Get writing – people prefer articles

Businesses say articles are the most helpful form of content

If you want to engage business owners and executives you had better get writing. New research shows that the most “helpful” kind of web content is the written article. Indeed, it is deemed ten times better than social media and 14 times more helpful than video. Yet, everywhere you go these days people are telling you to record video, produce podcasts or to Tweet like crazy. After all, if Robbie Williams Tweeted and video blogged his way through his new son’s birth, it must be something people want. Right? Well, not according to this study.

Chart showing various types of content and their perceived usefulness

The study shows where you should be putting your business priorities in terms of content production. Articles, reports, white papers and newsletters are the top of the tree. Notice too that people distinguish between blog posts and articles. It seems that  blog posts are perceived as short updates, whereas articles are obviously longer. This ties in with another recent study which showed that the most valuable length of content is around 1,600 words – much longer than the typical blog post. Google is also now highlighting “in depth” articles on search results pages because its own research has shown that such items get more clicks.

What all of this data tells us is one thing – people want in-depth material. They perceive social media and video as more superficial. Furthermore, the vast majority of online video is entertainment and is not generally useful to business.

There is another reason why people want long written content and that is involved with the psychology of risk reduction. We are constantly seeking to reduce our risks; it is a natural survival mechanism. When it comes to business, though, we still are risk averse and so we seek as much information as possible before making a decision. Furthermore, people want documentation to support their decision, so that should someone criticise them they can weigh in with all the “evidence”. If all they had was a Tweet or two and a couple of videos they fear they would get laughed out of the job.

Long articles, white papers, reports and so on help with this risk aversion. They provide evidence to support the decisions made and they also help inform those decisions because of all the detail they convey, thereby lessening the perceived risk.

If you want to engage with more business people, then more time spent writing will pay off.

Categories: Online Business

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Should you “stress test” your website?

European Banks Fail the “Stress Test” – would your website pass?

3d people - man, person with words good or bad in balanceEuropean banks have just been “stress tested” to see if they could withstand another financial crisis. Of the 123 banks examined, 24 failed the test with banks in Italy being the worst performers. The poor banks are under notice that they need to improve, just in case the world’s finances take a tumble.

However, if you are going to stress test anything, then the test itself needs to be appropriate. Part of this EU test involved assessing the asset value of the banks – and guess what, many of the banks over-estimated their assets. Indeed, that is partly the problem with the financial crisis which started back in 2008 – the banks generally overestimated how much their asset book was really worth. They do not seem to have learned the lesson.

So if we know that banks can’t value assets properly, testing to see if they do it well is not a good test. Instead, the test needs to be about the training of asset valuation or the employment processes involved in selecting people who do the valuations. In other words, the EU is testing the symptoms, not the cause. That’s rather like your doctor having a test to see if you have a headache, without any kind of test to locate the cause.

Telling us that EU banks cannot value assets properly is not much of a test; we know that. What we need a test for is to find out if the banks have poor employment practices or bad training. If that is tested, then something can be done about it.

What do you test for?

Website “stress testing” is largely about “load testing” – how many people can access your website at any one time and how quickly does the page load for them. When the loads become too high, the website “crashes”. Website stress testing is about how many people can easily view your website at the same time.

But like testing to see if banks accurately measure assets, testing a website for load times is dealing with the symptoms. It is stress testing for the wrong things.

Sure, your website needs to load when lots of people want to view it, but frankly with most web hosting arrangements these days, that is taken into account with resource allocation. If you buy cheap web hosting you stand a risk of your site crashing, but these days most reasonably priced web hosting can cope with floods of visitors. Of course, if you expect a massive interest, due to some TV exposure or a viral campaign you have organised, then clearly you need to put in place some additional support, such as mirror sites. But generally these days most online businesses can cope with the stresses and strains of multiple visitors.

The crucial question is why would you get lots of visitors in the first place?  The web is skewed. Massive online brands like Google or Amazon will get millions of visitors each day. But a typical small business site is only going to get 100 visitors a day, if they are lucky. After all, just how many people each day really want to find an “accountant in Berkshire” or a “car rental service in Edinburgh”…? There just aren’t that many people interested in most businesses…! So 100 visitors a day works out at around four people an hour.  Almost all web servers can cope with that – it doesn’t need “stress testing”.

But what does need “stress testing” is the frustration of the visitors to your website. Can they really find what they want? Does your website actually click with them? Are you making it more annoying to use your site than you ought to? In other words, the real “stress testing” you should undertake for your website is about the human use of it. Far too much online testing is about the technology and numbers. That’s symptomatic results, not causation. Doctors monitor your symptoms, but test for causes.

Your website needs to do the same – check out WHY people do what they do on your website. Find out what works, what doesn’t work and what annoys people. In other words, test the human interaction of your website. Do that, make changes as a result and before you know it you will be getting much more traffic and you’ll need to stress test the load times…!

Categories: Online Business

Are your frightened by the Internet?

What’s the scariest thing you can face? For decades, many people have cited the notion that public speaking is amongst the most fearsome activities of all. Indeed, in one study several years ago public speaking was the “number one” fear, but death came third on the list. However, the research that produced this amazing revelation is quite old now, so it is good to see that Chapman University from Orange, California, has just completed a major survey into what people worry about the most.

Public speaking is now fifth on the list of major fears. Three of the top five, however, are concerns about the Internet. The number one thing which people now worry about is having their identity stolen online. The other two significant Internet fears are being spied upon by companies and Government surveillance. Clearly, the biggest fear people have is “big brother”.

This is a significant study. It involved 1,500 people and has been analysed using a cross section of academic experts from different disciplines. Sure, people are frightened of disasters or walking home alone at night, but nowadays they are largely worried about the Internet and its impact on their lives.

For businesses this is an important finding. It means that you are more likely to be able to engage your visitors if you reassure them about privacy and security. These are “top of mind” issues for people and hence these are areas worth emphasising for online businesses.

It suggests you need clear policies about data collection – not the thousands of words you see on typical online agreements. It implies too that you need verified site status from digital certification bodies. Indeed, you should do anything and everything you can to reassure your visitors that they are not being spied upon or having information taken and sold.

With people clearly frightened by some aspects of the Internet, your online business is only going to truly succeed if you can allay those fears.

Categories: Internet Psychology

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Too much choice can harm your business

The psychology of choice is an important factor in website success

Choice is important to your website visitorsSingle people have never had so much choice. They can join dozens of dating sites and check out millions of potential partners. Finding the perfect partner has never been so easy. Except on thing. The number of single people is growing. One in three people in the USA, for instance, is single. In spite of being able to make their perfect match, it seems that people are finding it harder to get just the right person.

In the past, of course, it was all so easy. The number of potential partners was limited by geography; unless you moved town, you usually married someone local. Now, literally, the world is your oyster. But the chances of finding a pearl in an oyster is less than 0.001% and it seems that the chances of finding your true soul-mate among the online hopefuls is similarly low.

The reason is simple – there is too much choice. Daters know that there is always someone else waiting in the wings. Hence they keep looking for “perfection”,  just never finding it. So they go on and on and on hunting.

The psychological research on choice also shows us that when we are faced with more choices we are more disappointed with the selection. When we have lots to choose from we start looking for minor flaws and we stop focusing on the positive attributes. That’s what happens in online dating. Instead of concentrating on what is good about a potential date, people end up seeing the minor imperfections in the daters, thus moving on until they find someone who is completely perfect.

When it comes to your website this is an important psychological factor. Too much choice increases disappointment. Visitors will look for all the potential problems with what you offer, rather than the positives they contain for them. On top of this, studies show that when we are faced with multiple choices we actually delay making a selection. Providing people with fewer options makes three things happen:

  1. People make a selection more easily
  2. People make a choice more quickly
  3. People are happier with their choice

Far from providing lots of choice, you should start limiting your choice.

Reducing choice for buyers

One way of presenting lots of choices but in a limited way is to categorise. Human beings are programmed to love categories. Imagine you sell coffee mugs. The first thing to do is to sort them into categories. You might have “large, medium and small”, for instance. People then click on one of those choices. They are then faced with more choices such as “round, straight or tapered”. Again, they click on their choice to be presented with another selection, perhaps “white, bright, pastel” – and so on. In other words you let people make increasingly narrow choices.

The alternative is to have a web page which shows the 250 kinds of mugs you sell. The result is confusion and a focus on the negatives, together with associated delay in decision-making. For all its brilliance, Amazon would sell a lot more if it limited our choices.

Real world shops do this all the time, without us realising. Imagine you are going into a furniture store to buy a new dining room table. The store does not present you with everything it has on offer, waiting for you to search around all the items. Instead the store is divided into clear regions – lounge furniture, kitchen furniture, bedroom furniture and so on. You ignore all of those and head straight to the dining room area. But even within that area the store will have “zoned” things into simple choices. They may have divided it up into regions according to type of wood, or size of tables, for example. Either way your mind focuses on your choice. Then once you are in the tiny corner of the store that applies to you, you select a purchase from the small number of items. Real world stores funnel you into what you want using simple choices down an imaginary mental pathway. Online stores say “here’s everything, you sort it for yourself”.

Figures out today suggest that ecommerce growth is not as substantial as we think. Perhaps it is because online stores are offering us too much. We simply cannot make a decision when faced with multiple choices. Worse still for online businesses, even if people do buy from your massive choice, they are more likely to be disappointed than if you offered them fewer things. And that brings up a whole new area to worry about – the negative word of mouth it will lead to on social media. If you don’t want that to happen, do not offer your customers so much. And if you do have a lot to offer, categorise it and push people down pathways to reach what they want, rather than letting them search your site.

Categories: Internet Psychology

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Weekend work no longer an option

Online social media usage at its highest when business activity is at its lowest

The typical business working week is from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. Even in these days of 24/7 living, most businesses work a standard 40-hour week. In fact, many work less with a “dress down Friday” leading to a more relaxed day, often with people leaving early to “get home for the weekend”. It seems that many businesses only work four days a week…!

Meanwhile, of course, the Internet is alive and well 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Even if you are not in the office or working from your mobile, people are still visiting your website, buying things from you or sending you emails. While you sleep, your business is active on the Internet.

New research, however, suggests there is a mismatch between what businesses do and what their customers or potential clients do. Most Retweets happen on a Sunday, when most businesses do not take part in social media. Indeed, as the working week progresses businesses do more and more social media activity as their customers do less. Then once the weekend begins, customers do more and more social media while businesses do dramatically less.

Graph showing daily Twitter activity

The research shows that the wider public are more active on social media during the weekends, when businesses are at their least active. Much of this could be due to people “catching up” – they were busy themselves working during the week and can only do their social media activity when they have time on a Saturday or Sunday. However, this somewhat misses the point about “social” media.

How can a business be “social” with its customers when it is not present?

Customers expect you to be able to respond to Tweets, to thank them for Retweets, for instance. Or they expect you to be able to answer questions raised on your Facebook page. Waiting until Monday to deal with these issues might seem OK to a business, but the problem is that by Monday, those customers have largely disappeared from your social activity, only to resurface the next weekend.

A study of the Fortune 500 firms a few years ago found that those which engaged “real-time” had an increase in company value over a year, but companies that failed to engage in real-time actually lost value. Firms that were engaging “real-time” had an average 3% increase in stock value over the 12 months of the study; companies that did not engage with the market in “real-time” had an average share price loss of 2%.

Yet in spite of this data, most businesses still stick to the traditional Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.

Customers are not doing this. They want to engage with your business on a Sunday, for instance. The decision for businesses is not how to get more Twitter followers, but how to change working practices so they truly become a 24/7 company enabling real engagement with their customers.

Categories: Online Business

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