Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Top 3 On-Demand CRM packages

Most growing companies find themselves in need of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software at some point. Choosing the right one can be tricky and there are more things than just cost to consider.

Here are three hot CRM companies and how they fair against one another.

Sales Force – This is the front-runner for On-Demand (website based) CRM. They cater mostly towards large corporations but recently added a small business version.

Pros: They are one of the most robust CRM packages out there and have good tech support. They offer good mobile support for Blackberry and Palm OS.

Cons: Although they cost around $15/per user per month for the first year, after the first year their cost triples! Their software is so robust that for most small businesses it is confusing and may require extensive training to utilize properly.

LogicBright CRM – This is the new kid on the block. They show a lot of potential for the SMB market since they are only catering to this market.

Pros: Logicbright.com is by far the easiest and least expensive CRM’s out there. Their cost is $20/user per month and extra disk space can be purchased if you wish to use the CRM more as file-sharing software. Since it is easy to use there is little training required.

Cons: LogicBright.com is a new product and hasn’t proven itself yet.

Sugar CRM - After coming out a couple of years ago, they have launched an impressive amount of add-ons and changes.

Pros: Lots of customization if you have on staff programmers, everything is open-source. They also have on-site options if you wish to house your own servers. Great for medium to large sized companies.

Cons: Focused too much on larger companies with their pricing ($50/user per month) and their features.

There are plenty of other CRM options on the market. Most are either designed for very small businesses such as ACT! or for large corporations such as Siebal. If you are a business in the 5-10 user range I would recommend trying out logicbright.com.

Friday, August 24, 2007

How to write successful website copy

Writing for the web is a difficult task for most people, especially those who are used to writing for print. The basic difference is a viewer’s attention span. In a magazine or a newsletter you have more of your viewer’s attention. They will thumb through and read whole articles because they have to decide to read it or throw it out. They are also typically left with no other immediate alternative for that same information.

With most websites, people have the attention span of a goldfish (7 seconds). If they cannot find what they want in 7 seconds they will just go and find another site. So how do you keep your viewer’s attention?

Summarize your text: Keep your text shorter. You may want to go in-depth on a subject, but use a blog, whitepaper or a downloadable pdf if you want to go deep into a subject.
Bullets and paragraph headings: Bullet points and headings of paragraphs are very important if you are listing topics out for your audience. They can quickly scan for what they are looking for and ignore what they don’t like.

Graphics: Use graphics and colors to draw the viewer’s attention to parts of the screen. This is the same strategy magazine use; it is the same for the web.

Keywords: This is the hardest part for some. To write text properly for the web you must use your keywords over and over throughout the website. This is mostly for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) but also because your audience is not going to read it in any particular order. For example: If you owned LogicBright CRM, you would want to make sure your url (logicbright.com) appeared all over the website. Also use your keywords: CRM, Customer Relationship Management, small business software and online CRM software; throughout the site. Don’t forget to mention your competitors -- you may be able to get some traffic from them as well.

Length: If you think it is too long, it probably is. Even this article would be lengthy on a website that isn’t news or information oriented.

Keep it simple, and follow those suggestions outlined above and your website will be optimized for the web audience.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Website Flowcharts and Webmaps

Planning a website’s structure is as important as the design of the site. It is also the single thing that can separate your business from countless others. Just think about it; how many times have you been to a site and couldn’t get to where you wanted to go? It happens all the time and since websites are a dime-a-dozen a user will gladly take their business somewhere else.

In fact, if a user spends about 7 seconds without finding what they were looking for on a new website, they will leave and find another website. This means there is little room to be inefficient in the layout of your website.

The best way I have found to plan a new website would be to make a list of all the pages and functionality that you wish the website to have. Once you have this list you can start categorizing it to combine and reduce pages that are related and figure out what your primary topics/links will be.

Once you have a list of your pages, it is time to see how they will connect to one another. Using a program like Microsoft Visio will give you the capability to produce flowcharts and webmaps very quickly. Below is a basic example of a website flowchart for a portion of a Banking website.

The diagram shows just a portion of what a whole banking site would be, but you can imagine this expanding into several areas that are all interconnected. Some websites may only have a few pages and some may have hundreds. The more pages you have the more important is it to map it out and see how a user can go travel through the site before you build it and find your most important page is hidden.

Flowcharts and webmaps also give you a good idea of how “deep” your website content is. Website depth is a way of saying how many layers (pages) a user must click through to get to their desired area. If a user has to drill down to more than three times you may want to see if there is a better way of structuring the website. If you must have more than three layers, using breadcrumbs is a great way to show a user exactly where they are on a website. Breadcrumbs are shown below.

I sometimes get the question, “how much time should we spend on planning a website?” There is no real answer to that question, some sites only take about 5% of the total production time and some take 40%. The larger and more complex the website is the more time you should spend on planning, it will help reduce your production time and the amount of rework you may have to do.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Website Usability

Usability on the web is a topic that many designers and business owners don’t seem to have a grasp on. For web designers this is an issue because many feel that a good, creative design should not be held hostage to standard usability requirements. While this is sometimes true, the real challenge is for a web designer to appeal to their audience. If their audience is artsy and expecting something cutting-edge, then the designer can feel free to express themselves fully because their audience will expect this. A great example of this is the tokyoplastic.com website. This site is entirely Flash based and mixes 3d with great sound effects. Language barriers asides, this site is hard to use but it is worth trying to figure out.

From a small business owner’s perspective, they want to make sure no clients are lost so usability should be the primary aspect when designing the website. Nothing says “Buy from us” like a great looking site in which a customer cannot figure out how to add an item to a shopping cart. Subsequently, a website that doesn’t look professional will turn customers away. So finding an adequate mix of professional looks with good usability will go a long way with your potential customers.

Reduce Clicks

One important factor to making a website easier to navigate is reducing the perceived number of clicks it takes to get to a page. I say perceived because if your site is well organized and categorized you can have the user click a few times to get to something without it seeming like it. Also, understanding that not all users use websites the way you or I do is important. So giving users a variety of ways of doing the same thing is key.

For example, I recently had the privilege of being a beta-tester for a new CRM tool called Logic Bright CRM. The first thing I noticed was there was several ways to do the same task. The duplicating of links really works because some users may never look at the one on the left and others may not look under the tabs, so this makes it easy for both types of users. Below is a screenshot of what I mean.


Another aspect of usability is keeping the primary links/navigation of a site in the expected locations. This is usually at the top or left hand side of the screen. NEVER put your navigation at the bottom or the right side! There are two reasons you should not do this. First, a user doesn’t expect the navigation to be there so there is a learning curve for a user that is unnecessary. Second, if you user’s monitor is set to a lower resolution your navigation may not even show on their screen without them using the scrollbars. There are programmatic ways of solving this issue but they are generally cumbersome and create other issues with your website so you are better off avoiding this in the first place.

Colors, Contrast and Consistency

The final usability issue I will mention is the use of colors. Have you ever been to a website that has white text on a yellow background? It is just plain hard to read and for some people impossible. Your best bet is to stick with dark colors on light backgrounds or white text on dark colors. Along with using the right colors you want to stay consistent with your colors. If you have a link that is blue and underlined in one place make sure all your related links are blue and underlined.

There are countless other usability issues as they relate to resolution, accessibility, file size and scalability. But those are topics for another day.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Search Engine Optimization Tips

SEO is a big topic that comes up all the time with my clients. Everyone wants to be the number one website on Google, but don’t know how to achieve this. This article is NOT saying you are going to be able to get to number one, but it will give you some guide lines on how to increase your chances greatly.

The most important item relating to SEO is to remember that CONTENT IS KING. Without endless amounts of fresh and interesting content you will never get to the top. But it isn’t just the quality of content that counts; it is how the content is written. For example if you are selling cell phones you want to make sure your keywords appear in your text over and over again. It may seem repetitive but this is the best way to get Google, MSN and Yahoo! to notice you.

The next tips are in no particular order because they all play a similar small role, but together make all the difference.

  • Use meta tags and descriptions – This is an older html technology that is considered dead by some but is still being used. Your meta description is often the description that a search engine will use when displaying your website.

  • Wrap text in paragraph and headline tags. Using the proper tags will tell a search engine that your text is indeed content. Headline tags are given a higher priority by search engines.

  • No Frames – stay away from frames, it makes it impossible for a search engine to appropriately link to your site. In-turn a user may find your site but it may not have all the page elements attached to it.

  • Links – Using your keywords in your links is a great way to emphasize those words to a search engine. Never use “Click here” it is a wasted link.

  • Backlinks – Backlinks are links from other sites that point to your site. Backlinks are one of the primary things that Google looks for in determining rank. The best way to build backlinks is with your content. You can syndicate your content over blogs, rss feeds and general article submissions. Each time you submit an article make sure it has your link on it. Joining forums and social networks are also great ways of building backlinks but many of them frown on blatant advertisements so you have to do this wisely.

  • Use Text – It may sound simple, but actually using text instead of images allows a google bot or yahoo crawler to read you site.

  • No Flash – Flash sites are bad for SEO plain and simple. Even newer Flash techniques that allow crawlers to read the site still won’t end up at the number one spot simply because of lack of perceived content since your website is only one page.
  • Web maps – Creating and submitting a web map notifies the search engines of which pages are the most important and how often they change.Time – SEO is slow, be patient.

There are many other things you can do to increase you rank naturally, just remember do not cheat and pay for a service to do this for you.