Optimizing Calls to Action

Too often, websites cram too many calls to action on one page, overwhelming the visitor and creating visual clutter. By examining context and content, you can craft more usable calls to action that both guide your visitors along their journey, while making conversions for your website. 

To find out more, read my post, Context and Content Are King: 3 Ways to Focus Your Calls to Action over on the Elliance blog. 

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Your first idea is not your best idea

The following scenario happens to me on repeat:

When starting a project, I make a quick sketch, see a “perfect” example, or jot down some idea that I think is just the tops.

I misplace it.

Then I become convinced that it was the key to my genius, and I cannot move forward solidly without it.

Then I find it, and it is complete crap. I’m finally free to move forward toward something smarter.

Does this happen to you?

Obviously a lot of good thinking happens between that first moment of conceptualization and the process of planning a feasible, delightful idea. And not all first ideas are bad ideas. Sometimes they are just raw and require cooking.

But in a way, that bad first idea is good. It’s good because it exposes that there is a problem begging for a solution. It’s a note that there is something there to work with, something to improve.

First ideas can also be very, very dangerous. What happens when bad “first ideas” become idealized rather than rejected? Instead, repeated as mantras? What happens when your internal criticism fails you, or you don’t have someone to help you workshop your ideas? Are these the projects you aren’t proud of? 

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Kraft's user-generated content shapes a new product line

Finally, a smart use for user-generated content: listening what customers like, then iterating or innovating from it.

While Kraft s recipes Web site serves the primary purpose of increasing the usage of Kraft brands, it also has proven useful to the company as a barometer for consumer taste preferences. The four varieties in the Cheesy Skillets line chicken and broccoli, ultimate cheeseburger mac, nacho supreme and zesty barbecue chicken were modeled after online recipes that had drawn numerous clicks, comments and high ratings, according to Mr. Grablick.

Read the full NY Times article here: Velveeta Promotes Cheesy Skillets - A Familiar Brand Promotes a New Line of Cheesy and Easy

How common it is for brands to use online ratings and reviews to influence new product ideas? On the surface, it seems like a savvy idea: the ultimate focus group discovery to find out what customers like. A great starting place for product development. Finally, it feels like these sites with copius reviews and rankings might have some greater business end than collecting user data and building email lists. (I won't deny that having ratings, reviews and comments on products and recipes is helpful to website visitors and searchers.)

But, it also feels a little too clever: these online recipes were already quick and easy. Now they are even quicker and easier because the customer can buy a boxed product for $2.50 and "just add meat." From a processed food health standpoint, is it better or worse to make it from scratch with processed ingredients, or just dump processed ingredients out of a box?

Another slightly disturbing element in all this is that Kraft essentially created a product (boxed dinner) that cannabilizes one of their "ingredient" products (processed cheese). Are they looking at two different sets of consumers? One who wants their meals fast, and another who wants them even faster? Perhaps.

And perhaps it is best to just not think very hard about anything that seems too fast and too easy...

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Lessons learned from website analytics

Analytics can be like crack. When I started my website last year, I was an analytics newbie. It was the first time that I ever ran an analytics package on any of my blogs. At work, I was only an occasional user of website stats, mostly looking for page popularity (or unpopularity). 

This blog, however, came with built-in web stats. And an app. I was addicted, checking page views daily and getting excited for every organic search query.

Squarespace iPhone App Analytics Screen

Eventually, Squarespace wasn't enough---I wanted more historical data. So I installed Google Analytics and waited for it to pick up. Here's what I learned. 

There is a lot of mystery surrounding Greek yogurt. 

My most popular post, and the one that generates the most organic traffic, is about Greek yogurt. Part of this is because there is genuine confusion out there---it's an emerging product in the United States and people don't really know what it is. However, this page is also popular because I wrote it that way. I experimented with keyword optimization and played a few neat SEO tricks. I titled the page "product vs. product" because people type "vs" into search engines when they are comparing products. I loaded up the first paragraph with brand names. I used actual nutrition info and ingredients in the post, etc. It worked. For no reason other than organic search, I get dozens of page views a week. I was able to see the cause and effect of writing copy with keywords in mind. 

Some of my most popular posts are how-to articles. 

Trailing the Greek yogurt post in organic search popularity (but not by much) are two posts: how to write a content outline and What are wireframes? Both of them are how-to articles, and in both, I worked to boil down basic user experience deliverables for someone unfamiliar, like a client or a copywriter who was just learning about the process. I also tried to write catchy headlines a la Copyblogger and followed the old adage "write what you know." 

It's odd to see your "brand" as search query. 

The good, the bad and the ugly of website stats. The good? You'll eventually see people Googling your brand. In my case, repeat visitors search "jmy says." This is totally awesome. The bad? Well, there is no bad. The ugly? Knowing how many times, and on what days, someone typed your name into Google and then clicked through. Theoretically, since my blog is hardly burning up the Internet with traffic, I could match the time of day of a keyword search to an visit from an IP address. Note I said "could." That's a tad creepy. But I do know certain IPs so I am able to roughly guesstimate page views that way (typically to eliminate myself).  

So what did I learn? 

  • If you have a strategy, you can search engine optimize a blog post rather easily. It's not rocket science. 
  • Slicing and dicing data is interesting, and you get to learn about search behavior. Making assumptions based off the data? Risky, but worth it to learn. 
  • If people weren't Googling you before, they may be Googling you now. You give up little shreds of privacy on a blog, but in return, your site visitors are giving up little shreds of their privacy when you track them with your analytics package. 

An observation on categorizing

There's a bagger at my local market who frequently packs my groceries. He's very organized.

Here's a breakdown of today's purchases to illuminate his orderliness:

3 Fettuccine Alfredo Lean Cuisines
3 Macaroni and Cheese Lean Cuisines
2 pints ice cream (don't judge)

Here's how he packed the items:

1 plastic bag: 3 Fettuccine Alfredo Lean Cuisines
1 plastic bag: 3 Macaroni and Cheese Lean Cuisines
1 plastic bag: 2 pints ice cream

Then he packed the three bags into a brown paper bag, and then the paper bag went into another plastic bag for a grand total of five bags for 8 items, but only one bag to carry.

Now, I suspect that the bagger in question has a compulsion or something else going on. But, that's beside the point. The lesson in this story is for information architects, and that lesson is twofold.

1: How you categorize or group items may not match how the user would group items. If I were packing my bags, I'd put it all in one or two plastic bags, jumbled together.

2. You could be going overboard, categorizing and consolidating for the sake of imposing order, rather than usefulness, resulting in an unnatural effect for the user. 5 bags! 8 items! Enough said!

Now, back to that ice cream...