Digital Marketing and the Importance of Not Going It Alone

If you build a coalition of champions for your digital marketing as you’re building your website, you’ll find them an extremely helpful group once your marketing is underway.

I talk a lot about how important a thoughtful and comprehensive planning process is for successful web development projects — particularly if you have expectations for your new website to contribute to your digital marketing efforts.

One aspect of that planning process worth keeping in mind even after site launch – throughout the life of your digital marketing efforts, in fact – is getting buy-in and building consensus. In other words, it’s a mistake to go it alone.

There are a number of ways that it’s beneficial to get your colleagues to buy into a shared vision of what your new website should be. The two that I want to address for on-going attention are

  • Getting the Best Information
  • Building Believers

Spotlighting the dream team

Getting the Best Information

It’s incredibly difficult to view the world from someone else’s perspective. (See Washington, D.C. and just about every state capitol …) So perhaps the most important reason we have for getting our stakeholders involved early is to get as much pertinent information from them as possible. Instead of struggling to pretend you’re someone you’re not, get those people to contribute their thoughts on how your digital marketing will best serve their needs.

Obviously, this makes perfect sense as you’re building your new site. It can be just as helpful post-launch, when your goal is to adapt your efforts as data begins to tell a story about how well your site is working. They’re the experts and have the knowledge you need – product knowledge, client knowledge, market knowledge.

Building Believers

An added benefit of seeking out stakeholder opinions as you’re planning your site is that you frequently can give those stakeholders a feeling of ownership. Rather than feeling forced to use a tool that’s been delivered from on high, they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership and put in the effort required to use the tools you’ve created.

Post-launch, these benefits continue as your true believers are likely to help you to continue shaping a tool rather than abandoning it if it isn’t quite hitting all the marks it needs to.

Your goals as as marketer can’t be limited to success within your department or metrics that are of limited value. (Likes, subscribers, and followers don’t pay the rent for most of us.) You have to aim to have business-wide impact as measured by business metrics – leads, sales, and revenue.

That’s much easier to achieve if you have a broader base to stand on and a broad coalition of champions helping you to help them.

Website Design, Readability and Usability

Mention the concept of readability and most of us think of things like Flesch-Kincaid scores and grade levels. But there’s another side to readability that is too often overlooked: design. Here are a few points to consider when you are guiding your design team or evaluating their content-related work.

Mention the concept of readability and most of us think of things like Flesch-Kincaid scores and grade levels. But there’s another side to readability that is too often overlooked: design.

As a new website is being designed, layouts are typically created for all page types. Even if dummy or “greeked” content is used, that content is styled to match the overall design and with the intention that content on the site will match.

That’s a good first step toward ensuring solid usability, but placeholder text rarely has the same range of elements as real text — the headlines and subheadlines, bullet points and pull quotes, and most critically, the links that are an important part of any website.

To combat the problem — and to keep coders from making design and usability decisions as they build out the site — here are a few points to consider when you are guiding your design team or evaluating their content-related work.

Readability: Content vs. Control

If a website does not create a distinction between editorial content and navigational controls, you will sense a problem. You may not notice it in the way a design or UX expert would, but you will notice it because the site will make you stop and think, perhaps just momentarily, about whether what you’re looking at is information to be processed or a way to move around the site.

This is rarely an issue for the main menu on a site, which are set apart from page content quite plainly and is usually consistent on nearly every page of a site. You’re more likely to run into issues with submenus and, especially, with content that doesn’t quite fit the site’s overall structure.

The latter occurs when a site wasn’t built with, say, a third level of pages in mind, and there is one small area of the site that needs that extra depth. Hardly ever will a content manager want to be bothered with calling in the designers for so small an issue, so the extra level is created as an afterthought.

Without a designer and with the inevitable focus on speed, it’s no wonder you can wind up with content that looks like navigation and navigation that looks like content.

Linking Properly

Menus always make links obvious, but there are times when it is necessary — and more appropriate — for links to appear as text within the page content. How you set these links apart is an important part of usability and a key design consideration. That said, this is a place where a designer can sometimes get in the way.

While nobody wants to see text links that look like they came straight out of 1996 — except maybe Craigslist — but from a usability standpoint, that’s a far better alternative than links that are designed to “match” the page design to the point that they are nearly undetectable. Yes, a dark gray link will match black text better than bright blue, but nobody is going to know it’s a link — especially if it’s not bold, underlined, or a different typeface.

Craig's List Screen Shot - High Readability?

There’s a lot of ground in the middle between these two options. Be sure to maximize usability first and design second.

Does It Scan?

There are hundreds of resources that will offer opinions about how long each line of text should be on your website, how large your type should be, and even whether serif or sans serif fonts are more readable. You can drive yourself mad trying to find rules to follow. Your best bet is to keep it simple.

Thinking: The Mistake Your Website Shouldn’t Make

Anyone who’s spent any time around me at all knows I’m a fan of Steve Krug’s book, “Don’t Make Me Think.” But what exactly does that mean? Clearly, we do want them to think about our content. What we don’t want them to think about is how to find our content or the contact form or anything else for that matter. We want to avoid playing with expectations. Cleverness should not get in the way of clarity.

Anyone who’s spent any time around me at all knows I’m a fan of Steve Krug’s book, “Don’t Make Me Think.” But what exactly does that mean? Clearly, we do want them to think about our content.

What we don’t want them to think about is how to find our content or the contact form or anything else for that matter. We want to avoid playing with expectations. Cleverness should not get in the way of clarity.

With that in mind, and the hope that you’ll find a copy of Don’t Make Me Think for yourself — it’s a quick read! — here are some of the practical applications of the “Krug Philosophy.”

Keep It Simple

If you overproduce a web page — as can often happen if it’s the design team that’s leading the show — it’s more likely that visitors will dismiss important information as marketing fluff. This goes for the big picture as well as granular elements like buttons and links. That isn’t to say that your site needs to look like Craigslist, but you should be sure that user-friendliness doesn’t take a back seat to design for design’s sake.

Two notes on this: first, simplicity may be, well, simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If you’re going to have “less design,” you’re probably going to have to sweat the details more to get it right. And second, laugh at Craigslist if you want, but first have a look at the website of perhaps the world’s leading usability experts, the Nielsen Norman Group. Chances are, they’re site resembles the Craigslist site more than it does yours.

Keep It Digestible

You might be tempted to tell them everything you can. Don’t. If you think that laying it all out there is the way not to miss anyone who might be even vaguely interested in what you’re selling you’re wrong.

First of all, doing so makes you sound desperate, like a kid laying out every possible reason, most of them entirely irrelevant, why she should be allowed to go to the big party this weekend …

Second, well, it’s too much. People will skip the wall of text in search of something that can give them the information they want quickly.

But be sure you understand why speed is so important here. I don’t buy the whole “short attention span” argument in this case. Most of us have plenty of attention to give to the things that are important. But we’re all busy and we want to solve our problems quickly. Concise copy make that possible. Give me the supporting data at a secondary level. I’ll seek it out if I want it.

Make Search Matter

It has to work, its granularity has to fit the needs of the site, and results pages have to be useful. In other words, don’t provide more facets/filters than you have content to support. The result will be too many empty search results pages, which never looks good.

Who Holds the Keys to Your Marketing Kingdom?

Stop for just a minute and run a quick mental audit on the various stakeholders who keep your website alive and healthy. Can you name the company that hosts your website? Where is your domain registered? Do you have links to all of these sites and a list of all the log-in credentials for each of these pieces of the puzzle? I recently met a small business owner who had entrusted the design, build and maintenance of their company’s website to a small 2-man digital agency — and shared a horror story with me.

digital marketingWith our heavy dependence on websites for brand building, lead generation, new product launches and e-commerce, you’d think there would be a set of best practices for maintaining the keys to that kingdom.

If you’re reading this post, then stop for just a minute and run a quick mental audit on the various stakeholders who keep your website alive and healthy. Can you name the company that hosts your website? Where is your domain registered? Who is doing the website maintenance? Who handles your e-commerce payment gateway? Do you have links to all of these sites and a list of all the log-in credentials for each of these pieces of the puzzle?

I recently met a small business owner who had entrusted the design, build and maintenance of the company’s website to a small two-man digital agency — and shared a horror story with me.

It seems she left all the “details” up to the agency. She didn’t know how the website was built — whether it was template or custom code; she had no idea how or where or even who had registered the domain. She didn’t know the details of how the website was maintained — she knew who to call when she had a problem, but trusted that those she paid would take care of her needs. And then one day, that little agency, was gone.

No one answered the phone. No one returned her calls. No one answered her emails for help. She literally had no idea where to turn, and yet she needed her digital storefront maintained or she’d be out of business.

As she told me her story, I realized the same could be true for many other businesses. And, after asking around, it seems her story is not uncommon. When it comes to a website, many business owners entrust an employee, yet don’t ask for a list of service providers, links and log-in credentials so they can maintain a record as back-up. What would they do if one day that employee failed to show up for work?

With all of the digital security risks, it’s a good idea to change passwords regularly. Do you have a system to ensure you get the new password each time it gets reset by your internal or external team?

Don’t get held hostage by an outside partner or internal employee. Don’t risk your brand’s storefront. Stop reading this blog and get the keys to your marketing kingdom before this day is over. You can thank me later.