Thought at 8:27pm January 21st, 2005

Kevin Lee has a very nice overview of the difference between SEO and SEM in his ClickZ article Compare and Contrast: SEM and SEO. I particularly like his analysis that SEO is largely a technical issue of site visibility (a fixed task) followed by ongoing PR and reputation management (an ongoing, evolving effort).

Thought at 10:15pm December 10th, 2004

Jakob Nielsen’s most recent Alertbox entitled Most Hated Advertising Techniquesprovides some hard data on what many of us have known for a while now — aggressive online ads alienate site visitors out of proportion with the potential upside of clickthroughs.

Here’s a particularly relevant part of the article:

“Users have started to defend themselves against pop-ups. The percentage of users who report using pop-up or ad-blocking software increased from 26% in April 2003 to 69% in September 2004, which is an astonishing growth rate.

Users not only dislike pop-ups, they transfer their dislike to the advertisers behind the ad and to the website that exposed them to it. In a survey of 18,808 users, more than 50% reported that a pop-up ad affected their opinion of the advertiser very negatively and nearly 40% reported that it affected their opinion of the website very negatively.”

Thought at 4:32pm December 6th, 2004

Kathleen Straub has written a nice overview of the difference between an Expert Review and User Testing called “Cleaning Up For The Housekeeper”.

The whole article is good, but here’s a key point she makes:

“Expert Review examines details of human computer interaction guided by basic research about how humans interpret, understand and interact with objects in the world. As such, Heuristic Review exploits our generic understanding of human cognition to identify design/presentation details that may facilitate or impede a user’s progress within a task. These include issues such as affordances (How obvious the right next-thing-to-do is.), consistency and the effectiveness of layout and color to guide the user experience.

Usability testing identifies gaps between the site model and representative user conceptual use model in the specific context of use. Meaningful usability testing means observing representative users doing things on the site. Users bring unique domain knowledge and experience to their user experience. Designers — even experts — don’t have the same perspective.”

The title comes from the distinction between “straightening” and “cleaning”. You don’t hire a “straightening lady” so you need to straighten first so she can do her job. In the same way, it makes sense to do an expert review first (to “straighten”) and then do usability testing (to “clean”).

Thought at 6:11pm December 5th, 2004

Hi really like what the folks at 37 Signals are doing.

I found out about them via someone’s feed and subscribed to their Signal vs Noise feed. It was through their feed that I learned about Basecamp, which I am an early and happy subscriber to.

So I found it interesting that they’ve begun experimenting with ads within their feeds. Here’s what they look like:

In general, I have no problem with ads in feeds if the publisher is sending the entire post to me. Personally I think sending summaries to drive people to ad-supported pages will be more effective.

But I think that 37 Signals is making a mistake that goes back to the purpose of the feed. 37 Signals is a design shop (and now online application provider). The feed is a way for them to keep their expertise and news about current initiatives in front of potential customers. So in one sense, every post to their feed is already an ad. And ads inserted in posts are ads within ads.

And since they (wisely) decided that contextual ads will make more sense from a user’s perspective, they are now in the awkward situation where they are including advertising for other web developers in their feeds.

So, my general advice is, if you are using blogs and feeds to promote services you sell, avoid the temptation to make a few bucks by inserting ads on your blog or feed. Keep the message pure and simple, and about you.

Thought at 6:03pm December 5th, 2004

So I was reading the current (December 2004) issue of Wired Magazine and I came across an interesting article called “Roads Gone Wild”. I planned on taking a bit of my Sunday morning to link to the article and comment on it.

But here is what I get when I go to the Wired site today:

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I don’t think there is anything wrong with the magazine holding back the online version of an article for a few days, weeks, or even until the next issue is on the stands. They make money off the current newsstand edition so not posting online immediately makes sense.

But it would be nice if they put a dummy page up for each article they will post. In that way, I would already have a permalink to post now even if the article won’t be live for a while.

“Pointing To” things online and in the real world is becoming essential and I think we’ll see a trend over time to all media (and physical objects) becoming “pointable”.

Thought at 10:59pm November 29th, 2004

Donald Norman posted an article called Ad-Hoc Personas & Empathetic Focus that includes some great examples of personas in action. Norman suggests that made up personas that ring true are better than none, even though Forrester Research disagrees with this approach.

I particularly liked this explanation of “Empathetic Focus” in site design:

“The purpose of the Persona, I believe, is to add empathetic focus to the design. Empathetic focus. By focus I mean that the design must be clean and coherent. It is not a collection of features added willy-nilly through the life-span of the product, even if each feature by itself makes sense. Rather it is having a clear image of what the product is meant to be — and what it is not meant to be — and rejecting features that do not fit, only accepting ones that do. By empathy, I mean an understanding of and identification with the user population, the better to ensure that they will be able to take advantage of the product, to use it readily and easily — not with frustration but with pleasure.”

Thought at 10:38pm October 26th, 2004

Another great issue of Good Experience, this time dealing with the rise of the Customer-Centric Worldview. Mark Hurst makes a great case for a long-term strategic (not just tactical) shift that puts the customer at the centre of the universe, not the company. As Mark says: “Phil Terry [Mark’s partner], likens it to the pre-Copernican view of the world. Like the misguided early notion that the universe revolves around the earth, many business executives today still think that business revolves around companies”.

Thought at 5:37pm October 22nd, 2004

Seth Godin spoke at yesterday’s Digital Marketing conference here in Toronto. I missed the event (deadlines, deadlines), but did want to share this snippet of his speech as reported by Marketing Magazine:

“Average people are professionals at ignoring you. They don’t want to change what they have… That’s why they’re average. The geeks and the nerds, they’re the ones who are listening… Those are the people who are able to spread your idea.”

I would note that “geeks and nerds” come in all shapes and sizes. There are karaoke nerds, cheese nerds, theatre geeks, sneaker geeks, supply chain management nerds, and nerd nerds.

Our goal is to find the “geeks and nerds” who’ll care passionately about our stuff — some, like William Gibson, call them “otaku”.

Thought at 5:28pm October 10th, 2004

Jason Fried (Basecamp and 37 signals) makes a great point in his Web 2.0 Review: “Build a product that doesn’t require organizational scaling.” Ramping up staff and infrastructure killed a lot of great little businesses in Web 1.0 (that meme seems to have hit and stuck quickly).

It’s nice seeing companies intentionally staying small, foregoing venture funding, and keeping resource requirements lean. This approach lets you innovate faster, shift with the market, and earn a profit in markets that might otherwise not be financially attractive.

My guess is we are on the brink of a massive explosion of “nano-companies” — groups of 1 to 10 people working on filling very specific needs in the market that larger businesses can’t service profitably because they have already scaled too big to fit the size of these “nano-markets”.

Thought at 10:33pm September 6th, 2004

Jakob Nielsen’s “Preparing a Website for the Holiday Shopping Season” makes a great point that site architects often forget — with the rise of search as the dominant traffic generator on many sites, it is now possible for most of your traffic will not be coming through your home page and other key landing pages. That means that every page has to do double duty. First they must cover the topic under discussion so that you add enough value to get the search listing in the first pace and deliver the value the user was seeking. And secondly, pages must convey why your site is a trustworthy source and ask for the sale (whatever that may be).

As Jakob states: “A website is like a house with a thousand front doors: visitors can enter anywhere.”