What Windows 10 means for your website

Microsoft announcement has implications for your website

Windows 8 ScreenshotMicrosoft has announced the next version of its operating system, Windows, called “Windows 10″ – yes they are missing out entirely a version numbered “9”.  It is going to be another year before the product is available to consumers because more testing and development is required. But the announcement from Microsoft is revealing.

One of the significant features is the presence of the “Start Button”. When Windows 8 was launched, the “Start Button” was removed in favour of a swiping screen full of “tiles”.

Why did Microsoft do this? Well, they argued that they needed a system that worked on mobile devices as well as PCs. They also appeared to be reasoning that everyone was going to convert to using touch screens and that the days of the keyboard were numbered.  The tiles on Windows 8 were easy to swipe with your finger; the only problem was that most offices do not have touch screens. And even if they did, using them would need a wholesale shift in behaviour that is deeply embedded.

Windows 8 is used on less than one in five PCs. Hardly the success story that Microsoft had hoped for. Even Windows XP which the company no longer supports is used on almost twice as many computers.

It is all reminiscent of Windows Vista. That software has been named as one of the greatest technological flops of all time. Not only did it have severe hardware restrictions, causing people to upgrade PCs and peripherals costing lost of cash, but it also changed the way the PC interface worked. Windows 7 – still the most popular operating system – had to reverse the flaws of Vista, giving people back the kind of operating system they were used to.

You would have thought that Microsoft had learned its lesson. Clearly not. Here we are, eight years on from the Vista fiasco with Windows 10 clearly taking users back to something more familiar and user-friendly than Windows 8. Microsoft appears intent on change for change sake, but users are comfortable with the familiar.

Lesson for your website

This is an important lesson for your website. People prefer stability; they favour the familiar. When you try to change things, when you take away the comfortable, they do not like it. They want the past back.

This doesn’t mean you cannot introduce new things. But it does mean they have to run in familiar ways. The most successful apps on smartphones, for instance, all work in the same way. They have menus and settings in the same place. They use finger swipes in the same way. They don’t try to do things differently. Some do – we have probably never heard of them. People reject them.

Microsoft ought to have learned that the familiar is important to usability.

That is an important lesson for web design. If you try to change the familiar design of menus across the top, contact information at the bottom, and other standard design features you make your website less usable because it lacks familiarity. Designers will, like Microsoft, want you to be different. But different means unusable. Imagine if every car manufacturer in the world had different ways of steering the car. There is no need for a steering wheel – there are dozens of alternative ways of making the wheels turn. But it is the familiarity of the steering wheel that makes cars usable. We can get into any car in the world and use it.

You can’t get on to any PC in the world and use it because there is a one-in-five chance it will be running the tiled version of Windows 8 and you won’t know where to go or what to do. Windows 8 tried to change behaviour, which was its fundamental flaw.

If you use odd design on your website, you too are trying to change behaviour. It might mean that you have to put up with what you consider to be a boring website because it is “the same” as every other site. But it is this familiarity and “sameness” that makes it so usable. Far from trying to be different, the more you stay the same the better.

Categories: Online Business


Is email marketing successful or just plain easy?

Email marketing continues to be the “number one” – but why?

Email marketing is constantly being rated as the “number one” method of marketing by online marketers. There are dozens of surveys and studies which show that marketers rate email marketing as their most successful method of gaining business. There is plenty of research which shows that email marketing generates more sales and more leads than other forms of internet marketing.

However, a new study shows an interesting twist to this long-held belief. It turns out that marketers rate email marketing as the easiest form of marketing.

Graph showing that email marketing is considered to be easy

This suggests that there is a vast amount of email marketing going on simply because marketers find it easy to do. And with large volumes of email marketing happening you are likely to find it is more successful than other forms of digital marketing, simply because of the impact of the volume.

Marketers rate social media as the most difficult form of online marketing that they do. They rate this as their fourth most effective kind of marketing.

When you consider other elements of marketing which they also find difficult, such as SMS marketing or marketing through ecommerce channels, you can see that things rated as more difficult tend to be rated as less effective.

This suggests that people may be finding data that confirms their beliefs. They believe email marketing to be easy and so the data they find backs up it is successful. In other words, people tend to find what they are looking for,

Independent analysis, by firms such as HubSpot, shows that content marketing is by far the single most successful online method of generating sales. Yet, marketers believe this is one of the least successful elements, behind email marketing, a website, SEO and social media. But they also rate it as one of the most difficult kinds of marketing they do. They don’t rate it as that successful because they find it hard to do.

What this data suggests is that email marketing might not be the “holy grail” it seems. It might just be that people find it easy and therefore reckon it is valuable.

Sometimes, a business benefits when you concentrate on the more difficult tasks, rather than the easy ones. Just because it is easy and it produces results, does not mean that email marketing is better than something else, such as content marketing which is more difficult to work with. Don’t let a marketing task’s difficulty fool you into believing it will not be successful. We might be being fooled into believing that email marketing is the most successful form of online marketing, when in reality what we are actually measuring is its ease of use.

Categories: Email

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Why do businesses send such stupid emails?

Six out of ten marketing emails never get opened

Email marketing Are marketers plain daft or just lazy? They can only be one or the other. Surely they know that personalising their email marketing initiatives is what is needed to engage people. That’s not news, after all. Neither is it some amazing fact that would surprise even the most green of marketers. So why is it that most emails sent out by brands are not personalised? Either the companies don’t know that personalisation is essential or they can’t be bothered. And if they can’t be bothered, why should we be bothered to open their emails?

In fact, we don’t bother. A recent study found that the average inbox contains 250 unopened marketing emails from companies and brands. The majority of these emails are from companies which the recipients signed up for – they are not unwanted spam. So why do they remain unopened?

The survey revealed some key factors behind the extent of unopened, yet requested, emails:

  • The emails contain irrelevant information
  • The content is not personalised
  • The subject lines are boring

Now, forgive me if I am being stupid myself, but aren’t these obvious reasons for failure? Isn’t it clear to marketers that every email they send should be personalised, contain relevant information and have a subject line that makes people want to open it? That’s all kind of obvious isn’t it?

So why aren’t companies doing the obvious? Are they daft or lazy?

The web is focused on the wrong thing

One reason why companies may not care that most of their emails lay unopened and unseen is because the web focuses our minds on “traffic”. Everywhere you look there are little signs saying how many people shared this, how many followers this page has or how many people watched something. On top of this businesses have analytics which tell them how many people opened something, how many of them used particular search words and how many of them clicked on something.

We are surrounded by data which is about “how many”.

So email marketers gain success by ever increasing the size of their mailing list; they concentrate on getting more and more people to subscribe. That produces nice graphs for management meetings showing an upward trend. Then they look at “open rates” or “click through rates” and get depressed by how few people actually engage with what they send out. Then someone produces some spurious statistic saying that even this low open rate is much better than was ever achieved with printed direct mail. So, the meeting then goes back to “the only way we can get more sales is to get more subscribers” – and so the circle is completed; businesses believe that the main solution to their problem with email marketing is getting a bigger list.

Yet the recent study shows that the majority of those 250 unopened emails would get opened if they had interesting subject lines, were personalised and contained relevant information. And that suggests you could make more money without expanding your mailing list but by doing “the obvious” when it comes to marketing.

Marketers are not stupid; they know what to do. The problem is they are surrounded by desires to increase numbers of recipients, rather than increase conversion rates from existing subscribers.

True, many businesses are improving their email marketing to deal with the conversion issue. But as this survey reveals the vast majority of businesses are not. If they were dealing with the issue, there would not be 250 unopened emails in our inboxes.

Categories: Email

Tags: ,

Being available is more important than being different

Focusing on product choice or social networks is less important

Anyone in business needs to differentiate themselves from the competition. So it is inevitable that businesses try to produce services or products that have an “edge” that set them apart. It means that companies spend months working out just what they need to do to be different. Apple, for instance, has spent the past year or two working on the iPhone 6 and its new smartwatch, just to make it seem different. Even though Apple is hugely successful, this focus on difference is not working. After all, the smartphone market is dominated by Android phones which now sell twice as many times as iPhones. Once the dominant force in the smartphone market, iPhones are now fading.

One of the crucial differences is availability. The iPhone is not available in every phone shop, whereas you can get a wide selection of Android devices. Furthermore if you want support for you iPhone, your local phone shop will send you off to the Apple Store or to the Apple website. But no matter what kind of Android phone you have, you can get support from any phone shop, there and then with the convenience of immediacy.

New research shows it is this kind of availability that is more important to customers than the product itself. Furthermore, showing you are customer centric by increased availability is more important to customers than having an online community. Whilst many businesses are spending time developing new product ideas and features, or building social media empires, their customers just wished they could phone them.

Graph showing what makes a company customer centric

The research is based on asking marketers what they believe to be the most important from their knowledge of their own customers. It shows us that companies know what is really important – being available to help customers, being present in the “here and now” and responding fast to queries. However, many companies are avoiding doing the very things they know to be important because these cost money – whereas they can build a social media campaign and think they are doing something for customers at a relatively low cost.

The issue is this. Social media activity or providing new and innovative features are important for any business; but they are not as important to showing your customers you care about them as making sure you are available for them. That’s why “live chat” facilities on websites really help, as does having a prominent phone number and being able to answer that phone 24 hours a day.

One of the problems of the Internet is that it gives an illusion of closeness to customers, but how close really are you? If you spend all your time creating social media content and not actually speaking to customers and being available on their terms, you are not really as close as you think.

Categories: Online Business


How to maintain long-distance social relationships

Being humble maintains distant connections

social network superimposed on world mapThese days, many of your business contacts are long-distance. Even if they are actually not that far away, a great deal of your communication is effectively long-distance because much of it is mediated through the Internet. Goodness, we have all probably seen people email the person sitting next to them, rather than actually talk…!

The problem with long-distance relationships of any kind is that they are easier to break up than when you are really physically close to someone.

Interesting new research, admittedly looking at romantic relationships, gives us a clue as to how we need to behave online if we want to maintain those long-distance connections with business colleagues, customers, associates and so on.

The study found that relationships were much more likely to be maintained when the partners were humble. This was especially the case in long-distance relationships.

Being humble

What the research means is that online we need to be less arrogant, less full of ourselves and less wanting to be right all the time. You see a great deal of that kind of behaviour on social networks and what it seems to do is drive people away, rather than attract them.

Being humble also means accepting that you might be wrong, that the other person may be superior to you or know more than you and that they might be better than you.

In short, it is about treating other people in the way we would like to be treated. It comes back to the same old argument – see things much more from the other person’s perspective and your relationship will be maintained.

Categories: Social


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