a blog 

about content and ux

Two kings and the importance of clarity

Two kings and the importance of clarity

In my adopted country of the Netherlands, everyone is focused on the crowning of the first king in over 100 years.  As a web professional, I am focused on another king: content.

Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, the soon to be king, was recently interviewed by journalists.  He spoke clearly with a solid understanding of the issues affecting the Dutch people.  When asked what type of king he would be, he stressed the importance of being yourself.

Inspired by this interview, here are some ideas on how to make your content king.

  • Be yourself – Don’t be afraid to stand out in a crowd. Let people know who you are, what makes you special and why doing business with you is a royal delight.
  • Understand issues of importance Know your audience, show that you understand the issues that are important to them.
  • Define key messages — What message must every web visitor need to understand?  What other messages, do you need to communicate?  If your site has more than one audience, define the key messages for each audience.
  • Avoid clichés — Clichés are ideas that are so overused that they lack meaning. Using clichés show a lack of creativity and weakness.
  • Start a conversation – Willem-Alexander wants to encourage conversation. He doesn’t want people to call him majesty because it hinders contact. Make sure your content encourages conversation and contact.

Above all, remember clarity is your number one usability principle.  It always improves your content. If you’re  pro-monarchy,  long live the king! And if you’re pro-website, long live your content!

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg

Treat your web visitors like guests

Treat web visitors like guests

If you are looking to engage your audience, don’t treat them like customers treat them like guests. Welcome them with open arms, make them feel special.

Special. That’s exactly how I felt at the Citizen M Hotel in London. The lobby was a cozy living room full of comforts. A fireplace. Big comfortable chairs. Books on art, fashion, design and architecture.  Free wifi.  A pleasant and helpful staff. The list goes on.

Every room has a king size bed, great shower and a tablet. The tablet is also a remote. Adjust the lighting, set the alarm, watch movies, listen to the radio, surf the internet. Everything at your fingertips. Turn on a movie and the window shades close to prevent reflection from the sun.

Citizen M feels like a friend with fun personality. Instead of standard hotel stationary, there was a small pad in my room with the message: “great fiction, works of art or rude poems – they all start here.” Enter the elevator and you will see a whimsical video of people sitting around the table. Every ride it’s a different group of people. Just enough to make you smile.

Citizen M is more than a place to sleep.  It is a place to feel special. Like any good host, Citizen M set out to create a great experience for their guests. In the process, they redefined the hotel experience.

Takeaway    Every square meter at Citizen M was designed for guests to feel great. On your next web project, you can design a wonderful user experience for your guests. It requires attention to detail and a total focus on others.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg

You can’t buy web content by the kilo

web content quality over quantity

I love the excitement of Amsterdam’s open air markets. Fruits – vegetables – chicken – fish.  Like so many commodities, you can buy anything by the kilo ……… anything but web content.

Therein lies the challenge for large corporations – everywhere. Too many companies still treat web content as a commodity you can buy in bulk. To them, web content is an afterthought. It’s something you do at the end of a long web development process.

Too often, I hear “we are going live in four weeks, we need 100 pages written, how much?” This commodity thinking may help you meet a deadline but it won’t result in good content. Good content is not about producing web pages in quantity. It’s about creating and fine tuning content that engages your audience.  And that takes time.

So the next time you re-launch your corporate site, surprise your copywriters. Call them in at the beginning of the process. If you don’t already have a content strategy, let your writers create one. Make sure it’s clear what you are trying to achieve and who you are trying to reach. Then create a plan and an internal process to make it all happen.

Takeway – Good web content can be a strategic asset, which engages your audience and builds your brand.  However, if you treat web content like a commodity … you will get what you pay for.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg

Develop websites like a master sushi chef

develop websites master sushi chef

Creating a great website requires a single minded focus on customers and a passion to improve the user experience. It’s very much like creating the ultimate sushi – just ask Jiro Ono, a master sushi chef.

His restaurant is quite modest,  just ten stools situated in a Tokyo subway station. Jiro has been making sushi for over 70 years. Although he is the first sushi chef to receive three Michelin stars, he still strives to perfect his craft – always looking to improve taste and the customer experience.

His secret recipe: combine the best ingredients with the right processes. Jiro selects suppliers with great care. He has separate suppliers for different types of fish.  He prefers experts who, like himself, strive to improve product quality. His workers spend years learning how to dry, cut and prepare a fish. Before octopus is served, it is massaged 50 minutes to give it a tender taste.

To give your website a tender taste, take Jiro’s advice.  Work only with experts, who are dedicated to improving their services.  Select the very best pros in interaction design, usability, programming, content strategy and copywriting. Make sure everyone is a skilled problem solver, who can work in a team towards a common goal.

Be critical and improve your internal processes.  Put content at the heart of your web development process.  Hire a content strategist at the beginning of the project to align your business goals with content. Do a content audit – know what content you already have and what content you still need.

Step into your customers’ shoes.  Understand your company from their perspective. Once you understand their needs, find good writers and provide them a proper briefing.  Give them a clear who, what, why and how. Then let them do their magic to engage your customers.

Takeaway  – Like I learned from Jiro, never stop improving your craft. Combine the best ingredients with right processes. Users will be happy and your website will taste great.  If you want to be inspired, watch the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.

A web writer is different than a copywriter

difference web writer copywriter

It’s 2013, we all live in Web World.  We are light years away from Don Draper and Peggy Olson. Peggy was a copywriter in Mad Men. Her talent: seduce the 1960’s housewife to buy products wrapped in dreams. She wrote copy to persuade, hence the term copywriter.

In Web World, writing is more complicated.  Sometimes we write to inform, sometimes to persuade. Unlike Peggy we don’t have one audience, we have several: customers, suppliers, job seekers and sometimes venture capitalists. And the stories we tell on websites are often non-linear.

A web writer’s assignments are more varied than ads and sales collaterals. They can include: write home page copy, create internal links, describe a sales process, write instructions, tell a story in a tweet, engage customers on a Facebook page. The list goes on.

Don Draper and Peggy Olson weren’t focused on user experience. But in Web World, it’s the only thing that matters. Web writers can contribute by enhancing the readability of their work.

You can enhance readability by making your text clear and easy to scan.  Write headlines so readers know what to expect.  Make your content relevant with ample white space around the text so your message gets noticed and read.  All this makes for a more pleasant read.

As Web World marches into the future, the role of the web writer will continue to evolve.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.


Six lessons from barackobama.com

lessons from obama site

Barack Obama is the first web savvy president.  As he seeks re-election, he is using his online presence and social media to engage US voters and drive traffic to his site.  Here are six lessons you can learn from his website.

1 – Look and feel – The visual appeal of the home page sets a positive tone.  For me, his home page is a like a firm handshake.  It communicates personality, emotion and a sense of determination.  And it also makes me feel welcome.

2 – Messaging — Clear messaging is the heart of any website.  Obama’s concern for people and their well-being is one of his key messages.  You read it in his program.  And you feel it when everyday Americans tell their personal stories.

3 – Storytelling – Storytelling is a great way to inform and persuade.  My favorite is about Margaret, an elderly African American woman, who tells why voting is so important to her.  There is even a page where people can add their own stories.

4 – Visual hierarchy – A visual hierarchy guides a reader through the page and makes sure the most important things get seen first.  Each page is designed so readers can quickly find and comprehend information.  No hesitation – just a smooth ride.

5 – Visuals – Good visuals can tell a story or reinforce a message. Here’s a visual that addresses unemployment.  Looking at the visual, you can quickly grasp the idea that the economy is improving.

6 – Navigation –   A good navigation makes it easy find what you are looking for.  The main navigation has three choices: Get the facts, Get the latest or Get Involved.  Click any of these and again you have three choices. While there is a lot of information, everything is clearly organized.  You never feel lost.

If you are looking to improve your web skills, study this website carefully.  Its storytelling, copywriting, information architecture and interaction design are second to none.  Don’t wait too long, this site will most likely be removed after the election.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.

Do the Steve Krug home page test

Steve Krug home page test

A good home page sets the tone for your site.  That’s why your home page needs to be clear. It lets people know who you are and what you can do for them.

Not everyone enters on the home page, but many still do. When first time visitors come to your home page, will they understand what it’s about?  According to usability expert Steve Krug, “more often than you’d expect, the answer is a surprising and revealing no.”

Test your home page according to Steve Krug’s script.

  • Invite a few people to look at your homepage.
  • Ask them to briefly describe the site and what they make of it.
  • Specifically:  What strikes you about the site? What can you do here? What it’s for?

Although a few people is not a scientific sample, you can gain insights that improve your site’s usability.  I did when I tested my website: wordsandideas.nl.

After testing my home page on three people, I tested my work page.  They understood my home page, but two of them didn’t realize that the thumbnails on my work page were writing samples that should be clicked.  To solve this, I placed “see work” with an arrow in the first thumbnail.

If you are interested in testing your home page or your whole site, pick up Steve Krug’s latest book Rocket Surgery Made Easy.  In his personable way, he outlines a do it yourself approach for finding and fixing usability mistakes.

Like his other book, Don’t Make Me Think, it’s a learning experience that makes you smile.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.


My most feared competitor

web writing tips

There are many talented copywriters out there – some can even write a convincing website.  But, I don’t consider them competition.  My competition is the second hand on the clock.

With web content, it’s always a race against time.  Web readers are often in a rush.  They are overwhelmed with information and have limited attention spans.  You have just a few seconds of someone’s time.  Anything more has to be earned.

To earn extra attention, respect your readers’ time.  Structure the information so it’s easy for them to find what they are looking for.  Use your headlines wisely.  Headlines should be informative, relevant and describe the information that follows.  Based on the headline, people can decide to read on or click away.

Tell a clear story to each target audience in an appealing tone.  Engage them with content that is informative, readable and relevant to their visit.  No fluff, no happy talk, just good usable content.  To save readers’ time, eliminate unnecessary text and images.  Make links clear so people know what to expect before they click.

I am determined to win the web content race against time.  How about you?

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.

Your customers, one size doesn’t fit all

personality type and conversion

Your customers are not a monolithic group, who respond in the same way to your website.  Personality plays a bigger role than you think.

Good salespeople know this. They personalize their sales talk to the person they are speaking with because this increases sales. With the Targeted Persona Model, you can personalize your web experience and significantly increase conversion.

This model is based on the insights of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Keirsey.com and the Eisenberg brothers.

According to this model, there are four personality types. Each one has a different approach to reading a webpage. You need to create content that appeals to each personality type.

  • Competitive (red 15%) – These are entrepreneurs, inventors and people who want to win. They are always interested in the bottom line. They’re not afraid to make decisions on the spot.
  • Spontaneous (yellow 30%) – These are the craftsmen, composers and optimists.  They want to get a taste of life.  Give then a good reason to decide now and they can make a quick decision.
  • Idealist (green 15%) – These are the teachers, counselors and catalysts for change.  They are interested in ideas and concepts. They make decisions on feeling and doing what’s right.
  • Methodical (blue 40%) – These are the supervisors and providers.  They like structure.  They avoid mistakes, don’t like surprises and take time to make the right decision.

How good is this model? Canicas, a Dutch online marketing agency, doubled conversion rates for many of its clients. Canicas researched personality types. They found big differences in online behavior based on these four personality types. Read about their study in Dutch or English.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.


Make your webshop like Schiphol Airport

Your webshop depends on traffic and lots of it.  However, traffic is very difficult to manage.  Schiphol Airport excels in helping people find their way (wayfinding) and creating a good user experience.  You can learn from their example.

Wayfinding consultants Mijksenaar designed the Schiphol wayfinding system to reduce passenger stress. Passengers receive the right information at the right moment to make the next step of their journey.  As a result, they never feel lost.

Developing a wayfinding system starts with the Expert Walkthrough.  The wayfinding designer walks every step the passenger does from the parking area until boarding the plane.  The designer makes sure all signage is clear, comprehensive and consistent. Passengers trust they will be on time for their flight.  Since they are relaxed, they are more likely to enjoy the airport’s shops and restaurants.

Like the airport, your webshop needs to create an experience where customers feel relaxed. You must present the right content at the right moment to help them in their shopping journey.  For example, good product descriptions and reviews help customers make informed decisions.  This puts people at ease and makes them feel confident with their decision.

Do your own version of the Expert Walkthrough and make the same journey as your customers – from home page until check out.  Your customers will begin and end their journeys in different ways so you need to plan for all possibilities.  If there’s something in your process that limits conversion, then you can discover what it is.

Schiphol’s focus on good customer experience has led to several awards.  Your webshop may not win any awards but if you stay focused on your customers, you will certainly be moving in the right direction.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.


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