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Website redesign is much more than the visual appearance of a site. Learn how to integrate best practices into your next website redesign, including:

  • Clear presentation of your business, key selling points and customer benefits.
  • Navigation geared to the unique needs of your audiences.
  • Content and design that resonate with your market.
  • How to make the redesign process work better.

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Its vs. It’s: Building Credibility

Its vs. it’s vs. its’ are used incorrectly by many writers. To build credibility when you write, make sure your spelling, grammar and punctuation are used correctly. Here’s the scoop on this frequent mistake:

It’s is always and only the contraction of it is:

  • TGIF: Thank God It’s [it is] Friday.
  • It’s [it is] almost time to leave.

Its is the possessive form of it. A good way to remember that is to try out “hers” (where there’s also no apostrophe). If hers would also work, then its is the correct form to use. As a commentator on another site said, “The hint that flipped the switch for me was to [mentally]include its (possessive) in the list of his/hers/ours/their/…its.”

Finally, there’s no such word as its’, just as there’s no hers’, his’, or theirs’.


Free Whitepapers, Webinars And Other Resources For Online Marketing

There’s a lot of free content out there– whitepapers, webinars, YouTube tutorials–but the quality varies. I’ve found three sources that have provided consistently useful training and information about online marketing: HubSpotWordtracker and Citrix Online. (I have no relationship with these businesses.)

Hubspot offers an amazing variety of marketing resources.  They’re a collection of upcoming and archived internet marketing webinars on a variety of topics, from blogging, to search engine marketing, to press releases. I’ve downloaded a number of their whitepapers, including a Guide toNew Facebook Business Page Timelines.

These include guides to social link building, using analytics to evaluate marketing ROI, business blogging mistakes to avoid, and a lot of other topics.

I also get good information from Wordtracker. Go to their Academy for blog posts, books, guides and articles on topics ranging from writing great guest posts on other peoples’ blogs, getting high-quality links from university and academic websites, and more.

I also value resources available from Citrix|Online. When you follow the link, select GoToWebinar from the Select Product dropdown. You’ll find PDF’s and webinars on (surprise!) creating and leading effective webinars. Topics include tools for webinar engagement, creating effective presentations, and others.m Wordtracker. Go to their Academy for blog posts, books, guides and articles on topics ranging from writing great guest posts on other peoples’ blogs, getting high-quality links from university and academic websites, and more.




The Elevator Pitch: 6 Tips from the Heath Brothers

The elevator pitch is an adventure in selling yourself or your products. And it’s very challenging to distill your value proposition into 30 seconds.

I received an e-newsletter from the Heath brothers, Chip and Dan, authors of Switch and Made to Stick, with 6 tips for “Giving a Great Elevator Pitch.”

One tip particularly caught my attention: “If your topic is complex, use the anchor and twist format.” The core of the advice is that you start with something people are already deeply familiar with, and show how you provide something new or different.

They provide an example–getting the message out that CPR is almost as effective without mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Chest pumping alone works pretty well. The American Heart Association chose to call it “CPR lite” or “CPR for dummies.”

CPR is something most people understand. Many people are intimidated by the process, and worry that they won’t do it right. And they’re reluctant to do the mouth-to-mouth part.

To help people quickly grasp the new concept, the AHA started with something familiar, CPR,  and added the new twist–chest-pumping alone can get the job done.

Take a look at a fun article in Inc. that the Heath Brothers recommend: “You Know What Your Company Does. Can You Explain It in 30 Seconds?” It’s a walk-through of the process as led by Dave Yewman and Andy Craig, co-owners of Elevator Speech, a consulting firm.

If you have any tips about how you developed your elevator pitch, I’d love to hear them and share them here.


Maintain Credibility by Proofreading Everything You Publish

I received an email from a stranger, pointing out many mistakes on my web site. A couple of these were really bad ones–an incorrect description for a class I was teaching, and the wrong date for another class.

More than embarrassing, errors erode credibility. One way to avoid them is to ask somebody else to edit your content before you publish it. It seems like such a no-brainer, but it’s tempting to just get it done and publish it.

Studies done at Stanford showed that typographical errors erode the credibility of a site. Typos raise questions–“If this business can’t be bothered to proofread, what else are they sloppy about?”

In the class I taught on web site best practices, students (all  were website owners or stakeholders )  reviewed one another’s sites. Having a fresh pair of eyes  revealed big and small things they’d completely missed. They found the experience highly valuable and identified changes that needed to be made.

When another pair of eyes isn’t available, there are other tools you can use. I  installed a plugin to replace the WordPress spellchecker: After The Deadline. The people at WordPress use it, and it has these features:

1. It has a modern dictionary that includes words like WordPress.

2. You can permanently ignore any error to keep it from showing again.

3. It also finds misused words (its/it’s)

4. It checks your grammar

5. Also it works in both the visual and HTML editors.

It doesn’t check for incorrect capitalization, however.

Although your text may not be perfect (whose is?), at least you’ll have done your best to earn and maintain reader confidence.

Jared Spool’s EDUI 2009 Keynote

(Originally published in 2009, and still completely relevant.)

Tricks and techniques work better for improving website usability than do structured methodologies, Jared Spool (CEO, User Interface Engineering) said at the EDUI conference last week. Spool says that there is no evidence that methodologies result in quality designs, and that design can’t be institutionalized to conform to usability templates. He equates methodology with dogma, defined as “an unquestioned faith independent of any supporting evidence, using the TSA’s airport screening procedures as a prime example of methodology’s lack of value. His research found that:

  • The best teams didn’t have a methodology or dogma they followed
  • The struggling teams often tried following a methodology, withou success
  • The best teams all focused on increasing the techniques and tricks for each team member
  • They were constantly exploring new tricks and techniques for their toolbox
  • Struggling teams had limited tricks and techniques

He recommends that usability development teams focus on developing great techniques and tricks and avoid get dragged down by methodologies. Techniques, he says, are things that you can master through practice, building blocks that can be applied to any methodology.

How the best teams develop great design

Vision, feedback and culture are the most important variables in the way the best teams develop great design:

  • Vision: Can everyone on the team describe the experience of using your design five years from now? Spool says that five years is an optimal time period becaue the team’s thinking is not constrained by current legacy ( ie.technology limitiations), freeing them to focus on the aspiration of the design. Everyone on the team should have the exact same vision. Focusing the vision gives the team the chance to know where they’re going. They can deal with how to get there later on in the process.
  • Feedback: In the last six weeks, have you spent more than two hours watching someone use either your design or a competitor’s?Everyone should answer “yes” to this question. You don’t know what’s happening with your design until you watch people use it. Spool points out that great chefs go out into the dining room and ask people about the food.
  • Culture: In the last six weeks, have you rewarded a team member for creating a major design failure? Spool says that we only learn by making mistakes. He advocates making a huge investment in order to a failure, mentioning that Scott Cook, founder of Intuit (Quicken and Quickbooks), gives a big party for someone who has “screwed up big,” that celebrates all the things they learned. Spool asserts that organizations that are risk averse “produce crap.”

Spool says that user testing can be as speedy as the “Five-Second Page Test” that he uses. Have the test participant look at a page for five seconds (not the home page, but one with a specific purpose, such as providing customer support information or making a donation). Then ask the participant to write down what they remember aboutthe page and whether they would do business with the organization. The test is particularly useful when a page is too cluttered or confusing, and identifies whether pages quickly communicate their purpose.

On the other hand, Spool says that paper prototype testing is especially useful when the design is in flux. The team can participate in the sudy at a point where they can make changes before going into technical implementation. Paper Prototyping, by Carolyn Snyder, is a recommended resource.

What a couple of Jared Spool's paper prototypes look like

What a couple of Jared Spool’s paper prototypes look like

Virtual seminars and many other free resources are available on Spool’s company website and on his blog, Brainsparks.

Anatomy of a Usability Testing Plan: Dana Chisnell at EDUI2009 (Part Three)

(Originally published in 2009 and still highly relevant.)

In her all-day day session at EDUI2009, “Usability Testing Without the Scary,” Dana Chisnell laid out the entire process for usability testing. Breaking the process down into small parts that are easy to understand, Dana showed us how to be comfortable with the process, rather than intimidated. Here’s what she shared about creation of the plan for usability testing.

Someone who will try the design, somewhere to test and something to study.

As Dana puts it, the essence of testing is “sit next to someone and watch them do stuff.” Pretty straightforward. You just have to know what you want them to try out, and how to watch and ask questions so you can learn what they are thinking as they work with your design and functionality.

To support great site design, each phase of the development process should be supported by input from users. It’s also essential to have multidisciplinary teams working on development (ie. marketing, IT, management, etc.).

Although it’s highly useful to look at best practices, guidelines and conventions for usability, they aren’t enough to guarantee usability and accessibility.The nuances of implementation can conflict with best practices, and best practices can even conflict, cancel each other out, or magnify certain issues.  “Informed designs come from data,” says Dana.

The goals of usability testing should be to identify problems in design that lead to

  • misinformation
  • incomplete transactions
  • need for support from administration, management or staff

What tests and measurements to do when

–When you want to map out what the design should do, you observe and listen to users through user testing, focus groups, participatory design, surveys, heuristic evaluations and setting benchmarks.

–To figure out how the design should work, use participatory design, paper prototyping, walk-throughs, usability testing and heuristic evaluation

–To determine whether the design actually does what you want it to do, conduct usability tests, do heuristic evaluation, follow-up studies and comparison of benchmarks.

In the early part of the process, do things that help you learn, that are exploratory and formative. In the middle, do things that help you assess and summarize. And at the end, validate and verify when you’re close to launch but have enough time to incorporate changes.

The User Testing Plan

It’s important to create a test plan. It serves as your blueprint for testing, is a communication vehicle, clarifies needed resources, is a focal point for each test, and lays out milestones. It should include:

  • Goals and objectives**
  • Research questions**
  • Participant characteristics**
  • Description of method**
  • List of tasks**
  • Description of test environment
  • Say what the moderator will do
  • List of the data you’ll collect
  • Description of how the results will be reported

**If your time is limited, focus on the starred tasks.

Next: Selecting participants

EDUI 2009: Dana Chisnell on Taking the “Scary” Out of User Testing (Part Two)

(Originally published in 2009 and still highly relevant.)

In her EDUI 2009 Workshop, Usability Testing Without the Scary, Dana Chisnell discussed how to best support great site design. User testing is essential, even if you only have time to spend one hour with one person. If one person has a problem, it’s legitimate to assume that others do too, and to make design changes based on that data. It’s also important to have management buy-in to doing testing–they must be able to see the benefits of doing the research and implementing what is learned from the tests. Multi-disciplinary teams also support implementation of great design, provided they speak one anothers’ languages and understand one anothers’ skills. Finally, it’s essential to be willing to learn as you go and make changes accordingly. (Note that these criteria are completely in alignment with Jared Spool’s research showing that vision, feedback and culture are the most important elements of developing great design.)

Great designs are :

  • Useful–What’s valuable to your user about having this information or this tool.
  • Efficient–Users can accomplish their goal quickly (that means you have to know what your users’ goals are).
  • Learnable–It should be easy for users to apply what they’ve learned about how to use other sites to using your site (your site should conform to usabilities conventions as much as possible).
  • Satisfying–Your site should be one that people are happy to use, one that seems to be easy and doesn’t take too much time.
  • Accessible–Implementing accessibility guidelines actually makes your site easier for everyone to use.

You should identify design problems that lead to misinformation, incomplete transactions, and/or necessitate support from administrators or staff.

What kind of assessment to use to answer fundamental site design questions

Dana segments analysis into three areas and defines certain types of assessments to use for each area.

What should the site design do? When you want to answer this question, do usability testing, conduct focus groups, have users participate in the design process, do surveys, conduct heuristic evaluations and set benchmarks.

How should the site design work? To answer this question, use participatory design, paper prototyping, walk-throughs, usability testing and heuristic evaluation.

Does the site design do what we want it to do? Answer this via usability testing, heuristic evaluation, follow-up studies and comparison to benchmarks.

Next: Dana’s pointers on putting together a test plan