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Web pages are read differently than print

September 23, 2008

By Molly Morris, memDesigns, August 2008
© Molly Morris, All rights reserved


Long-standing research has shown that when readers scan an English language print page like a flyer or newspaper, they do so in a ‘Z’ pattern, looking first across the top of the page, then scanning down to the bottom left and again reading across from left to right. Not so with web pages. Research from the Neilsen Norman Group, gurus of web-page usability studies, has determined that when we view web pages we generally do so in an ‘F’ pattern, scanning across the top of the page, then down the left side and, if we’re still interested, going back up to scan across the middle of the page. This finding has significant implications for how you design the content on your web pages.

To maximize usability and get your message across effectively, here are some guidelines to follow when creating your website.

Important information must be contained in your titles and headers, particularly those that do not appear at the top of your page. Instead of “Pooping puffin knocks Tories off message” – a recent headline in a Canadian Press article that’s catchy but uninformative - “Harper apologizes for sleezy election ad” would be a better use of web space.

Use bullet points, which lend themselves to the ‘F’ eye-scanning pattern rather than large blocks of text.

Highlight keywords or phrases in a different colour. Because so much of the page is scanned rather than read, highlighting, used conservatively rather than liberally (oops – there’s my election coverage coming back again), will draw the readers eyes to significant material.

Use an inverted pyramid structure for conveying a story. While traditional academic writing is modeled like a pyramid – start with the principle, build the arguments and end with the conclusion – web writing should be done in reverse. State the conclusion first, then list (remember bullet points) the supporting information and provide background information at the end.

The same researchers determined that, on average, readers have time to read at most 28% of a web page’s content. And, since reading on screen is still more tiring on the eyes than reading paper, 79% of web users scan, rather than read, content.

So make every word count.


Are the forms on your website protected from robots?

August 20, 2008

By Molly Morris, memDesigns, August 2008
© Molly Morris, All rights reserved

If you have a form somewhere on your website for collecting contact information or receiving online orders, and you have received form submission emails in which the fields are completed with gobbledygook (there’s probably a more technical word, but definitely not a more expressive one), your form has most certainly been visited by a robot.

Why is a robot interested in filling out your form?

In general, web robots are visiting sites to hack, spam and collect email addresses. Unless your site has high-level intelligence secrets, you’re probably not too worried about hackers. But spammers are concerning for a few reasons. First of all, they fill your Inbox with unwanted junk. Secondly, those emails may carry viruses. Thirdly, if your submission is answered by an automatically generated email from you, then every time you get a form submission, you send your email address to the party submitting the form. If that party meant harm, or is a spammer, and you’ve just handed over your email address, you’ve made them very happy.

You can prevent robots from submitting your form

When you submit a form over the Internet and you are asked to type out the word you see in a box – usually somewhat obscured by some optical illusion effect – or answer a skill-testing question, you are using a CAPTCHA. I’m embarrassed to admit that, up until recently, I thought CAPTCHA was some slangy (think Chicago Mafia) way of referring to “capturing” information. In fact, CAPTCHA is an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. A Turing Test is an experiment described by Alan Turing in the 1950s to test whether computers could have intelligence. It goes like this: A human judge engages in a natural language conversation with two other parties, one of which is a human and the other a machine; if the judge cannot tell which is which, then the machine is said to pass the test.

Including a CAPTCHA on a web form prevents machines, in this case web robots, from submitting the form. As it turns out, computers do not have intelligence, and only a human can reliably complete a CAPTCHA field. When the CAPTCHA field is not completed, or completed incorrectly, the form is rejected, you don’t get an email, and all is well.

It’s comforting to know we humans can still beat computers.

 


Do you need to copyright your web content?

June 17, 2008

by Molly Morris, memDesigns

The World Intellectual Property Organization defines copyright as “a legal term describing rights given to creators for their literary and artistic works”, but then offload the specifics to individual countries. The Government of Canada defines copyright with a great deal more flourish, but it amounts to the same thing.

What is the real harm in having your website content copied?

Besides the usually automatic protective, territorial response to discovering someone has copied your website content, there is a repercussion with respect to the viability of your own site. If a search engine finds duplicate content on several websites it may register the content as spam and either drop your search engine placement or remove your site from their index altogether

Equally as damaging as being dropped from search engines, is the impact that copyright infringement could have on your reputation. Do potential customers know which site hosts the original content, and which site is plagiarized?

How can you prevent it?

In short, you really can’t. The best you can do is use deterrents, the most obvious of which is inserting the copyright symbol © on your web pages, or at least on your home page. Include the year and your company (or personal) name, to indicate who owns the material, and since when. That’s all you have to do to invoke your copyright – you do not need to register a copyright with any legal authority, unless you want to license your content and charge for usage of it.

There is also a piece of javascript coding, called the “no-right-click” script, that, when inserted in your web page coding, will prevent users from right-clicking your images and saving them for their own use, instead displaying a message like this:

No-right-click 

If you do need to address a case of copyright infringement, and need to prove that the content is original, and you owned it first, you can visit the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine to view archived screenshots of your website over a period of time.

Ultimately, though, if you do find you’ve been copied, you will have to contact the site owner and use all your business diplomacy and tact to persuade them to remove it.

 


Free advertising for your business is just a click away

April 9, 2008

by Molly Morris, memDesigns

Forgive me if this article reads more like an infomercial, but my intention with these newsletters is to provide you with useful information for your business, and infomercial or not, Craigslist is simply one of the best tools I know of on the web for promoting your business, finding clients, and locating resources.

If you are not familiar with Craigslist, here’s the story. Craigslist was started in 1995 by Craig Newmark of San Francisco, who just wanted a place to list local events. And in fact, that’s all it was for 5 years. But in 2000, well, it was one of those things – right place, right time, right product. Craig was asked to expand his list to 9 US cities, and the ball was rolling. Craigslist is now in 450 cities worldwide, running classified advertising for jobs, housing, goods, services, local activities – you name it. Currently, more than 30 million people log on to Craigslist each month, posting more than 30 million classified ads. Craigslist supports its operation by charging for job ads in 10 major US cities, and for apartment listings in NYC. Otherwise, everything is free.

So how, can it work for your business?

  1. Advertise your business for free.Craigslist has a Services section where you can post an advertisement in a specific service area. If you set up a user account first, then you will be able to track your postings, as well as re-post, edit and delete postings. Ads can include graphics and some HTML formatting, and you can have users either email you through your business email address or through an anonymous email address.
  2. Find people who need your services.The Gigs section is where people looking for help post their needs. You can browse through here and respond to potential clients with your business pitch. Similarly, the Jobs section can be used as a tool for finding clients. Although posts to this section are generally looking for employees, there’s often a good case to be made to employers for outsourcing to your business instead.
  3. Grow your staff.By either posting your own Job ad, or browsing through resumes, you can hire full-time, part-time, permanent, temporary or contract help for your business.
  4. Find equipment, locations, supplies.Craiglist’s classified ads include a multitude of categories, as well as a listing of free giveaways.
  5. Look for and post business events.You can use Craigslist’s Events Calendar and Community Activities section to find local events of interest to you or your business, or advertise your own business event and draw new clients.
  6. Communicate with other like-minded business folk.Craigslist hosts forums on a wide range of topics. If there’s one related to your business, you can swap information, ask questions, answer other people’s questions or just monitor what’s on people’s minds.

This infomercial comes with one warning – there is so much to see on Craigslist that you can easily get distracted and lose track of time. One of my favourite daydream time wasters is to go into the Craigslist in some exotic city, and see who’s looking for a house-swap.


Tools to keep your email marketing out of spam, and reduce the spam you receive

March 2, 2008

by Molly Morris, memDesigns

Email marketing is a great tool for reaching new customers and communicating with existing customers. If you are already engaging in email marketing, you are probably putting a great deal of effort into designing an effective marketing piece and generating a useful mailing list. But all that effort is for naught if your emails aren’t getting through to your intended recipients.

The tech reviewer CNet recently reported on a large-scale study of email spam that found that in 2007 95% of all email sent was spam. This is up from 70% in 2004, and a mere 5% in 2001.

So what can you do to ensure your email does not become part of that statistic?

First of all, make sure you are using a reputable email service provider. Just as single email addresses can be blacklisted because they are found to be a source of spam, so too, when a large volume of spam is traced as being sent from a single mail server, that server might then be blacklisted as being a known source of spam. If that is the case, it doesn’t matter that you are sending legitimate email that follows all the rules – it won’t stand a chance of getting delivered.

Chances are, though, that you are using a reputable service provider. That being the case, there are several steps to take that will decrease the chances that your email will be tagged as spam.

  1. Ask regular email recipients to add you to their safe senders or white lists.
  2. Don’t send an email message to 50 or more addresses without using an email list service.
  3. In the Subject field of your email:
    – Don’t leave it blank.
    – Don’t use punctuation, especially exclamation marks.
    – Don’t put any words in all capitalized letters.
    – Don’t use spamming words like “free”, “offer”, “medication”, “prescription” and “mortgage”.
    – Don’t use numbers or dollar amounts.
  4. If you want to check that your email is clean before sending it, try these online tools to check your email’s deliverability rating:
    http://www.contactology.com/check_mqs.php
    http://spamcheck.sitesell.com/.

What about all the spam you are getting?

If you have a website, then the most important element on your site is a way for prospective customers to reach you – your Contact Us information. If that contact information includes your email address, it’s likely being picked up by spambots – programs designed to collect email addresses from the Internet in order to build mailing lists for sending unsolicited email. There are some things you can do to allow your email address to be visible, but not accessible to spambots.

  1. If your email address appears in full, rather than an “Email us” or “Click here” reference, rather than having it appear as text, you can turn your address into an image that looks like text. A free online email address image generator that lets you customize how your address will look can be found at http://www.spam-proof-email-generator.com/.
  2. There’s more to your email address than just what’s seen on the screen. There is the coding around it that takes the user to their email program and inserts your address. That coding also contains your email address and can be picked up by spambots. However, you can hide it by encoding it as a decimal character entity rather than real text. Again there is a free online tool that will generate the code at http://www.wbwip.com/wbw/emailencoder.html.
  3. Although there’s not much you can do to get off the lists you’re already on, you can reduce the spam you receive from those lists by blacklisting the senders and contacting your email service provider to find out what additional spam filters they can offer you.

Keep up your email marketing, but take whatever steps you can to ensure you’re reaching your market.