Show 93: dconstructed

On this week’s show: Paul talks about how to make the most of the footer, Marcus explains why cold calling never works and Gary Marshall shares some great advice on writing content.

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News and events | Why cold calling never works | Making the most of the footer | Gary Marshall on writing better content

News and events

iPod Touch

Unless you have been living in a cave for the last week you will already know that Apple has just released a new range of iPods including the massively exciting iPod Touch. What is so exciting about the iPod Touch is that it is basically an iphone without the phone. This means it has WiFi and a fully functional web browser. This is a major development in the web design world as it will mean millions of internet enabled iPods and a whole new audience in a whole new context.

What is more Apple has also done a deal with Starbucks where by songs played in Starbucks can be purchased directly on the iPod. I am convinced this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of context / location aware mobile web. It won’t be long before you arrive at a University Campus and access a campus map or go to a shopping mall and access all of the menus of the various restaurants.

With the iPod being such a universal device now is the time to think about how you are going to utilize the power of the mobile web.

Free photo manipulation tools

This week I came across a site stuffed with loads of free photo manipulation tools. These guys have certainly been busy as there are loads of really fun tools including a Mosaic maker, CD cover creator and even a Hockneyizer. However, probably the most useful tool to us web designers is the palette generator. Upload an image and it will automatically create a colour palette based on it. Nice!

dconstruct feedback

This last week also saw the dconstruct conference in Brighton. I was fortunate enough to attend it and got to hear some truly remarkable speakers. I am not even going to try and recount all that was said, however I do want to particularly mention three superb talks.

Tom Coates, gave a mind blowing presentation on shifting our thinking from a website model to a data model and the consequences of this in terms of how we develop applications and how users navigate data. Tom’s presentation really felt like a glimpse of things to come.

Leisa Reichelt gave an inspiring presentation about how we develop projects. Amongst other things she talked about Agile development and I have to say this was the first time it has been explained in language I understood. This talk definitely made me reconsider how we run projects.

Finally, I couldn’t mention dconstruct without talking about Jared Spool’s presentation on experience design. Jared (who is a superb speaker) took us through how to create great experience design, explaining why it is important and how to draw together the necessary skills to make your design stand out from the crowd. Compelling stuff.

The reason I mention all of this is that all of these talks will soon be released as podcasts and I wanted to strongly encourage you to check them out!

170+ Expert Ideas From World’s Leading Developers

The final story today is the release of an article on the smashing magazine website. The guys at the magazine interviewed 50 designers and asked them 6 questions. This has led to an article with 175 professional suggestions, tips and ideas.

Its always fascinating to see how other designers work so this article is definitely worth a once over.

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Marcus’ bit: Why cold calling never works

Ok, to say that cold never works is a bit strong because very occasionally it does. I should also qualify that I am talking about winning quality web design work here.

So, a more appropriate, but considerably more boring, title would be: why cold calling almost never works when selling quality web design services.

But, in my opinion, you don’t really even need to qualify the ‘what’ you are selling. I guess there are certain products or services that can, effectively, be sold over the phone to a person/organisation that you don’t know but I expect they are few and far between.

The word ‘effectively’, in the last sentence, is pivotal to this. I would love to see the ratio of telesales staff costs against actual sales won via the telesales force for, say, a double glazing company over the last year. The fact that I seem never to be called these days by double glazing companies suggests that my suspicions are correct and it simply isn’t worth it.

I don’t know anyone who likes being called out-of-the-blue and certainly, no-one who has actually bought anything through this process. I think most people are instantly ‘on guard’ and mistrusting of a cold call. This has worsened, I believe, over time and has now reached the point where it has almost become a joke.

Anyway, I’m rambling off the point – back to web design.

You can’t create a project that doesn’t exist

This is the main issue. Even if you are lucky enough to find a receptive listener, the chances of calling them right at the point where they are thinking about starting a web project is remote. The best you can hope for is that contact will be made later when a real project does happen.

You may not be talking to the right person

It is very possible that the one successful call that you made after a day’s banging the phone was actually to a chatty junior who cannot make or even influence decisions. Asking to speak to the ‘marketing director’ or ‘person in charge of the web budget’ etc is a recipe for an instant hang up.

Even if you are speaking to the ‘right’ person, chances are they will have to go to other partners or directors and that group will want to know track record, where did the recommendation come from etc.

Making yourself known

Ok, so you can’t actually win work cold calling but you can occasionally start the process of winning work through a cold call. However, I would say from experience, that this cannot be a completely cold call. You need at least one thing connecting you to the person at the other end – and the direct mail piece you sent them two days ago does not count because they will have instantly thrown it in the bin!

The kind of things that can make this type of call potentially worth it are:

  • Work done for one of their competitors (vertical selling)
  • Locality (“we’re in the same town”)
  • Professional connection e.g. a print designer you are close to works for them
  • Social connection e.g. my neighbour Dave Smith works for your accounts department and thought I should call you….

But remember you are simply selling your professionalism, skills and competence; basically, just the chance to pitch for work when it comes around.

However, I would recommend that the majority of your efforts are spent on a) ‘hot’ calls to people who contact you with real projects and b) your existing clients as they are usually your best prospects.

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Paul’s corner: Making the most of the footer

This week I thought I would try and tackle a question from Peter in Italy…

Disclaimer, copyright, accessibility statement and privacy policy; these are the links that can often be found in the footer of a page. Why is it important to add this information on a website and what should this information include?

The footer is the graveyard of many websites. The place where links are sent to die. However it doesn’t have to be that way.

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Gary Marshall on writing better content

Paul Boag:
So, joining me today is Gary Marshal, a technology journalist and author and many other good things as well. Hello Gary.

Gary Marshall:
Hi Paul, how are you doing?

Paul Boag:
Not too bad, good to have you on the show, we had you on once before as I remember.

Gary Marshall:
Yeah it was a couple of months ago now wasn’t it?

Paul Boag:
Yeah it was a little while back. What I thought would be good today is to get you on to talk in broader terms about writing for the web, and writing in general, as obviously that’s what you do for a living. That’s your job, and so I thought I’d kick off with really a question about copy writing and copy writers; do you thing website owners should be looking to get a professional copy writer in to work on their website rather than doing so themselves?

Gary Marshall:
I think it depends a lot on the website that you have, if your doing something where your unique selling point is a fantastic price for a product, then it probably doesn’t matter too much what the copy’s like, but the more important the text of your site is, the more important it is to have good text. So take for example if your site is a brochure then obviously the quality of copy then is really, really important. There’s also the technical side of writing as well, which is not so much a copy writer but more of a technical writer for that so you know, product information, frequently asked questions, support, that kind of thing.

Paul Boag:
What benefit do you get from getting in somebody who does this professionally in preference to trying to do it yourself, where’s the real kind of money earner in it? If that makes sense, the return on investment.

Gary Marshall:
Yeah. Well it really depends on what your sites all about. One of the things about getting a professional to do it is it saves you time, the same way you would get somebody in to do stuff around the house because your time is better spent doing what your good at. But particularly with copy writing, if you get somebody who is pretty experienced in this, what they’re doing isn’t so much writing, but its writing that works. So you know a good copy writer can say more in a sentence than your average guy can say in 700 paragraphs, which is one of the reasons that guys in advertising get paid so much, because they come up with these fantastic strap lines that lodge in peoples minds.

Paul Boag:
Yep ok that’s fair enough. Obviously the main thing that puts off people from getting a copy writer is the cost associated with it and sometimes its just prohibitive, although I have to say that I get somewhat confused that people recognise they cant do design and they get a designer in to do that but somehow people think they can do copy which is somewhat confusing sometimes.

Gary Marshall:
Yeah, it’s not that expensive. If your going to have a multi page, 1000 page website then yeah it is going to cost you a fair whack of cash, but he majority of writers tend to be paid by the word, so you’ll set a rate, and what it is you want to get and the end result isn’t going to be an awful lot of money. Your looking at a couple of hundred quid for a couple of thousand words, its not a lot.

Paul Boag:
No I suppose in the grand scheme of things that isn’t much at all is it? If you think of the amount that people pay for content management systems and design work and usability testing and all that other stuff.

Gary Marshall:
Provided they’re good at what they do. Of somebody is going to polish the text in your website, and make what you do sound absolutely fantastic, if that makes the difference between somebody hiring you or not or somebody buying your product or not then it’s paid for itself.

Paul Boag:
So, making the presumption that there are some people out there that just aren’t in a position to hire a professional copy writer and its just not an option – what advice would you give someone who is starting out writing copy for their own website? Where would you start? What are the most common mistakes?

Gary Marshall:
I think the most common mistakes are thinking from your own point of view rather than from your visitors point of view, I’d say that’s probably the worst offence that you can do, and it’s the old moaner when if you have a frequently asked questions section it’s the questions you hope people would ask rather than the one people actually do ask, you get an awful lot of people where on a website the fist page is the entire corporate history and as a visitor I don’t care, I don’t want to know this stuff I want to know what are you going to do for me why should I hang about here. So it needs to be very much ‘put yourself in the customers shoes’. Have a look at other websites and see what you like about them and what works on those sites. The other thing you need to think about big style is search engine optimisation. I was talking to someone the other day who was saying ‘when we do searches on particular products and particular areas we just don’t come up in the results at all’ and I said ‘do any of these phrases or words feature on your site?’ the answer was no. That was probably why they weren’t featuring in the search results! It might be obvious to you that your search should come up if you look for, I don’t know, web design companies in Brighton, but if you don’t have the words ‘web design’ and ‘Brighton’ in your website its not going to be indexed by any of the search engines. That can be a really difficult one to pull off, you see a lot of  bad copy writing that’s done purely on the basis of SEO, where they’re just trying to get as many different phrases in as they possibly can to try and get it up in the Google rankings and I think that’s counter productive because ultimately your trying to get humans to read this and if somebody comes to your website and the whole thing is stacked with all these meaningless phrases that don’t actually give you any useful information at all, then your just going to go ‘what a waste of time, I’m out of here’

Paul Boag:
Do you think there’s a difference between writing for the web and writing for other mediums?

Gary Marshall:
Yes

Paul Boag:
What kind of differences? What should people be doing differently?

Gary Marshall:
The biggest one is brevity, simply because your reading on a screen – you’ve no control over what sort of screen people are going to be reading on for starters, so I might be looking at it on my BlackBerry, you might be using a 22 inch monitor, but web content doesn’t lend itself to huge blocks of text and long, long sentences so you need to think much more visually than you do with the printed page I think, break it up a lot more and have a lot more white space. The way to present it can be important also, even having a bigger gap between lines can make a big difference to whether your text looks appealing or not. Again, work back from the basis of ‘what is it that your visitors are going to want here?’ You need to really start with that. I find that bullet pointing is usually a very good way to approach it. So, you sit down and think ‘what are people coming to my website for? And what is it they’re going to be looking for?’ and answer that first. If you’ve got a bit of spare time go into you full corporate history and everything you’ve done in your life, but concentrate on the purpose of your site first.

Paul Boag:
It strikes me that websites, unlike other mediums aren’t linear, so you have the option to start with the top level brief information and highlights, and people can kind of dig down to the in depth stuff if they want to.

Gary Marshall:
Indeed, one of the things you see in print a lot is the use of ‘pull quotes’ to draw your attention to a particular bit of the body copy, and its basically a sales technique and exactly the same thing works on websites and can be very effective and can encourage people to read more. The other thing I would say is try not to link too much in your actual body copy because every little blue line there is a potential reason for someone to disappear.

Paul Boag:
Ok that’s interesting.

Gary Marshall:
I think it can get in the way – if you’re trying to engage people you don’t want people to go off on tangents because you’ve got this short attention span thing going on.

Paul Boag:
Yeah I can accept that – the other thing as well is that if the page is full hundreds of links it makes it visually quite difficult to read as well.

Gary Marshall:
Yeah and avoid these kind of hover over adverts that infest websites. If it looks like a link I expect it to be a link and if I move my mouse over it and just get ‘find out about hotels in Guatemala’ or something its instantly away from the website. There’s something as well, I don’t know if its true or not but in journalism school they teach you when writing for tabloids you should write on the assumption that your reader is going to be a small child, and I think that can work with websites as well because it really does focus you on getting the information there quickly with the minimum amount of waffle and without going off on huge tangents. And like the old press thing as well where you have all the information in the first paragraph and you expand on it as you go along, so you should be able to chop from the bottom. If you’ve written 500 words, you should be able to chop the bottom 250 off that without losing sense of what you’re doing.

Paul Boag:
Yeah that’s good. So, websites are one thing – your kind of corporate websites and things like that, but more and more organisations are starting to use blogs as a method of communicating. Do you think there’s a difference there? What advice would you give to people writing posts for blogs?

Gary Marshall:
Be sure that you want to do it in the first place. Jacob Neilson quite famously said the other week that businesses shouldn’t blog, and he’s getting a bit of a headline generator there – he doesn’t mean no business should blog, but it can backfire because the nature of blogging is very much off the cuff, very quick reactions to things and that’s fine if it suits your particular kind if business, but if people are coming to your site for in depth information then I don’t think blogging does suit because by it very nature blogging is your most recent thought at the top so if you don’t have regular readers its quite easy to fall into the trap of assuming everybody knows the context of what your talking about, and they might not because you wrote about it 3 weeks ago or 3 months ago. That’s quite a common pitfall I think. The other thing about blogging is because it’s quick and easy it does encourage you maybe not to craft things as well and not think things through. You have got to remember that this stuff potentially hangs about for eternity. So it might be tempting to, I don’t know, slag off the competition or something but it could well come back and bite you later on. I think with blogging, it comes back to any sort of writing – you need to know what your trying to achieve with it because if you don’t have a clear idea of what your blog is going to bring to your website, and what benefit its going to bring to your visitors and customers it’s a potential massive waste of time and effort that you could be spending on something more interesting.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Gary Marshall:
I sound really negative; I don’t mean to be really grumpy today! But I think it’s a bit like in the early days in the web there was always these wonderful ‘do-hickeys’ and logos you could slap all over your website and lots of people did without actually asking ‘does this bring me any kind of benefit whatsoever?’. Done well, blogging can be a fantastic thing on a website. I’ve seen a few examples of it in all kinds of things – I was looking for drum loops for ‘Garage Band’ and I was looking at the various drum loop companies and I found one that the owners blog, and they talk about how they do the stuff, what they’ve got coming down the line, why they think that they’re great and nobody else is and all this kind of stuff and I really quite warmed to them and that encouraged me to have a look on their website and I ended up spending money on it. Other sites that are just plain old e-commerce things and really don’t care. Unless your doing a kind of niche market where I don’t know, ‘golfing grandmothers’ or something then the very fact that you’ve got a niche people are more likely to pay attention to what you’ve got to say. I don’t care if the marketing director of Comet has a blog; I have no interest in what he’s got to say – so adding it to something like that would be a waste of time. I don’t want to read a blog on ‘great big faceless ISP dot com’ whereas ‘Merchant city music’, which is a music shop in Glasgow, I’d be quite interested in what these guys have got to say, so ‘We’ve got some amazing stuff coming in!’ or ‘we were away seeing a band last night and they were fantastic!’. That feeling that your part of a bigger picture can be really effective, particularly with smaller businesses.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, good stuff I couldn’t agree with you more. I think there are a lot of blogs out there that shouldn’t be out there and there are also some places that should be blogging that aren’t.

Gary Marshall:
Yeah I would agree with that.

Paul Boag:
OK thank you very much for your time Gary, it was really good to talk to you again and no doubt we’ll have you back on the show in the future

Gary Marshall:
No doubt!

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