I've seen many clients, who with the best of intentions fall into the same rut year after year. There are certain universal truths about successful websites; one of them is that on website projects that include a quality content editor as part of the dedicated team, the process is smoother, stays on schedule and client satisfaction is high.
Here's a common scenario. Insanely busy client initiates website project and can't wait to get the new site up — the current one is five years old (give or take a couple), which is three technology generations ago, and the company is looking tired.
The writing and other content development is divided among topic leaders around the company and a schedule is distributed. We provide guidance on writing and desired word count and counsel brevity. One of the company's writers gets called out of town. Another goes on vacation. Copy trickles in from others, some of which seems novel length long. Other copy switches from third person to second person in the same paragraph. An engineer writes in the passive voice with all the details of a product spec, and so forth.
So, how can a content editor help?
5 Benefits of a Content Editor
1. Understanding the Web Reader
"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter." This quote attributed to Mark Twain, holds true in the Internet Age and even more so as we morph into the Mobile Age. The most prevalent mistake people make when writing for the web is to tell a story in microscopic detail.
The Jakob Neilsen Eye Tracking Study tracks web readers' viewing habits, which can take a distinctive "F-shape" pattern indicating that people read the header, skim the first few lines of a web page, skip down to the next subhead and skim some more. The implications of this are for the writer to craft copy that one can skim in this way and still glean key concepts.
Keeping the reader’s viewing habits top of mind effectively and consistently requires expertise, training and the ability to pare back detail --- skills the Web Content Editor has honed through experience.
2. Objective Perspective
A content editor will begin by asking about website objectives, key audiences, messaging and tone. S/he will come to the assignment with a fresh perspective, without preconceived notions, or the inherent need of an insider to spell out every last detail for fear that something is missed. S/he will assume of the audience either too much knowledge or not enough.
The content editor will objectively evaluate the internally created content, based on stated site objectives. A good copy editor will continually challenge the inside team to focus on the value the company provides rather than the details of how something works or that it is great.
Providing consistent reminders that a website is about the audience and not the company is arguably the greatest value of having an objective resource.
3. Messaging Expertise
Bringing a consistent "clarity of purpose" to the content is something a good editor keeps top-of-mind. From the inception of a web project, s/he will glean key messages and brand attributes that are necessary to convey in the content. With each piece of content, s/he will ask, is the key message coming through? Are the details overwhelming the main point? Is it clear to the reader?
Content editors understand the power of cohesive messaging, consistently executed, and will cut through the clutter to simplify and promote the right ideas.
4. Single Voice
With the number of participants and various backgrounds of team members writing for the web, it's no surprise that copy is widely uneven in quality and consistency of message. The website is not only an educational and marketing tool, it is a representation of a company's culture, which is a reflection of the brand.
Reading the work of a single, objective, professional content editor is not unlike using an app to create a playlist of one of your favorite artists, versus listening to an uneven conglomeration of songs grouped into one “radio station” that ostensibly delivers the same sound as your chosen artist.
5. Maintaining Schedule
When a client has a new product launch, various events to prepare for, client management and website writing on his/her plate, guess which one tends to fall lowest on the list of priorities?
While writing for the web may be something a company executive feels the team should do, the reality is that the website falls to a "when I can get to it" status. I can't think of a website project where a missed schedule wasn't the result of client produced content not being ready.
In our experience, there is no question that having a dedicated content editor is most important for keeping the web project on schedule. Building it into the initial project from the start removes the greatest impediment to launching on schedule.
What are your thoughts on having a dedicated content editor?
I've purposefully not consulted the blogosphere or Twittersphere to give myself the space to consider Apple's new brand campaign, titled "Designed by Apple in California."
It is an interesting conundrum, because some aspects of the ad are solid, but after giving it a little time to sink in, I still hew to my initial visceral dislike and disappointment upon seeing it.
First, there is the "Designed by Apple in California," headline — or more accurately the "bottom line," as it is always located at the bottom of a long, poetic string of new agey blurbs, and is meant to encapsulate all that Apple represents. And in the TV ads, the voiceover issues the treacly words, "This is our signature, and it means everything." The choice of " in California" in "Designed by Apple in California," I find particularly affected. California has pretty well lost its lustre as the golden land and this just seems a little bit precious to me. If this notion is meant to be political, suggesting more jobs for California, it just further dilutes the impact by being oblique.
My levels of disappointment begin with the fact that the most famous disruptive innovation company in the world needs the focus of their first post-Steve Jobs corporate advertising campaign to revolve around a tagline that takes a defensive posture about making products in the U.S.
That the company that brought us "Think Different," is now presenting themselves as a soft touch lifestyle company featuring an asexual person whose face you can't see, accompanied by a lot of whispery, overly sincere language is to say the least, a wet blanket.
I think that the focus on values in and of itself is a good thing, but these values, like "Every idea we touch, enhances each life it touches" or "Who will this help, Will it make life better? Does it deserve to exist? If you are busy making everything, then you are not perfecting anything," are more like a designer's stream of consciousness or an entreaty to the impatient consumer to be patient because perfection is an art that takes time. It borders on feeling apologetic, if not self-aggrandizing.
What happened to visionary, iconoclastic values — of pushing hard to break barriers and change our world for the better — which still spoke to a higher purpose? What happend to creativity that showed rather than telled? This is the ad campaign I'd expect from a "mature" company. Maybe it is the new, mature Apple moving out from the long, Jobsian shadow. While I can understand that and the "need" for that, I can't help but being let down.
What do you think?
This is kind of a mini-post. I'd like to reference an important post I saw on HubSpot's blog indicating the rise in importance of branding to SEO, in the aftermath of Google's Penguin 2.0 release. While we have always stressed the relevance of branding to user experience, it is good to know that Google is recognizing the validity of branding in the realm of Search. I recommend you read the post but here is what I see as the key takeaway:
Content Variety and distribution: Google places a premium on authenticity. Search engine crawlers are evaluating everything they can find about your brand, i.e., press releases, website content, pdfs, blogs, videos, articles, etc. The more variety the crawlers see of your content and the more they verify it as relevant to your target market, thus the more authentic and established they deem your brand to be. And defining your brand as an industry leader will result in better rankings.
So, rather than focusing too much on creating tons of back links to your site, your time is more wisely spent building your online brand, by producing and widely distributing relevant content on a regular basis.
We create websites people love. Of course I can't say that officially — although it's true — as HubSpot has already created a great campaign around "love."
I admire HubSpot's website because it says in big bold letters, "Create Marketing People Love." Then it qualifies that brand statement with a "here's how we help you do it" statement: " HubSpot has not only managed to create a product people find useful, they've created a brand
and a culture
associated with a powerful human emotion, love.
As we've been designing a new website for ourselves, we've been giving thought to what makes a website people love. The obvious answers are that it generates leads, is easy to use and maintain, performs well, contains relevant content and looks good. Marketers might add that it needs to be interactive, have calls-to-action buttons and enable users to interact. While we focus intently on all of that, we have found that what makes a website people love is to bring emotion and a sense of purpose to the web experience, which is derived from a supporting brand that embodies these deeper attributes.
IBM's "Let's Build a Smarter Planet" is another example of a B2B company that has created a culture not around technology or services, but a collaborative goal of building a better planet, something everyone can feel good about.
Our recent work for AirStrip, a mobile healthcare company is an example in the HubSpot/IBM mold. AirStrip is filled with passionate physicians, technologists and other healthcare professionals who have a sweeping vision for improving the American healthcare system through mobile technology. We harnessesd that passion into a powerful tagline, "HealthCare Transformation is in the Air," which distilled their passion and goals and tied back to their name and to mobility
. What makes the AirStrip website "loveable," aside from the increased traffic they've seen, is that the brand tagline spawned a whole language, i.e.,
- Healthcare mobility is in the Air
- Better Quality Care is in the Air
- Clinical Efficiency is in the Air
- Improved Performance is in the Air
As web designers, we see our job as "bringing company brands to life... on the web." More often than not, we are provided copy, which is written by engineers or others steeped in the one hundred percent buzzword compatible terminology dictated by financial goals, product details, perceived customer expectations, loss of objectivity or leadership that hasn't articulated a higher purpose. Even great graphic or interactive design can't transform mundane language or undifferentiated notions. People see right through that. Our most successful website projects are collaborations with organizations that have articulated, or are open to doing the work to articulate, a brand that in some way can be associated with improving people's lives, and carries both emotional as well as business weight.
"All our words from loose using have lost their edge." So said Ernest Hemingway, probably at a Spanish bar one night in the company of other inebriated literary elite. I imagine if he could see the current state of B2B marketing content, he would have the smug smile of the prescient. In 2013, there is still no more powerful communication tool than your website. It is also true in 2013, as the cliche goes, that "content is king." But it's not just the quantity of content, it's the quality. The best way to create websites that people love is to start with content that rises above and touches people on a human level, conjoining them with your mission.
Want people to love your website? Give us a call!
Infographics are taking over the earth! At least it seems that way. There has been an explosion of infographics on the web — in both B2C and B2B — literally illustrating that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. But before we get into what makes a good one, let's define what an infographic is and why they have reached the tipping point.
Infographics are graphical representations of content that would alternatively require a lot of words or that would be difficult to glean without previous knowledge of the subject. So, it is essentially visual shorthand for weaving a qualitative story, often from quantitative content.
The facility for rendering complex data in simpler terms is a coveted skill. The way in which people absorb content on the web these days is like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower. Attention spans are short and getting shorter as is time to focus and reflect. If content creators can distill complex narratives into compelling, easy-to-comprehend visuals, visitors to their websites are more likely to engage with them.
The key ingredients of a good infographic are:
- A cohesive and coherent story line
- A series of concise, clearly worded headlines from which one can "get the gist"
- Simple storytelling graphic style, Icons can work very well
- Simple, clean font style, avoid lots of flourishes
- Not trying to do "too much"
- Test out the graphic among lay people before releasing to a wider audience
Here are a few infographics I've come upon lately, which do a particularly good job making a lot of content easy to digest.
Not surprisingly, HubSpot has created and compiled a top ten collection of cool infographics related to the field of marketing. Each represents a different concept and is rendered in a different visual format. The configuration of text, graphics, fonts, icons and colors is chosen specifically to solve the visual problem. The great thing about Infographics is that they grow organically from the data so developing one is a unique creative experience yielding a unique result. Because of their custom nature, most infographics are not template based, although I've seen a few starter infographic toolkits mostly directed toward non-designers. These may be helpful for people not comfortable visualizing, but tend to yield more cookie cutter solutions.
This Fast Company interactive infographics depicts the multiple ways a business can rank its profits, such as by project, by state, by customer and so forth. This one is actually a collection of single infographics representing one view of company profits at a time, which can be accessed by simply clicking an arrow.
For sports fans, this infographic provides 10 years of data on whether spring training improves batting averages.
You can see that whatever the quantitative problem, there is a unique and compelling way to simplify and visualize it in an infographic. Have you seen any cool infographics lateley? Please share.
It’s a well-worn fact that B2C marketers set the trends that B2B businesses subsequently adopt. Between them there are usually several years of lag time. The case for B2B companies to adopt mobile marketing practices and a mobile-friendly web presence warrants an acceleration of that schedule in direct correlation to the speed at which mobility is reshaping the world. Here are some compelling arguments pointing towards the value of mobile to B2B businesses.
Don’t let the Trend Pass You By
Gartnerpredicts that by 2014, there will be a 90% mobile penetration rate and 6.5 billion mobile connections. Think about it, that’s about the number of people in the entire world! They go on to say that in 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide. If that alone is not reason to maximize one’s mobile presence, here are some other things to consider.
Protecting and Enhancing Your Brand
“Many companies are still behind and are not optimizing the web experience for mobile, which is incredibly damaging for their brands," said Steve Woods, CTO of Eloqua in an article titled,
"There have been countless studies that show a consumer will abandon a website in less than five seconds if the experience is unsatisfactory,” said Woods. “Now that we know potential buyers are reading our emails and visiting our websites from their mobile devices, marketers need to make the appropriate adjustments.”
Take a look at your website on a smartphone. Is it hard to navigate, slow performing or requiring a lot of pinch and zoom just to get from one page to the next? Now imagine your customers, prospects and prospective employees experiencing this. Does the experience support your brand image as a tech-savvy, customer-focused organization?
Business executives search using their mobile phones seven times a day, much of which is for business, according to a Forbes survey.At RainCastle, we have noticed the beginning of a “hockey stick” increase of mobile users accessing our website and as a result are currently redesigning our own site using “Responsive Design” to make the mobile experience as easy and compelling as the desktop. Our clients who follow their website analytics are experiencing the same trend.
Rethink Your Content
When your B2B audiences are working remotely they are seeking information that is easy-to-access and fits on their phones or tablets, whether it is text, imagery or video. As a B2B, you now need to make sure that relevant content is manageable and accessible not only on the desktop, but on mobile devices as well.
Respond Quickly to The New Normal for User Behavior
In the new normal, customers’ patience has plummeted while expectations for speed, accessibility and personalization of content have skyrocketed. When was the last time you had a meeting with a business executive who wasn't checking their mobile device multiple times? Whether or not that offends you, can you afford not to be reaching these people through their chosen medium?
Establishing The Personalized User Experience
Mobile devices present a more personal, one to one medium than marketers have ever had. People wear them, carry them and keep them next to their beds at night. Why wouldn’t you want to create a relationship through a medium that provides that kind of access? Mobility is changing us, driving new habits, altering the way we live, connect and market.
So, don’t miss the (mobile) boat lest you want to live the “Life of Pi,” trying to tame the (mobile) Tiger.
If you've ever struggled to convey a lot of information in an email — knowing the recipient or recipient type (hint: client) doesn't read, but skims content — and did not receive any response, then the article I just read in Fast Company is for you.
Titled, "How to Write a Convincing E-mail," the article highlights 6 key points that when followed, result in effective emails that will actually get read. My own perspective is that your emails are an extension of your brand and if they are concise, clear and action-oriented, your prospects, clients and colleagues will respond more frequently and hold you in higher esteem. I encourage you to read the full article as it provides great examples of poorly crafted emails and then the same messages written effectively. Following are article highlights. When composing an email:
1. Have a specific decision in mind.
What is the outcome you desire?
2. Start by writing your conclusion.
As opposed to the way in which you compose an essay with and Introduction, supporting text and a conclusion, go for the conclusion and work backwards to support it.
3. Structure your supporting argument into digestable chunks.
Use bulleted copy where possible or two sentence paragraphs if content is not listable.
4. Bolster each argument with evidence.
Opinions hold little sway. You're seeking action. Make it easy to respond by using facts.
5. Repeat your conclusion as a "call-to-action."
At the end, repeat the conclusion you began with and invite a next step.
6. Stick a benefit in the subject line
I found myself analyzing my own emails and certain points immediately resonated. Point #6, I put in the "last but not least" category. Composing a subject line is analagous to crafting a great tagline in that it successfully distills a theme down to just a few words, which can express facts and intention with clarity of purpose.
Which points do you find most helpful?
In a previous post, Three Cases of Websites Using Modern design Techniques, I touched upon some of the exciting new design techniques — that have become available on the web—which are beginning to change the face of the modern website. Digging down a level, these design techniques exist to serve your company's need to tell your brand story. The speed at which business is being done and the amount of noise you must cut through have elevated the need for distinctive, on-brand digital storytelling.
HTML5 and Flash are two important tools for digital storytelling. Both afford unique opportunities to bend the digital medium to your will and create compelling engaging experiences for your customers. Flash has gotten a bad rap as it is not supported by Apple moblie devices, but Flash can be saved in a video format that will render on Apple as well as PC and mobile devices. Flash is still a teriffic tool for presenting a corporate or product story with power, and sophistication. It is excellent for event presentations, where you need to Wow your audience, as well as for websites. Our recent brand launch for our client AirStrip, a mobile healthcare technology firm, is one such example.
As Digital Storytellers, we need to be able to express both high-level brand concepts and more detailed messages that allow for audience interaction for the optimal user experience. No single digital tool or technique can do it all, which is why mastering a broad array of digital tools and techniques is making design such a powerful force for strategic marketing these days!
What interesting and effective examples of digital storytelling have you seen lately?
Family lore has it that my design career began at age 4 when after a rain storm I came upon an oil slick in our driveway and was so astonished by the rainbow of colors that I grabbed my crayons and started to draw. Working with color has always been a pleasurable and highly intuitive and experience for me. But lately, there has been a growing number of research studies and articles about the science of why we respond a particular way to colors and design in general, which have implications for business as well as being of academic interest.
“Color Me Creative: Study Says Green Sparks Inventiveness,” a recent German study cited in the Huffington Post, engaged participants in a series of creative tasks and exposed them to different colors prior to their tasks. Those exposed to the color green, produced the most creative responses. The article posits that green is the color of growth and that we associate green with freshness, healthy food and nourishment. It may explain why many hospitals interiors are painted green and increasingly include landscape art in waiting rooms and corridors. Perhaps it’s intuitively what made me paint our offices in varying shades of green years ago.
In this Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Review section, an article titled, “Why We Love Beautiful Things,” discusses how neuroscience is being applied to unlocking how good design works. Behind this notion is the idea that understanding how design works can lead to more productivity and less stress in the workplace, stress-related illness being a $300 a year billion expense in this country.
The article also touches upon the validity of the golden rectangle. For two millennia, philosophers, artists and architects have been creating work in a proportion known as the “Golden Rectangle,” which has provided the structure for countless architectural and artistic masterpieces, such as the Parthenon, Notre Dame and the Mona Lisa to name a few. While it has always been accepted that the golden rectangle is a pleasing proportion, a Times article sites a 2009 Duke University study that verified that our eyes actually scan images fastest when their shape is the golden rectangle.
So, it should come as no surprise that the original iPod was designed in the golden rectangle proportion.
The subject of how science informs and substantiates design and the many— often hidden—ways design impacts business are subjects for further exploration, which I’ll address in future posts.
As visual storytellers, we are always looking out for exciting new online tools and techniques to build strong digital brands. Up until fairly recently, for the most part, websites have guided users down the navigational path using the “page paradigm.” On a typical site, one is met with a top navigation, and dropdown menus that when clicked transport you to an internal page that has the limited content predefined by the information architecture. This has been fine overall and we’ve built and continue to build many successful websites using this approach.
Today, there is a rapidly expanding set of options we and other design leaders are using that enhance our ability to represent an organization’s brand concepts in ways that are highly interactive and engaging for site visitors. Here are three such examples:
Studio 1 Architects
Studio 1 Architects has applied a scrolling technology known as parallax scrolling to guide their site visitors and build their brand by means of a series of layered screens. By pulling down the scroll bar or clicking on the vertical arrows on the screen, the user has the impression of layers being moved to reveal new and interesting content.
The homepage has a horizontally rotating background that features portfolio images.
This is a great technique for maintaining control over the desired user experience. At the same time, each screen that is revealed can work like a carousel to represent, in this case, different views of the projects Studio 1 has architected. The Studio 1 site is also a good example of responsive design. If you pull the browser window tighter, the website reconfigures itself into a site perfectly suited for mobile or tablet users.
Scrolling vertically creates a sliding effect with the graphics and produces different screens with specific entry points to other pages on the website.
Head2Heart is an online donation site in partnership with Collyde that works to raise money to provide clean water, dig wells, and prevent human trafficking in Africa.
The Head2Heart homepage has fixed top and bottom navigation, so that all actionable next steps are accessible during extended scrolling.
Head2Heart utilizes two new technologies that improve usability and deepen user engagement: prominent calls-to-action in the navigation and extended scrolling (in this case, horizontally). Note that when you scroll across this site, the top and bottom navigation are fixed at the top of the screen. The fixed navigation leads you to relevant calls-to-action, including donating, contacting, and following on social media channels.
Each number section is not only interactive with graphic calls-to-action, but prompts you to continue scrolling with a blue road pattern and orange arrows.
From a brand storytelling perspective, Head2Heart utilizes the digital space as one long, seamless canvas. As you scroll across, the brand theme of “The longest journey that a man can take in his life time is the 18 inches from his head to his heart” is represented not as separate pages, but as a continuous illustration of a path symbolizing this journey with relevent questions and call-outs at each stage.
Krystalrae is a fashion brand that uses the same technologies as Studio1 to great affect. The scrolling bar is used to interactively “dress” a model in various outfits of the designer, without ever leaving the page.
Also evident in this site, and a trend we’re seeing more and more of is the use of the flavor of bold, adventuresome typography that used to be relegated to the print world.
These are just some examples of the exciting possibilities that are opening up as the field of web design enters a “new brand era” of deeper and engaging communications. What are some other exciting sites and new technologies you’ve seen? We'd love to hear!