Homepage Slideshows: Time to Face the Ugly Truth!

Homepage Slideshows: Time to Face the Ugly Truth!

Rotating slideshows are distracting
What’s The Goal of Your Website?

This is the first question I ask my clients. It surprises me how difficult it seems to be to get an answer. It’s pretty hard to build a website if the goal of the site isn’t clear. But one thing I hear all the time is something like this:

“I’d like a rotating slideshow on the homepage.”

As a designer I have to admit that these slide shows are visually appealing. But even though they are enormously popular, I advise my clients against using them. Why? Because unless your website is strictly informational, chances are you’re using it to sell something – a product, a service or an idea. That rotating homepage slideshow that is currently in vogue may actually be making it harder for potential customers and clients to buy what you’re selling.

It’s About Conversion, Not Page Rank

Your analytics reports are telling you that lots of people are visiting your site. Good. When you do a Google search for your business, you’re at the top of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Good. You’re not gaining any new customers. Bad! So what’s going on here? If you’re focusing on attaining the number one spot on a Google search then you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Wouldn’t you rather have a hundred new visitors to your site who all end up buying from you than one thousand new visitors who do nothing? Pretty obvious right? The objective is to convert your visitors to customers. It’s time to face the ugly truth. The lovely rotating slideshow that is occupying your homepage’s most coveted real estate is turning potential buyers away.

Engage, Don’t Distract

In his regular column on Design, Usability and Conversion, Tim Ash of Marketing Land sites the following:

The whole idea behind image sliders is that a message or image is displayed for a brief while — maybe a few seconds – and then is replaced by another message. But this type of stopping and starting pattern is the most compelling form of movement, because of our evolutionary need to be aware of hidden dangers lurking nearby.
Simply put, the human brain is hard-wired to notice the onset of motion, which makes rotating banners especially distracting. We literally cannot tune them out.

Ash further states:

So, while the movement of the banner may attract the attention of the subconscious, the conscious brain works hard to ignore it.

It May be Time to Break the Habit

Does it really make sense to put your most important information, your key calls-to-action, your value proposition, the “why” of your business in a format that research tells us is likely to be ignored? I like the homepage slideshow just as much as the next guy. I think they look cool and are a good way to attract attention – for a few seconds. That’s how long it’s going to take for your visitors to realize that just before they’ve absorbed the information embedded in the first image, the next one pops onto the screen. The next step is user frustration followed by a quick exit. So unless the sole purpose of your website is to look cool, I would suggest rethinking that rotating homepage slideshow.

But Having Said That …

I should say that even though I advise my clients against using the ubiquitous homepage slideshow, if they insist I will use it anyway. My job is go  give them the information they need to make good choices.  It’s still their decision.

Now Back to You

Are you hooked on the homepage slideshow? Does your website use one? If so, can you tell how it is effecting your business goals? Does anything I’ve said here make sense?

5 Things You Need to Think About Before Selling Online

5 Things You Need to Think About Before Selling Online

Baby shopping online
If you have a brick and mortar store, why not make some, or perhaps all, of your products available for purchase online. It’s a great way to increase your sales revenue and with today’s technology it’s easier than ever to add a shopping cart component to an existing website. Besides, buying products online has become a routine behavior in our culture. Everybody’s doing it. From pizza to high priced automobiles, just about anything can be purchased online today. But before you make the leap, here are 5 things (there are probably more than 5 but you’ll be fine if you start with these) you need to think about and resolve before going forward.

1. Order Fulfillment

Plan AheadIf you’re running a brick and mortar store already, are you prepared for the extra work that selling products online will create? What will you do if you suddenly get an online order for 100 products? Do you have the staff to handle the extra workload? Will you be sourcing the product directly from your in-store inventory or will you stock product elsewhere? Here’s some advice. Your answer should not be “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” It will be too late then. Have a plan in place before you hang the “Open for Business” sign on your website.

2. Shipping

ShippingUPS, Fedex, USPS, DHL, Same Day, Next Day, Two Day, Priority … whoa, that’s a lot of choices. And setting it all up on your website can be a nightmare. Fortunately, most of the major shipping companies provide modules that can be installed and configured on your eCommerce website. You’ll have to make some decisions though. Do you want to charge by weight? volume? total order price, etc. What if your customer only buys one of something. You certainly don’t want the cost of shipping to exceed the cost of the purchased item. I recommend offering free shipping for total purchases above a certain dollar amount. It may cost you a few dollars but you will win in the long run if you’re willing to do something for your customers.

3. Tax

Uggghh! I know. Not fun. But you absolutely, positively must deal with it on your eCommerce website. Again, the good news is that many eCommerce plugins, like Woo Commerce for WordPress make it easy. You’ll still have to do some advance planning though. Will you be selling and shipping to other states? Then you’ll need to know the tax rates for the states you’re selling in. Do you know what items in your store are taxable and which aren’t? You’ll need to know that too. Once you’ve entered the necessary information the tax will be calculated automatically based on your customer’s address and the tax status of the items purchased and it will be displayed on the shopping cart page.

4. Minimum Quantities

If you’re selling health and beauty aids online, do you really want to allow the purchase of one toe nail clipper at a cost of $1.79 with a shipping cost of $5.00? Doesn’t make sense does it? I suggest that you set up minimum order quantities or minimum dollar amount purchases. That way you’ll avoid the overhead associated with shipping one low cost item. Don’t worry. Most online shoppers will understand that you are not going to ship orders under a certain price.

5. Product Photography

This is a pet peeve of mine. I get it that we’re in the age of selfies and everyone believing they are photographers. But if you’re seriously trying to make money by selling products on line, you must understand this. Bad product photos scream amateur! In a brick and mortar store a shopper can pick up a pair of shoes and feel its quality. Online that’s not possible. That’s why you need to present the shopper with high quality photographs.

“But I can’t afford to hire a professional photographer,” you say.

“You can’t afford not to,” I say.

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Compare the photo of a pair of women’s boots on the left with the photo on the right.

Bad photo of shoes Good photo of shoes

The photo on the left was taken from a website I won’t name. The one on the right is from the Zappos website. Zappos knows a little something about online retail and how important product photography is. If you can’t hire a professional photographer, or if you don’t have access to high quality images, wait until you do before launching your site.

Now Back to You

Are you selling products online? How are you doing? Did you think about the 5 steps outlined above before you launched your site? What are the things you think are important to a successful online store?

Opening a New Business Without a Website? Don’t!

Opening a New Business Without a Website? Don’t!

New Fangled Website

It’s hard to believe but there are still businesses out there that don’t have websites. Yes, it’s true. These are mostly old school, family run businesses that have been around for generations. Typically the patriarch still goes to work every day and does things the way he always has. He keeps lists on pieces of paper that he misplaces and can’t find when he needs them. He has a rolodex full of numbers he never calls. He may have a copy machine. His kids, who run the business with him, have smart phones, use email, and shop online. When they urge him to have a website designed he says, “What for? I’ve been successful for over forty years without one.” His kids know it’s futile telling him he can be more successful, reach more people and sell more stuff if he had a website. They’re waiting for him to retire. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “We know we need a website but you’re going to have to convince dad.” I try and fail. This “logic” is almost understandable for an old, established family-run business. But it’s inexcusable for a new one and a crime of  epic proportions if the new business is a  restaurant.

Go Ahead. Shoot Yourself in the Foot

Shoot Yourself in the FootBoston’s north shore has become a mecca for foodie’s. There are loads of fine restaurants, many with great ocean views,  and more opening all the time. That’s why I eagerly watched the Opening Soon signs that promised a new restaurant in Peabody Square steps from my office. A few days after it opened, I did what the research says everyone does before trying a new restaurant.  I checked their website. Only there was no website. “Impossible,” I thought. I checked again…and again. Nothing! I walked over for lunch hoping the food would be good and determined to find out why a brand new restaurant in a highly competitive industry in a region known for good food would open its doors without a website. I enjoyed my lunch, a fried fish sandwich 0n a toasted roll with a side of sweet potato fries. But the owner was understandably busy so I took her card and walked  back to my office. Besides, I didn’t have the courage to tell her she had shot herself in the foot.

Sometimes Nothing is Better Thant Something

Great chefs don't mean great websites.

Great chefs don’t mean great websites.

Back in my office I looked at the owner’s business card and discovered a web address in large print under her  name. “Odd,” I thought. “I guess they have a website after all.” I typed the address into my browser and what came up confirmed an old belief I have that sometimes nothing is better than something – especially when the something is awful. What I saw wasn’t really a website. It was one of those generic holding pages supplied by your hosting company when you’ve registered your domain name but haven’t yet built a website. No homepage,  no about page, no menu, no contact information, no hours of operation. Baffling. I went scurrying to find an old article I had read in Slate Online a few years ago entitled “Overdone: Why are restaurant websites so horrifically bad?” by Farhad Manjoo, a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough. The following is excerpted from the article:

Scott Jampol, the head of consumer marketing at the reservations site OpenTable, points out that the Web is one of the primary ways that people determine where to get dinner. One-third of restaurant’s reservations occur online during hours in which the restaurant is closed, Jampol says, and more than 10 percent of diners are coming from mobile devices. But many in the restaurant industry don’t understand how important the Web is to their businesses. “The fact that it’s a front door for many customers is still a new idea,” he says.

The Slate article is almost three years old. What was true then is truer now. I don’t have the numbers in front of me but I’ll wager that close to 40 percent of diners are now coming from mobile devices. The point is this. The owners of this new restaurant in Peabody Square made a huge mistake opening their doors without a well designed website in place. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be fatal.

And Now Back to You

Do you rely on the internet to get information about restaurants you’ve never tried? Do you make reservations online? Do you access the internet on a mobile device? If you were curious about a new restaurant and discovered they had no website would that effect your decision to eat there?

Talk to me.


3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Blogging

Jennifer Powell, Blogger

Jennifer Powell, Blogger

My friend and colleague, Jen Powell presented a wonderful seminar last Tuesday at the Enterprise Center in Salem, MA. The topic was “How to Write a Great Blog.” Let me say this: Jen knows how to fill a room. I’ve been to quite a few seminars at the Enterprise Center but I’ve never had trouble finding a seat before. Jen, of course, will tell you that the topic is interesting – which it is – and that’s why there was such a great turnout. But that’s not all of it. It’s her easy going, interactive, “hey we’re all in this together” approach that puts backsides in the seats when she speaks. So here, then, are three (there were many more) questions that struck a chord for me.

Why Am I Blogging?

Pretty basic question don’t you think? But still  so many bloggers don’t  know the answer. Are you blogging to establish your credibility as an expert in your field? Are you using your blog to sell products or services? Are  you a writer blogging because….well because that’s  what writers do? I blog for three distinct reasons. First, to communicate to clients and would-be clients that I am an expert at what I do. My post on Designing for Mobile Devices is an example. Second, to get something off my chest. That’s why I created a category called “Rants.” (Does it say something about me that I have more posts in the Rants category than any other?) My post called Advice for Bosses, Managers and Supervisors – Be Nice, is a rant. Third, to share with readers in my own demographic group something that interests me and thus may interest them, like Paul McCartney Turning 70. Those are my reasons. What are yours?

Who Am I Talking To?

We’ve heard this before haven’t we? Know your audience is another way of saying the same thing. Of course the who can only be clear if you know the why. If, for example, you’re  blogging to establish expertise in your field, then it’s your potential clients you should be talking to. They are the ones who have to have confidence in you before they hire you. No matter what your reason for blogging, the better you know your audience, the more focused your blogging will be and the more success you will have. Here is another great idea courtesy of Jen Powell. Write to just one person. Of course you’re trying to reach many people but writing to one person will make it easier to focus your thoughts. Try it. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to write that way.

Should I Hire Someone to Write my Blog?

It depends. One of the keys to a successful blog is authenticity. If you’re a small business owner then the best chance of your blog being authentic is for you to write it yourself. But you may not have the time or the ability and hiring someone to write it for you may be the only way to ensure that it gets done. This is fine providing the person writing on your behalf spends enough time getting to know you and your business. This is essential if the writing is going to be authentic – which it must be if you want your blog to be successful.

And Now Back to You

Have you thought about blogging but haven’t been able to get started? What’s holding you back? Start with the three questions above and see if that helps. Let me know how you’re doing.

You CAN Write Remarkable Content

You Can Write Remarkable Content

It may take a few tries but hang in there

I was privileged to attend a conference a few weeks ago presented by Merrimack College as part of it’s 2012-2013 Leadership Series entitled “It’s Time to Create Your Digital Platform!” As a perk of membership in the Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce, admission was free. I gladly would have paid. Two of the three speakers, Michael Hyatt and Brian Halligan, are best selling  authors. Halligan also happens to be co-founder and CEO of Hubspot, a marketing software company that helps businesses transform the way they market their products. The third, Sally Falkow, is a highly respected public relations guru. I took notes, scribbled down links to websites, wrote down recommended book titles, sent out real time tweets and, giving in to my inner geek, got my books signed by the authors. Later, when life had slowed  down some, I looked over  my notes. One phrase jumped off the page. Each of the speakers said it during their presentations. Some said it more than once.  It took on the aspect of a mantra. To get noticed in a noisy world, you have to write remarkable content.

Sound Scary? It Doesn’t Have To Be

I started thinking about my clients – you – the good people who sometimes read my blog. I’ve heard you say it. “I’m not a writer. I can’t write remarkable content.” Well here’s how my trusty Oxford American Dictionary defines the word “remarkable.”

re • mark • a • ble (ri-mahr-ka-bel) adj. worth noticing, exceptional, unusual.

If you’re not a professional writer I understand why you would be intimidated at the prospect of writing exceptional or unusual content.

It’s All About Your Audience

My point is this. If you sell concrete, your website should be geared to people who want to know more about concrete. Since concrete is your area of expertise I’m betting that you can produce content that, if not exceptional or unusual, is at least  worth noticing? That is to say worth noticing to your audience. Don’t get me wrong. No matter how much expertise you have in your field, a professional writer will always do a better job at crafting your web copy than you will. But if you focus more on the worth noticing part of the definition of remarkable and less on the exceptional and unusual parts, you just might be surprised at how remarkable your content is.

Some Helpful Resources

If you’d like to dive a little deeper into the world of remarkable content, here are a few links that are favorites of mine. I hope you’ll find them helpful:

Now Back to You

Did you write your own copy for your website? How did that go? Or did you hire someone to write it for you? Were you satisfied with the result?

P.S. To my writer friends and colleagues. Don’t be angry with me for suggesting that clients on a limited budget might want to try writing their own copy. My intent here was to give them some helpful advice if they want to go in that direction. Know this. They will never replace you.

Form Follows Function – Doesn’t It?

Form Follows Function

“The Crooked House” at Sopot, Poland.

When I pressed a client recently to provide me with the content for her new website, she confessed to having trouble producing it. “Why don’t you show me some designs,” she asked, “and maybe that will help me write the content.” Alarms sounded in my head. Imagine this scenario. You hire an architect to design you a building. In your initial meeting she asks you a simple question: “What will be going inside the building“? You reply, “I don’t know yet but if you show me some designs I’m sure I’ll think of something.” Ridiculous right? It made me think.

Does “Form Follows Function” Apply to Web Design?

In a well researched and highly engaging article by Steven Bradley, Smashing Magazine tackles the question. And as it turns out, the answer isn’t black and white. The term was first coined by American architect Louis Sullivan in an 1896 article. He wrote:

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.”

Ironically, it was Sullivan’s most gifted student, Frank Lloyd Wright, who adapted the axiom to changing technologies in the field of architecture:


Bradley’s study reveals many instances in which form does not follow function… in nature for example. Says Bradley, “evolution passes on genetic traits to subsequent generations without any rationale for their purpose. Each generation of a species then finds a use for the form it has inherited. Function follows form in nature“.

Fair enough.

Content First, Design Second

The form follows function axiom is simply too broad and high minded to apply in any meaningful way to the relationship between a website’s design and its content – that is to say content as distinct from functionality. In my practice, content first, design second is a rule of thumb that makes more sense and has more practical applications. Simply put, a website’s content should inform its design, not the other way around. Jeffrey Zeldman, one of the leading minds in web standards in the last twenty five years puts it this way:

Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.

What Are You Trying to Say and Who Are You Saying it To?

So what about my client who asked me to show her some designs before she could write the content? My advice to her was this. Think about what you are trying to say and who you are saying it to. Then put it all down on paper without thinking about color, layout, proximity, or any other elements of look and feel. That way you will ensure that your content is not being influenced by design. Then let’s review it together. We’ll talk about ways to ensure that your message is being read – things like bullet lists, text boxes, call-to-action elements, use of color and shape. Yes, it’s possible to start the process with a beautiful design then try to make the content fit. But like the building pictured above, it will eventually cave in on itself.

Now Back to You

When you built your website, assuming you have one, how did the process go? Did you produce the content first or was it the other way around? If you worked with a web design firm, how did they approach the process? I’d love to hear from you.