A good website is like a good Christmas tree…

A good website is like a good Christmas tree…  ‘Ah’ I hear you say, here comes the tenuous festive metaphor. Not so, you cynical lot, but a seasonally-apt reminder that good websites are predicated on structure, not tinsel and baubles.

And notice that I say ‘good’ website, not ‘great’ website, or ‘fantastic’ website. ‘Tis the season to be hyperbolic but pursuit of the online ‘wow’ factor has caused many a website project to crash and burn.

Your ambition should be a good website. Something that will last – and accumulate value over time, like a good Bordeaux. (Okay! Trees, wine… to many metaphors already.)

So let’s get back to that Christmas tree…

The reference to websites and Christmas trees actually came up in a meeting where we were discussing the structure of a large site and considering the dynamics involved when finalising the Information Architecture. On the one hand, there’s the user, who wants to get in, do the thing they want to do and get out again. They don’t want to hunt for anything (maybe a bit of light foraging) or translate company-speak. Then there are company structures, business configurations and hierarchies… Maybe a little internal politics?

Add to this a layer of reluctance, or exhaustion, from people who find themselves in some way responsible for the content or its creation. Yet another conversation about the top level navigation, deeper structure and labelling rationale? Yeesh!

So, how much does it really matter? You buy your Christmas tree – any size and shape will do – and then you cover it with lovely decorations and lights that wink and glitter at users. How much does the underlying shape matter once all that stuff is covering it?

Okay people, here’s the deal: a website is for life, not just for Christmas. It has to serve you well and grow as your organisation grows. Overlong or stunted branches can cause the whole thing to topple. You can stuff a fairy on the top but if the tree’s got too many branches or too few, if it leans to one side or has a kink in the trunk – you’re screwed.

And, if the structure is poor, there is even more temptation to layer the whole construction with even more tinsel and shiny bits. Lots and lots of ornaments (or pages and the odd bit of Flash) may distract from the underlying problem – a rubbish shape.

So whatever stage your at with your current web project – whether you’re starting new, or going in for a little pruning – take a step back and look at that structure. Is it strong and straight? Does it make sense? Is it pleasing to the eye? Is there room for other branches to grow? Growth is the final metaphorical twist in this seasonal story…

You can buy a Christmas tree that haa no roots. It’s designed with built in obsolescence. After Christmas you chuck  it out. Next year, you get a new one. But a good Christmas  tree / website needs to be nurtured and should be bought to last. It needs soil and water (or content and creativity). It needs looking after.

So go for straight and strong with roots. Merry Christmas.

And take it away Bing!

Hello DAWN

In my previous post – Mentoring. Is it different for women? – I told you a little about plans to set up a mentoring scheme aimed specifically at women working in the digital industry. Plans are progressing and a steering group are meeting shortly. The climate just seems right for an initative like this.

I became even more firmly convinced when I attended another meeting, this time arranged by DAWN, the Digital Advertising Women’s Network, which has been gestating since the Spring. Another room full of inspiring women with some great ideas. Plus wine and nibbles (again). It doesn’t get any better.

But wait, I here you say. Two organisations that might have some degree of overlap? Is the space big enough? Is there enough interest and momentum to sustain both? Well, yeah!

I’m a great believer in tipping points. (I didn’t know they were called tipping points until I read The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell a few years ago.) It’s that point when you realise that what’s on your mind is on the minds of a lot of other people. Things are just about to go – kaboom!

In fact, people are not just thinking about the same thing as you but they’re talking about it – loud and often. One of the best things about both meetings was when one woman raised an issue or voiced a concern and least three other women said ‘yes, that happened to me – I did this’ or ‘I might be able to help’, or simply ‘call me’. You can have too many platforms for that sort of support.

So here’s to DAWN and Mentoring Women in Digital. Let’s get these parties started.

» Mentoring. Is it different for women?

Mentoring – is it different for women?

I was at a meeting organised by Amanda Davie at Reform, which looked at the need for a mentoring scheme aimed specifically at women working in the digital industry.

It was a great meeting.
I met some great women.
The mentoring potential in the room was awesome.

Ah, if only I was 30 years younger and had just one of those women going into bat for me. I could have invented facebook, or, at the very least, been running Microsoft.

I’ll tell you how the scheme develops over the coming weeks, but, in the meantime, the meeting got me thinking about the whole area of mentoring, whether women need specific schemes and what is it about the nature of digital disciplines that might make women less, or more, enfranchised?

I started to think about my early year’s in the newspaper industry. One thing I remembered was that, when I started out, I was my own worst enemy. I remember attending an interview and saying that I had ambitions to work in the magazine industry. Why? I was asked. Because I thought that it would be easier for a woman to get on in magazines than in newspapers, I replied. I was in a room full of blokes, all with newspaper backgrounds, and you could have heard a pin drop.

The fact is I’ve seen women struggle through glass ceilings only to pull the ladders up behind them to prevent other women getting through. I’ve seen men and women extend the hand of support and give me and others, opportunities that I can only wonder at in retrospect. They had faith. They gave us a chance. They gave us the confidence to give something new (and scary) a go.

And I suppose that’s what we all need – faith, opportunity and confidence. And, I suspect, that’s what good mentoring comes down to.

I distinguish mentoring from other types of ‘help’, such as old boy networks. Old boy networks are predicated on something different entirely. They’re based on giving someone a leg up because they happened to go to the right school (or be the ‘right’ gendre).

Modern mentoring is all about spotting the potential in someone, or coaxing out that potential, so they can be the best they can be. In that respect, perhaps women are more able to spot potential in other women. And as digital disciplines are relatively young, the women who have experience in them are even more valuable (as younger industries don’t have a large population of veterans to call on).  These woman have seen their areas of expertise evolve at a breathtaking pace. In some areas they may well be the minority gendre. They recognise the issues – a lack of confidence, perhaps; lack of technical training, concerns around combining work and family…

I mention the latter but this is not about women needing different mentoring because they also make babies. Some women have families, some women don’t. It may be part of what makes you, you. It certainly isn’t all of what makes you, you. Not by a long chalk. But a mentor could just as easily be dealing with someone who wants to combine a fulfiling professional role with time to volunteer in the charity sector.

The fact is I warm intuitively to the idea of women, such as the ones in the meeting I attended, using their experiences, empathy and objectivity to mentor other women. And, as a woman, I set great store by my intuition.

» Find out more about Mentoring Women in Digital on LinkedIn

10 really good reasons (no, honestly) for postponing what you could do today about your website content

Walk around client offices and marketing seem to have a spring in their step. Even the guys in IT are whistling ‘1000 Points of Hate’ by Anthrax (this is a good sign). But… Well, there’s always a but, isn’t there?

Just sometimes I hear those sit on your hands excuses in some quarters. They may get trotted out just before you press the big fat ‘Go’ button, after all the discovery, auditing, interviewing, planning, workshopping etc has gone on. And, of course, they’re always really, really, really good excuses reasons for not doing something. They’re so good, in fact, that I thought I’d list them here.

1. ‘We can’t start the web project until we’ve…”

This is an excellent reason for not doing something. It’s worth making a real effiort to find another piece of work that requires time / budget and which can be positioned in the way of the proposed web project. Particularly if that proposed web project might take your organisation outside of its comfort zone.

2. “All this background and planning work is fantastic. But we need to spend some time considering the next step.”

Okay, if used in moderation this is fine, valuable even. But, to quote Dionne Warwick: “Weeks turn into years – how quick they pass.” Of course, it makes perfect sense to see any web project as a single, HUGE project that can’t be broken down into sections. It’s a much better idea to think about things really slowly and lose all the forward momentum. With a bit of luck all the prep work will be out of date and useless.

3. “We’re currently advertising for a Head of Interactive Experiential Human Interfacing and all projects are on hold until we appoint and they have a chance to review everything.”

Maybe it’s just me but didn’t you know you were planning to get a new Head of IEH before we started working on this project?

4. “We want to carry out your recommendations but we haven’t got sufficient resources.”

Maybe it’s just me but didn’t you know there were resource issues before we started working on this project?

5. “Thank you so much for all the time and effort workshopping taxonomy, Information Architecture and topic headings but we don’t want to change the current site navigation.”

Yup. That makes perfect sense.

6.  “Rather than make some changes now we’ve decided to wait until we can afford a totally new website in a year or so.”

We totally agree. Your site users will be quite willing to wait and it shouldn’t impact on sales or your brand one jot.

7. “You seem to be suggesting that there should be collective responsibility for content creation and maintenance and we can’t just leave the job to… Our people just don’t have the skills or the time.”

Of course you can give people skills, processes and methodologies that help create the time (efficiencies) and also impart a collective shared enthusiasm for the power and benefits of web-based communication. But heck, I’m just messing with your head.

8. “The chairman’s wife does a little creative writing and we’ve asked her to look at the website.”

Okay, I only heard this one used once and that was several year’s back. But it’s still a corker.

9. “We haven’t got the money to do everything we want so we’re not going to do anything”.

Do you want me to pop the toys back in your pram now?

10. “This is David. He’s working as an intern with us over the next six weeks and will handle most of the implementation.”

Hi David. How many pairs of hands have you got?

Highly effective email tactics

I lurve MarketingSherpa and have been a fan for years. I particularly wanted to share this chart from them on various email tactics, such as delivering content relevant to segment, email to house lists, email to rented lists… were rated as 2highly effective” by B2B and B2C marketers.

effective email tactics

( I know the copyright says 2009 but it’s just landed in my email inbox from them.)

Both B2B and B2C rate delivery of relevant content to segment as highly effective. The percentage of B2B marketings saying this is slightly higher. In their analysis of this difference MarketingSherpa point out that the business-buying process is usually longer and more complex than that for consumer purchases. “Delivering content that is not only relevant to the recipient’s business segment but relevant to their current stage in the buying process is critical.”

I’m less swayed by this argument. Timely contact in the buying process is important in both markets. With consumers, the buying process can be as complex and involve a journey across multiple channels – a newspaper advertisement, something on television, a poster in a shopping mall as well as email. There’s also a proportion of consumers who will make selection processes online but still go in store to buy. By contrast the business buying process is more focused and may have less distractions (competitors), particularly at the high end (capital purchase).

But the real kicker in my book is the statistically significant percentage of marketers who rated event-triggered autoresponder emails as highly effective – way above  third part ads and rented lists, among other things.

When was the last time you reviewed your autoresponder emails? Yeah, yeah… I know – you’re just about to take a look.

» This chart on the MarketingSherpa site (it won’t be available for long)