Seven Years of Change, Seven Years of Staying the Same

Time flies in the Internet world. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I wrote my first ClickZ column.

Over the past seven years as a columnist and marketing practitioner, I’ve continued to be impressed by how dramatically the Internet has changed our lives and our world. Blogs have become a major voice in society. Social media and online video have become giants. Google’s revenue is growing like a major leaguer’s biceps on steroids. New technologies continue to barrel at us like a hailstorm, and the industry is bright-eyed and bushytailed about the promise of Web 2.0.

But the more things change, the more they remain the same. Companies still struggle to monetize their traffic. Organizations still look to technology to bring them dollars on silver platters. Overall site conversion rates haven’t increased as hoped.

What stays the same is why people do what they do. How they buy. Principles of marketing, business, and sales.

During my time here, I’ve done my best to shout, beg, and plead that we not lose our focus on these basis principles. So as I looked back at some of my 273 columns, I wanted to again share some of the columns that have caused the most stir, been popular or helpful to readers, as well as a personal fave or two.

Bloodletting and Why Testing Can Be Unscientific

This column explained how testing marketing and persuasion is not a linear, scientific process:

    Persuading is influencing opinions or affecting attitudes by means of communication. It means not only informing but also providing new information to the readers so they can make decisions. It also requires motivating people. It means affecting the hearts as well as the minds of people (a message has to have emotional appeal while possessing rational elements).

It continues:

    There is a human need for rules, especially in the Web’s technology-worshipping culture. Just look at the demand for successful books and articles out there with titles incorporating things like seven habits, nine rules, and 12 mistakes (we do it, too, because people want it). The left brain demands control while the right brain insists on freedom. Left- and right-brain concepts collide in your cranium every day. We constantly struggle with choices between cold logic and heartfelt intuition, control or liberty, exactness or beauty.

    The process for persuading human beings to take action is indeed a system, but it’s not a hard science based on predictable rules that could produce perfectly replicable results in a laboratory.

Do You Want to Inform or Persuade?

    The process we use to plan persuasive elements of a Web site is called persuasive architecture. It is the organization of the buying and selling processes married to the information flow. The focus is persuading visitors to take action. It’s similar to information architecture, which involves the design of organization and navigation systems to help people find and manage information more successfully. Whereas the goal of information architecture is to inform and educate, a commercial Web site should inform and persuade your customer.

Read the entire column.

There is No Egg in Eggplant

    I’ve found that the fascinating similarity between all the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sites I’ve been analyzing is the weakness of the copywriting. Each site fails to precisely and fully describe what the writer wants from the visitor. After all, the word “egg” may superficially resemble the word “eggplant,” but, if you mean “eggplant,” you should say it.

Read more.

The Difference Between ROI and Marketing Accountability

A bit of wisdom from my brother Jeffrey:

    Measuring the ROI of lead generation isn’t the same thing as full accountability. If marketing is a profitable activity, it still doesn’t mean that what it is communicating to the universe of buyers is building the business. I’ve seen lots of marketers sacrifice early and middle stage buyers because they had to show an immediate ROI on each campaign they ran. Who is accountable for all the potential business they lose by saying the wrong the thing to the right people at the wrong time?

How to Decrease Sales by 90 Percent

    How can it be that two case studies contradict each other so blatantly? The answer is no business is linear. There are many facets, or topological elements, to consider in designing an effective online strategy to maximize your conversion rate. Your conversion rate is only a reflection of the marketing and sales effectiveness and your customers’ satisfaction. It depends! It always depends! If you’re looking for one canned, simple solution, you’re bound to be either bankrupt or very disappointed.

Read the entire column and the follow-up.

The Land Beyond Usability

    Make your Web site easy for your visitors to use, and they’ll become more proficient users. But if you want them to become customers, you have to think beyond usability.

    Think of it like taking a road trip. Usability gets rid of the obstacles to driving: the potholes, bad signage, dead ends. It makes it easy for your customers to go places comfortably and smoothly, with minimal interruption.

    But it can’t intrinsically tell them where they ought to be going, much less how to get there the quickest, easiest way.

    Usability testing usually measures the effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which specified users can achieve specified goals in a particular environment. Wouldn’t you want your goal in e-commerce to be a sale and, eventually, a delighted customer? Just because users can complete a purchase does not mean you delighted them or that they will ever buy from you again.

Read more.

The Power of the About Us Page

Your “about us” page should:

  • Let customers see a more human side of your company. E-Trade’s advertising makes it seem like a fun company, but the “About Us” page displays none of that human personality.
  • Tell your company’s story. McDonalds’s does a nice job with this, as does Dave and Busters. A company history timeline is a great way to highlight achievements without braggadocio.
  • Reflect your company’s passion. Check out’s “About Us” page.
  • Reflect your company’s personality. If you’re a fun company, your “About Us” page should be fun.
  • Let the customer inside your company. Bungie, makers of Halo, go so far as to have Webcams online.
  • Reiterate your company’s competence to serve the customers by using all the above tools.

The Next Seven Years

Here’s to the next seven years. Thank you for paying attention, commenting, and inspiring me in so many ways. May you have great success. May your conversion rate soar.

Any topic suggestions for one of my next 273 columns? Let me know.

Meet NAME at SES London February 19-21.

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