Design Websites from Your Viewers’ Eyes

If you want to drive more eyeballs to your website, talk to the people who view it to find out what attracts them, what they look for and how they look for it.

If you want to drive more eyeballs to your website, talk to the people who view it to find out what attracts them, what they look for and how they look for it.

The role of websites continues to evolve, but what hasn’t changed is the need to design websites for the viewers that click on them. Research plays a pivotal role in learning what attracts viewers to a website, the content they want when they arrive and they like to access it. 

Analytics tell part of the story, especially what pages gain the most views and sustain interest. While that gives you a clue about website content and design, it doesn’t flesh out the viewer persona. The best way to discover the needs and preferences of individual viewers is to interview them.

This kind of qualitative research doesn’t require a formal survey. You need a few basic questions to explore what a target viewer looks for on your website, how it could be packaged for ease of access and suggestions for content. You also want to find out what drives them to go to your website, so you make that access as seamless as possible.

Because websites have become engagement hubs for organizations, there are often more than one type of viewer persona for you to interview. How young eyes view your website versus older eyes can make a huge difference in what you place on a page. Make sure to chat with a reasonable sample of each viewer persona group to obtain a well rounded perspective and tailor your questions to each viewer person group.

The insight you glean from interviewing viewers is invaluable to determine the most effective architecture, navigation, content and look and feel of your website. This is a very different approach than laying out a website map and looking for great images.

Finding the desired functionality of a website from the perspective of viewers and designing to that functionality is the most reliable way to ensure the website does its job, whether it’s marketing products or services, sharing resources or providing useful information.

Contemporary websites tend to be more visual with less text. Information is packaged rather than forcing viewers to search for it via drop-down menus. Viewers appear comfortable with scrolling down a home page to find what they are looking for, but they want a one-click journey to that information. Websites, even ones with video content, need to load quickly and be optimized for mobile devices. Those broad guidelines provide the frame for the website you create. Viewer insights inform the choices you make in terms of visual assets, navigation tools and content packaging and placement.

For organizations with multiple viewer personas, the design challenge is more complex. However, that complexity is easier to address if you are following the advice of people who view, use and rely on the website.

Website redesigns offer a great moment to rethink – or think about for the first time – how to inform your internal audiences. Employees are a critical website viewer persona, which also may have varied interests and content needs. Content creation for a website should take into account how it can repurposed or promoted in internal communications vehicles that can range from an enterprise system such as Yammer or Slack or an intranet.

Refreshing your website is never ending, not a one-and-done exercise. While that may seem like a pain, talking regularly with your website audience should be viewed as a pleasure. If you tie a website refresher to viewer contacts, you will keep your website on point – and your business on track.

Examples of Viewer-Centric Website Design

Here are three examples of websites that reflect a viewer-centric design and navigation strategy. These examples, plus 12 more, were singled out by HubSpot. Click each image below to see full-size views of the websites. 

The Dropbox website makes a difficult task seem simple through the simplicity of its design. It answers the viewer questions of “How does it work” and “How hard is it to use.

The Dropbox website makes a difficult task seem simple through the simplicity of its design. It answers the viewer questions of “How does it work” and “How hard is it to use.

The White House website looks like a news site, which is its purpose. The site is constantly being upgraded with fresh content.

The White House website looks like a news site, which is its purpose. The site is constantly being upgraded with fresh content.

The Basecamp website uses colorful, friendly looking illustrations to explain what it is and why it is useful to businesses as a project management tool. Notice the website’s scrolling design, with several places to respond to the website’s call to action – using the product for 60 days for free.

The Basecamp website uses colorful, friendly looking illustrations to explain what it is and why it is useful to businesses as a project management tool. Notice the website’s scrolling design, with several places to respond to the website’s call to action – using the product for 60 days for free.

Why Representative Samples Really Matter

If you want market research that matters, make sure the sample of people in your survey matches the audience you want to reach with your product or message.

If you want market research that matters, make sure the sample of people in your survey matches the audience you want to reach with your product or message.

A favorite story involves meeting with a client interested in promoting first-time homeownership. I mentioned the need for market research. No problem, the client said, we have that covered. I was handed the research summary and, as a matter of habit, jumped to the page about the telephone survey sample. It was very revealing. 

More than 50 percent of the respondents were 65 years or older. They were the majority of people who answered the phone and were willing to spend 15 or 20 minutes talking to a stranger about owning a home. Unfortunately, they weren’t the people the client had in mind as first-time homebuyers. 

Survey data is worthless unless the sample of who you interview reflects the audience you seek to reach. The sample in my client’s survey would have been terrific if the subject was reverse mortgages. It stunk as a reflection of who to address potential first-time homebuyers. 

Conversations between clients and research professionals must start with who to interview. If you have the wrong sample, the answers you get from the questions you pore over won’t matter a lick. 

Too often, the question of who to interview is glossed over. Sometimes the most obvious sample goes overlooked. When I was a lobbyist, a client hired me to “fix” his message that wasn’t gaining any traction with legislators. I started by interviewing about a third of the legislature, including virtually all of the lawmakers on the committees that were most engaged on my client’s issue. 

The interviews produced a wealth of insight. My client’s issue had latent support, but needed to be explained and demonstrated in a far different way. Lawmakers basically wrote the script my client and I used to lobby them. And it worked. 

Representative samples are harder to achieve for a mix of reasons. For example, increasing numbers of people don’t have landline phones and, if they do, they shield themselves from unsolicited calls with Caller ID. It takes a lot more calls, at greater expense, to collect a representative sample. Market research must cope with growing segmentation, which adds extra layers of complexity in selecting the right group of people to survey. 

The value of representative samples goes beyond quantitative research. Focus groups must be representative, too. And why would you do a customer satisfaction intercept survey for Nordstrom by interviewing people coming out of a rival department store? Representative samples matter in public opinion polling. A poll of New York voters wouldn’t be all that useful in projecting election results in Indiana. 

Despite the difficulty, solid research is grounded on good samples. Who you talk to matters if you want findings that mean something for your marketing.  

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Housing Supply Key to Price Inflation

Making room for more housing, whether by physical expansion or zoning changes that allow upward growth, is a key to modulating housing prices – and possibly to bolstering family incomes.

Making room for more housing, whether by physical expansion or zoning changes that allow upward growth, is a key to modulating housing prices – and possibly to bolstering family incomes.

Cities that make room for more housing have faced less housing-price inflation, according to an analysis by BuildZoom which drew the eye of the Wall Street Journal.

Issi Romem, an economist for BuildZoom, divides the urban landscape into “expansive cities” versus “expensive cities." 

He cited as an example the San-Francisco-San Jose area, which experienced a sharp population increase, but added only 30 percent more land for residential development between 1980 and 2010. Housing prices during that time period, he said, rose 188 percent. Romem contrasted that to Atlanta, which in the same time period expanded by 208 percent with housing prices increasing by only 14 percent.

The BuildZoom report shows Seattle expanding its residential footprint by 69 percent as housing prices rose by 119 percent. Portland was among the cities analyzed with the least physical expansion and rising housing prices nearing 80 percent.

WSJ reporter Laura Kusisto wrote, “Mr. Romem’s research reads on its face like an argument for suburban sprawl, which has come under fire both for its environmental consequences and tendency to lead to oversupply that can lead home prices to crash.”

Romem says the issue is less about sprawl than supply and demand. Ideally, he explains, cities would relax regulations to allow building up. However, adding density to existing neighborhoods can be unpopular, regardless of whether it involves the addition of tiny houses, building on open space or replacing single-family homes with multifamily apartments.

“If you don’t let the city grow,” Romem said, “you’re going to get prices going upward and see the middle class being pushed out.”

The Portland City Club’s recently released housing affordability study echoed many of Romem’s points as it recommended removing barriers to a wider array of housing types and a housing land bank to convert underutilized or foreclosed properties to housing.

While the BuildZoom research centers on major urban areas, the supply-and-demand problem also vexes suburban areas. Portland suburbs have seen price escalation in part because of voter rejection of annexations that would add more housing. Opponents have claimed sizable housing developments would overtax already congested roads and crowded schools.

The Portland metropolitan area’s land-use is constrained by an urban growth boundary, which is intended to restrict urban development and protect farmland from urban sprawl. The strategy has resulted in relatively small urbanized land expansion, forcing higher-density uses on and within the urban growth boundary. It also has led to sometimes awkward infill development and the exodus of families to what have become commuter communities outside the UGB such as Newberg, North Plains and even Keizer.

Housing patterns are being heavily influenced by different demographic preferences and economic realities. Baby Boomers are retiring and moving to smaller housing units nearer central cities. Young professionals, often burdened by high college student debt, are looking to rent, not buy. Some younger people are forsaking the whole “home is my castle” idea and settling for smaller, simpler housing that applies less pressure on their pocketbook and lifestyle choices.

Romem suggests businesses will be attracted to cities with available affordable housing and perhaps be turned off by cities without a supply of affordable housing. The economic consequences of inadequate housing supply are not just a concern for homebuilders and local boosters. President Obama’s White House advisers have pointed to a lagging housing supply as a major barrier to full economic recovery and higher incomes.

Artificial constraints on housing supply hinders mobility and increasing mobility is going to be an important part of the solution of increasing incomes and increasing incomes across generations,” says Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. 

Baseball Before Becoming the National Pastime

New documents reopen the question of who invented baseball, reminding us of the colorful characters who were involved in what has become America’s national pastime – all just in time for the opening of a new season.

New documents reopen the question of who invented baseball, reminding us of the colorful characters who were involved in what has become America’s national pastime – all just in time for the opening of a new season.

The 2016 Major League Baseball season has begun, with opening day games postponed by snow, a marquee matchup of the two teams that played for the World Championship last year and a new founder.

Baseball fans revere the past as much as popcorn and beer at games, so it's “news" that Alexander Cartwright isn’t the originator of the game after all. It may actually be a guy named Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams.

Cartwright has been credited with establishing in 1860 the rules of what was then called Base Ball. He was inducted posthumously into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, where a plaque hangs to mark his founding achievement. Congress in 1953 declared Cartwright the inventor of modern baseball.

Newly uncovered documents, however, show Adams laid out the rules of baseball, which included 90-foot base paths, nine-inning games and called strikes, three years earlier in 1857. Even that may not be the whole story.

For a long time, the baseball world believed the game’s inventor was Abner Doubleday, who served as a general in the Union Army and played a pivotal role in the victory of Gettysburg. His founding role in baseball has been largely debunked. After the Civil War, Doubleday was stationed in San Francisco where he took out the patent on the cable car railway that is still operating today. Later he was listed as a New York lawyer. The closest he apparently came to the national pastime was supplying some bats and balls to his soldiers.

Some baseball historians believe Base Ball rules could date as far back as 1837. That makes sense since the “first Base Ball game” occurred in 1846.

Cartwright helped create the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in 1842. Adams played for the New York Base Ball Club as early as 1840 before joining the Knickerbockers around 1840. He was connected with the club, including stints as president, until 1860.

Preceding his baseball career, Cartwright worked as a clerk for a Wall Street broker. Baseball for him was a way to get out of a dreary office. Cartwright fled New York to pursue riches in the California gold fields and later moved to Hawaii where he became the the Honolulu fire chief and political adviser to the last Hawaiian king. Thus, the winners of the Hawaii high school baseball championship each year are given the Cartwright Cup.

Adams, who grew up in New Hampshire, graduated from Yale and earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. When he moved to New York, Adams was involved in providing medical care and vaccinations to poor New Yorkers. He took up baseball the year after he graduated from med school. Records indicate Adams was primarily an infielder and may have originated the position we call “shortstop.” Though box scores, if they existed back then, haven’t survived, there is evidence the left-handed hitting Adams was a slugger, who occasionally plopped a homer into the river just beyond right field.

As a man of science, Adams was interested in more than just the game. He worked to perfect the baseball itself – making it livelier so it would travel farther – and he experimented with early baseball equipment, including bats. Adams also played the flute and performed public duets with Henry Ward Beecher.

The modern MLB season is long, with 30 teams each playing 162 games. Those games have grown longer, with larger gaps between pitches as batters ritualistically tug at their batting gloves. Hopefully this trek through baseball history can provide some amusement for all the down time fans will experience. Play Ball!

Unexpected Business Poll Findings

Findings from a poll of 1,000 business executives seem to contradict day-to-day lobbying by chambers of commerce against a higher minimum wage and paid leave policies.

Findings from a poll of 1,000 business executives seem to contradict day-to-day lobbying by chambers of commerce against a higher minimum wage and paid leave policies.

When you think of heads of business, empathy isn’t the first word that pops to mind. When you think of chambers of commerce, you don’t expect to hear them support a higher minimum wage or paid leave for illness or a new child. However, a poll of 1,000 top-level U.S. business executives suggests some of those impressions may be misplaced.

According to the poll, nearly 80 percent of business executives support raising the minimum wage, while only 8 percent oppose a raise. Support is even higher for maternity and paternity leave and only slightly less for paid sick leave. Executives also expressed more support for "keeping health care costs low for American families” than repealing the Affordable Care Act. This isn’t consistent with how chambers of commerce across the country lobby on these issues. 

The poll was commissioned by the Council of State Chambers and conducted by Luntz Global, which is headed by well known GOP pollster Frank Luntz. For understandable reasons, the poll didn’t see the light of day until The Center for Media and Democracy obtained a copy and made it public. 

"The polled executives want to raise the wage, expand paid sick and maternity leave and support predictive scheduling,” the Center wrote on its website "Their desire to "keep health care costs low for American families" far outstrips their opposition to the Affordable Care Act."

Some of the disconnect between what these business leaders support and what chambers of commerce typically advocate can be explained by how the minimum wage and paid time off impact different business segments. Owners of fast food restaurants are likely to hold a more negative view than the CEO of a manufacturing firm that already pays wages above the higher minimum wage. Nearly half of the business executive respondents to the poll worked for or owned companies with annual revenues of between $50 and $500 million.

Beyond the shock value of the survey findings is the reality that business is not monolithic in its viewpoints. Even chamber of commerce members don’t always share the same view. Of the 1,000 executives interviewed by Luntz Global, 46 percent said they were members of their local chamber of commerce, 28 percent said they belonged to their state chamber and 16 percent said they were affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

It may be too much of a leap to assume the business executive respondents reflect a hidden progressive strain in the C-suite. They may simply view issues such as a higher minimum wage or paid leave policies inevitable or public battles that are destined to lose. Or they may see these policies as basically fair, reflecting policies which they may have already adopted.

Critics of these policies and of the poll itself will say that you can make a poll say anything you want. Loaded questions can skew results, to be sure. But the source of this poll – an organization that serves chambers of commerce and a pollster that works for Republican candidates – probably didn’t slant the questions to fetch the results they got.

The Bilingual Advantage

There are conflicting views and evidence about the bilingual advantage, but it does seem clear speaking more than one language forces the brain to work harder and differently. Plus you may able to impress a date by ordering dinner in French.

There are conflicting views and evidence about the bilingual advantage, but it does seem clear speaking more than one language forces the brain to work harder and differently. Plus you may able to impress a date by ordering dinner in French.

Speaking more than one language may not confuse children, as some predicted, but instead it may improve selective attention and cognitive flexibility. Down the line, the bilingual advantage could help adults ignore distractive information, land better jobs and even forestall brain deterioration in old age.

Anything that sounds that good, of course, may not pan out. Skeptics question whether immersing children in two or more languages produces any long-term advantages.

Despite contradictory perspectives and even clashing scientific studies, there does seem to be some consensus. Bilingual speakers have more active brains. Switching from language to language forces the brain to work harder and differently, much like lifting weights trains muscles.

Advocates of the bilingual advantage note humans natively pick up language from the time they are born until puberty. Young minds are sponges that absorb new words and phrases effortlessly. Multi-tasking minds become sharper and more attentive to detail. Multiple languages also appear to help children see the world in more than one perspective, which improves their odds of being more sensitive to variations later in life.

In Europe, bilingualism is almost unavoidable. In America, it has faced resistance, even antagonism. Newcomers have been told by certain political voices to learn to speak “American,” even though Americans generally speak English. (Nerd alert: The so-called Appalachian dialect may actually derive from Elizabethan English adapted to fit the American frontier.)

Many people who study a foreign language, especially one of the Romance languages, come away with a stronger understanding of English. When you learn Spanish syntax, the lights go on about English syntax, which shares a Latin linguistic ancestry. Language isn’t just something you utter; it is something you begin to understand.

That advantage has been multiplied by research findings from linguists and psychologists, which suggests there are considerable benefits to bilingualism.

Bilingual speakers are constantly toggling between two languages to express themselves. Rather than tongue-tie them, this phenomenon challenges the brain and tunes up its unfathomable capacity. It expands memory, sharpens the ability to differentiate, and it builds high-level thought processes such as “executive function."

Doubters have their proof that single and multi-language speakers perform at basically the same levels. It may be cooler and more romantic to order dinner at a French restaurant in French, but it has little influence on how well your brain functions. 

This is not a debate likely to end soon, similar to whether drinking coffee is good or bad for your health. One potential conclusion is that the bilingual advantage isn’t universal. The advantage may exist, just not for everyone. Or as the French would say, “c’est la vie.”