Web sites & online

Take good care of content

Way back in 1985, in the infancy of online media, I helped build a kind of web site. I say kind of web site because the internet as we know it had not yet been developed. A colleague and I at British Airways built what we called an electronic brochure in Prestel, the BT videotext system. Like Ceefax and Oracle but far more responsive, we created 7,000 screens, or pages, of information uploaded into this early system.

Much of my contribution was to summarise every air fare charged from the UK to 140 destinations and to describe the features and benefits of the classes of service, eg Economy, Business, First and Concorde. I also published the complete USA Flydrive holiday brochure online and each month changed the Concorde on-board menus. At that time 95% of UK travel agents used Prestel and I seem to recall we achieved some 500,000 page views a month.

Then I obtained another promotion and moved department. Unfortunately, Prestel was ageing even then and was being superseded by more sophisticated computerised travel reservations systems and, ultimately, by the internet.

I suppose one day those 7,000 pages of information were turned off and discarded. They were customised to fit the 40-character x 22-line screens with no photo facilities, primitive graphics and limited colour choices. Compared with the simplicity of technology like WordPress, it could be excruciating work to fit everything on to one screen with no scrolling.

This brings me, after meandering via 140 destinations it seems, to my point that content is invaluable. While learning to use social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+ is important now, how long will we use continue to use these? What will we use in two or five years? How will we maintain our changing online presence, develop our brands, port our important content to new formats, evolve our messages and presentation, and keep it all fresh, compelling and useful?

I’ve often wondered what happened to those 7,000 pages when Prestel’s screens went blank. Did they just fade or float off into the ether?

Who do you trust?

When you’re looking for information on a product or a service, who do you trust?

There’s lots of opportunity for reviewing businesses online now, but I hear more and more from people I know provide good quality service who feel they are being unjustly criticised and have little recourse to a fair response to posts on big review or shopping web sites.

I know when researching my own purchases that wading through some of the reviews, many of which are a waste of everyone’s time, has not helped me.

For my most recent equipment purchase, I contacted two people I knew and trusted who already used the product. They gave me excellent advice, I bought the product and am very happy. I have got to know both these people through networking and social media.

In future I will ask individuals I know for their opinions.

Who do you trust for advice?

What is it about us that makes you want to buy?

Some web sites have an ‘about us’ page, while many don’t.

When I’m searching for a product or service online, I like to know who I’m dealing with.

First, I look for contact details, eg phone number and address, reasoning that a business with a landline number and a physical location seems more permanent than one without these. Now I know that’s not always the case, but it helps to establish trust, especially if I have to hand over my credit card details to make a purchase.

Often I’ll then go to the ‘about us’ page to get an idea of the business I’ll be buying from. This page offers a great opportunity to introduce yourself, your expertise and experience, and how you run your business.

One of the big problems with online purchases is sorting out problems. How many times have we banged our heads against a wall when emails to sale@ or support@ go unanswered and phone calls go through to voicemail, sometimes for days?

I’ve often abandoned good-looking sites without purchasing because there’s no contact details or any suggestion of how the site owner runs the business. It can be too much of a risk to buy from them.

Providing these details is no guarantee of good service, but it does suggest that the web site owner considers customer service important. It helps to build trust and could determine whether a customer buys or not.

An ‘about us’ page gives customers the chance to ‘like’ you. And even if you don’t like this concept, we all know from facebook how powerful the idea can be in people’s minds.

So what is it about you that makes your customer buy?

Posted via email from z2zine

NDBA Business Action magazine for North Devon issue 2 . . . now available online

We are pleased to publish the second issue of Business Action magazine on behalf of the North Devon Business Alliance (NDBA), the voice of North Devon Business.

Visit the NDBA web site at ndba.org.uk, follow it on twitter at @northdevon, on facebook at ndevonbusiness and on LinkedIn at North Devon.

If you’d like to advertise in the next issue, please email.

Was it 25 years ago I first published marketing material online?

In 1985 British Airways promoted me to the grand position of Sales Information Officer. What did that mean? I don’t think anyone knew. I wasn’t sure myself.

In fact, we were a small department, a colleague and I, who had been recruited to develop the BA Prestel site into an online catalogue. Prestel was the British Telecom videotext system (like Ceefax and Oracle) but more flexible and responsive. 95% of UK travel agents used it to book package tours. BA decided that, as agents already used the system, it should develop its own site to sell scheduled air travel services to agents.

And so we set about developing what grew into a 7,000-screen online brochure with full details of the product illustrated by heavily pixelated diagrams and illustrations. I spent months creating fares tables and editing fare rules for every fare BA sold for travel from the UK to its worldwide destinations. I think the fares section ran to 2,000 pages.

British Airways Prestel: Robert Zarywacz
An article in BA’s TOPICall magazine from way back in 1985.

What seemed amazing at the time was to be able to upload pages from our PC network (an IBM AT PC with a 20MB hard disk linked to two twin-floppy IBM XT PCs) via modem down an ordinary telephone line. It seemed magical that one second the page was on my PC and the next it was accessible for anyone to view on Prestel.

It all seemed so exciting. People could even send us messages, which we printed off on a thermal printer.

But Prestel was not the way forward. Few in the airline saw its potential and both my colleague and I eventually moved to other jobs in BA.

We had been 10 years too early. Later, as the internet developed and web sites appeared, I realised that we had built a massive web site before anyone knew what it was.

I also learned a lot about writing for the small screen, on-screen attention spans and other tips that would stand me in good stead as the world moved online.

It may have been crude compared with today’s technology, but it was exciting for us as we made the rules up as we went along.

Posted via web from z2zine

NDBA Business Action magazine available online

We are pleased to publish Business Action magazine on behalf of the North Devon Business Alliance (NDBA), the voice of North Devon Business.

The North Devon Business Alliance has been established by experienced North Devon business owners and executives to represent the interests of all businesses in the area and, through supporting existing businesses and encouraging start-ups, to develop the full potential of the local economy.

It has been formed by businesses in North Devon to champion business in North Devon and wants the area’s economy to thrive so everyone can enjoy the benefits of living and working in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

The magazine is being formally launched on Friday 28 May 2010 at an NDBA event in Bishop’s Tawton, North Devon where printed copies will be available.

Print or digital?

If we live in the digital age, why do I recycle so much printed marketing material?

Just like the myth of the paperless office, printed words and graphics still play a powerful part in marketing and communications. While the digital world offers very many useful advantages, it complements, rather than supersedes, print.

Bearing this in mind, should we still print business cards and brochures or depend totally on our online presence? The answer is: it depends.

Some businesses can quite easily forego printed material and just refer to their web presence, while others are likely to find a web site almost irrelevant. I know of one business that posts leaflets through doors before following up with a personal visit: they are achieving a good response rate without any online presence whatsoever. However, I believe that a web site would help them.

Personally, I get annoyed by printed catalogues I receive through the post, as I recycle these immediately without looking at them. I used to believe that these were a complete waste of money until recently I began leafing through a catalogue just as it was about to hit the recycling pile and spotted a very good offer for a product that I needed. I ordered the product and enjoyed a hefty discount, which I wouldn’t have been aware of if I hadn’t received the catalogue. So it did work for this supplier.

I think the best course is to review your material regularly and consider what your target audience wants. Do they want to find information and interact through a web site or do they want hard copy to read at their leisure? And what responses do you receive from online and printed materials? The answers will help you to decide whether to produce one or the other or both.

Print is still useful and should not be dismissed without serious consideration, even though digital media can often offer speed and cost advantages.

After our last blog, how are you measuring your success?

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Wait a minute, I’m looking . . .

. . . for information, for a phone number, for an email address, for details of how to buy from a web site. Trouble is, it’s not just a minute. If I add up all the minutes I spend looking for information that should be obvious, it’ll probably total hours or days.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that some web sites are built like a maze, as presenting information is not formally taught to everyone. Does that matter? It does when a potential customer abandons your web site and visits a competitor in search of what they could not find. Sometimes details as simple as a phone number or email address are buried away or FAQ pages give no real help.

I’m quite a patient person, but there is a limit to how much time I will spend looking for the information I need. It also makes me question the professionalism of the business behind a web site. Do they really know what they’re doing? Maybe I should try someone else.

Just presenting basic information where it can be found easily can make a big difference to the success of a web site. Believe me, it’ll keep me there and could even persuade me to buy.

If your web presence is your shop window, keep it fresh!

When we go into a greengrocer’s shop (or a supermarket) and see tired, dried-up fruit and vegetables, we usually pass by and go in search of a store with fresh produce. Well, if your web sites, blogs or other forms of online presence serve as shop windows for your business, it’s important to make sure they’re as freshly dressed as any food shop.

That’s not to say it’s always easy when you’ve got a million other things to do, but it’s good practice to remove or alter out-of-date information or offers and to correct anything that is wrong, such as prices.

The more we change our ‘shop windows’, the more passers-by are likely to take notice, not to mention search engines and the non-human agents at work on the internet.

It needn’t take long and is more a discipline than anything else to note down everywhere you have a presence – not just your own site and blogs, but profiles and other information on networking and other sites.

And just to prove that we’re practising what we preach, that’s what we’re doing at the moment.

Robert Zarywacz

Filter tips for better business health in 2009?

How many people are bursting with new content to publish as the year changes from eight to nine? How much of it will be of any value? How much of it will be read? And how much ignored?

Whereas we used to hear of information overload, we now hear about ‘noise’: the noise of trillions of words broadcast by the minute on the internet, on web sites, on blogs, on social networks and micro-blogging sites.

We can’t read every blog, so we have to filter content. I think we’ll be filtering a lot in 2009.

This means that if we want a target audience to take notice of us, we’ll have to think even more carefully about our message, how we write it and how we ensure it reaches our audience. And it won’t be just one communication, but series of related broadcasts, each requiring a strategy.

As technology makes it easier to publish, will the frequency of broadcasts increase? Will it shorten attention span?

And what about the the loss of jobs: will it result in fewer people blogging more, more people blogging more to find work or just more people blogging all round? I can’t see a reduction in blogging: yet.

2009 will be an interesting year.