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:: Designing Websites That Appeal To The Senses ::
By Jerry Bader
Taking Advantage of The Experience Factor
We read the newspaper, we watch television, and we listen to the radio, but we experience the Web; this is what makes 'The Website' one of the most powerful marketing tools available to today's marketing executives. Unfortunately conventional wisdom has stifled the 'experience factor' on most website presentations.
Traditional circulation based advertising biases and pitch-mandated direct mail practices from metric-minded agencies have limited businesses' ability to take advantage of the Web's capacity to provide a more active, creative, and penetrating sensory experience aimed at furthering marketing objectives.
As consumers of information we all filter what our mind considers irrelevant. When we go to a website we quickly recognize where banner and text advertisements have been placed and proceed to ignore them for the rest of our visit. Even television ads are becoming increasingly less effective, even as their cost increases. Yet people will watch and even look forward to creative, entertaining advertisements that capture our imagination and inform our ability to make better decisions about what we buy and who we buy from.
Does Anybody Really Know What Works?
It is easy to rely on after-the-fact number crunching and projected head-numbing statistics to justify how marketing campaigns are constructed rather than on the less predictable but more relevant elements of psychology and human nature. But do numbers really tell the true story, or are they just protect-your-butt justification designed to ease everyone's mind when it comes time to commit to a budget?
Take the entertainment industry for example. Here is an industry that can tell you how many people watched a particular television show on a per minute basis. So, if these and the other cerebral-cortex-boggling figures are so telling, why do networks have such a hard time delivering programs that people will watch; or do they yank new potentially successful shows off-the-air based on their initial numbers before they ever have a chance to find an audience?
Television is such an expensive medium, its practitioners have come to rely on seemingly safe, tried, hackneyed old formulas, knowing that it is easier to sell sponsors what used to work, even when they know there is little chance of it working again. The fact is nobody really knows what combination of stories, writers, actors and producers is going to capture the publics' imagination.
So what does this have to do with Web-marketing? Everything. The Web is not an expensive production medium and that allows marketers to experiment with different techniques and creative. Unless your Web-business is a circulation-based advertising model, there is no reason to limit your creative marketing to worn-out concepts and number-based incentive formats that for the most part, no longer work.
Sensory and Experience Design Concepts
The essence of good advertising and its big brother marketing, is creative story telling; stories presented effectively, inform, persuade, and penetrate our consciousness based on their ability to tap into our sensory experiences. There has developed over the last few years two new approaches to design that acknowledge this powerful aspect of human nature: Sensory and Experience Design.
The implications of Sensory and Experience Design can be found in everything from product development to package design. When we talk about SenEx Design we are talking about how real people react to their experience with products and marketing presentations.
We experience the world through our senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Stand in a supermarket and watch people shop for fruit and vegetables; they pick them up, squeeze them, turn them over and over looking for flaws, smell them, and if the store keeper isn't looking they may even have a taste. When people buy a car, they look at the specifications listed in the brochure, but they still go to the showroom, kick the tires, run their hands along the shinny new paint, smell the leather interior, and take that sucker for a test drive to see how she handles. It's all about experiencing the product through our senses - it's that sensory experience that becomes embedded in our memory.
To date most companies have lagged in their efforts to implement these new SenEx marketing communication approaches on their websites due to their obsession with search engine optimization issues that focus on the volume of traffic rather than the quality of the marketing message. Business seems to be stuck in a circulation-based advertising and mass-market mindset that runs contrary to the Web's niche market 'Long Tail' nature and its ability to communicate by presenting information that appeals to a variety of senses.
Search Engine Optimization Issues
No one will argue with the desire of website owners to attract large numbers of viewers to their sites. But this desire has spawned an entire industry of people claiming to be able to provide website owners with the holy grail of search engine optimization: making it to the top spot in an organic search on your favorite search engine.
Not everyone willing to pay for an S.E.O. expert to optimize his or her site can be number one in an organic search. And of course there is the issue of paid search placement that trumps organic searches.
As fast as search engine optimization experts develop ways to beat the search engines, the experts at the search engines change their algorithms, and my money is on the guys at Google.
When it comes to search engine optimization consider the following important issues and questions:
  1. Do the search engine tactics employed on your site degrade, obscure, or in some way diminish the ability of your website visitors to quickly find the information they want?
  2. Do these search engine tactics impede your ability to effectively deliver your marketing message in a way that attracts attention, triggers relevant sensory experience, and embeds your message in your visitors' memories?
  3. Do tactics like outbound reciprocal links and inline body-text links send people away from your site when you want them to stick around and hear what you have to say?
  4. Do you have excessive repetitive copy-text on your site aimed at being indexed by search engines rather than read by people for clear concise understanding?
  5. Have you reduced your complex message or instructions to a series of bulleted points that confuse rather than clarify?
  6. Do your search engine tactics concentrate on the volume of traffic rather than the quality?
  7. Is the traffic you're attracting leaving your site as fast as it's arriving?
The lesson we should learn from SenEx Design concepts is that websites need to be designed for people not search engines. Delivering a clearly understandable marketing message is achieved by tapping into the psychological and emotional responses triggered by sensory experiences. That is how you need to communicate to an audience separated from you by the vast expanse of the Internet.
SenEx Web Design Using Audio and Video Techniques
People are hungry for information. In today's fast-paced world the average person needs to constantly upgrade their knowledge of ever changing and more complex products and services. Things that were good for you yesterday today are harmful; products that don't exist today will exist tomorrow. So it doesn't matter if you are a homemaker, retiree, or a buyer for an international corporation, the need-to-know is constantly with us and it creates what Richard Saul Wurman have described as "Information Anxiety".
We just don't have the time to study everything we need-to-know or want-to-know that affects our business and personal lives. We need the information fast and in an easily digestible format. And we need that information presented in a way that will make it easy for us to retain it.
The power of Web-audio and video is their ability to illicit experiences by presenting information in a linear narrative that appeals to the senses of sound and sight. This ability attracts and focuses an audience's attention on the material you want highlighted; it presents that material in an easily digestible format; it clarifies the meaning and significance of critical details; and it penetrates viewers' consciousness so that the information is retained.
The following types of audio and video SenEx Web-presentations can be used to deliver a variety of material:

1. Web-commercials and Email Campaigns
2. Special Promotions and Product Offerings
3. Product Descriptions and Overviews
4. Testimonials and Reviews
5. How To Instructions and Tutorials
6. Frequently Asked Questions and Q&As
7. Expert Lectures, Analysis and Opinion
8. Background and History
9. Personality, Staff, and Business Profiles
Conclusion
We all have something we want to sell: a product, a service, a plan, an idea, or even ourselves. And anyone who has ever run a sales department will tell you the best way to sell is through human interaction and the best way to emulate that on a website is with Web-audio and video that uses Sensory and Experience Design techniques to deliver the message.
About The Author
Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit MRPwebmedia and SonicPersonality.com. Contact at info@mrpwebmedia.com or telephone (905) 764-1246.

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:: Web Development with SEO in Mind ::
By Adam McFarland of iPrioritize
When a business owner decides to bring their business to the web, generally the last thing that they think about is search engine optimization. They assume that whomever they hire to do their web design will put up a site and then submit it to the search engines and the traffic will magically pour in. Unfortunately it takes more than that to drive search engine traffic to your site, and even more unfortunately most developers don't program with SEO in mind, nor do they educate the client about the process involved in gaining traffic from search engines.
Whether it's carelessness or a lack of knowledge, or a combination of the two, this often leads to a client that several months down the road doesn't understand why their site doesn't get any traffic and isn't helping their business. A good designer will not only program with SEO in mind, but will also educate the client about the basic principles of SEO, whether they are the one who executes it or not.
Many times the clients I inherit have gone through this scenario and then face drastic on-site changes to get their site search engine friendly before we are even able to begin the arduous process of link building. Whether you are designing a site for yourself or for a client, following the simple steps below when programming will ultimately save the business time and money and result in a search engine friendly site that truly maximizes the online potential of the business.
Use Proper Tags for Headings, Bold Text, Italic Text, and Lists
HTML has heading tags, bold tags, italic tags, and ordered and unordered lists for a reason and you should use them. Using CSS you can practically style them however you like, but actually using a heading tag for your headings, and bold tags for important text, will help allow search engines understand what text on a page is a heading or what is more important than the surrounding text. Simply applying a CSS style that makes text larger or bold doesn't do that.
Optimize Your Images
Search engine spiders can't read text within an image. Adding ALT text to your image tag helps, but ideally you should remove all wording from the image and style it using CSS, adding the remaining portion of the image as a background image to the text. Here is a side-by-side comparison of two images that look the same in your browser, but much different to a search engine spider.
Avoid Canonical Problems
Believe it or not, search engines can see http://yoursite.com, http://www.yoursite.com, and http://www.yoursite.com/index.html as three different pages. A simple solution is to use a 301 redirect to point all of your pages to their "www" counterpart. You can also select the preferred domain that Google shows in the new Google Webmaster Tools console.
Get Rid of Session IDs if You have a PHP Site
Have you ever seen a PHPSESSID variable added to the end of a URL on a PHP page (it looks something like PHPSESSID=34908908)? This happens because PHP will add a unique PHPSESSID to URLs within your site if cookies aren't available. This can be extremely problematic for your site's search engine ranking. Google and Yahoo will see a unique PHPSESSID in the URL every time they visit a page on your site, and in turn think that said page is a different page each time. At worst, this could be viewed as duplicate content and get your site banned, and at best it will reduce the perceived value of each page. One solution that I've used successfully is to utilize url_rewriter.tags.
Put CSS and JavaScript in External Files
Nearly every site nowadays uses CSS and JavaScript for something. While both are great for enhancing user experience, neither will help your search engine ranking if left on your page. One of the factors that search engines consider when ranking your site is the percentage of code relevant to the search term. CSS and JavaScript can take up hundreds of lines of code, minimizing the importance of your text and in turn hurting your ranking. By putting them in separate files and simply including them in your page by reference, you can reduce hundreds of lines down to one and increase the amount of code in the file that is relevant content.
Minimize the Use of Tables in Layouts
The debate about whether or not tables should be used in site design has been going on for years and there's no end in site. I fall somewhere in the middle there are certain circumstances (like organizing tabular data) where I think tables still make the most sense, but I also appreciate the SEO benefits of using CSS layouts. CSS layouts drastically reduce the amount of code in your site that isn't content that the user sees. Just like moving CSS and JavaScript to an external file, the less on-page code that isn't content, the better. Check out search engine friendly layouts for some free example layouts.
Validate Your Site
A site doesn't have to be perfectly coded to rank high in the search engines (there are many, many other factors), but valid HTML will help ensure that search engines and browsers alike will accurately see your page. Try using the official W3C Validator or install this handy Firefox extension. Validating generally identifies areas of code that are redundant, unnecessary, or not accepted across all browsers. All of which will help make your site more search engine friendly.
About The Author
Adam McFarland owns iPrioritize - simple to-do lists that can be edited at any time from any place in the world. He also provides SEO consulting for small businesses looking for a cost-effective way to drive more traffic to their site and convert more visitors into customers.

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