Judging from the expanding popularity of online photo sites, the vast majority of photographers are choosing photo Websites as a starting point. Many photo Websites offer free or nearly free Web storage and online albums. Some sites provide the space as part of the cost of processing, printing and scanning customers’ film. Others provide it entirely free of charge, making their money from advertising. With easily followed menus and guides, creating online albums couldn’t be easier.
There are a couple of things to remember before putting a Website together. First, make sure images are stored in the JPEG file format. (GIF will also work, but JPEG is preferred for imaging.) JPEG file compression is one of the best tools for keeping image size within reason. Finally create a folder or directory on the computer’s hard drive that contains the images to be uploaded. That makes it easier to organize the online album when the site asks for the location where images are being stored.
The actual process of registering and uploading images is remarkably easy. It’s pretty much the same for many of the major photo sites. During registration, most sites ask for the customer’s e-mail address and the password that’s going to be used to access the site. Some sites have separate passwords for the photographer who took the pictures and people who were invited to view the images. With others, viewers don’t need a password. Usually the sites have room for 10 to I 6 shots per page. It’s a simple matter of following the step-by-step instructions on the screen to upload the images to the site.
Some sites store the images in a default online folder, where they can be sorted by topic and put into custom folders. Others place the images into a single folder. Once stored, the image size, orientation and, in some cases, image brightness, can be changed. Some sites also make it possible to add frames or generate postcards and other custom photo products.
While the commercial photo sites work well enough for most photographers, some serious photographers prefer to build their own complete Website. The latest generation of Web-authoring tools has opened the door for just about any photographer with Internet access to create distinctive photo Websites from scratch. With the new software tools. programming skills are no longer needed, but design skills are still important. Commercial Web-authoring programs usually have templates that serve as a good starting point.
All well-designed Websites share several common features. They all give viewers things to do. They present them with choices they have to make. It’s a little more interactive a process than simply reading a magazine. But, in some respects, such as organization, viewing a photo Website should be like thumbing through a photo magazine The opening page should contain a table of contents with links to each section. Give viewers the choice of skipping around the site, Don’t force them to scroll from page to page until they get to the images they’re interested in viewing.
Well-designed Websites provide navigational tools that are easy to follow. Never make the user have to figure out how to move around the site. One way to do that is to always include specific visual elements on every page of the site. That means using the same navigational buttons in the same screen location with the same graphics on every page. Consistency in design makes it easier for viewer to navigate throughout the site. Besides assisting navigation, using standard design elements on each page also reinforces Website identity.
Once the overall concept has been created, make the site as readable as possible. That means using dark text on a light background, which works well for general content such as text, graphics, logos and other design elements. Darker backgrounds can be use to add mood and texture to pages that primarily contain images. Avoid using blinking text and animated files. They can distract from still images. Also avoid using special fonts that need to be downloaded before the page can be viewed.
A good rule of thumb is to keep the total size of graphics on any one page to 100 KB or less. That translates into about 20 seconds of download time for viewers using a 56K modem.
Photographers who don’t have a computer or Internet access are not left out. They can still display their images on a Website. There are services available that take conventional 35mm and APS film, process it, digitize it, and post it on the Web. Customers still get the negatives and prints back. Fees for such services are generally less than $10.
One of the options for creating Web pages should fit just about any photographer.
Plenty of sites serve as good resources for CRM information. ITtoolbox CRM (www.crmassist.com), CRM Forum (www. crm-forum.com), and CRMGuru.com (www.crmguru.com) offer listings of CRM products, consultants, and services, as well as numerous articles and access to free e-mail newsletters. Most articles advise companies to begin by focusing on customers, a step that involves evaluating support strategies and processes.
“Historically, many companies’ first step toward CRM was sales-force automation,” says Pombriant. “Next came customer service and support.” But careful consideration and a willingness to change to benefit customers is the most important key to success.
One of the oldest providers of online customer-support tools is Siebel Systems. With products in almost every CRM niche, Siebel serves businesses of all sizes, including the small and mid-size companies it defines as those with 50 to 1,000 employees. The company also targets specific vertical markets, including telecommunications, finance, and energy.
Though large enterprise customers such as Ford pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for Siebel’s CRM applications and more for implementation services, the company has formed partnerships with both Compaq and IBM to deliver packaged products to smaller companies. It even offers its Siebel Sales Personal Edition 6.0 as a free download at www.siebel.com/siebelsales/ download.asp. This sales and contact- management program is geared toward small- and home-office professionals, and focuses on tracking sales leads and managing contacts and activities. It’s a good introduction to the company’s products, and if you decide to upgrade later, you can upload data from the Personal Edition to the Midmarket Edition. This product comprises three sets of applications, designed for your employees, your customers, and your partners.
If all you’re really after is a way to provide round-the-clock customer support, even that function can be outsourced. C-Cubed Solutions (www.ccubedsolutions.com) offers live customer “chat” sessions 24/7 at a relatively modest cost by maintaining a support staff in Bangalore, India, the “Silicon Valley” of that country, where English is widely spoken. If demand spikes, C-Cubed can triple the staff members assigned to your account within an hour. The setup charge ranges from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the complexity of your products, and around $500 per operator per month thereafter.
Don’t be concerned that chat-based support may be less popular with customers than live phone support. Interviews with top computer companies revealed that online customers, given the choice between chat-based support and speaking with a technician, chose chat-based support by a three-to-one margin. If your customers are on the Web, chances are they’re comfortable with instant messaging and online chats.
Once at your site, about a third of your customers will go first to your search function, according to Atomz (www.atomz. com), provider of a “hosted site search engine.” The company’s Atomz Search product gives you the code you need to provide the site-search function as well as customer-feedback information. Atomz Search is in use by more than 40,000 sites worldwide, according to the company, including those of Macromedia, Webmonkey, and The Bank of Canada.
The service “crawls” your site to perform an initial index, then performs incremental indexes as often as you wish. (Informing you of broken links is an incidental side benefit.) Because the service is a hosted application, someone else handles the maintenance headaches associated with the search function, and the reports and feedback you receive let you tailor your site according to customer desires. Atomz Express Search is free for sites with fewer than 500 pages; Prime Search, which includes the crawling and indexing services, costs $500 per year.
Even the best search engines can leave site visitors frustrated. Hipbone’s (www. hipbone.com) hosted “cobrowser” application lets you provide live assistance to help customers find what they’re looking for. This is a particularly valuable feature for e-commerce sites. Lands’ End, whose Web-site business has been more profitable than its catalog sales for the past two years, credits the use of cobrowsing technology. Non-e-commerce sites can also use Hipbone’s technology for training purposes, and companies such as insurance and real-estate agencies can use it to help customers complete forms. Basic setup typically costs about $10,000, and the basic service costs $950 per seat per year.
How are you doing so far? You can find out using the Automated Response Watch service from Atesto Technologies (www. atesto.com). It remotely monitors response times for both Web pages and transactions. The service tests your site every 15 minutes from server sites spread around the world, and reports response times in real time. Set a critical level of response, and the service alerts you to poor performance. This gives you the information you need to evaluate issues such as the adequacy of your hosting service, server, or ISP. Pricing starts at $3,500 per quarter for 100 concurrent users.
Maintaining the highest possible customer-satisfaction levels is key to building customer loyalty. But you don’t have to go it alone. Plenty of affordable services are available to help you develop a useful, informative, even profitable site, and you’ll find a wealth of online resources to help you find the best solutions.
Marketing is not only about raising money. Savvy marketing influences people to come alongside you and help you do things they may never do on their own. An intelligent Web site content strategy provides you with the foundation to attract visitors, keeps them interested in your mission or cause, and encourages them to keep coming back for more. And yes… you can and will raise funds in the process.
When people read an article or story on your Web site, for example, do you know precisely what you want them to do? Give you money, provide feedback, volunteer, be entertained, be informed, request more information? Whatever response you seek, you must first have settled on a clearly articulated content strategy. Here’s what we know for sure: the more options you give your visitors to become involved with your organization, the more relevant your Web site will become in their lives. The next most important thing we know: if you begin and sustain the conversation on issues your visitors want to discuss, you will come closer to finding advocates for your mission than if you simply talked endlessly about what is important to you. What are we saying? Simply this: encourage your visitors to help you shape your content. That may seem like a risky endeavor. In the end, however, the facts prove it is not.
No Need to Reinvent Yourself
Question: What kinds of information, stories, testimonies, curriculum, questionnaires, polls and other forms of content already exist within your organization that can be “repurposed” for your Internet presence? The good news is that you do not have to reinvent yourself–contrary to what you may be hearing in the media today. It’s nonsense. Don’t reinvent; instead build on your present strengths and re-frame what you can to set the stage for more effective dialogue with your donors and friends. The most successful non-profit Web sites today are those in constant conversation with their visitors which in turn helps those organizations shape their content and work through a content strategy in concert with who they represent themselves to be. What is your organization’s category of knowledge? If you are a college or university, you will empower your visitors with an ongoing conversation on such content issues as academic excellence, course offerings, sports, alumni affairs, and the strength of the faculty. If your non-profit is a jail ministry, you will discover–through conversation – what interests your friends, visitors and donors most. For some, it may be how your organization is helping to reduce the rate of recidivism among prisoners. Others may not be able to relate to your well-informed statistics, but instead will be avid readers of the stories you tell them of changed lives. Your ability to differentiate between what interests whom, and to what degree, will help you provide relevant content to the right people at the right time.
Here is my Baker’s Dozen of practical, proven ideas to help you think through the content that needs to appear on your Web site…
1. Provide all essential corporate information on your site so your visitor will know clearly who you are, and what you represent. This is the nuts and bolts part of your Web site-a good place to articulate your mission statement, to make reference to the strength of your advisory board and board of directors, and to produce your 990–essential for credibility purposes.
2. Provide a brief overview of your organization–from its inception to the mission you are carrying out today. Do this with graphics, captioned pictures, and easily downloadable graphs–if they help you to communicate your message. Consider including a succinct 3-5 year strategic plan that describes your organization’s objectives, why you are passionate about achieving them, and why you need the help of others who also believe in your mission.
3. Use hyperlinks for contact information, requests for more background on your organization, e-mail addresses for key personnel, etc. Make these contact points easy to identify and to use. Your visitor is accustomed to ease of communication on the Internet–whether it’s buying a product, downloading software, or sending an electronic communication to a friend. To be effective in your communications, you must produce the same quality connections with your visitor.
4. Tell lots of stories about how your non-profit is helping to change the lives of people. These stories need not to be long or detailed. However, you must write them for maximum impact so that your visitors will want to know more and ultimately choose to become one of your loyal supporters. Your mission may be anything from support for the local ballet to soliciting funds for cancer research. Whatever your cause, tell lots and lots of stories that describe the life-changing benefits you offer to others.
5. Solicit third-party endorsements from people who love you and who speak words of encouragement on your behalf. These Web site testimonials can be from those men, women and children you’ve helped get back on their feet, quotes from city officials, selections from books which make favorable references to your organization, comments from other Web sites pertaining to your work, or positive articles written about your organization. Find out what people are saying about you and your non-profit: Share the good news with the world by putting these endorsements on your site.
6. Produce an FAQ section (Frequently Asked Questions) When you provide answers to the questions most visitors want to ask about your organization, you save staff time, display your openness, and move the communication process further along. This proactive set of FAQs is one of the most important content areas of your Web site. If you don’t know what FAQs to ask, review other non-profit Web sites for ideas.
7. Make good use of your existing audio and video. The technology is continually improving, and this quality is now appearing on thousands of Web sites– although bandwidth issues still persist. Based on our experience, these forms of media are still not important enough to justify spending money you may not have to produce audio and video content for your Web site alone. Stay current with the advances in this technology; however, use streaming audio and video only when it makes sense for your organization to do so. At this stage, the technology is neither a make nor break situation.
8. Your Web site has become the ideal location for you to display online press kits, news releases, captioned photos, regular updates on your organization, and links to your other conversational Web sites. While most sites are capable of generating adequate images, now may be the time for you to focus on arranging specific, content-focused photo shoots, or you may wish to buy some of the excellent stock photography now available to give your media promotional efforts a boost. Check out your content and make it media-friendly. Then, spread the word to writers and journalists worldwide.
9. Everything you offer offline, make available online now! This means newsletters, direct mail, brochures, corporate statements, downloadable booklets, books, research, sermons, pamphlets, etc. In the future, undoubtedly a certain type of visitor will come to your site who will only want to read your content online. Do not make this person “write in” for materials you can just as easily place on your Web site. Again, review all the communication pieces you have created offline, and if they are worthy of reproduction, repurpose them and include them for easy online reading.
10. Provide a privacy/security statement for your visitors that explains how you plan to use the personal information you receive. Will you share their names with others? How safe is your Web site for donations? In general, how secure is your site? We suggest you look for model “privacy statements” and other useful information that can help you craft the verbiage that will assure your visitor of the online safety of your Web site.
11. Create a section on your Web site where visitors and friends can share their own stories of how they have been touched by the mission of your organization. Perhaps they are volunteers who help feed the hungry at a local rescue mission, or they may teach English to refugees, or perhaps they help build schools or churches for the poor across the border. This could be one of the most important communication modules on your Web site, because it excites the faithful, encourages others to become involved, and gives you an opportunity to promote it as emotional feedback on how and what you are doing to help change lives. Include photos, thumbnail sketches and anything else you feel will give your visitors and donors the opportunity to help shape the content of your Web site.
12. Design an area on your site that is foundation and/or major donor specific. When you make a future major dollar request, you will now be able to ask the foundation or major donor simply to click on this section for a quick tour, which will describe your major fund-raising needs. In addition, this section will act as a status report to foundations and major donors, allowing them instant access to the most recent progress made in relation to their specific gift. This section will never take the place of your personal contact to foundations or major donors, but it will be an important add-on to your formal request because you can incorporate a Microsoft PowerPoint[R] presentation, project-specific graphics, and on-site photos and comments from the field that may not have been part of the written proposal. You may also want to create a “wish list” of future needs for easy reference, namely material items such as blankets, medicine, vans or automobiles, school supplies, paint, pharmaceuticals, building supplie s, etc.
13. Whatever content you provide, do it with excellence. Keep the conversation with your visitors alive and strong. Deliver value at all times. Be a good conversationalist–just as you are with your friends and supporters when you are offline. If a task is once begun, never leave it until it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.
This final note. When you are working through the content of your Web site–either at the outset or as you update your material–it’s critical that you communicate clearly and often with everyone involved. If you send a regular e-mail to your team, send it to everyone at the same time, every day, without exception. No surprises is the watchword here. Consistent communication fosters trust, reliability and stability. When you want to modify your content, let your colleagues know what you are thinking. When you receive feedback from your friends and donors–good, bad or indifferent–again, pass the word along. (But emphasize the good stuff!) Instill the pride of accomplishment in your staff. Encourage off-the-wall ideas that will help make your site unique. Keep improving your content with every modification. Continually search for new, strategic opportunities to stay ahead of the curve. It’s your mission, and it’s your mandate to make your site’s content the best it can be.
Of all the Web sites we’ve designed at Grizzard, one of the primary reasons for any delay in going live has been the lack of timely content from clients. Content deadlines for your Web site should be taken as seriously as any other communication deadline. Set realistic benchmarks for having your content ready to go, and then help your colleagues meet those deadlines so the world will be able to know who you are, what you do, and why your cause is worthy of wider support.
As you press on with the creation of content excellence, there will be many reasons for your site to be noteworthy. These will depend on how well you have carried a unique conversation to the heart of your donors and friends, how carefully you’ve listened to their concerns, and how seriously you’ve taken their feedback–and acted upon it. The result of this interaction is the stuff that will invariably give you the necessary insights to create that special “look and feel” for your site–which is the underlying nature of good Internet design.
Understand the when and why of change
Basic site administration, such as updating phone numbers and contacts or posting press releases, requires little or no strategic consideration, but almost every other site change calls for evaluating why you need the change and then mapping it back to original business goals. The beginning of any solid e-business initiative is rooted in a marriage of business goals and user needs, and any change must meet those same criteria.
Answering the question of why any change is necessary demands an understanding of user behavior, new corporate priorities, and/or how current business initiatives can be better served, and how they relate to overall objectives.
RECOMMENDATION: Here’s a simple method for evaluating change requests. If you can’t identify whom the audience is that will benefit/use the changed information, how it will benefit them, and how it will relate to other information on the site, then don’t make the change.
Consider the platinum partner program example. Marketing and sales want to use the program as a way to reward the most productive channel partners and give them a sense of importance that helps build a loyal relationship with the company. But is the partners’ experience with the company enhanced by making partners go through extra steps when entering the Web site? Is it worth making navigation more difficult for them by bringing them to a specific page as soon as they log on? In the best of all worlds, creating more targeted approaches to the site offers more convenience and rewards, helping users conduct business more efficiently. Unless these changes, however, are held up against realistic user scenarios to ensure that ultimate goals are met, then change is happening merely for the sake of change.
Judge how much is too much
REALITY CHECK: Web sites aren’t ad campaigns. They don’t need fresh approaches to keep them attractive to target audiences. Actually, constant changes to navigation and graphical elements can frustrate users who expect to find specific content in the same place. The amount of effort to locate information dictates a site’s overall ease-of-use and customer satisfaction. Users quickly and intuitively weigh the benefits of the information they expect to find against the effort needed to find it. “Freshening” content makes a site more useful by keeping information current and offering constant value to target audiences. Make sure when content is replaced, users can easily search and locate the original information, and that organizationally, the new content placement makes sense.
It’s easy to see how stores such as The Gap promote brand and customer comfort through consistency. You know jeans are always against the back wall, new styles are up front, and accessories are near the cash register. The store colors are neutral and the lighting is bright. It certainly isn’t a static environment: The clothes change all the time and new product lines crop up each year. But knowing your experience is the same every time you walk into The Gap is one of the store’s biggest selling points.
A user’s comfort level with site design and navigation takes precedence over what might seem cool. Most sites change daily, if not weekly but keeping content dynamic is different than overhauling pieces of the site every six months. That’s where usability troubles take root and spin out of control. If you’re redesigning every six, nine, or even 12 months, then either your original e-business planning missed the mark, or your organization isn’t evaluating proposed changes based on their merits as paths to furthering defined business goals.
Don’t be afraid to trash it
One of the biggest challenges in content management is pure volume. As the amount of site content grows, you must make decisions on what stays and what goes. Otherwise, usability suffers.
TOP STRATEGY: Archiving is an invaluable approach to keeping sites current and “clean.” Determine the shelf life for your site content based on date published and how much it’s accessed. Your content management system must keep track of dates and user logs, and for site “owners,” it should help constantly evaluate whether particular content is still valuable to target audiences. By moving content to archives, you keep it accessible via archive searches, but purge it from the current site.
Content isn’t the only thing that might need trashing, or at least rethinking. Once a site has been up for six to 12 months, evaluate the processes behind the scenes. Where do bottlenecks occur? Do you need to change approval processes or redistribute content responsibilities? Are there new target users that require new people to get involved in managing certain areas of the site, or specific types of content? Just as site content is dynamic, so too are the processes and people that drive its creation.
Evolution in the Web world is propelled by new abilities to deliver information easier and faster. Higher bandwidth and new technologies facilitate change, but users ultimately dictate which changes are for the better.
The methodology and technical approach to strategic content management simplifies content publishing and maintenance across an organization. Content management helps e-businesses learn how to quickly improve and enhance their Web site content to address users’ needs as they evolve.
REMEMBER: Content successfully drives commerce when it’s valuable and actionable. As users become more Web savvy and demand better information delivery, organizations must rise to the challenge by:
1. Considering users’ needs from day one of the planning process.
2. Implementing enterprise infrastructures that support e-business evolution.
3. Constantly evaluating how well sites meet both the company’s and users’ goals.
4. Making changes that advance the governing principles of company and user goals.
Is it possible to constantly evolve your Web content and strategy?
* Consider constant change as a given when laying out your e-business plan
* Empower users with content management responsibilities to reduce IT bottlenecks
* Set clear business goals to lay the foundation for a solid method to evaluate change requests
* Be prepared from the start to change almost anything (not just content), such as approval processes, user roles, etc.
* User empowerment without easy tools and well-defined processes will fail
* Avoid radical changes to navigation, which confuses site visitors and hampers usability
Although there is no guarantee that block exemption will be outlawed, manufacturers are concerned that any change in the legislation may cut off their all-important channel to the customers, which is primarily through the dealer network.
“The dealer network is the manufacturers’ interface with the customer. If the legislation changes, it could become extremely difficult for manufacturers to keep that tie with the customer,” Alfredo Filippone of the Association of European Automotive Manufacturers (ACEA) explained.
Stefano Chmielewski, vicepresident of sales and marketing at Renault VI, confirmed that the portal, which is designed to build a direct relationship with customers by allowing them to configure their vehicle online, was set up in direct response to the expected end to block exemptions.
Aimed at people in the transport industry, the site allows customers to access an online version of Renault’s entire product range of 350 models, and 13,000 different configuration options, from which. they can configure a truck to their exact specifications.
Once the configuration is completed, an e-mail is sent directly to the nearest Renault dealer, who will make contact with the customer within 24 hours. Although the final specification is sent directly to the dealer, the site allows Renault to capture user details, thereby establishing a direct link to the customer.
“We implemented this Web portal in a bid to take greater control over our customers. One of the biggest debates with the dealer network in this industry is: who owns the customer? With a modification in the distribution specification we need to be in more direct contact with our customers and this portal will enable us to do so,” said Chmielewski.
But despite the push to build a more direct relationship with the customer, the move was not a bid to replace the distribution network, rather it was an initiative to enable the dealer to make sales in less time, he added.
Lance Doughty, UK director of automotive at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, confirmed that many vehicle manufacturers were taking pre-emptive steps to address the potential ramifications of a change in legislation. “Almost all manufacturers sell through a dealer network which means that today they don’t have a close relationship with their end-customer.
Companies want to start selling services as well as tin and they cannot do that today so they’re all trying to use the Web as a channel to get closer to their end-customer,” he said.
“Block exemption is the driver because it decreases the manufacturer’s control over the channel to market. The worst case scenario is that you take this legislation away and it becomes a free-for-all, and the manufacturer won’t have any control over its customer. It is perceived as a serious business risk so what Renault VI is doing is very sensible.”
Allen Pulham, director of UK dealer group the National Franchised Dealer Association, said manufacturer concerns centred around the ongoing debate about who owned the customer data. “Nobody knows who it belongs to: it is the last big question left. But at the end of the day, the dealer is always going to have the upper hand in terms of the customer database because he has built it,” he said.
According to Pulham a change in the law may mean the dealer could use that existing database to crosssell in a way he cannot today. “Manufacturers are covering their options in case their normal route to market is jeopardised by a change in legislation,” he said.
The RenaultVI.com portal is a Web-based extension of an application called Salesperformer Configurator, which was developed by US software provider Firepond, Used by sales staff in Renault dealerships since 1996, the older CD-Rom system forms the basis of the new Web application.
Development of the online system, which cost about [epsilon]lm ([pounds]600,000), was done in conjunction with Firepond. Work started at the end of September last year, and the site went live at the beginning of April. The system runs on Sun Solaris servers and an Oracle database, and product data on the trucks is housed on a Microsoft data import system.
Although the database holding product and technical information is connected to back office systems, there is no interface with the ordertaking or production side of the operation. There is also no direct link to the dealer, but plans are afoot to allow dealers to order online.
“That’s the next step. We want to start with the customer, then move on to the dealer – who will eventually be able to order online – but we need money first. Then we will work on an interface that will link dealers or large customers directly to the production site as it’s obviously a key element if you’re going to remain competitive,” said Chmielewski.
The internal benefits of using the site are likely to be significant, although achieving cost reductions will take some time. “Through using this system we can reduce inventory levels, response times and the people involved in the process, which will reduce costs. But its going to take Qne to two years,” said Chmielewski. Cost reductions will also be achieved by eliminating errors.
Klaus Besier, chairman and chief executive of Firepond, said the use of systems to reduce the order cycle time would be of key importance, particularly in the discrete manufacturing sector.
“The aim is to rationalise their order cycle time by pushing their vehicle configuration process on to the Web. All discrete manufacturers will end up with a system like this to reduce cycle time,” he said.