Boston   |   Silicon Valley

Blog

SEO: Can it be all so simple

Posted by Dave Tufts on June 5, 2007.

Regarding search engine optimization and positioning, Seth Godin writes:

"If you want to be on the front page of matches for 'White Plains Lawyer', then the best choice is to build a series of pages that give people really useful information."

— Seth Godin in Building 43

Can it really be so simple? Yes, of course it can.

When we kick off a web project, one of the first things we try to impress upon the client is the importance of their content.

Write for people: Put yourself in the user’s shoes. They’re staring at your “Hours and Directions” web page. What do they want? What other pages might interest them? Write your content so it’s easy to cross-link and direct the user to other pages of interest.

Write for search engines: Use phrases that you think people will use in search engines. Perhaps you run a museum and think people will search for “history of shipbuilding”. Use that exact phrase where applicable. Instead of some fancy marketing lingo like “learn 18th century boat building traditions in our…”, rephrase that to “learn the history of shipbuilding in our…”. Decide on 4–5 key search phrases and lightly repeat them throughout your content.

Implement with standards, text, and hierarcy: Once you've written smart, informational content, any competent web developer should be able to edit your content for the web and design a standards-based, accessible website with clear hierarchy.

It's not rocket science. Google is clear about what they want.

Do you read your own website? Does it make sense? Is it useful? Did you like it? If you answered "Yes" to all of these, then your website content is probably in good shape. It's that simple.

CAPTCHA: User-Unfriendly by Design

Posted by Robert Mohns on June 4, 2007.

You may not of heard of CAPTCHA , but you've probably run afoul of one.

CAPTCHA is an acronym for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart" (TM Carnegie Mellon University).

Spammers run web-surfing "bots" that spam web forms in hopes that the content will be published back onto the web — in blogs like this one, for example. CAPTCHA is intended to tell apart real humans from spam-bots, a form of Turing Test.

The problem being, many CAPTCHA systems are so challenging that humans can't pass the test.

Examples

Parallels Forum Registration:


Is the third character an letter S or a number 5? Is the fifth a distorted lower case b or a number 6?


Are the X's capital or lower case?

SmallDog blog comment form:


What's the center character, a zero or a letter O? (I failed this one.)


I failed this one too. If I weren't so stubborn I would have abandoned my blog comment by now.


O or Q? S or 5 or 6? Hope you guess correctly.

Digg story submission:


Well, it could be a lot worse...

A basic failure

The problem is in in the basic idea. Someone's going to comment that I've chosen examples of poorly done CAPTCHAs, but that's not really the point. CAPTCHA can be tuned, but ultimately they leave the real users holding the bag, because every time the user tries to act, they are actively challenged to perform a difficult cognitive task.

I can't think of any more user unfriendly behavior.

CAPTCHA is a noble idea, but the test should be based on the user's actions — not some test which is so challenging that you risk driving away your visitors or potential customers.

And heck, that's not even getting into the accessibility issues — CAPTCHA completely locks out the visually impaired. The W3C discusses this in its Inaccessiblity of CAPTCHA page.

Get out of the way

The iMarc blog doesn't put a CAPTCHA barrier between users at their comments. Instead, it screens the content based on a number of factors, ranging from blacklisted IP addresses and domains to the ratio of spam terms to non-spam terms. It works fairly well. Most of the time, comments go through without trouble. It stops a lot of real spam. And most importantly, it doesn't inconvenience the user every time they use the tool, which is the main failure of conventional CAPTCHA systems. It only adds inconvenience when the user does something that looks suspicious.

And this is the way to perform user friendly "human testing": perform the test on the user's actual actions and content contributions. Don't create a usability barrier. Get out of the user's way.

CAPTCHA. User-Unfriendly by Design.

What are you going to do?

Posted by Dave Tufts on June 1, 2007.

If you take somebody like Michael Jordan, and if you said to him, "Michael, at a certain point when you are running down the [court] and the ball comes to you, what are you going to do?" he would look at you as if you were crazy.

There are a thousand things he could do: he could move almost anywhere or he could pass or he could shoot or he could dribble. He wouldn't even have a clue because he would have to see what was happening.

– Lee Friedlander, talking about how a photographer never knows what he's going to get when he sets out to shoot.

The basketball player referenced above has a plan and a goal. He's practiced and done a fair amount of scouting and research, yet he doesn't really know what he's going to do until he's in a specific situation.

Like the basketball player, or a good photographer, the agile web developer possesses the skill and confidence to react to external forces. They lack stubbornness and are willing to not only change their course, but change course and immediately see the best route to the end goal – even if that end goal just changed.

How should we answer our phone?

Posted by Nils Menten on May 23, 2007.

It's an age-old problem in a modern small business. How should we answer our phone? What follows was about 1 second away from being an internal email, but I thought I'd open it up to more general comment. Non-iMarcians and iMarcians alike, please weigh in. For a little background, we've had a longstanding policy for all 10 years we've been around that a human would answer the phone. It's one of my peccadilloes, but there is something too impersonal for me in serving our customers from behind an auto-attendant. I want our customers to know that we are always accessible to them. So the policy for all these years has been that we all take turns answering the phone, more or less by the honor system. Inevitably some folks are more willing then others, and that sometimes ends up inequitable, but it has generally worked out fine. As we've grown however, it's becoming a bit more of a burden and an honest drag on productivity. Let's face it, if you're in the throes of writing the Best Proposal Ever or the Most Elegant Code Object it's frankly disruptive to see if I'm in, try and be polite and helpful to a caller when you're on a deadline, etc. We need a better solution. Here's the almost-sent email. I would really appreciate your comments: Gang, I'm having a chatty evening. New topic, how we answer the phone. Consider this a request for comment on a proposed change in policy. The goals of a change would be to: - Spend less time answering the phone. - Spread the task of answering around better because it becomes less onerous to do so. - Still provide human contact in nearly all cases, and a prompt, easy-to-access human alternative to voicemail. This is what I'm suggesting we adopt. The phone rings, we answer it. We also do a better job about taking our respective turns in doing so :-). Caller asks for Craig. We say 'just a moment please', and transfer the call to Craig's line. We don't see if he's there, we don't screen. Poof, transferred. 15 seconds elapsed. Craig answers or not if he's there or not. If he's not it goes to vmail. Here are the critical factors in this working well: I DO NOT want us to adopt a culture where we routinely let our calls go to voice mail when we're sitting there and then call folks back. I would accept that no more than 10% of the time. Note the rare use of all caps. We're not doing that. Our vmail greetings need to be short and sweet, and need to direct them to call another specific extension or 0 if they need immediate assistance. This part needs some consideration because dialing 0 means they all land on Nick and that's not a good default solution either. Ringing extensions can be annoying. It'd be good if we could shorten up the number of rings before a call goes to vmail. Furthermore, we could all turn our ringers down to the minimum and still hear them fine. In fact, please do that. We've all got to bone up on transferring calls quickly, and keep the phone rosters handy and up to date. Last thought: The dreaded auto-attendant answering. My knee-jerk reaction is that I do not want to go there, but let's have a poll of everyone's opinion on that issue too. Comments please. Best, Nils

Evolution of a Conversation

Posted by Jeff Turcotte on May 23, 2007.

Question: Can you link developing an ebay clone to first degree murder?

Today, in the developer room, we managed to do it in about 10 minutes.

Here's how it happened:

  1. We were talking about a hypothetical ebay like system to scalp vacation trips that you may have already purchased.
  2. It came up that scalping tickets was rampant on ebay, and some states might legalize it.
  3. A debate ensued over whether scalping tickets should be allowed. Somehow it boiled down to a free market pro-scalping system vs an anti-scalping Karl-fest
  4. The anti-scalping bunch equated the act with buying up domain names with the intention of swindling money from a big corporation.
  5. Will said that intention doesn't matter, only trademarks do.
  6. Elaborate scenarios about revenge, friendship, domain names, love, money, and truth were given.
  7. Turns out, intention is part of first degree murder. So one could say that, in some cases, intention DOES matter.
  8. Conversation dissolves back into actual work.


Coming next week: iMarc associates pickpockets to the Nerf Turbo Football, with complimentary twists and turns.

Evolution of an Event Marketing Plan

Posted by Karin Klapak on May 15, 2007.

It started in a late afternoon meeting last November with the realization that we have experience in Biotech websites, and the International BIO conference is in our backyard this year...

Then a plan was outlined. Here’s an excerpt.

Core booth design goals were:

  • Have at least 2 or 3 stations with computer screens at eye level to talk to prospects and demonstrate work.
  • Create signage and spend budget on pieces which could be re-used for other events.

Other goals included, reflect iMarc’s core brand attributes, demonstrate relevant experience of our work, and, of course, gather good new business leads.

The booth design began with several internal meetings where we reviewed conference exhibitor rules and brainstormed. As you can see in the sketch below, the awesome creative minds hatched a plan. From this drawing – we started to divide responsibilities and order the necessary items.

Bio booth concept sketch

Every part of iMarc played a role in the event’s success (which I’m sure Event Planners out there can agree- it takes an entire team to make all the pieces come together seamlessly).

In short, Nick and the creative trio, led design, getting the pop up booth artwork, Bio website sign banner, and the iPod giveaway table signs made. Nick commissioned the construction of the large Cube. Kim made sure we got carpeting, internet, and electrical services in the booth and if you got one she is the one to thank for the Cube of Truth business card holder giveaways and for the iPod raffle. Rob found a place to rent the “no longer in production” Mac G4’s. And he and the developers turned the heat up to launch the new iMarc site in time for the Exhibit Hall opening. As with any event, there are many other unrecognized tasks that happened - here’s how the booth looked.

Bio booth reality photo

Also see Rob's blog from the show floor.

Overall, we executed the original plan and had a very successful show. The booth design worked to achieve our demo and lead gathering objectives, strong branding and the new web site created a presence at the show and we’ll be able to re-use the booth at the next iMarc event.