Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Paving The Road Less Traveled...

The Journey of a Thousand Visitors (a day)…

OK, it was Michael’s mortgage company, he built it, he blazed the trail when interest rates were 15% and no one said he could make it -- but Mike did make it, and he still makes the all the decisions in his company. His business has grown to the point where he owned a two-story brick building and had grown to occupy both floors. Mike also had developed a great word-of-mouth client base. His company volume had stabilized over the last few years. And this year, it looked like volume might actually be off a bit; and Mike had noticed that decline.

But for whatever reason, maybe because he was busy with the mortgage business, Michael had been oblivious to the IBM ‘net’ commercials, barely noticed the transition from 800 numbers to the dot com web address in print ads and other than using $2.50 worth of time of his $20 AOL account to get stock prices, he just didn’t think this net thing was for real.

That was because Michael didn’t understand the net… yet. His journey was just beginning.

From The Mouth Of Babes.

That changed about three months ago when his daughter, Kenzie, was ‘online’ with her girlfriend. She was giggling and Michael casually said, “Kenz, why don’t you just call her?” Feverishly typing, without looking up, she said, “Dad, you are so… umm… so… 80’s... fer sure.” Hmm, at 44, Mike is probably more 70’s than 80’s, so that really stung, especially coming from a 13 year old. Then Kenzie sent the real zinger, “Dad, you don’t even have a domain name, I don’t have one, all my friends have one…”

Trying to make the best of a rapidly deteriorating conversation, Mike remembered how he spent his entire lunchtime looking for a favorite Peter Drucker book at the bookstore, but it wasn’t there. He challenged Kenzie to find the book by saying, “If the net is so powerful, find Drucker on Management.” She opened a new browser window, (“Hmm, how did she do that?” he wondered) went to Amazon.com, and while it was loading, asked her dad how to spell it. Kenzie then alt-tabbed back to her conversation browser with her friend. Four minutes later, she not only had the book Mike was seeking, but a list of every book Drucker ever wrote.

Time, Waits For No One.

“Gawd, four minutes… just four minutes” Mike said to himself, “I spent 10 times that amount looking at lunch and didn’t find it.” And then he thought, “I bet it works the same way for mortgages.”

Mike noticed the book is out of print but saw there was a special search feature to look for copies. Silently, Michael was impressed. His most precious business commodity, time, and his daughter just saved him a fistful. Mike almost was ready to ask Kenz to do the out-of-print search, but she is back into the conversation.

All Aboard.

That was the turning point. And Mike was always a man of action, so he broke down and thought he would start a new path... and ride the Internet wave to riches. So Mike spent a few bucks, well -- more than a few bucks, on one those guys with a pocket protector he ridiculed in high school and the geek built Mike’s new web site. It was pretty and colorful, had a mortgage calculator, an online application, even a cute little ‘cha-ching’ sound every time a web page opened, and, even better…

Mike’s wife approved. Plus the geek designer has said he won several design awards, and this site surely would win an award as well. Mike, started spending more time with his AOL account and soon realized the increased efficiency and sales production that a new web site could provide. He thought that this should allow him to finally layoff his sales manager, who hasn't sold a thing since the day Mike put him on salary. “Boy, this net really is worth it,” he mused to himself. Mike even stopped referring to the web designer as ‘geek’ and started calling him the ‘award winner.’

The site went up in less than 20 days. Then a week goes by... and no traffic. A month goes by... and not much traffic. “Hey, if I could build a company when interest rates were high, this should be simple,” he said to himself.

The counter on the site crept up to 87… Mike considered increasing Kenzie’s allowance just to click on his mortgage site, over and over, to increase the counter total so he is not so embarrassed in case anyone actually visits.

California Dreamin’

In Mike’s best, newfound netspeak he wondered, "Does the net suck?" or is it some sort of Karmic payback from the geek, for all the grief Mike gave him, and others like him, that is causing his site to flounder.

It was Monday morning and on Mike’s way to the coffee room he could overhear the new 20-something, Gen-X employee from the document processing and Mary, his cute, but closer to 40 than 20, executive secretary talking. The X-er was trying to impress Mary by attempting to use music to reach across the generation says, "Mary, have you seen our web site? I look it this weekend, and it is one of those California Dreamin' sites.”

“California dreamin’?” She replies.

“Yeah, you know, the only way you will get visitors to that site is to ‘get down on your knees and begin to pray...’”

Mary laughs and says, “What were you doing on the site?”

“My sister owns a company that specializes in creating Internet traffic. So we looked at it, she said the site really sucks and it would be nearly impossible to get visitors to the site from the search engines. Customers just won’t be able to find the site, the way it is structured now. Plus that ‘cha-ching’ sound has got to go.“

Mary responded, “Mike wanted that sound on there so people could think they are saving when they visit our site, but the only ‘cha-ching’ is what we paid to the geek. As far as getting found, you are telling me the only award it could win is the ‘Where's Waldo’ advanced version?”

Having heard enough, and softly remembering the line, ‘All the skies are grey,’ Mike startled them both as he came around the corner. X-er left, Mary tried to, but Mike wouldn’t let her go.

Mike didn’t like what he heard, he was frustrated and a bit impatient, but always had good business judgment, and said, “OK, Mary, ask his sister to come in and see me. We’ll see how good she is.” Mike was committed to making this site go; to creating an online presence.

An Interview With A Geek…

Two days later, Linda came to Mike’s office.

Linda didn’t look like too geekish, but once she opened her mouth, well, Mike knew that she knew what she was talking about.

“Michael, I don’t usually travel to clients offices, most of my consultations are in netspace; but you are in town, and my brother said you could really use the help... and I agree. Plus, I haven’t had to wear anything but shorts and t-shirts for the last three months, so this is a good change of pace for me.” Linda said.

She looked over Mike’s shoulder and saw the picture of his family, and books, lots of books… management books; and books on presidents, Nixon, FDR, Kennedy… Linda was probably close to Mike’s age, but dressed like a net person, polo shirt with her company’s logo, no brief case, and a casual approach. “Well, I could beat around the bush, but I looked at your site” she said, “and while it does look nice, it... it … umm, well, it sucks.”

“At least it looks nice…” Mike replied, thinking that ‘sucks’ really is a net word.

From Bricks To Clicks…

With that Linda politely smiled and went into a full-on geek/net/cyber dialogue, make that monologue.

“You know that web sites end in dot com? That .com doesn’t stand for communication, or commerce. It stands for competition, your competition. All the companies are trying to do what you are doing - attempting to convert from ‘bricks to clicks.’ Trying to leave the physical limitations behind and go electronic. Replacing clerical staff, replacing sales staff.”

“Yes!! Replace! Replace! Replace!” Michael said to himself, sounding a bit like that robot in Lost in Space.

Linda continued, “If you don't have a domain name, you don't exist. People think you are out-of-it. And you are losing your customers, because they are online - accessing your competitors.”

"Only about 7% of users really go beyond the first three pages of results," Linda said, “and I checked Infoseek this morning and it had 425,000 pages with ‘loans.’ And AltaVista has 680,000 pages with ‘loans.’ The search engine have proprietary algorithms that rank each page, and because your existing page is so graphic intensive, there isn’t much the search engines can grab onto to rank your page. I would guess, as nice as your site looks, you would be ranked around the bottom of this list, maybe number 416,000th… at best.” She was serious.

“And that is your major problem,” she said, “We have to get ‘eyeballs’ to your site. You have a site that is not going to generate traffic search engines. It is an Internet site, and you should attempt to use the Internet as the medium to deliver visitors. Sure, you can spend thousands of dollars off-line, but why not use the power of the Internet, to deliver targeted visitors, immediately, to your web page?”

Long Train Runnin…

“Michael, we have to pave the road less traveled.” Linda continued. “Let me give you an example.”

“Imagine you have a small town, isolated in the middle of nowhere, and off in the distance, 20 miles away, are train tracks and an occasional train. Your town needs tourism to survive. How much traffic are you going to get to your town from that train?”

Mike laughs, “Not much.” And he begins to see the similarity between this small town and his site.

“Ok, now imagine that this train now stops, 20 miles away, but there is a bus that people can catch from the train station to your city. There is a chance that some may get off the train, catch a bus, and visit your town. On the net, this is like using banner ads, and you may get some traffic, but still not much traffic.”

… Just A Click Away.

Linda continues, “Now imagine, waking up one day, and finding not only does the train go right through your town, but it stops at your town. And then discovering not only is there one track, but 8-10 tracks that now come across the empty plains and stop at your town. Each one of these tracks in a search engine and can deliver hundreds or thousands visitors every day. That is what happens when you get ranked in the search engines. The ‘railroad tracks’ are electronic, and can appear instantly. The road leading to your site is now paved, guiding visitors to your site.

When you get ranked in the engines, you are just a click away from a highly targeted visitor, coming down the track to stop at your domain. That is what optimizing a web site can do for business.”

Count Me In. Oops, Make That, Count Me Out.

“Let me address some other issues with your site. You know that counter, the one that says 91 (“Whoa, I am up to 91,” thought Mike, then he remembered he told his mother about the site as she just got online), that is pretty low. What is sad is that the 91 count probably is just you, your employees, probably even your mother (How did she know? Mike wondered).”

I Know What You Did Last Session…

“Get rid of the counter. If it is low, your visitor is going to wonder what they are doing there, and if it is high, your competitors are going to copy your site. There are better ways to monitor your visitors - they are logs, but we can discuss that later.”

Are You Sure You’re Secure?

“And your secure server, where you allow people to fill out the online application… you have to tell people that you have a secure site. It used to be only your psychiatrist would ask you if you are ‘secure’ now the whole world wants to know, so you better tell them your site in encrypted and they can safely give you the information you need.”

Animated Gifs Out Of Control.

“Let me comment on your graphics as well. Most of your graphics are nice, except for that little animated mailbox image that opens and closes, and opens and closes and opens and… Animated gifs are a ‘right of passage,’ sort of like Chicken Pox for a kid; you have it and then move on. It is when those animated gifs stick around and then these graphics become the Energizer Bunnies of the net, afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome; yelling at you, screaming at you, begging you to notice the graphic, detracting the viewers eyes from the content of your site, the real reason why they visited. Get rid of the animated mail box, today.”

Sounds Like…

“While I am on the topic of things that may be annoying to your visitors, you know that little “cha-ching” sound you have that you probably think tells people they are saving money? Well, some people might interpret that as you are making money every time they open one of your web pages. Your web site should be what like what parents sometimes say to kids, ‘they are better to be seen not heard.’ So, the rule for music or sound effects, unless you are MTV or sell music, don't have music, or sounds, on your site. It gets worse when somebody tries to put what they like on a site, thinking everybody will like their music tastes -- nobody wants to listen to your niece tap dance the drum solo from In-a-gadda-da-vida... the long version, nor hear your parrot whistle the theme song from Gilligan's Island... you may like it, your visitors don't. Take the sound off, today. "

Linda hadn’t so much paused for a breath during her insightful, cutting analysis. Michael wondered what else could she say; the site was only 15 pages.

These Fingers Are Made For Clicking…

Linda paused, realizing she had been a bit harsh, and looked at Mike’s books again; looked for a bit of levity. “You know what JFK would say about a web site, about your web site?” Mike just shook his head ‘No.”

“He would say, ‘Ask not what your customer can do for you, but what you can do for your customer.’” Mike, wanted to roll his eyes, but he got the message.

With a joke to break up her delivery, Linda got back into the heavy analysis role, “I would venture that the person who designed your site was male.” Linda said. “It is a nice site, but the color scheme the graphics you used, well they reeked of old male chauvinism, especially that line you used which said, ‘As hard as you work to provide for your family, your wife, your children, you want the best for them.’ The latest Internet studies now put females at 50% of all users, and those nail polish coated fingers do a whole lot of clicking. You need to design a site that is appealing to both sexes.”

“Alright, I get the idea. I need to make a few changes. Let’s go back to the trainloads of people, this paving the road less traveled. How do we do that?” Michael asked.

What We Want.

“You know, Michael, ‘www’ doesn’t stand for World Wide Web, it stands for ‘what we want.’ Your customers can now comparison shop hundreds of sites in one session. If you don’t have what they want, you won’t get what you want.

I Can See Clearly Now.

“Delivering targeted traffic is extremely difficult. You have to a have a clear vision of what you are providing either as a service or a product, then you have to speculate as to what your potential visitors are looking for, and then you have to design web pages to communicate your message, in a manner agreeable to the search engines, so people can find you. They are a potential user of your services right now, right this minute, whether 2 a.m. on a Saturday night or on their lunch break while at work, they want what they want, right now.”

“I noticed on your site you say ‘home loan’ this and ‘home loan’ that, but you don’t say home mortgage. Why is that?”

Mike responded, finally an answer he knew, “Well, in this state, there are no mortgages, so I didn’t use the word mortgage.” It felt good to Michael to deliver the right information.

Sorta, Kinda, Approximately… Absolutely.

“OK, but it is not what you think, it is what your clients think. And if they type ‘home mortgages,’ when looking for ‘home loans,’ you better have ‘home mortgages,’ because that is what they want. And, to add to the equation here, search engines are absolute in their searches. If someone types ‘home mortgages,’ that is what the engine is going to look for, not ‘home loans.’

It is the same way as if you were going to buy the latest CD by your favorite group, and the clerk gives you the CD that was their first album. It is not what you were looking for. In fact, some searches are so absolute, that if you type ‘home loan,’ only pages with ‘home loan’ not ‘home loans’ will appear. Other engines are case sensitive so if someone searches for ‘HOME LOANS’ the phrase ‘home loan’ is not a match.”

Not Just A Pretty Face.

Mike thought for a moment, “So you are telling me there is a whole lot more than just having a web site that looks good?”

“Yep.” Linda replied, as concisely as she had been all day.

On The Road Again…

Mike, satisfied with what he had learned, and a staff meeting pending, said, “OK, I will change my web site. Let’s try and pave that road… Can we meet again?”

For online mortgage leads please visit our mortgage leads page.

Paving the Road Less Traveled
Originally published January 2000

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