Jun 26, 2009

5 Google Tools

Internet marketers and webmasters have always had a love/ hate relationship with Google. Whatever you think of them they do provide website owners with some great market research tools.
No matter what market you are in or plan to be in, you will find these free tools provided by Google very useful when researching your market. You should be researching your market constantly, NOT just when setting up your site. The internet is ever changing and, if you're not keeping up with those changes, you will be left behind.

Market Research Tool 1 - Related Searches And Wonder Wheel
When you start typing in the main Google search box you should see a drop down box appear giving you some alternative search terms related to the word you typed. Note these phrases down in a notepad file or write them on a piece of paper. They will be useful as part of your keyword list used in the next tool. You will also see more related search phrases after you click search. Scroll to the bottom of the results page and you will see "searches related to:" Note down any new phrases shown there.
Recently Google has released Wonder Wheel which is also a related keywords tool but is shown in a mind map format. You can also click on the related phrases to find more useful search terms. To access wonder wheel: enter your keyword in the standard search screen, then at the top of the results on the left you should see a show options link. Select that and it will reveal a menu. Near the bottom of the menu you should see wonder wheel.

Market Research Tool 2 - Adwords Keyword Tool
We all know how important keywords and search phrases are. Let's face it, it's what drives the internet. Google has provided us with a tool that tells you what keywords and phrases people are using to find what they are looking for. You are able to search an individual country, more than one if you hold down the ctrl key on your keyboard as you select, or all countries.
The adwords tool is now more valuable due to the fact it shows actual search numbers. Previously you only had a green bar to indicate how much traffic the search term receíved. You can also see how competitive each keyword is amongst adword advertisers, showing us which keywords are commercially viable.

Market Research Tool 3 - Google Trends
Now that you have an idea what keywords your market is using you can use the trends tool to check the history of that keyword / phrase. Google Trends supplies data for the last 5 years, giving you an idea if the search term is consistent. You can also see if the search term is popular at certain times of the year, also known as a seasonal keywords.
Another important function of Trends is the section that tells you the popularity of a keyword by country, city and language - very useful if you are targeting particular countries or even cities.

Market Research Tool 4 - Google Alerts
Alerts is underused by webmasters. If you want to stay in touch with what's hot in your market, you can by using Google Alerts. All you have to do is enter the most popular phrases in your market. Google will then send you links via email depending on what type you select.
The types are news, web, blogs, video and groups. If you would like a mix of all, you can select comprehensive. You can decide how often you want to be updated by selecting either: as it happens, once a day or once a week. I hope you can see how powerful this is if you want to be seen as an authority in your market.

Market Research Tool 5 - Google Web Search
Finally, we have Google's standard web search which is not standard in my eyes. It provides a lot of information if you know what to look for. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an important part of running a website. By performing a search of your market keywords, Google will tell you what type of content it sees as important.
If you see videos, blogs or images this gives you another way to reach the top 10 of Google. If you see Web 2.0 style sites such as Digg, that could be another avenue. If there are adword ads on the right side of the screen, that tells you the market is commercially viable and more importantly that the keyword you entered is good enough to pay for, especially if there are 10 ads or more.
As you can see, even if you don't have money to buy the latest tools, I have shown you there is a way to get some very important information using free tools from Google. Are you starting to love them now?

Jun 24, 2009

What Makes a Website Design a Good One?

A lot of people can recognize good design when they see it on the web. But most people don't really know what makes that design good.
How do you define "good design?" Is it subjective, like your favorite flavor of ice cream? Although there is some subjectivity within good design, there are artistic principles that good design is built from. Here are a few that form the foundation of good design.
1. Proximity
Because items that are in close proximity to one another become one visual unit, items that are related to one another should be grouped together. Laying out related items on a website page this way helps the eye associate the information and enables the viewer to mentally categorize the information easily. The flip side of this principle is that items that are not related should not be placed in close proximity to one another.
The purpose of the principle of proximity is to organize information in a way that enables viewers to quickly and easily comprehend. When information is organized, people are more likely to read it and respond. People are also more likely to remember information that is organized.
How can you determine if items form a visual unit? Squint your eyes and look at the page on a website. Now count the number of times your eye stops as it views the page. On a page that is using the principle of proximity well, your eye will stop three to five times. In other words, there will be three to five groups of information for the eye to comprehend separately.
2. Alignment
You've seen website page layouts where the text and graphics are placed wherever there happens to be space. The effect is messy, with no impact. Nothing should be placed on a page arbitrarily. There should be a visual connection between each item on the page. When items are aligned, it creates a cohesiveness that the eye appreciates.
The purpose of alignment is to unify the website page. Imagine a well-organized kitchen. All the pots and pans are stored in the organizer, the fruit is nicely displayed in a basket on the counter, the spices are all on the rack - everything is in its place. A page layout needs the same thing.
Look at a website page that you feel is good design. Now focus on the main visual element. Where does your eye go from there?
Do you see how other elements are aligned with that one main element both vertically and horizontally?
3. Repetition
Good design repeats some aspect of the website design throughout the site. It's this repetition that makes all the pages in a site look like they belong together. Color scheme, graphic elements, typefaces - all of these elements should be repeated - used consistently - throughout.
The purpose of repetition is to create consistency and to add visual interest. Repetition creates a professional, polished look that the eye is drawn to. When a website design uses repetition and is consistent, it is more likely to be viewed and read.
Here are some ways you can create repetition beyond simple consistency in typefaces and colors: Use some element in your logo as a major graphic element in the design. If you are using a ruled line, make the line more interesting visually by perhaps making it with tiny dots or dashes, then repeating the line element throughout the design. Create patterns that are repeated throughout the design. Take a small element and place it somewhere on each page for a whimsical look. Just be careful not to overdo the repetition, or viewers will be annoyed rather than pleased.
4. Contrast
The principle of contrast states that if two items are not the same, then they should be different - very different. Contrast creates an organizational hierarchy of the information and graphics on a webpage. When using contrast, you can't be a wimp! The contrast must be strong to be effective.
The purpose of contrast is two-fold: to create interest on the page, and to organize information. A page that is interesting to look at is more likely to be read. And contrasting elements will help a reader understand the way the information is organized.
Contrast can be created in many ways. You can contrast large type with small type, a serif font with a sans-serif font, bold with light, smooth texture with rough texture, a small graphic with a large one, a dark color with a light one.
A design that integrates these principles will automatically gain a professionalism and polish that it would otherwise lack.
Next time you stumble across a website design that makes you say "wow", check for these principles - you'll find them quietly working to make that design a good one!
Laura MacPherson - Creative director at Northstar Creative, a website design studio located in Greenville, SC. Her company, Northstar Creative Web Design, (http://www.northstarcreative.net/) approaches website development differently than many web companies.
Northstar Creative combines the use of marketing psychology with top-notch web development to create truly exceptional custom sites for its clients.
By Laura MacPherson (c) 2009