MobileActive Strategy Guides

Mobile phones have become a powerful emerging tool for participation in civil society. The MobileActive series of Strategy Guides examines the effectiveness of nonprofits using mobile phones to build their constituent lists, influence political causes, and raise money. In the Guides we aggregate strategies, case studies, and lessons learned to encourage the adoption of mobile phones by nonprofits.

This series of Strategy Guides is designed to equip organizations around the world with the know-how to deploy effective mobile campaigns for a variety of types of activism and advocacy.




According to a study by the Annenberg School at USC, American Internet
users include…

– 75% of adults aged 56-65
– 41% of adults over 66.

If we want to design for the bulk of our users, we had best consider the
more mature user groups.


The “older people are just technophobes” stereotype doesn’t hold water.
According to a recent study by O’Hara, the top reasons older people don’t
use computers are:
a) lack of motivation or reason to use the computer,
b) lack of experience with current technology, and
c) cognitive differences and age-related declines.

So it’s not that they don’t want to use your site — it’s that they find it
too tricky or intimidating to be worth that effort at this point in their
lives. As usability practitioners, we need to change this!!!


“Newly old” — between the ages of 40 and 50
– Slowly deteriorating vision.

“Middle old” — between 50 and 65
– Slight/moderate degradation of vision
– Not able to retain as much information in their working memory
– Not able to process information as fast as they once could.

“Older old” — between about 65 and 80
– Significant deterioration in motor control and visual acuity.

“Very old” — those over 80
– May not be able to accommodate these persons’ deteriorating faculties
via conventional Web design.


According to the work of Kurniawan and Zaphiris…

Target (button/link/menu) design: Use larger targets, and provide a clear
confirmation of target capture. Make navigation menus and action buttons
bigger and use mouse-over effects and other methods of showing target
affordance, or “clickability”.

Text treatment: Use a sans serif type font – i.e. Helvetica, Arial or
Verdana of 12 or 14-point size.

Text presentation: The National Institute on Aging’s checklist suggests
that lines be double-spaced for ease of consumption by older users.
1.5 spacing may also be a reasonable compromise. This extra spacing
makes it easier for the eye to track from the end of one line to the beginning
of the next. As always for the Web, keep text short and use bulletized
lists to facilitate scanning.

Cognitive design: Give the user ample time to read information before
refreshing pages, and reduce the demand on working memory by supporting
recognition rather than recall. Older users, especially those over 60-65,
take longer to process information, and have more difficulty remembering,
for example, entries made two screens earlier in the workflow.

Graphics: Use very little, and preferably no animation. Animation and
scrolling text and graphics are the most distracting visual elements to
humans overall. In addition, icons should be simple and should include
a descriptive label so that your older users will not have to “guess”
their meaning.

Navigation: Provide “bolder” navigational cues, including the location
of the current page. Most older users – except perhaps for the “new old”
– tend not to do as much “mouse minesweeping.” So pull-down menus
should generally be avoided for these users.

Search features: Cater to spelling errors. Use auto-suggest of likely
misspellings to automatically show what a correct spelling would be.
Then the user can click the suggested link without having to reenter
their search terms.

For a complete list of heuristics, check out the list of Research-derived
“Web Guidelines for Older People.” You may also want to reference the
“Making Your Web Site Senior Friendly” checklist produced by the National
Institute on Aging. Both of these sources will help you to “wear your
older persona mask” when you design your next site or application for
this type of user group. Note that many of these guidelines overlap with
the standard best-practice guidelines, and with the accessibility
recommendations made by the W3C. This reinforces the fact that
best-practice, accessible design better serves all types of users.

References for this newsletter are posted at:


10 Ways to Increase Email Response Rates

Janet Roberts has been around email marketing for longer than most. I’m pleased to have her back as a contributing columnist. -Larry Chase

1. List Hygiene Is Essential

A clean list – one with few outdated or incorrectly formatted addresses – will have a higher deliverability rate. This translates into more messages delivered correctly to intended recipients. A clean list also makes ISPs happy. They are less likely to block your email messages or route them to bulk/junk email folders.

The more often you send, the more frequently you need to clean your list, and the more often you need to monitor your list’s performance. Blacklists, or third-party monitoring services, also watch email deliveries closely and will put your email address or mail server identification number on their lists if they suspect you. ISPs and other email services consult these blacklists to help them decide whether to allow, block or filter your messages. Therefore, check your delivery reports during and after each message send to find out who is blocking you. You, your IT/database people or your email agency can work with the ISPs and blacklists to resolve disputes, but it may require you to change the way you send messages – and to get very serious about monitoring who you send your messages to.

2. Avoid List Fatigue

The more often you send email (especially if you send more email than your recipients wanted or expected when they signed up) the lower your open rates will be. You are simply wearing out your list, ie., wearing out or “fatiguing” the patience of your subscribers. Return Path, an email monitoring and optimization service, found in surveys taken after the 2005 and 2006 holiday shopping seasons that many recipients complained that they got too much email. The consequences of emailing too often? Your recipients will delete your messages unopened or unsubscribe from your list. Worse, they could hit the “report spam” button in their email programs thinking this shortcut will stop your email. Let your recipients choose how often they want to hear from you by listing frequency options on a preferences page, and then respect their choices.

3. Gauge Your List’s Age

How old your list is also affects your open rate. As with traditional direct marketing, your most enthusiastic recipients are your newest ones, or what are known as your “hotliners”. You need to capture them right at the get-go, when they sign up, with a welcome message that tells them what they can expect, with copy, frequency, benefits and the like. Recent research by marketing publisher MarketingSherpa showed subscriber interest drops off markedly within weeks of signing up. So, you’ll also need to recapture your older subscribers’ interest. Create a list subsegment of names that have been on your list for a certain amount of time – say, three months – and send them a special offer or put a custom subject line on your regular offer to grab their attention and get them back into the fold. If you let subscribers choose their own options or provide a registration page, invite them back to update their preferences or registrations.

4. Reinvigorate Inactive Subscribers

You can also segment your list by activity to find out who is opening your messages. An inactive list is not going to generate any of the numbers you need, no matter how tempting the offer is. This is an argument for the use of specific email distribution software or a third-party agency. Either one will generate reports that will tell you pretty precisely what kind of activity your list is producing. If you want to boost your open rate, you will need to look at the number showing you the unique opens for that campaign: one open per reader, not multiple opens from a single reader (which skews your results). Once you know that number, you can dig down into your database and create segments based on activity, such as those who have not opened or clicked in the last three months, to re-engage the interest of those subscribers who have grown passive. Then test an offer on that segment or invite them to update their subscriptions.

5. Write Clear, Informative Subject Lines

Your subject line is crucial. It has about 2 seconds and 50 characters to tell your readers who you are, what you’re offering, and why they need to skip over all the IN box clutter and open you right away. You need to be eye-catching but not deceptive. Direct is best: Put the benefit, call to action or urgency element in the subject line. Resist the urge to be cute. Saying “Here’s something we know you’ll like…” tells the reader nothing and even makes you look like a spammer if your name is not familiar. Do make sure your company or brand name shows up in the “from” field, not an email address, a department name such as “Sales” or “Email Marketing”, or a person’s name – unless that name would be instantly familiar to your recipients.

6. Design For Preview Panes

Many readers view only a portion of your message in a preview pane, so don’t waste the top real estate with copy or images that don’t tell the story. Others read email on portable devices such as all-in-one cell-phone/PDAs like the BlackBerry and the Treo, which don’t read formatted emails at all. So if you rely on just one big image, they’ll see one big blank space. Create a “light” version of your message in text format for people who either want just text or who read email on portable devices. Offer the text version as an option on your sign-up page, or use your email service provider’s multi-part MIME sniffing technology, which senses when an email client cannot read HTML and then provides a text version instead. Link to the full Web version at the top of your text message. This makes the subject line wording and copywriting even more important, because you will not be able to rely on a picture to help sell your offer. However, you will better adapt your messages for this new world of email viewing.

7. The Medium and the Message

Maybe your problem is not so much getting your message in front of readers or prospects as it is choosing the right venue in which to deliver that message to them. You might rely on solo offers – the one-off, stand-alone email message that has no editorial content around it. Third-party email newsletters are another medium to consider. When you buy ad space in a newsletter, you only need to deliver good, workable copy. Someone else will do the heavy lifting of targeting, formatting and delivery. This is a good choice if you lack either your own house list or access to good rental lists. Yes, you will have to share eye space with other attractions, including articles, images and even other ads, but you will also benefit from placement in front of a highly targeted audience. You will want to ask about rates, of course, but be sure to inquire about open and click rates, the mailing list size, delivery frequency and placement. Top placement may be ideal, but you can also get good traffic and results from mid-level and lower placement. Some say that lower placement yields more qualified leads.

8. Image Blocking Loses Eyeballs

You can no longer rely on images to tell your story or sell your product. Today’s email clients routinely block images by default unless the user changes a setting to allow those images to download. It’s done to block spam and prevent viruses from downloading, but it also means image-heavy messages will show up with a lot of empty windows filled with red X’s.

Worse, a message formatted as one large image will show up blank unless the user elects to show the image or change the setting. You can make sure readers don’t miss essential information by replacing a call-to-action image with text instead. Or simply duplicate your call to action in text. Also, be careful when choosing your call to action words in text because many spam filters look for precisely those words in that configuration (words we cannot show you here because the filters would nab us as well). BTW, don’t forget that you can include descriptive text in your alt tags.

9. Segment Your Offer

Your customers respond to your mailings in many ways and for many different reasons. So, don’t send the same offer to everyone. That doesn’t mean you need to come up with five completely different products or services for a campaign. Instead, work with your database manager or with your ESP to find ways to slice and dice your database into relevant segments – demographics, geography, past purchases, activity, age on the list, whatever you have. Then, write copy that will appeal to each unique segment. Send the emails as usual. But be sure to compare results segment to segment. Once again, you will be able to leverage email’s flexibility to create multiple versions of the same offer and increase your open rate, because you will come much close to your recipients’ self interest.

10. Test and Test Again

If you merely get copy OK’d before handing it off to your production person, you’re missing lots of opportunity to fine-tune your campaign. When you test your message on a sample population, you can look for weaknesses all along the line: in the content itself, in the subject line, the images used, offer placements in the layout, etc. Send yourself a test message before pulling the trigger. Click each link, and review all images to be sure they display properly. If you can, view the message on different hardware – PCs, Macs, cellphone and PDA screens – and in different browsers or clients.

Don’t just test the message itself. Test multiple versions of the landing page to see which landing page captures more sales, subscribers or registrants. But wait – you’re not done yet. Even though one landing page may capture more respondents, a thorough testing exercise might well reveal that a landing page which captures fewer respondents might actually capture more qualified prospects.


10 Landing Page Optimization Tactics

If you run PPC campaigns, landing pages are critical to your success. If you run email marketing campaigns, landing pages are critical. In fact, landing pages are critical to organic search engine marketing, press releases and just about all Internet marketing efforts.

Internet cognoscenti know to spend as much time developing the landing page as they do on the offer that drove their visitors to that page in the first place.

As publisher of Web Digest For Marketers, I see what works and what doesn’t. In addition, my colleagues in the Internet Marketing Mafia share with me what works for them and what to stay away from.

Below are my top 10 tactics for creating successful landing pages that will help you recoup your investment sooner rather than later.

1. Know When To Keep It Simple: Some direct response practitioners like an exciting – if not circus-like – atmosphere in a landing page. Perhaps for some consumer categories it works well. But my experience in the b2b space tells me otherwise.

In today’s “give-it-to-me quick-or-I’m-out-of-here” world, you need to keep your landing page very focused and pretty simple. Let’s face it, staring into a light source and reading long tracts of information is stressful and hard work. We all do too much of it as it is.

Help the visitor to your landing page digest what you are offering quickly and easily. Use short paragraphs and bullet points. Offer crisp value propositions to readers that pay off the question in their minds, which is: “Why should I take the action you want me to take?”

2. Tell Them Where They Are: Think about it. When people click on an ad in a Web Digest For Marketers email newsletter, for example, or a link in a solo email, they’re being transported from one medium into another, namely, the Web. Putting language at the top of the landing page telling them they’ve landed in the right spot takes away the first question that any visitor understandably has.

Some advertisers in my newsletter will actually put the words “Welcome, Web Digest For Marketers Subscribers”. Other advertisers have been known to reiterate the offer that caused my readers to click on the link that brought them to this particular landing page.

3. Don’t Take Over My Computer: I’ve seen some landing pages get too tricky and try to wow their visitors. Often this frustrates visitors because they’ve lost control of their own computers. They may well get that control back by simply closing their browsers – and you are a goner.

Yes, yes, there are some categories such as online video gamers who will appreciate the whiz bang effects. But many landing pages tend to go over the top with special effects because some agency told the client it’s a cool idea and it meets with branding objectives. Don’t do it.

Remember, many computers aren’t running the latest apps. So your brand image then becomes a dialog box that says you can’t view this site because you don’t have the latest version of whatever. Also, many computers and networks have firewalls that prevent such programs from running. Again, keep it simple and stay on message.

4. Offer Multiple Calls to Action: Some people click on the first link they see on a landing page. Others read for long stretches before they take action. Have links at the top, bottom and in between. Make it easy for visitors to take action whenever they’re ready.

Track everything. Try to custom tag each link so you know which ones are the most used. This will come in handy for the next time. If you have a multi-stage process, like a survey, shopping cart, or registration form, see where you lose people and work on that.

You’ve spent good money getting people to your landing page. You might as well use each campaign as thoroughly as possible so you can optimize your future landing pages.

Don’t offer escape routes. Amazingly, I’ve seen landing pages that offer the visitor many options to get side-tracked. One advertiser recently told me this was because they wanted to keep the same look and feel as all the other pages on their website.

The case must be made to the powers that be in your company that it is all right for your landing pages to have some similarities to the rest of the site’s interface, but ultimately they serve as stand-alone pages that funnel visitors down to the desired call to action.

If your company is not known to visitors, there is a delicate balance between educating them as to who you are and why they should do business with you, ie., actually taking that action now to get the relationship going. But offering your visitors links to your mission statement, store locator or the like gives them permission to bail out on the reason why they came in the first place. Of course, having a link to your privacy page might not be such a bad idea if you’re asking the visitor to hand over contact information, but do remember to then put the call to action on the privacy page as well.

5. Experiment With Your Registration Forms: Common wisdom is that you lose 30% of your respondents for each registration field. There are different schools of thought on what to do here:

1. Just get an email address so you can start as many new relationships as possible and get more registration info down the road.
2. Get a few fields of data so you can more easily qualify your A leads from your B leads and C leads, etc.

A good rule of thumb I find is ask for only the data the user thinks you’ll need to go about your business. If someone downloads a PDF white paper on industry trends, the visitor typically is sophisticated enough to know you’re considering her as a prospect. So a phone number, title, company, and maybe time frame of purchase seems reasonable. But income level is not.

6. Revisit Your Encore Page: Probably the most astonishing thing to me in online marketing is how many sites do nothing with the resolution page, or what is sometimes called the “encore” page. That’s the page you get after someone has submitted their information for that PDF download or made a purchase or subscribed to a newsletter.

The visitors who have taken action on your landing page are quite apt to be ready to take more action, if you would only ask them. Instead, so many sites simply leave visitors hanging there and using the back button to back out of that page. More often that not, I’ve seen sites that say something like, “Thank you, you’ve been subscribed.” and then leave you hanging there. Some sites offer put a link saying “Return to Home Page”. If you’re doing that, you’re leaving money on the table. Offer them a subscription to your newsletter, or someone else’s newsletter (assuming that other newsletter does the same for you) or give them an incentive to take a survey. Or try to upsell them or cross sell them. Don’t just stand there, do something.

7. Take Nothing For Granted: What’s obvious to you is not so obvious to other people, especially when they are from another company or a different part of the world.

Repeating something for purposes of clarity is usually appreciated by those who are confused, and ignored by those who already know what you’re talking about. I’ve never seen anybody get insulted by an interface that repeated itself for purposes of clarity.

8. Test Multiple Landing Pages: “Oh, duh,” you say. Tell me something I don’t already know. I can hear people mumbling that as they read this. But how many of you really do go to the trouble of setting up more than one landing page to test different variables? What sort of things might you test using multiple landing pages?

1. Try different subject headers, if you’re using solo email messages to drive traffic there.
2. Experiment with how many fields you ask for in your request form. You’re apt to find fewer people fill out your registration form, but those fewer are more qualified than those who filled out less fields of information.
3. Test the length of your copy. Yes, I typically suggest keeping copy short. But what you’re selling may need more explanation, and the visitor might not pull the trigger without knowing more. You won’t know until you test this.

9. Leave It Up: Nine months after an ad ran in Web Digest for Marketers for a Webinar, I had an advertiser tell me that he was still getting people to that landing page and signing up for it, even though it had already taken place.

So, if you can, try to make your offer evergreen, or as evergreen as possible, especially for email campaigns. More and more, people do not read email messages and newsletters as they come in. I know many people who have “read” folders that they return to at a given time each week.

Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of my subscribers who say they have a folder with either my name or that of Web Digest For Marketers, so they can refer back to it down the road. Presumably, they’re also then finding the ads and clicking on them as well – long after their initial run. In short, the tail is getting longer.

10. Follow Eye-Tracking: Look at someone who’s looking at your landing page for the first time. Follow their eyes. Do they follow the usual “Z” path down a page? Are your visual cues helping them advance down the funnel to the call to action?

Try not to interrupt your test subject’s first scan of your landing page. After they’ve finished, then go back and ask them to tell you where they’re getting hung up or what is being misunderstood. I typically ask questions like “What would make it clearer for you?” Very often the reply is exactly the improvement the landing page needs.

It’s good to stay up on eye-tracking studies, especially in this new Internet medium. The Internet marketing industry is still very new. We’re going to be learning things or relearning things for many years.

Some things that work in traditional media carry over neatly to online, while others do not.

11. Bonus Tip: Repeat after me: “I don’t know it all.” In addition to finding out what works and what doesn’t work with regard to Internet marketing and specifically landing pages, realize that it’s a moving target. That is, the audience is a moving target. Their level of sophistication is growing rapidly. The technology is changing and how we use online and landing pages is a work in progress.

That which worked just a few years ago may not work so well now. Time was when people would click on a banner just because it was there and looked interesting. Now they don’t have time for it. Blasting out emails helter skelter used to work. Now it doesn’t.

One thing you can count on is that offers are becoming more and more specific via Internet marketing and landing pages. The more specific the offer, the higher the response rate and the more qualified the prospect. In other words, this is good news for the savvy Internet marketer because it will cause him to spin his wheels less on unqualified leads, while allowing him to spend more time on qualified leads that will result in a more robust return on investment.


Top 10 Things to Measure on Your Website

Below, Jim gives us his Top 10 Things You Must Measure On Your Website. Now, without further ado, here’s Jim Sterne. -Larry Chase

Investing more in your website without measuring how well it’s working is simply gambling. You may as well be flipping a coin. How should you measure online success? Below are the 10 things you must measure in order to validate your investment.

1. How Fast Is It?

Customer Care Coach, JoAnna Brandi, put it so well in a 1995 presentation about website load times. “Come on, come on,” she said anxiously, “I don’t have all minute!” Yes, your customers may all have broadband now, but your website has dynamic content, JavaScript page tags, nested cascading style sheets and background-loading Web 2.0 pop-outs and flyovers. If your website takes an additional, unnecessary second to load, you may be chasing visitors away. Usability Expert Jakob Nielsen puts it this way, “Every Web usability study I have conducted since 1994 has shown the same thing: Users beg us to speed up page downloads. In the beginning, my reaction was along the lines of ‘let’s just give them better design and they will be happy to wait for it’. I have since become a reformed sinner since even my skull is not thick enough to withstand consistent user pleas year after year.” So how fast is your website? How long does it take to process a credit card? Are you even monitoring it?

2. How Often Does Your Website Hiccup?

If your website is too slow, not only will your visitors give up on you, your server will give up. Do you know the difference between a 408 Request Timeout error and a 504 Gateway Timeout error? Is anybody looking at how often those happen on your site? Of course you know what a 404 Not Found error is, but are you keeping track of how many your site serves? Do you look to see which links are bad? Stay on top of the HTTP status codes because every visitor that gets an error page blames you. Another black eye for your brand.

3. How Many People Show Up?

Even this early in the game, it’s necessary to point out the precision problem with Web Analytics – the numbers ain’t exact. Due to cache files, proxy servers, cookie deletion and a whole host of gremlins and gotchas, you can only get a relative count of how many people showed up today. But count them you must. While today’s number may not be exact, if you count them the same way tomorrow, then the percentage difference will be true. “There are 5% more visitors here today than yesterday,” is a very valid and useful number. “We got 15% more visitors with keyword X than with keyword Y,” is also useful. So, count those visitors. Graph the line over time and pay attention to spikes and troughs so you can repeat the spikes and avoid the troughs.

4. Which Are the Most Popular Pages?

What on your website is so interesting? Which pages attract the most attention? No, “The Home Page” is not an acceptable answer. People land on your home page and leave. People repetitively use your home page for navigation, so that doesn’t count. You need to know which content people are most hungry for and make it easier for them to find it. Then, give them more. Give them more details if they seem to eat them up and back off where they are not interested. People will look at a dozen pages to purchase a $1,000 digital camera, but only spend about a half a page for one priced at $25.

5. Which Way Did They Go?

A banner ad that brings in a million people is great – unless they take one look at the landing page and hit the Back button so fast it makes their mouse spin. Did those visitors at least look at the next page? And the one after that? Follow them around your site to see where they go, not out of mere curiosity but because you have a path in mind for each journey for each type of visitor. Buying a watch takes a few clicks of research, a few clicks for comparison, a few clicks for pricing and then a very specific path through the purchasing process to the thank you page. There is magic in those navigation paths. Make minor changes to the elements on the pages along that path and track whether the result of each change was good or bad. Don’t let up as you are now in the realm of continuous improvement. For every visitor that clicks through, you steadily increase the probability that he or she is going to subscribe, register, join, discuss or buy.

6. What Are They Looking For?

More and more, people come to your website by way of a search engine. But their searching isn’t over. Google or Yahoo or Ask might have been under the impression that one of your pages is just the right one for this one searcher, but upon arrival, the visitor simply continues searching. You now have two very valuable pieces of information. First, you know which search term brought that person to your site. You know which are the most popular traffic-driving search terms. Tune your site for these search terms in order to attract even more of those types of visitors. You may need to de-tune your attractiveness for other terms in order to attract fewer of that type. The second valuable piece of information is found in the terms people search for once they are on your site. These people like to navigate through your site’s search capability. Inspect the search results pages you serve in response to those terms. Watch to see if those searchers are clicking on any of those links. Can those results pages be improved?

7. How Did They Get Here?

If people flock to your website all by themselves, then congratulations. You bought a piece of property that has gold in them thar hills. The rest of us have to pay for the traffic we get. We buy banners, newsletter ads, keywords and more in hopes that people will click our way. Therefore, you owe it to yourself to note the cost of each visit and the associated value. If you’re paying $2.00 for search engine keyword clicks, then you want to know which keywords are bringing people to your site. You’ll want to track them to see if they stayed and paid or just clicked and split. The process of continuous improvement assures that you will steadily increase your return on keyword investment. Just stop spending on the promotions that bring in low traffic or poor traffic and spend more on those that bring in the results. And speaking of results…

8. Did We Achieve Our Goals?

At the end of the day – or the month – did you end up with more subscriptions, registrations, customers, orders, profits or whatever else you were hoping for when you built your site? Does your company even have a clearly delineated set of desired outcomes for your site? This turns out to be a serious political question for most companies, and I am constantly surprised by the disagreement and cross-purposes I discover during my strategy consulting. Higher revenue, lower costs, higher customer satisfaction, fewer calls to the call center – they’re all on the table and for each one, there is somebody with a vested interest. Taking goal tracking all the way to best practices, the sites that consistently achieve their goals and do so faster have correlated their goals with their compensation plans. Goals and stretch goals with bonuses attached paint a glow-in-the-dark picture of what the company wants from the website. That makes continuous improvement a happy result for all involved.

9. Are They Happy About Their Visit?

So far, we’ve focused on what people do on your site. Now, you need to understand why they do it and how they feel about it. Surveys, questionnaires and usability studies all reveal the thought behind the click. They give you a visitor’s-eye view of your website. People will express confusion, frustration and exasperation at what you think are your best site features. They will point to the things that don’t make sense outside the little bubble of knowledge in your company. They will show you where your website is hurting your brand and may actually be encouraging your would-be customers to click over to your competitors. Listen to them complain – they will expose your site’s weaknesses and identify the places where a little attention can go a long way.

10. Are We Using Our Own Metrics?

How do you know if your website is working? You measure it. But how do you know if your measurements are working? Increases in outcomes may be all you’re after, but you can’t know those outcomes are connected to your metrics unless you measure the number of times your metrics are used. Let’s say you produce a hundred reports every month, but nobody looks at them. At the same time, your sales figures continue to climb. All may seem in order. But, if your metrics are ignored, then that sales increase is due to some external factor – a factor that could have been leveraged had you been studying the metrics and taking action on the numbers.

Set goals. Make changes. Track results. Repeat. Those are the instructions for a bigger, better, faster, stronger website.


How thick is your head and how long is your tail

According to the WOMMA Wombat2 2006 study roughly 88% of internet users
“locate websites” using search engines. This is a rather
obvious fact and we do our best with our Search Engine Optimization
(SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) efforts to maximize our
exposure via search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask etc).

But as might be obvious not all search efforts are created equal.
Specifically in the context of key words and key phrases for your
business there are those that bring in gobs and gobs of traffic and
then there is the, now famous, delightful long tail.

This post is a bit long but, I think, it contains non-obvious challenging concepts from which anyone could benefit. You’ll dive deep into search analysis with these three parts:

  • Compute: How thick is your “head”? How long is your “tail”?
  • Learn: Definitions of Brand & Category phrases & why they matter.
  • Execute: A new killer Search Marketing strategy.

Each part can be studied independently and I am confident
you’ll find it beneficial. But my hidden agenda is to share with
you a radical way to rethink your search marketing program. Please read
the whole thing when you have time, I promise you’ll either end
up making lots of money or saving lots of money!

Understanding the Long Tail:

    There is some confusion about what the “long tail” really refers to. Put simply it states: lots
    of key phrases individually account for little traffic by themselves
    but collectively all those key phrases often could account for a huge
    amount of traffic
    . The long tail phenomenon is not unique to
    search keywords, it has often been used to describe the success of (powered by the efficiencies that the internet enables).

    The below image illustrates the phenomenon. In the x-axis are individual key phrases (Note: Did
    you know that at some point last year the average number of keywords
    used in a search in Google reached three? If your business is still
    thinking in terms of one keyword you will miss a lot of traffic, the
    name of the game is key phrases
    .) On y-axis are the number of visits that resulted from each key phrase (you can also use Visitors if you want).


    If you do this plot for your website you’ll notice that just a
    few key phrases (ok, or key words) will account for most of your
    visits. That’s your “Head”. Then
    there will be lots of key phrases that will each contribute little
    traffic, but there are lots of them. Meet your “Long Tail”.

Compute: How thick is your “head”? How long is your “tail”?

    Go into the search report for your tool and look at the report that
    shows all the keywords for the last, say, six months (if you are a
    seasonal business pick the months that span your peak season). - Indextools: Search Head

    It should look something like the above (mine above is from indexTools).

    Dump the data into excel, just search key phrases by Visits would
    do. Do a simple graph that has key phrases on x-axis and Visits on the
    y-axis. This is what you’ll get (I had to cut off the tail in
    this picture because it was really really long!): Search: Head and Long Tail

    While your business might be different there is a high likelihood that your graph will look like the one above.

    At approximately the tenth key phrase draw the green line,
    that’s your head. If you are in a unique and diversified business
    your head might be much be much thinner.

    From my experience usually between five to fifteen key phrases
    form the head, or imagined another way your head, again from my
    experience (YMMV), approximately 55% to 75% of your traffic might be
    coming from your head keywords (scary!!).

What insights will you find?

  • First you have something pretty to look at, even with the ugliness of Excel. 🙂
    All joking aside visualizing your search engine traffic in this manner can give you a whole new perspective of the game. This can be so insightful that I think this graph should be standard in all web analytics tools.
  • You’ll be humbled to find that while you have a world
    dominating search strategy of 500,000 key phrases that just ten or so
    result in almost all the traffic. 
  • You’ll learn what are the key phrases for which you bear the
    greatest exposure, someone else comes in a bids huge amounts for those
    then you’ll lose lots.
  • It is likely that you’ll find that your Head portion is
    dominated by Brand key phrases and your Tail is dominated by Category
    key phrases.
    This will in turn start critical discussions for your
    search team / Agency about the most effective SEO and SEM (Pay Per
    Click – PPC) strategy for your company.

Actions you might take:

  • Undertake a critical analysis of your head and tail key
    phrases. Are 10 key phrases enough? Should three be more? Is your
    head only five keywords? What are the surprises in your long tail? Are
    all your main key phrases stuffed there? What are the keywords that
    people use to find you in your long tail that are surprising?
  • Work with you key decision makers to document exactly what your Search strategy should be.
  • Partner with your Search Agency (or internal search team) to
    evaluate if you giving the right “love and attention” to
    your head and tail, what changes need to be made to your current
Search Keywords: Head & Tail Benchmarking

Learn: Definitions of Brand & Category phrases & why they matter.


    A brand key phrase (/key term / keyword) is typically defined as one
    that is connected to your “company existence”. So brand key
    phrases are your company name and names of your products and services,
    they are your trademark etc.

    Category key phrases are typically those that are not directly
    connected with you and are more generic words and phrases that are
    typically connected to your industry / ecosystem.

    Some examples might help understand these definitions. From
    the second figure on this post (the screenshot from indexTools):

      Brand Key Phrases: occams razor, avinash kaushik, avinash, occams razor blog, 90/10 rule, 90 10 rule, kaushik.

      Category Key Phrases: competitive intelligence, path analysis, how to measure success.

    Some brand terms are obvious, name of the blog and my name. Other
    are not quite obvious, 90/10 is also considered a brand term because I
    had authored the 10/90 rule for magnificent web analytics success.

    You’ll notice that category terms are specific to our industry but not specific to me/this blog.

    Another example is that while Tide, Dawn, Bounty, Duracell and
    Oral-B are brand terms for P&G, clean clothes, sparkling dishes,
    kitchen supplies, portable power and whiter teeth are all category

Why should you care?

    When it comes to search  key phrases this is the typical distribution you’ll see in your head and tail analysis:

    The long tail - keyword types

    Most of your visitors will find you using your Brand terms. That
    makes sense because more people who type in key phrases associated
    with you will find your web pages higher in the search results and
    hence will most likely end up on your website.

    Your long tail will be full of Category key terms simply because
    these are people who are searching using generic key phrases. For these
    phrases others will show up in the search results and you’ll have
    to work much harder to show up on page one.

    Another important distinction is that visitors who search using your
    Brand key phrases typically know who you are in some way, that should
    be obvious because they are using key words most associated with you.
    Visitors who use Category key phrases are usually not your customers,
    they are people early in the buying cycle, they are in a research mode,
    they are looking for options. Some Marketers refer to these types of
    Visitors as Prospects.

    Bottom-Line: You should worship at the alter of
    the Category gods if you want to grow your business.  You
    want to show up higher in search results when Searchers are still
    considering their options and have not made up their minds, it is a
    opportunity to capture new customers by exposing your brand early on.

Now let’s tie this all together……

Execute: A new killer Search Marketing strategy.

Many companies have a sub optimal SEO and SEM (PPC) execution
strategy. When someone comes to a marketer with a pot of money to do
search engine marketing they immediately collect the key words and key
phrases that are most closely associated with the company and go bid on
them. As a result often almost entire SEM budgets are expended on
trying to show up # 1 in sponsored listing (to avoid the
“cataclysmic event” of not showing up #1 – note the hint of

    Go back to Excel and your search key phrase analysis and your head
    – tail graphs (it gets a bit more advanced from here on).

    First split out the percentage of Visits in your head key phrases
    that result from SEM (PPC) vs Organic (SEO). Now do the same for your
    Tail key phrases.

    Second identify the amount of budget that you are spending on your head and tail key phrases.

    The result might look like this:

    Search Head - Tail : Spend Analysis

What insights will you find?

    There is some amazingly powerful stuff here, let this table slosh around in your brain for a few minutes. 🙂

    Most of your SEM money is being spent on the head key phrases.
    Remember that is just the top ten or fifteen keywords. There is also no
    solace in realizing that those key phrases are almost all your Brand
    key phrases which will typically not bring Visitors who are Prospects
    to your site (Prospects who will help you grow your business).

    You might also notice that while you spend such a small part of your
    budget on your long tail key words (and they are in all likelihood
    Category key  phrases) that you are able to get a huge bang for
    the buck.

    Bottom-Line: If you had a effect SEO & SEM
    strategy should you have to pay to get traffic that you rightly deserve
    (your brand traffic)?

Actions you might take:

    Optimize your SEO and SEM strategies.

    If you have a effective search engine optimization strategy then you
    should show up with a high rank when people search for brand key
    phrases. Piling on and paying huge bid amounts through your SEM
    programs just to make up for the fact that your SEO strategy is
    ineffective or not working is sub optimal (and expensive).

    It also means that all your SEM spend is focussed on getting people
    who know you. How will you grow (find prospects) your business if that
    is the case?

Killer Search Marketing strategy recommendation:

Radical Search Marketing Strategy

    (Ok ok I know that the graphic above illustrates that I am not a good artist! : )).

      # 1 Focus your SEM budgets deliberately to leverage the Long Tail (/Category key terms).

      It is very hard to show up high when people search using
      Category (generic) key phrases, there are lots of

      The most powerful use of your search marketing budget is to show up
      high in sponsored results (SEM / PPC) for Category key phrases.
      You’ll capture prospects and introduce yourself to them early in
      the consideration / buying cycle.

      Another feature of Category terms is that they cost less, because
      they are usually generic and focus on niches and you won’t find
      lots of competition there, so you can use the same budget to bid on
      more key phrases (this is why ebay shows up on every term under the

      # 2 Focus all your SEO efforts on SEO’ing the heck out
      of your website / web pages for your Brand key terms (those that are in
      your Head).

      This simplifies your SEO problem greatly by having you focus on,
      say, twenty key phrases. How hard can that be? It will be also be much
      easier to truly optimize your site with such hyper focus (vs. trying to
      globally optimize your site by SEO efforts that contain forty seven
      thousand keywords and key phrases).

      If you do this well you’ll show up high when Visitors search
      using your brand key terms. It also means that you are not paying too
      much for people who already know you (you’ll reach them through
      your effort #1 above.)

    Of course this will not happen over time but you can easily imagine
    how you can slowly ramp up your SEO efforts and start getting traffic
    on Brand terms and at the same time start bidding on your Category key

    This is not globally adaptable to 100% of the businesses
    on the web, but hopefully it challenges 100% of you to think different
    about your search strategy.

 In Conclusion: The Summary:

    Understanding how your head and the long tail stacks up can be a
    powerful source of insights. If you adapt your SEO and SEM strategy to
    effectively leverage your strengths (your brand) then you’ll be
    able to use your limited marketing funds to focus on attracting new
    customers to your franchise and do so at a beautifully optimal price


List burnout wisdom

“We have recently invested in a high end stats package that does a lot more than others we researched, and unlike what I’ve seen with Google Analytics, you can bank on the data you get. In using Google Analytics I’ve found that it only counts traffic from a slice of the actual number of visitors to my site. Some people speculate that it’s because Google’s third party cookie doesn’t get set on many people’s browsers.”

“Google Analytics registered half of the users we had registered through WebTrends, which was a little depressing.”

“Web traffic comes in hits …. each request from the browser to the server is a unique item, and there is no such thing as a session or a visit. When it comes to extrapolating derived metrics like visits, each web reporting tool uses its own algorithms to decide which group of hits belong to the same visitor, and which don’t, and you’ll get very different answers from different tools. A variety of techniques are used to identify which visitor is which (IP address, time, user agent headers, cookies, etc.) and none are perfect.

Hence, if you are using the web reports to make business decisions, it is essential to compare like with like.” (a guy from Convio)


List burnout wisdom

1) Often organizations experience burnout not because of the frequency of communications, but because of the *quality* of them. Specifically, we still seem to be in a weird phase where the person most often authoring email communications is picked because they are either: a) The one who writes press releases and/or direct mail, and thus are the “stuff with words guy” or b) The one who knows how to code in Drupal, so they must be the “all things Interweb” guy.

What organizations need is someone who really knows how to design messages that are Internet friendly, and emotionally impactful enough to spur spreading. This sounds eminently logical, and in the category of “duh,” and yet… I challenge you to read through the emails of some of the largest orgs, political parties, presidential campaigns, etc., and ask yourself if they really are likely to be read AND spread.

2) The 117 rule: ask yourself HONESTLY this question – if the recipient had 117 other emails in his/her email box when yours one came in, would it one stick out? Would this one be the one that was read? Spread? If the answer is “no,” then go back and re-write, dammit!

It’s a high bar, I know, but… it never ceases to amaze me how many people will spend hours, days, or weeks agonizing over an in-person presentation to 100 people, and yet will spend very little time on an email to 100 THOUSAND people. (“…just cut and paste that press release, it’s been spell checked so it must be fine, yada, yada, yada…”).

3) Test for “read” and “spread” – specifically, I think most folks will assume that the metrics of success are open rates or click through rates, but… I’d strongly encourage you to look at viral passaround rates over time as the ultimate measure. Sure, it’s nice if they read, and nicer still if they click through, but if you’re sending messages to people with 1000s of addresses in their email books, and they’re not taking the time to forward – then you’re leaving potential supporters and donors on the table.

4) Personalize and customize: get as much data (actively AND passively provided) as possible from the supporters, and customize the outgoing messages accordingly. For example, if I got a message about “why global warming is really bad,” I probably wouldn’t read it, but if I got a message about ,”why global warming is really bad, and why it is 5 times as likely to cause spontaneous combustion among Slovak-Italians who went to school in New England and now live in DC,” well… yeah, I’d click through and read it for sure.

Obviously, you can drive yourself nuts taking this too far, and this takes time, but… even a small amount of customization and personalization based on issue affinity and demographics can make a big difference in whether the recipient deems your emails to be relevant, or irrelevant.

John Hlinko
Vice President, Marketing and Creative Engagement
Grassroots Enterprise


10 High-Profit Redesign Priorities

I often write about the top mistakes in Web design, but what are the top things you can do to make more money? Following here are 10 Internet tactics with a particularly high return on investment (ROI).
1. Email Newsletters
Email newsletters let you maintain a relationship with your customers that lasts beyond their visits to your site. The newsletter is the perfect website companion because it answers a different user need: newsletters keep customers informed and in touch with the company; websites give customers detailed information and let them perform business transactions.

Newsletters are fairly cheap. They require little technology and mustn’t be published too frequently. If you don’t have a newsletter, then publishing one is probably the single-highest ROI action you can take to improve your Internet presence. If you do have a newsletter, then improving it according to research findings will likely make it several times more valuable to your organization. (Most of the newsletters we’ve tested failed to meet users’ expressed desire for good communication.)

Newsletters have one more benefit: they are the primary way to liberate your site from dependence on search engines. In the long run, achieving this liberation is one of the most important strategic challenges facing Internet managers.
2. Informative Product Pages
The product pages on e-commerce sites, marketing sites, and B2B sites all suffer from information deficit. It’s rare to see product descriptions that tell prospects everything they need to know to make a purchasing decision.

In my recent book, I present data showing that poor product information accounted for 8% of the usability problems on the websites we tested. Even worse, poor product information accounted for 10% of the user failures (that is, cases where users gave up, as opposed to “just” being delayed or annoyed). Designing product pages according to user needs is a highly targeted way to encourage sales at a point where users have already indicated interest by virtue of visiting the page.

You need detailed product information, but it must be written in a way that makes sense to people who aren’t experts in your field. For example, on the product page for a laptop, don’t be like Dell and tell people that the screen is “WSXGA+.” Tell them it’s 1680 x 1050 pixels. (Be honest: did you know this? And you’re probably five times as geeky as a normal person.) Or, better yet, be like Apple and show different screen resolutions next to each other so users can see how much data is visible with each.
3. High-Quality Photography
One of the simplest ways to improve product pages is to show better photographs. For the hero shot at the top of the page, show the most representative photo in a small size. Below that, offer several additional photos that show different angles and close-up details. Also, remember mistake #10 of the top-10 Web-design mistakes of 2005: linking from small pictures to pictures that are only slightly bigger. Instead, link to photos that are as close to full-screen enlargements as possible.

Using huge enlargements might seem to contradict the guideline about fast response times for downloading Web pages. But there’s a big difference between bloating a navigational page with irrelevant graphics and showing a big photo after the user asked for it. In the first case, the slow download interrupts the user’s flow. In the second case, the delay is expected, and while delays are never welcome, they are less of a problem when they’re clearly necessary to fulfill a user request.

A great downside of the online medium is that people can’t touch and feel your products. But close-ups and quality photographs can still give users a good approximation of a product’s tactile qualities, and they are essential to making people feel good about buying online.

For software products or online services, show full-resolution screenshots instead of photos.
4. Product Differentiation and Comparisons
You must soothe user fears about buying the wrong product, or they’ll postpone their purchases and probably never buy from your site. When you have multiple products in the same category, you must explain product differences so clearly that it’s obvious to people without industry expertise why they should buy one particular product over the others.

Product differentiation is obviously easier for companies that simplify their product lines in the first place. Why offer many different products with virtually no true differences? For example, Dell has four different models of laptops: Inspiron, Latitude, Precision, and XPS, several of which are available in six different trim lines. If there’s a clear difference between the models, it’s not explained well on the website.

Even if you have a small and clearly defined product line, you must make the differences blatantly obvious on your site.

Comparison tools can also help users choose and thus overcome decision paralysis and facilitate sales. But such tools work well only when they illustrate key differences in a concise and unambiguous manner. Too often, websites take the easy way out and simply throw up a huge table of specifications without highlighting the points where products differ.
5. Support for Reordering
I’ve already mentioned the best way to get repeat business: offer an email newsletter, which will keep customers thinking about you even when they’re not ready to buy. Then, when they want to spend money, they’ll remember you.

To make people spend more money, make it easy to reorder. People often need the same things again and again. Why require them to navigate five levels down your site each time? In B2B, customers often need to order supplies, spare parts, or accessories for equipment they’ve already bought, so you should also facilitate those types of supplementary orders.

In one of our studies last month, test participants especially appreciated it when FreshDirect, an online grocer, let them reorder from their previous shopping lists.

Reordering is a matter of total user experience, beyond the website’s user interface. Compose your product line with a view toward reordering. Continue to carry classic products so that people can order new copies of things they like. If you need to launch new products, keep sizes and similar parameters the same. For example, a customer who bought a sweater last year should be able to buy this year’s model in the same size and be guaranteed that it’ll fit equally well. Keeping sizes identical is much more important for etailing than for the physical retail channel, where customers can try things on before buying.
6. Simplified Text
You can usually double website or intranet usability simply by rewriting the text to follow the guidelines for online content. Better writing is probably the single most important improvement you can make to your site, but it appears fairly far down the top-10 list because it’s not a one-time fix. You must hire good writers for all your projects, train them in writing for the Web, and have all of their content edited by even better editors who are even more knowledgeable about content usability.

Expensive though they may be, editors are always worth the cost.
7. Catering to Seniors
Older people are the fastest-growing segment of Internet users. In fact, they are virtually the only remaining growth market in rich countries, where most of the younger people who want to get online already have accounts.

Many senior citizens are rich and have time on their hands. When it becomes difficult for them to get around, the Internet becomes a natural place for them to spend some of their vast piles of money. Seniors are also less into piracy and tend to be more loyal than fad-chasing young people.

Best of all, you can take advantage of the fact that most websites discriminate horribly against older users. Even government websites that supposedly target retirees are designed according to guidelines for thirty-somethings. Because so many sites are hard for them to use, seniors will shower you with business if you’re the honorable exception who acknowledges their special needs. (And, those needs aren’t even that special — it’s much easier to make sites usable for seniors than for users with disabilities, plus there are many more seniors and they tend to be richer.)
8. Gift-Giving Support
Wishlists and gift certificates are low-cost features that give you incremental sales and introduce your site to new customers.
9. Search
Maybe search shouldn’t be on this list; even though the benefits from improving it are immense, the required investment is fairly high — certainly higher than for the other redesign initiatives listed here. Thus, the cost/benefit ratio is not as stunningly favorable for search as it is for my other recommendations. It’s still favorable, though, so you should work on it.

Users increasingly depend on search as a primary interface to the Web. While search is getting fairly good for the Internet at large, it remains miserable on most websites and intranets.

Fixing your site’s search requires that you buy and install better search software, and then tune it for your content and user queries (by adapting the spell-checking suggestions, for example). Worse, you must fix your content so that it’s searchable. For example, you have to write meaningful page titles that actually explain the page’s content so that people will know what they’ll get when they click on a search hit. You also have to write using your users’ vocabulary.

While it’s expensive to rewrite your content for findability, doing so also improves your standing in external search engines, and SEO (search engine optimization) is one of the highest-ROI Internet marketing tactics. This is a much better investment than running ads that most users won’t see due to banner blindness.
10. User Testing
User testing should really be #1 on this list because of its ability to set your project right with almost no investment. But I know that most readers tune out when I harp too much on the need for testing: people prefer to be told what to do rather than run their own studies.

However unpopular, I still recommend that you do your own user testing. There are always issues that are unique to your own industry that can’t be resolved by reading general research insights. And remember: usability studies can be cheap, especially when you use low-cost paper prototypes that let you test an interface while it’s still in the early design phase.
Bonus Tactic: Loyalty Program
For 10 years, I’ve recommended loyal-user programs, such as frequent-browser points modeled after airlines’ frequent-flyer miles. Virtually no websites have taken me up on this idea, so I can’t claim that it’s a proven high-ROI tactic like those on the official top-10 list. But, take loyalty programs as a bonus idea: it’s likely to be one of the main ways the Internet can fight back against search engine overlords and return more of the value to the websites that create it.

We’ve recently been observing people shopping online and are seeing some user loyalty emerge: more users are now starting out at a preferred site rather than a search engine. Perhaps we’re finally seeing some websites that are good enough to be worthy of a bit of loyalty.

To encourage more loyalty, reward your repeat users. Discount offers and free shipping are the obvious ideas, but a website is a computer and we can go beyond these old-world approaches. For example, there are products in limited supply that sell out every holiday shopping season; give your loyal users first dibs on your allocation — or let them register for future allocations before you make them available to the general public.
Serving Customers, Not Chasing Hype
The high-ROI ideas I have highlighted here have one thing in common: they add value to your site by enhancing its value for customers. That is, they give users what they want and need. These ideas are not the latest over-hyped stories the trade press loves to cover. Users want you to get back to basics and invest in the simple things that really matter to them.

Interface design is about making money for the company. Execution and workmanship are what you need, not fashion and advanced features. Do the basics, and do them well.