Author Archives: Denise Goluboff

Thursday Trends: Double Your Twitter Following in Just One Month

At trade shows and other industry events, Twitter has become a popular outlet for attendees and exhibitors alike. At many events, people and companies use Twitter to share event news, distribute presentation slides, and get the word out about giveaways at the show.

Large trade shows attract large audiences and demonstrate why using social media wisely during an event can help generate brand awareness and create buzz around your products. Using Twitter allows you to participate in the larger conversation with others in your industry, including editors, partners and customers.

But what if you don’t have much of a presence on Twitter? How can you ensure that you’ll manage to be heard amidst competing tweets at your next upcoming event?

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Investing in a Better Mobile Web Experience – Is it Worth It?

No matter how organized, succinct and well-designed your website is, if it doesn’t display well on a smartphone or tablet, you may be missing a significant opportunity. While people are still using laptop and desktop computers at a large rate, mobile device adoption rates are growing fast, with no signs of abating.

How ubiquitous are mobile devices in the business world? According to The Untethered Executive, a joint report by Forbes and Google, 82 percent of business executives use a smartphone at work, and 2/3 of respondents say they would make online purchases using their mobile device. And, a whopping 65% of executives surveyed believe they will use their tablet more often than their traditional computer in the next 5 years.

The growing trend towards smaller devices begs the question: what do visitors see when they access your website from a smartphone or tablet? How seamless is their experience? Many sites function normally on mobile, but it requires a microscope to make out the links, buttons and text, rendering those sites difficult to use and navigate.

The solution to this conundrum is called Responsive Design, a new approach in which your site dynamically adapts to the size of the screen it displays on. When the website displays with narrow margins such as those of a smartphone, large images respond by resizing automatically, buttons across the page might stack vertically so they are still large enough to read, and all elements on the page respond in kind.

Parallon

TREW created a Responsive Design web experience for Parallon Business Solutions. To the left you can see the desktop version, and on the right is how the screen responds to more narrow margins such as those of a smartphone.

Responsive Design has a “cool” factor, but there are other clear benefits:

  • Significant usability gains: Visitors can easily read and click on navigational buttons using their fingers and don’t have to zoom multiple times to see the options on the page.
  • Scalability: A responsive site will display appropriately no matter what the size of the device. Many smartphones and tablets vary in their size and dimensions, so it’s impossible to program for all permutations without using Responsive Design.
  • Large monitors: Even desktop users see improvements to your site if it’s responsive, since it ensures proper layout on very large or wide screen monitors.
  • One URL site-wide: There is no need for a mobile-specific URL or back-end programming to detect the device in use.

Despite the benefits, Responsive Design requires additional planning in the web design stage and additional programming and QA testing upon implementation, so it’s not without its costs. In fact, it can increase the price of a web redesign by 30 to 40 percent. This begs the question – should you go responsive or leave good enough alone?

Here are a few key factors to explore before determining if you’re ready to make the move to Responsive Design:

  • How much of your web traffic comes from mobile and tablets? Certain audiences are more likely to use these devices more often. For example, if your average web visitor is young and urban, Responsive Design is a no-brainer. A good rule of thumb is that if more than 1 in 10 users are accessing your site via mobile, you should consider Responsive Design to ensure you’re serving all your visitors well.
  • How transactional is your site? If visitors to your site are using it for e-commerce, detailed and complex searches, or other highly transactional tasks, Responsive Design could make a big difference in usability. Transactional behavior requires greater accuracy and attention from the user, and you’d be making their lives much easier with responsive screens and easier-to-read links and buttons on mobile.
  • Do you currently have a separate website for mobile, and is it a resource drain maintaining two separate URLs? With Responsive Design, you can enjoy the efficiency gains of maintaining just one device-agnostic URL. There is also the added benefit of allowing users to access all the rich content from the desktop site on their mobile phones (many mobile-only URLs offer a watered-down version of the main site’s content and navigation).
  • Do you have a highly competitive SEO field? Responsive Design allows you to have just one URL for all devices, which translates to better page rank than if you have a separate mobile URL versus desktop.
  • Do you have access to the right talent to pull off Responsive Design? The approach is fairly new, and requires the attention to detail and expertise of both an experienced web designer and web programmer who are well-versed in the proper best practices to achieve the results you want.

Smaller devices are ubiquitous and continuing to surge in popularity. Businesses that adapt will see greater success as this trend continues to take hold. Responsive Design is a great tool to help you provide an efficient, friendly online experience for your customers and prospects.

For a free web and Responsive Design consult from TREW’s web experts, contact TREW today.

Related resource:

Website Checklist – Evaluate your B2B Technical Website

Free ebook: Smart Marketing for Engineers™: Website Redesign

Using Science to Guide Web Design: 3 Key Takeaways from Eyetracking Research

Looking for additional insight? Check out our eBook: A 15-Point Checklist to Evaluate Your B2B Technical Website.

Maybe it’s because we work with so many engineers and techies, but here at TREW, we can be real skeptics. We take an “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach – relying on hard data and proof points when making decisions on the most effective ways to help our clients market their brand.

So when it comes to creating effective web layout and designs that get results, we rely on usability data from trusted sources to help us make sense of how people use the web. One type of web study we rely on – and prove out time and time again – is eye tracking research.

Eye tracking is a form of research that allows the proctor to track web visitors’ eye movements across a page, providing insight into what people truly spend time looking at on the screen, what order they look at it, and what their eyes avoid. Some of the key questions eye tracking research can address include:

  • Which area of the page draws a web user’s attention?
  • What do users tend to look at first, second, third?
  • Which areas of the page do users avoid or ignore?
  • What specific elements of content do users gaze at for more than a second or two?
  • Do web visitors notice key elements of the page or recall key messaging?

By incorporating what we learn from eye tracking research, we can determine the best format and placement for content, and establish optimal page layout. It’s truly an opportunity to apply hard data to marketing activities for improved ROI.

Below are 3 key takeaways that TREW has learned from recent eye tracking studies performed by Jakob Nielsen and the Poynter Institute and successfully applied to our clients’ web redesign efforts:


1. Follow the Zig-Zag

Eye tracking studies consistently show that most web visitors approach a web page similar to reading a book – we start at the top left and move right with our eyes.  People’s eyes fixate first in the upper left of the page near the logo, then pause in that area before going left to right. This is often called an “F” layout or even a “Z” layout because our eyes zig-zag across the page as we skim it.

Eye tracking F pattern

The heat map on this web page shows a distinct F pattern where web visitors eyes focused on the page

 

Incorporating the zig-zag viewing habit of web users into your layout means your highest priority content or messaging should sit on this F or Z eye line, to ensure your audience will notice it.Consider this layout technique when determining placement of headlines, calls to action, or buttons you want your audience to click on. Incorporate this approach when laying out any prominent web page, as it allows web surfers to scan content naturally and effortlessly.


2. Keep it Short and Sweet

When you have something to say on a page – especially a home page or a campaign page that serves as an entry point to your site – make it brief and impactful. Why? Because eye tracking research reveals the following about web users’ behavior:

  • You have only about 20 seconds to pique a web visitor’s interest before they lose interest
  • Web visitors only read about 20% of the words on a page
  • Users tend to gaze more at brief headlines in large fonts than any other words on a page

This means you have very little time to capture the interest of your very busy and distracted audience. Don’t waste it with lots of text in small fonts. The shorter and more actionable your headlines, and the easier they are to read, the better your success at communicating your message.

asuragen_web_home

Notice the brevity of text and large fonts that help simplify this home page for TREW client Asuragen


3. Navigation is Power

Eye tracking reveals that the top action on any web page is clicking on buttons and links, and the global navigation – when situated at the top of the page – is gazed at and clicked on much more than sidebar navigation. What does this all mean?

Keep it simple – If you offer global navigation across the top of your site as well as section-specific navigation down the left, you may quickly overwhelm your web visitors. Unless your site includes hundreds of products and offerings, the top navigation alone can do the job. People are more likely to use it as their “anchor” on your site to find their way.

Parallon_about_us

TREW client Parallon’s corporate site section relies on top navigation, freeing up the entire body of the page for relevant content


No dead ends
– When you get on a boat, you want to go somewhere, not just sit there. People coming to your site have that same need for movement. Make sure no page is a dead end, and that you offer links to compelling content or to related pages so users have the ability to carve their own path through your site.

These are just a few of the key points eye tracking data has revealed about web users’ habits and preferences. Knowledge is power, and eye tracking research provides a great deal of knowledge that allows TREW the ability to build the best and most effective websites around. Talk to the web usability experts at TREW today to find out how we can apply eye tracking research to your next web redesign.



Looking for additional insight? Check out our eBook: A 15-Point Checklist to Evaluate Your B2B Technical Website.



5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Buy a Web Content Management System

Unlike print collateral, your website is a “living document” that requires frequent attention and updates to successfully meet your marketing and business goals.

Companies that update their content frequently not only enjoy more repeat visitors, they’re also ranked consistently higher in search engine listings, which fuel more web visits and site popularity. Consider it a virtual snowball effect: new content = more repeat visitors & higher search rankings = more new visitors to your site = even higher search rankings = even more new visitors.

However, if your website isn’t easy to update because the process is cumbersome or requires a programmer’s time to make changes, you’ll be less nimble and effective in keeping the site fresh and updated. Many companies use a web content management system (CMS) to maintain their site, but not all CMS platforms are created equal, and the options can be overwhelming.

Content Management System options

Web CMS platforms generally come in 3 different flavors:

      1. Off the shelf: These are closed-system CMS products that you purchase an annual license for, and usually include ongoing support and upgrade costs. There are numerous off-the-shelf products on the market, including Sitecore, Ektron, DotNetNuke and Kentico, and they all offer different levels of complexity and feature sets.

 

      1. Open source: WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are prominent examples of open source CMS platforms, which are free at a base level, but usually require additional customization and plug-ins for advanced functionality. Thousands of developers worldwide create new functionality and bug fixes on a daily basis for these platforms, and make their code available to everyone. This ensures a constant evolution of available features and functionality.

 

    1. Fully custom/proprietary: These CMS platforms are coded exactly to your site’s needs and specifications. Often fully custom systems are developed by large organizations who have the means to build their own CMS system, but other times a programmer may build a custom system for smaller businesses using code libraries to keep costs low. Whereas an off-the-shelf solution contains code to serve thousands of different sites with different needs, a custom, made-to-order CMS only includes code to meet your needs, which means programming and content upload is more efficient.

 

Before selecting a CMS for your website, ask yourself these 5 questions to help narrow down your search:

1 –  What level of functionality do I have or need on my website? A very simple, small website may only have text and images, which requires little to no customization or sophistication on the part of their CMS platform. But requirements like forms, data flow to back end systems, “product quickfind” search functionality or multiple different page layouts demand a more customized and sophisticated platform to run your site on. Be sure to start with a draft of your technical requirements and let your needs drive your selection of a CMS, versus letting the chosen platform dictate your features.

2 - How many people will update content on the site, and what is the approval process? In many cases, a small number of individuals may be updating your site, and have the required skills and know-how to do so. However, if you have a large number of content producers, and require approvals before content goes live, consider a web CMS that includes built-in workflow. This will greatly reduce online errors and the race to correct them.

3 - What server am I running my site on? Some CMS platforms are built in asp.NET which is a Microsoft programming language, and requires Microsoft servers and licensing to run properly. Many other CMS programming languages are server independent, such as PHP and Python. Make sure you understand your infrastructure needs before selecting a CMS.

4 – How will I handle bug fixes or modifications to site functionality? The type of programming talent you have on staff can play a large role in influencing your web CMS platform selection. For example, if you have a programmer in-house who knows PHP, you should greatly consider an open source CMS that runs in PHP. If you have no programmer on staff, you might consider an off-the-shelf CMS with built in programming support, or consider developing a relationship with a reliable web programmer who you can contract to as-needed.

5 – What is my budget for a Web CMS? Your budget should not define your CMS choice alone, but should be considered alongside your needs and requirements. The price for a CMS platform spans a large range, from a few thousand dollars to make minor customization to an open source platform like WordPress or small custom CMS, to 6-figure price tags for a sophisticated off-the-shelf or fully custom system.

Tighter budgets will usually mean off-the-shelf CMSs aren’t the best fit, because they tend to price higher than open source CMSs or small custom platforms. Off-the-shelf products also have ongoing licensing costs and may have server requirements that increase the price tag. And, you tend to be dependent on the programmers at that particular company for all future modifications since you can’t easily get “under the hood” of an off-the-shelf CMS.

Opensource CMSs appear “free” on the surface, but it depends on the level of customization required to get the site looking and working the way you want. However, open source and custom CMS platforms in which you own the source code do not have ongoing costs and don’t require you to use the same programmer for every future modification. Make sure you take into account your budget now and in the future.

There are many considerations when it comes to selecting the best web CMS for your site, but these 5 are truly critical. It’s imperative that you explore all your options before settling on a solution you’ll have to work with – for good or bad – for years to come. Talk to a TREW web expert to begin exploring the best CMS solution for your site today!

Looking for additional insight? Check out our eBook: A 15-Point Checklist to Evaluate Your B2B Technical Website.









Related blog posts:

TREW Helps Clients Make Big Web Impact

TREW Client, GOEPEL Electronic, Launches New Website

Website Success: Web Traffic Grows 300%

Why You Need Video in Your B2B Marketing Mix

Here’s a statistic that will make your head spin: according to Pingdom , a website monitoring firm, every two minutes about 48 hours worth of video footage is uploaded to YouTube. This means that on a any given day, more than 2 million hours worth of video footage finds its way to the internet. In addition,over 800 million web visitors watch online videos per month. And, YouTube is now the second most popular search engine on the planet, just behind Google.

Why are web visitors so drawn to video? Video adds a dimension to the web that text and imagery alone cannot achieve. Music, narration, and movement provide a richer experience, which can more easily educate, entertain or inform your audience. Why peruse pages and pages of text when a video will provide you with what you’re looking for quicker and more easily?

But how does this trend take shape in the B2B world – do busy executives and engineers view online videos as much as the general public? When Google and Forbes Insight teamed up in 2010 and talked to over 500 corporate executives across the country about their web habits, they learned the following:

  • 83% of respondents increased their work-related online video viewing over the previous year.
  • The majority of those who watched a vendor’s online video further engaged with the company, perusing their site and searching for their products and services.
  • More than one third of respondents contacted the vendor after watching an online video.

“But the people I’m targeting don’t have time to sit through a video,” you say. Not true. Craig Wax, CEO of Invodo, an online video production firm, revealed in a recent article that executives’ habits are changing, and many will sit through two or more minutes of a product video, or even view it multiple times, during the decision-making process. Well-executed online videos can provide a real benefit to businesses who want to reach out to their target audience.

Video is more complex than text on a page — the timing, script writing, voice over, visuals and music bed needed for an effective, high-quality video require time and resources. Which begs the question: when does it make sense for a B2B company to invest in online video?

Let’s look at Anue Systems for some insight. Anue sells network monitoring tools to network engineers and administrators. Their innovative tools can make network administrators more efficient, and improve uptime for business networks. However, Anue’s products were such a different approach than traditional methods, they had a challenge in educating their marketplace about exactly what the tools do. And, Anue realized that a simple web page with a couple of images and paragraphs simply weren’t getting the job done.

Anue turned to TREW for help, who quickly surmised that a series of brief, yet in-depth online videos would better serve Anue in their quest to educate network engineers on the what, how and why of Anue’s products. The videos focus on a problem that all network engineers face, and then expand on how the Anue Net Tool Optimizer addresses that problem. In the videos, dynamic moving diagrams and high quality product cinematography add dimension. This, coupled with a well-written, detailed voice over, provide prospects with a very in-depth, informative look at the product.

The take away? Anue invested in online videos because they achieved a level of effectiveness in communicating the product’s benefits and details that is only rivaled by face to face sales presentations. Anue’s series of brief online product videos served as a “virtual salesperson” that could spread the word about their products faster and more efficiently than traditional avenues.

So when should you consider investing in online videos?

  • When you need to educate your target audience. Like Anue, if you have a need to better explain what your products do, a video series may get the job done best.
  • When you have a great story to tell. Customer testimonials lend themselves to the story-telling side of online video. They can come across more powerfully and be more attractive to a web visitor to view than a long article
  • When you want to demo your product. You cannot demo your product online without some type of video. Whether you use software screens and mouse clicks with a voice over, or a complete demo with hardware and other elements, videos can give prospects a first glimpse at your product in practice.
  • When you want to prospects to get to know you. Not only can online videos be used to educate, inform and pique interest in your product, but they can also be used to sell you and your company. Web visitors gain a more multi-dimensional feel for your business when they see you in action, whether it’s a video for fun and entertainment, or simply to highlight who you are.

As more and more web visitors develop a preference for videos, you can use this trend to your advantage by incorporating video into your marketing mix.

Related Blog Post:

DIY Marketing Videos on a Budget

Microsites: Effective Marketing or Bad Idea?

As Google’s search algorithm has evolved to emphasize trusted, well-established domains and unique content, the debate is heating up on the marketing value of microsites. Some experts believe that creating a microsite is never a good idea, diluting the brand and hurting coveted search results, while others think they still have a place in a targeted, strategic marketing campaign.

A microsite is loosely defined as a small cluster of web pages that are differentiated from a parent website through unique design and layout, limited navigation options, and a unique domain URL to set the site apart from the parent domain. Many companies have implemented microsites to promote specialized, short-term offers, product launches, or wholly new segments to their target audiences.

We’ve put together some practical guidelines on when to use — or avoid — a microsite strategy for your business.

Don’t Build a Microsite to Improve Search Rankings

Ever since Google began cracking down on link farms and giving more prominence to well-established domain names with numerous backlinks and unique content, the argument that a microsite can help you show up higher on search engines has fallen flat. Google’s focus on unique content, domain age, and backlinks are an effort to include metrics such as trust and relevancy in their rankings.

A microsite can hurt your SEO for the following reasons:

  1. Microsites that live on a separate domain than your main website will not share any of the “domain credit” that Google gives your primary website. Google sees the microsite URL as a wholly new website, forcing you to build up its search value with new backlinks and content updates, which can take time and resources that are better spent improving your main site.
  2. If microsites have identical content to any pages on your primary site, Google will not regard it as unique content, resulting in low ranking . All microsite content must be unique, fresh and updated often for good rankings. Simply put: there are no shortcuts for good SEO.
  3. If you are targeting the same keywords in your microsite as you are in your main site, you’re simply splitting your resources and your sites are competing with each other for rankings. You’ll be spending double the time and resources required to achieve high search rankings, and competing against yourself. Don’t do it.

If you manage to climb the natural search mountain and achieve high listings on Google for your microsite, ensure that you’re ready to maintain and update it for the long haul. Short-term microsites that are scheduled to go dark after a set period of time don’t do you any good in search, because once they’re turned off they become broken links on the search listings.

Don’t Build a Digital Band-Aid

Imagine that your existing website is outdated, messy and hard to use. But the idea of starting over – rebuilding the site’s architecture, design and content flow – is just too overwhelming, not to mention the budget you’ll need to pull it off. You may be tempted to consider a microsite as a quick fix to this challenge. A small number of newly-designed pages, free of the confines of your existing, hard-to-navigate site, can be very tempting because it’s limited in its scope.

Avoid the temptation to remedy an outdated site with this digital band-aid. Here’s why:

  1. As mentioned above, Google places value on older domains and existing backlinks, so investing in your main site is paramount for good SEO. You’re just making more work for yourself when you reinvent your existing site in a microsite’s new wrapper.
  2. From a branding standpoint, it’s never good to look scattered to your target audience. Having two separate sites to address the same users can be confusing and doesn’t present your brand as organized, strategic or focused.

If you’re already too resource-strapped to maintain a great user experience on your existing site, the same can probably be said for a microsite. Though it may be limited in scope, a microsite still requires time and resources to plan, build, and most important, to maintain and keep fresh. That’s time better spent improving your main site if you really want to see a return on your web investment.

It’s also worth noting that microsites that are linked to from your main site can cause what we at TREW like to call “digital whiplash”. Web visitors on your site have the expectation that as they navigate your content, they will stay within the structure and feel of your site. If they click on a link that suddenly delivers them to an new site with an entirely different navigation, with no easy way to get back to where they were, it can be disorienting. If the visitor feels lost, they’re less likely to remain on your site or come back.

So, when are microsites a good idea?

As a Short-term Promotional Vehicle

If you’re planning a quick promotional campaign that doesn’t easily fit into your existing site, and you want to limit your web visitor’s experience to emphasize your campaign message, a microsite can offer:

  1. A focused, clean, task-based user experience
  2. No risk of distracting the web visitor away from the desired task, because the corporate site content is not accessible
  3. Specific metrics tied directly to your campaign, because your web analytics are separate from your corporate site

Quanser Academics, a leader in the development of real-time control design systems for academic research and teaching, wanted to increase adoption of their products among university teaching staff throughout North America. They developed a short-term campaign promoting a free inverted pendulum to professors who purchased a workstation for a limited time.

With TREW’s help, Quanser developed a specialized microsite, as well as a targeted direct marketing push to promote the sale and the microsite. The focus was not on SEO or long-term gains, but on specific sales goals within a limited period of time.

Quanser's Microsite

Quanser’s Microsite

Because the Quanser campaign had a specific goal of compelling professors to purchase specific products, the microsite provided a more seamless experience than the Quanser parent site, because it only offered links to those product options, and didn’t distract web visitors with ancillary content.

One additional note on the short-term microsite approach: Be sure to develop a redirect strategy when the site is taken down. It should address where the links to the microsite will go, and you should ensure that your IT staff create 301 redirects when the site goes dark.

As a Vehicle to Establish a Wholly New Segment or Product Area

If your company is planning to launch a new business segment or product offering that stretches beyond your typical target audience, you may discover that fitting it into your existing website is like the proverbial square peg in a round hole. When your site is clean and usable, performs well and has a logical site structure, adding a completely different segment to the web mix can prove to be a real challenge, especially if you want to make a big splash.

A microsite can be a good approach if:

  1. You’re marketing the new product/segment to a target audience that your corporate site doesn’t address directly. A microsite allows you to speak directly to the target audience with industry-specific vocabulary and build credibility immediately.
  2. Your new product/segment is innovative and very new, and the design and navigation needs can’t be addressed in your corporate site’s design templates.
  3. The new segment must distinguish itself from the corporate site because it’s approach, strategy or focus are so different and new for the company.

When Nissan decided to introduce their new electric car, the Leaf, they wanted the innovation and cutting edge technology of their product to be evident in their web promotion of the car. Taking a microsite approach afforded Nissan that freedom. The navigation and design of the Leaf web pages are like no other product page on the Nissan site. And since this is a long-term microsite, Nissan built it into their existing site architecture, ensuring that the Leaf web pages enjoy the SEO benefits of the Nissan.com domain.

Nissan Leaf Microsite

The Nissan Leaf Microsite

TREW client Bloomy Energy Systems recently launched as a new division of Bloomy Controls, who provides automated test, data acquisition and control systems for product development in industries such as aerospace, automotive and consumer electronics. Because the new energy division at Bloomy targets the energy storage techonology audience, with very specific vocabulary and product needs, the company wanted to approach their marketing strategy with this in mind.

TREW built a microsite for Bloomy Energy Systems that is completely focused on energy storage needs and solutions. The microsite approach gave Bloomy the ability to offer a clean, industry-specific experience for their energy storage audience, a segment that doesn’t easily fit into corporate site’s structure and focus. In addition, the Bloomy corporate site is still able to address the full range of solutions and industries it always has.

Bloomy Energy Microsite

The Bloomy Microsite

Final Thoughts

A microsite can be a smart approach for specific campaigns and product introductions. It is not appropriate as a short-cut for SEO or to skirt poor performance on your main website. It can provide a truly seamless, easy-to-navigate, task-based approach to your target audience. And that’s a customer experience that’s worth the effort.

Ready to get started on your website project? Contact TREW Marketing to get started today.

Looking for additional insight? Check out our checklist: A 15-Point Checklist to Evaluate Your B2B Technical Website

Nurture Your Leads: Harness the Power of E-Newsletters, Part 2

In Part I of this e-newsletter best practices blog post, we focused on how to get started developing an e-newsletter from the standpoint of design, content strategy and building readership. Now, we’ll focus on what happens after you hit “Send”: ongoing analysis and improving read rates.
In this post, we’ll cover:
  1. Which metrics are most meaningful for e-newsletter analysis
  2. Increasing e-news open rates with smart subject lines
  3. Improving click-through rates
  4. How frequency plays a role in your results

1. The key metrics for an e-newsletter include

  • Bounce rate: the percentage of recipients whose email addresses are invalid and did not receive your mailing.
  • Open rate: the percentage of recipients who opened your e-mail.
  • Click-through rate: the percentage of recipients who clicked-through on a link in the e-newsletter. NOTE: a high click-through rate is the ultimate measure of success.
  • Opt-out rate: The percentage of contacts who unsubscribed.
The average performance for an e-mail in the technology industry is listed below:

Tracking these key statistics gives you visibility into the success of your e-newsletter campaign and provides opportunities for ongoing improvement. Below, we’ll look at an analysis of open rates and click throughs for your e-newsletter, as these two metrics provide the clearest view of how your readership is using your e-news. Bounce rates and opt outs are much more influenced by the quality of your distribution list, which we discussed in part 1 of this blog post

2. Improve your open rate
According to a report produced by technology market research firm The Radicati Group, some 247 billion e-mails were sent each day in 2009. With the level of noise that we all deal with in our e-mail in-box, how do you get someone to open an e-newsletter that you’ve sent for the first time?

The quality of your recipient list plays a role – have they heard of you? How long ago? But there is another key factor that is critical to improving your open rate: the e-newsletter subject line.

An effective subject line will entice your audience, and motivate them to open your e-mail. A subject line that is too general, such as “XYZ Company E-Newsletter” will fall short – it doesn’t invite the user with an action, nor does it provide a window into the content inside your e-newsletter. Conversely, a very long subject line with too much detail can also fail you – not only because you are making your recipients work more as they skim their many emails, but also because many email programs will cut off your subject line if it’s more than about 60 characters.

Instead, focus on a subject line that is actionable, brief, and highlights key content in your e-newsletter.

In a recent e-newsletter, TREW Marketing worked with Wineman Technology to develop this successful headline focused on an exciting new product they just released:

Wineman Tech News – Test Cell Control Made Simpler with RAPID

The subject line not only mentioned the new product – RAPID – it also gave specifics on the product benefits that the target audience would be interested in – making test cell control simpler.

The open rate for Wineman’s e-newsletter was very strong, exceeding the industry average by almost 30%.  In addition, the article about RAPID was the most popular item in the e-newsletter, garnering more than 20 percent of all click-throughs even though it wasn’t situated at the top of the email. Clearly, recipients were highly motivated by the subject line, opened the email, skimmed it, and many continued to learn more about the RAPID product, all thanks to an effective subject line.

Another TREW Marketing client, data acquisition firm Bustec, also launched their first e-newsletter this spring. Bustec chose to focus on a specific, highly actionable benefit of a new product in their subject line which led to open rates exceeding the industry average for their first-ever e-newsletter. The subject line read:

Reduce Time Measuring Strain up to 350 KHz with the ProDAQ 5716

3. Improve your click-through rates

Getting your recipients to open your e-newsletter is only half the battle. The second piece of the puzzle is the click-through rate.

As outlined in part 1 of this blog series, great e-newsletter design and compelling content play a key role in improving your click-through rate. Here are some additional key points for improving this valuable metric:

  • Write brief, compelling headlines for each article
  • Provide a 1-2 sentence summary for each article with a prominent link to read more
  • Ensure your most valuable articles are placed near the top of your e-newsletter
  • Use your sidebar to highlight additional items from your website that your readers may not have seen
  • Finally, ensure that the content mentioned in your e-mail subject line is easy to locate and click on as soon as the e-newsletter is opened

In the case of TREW clients Wineman Technology and Bustec, both companies garnered click-through rates more than double the industry average – an exceptional number for their first e-newsletter.

4. A nod to frequency

It’s worth mentioning that your e-newsletter frequency rate can also affect these statistics. If your newsletter distribution is infrequent or sporadic, readers are less likely to engage with you. People crave predictability as much in the electronic world as in print. A monthly e-newsletter, for example, becomes something your readers can expect in their in-box at the same time each month. Quarterly e-newsletters are also a popular choice. The key is to select a frequency that you have the ability to consistently deliver on, and set expectations with your readership.

Overall, smart analysis of your e-newsletter, including openness to changes when results aren’t what you expected, are the key to continuous improvement and refinement of your e-mail program. Ultimately, this key communication vehicle can help you build a positive, ongoing dialog with your key prospects and customers.

Nurture your Leads: Harness the Power of E-Newsletters, Part I

Staying top-of-mind with prospects and customers is a challenge all companies face. E-newsletters are a great way to maintain a conversation with your target audience, promote valuable content, and help nurture your lead base to increase customer loyalty and move prospects closer to the sale. A corporate e-newsletter, done right, can be one of the most effective and strategic marketing activities a company undertakes.

However, e-newsletters that aren’t executed according to proven best practices often turn out to be a liability, causing valuable leads to dry up, or worse yet, anger potential customers. Some of the biggest e-newsletter mistakes a business should avoid include:

- Sporadic, inconsistent e-newsletter timing
- Mailing to a purchased list or unsolicited e-mail recipients
- Poorly-programmed e-newsletter design and layout that displays incorrectly in various email programs
- Too much content in the email
- Unappealing subject line
- Lack of subscriber management/opt out capabilities
- Lack of analysis of open rates, click-through rates

This 2-part blog post will help you avoid the e-newsletter missteps that result in unhappy customers and prospects, and use the power of e-mail for your lead nurturing efforts. In this first issue we will cover best practices for:

1. Design
2. Content
3. Mailing list

1. Lay a solid foundation
Your first step in starting an e-newsletter is design. After all, this is prime real estate for your company and brand and serves as a key tool to communicate who your company is and how your products and services can help readers. Here are several design best practices:

- The design should be consistent from issue to issue and have staying power for many issues to come

- Key to design is usability – making it is easy for readers to open, quickly skim and find articles and links that are compelling to them. The design example below, from TREW client Wineman Technology, includes large, easy-to-read headlines, a sidebar with compelling content, and a prominent feature story.

Ensuring the design is correctly programmed in email engine software is equally critical for display in numerous different email clients. Unfortunately, each popular email client in the market today – Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, etc. – displays images, columns, and other design elements a little differently. Outlook, which has almost half of the email client market, is especially picky and requires specific programming techniques for your e-newsletter to display correctly to your recipients.

With poor design and/or programming, you may find that what was once a beautiful e-newsletter in the conceptual planning stage has turned into a mess of misaligned columns, images and text once your readers open it up. Here is what Outlook can do to an email that is not programmed properly:

Test your design at emailonacid.com – a web service that, for a small fee, will run the design code through a tool that mimics all popular email clients, ensuring that you discover any issues with your layout up front, so you can fix them before mailing out to your audience.

2. Develop compelling content
It’s tempting to focus your e-newsletter content on sales-driven topics such as new promotions. You will better attract and retain readers if you minimize the sales pitch, and focus instead on creating and offering content that helps readers do their job better.

Here are 5 types of content we have found to be the most valuable for a technical audience, driving click-throughs and keeping readers coming back for more:

1. Industry trends

2. Tutorials or “tips and tricks” that help readers use your products more effectively

3. Case studies from customers doing something unique and compelling with your products

4. A “Top 5” list – such as questions new customers ask, with answers, or new applications for your flagship product. It may sound gimmicky, but a Top 5 list blends valuable content packaged in an appealing format– people love lists!

5. Event news or snippets from presentations you’ve recently given at industry conferences

Two more content best practices:
- People have short attention spans, so consider how much content you put in and remember, the shorter the better.
- Provide a compelling headline, a brief summary of an article, an image, and a prominent link to read more.

These tips on content types and design will help your readers skim quickly and select what they want to read, and it helps you push visitors to your website, where you can offer even more valuable content to your audience.

The below e-newsletter is a great example of keeping content brief and compelling, while pushing readers to their website to learn more.

3. Build your readership

Once you’ve designed your e-newsletter and have a clear vision for succinct, compelling content, it’s time to build your readership. While it’s tempting to mail every contact in your database and more, there is a smarter approach that will gain you more loyalty and better results.

Focus on only your most relevant leads – those who have contacted you in the last 12 – 24 months. Older leads are less likely to remember you or be interested in and open your e-newsletter. In addition, older leads commonly include invalid or outdated email addresses, and your e-newsletter will bounce back when sent to them.

Also, to follow e-newsletter best practices and privacy laws, there are several key points you should adhere to when building your contact list:

a. Never use a purchased list. This is considered unsolicited email, and an e-newsletter should only be sent to contacts who know your company and have engaged with you in the past.

b. Only send to individuals, not a group inbox used my multiple people. For example, an email address such as info@msn.com or sales@ibm.com should be removed from your list of contacts.

c. Always offer an unsubscribe link at the bottom of your e-newsletter, and be sure that if someone clicks on it, they will be taken off your recipient list.

d. Don’t forget to offer a prominent “subscribe to our e-news” link on your website. People who have willingly subscribed are some of your most valuable readers, and they are highly motivated to receive your e-newsletter.

Following these rules isn’t just best practice; it also improves the chance that your e-newsletter is not flagged as spam. In addition, sending your e-newsletter to only your most relevant and valuable leads improves your ROI with higher open rates and click-through rates, and in the end these are the metrics that will provide visibility into its impact on your business and the goals of improving loyalty and nurturing an ongoing dialogue with your target audience.

In Part 2 of this blog post, we’ll share insight into e-newsletter analysis and discuss tips for improving your e-mail open rates and click-throughs. Also, look for details on recent successes from TREW clients who have recently embarked on their e-newsletter efforts.

Maximize your Online Impact with a Winning Web Design (Part 2 of 2)

In Part 1 of this post, we talked about some of the steps you can take to create an effective website design and focused on the pre-design planning phase. The recommended steps included:
  • Do your homework
  • Narrow your focus
  • Use less text
  • Differentiate
Now we’ll focus on specific implementation techniques to ensure your great looking new website will be easy to view anywhere and everywhere visitors find it. Here are the next three steps.
5) Wireframe your key pages

Once you have a site structure and understand the key content you want to highlight on your website, wireframing is a logical next step.

Wireframes are very simple layouts that help you plot where content should go on each individual web page or site section. The focus of a wireframe is the content on each page, the arrangement of that content, and sizes and proportions. This does not include any colors, images, fonts, or other design elements.

Example Wireframe

Wireframes may sound complex, and there are certainly various software programs available that help you build your own wireframes in great detail. But in reality, they can be as simple as sketching out the content elements you want on each page on a piece of paper or a whiteboard. This practice has many benefits:

  • It allows you to conceptualize what should go on each page before you put your designer to work
  • It helps you think through content decisions visually and try out different approaches quickly and easily
  • It results in a more efficient design process with fewer modifications
  • It provides your designer with a clear idea of which content is most important, resulting in a design that is closer to the end result much earlier in the process
It may sound like a silver bullet, and to some extent it is. That’s because wireframes are straightforward and –dare I say it – unemotional. They really strip away any focus on design elements and allow you to think only about the structure and the content types that you’re placing on a page. They help you prioritize, discover where you need to cut content elements, and determine which pages may be redundant and should be combined. All this without getting bogged down in opinions on colors, font sizes and photo choices.

6) Design your site

Here are some of the defining elements that you and your web designer should consider:

a) Your brand and logo: Your website IS your brand online. It should incorporate the visual and textual style guide, including colors, fonts, and other design elements. There are a lot of creative ways to incorporate your brand in the site design. whether it be as a header color, on the global navigation, used in bullets, etc.

McDonald's Home Page

We all know McDonald’s brand colors are red and yellow,
and there’s no doubt about who the company is when you go to their site.
b) Consistency: Both from a branding standpoint, and to ensure your site is usable and intuitive, your website’s look and feel should be consistent across each page. If you list news items on each page, for example, they should always be in the same place,  with the same design elements, throughout the site.
c) Easy to read: Font size, font style and font color all play a role in making your site easy to read. Avoiding a lot of different styles of fonts or colors on your pages will help the visitor’s eyes to know where to go and what to read first without confusion.
d) Good use of imagery: Whether you opt to use your own images or stock photography, you should ensure that the images you select can speak to the content on the page and enhance what you want to communicate. An image of two people in front of a computer doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t relate to the other content on that page.  Investing in accurate, high-quality images can add to your site’s attractiveness and relevance.

Apple.com's iPod home page

Apple uses creative, attractive product images to entice visitors to learn more and convert to buyers.

To view a more complete list of web design best practices, you can visit a helpful site from Terry Felke-Morris, author of Web Development and Design Foundations with XHMTL.

7) Quick to download, everywhere

Recent studies have shown that if a visitor to your site has to wait between 5 and 15 seconds for a page to load, they are more likely to leave your site than wait around.  This is a key consideration if you’re trying to grow your visitor base and increase your brand recognition! Prioritizing speed means communicating to your web designer and developer early on in the process that you want your pages to be “light” – meaning they load as quickly as possible.
Heavy design elements such as Flash presentations or animations that execute as soon as the page loads are one reason sites can be slow. It’s important to test download times if you plan on using these elements, or make them optional items that users must click on to view.  Server speed is another indicator of site speed, and many companies find they must upgrade their web servers as part of their investment in their website.

IBM's Home Page

IBM keeps their home page light by making the video an optional element
rather than slowing down load time with an automatic video.
In addition, if you anticipate users overseas accessing your site frequently, consider both the average internet connection speed in the countries you’re focusing on, as well as how slow the content will load coming from your server, which may be thousands of miles away for those users.
There are server options that can help you with this, such as a global content delivery network.  If you have a very large group of users coming from other countries, you should consider this option. But if you don’t have the budget or bandwidth to upgrade your server, just remember that ultimately, the faster your site loads for you, the faster it will load for everyone.
Now that I’ve left you with a lot to think about, from wireframing to design elements to server upgrades and downloading speeds, here is one parting thought: When you begin the journey to redesign and refine your website, remember that the key to any good website is what it does for your visitors. If you’re adding value for the visitor, and they can easily find the content they want and need, they’ll keep coming back for more.

Maximize your Online Impact with a Winning Web Design (Part 1 of 2)

A company’s website plays a critical role in communicating with clients and prospects. There is arguably no more important marketing investment you can make than your website since it serves so many roles:

  • a storefront
  • a first impression to prospects
  • prime real estate for establishing your brand and value-add to visitors
  • an organized warehouse of all your content – text, video, images, and other links

A key aspect of your website is the design. A well-designed, easy-to-read website – or lack thereof – can determine whether you attract, build preference, and close new business. And yet, like other areas of marketing, the most effectively designed website first requires reflection and planning: on business goals, site objectives, competitive landscape, and individual preferences. This last point is key: the website design that one person “feels” best represents their business will undoubtedly differ from what another person thinks. Thus, it’s important to leverage best practices to ensure the best web design is delivered in the end.

By following these steps, your site will more accurately reflect your company’s value to prospects while meeting critical business goals.

1) Do your homework

Before you even think about redesigning your site, establish the role your site plays in your business. Does it mainly serve as an e-commerce portal? Or is it primarily a channel to establish your brand and your reputation in the marketplace? Establishing your site’s role within your business, what it is not achieving today, and the goals it needs to fill in the future, is the cornerstone for any web design or refresh project.

Take a look at a couple of strongly designed sites with very different goals:

UPS : The UPS site, a recent recipient of the Best B2B Website award from the Web Marketing Association, serves a transactional role for the company and is designed accordingly. Customers can easily track packages or perform a host of other transactions from the main page quickly and easily. A clear idea of the site’s goals drove the design and content layout for UPS’s site.

G2 Technology: G2 is a job placement firm, and their site is focused on establishing G2’s expertise and reputation in its space. The color choices, images and vocabulary immediately communicate a feeling about the brand. The site’s strategic placement of case studies, featured jobs and featured candidates drives web visitors to the content that G2 wants them to see first.

At first glance, these two sites may not have much in common. After all, their websites play a very different role within the business. However, they both offer compelling, clickable content on the home page that is directly tied to business goals. In addition, visitors immediately have an idea of what the companies offer and how to get it.

Once you define the goals of to your website, show your plan to your colleagues, see what others think, and tweak based on this feedback.

2) Narrow your focus – avoid the “kitchen sink”

Now that you have clarified the role your website plays for your business, prioritize which content should be most prominent on your home page. Determining this will drive page design and layout later in the process.

To perform this exercise, ask questions like:

  • “Based on our site goals, what content should be front and center for visitors to encounter on the main page of our site? What about our other prominent pages?”
  • “How should we organize our site so that the content we present instills trust and credibility with visitors?”
  • “How do we organize our site so that the path to information is clear?”
  • “What content do our competitors lead with/provide and what do we like/not like about this?”

By answering these questions, you will also narrow your focus to know what NOT to place on the home page. A common mistake is the “kitchen sink” phenomenon: trying to get too much content onto the home page, resulting in a cluttered experience that requires users to work too hard to get to the right information. In addition, as illustrated in the below graph, about 80% of a visitor’s viewing time is spent on content “above the fold” – that is, the content they can see without scrolling down the page.

Learn more about scrolling research from renown usability expert Jakob Nielsen.

3) Less Text, More substance

It’s worth noting that when you do have a lot of information to get across, such as at a specific product or service page that a user has purposefully navigated to, your web designer can help you turn your text into more readable content, using things like:

  • graphical tabs
  • bullets
  • attractive sidebars
  • graphs and tables

This approach makes your site easier to read, and visitors will find the information they want faster. The below examples are from sites that adhere to the practice of “less text, more substance”:

Microsoft’s product comparison table

4) Differentiate!

Your website must be engaging enough for your audience to want to know more. Think about the one or two things you’d love to tell a prospect about your company if you could meet with them face to face. Whatever the answer, you can turn that into something worth communicating on your main page and other key landing pages.

A common example of this is the use of a feature graphic, which allows you to promote key differentiators that can enhance your company’s reputation and establish credibility. Feature graphics are dynamic content pieces that are highly visual, but also offer a peek into your business. They may include an impactful quote from a key customer, a bragging point about your work in a specific industry, or simply promote a new case study you’ve completed and want the world to read. Compared to large areas of static text, a feature graphic can add depth and dimension to a fact, and is a more effective and efficient way to compel a visitor to learn more about your company, while instantaneously providing them with a “feeling” about your brand.

Below are some examples of sites with effective feature graphics:

www.moog.com

www.alfamationglobal.com

The first four steps to maximizing your online impact – doing your homework, narrowing your focus, using less text and differentiation – are half of the equation that will help you through the web design process. Our next installment will focus on specific implementation techniques to ensure your great looking new website will be easy to view anywhere and everywhere that visitors find it!