the content look good by adding photos, as well as choosing fonts, colors and backgrounds. A good designer can knock this sort of thing out pretty quickly when you supply the artistic fodder of a great logo.

The credibility and marketing posture your graphics subliminally build, is often the silent impetus for website visitors to positively respond to your web content.

Tell us, do you love your website graphics?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Having a Social Media Strategy

Social media is certainly a way to get website traffic as well as communicate with your clients and customers. However; there are some lessons we should have learned by now: The most important is this: every web site on the Internet does not produce revenue, and some probably won't. On the other hand, everyone with a Facebook page or a Twitter account is not going to drive the masses to a web site without a compelling reason.

The Internet is information first!

Unless you are offering something engaging, you may as well enjoy your friends on Facebook and spend your time and effort other places. The caveat to that is popular products such as the iPad and Android phone. There is a lot of buzz around that, so letting folks know about features and upgrades is pretty much all that needs to be done.

Whatever your product or service, you need to find interesting facts, expertise or other information to pass along to customers and clients. That is what I am doing with this blog; passing on a little information related to my services.

The social media game needs consistency from you, or it will fail. You need to start with a simple strategy to see how your potential market will respond. Here is what I suggest as a minimum level of participation:

-Make a calendar and for your media contributions in advance. Be sure that you can meet your deadlines. Blog readers who expect a blog on Monday, don't want to wait until Tuesday.
-Write a minimum of a 200 word blog once a week. Two to three a week is a better number. This is the base "information" of your social media marketing.
-Connect Twitter to Facebook (or vice versa) so you only have to post once a day and it ends up on both. Usually let people know about your blog posts, ask an engaging questions Facebook, or provide a motivational quote related to your business (from the blog or industry guru) on Twitter. You can connect the blog to Facebook and Twitter so those new posts will automatically post.
-YouTube is a good place to do a "how to" video. It could easily be the same content from the blog, but in video form. I could read this video and ad some video enhancements.
- Email campaigns keep the whole thing in motion by recapping what you are doing in the other places. I would highlight a service once every two weeks along with some bullets about the things that are happening on the blog. You can have overlapping content.

Remember every post, blog or email needs an action item for your audience!

Good luck!