Usability is the best investment most organizations will never make

A price tag well into five figures is no longer uncommon for a small business trying to build a website. Many medium sized businesses tag another zero on the end of their bills – yet even larger companies with even bigger budgets are often reluctant to spend a small fraction of that to ensure that their sites actually work.

A small but growing industry has been screaming for attention, but is still not getting the respect they deserve. Usability experts have spent years studying how people use the Internet to determine what works and what doesn’t, and even though their invaluable insights are available for a fraction of what it costs to create a site, the vast majority of comapnies never bring one in.

What is truly amazing is how much is spent on websites that look pretty and have fantastic information, but simply don’t work.

Sites like Jakob Nielson’s useit.com provide a staggeringly long list of mistakes that can cripple the usability of a site and make it impossibly difficult for visitors to use.

We’ve all seen these basic mistakes hundreds of times:

  1. Inconsistent menu options on different website pages
  2. Search results that don’t indicate where on the site the results are found.
  3. Navigation elements too close to advertising (and are therfore not noticed by visitors)
  4. Too many navigation options that make site navigation very confusing
  5. Text links that don’t change colour when they have been visited

The list goes on and on, but the point should be obvious by now – there are a lot of ways to screw up the structure of a website if you don’t know what you’re doing.

So the next time your organization is creating or revamping their website, be sure that the company you hire has a usability expert on staff, or bring in your own.

Is social media right for marketing your small business?

Social Media for small business
Tips for social media marketing, and the many different ways social media can be used to promote small / midsized businesses (SMBs), can be found in almost endless numbers on an incredibly wide variety of websites. But there’s one crucial tip most small businesses won’t see – and that they should consider before any of the others; namely, is social media right for you at all?

Marketing budgets for SMBs have always been tight, and human resources to manage these dollars are becoming even more scarce. So while there are clearly great opportunities for small and medium businesses to use social media to market themselves, it’s equally clear that social media isn’t for everyone.

Should you be using social media to promote your small / medium business?

1. Does your business have something to say?

This is not a minor or flippant point. Some people enjoy their work, sell great products and love promoting their company, but just don’t have a lot to say about their business. For any number of reasons you might not feel you have anything interesting to say – and you need to know that up front, before you set up social media channels that will sit dormant. The only thing worse than not using social media is setting up social media accounts and signing up followers, but then not using these accounts regularly.

2. Can you take part in a conversation about your industry?

So maybe you don’t think you have anything to say up front. Maybe instead there are people already talking about your industry where you could jump in and add your insights. Just be sure you actually have some insights to add, and that you won’t just be jumping in to the conversation to explicitly sell your product or service.

3. Do you have someone in your business who has the time?

Many SMBs have one person doing all their marketing, and generally that person will have other responsibilities as well. So while social media generally doesn’t have any explicit costs, if this person is working on social media they won’t be able to spend as much time on their other responsibilities – which might take them away from advertising, keeping the website up-to-date, developing printed materials and so on.

4. Do you have someone in your business who can do the talking?

To successfully use social media, you have to have someone who is comfortable using the technology, or at least be willing to learn, and who can be counted upon to always convey the image you want for your business.

5. Are you willing to commit?

For all its tremendous value, social media is still not a quick fix. There are some absolutely excellent opportunities for SMBs in social media, but it takes time to develop relationships and build social media channels. You may not see results right off the bat, but if you’ve addressed all the questions above and are willing to commit to social media for the long term, you’ll see the significant benefits these tools can bring your company.