There are many ways to spend your internet advertising dollar, and pay-per-click advertinsing is probably the most popular and most effective way to get immediate ROI. The pioneering program was Google Adwords, but now that the pay-per-click (PPC) channel is mature there are many other choices available. CitySearch is a website specializing in local business searches, so it would seem to be a perfect venue for drilling into those untapped local markets.
I received a free voucher for CitySearch WebConnect Advertising, so I thought I would try it out. First problem I noticed is that there is a minimum monthly buy-in of $99. You don't find that out until the end of the sign-up process though. There's also a $10 setup fee. Neither of these is true for Google Adwords.
After signing up I went to the Manager page. My first thought was "Is this a joke?" Less than impressive, to say the least. Not the powerfull interface I'm used to with Adwords:
Rather than keywords, your ad shows based on the region and categories you select. The user searches for your type of business within the selected area. Being part of the CitySearch WebConnect Advertising gives you a featured listing, and you pay only when the visitor clicks on it. In this way it works more similarly to AT&T Yellow Pages advertising than it does other pay-per-click advertising programs.
Once up and running, I was disappointed to get no clicks for most of two weeks. On Friday, I received 3 clicks, but could find no sign of them in my Google Analytics reports. On Saturday I received 10 clicks, but again, no sign of the visits in my analytics program. Click-fraud immediately came to mind, and the marked lack of sophistication of their front-end interface made me wonder about their methods of filtering bad clicks.
An email to my account manager, communicating my displeasure, questioning the clicks, and asking what they did to combat click-fraud got my account closed in short order. Not that I had asked for it to be closed. So my impression, correct or not, was that they did not want to delve into the subject of click-fraud.
CitySearch WebConnect Advertising is probably good for a larger company that's not too concerned with exact accounting of their pay-per-click advertising budget, but rather seeks to saturate the market. For smaller companies where every dollar counts, I'd recommend sticking with Google Adwords, Overture and Microsoft AdCenter.
In a recent request for a quote to design and produce an Ecommerce Website, I was asked if I offered a refund if no visitors showed up. I think this question highlights the confusion that a lot of small business people and entrepreneurs have with exactly how the Internet works. Granted, it can be confusing, especially for non-technical people.
Those of us who have worked with it on a daily basis for a number of years may forget that its structures and processes are not really naturally intuitive. That's the reason that good information design and interface design is so important in translating the reality of the Web into a good user experience. In this article I will try to explain what Website promotion is on a basic level, assuming little knowledge of the secret inner workings of the Internet.
For the purposes of Web only promotion, you have two main avenues:
The way people find things, including your Website, on the Internet is by typing a word or phrase into a Search Engine. The major search engines used are Google, AOL, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask Jeeves. There are many other search engines, but if you show up high on the search engine results pages (SERPs) of these, your going to meet your marketing goals.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engines are in business to deliver relevant results. If you continually don't find what you want after typing your search terms in to a search engine, you are going to try another.
Search engines do three things to deliver you results:
Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)
As mentioned in the previous section, search engines sell space on their SERPs to advertisers. These ads are usually prominently displayed as sponsored results and get slightly less traffic than do the natural results. However, provided the ad meets the search engine's editorial guidelines, the advertiser gets to choose the keywords that trigger the ad, choose how much they pay per click, how much they pay per day, and so on. This creates a kind of auction for the top position in the sponsored results, as the advertiser who pays the most per click wins the highest position.
Pros and Cons
So which should you choose, SEO or PPC? Well, that depends on the competition.
In general, when considering these questions, remember that SEO is a longer term solution, and is less reliable than PPC. It can take months for the search engine to find your Website, or notice changes you've made to try to improve ranking. Also, without constant attention your page one ranking will undoubtedly drop off the SERP as others compete for your position.
PPC can be pretty expensive, depending how competitive the market is. If the ROI isn't there, it may eliminate itself as an option for you.
Most succesful Internet businesses use a combination of SEO and PPC to promote their Websites. Even with top ranking in natural results, eliminating a space for the competition and plastering the SERP with your name on a PPC ad can be a winning strategy.
The one subject that I have found missing from all the Web design classes I've taken has been Page Layout. How do you arrange the elements of a Web page so that it is not only usable, put also visually pleasing? Not until I started taking courses in graphic design did the answers start coming.
Visual design teaches you how to arrange elements on a canvas and balance a composition so that the viewers eyes move where you want them to. Taking the skills I learned in art and design classes, I came up with these guidelines for composing a Web page layout.
1. Information grouping.
By the time you start laying out the page, the information architecture of the site should be nailed down. Hopefully you haven't decided on more than 3 or 4 major information groupings. The information within these groupings should be visually related into descrete regions on the page. This can be done by using similar font, color, size or proximity to make the groupings obvious.
The information groupings on the page should be visually balanced. No one grouping should draw attention much more than the others. Eye movement should be controlled so that user's eye naturally moves from one grouping to the next, then back to the first and so on. Any element that creates too strong a visual focus will cause many visitors to miss some of the other content. It can also cause tension or discomfort if their eyes are drawn to one part of the page, and the content they need is on another part of the page. This is the reason flashing banners and animated gifs are so annoying. In my opinion, cycling movement should never be used on a Web page unless it is the only item of interest on the page.
3. Manageble content
Each information grouping in the page layout should contain no more than 7 discrete pieces of information. Any more than that and the user will have trouble processing information.With less than 7 pieces, the user usually has no problem comprehending the choices and making a decision about which, if any, navigation path they want to follow.
You learn by doing, so I suggest that if you design Web sites, but haven't taken a good, challenging art or design class, you do so immediately. Good luck, have fun and keep learning!
January 25, 2007
The very first thing you need to do when beginning the graphic design of a Website is to make two related decisions:
For a while, 800 x 600 at fixed resolution has been very popular. And for a while, 1024 x 768 has been the most common screen resolution used by Web surfers 'round these parts. Take a look at my stats from last week:
So, if that is anywhere near typical, most of the visitors to those 800x600 fixed width Websites are seeing a lot of unused real estate on their screen. That probably accounts for the recent comeback of fancy page background patterns I've noticed over the past couple of years.
Just as 640x480 bit the dust, it looks like 800x600 could be nearing it's demise in the next couple of years. Not yet though. Ten percent of potential customers is a lot of people to give the finger to by placing crucial content outside of their 800x600 comfort zone. Here are my recommendations:
I expect that all those people surfing with 1024x768 screen resolution are getting pretty bored of seeing that 800x600 stripe down the middle of their screen, no matter how pretty the background pattern is. Designing for 1024x768 will make your Websites stand out, and give at least the appearance of better use of screen real estate.
The task of information design aims to break down and organize the information that is to be presented on the Web site in a way that facilitates easy retrieval by the target user group or groups. You generally start with a large volume of information that is not necessarily organized in a Web-friendly manner if it is organized at all. Your job as a information designer is to break down, organize and present that information on the Web site you will be designing.
The main tools at your disposal to create a great information architecture are as follows:
Discovery means finding out everything you can about how the Web site will be used. Who will the users be? What will they be looking for? What tasks will they perform? What content will be provided and what is the hierarchy of importance? To learn this you need to go beyond what the client hands you, and find out as much as you can about their industry, their position in that industry, and their target audience.
Identifying all the information to be included in the site upfront is very important. Finding out in the middle of a project that you have a whole category of information that you hadn't counted on can send you back to the drawing board and waste a lot of everyones time. Of course clients will often think of something they want to add after you have started or even completed the design. A good discovery phase in which the client is closely involved will make that less likely.
Now that you have that big pile of information, it is time to break it down. The Content Outline should indicate every bit of information that will be found on the web site and determine the hierarchy of that information given the goals of the Web site. I recommend no more than 7 categories on any level of the outline. More than that will be difficult of the user to comprehend in a glance, thus making your design unintuitive. Too few categories per level will hide the structure from the user in the depth of the site.
Site Maps are basically web versions of flow charts. They are visual representations of the site structure and hierarchy and should include everything you have in the outline. It is helpful to number them in a way that corresponds to your content outline. The site map will allow you to work out the basic navigation of the site and show the way in which pages link to one another.
Now that you have a basic feel for the navigation of the site you can create Wireframes. Wireframes are schematic versions of the finished web pages. They will include specific information about navigation and content of each page, but not necessarily the page layout. That comes later, in the graphic design phase. Wireframes can even be done as HTML pages with working links to give the client a feel for the navigation. This will also allow you to perform usability testing if you desire.
Once you have your wireframes completed, you are ready to move on to the graphic design phase.
From the standpoint of a web designer there are two perspectives you can take on how the website will be used:
The sales and marketing perspective is usually the most obvious to website buyers. You want a website to sell products. You would like to lead the customer down the click path of your choosing, with the final step being the purchase. You also want to create certain associations with your “brand” in the customer’s mind, such as “our brand is stylish, ” or “our brand is valuable.” You want to condition the user to have certain reactions when seeing your brand. In short, you want to make the visitor do something, or do something to the visitor. You want to lead, or push them into action. When designing from this perspective you start with what you, as the Website owner, want the user to do, and design the Website to that end.
The other perspective you can take in designing is the user-centered perspective. The user will come to your Website for a reason. They may want to compare the price of your product to another product, or their budget. They may want to view product or service specifications, download a white paper, or make a purchase. When designing from this perspective, you start with what the user, or users, wants to do and design the Website to that end.
So you may guess at this point that if you were to design your website based on what the user wants to do, they would have an easier time doing that, and therefore have a better experience. They would see the Website as being more usable (easier to use) and feel that they had a better experience after using it. With the Website designed based on the needs of the sales or marketing department, the opposite can be true. Users may feel the site is difficult to use, especially if what they want to do does not match what the sales marketing people want them to do (or think they should be doing) on the Website.
In reality Websites are designed with a mix of sales/marketing perspective and user-centered perspective. Because of company politics, it is usually the case the sales and marketing department has more political power than the Web team, so it’s often difficult for the Web designer to shift the focus on to the user and away from making the Website an online brochure, or an exercise in operant conditioning. It is important that the user’s voice is heard. In the end, the best thing a Website can do for your business is to give the user a good experience by allowing them to do what they want to do. That won’t happen unless you design for it.