Category Archives: Website Strategy

How to identify, define and align strategy with website design.

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.


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 ( 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.

EDUI 2009 Conference Earns A+

(Originally published in 2009–moved here on 9/29/2013–and still highly relevant.)

The University of Virginia hosted an outstanding usability-focused conference yesterday and today, EDUI 2009. The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia, in partnership with User Interface Engineering, produced the conference, featuring a star-studded roster of presenters (forgive the hyperbole, but this conference was an amazing value for the cost of attendance). Today I’m acting as your amateur reporter, providing a quick summary of the conference. I’ll share info from the sessions in forthcoming posts, in the interest of brevity.

I spent yesterday in an all-day session with Dana Chisnell, an independent usability consultant and user researcher who founded UsabilityWorks. She co-authored the Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests. The session was titled Usability Testing Without the Scary. Dana reviewed the entire process of user testing, from developing a test plan to recruiting users, working with stakeholders, summarizing and prioritizing issues, to reporting on results and making recommendations. The day ended with a reception hosted by Intalgent at their new venture/venue, OpenSpace. Wonderful networking, great food and wine, and a very funny improv performance.

Today began with a presentation by Michael Wesch, who teaches Cultural Anthropology and Digital Ethnology at Kansas State University. Dubbed “the explainer” by Wired magazine, Michael Wesch is a cultural anthropologist exploring the impact of new media on society and culture. The EDUI session was titled Mediated Culture, and showed how the media are not just tools or means of communications—they mediate our relationships. When media change our relationships change.

I attended “How Your Design Feels,” presented by Dan Rubin, founder and principal of Webgraph (a design and branding studio), co-founder of Sidebar Creative (a design collective) and Sinelogic (UI and usability consulting) as well as a web standards consultant and speaker.

Jared Spool, founder of User Interface Engineering, the largest usability research organization of its kind in the world, presented the conference keynote address, Cooking Up Gourmet User Experiences on a Fast-Food Budget.

I’ll share details on these sessions starting tomorrow.

7 Questions to Ask When You’re Ready to Redesign a Website

When it’s time to redesign a website, most people are thinking about the visual design of the site. The look of a site is extremely important. But here’s a question–there are at least a thousand different ways to make a site look (just do a search on website design templates). How do you know what will be best for your site?

The design of your site should reflect

  • Who you are as a company or an organization. How do you see yourself? How does your market see you? Your competitors? The important “influencers” in your sector? How do you want to be seen?
  • Your business strategy.  Are you looking for prospects? New customers? Repeat customers? What, if any, customer service functions do you want your site to provide? Are you looking to raise awareness? Sell or collect donations directly on the site? What’s the average transaction amount you’re looking for? Are you looking for investors, partners, suppliers and other non-customer relationships?
  • A path for creating and sustaining relationships, up-selling and cross-selling customers, connecting with key influencers such as experts in your industry or field, establishing credibility in the eyes of opinion-makers, prospects, potential investors and other important audiences.

Last but not least, your site design must reflect what people are looking for, providing navigation links that make it easy for them to reach that content within one or two clicks.

Base your website redesign on measurable, achievable goals. Here are 7 questions to guide your thinking:

  1. How many leads do you want to generate for your business pipeline?
  2. How many do you want to convert to customers or donors?
  3. How will you use your site to do that?
  4. What are your revenue goals?
  5. What products or services do you want to sell more of?
  6. If you’re driving people to your site via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or other social media, how many do you want to attract? What conversion rate do you expect?
  7. How will you measure results? By the level of new sales? The number of new subscribers to your blog or newsletter? The number of donations from a particular category of donors? The number of page views that Google Analytics shows? Quantifiable results enable you to track, benchmark and evaluate the return on your investment, so you can adjust your approach when necessary.

To sum it all up…

Set quantifiable website goals. Provide easy navigation, quality content, reader engagement, and make it easy for users to sign up for a newsletter, order products, make donations and interact with you in a variety of ways.

Then measure, evaluate and tweak your strategy as needed.

Here’s a link to a long list of great questions from Seth Godin that can help you map out your website goals.


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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