Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Content Hypertext Spam

Well, I thought that "Comment Spam" was the worst thing that ever happened to blogs and interactive functions of web sites.

Boy, was I wrong. There's something worse.

I call it "Content Hypertext Spam." Others refer to it as IntelliTXT, from Vibrant Media, the provider company that offers this "product" to dumb webmasters.

You know I never attack a company or a product. But this time, I'm making an exception, though I'm going to concentrate on the concept, more than the supplier.

What is "Content Hypertext Spam"?

Let's say you're at some web site.

You skimmed, skipped, and scanned until you found an item of interest, an article on a topic of concern to you personally or professionally.

You start reading this article.

You enjoy it. You're learning some valuable facts.

You see a blue, underlined word or phrase in the text.

You're no dummy.

You know that text is clickable/selectable.

You click/select it, hoping to be taken to another online resource that will explain in more detail some aspect of the topic discussed in the article.


You just navigated to a web site that wants to sell you something.

Some product that is probably totally unrelated to the topic or issue discussed in the article.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I have the distinct pleasure of introducing you to:


Every time an unsuspecting user clicks on/selects such a deceptive link, the web site owner/webmaster gets some money from the advertiser.

HOVER STATE WARNING: You will know it's Content Hypertext Spam, prior to clicking on/selecting the link, because a box will pop up, like a tool tip, when you hover your cursor over the text. The box will contain a headline like "SPONSORED LINK", a paragraph of descriptive text, and a URL (web address) to click on/select.

What you thought was a legitimate hypertext link, was actually a Hidden Advertisement.

This is Spam...hidden in Content...and disguised as a Hypertext Link.

Content Hypertext Spam goes far beyond simple Comment Spam.

To be bothered or led astray by Comment Spam, you have to read an article, then activate "Read Comments" (navigate to comment posting page of web site), then read the Comment Spam, then stupidly click on/select the spammy, possibly dangerous URL contained within the (usually irrelevant) comment.

With Content Hypertext Spam, all you have to do to be annoyed or misled by this spam is innocently read an article and click on/select a linkable bit of text.

Content Hypertext Spam by IntelliTXT is "Spam" because it is:

1. unsolicited advertising

2. commercial in nature

3. disruptive of content path

4. irrelevant to topic of article

5. irrelevant to purpose of online resource

6. deceptive (pretends to be relevant content, but is really an ad)

7. destination is AWAY from topic, rather than TOWARD relevant information

8. harmful to editorial integrity

9. damaging to credibility of online resources in general

10. violates user expectations of link destinations and how links work

11. blurs distinction between editorial content and advertising

12. voluntarily, knowingly incorporated into web site content by webmaster, but users are in the dark about what the links really are (clandestine marketing ploy)

13. the link spam could target more words than the webmaster anticipated, thus making webmaster an object of ridicule and distrust

14. can result in users never returning to site, and also going to the trouble of warning others: thus generating negative word of mouth advertising against you

How You Can Combat Content Hypertext Spam:

Add * to your restricted sites list.

Depart from, and never return to, any online resource, web site, or blog, that contains Content Hypertext Spam.

Contact the webmaster and complain about the deceptive Content Hypertext Spam.


For more insight into this new form of internet trash, please see:

Marketing Works-Julia Hyde "Vibrant Media's IntelliTXT--the next generation of annoying online advertising"

Editors "News Sites: new risks of confusion between ads and contents" "This Headline is Not For Sale"

Web Design Tips - Useful Tips for Effective Web Design

  • Neat and Easy Navigation: Navigation of links on your site plays a big role in determining the stickiness of your site (how long your visitor stays and explores your site). Ask yourself this, What do visitors do as soon as they open your site? They would probably read the content of the present page and then look around to find any other page that interests them. Read our article on Web site Navigation Tips.

  • Clean Layout Design: A clean layout that uses a lot of white space enhances a site's looks. Try to keep the focus on your content, use a template for this. Use fonts that will be available on all computers to prevent your site looking messed up.

  • Optimum Load Time: Make sure your load time is low. For this you must:
    Minimize Graphics, Flash and scripts:
    They hugely increase your file size.
    Optimize your HTML & script code:
    Make sure that your site doesn't have any unwanted tags or unused scripts.
    Use Server Side Include (SSI) files where ever possible. SSI files once called from the web server reside in its cache so on subsequent requests they load faster.
    Read our article Tips for a Fast Loading Site for more.

  • Design for all Screen Resolutions: A site that is easy-to-use always encourages visitors to stay and read your content. For site with long pages of content this is very crucial as the amount of scrolling required is reduced. Suppose your site doesn't look good for a particular resolution it is very probable that the visitor will close the browser window feeling that the web page is not for their viewing. Designing stretch layouts that fit any screen resolution ensures that you know all your visitors see a visually appealing and professional site.
    Read our article Designing for all Screen Resolutions for more.

  • Ensure Web site scalability: Make sure your code and design is scalable. As technology advances and configuration of computers & their monitors keep increasing and varying it is impossible to test your site in all screen sizes and platforms.

  • Cross Browser Compatible: Make sure you check your site for Internet Explorer 5+, Mozilla Firefox 1.0, Opera 7.0 and Netscape Navigator 6+ as they constitute 95% of the worlds browsers.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Basic Web Usability Blunders - Part 1

Its amazing how many websites commit the most basic of Web Usability Blunders - and usually websites of all sizes, budgets and markets are equally prone to these mistakes.
The first of the Web Usability Blunders I’ll take a look at is a problem thats been around since the first homepage with graphics - Homepages with Large File Sizes and High Download Times
These are often the most appealing homepages, but also often the most annoying - due to heavy use of graphics they simply take too long to download. Even with the recent march towards broadband, not every web user has access to broadband.
During a recent review of websites in various tourism-related industries, such as sailing, golf and skiing, I found every website was over the recommended maximum homepage size of between 40-80 KB.
Here’s some facts and figures pulled from this review:
only 2 of the 14 homepages were anywhere near the 40-80 KB - at 88 KB and 92 KB.
the largest found was a massive 1700 KB - including 599 KB graphics files and 981 KB Flash files
the average size for the 14 homepages was 339 KB (taking out the 1700 KB example, it reduced down to an average of 234 KB)
some example download speeds taken from showed that a homepage of 167 KB took 36 seconds to download on a 56k modem and 13 seconds on a 128k ISDN. 11 of the 14 websites tested were over 167 KB in size.
Why is this a Problem?
With many users still on slow connections, the download speed of the homepage could take longer than the user is willing to wait. This may lead to them leaving the website, rather than waiting.
Large homepage sizes can also sometimes cause problems with search engine spiders, which may sometime not fully spider a page if it is very large, as it may cause a timeout in the connection that the spider has to the page.
How to fix it?
This Web Usability Blunder has a few simple fixes:
Use higher compression rates for any JPG files used
Reduce the number of graphic files used
Reduce the physical size of any graphics files used

Benefits of good web usability

Usability leads to increased business
A website with an efficient ordering system is more likely to attract business from customers and thus generate higher sales
Users will buy more products if they can find them easily on your website
Providing effective product information will lead to more sales
Interesting and readable content on your website will lead to users staying longer on your website and thus more likely to buy from your website
Usability leads to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
A well organised website will be easier for users to navigate and - for SEO - helps the search spider analyse your website
Effective use of keywords helps your users find the information they want and - for SEO - keywords play a major part in search engine algorithms and search engine results
Good use of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) improves the layout and consistency of navigation of your website and - for SEO - enables the search spider to actually index your content, rather than coding
New users are more likely to stay on the website and are thus more likely to become customers
Existing users are more likely to keep returning to the website and provide more business

What is web usability?

Web usability refers to the ease-of-use and user-friendliness of a website, from the user's point of view. Other factors also include effectiveness, efficiency and 'learnability' of the website.
This applies to all areas of a website, including:
Navigation - can a user find their way around the website easily?
Tasks - can a user perform a task such as buying a product easily?
Content - can the user read and understand the website content easily?
Standard Features - is there a useful Search function? are Links clearly defined?
Products - can the user find information on products? is enough product information available?
Company Information - is there an About Us link? can the user contact the Company easily? The above is just a very, very small subset of all the possible web usability factors of a website.
Why does my website need web usability?

10 High-Profit Redesign Priorities

I often write about the top mistakes in Web design, but what are the top things you can do to make more money? Following here are 10 Internet tactics with a particularly high return on investment (ROI).
1. Email NewslettersEmail newsletters let you maintain a relationship with your customers that lasts beyond their visits to your site. The newsletter is the perfect website companion because it answers a different user need: newsletters keep customers informed and in touch with the company; websites give customers detailed information and let them perform business transactions.
Newsletters are fairly cheap. They require little technology and mustn't be published too frequently. If you don't have a newsletter, then publishing one is probably the single-highest ROI action you can take to improve your Internet presence. If you do have a newsletter, then improving it according to research findings will likely make it several times more valuable to your organization. (Most of the newsletters we've tested failed to meet users' expressed desire for good communication.)
Newsletters have one more benefit: they are the primary way to liberate your site from dependence on search engines. In the long run, achieving this liberation is one of the most important strategic challenges facing Internet managers.
2. Informative Product PagesThe product pages on e-commerce sites, marketing sites, and B2B sites all suffer from information deficit. It's rare to see product descriptions that tell prospects everything they need to know to make a purchasing decision.
In my recent book, I present data showing that poor product information accounted for 8% of the usability problems on the websites we tested. Even worse, poor product information accounted for 10% of the user failures (that is, cases where users gave up, as opposed to "just" being delayed or annoyed). Designing product pages according to user needs is a highly targeted way to encourage sales at a point where users have already indicated interest by virtue of visiting the page.
You need detailed product information, but it must be written in a way that makes sense to people who aren't experts in your field. For example, on the product page for a laptop, don't be like Dell and tell people that the screen is "WSXGA+." Tell them it's 1680 x 1050 pixels. (Be honest: did you know this? And you're probably five times as geeky as a normal person.) Or, better yet, be like Apple and show different screen resolutions next to each other so users can see how much data is visible with each.
3. High-Quality PhotographyOne of the simplest ways to improve product pages is to show better photographs. For the hero shot at the top of the page, show the most representative photo in a small size. Below that, offer several additional photos that show different angles and close-up details. Also, remember mistake #10 of the top-10 Web-design mistakes of 2005: linking from small pictures to pictures that are only slightly bigger. Instead, link to photos that are as close to full-screen enlargements as possible.
Using huge enlargements might seem to contradict the guideline about fast response times for downloading Web pages. But there's a big difference between bloating a navigational page with irrelevant graphics and showing a big photo after the user asked for it. In the first case, the slow download interrupts the user's flow. In the second case, the delay is expected, and while delays are never welcome, they are less of a problem when they're clearly necessary to fulfill a user request.
A great downside of the online medium is that people can't touch and feel your products. But close-ups and quality photographs can still give users a good approximation of a product's tactile qualities, and they are essential to making people feel good about buying online.
For software products or online services, show full-resolution screenshots instead of photos.
4. Product Differentiation and ComparisonsYou must soothe user fears about buying the wrong product, or they'll postpone their purchases and probably never buy from your site. When you have multiple products in the same category, you must explain product differences so clearly that it's obvious to people without industry expertise why they should buy one particular product over the others.
Product differentiation is obviously easier for companies that simplify their product lines in the first place. Why offer many different products with virtually no true differences? For example, Dell has four different models of laptops: Inspiron, Latitude, Precision, and XPS, several of which are available in six different trim lines. If there's a clear difference between the models, it's not explained well on the website.
Even if you have a small and clearly defined product line, you must make the differences blatantly obvious on your site.
Comparison tools can also help users choose and thus overcome decision paralysis and facilitate sales. But such tools work well only when they illustrate key differences in a concise and unambiguous manner. Too often, websites take the easy way out and simply throw up a huge table of specifications without highlighting the points where products differ.
5. Support for ReorderingI've already mentioned the best way to get repeat business: offer an email newsletter, which will keep customers thinking about you even when they're not ready to buy. Then, when they want to spend money, they'll remember you.
To make people spend more money, make it easy to reorder. People often need the same things again and again. Why require them to navigate five levels down your site each time? In B2B, customers often need to order supplies, spare parts, or accessories for equipment they've already bought, so you should also facilitate those types of supplementary orders.
In one of our studies last month, test participants especially appreciated it when FreshDirect, an online grocer, let them reorder from their previous shopping lists.
Reordering is a matter of total user experience, beyond the website's user interface. Compose your product line with a view toward reordering. Continue to carry classic products so that people can order new copies of things they like. If you need to launch new products, keep sizes and similar parameters the same. For example, a customer who bought a sweater last year should be able to buy this year's model in the same size and be guaranteed that it'll fit equally well. Keeping sizes identical is much more important for etailing than for the physical retail channel, where customers can try things on before buying.
6. Simplified TextYou can usually double website or intranet usability simply by rewriting the text to follow the guidelines for online content. Better writing is probably the single most important improvement you can make to your site, but it appears fairly far down the top-10 list because it's not a one-time fix. You must hire good writers for all your projects, train them in writing for the Web, and have all of their content edited by even better editors who are even more knowledgeable about content usability.
Expensive though they may be, editors are always worth the cost.
7. Catering to SeniorsOlder people are the fastest-growing segment of Internet users. In fact, they are virtually the only remaining growth market in rich countries, where most of the younger people who want to get online already have accounts.
Many senior citizens are rich and have time on their hands. When it becomes difficult for them to get around, the Internet becomes a natural place for them to spend some of their vast piles of money. Seniors are also less into piracy and tend to be more loyal than fad-chasing young people.
Best of all, you can take advantage of the fact that most websites discriminate horribly against older users. Even government websites that supposedly target retirees are designed according to guidelines for thirty-somethings. Because so many sites are hard for them to use, seniors will shower you with business if you're the honorable exception who acknowledges their special needs. (And, those needs aren't even that special -- it's much easier to make sites usable for seniors than for users with disabilities, plus there are many more seniors and they tend to be richer.)
8. Gift-Giving SupportWishlists and gift certificates are low-cost features that give you incremental sales and introduce your site to new customers.
9. SearchMaybe search shouldn't be on this list; even though the benefits from improving it are immense, the required investment is fairly high -- certainly higher than for the other redesign initiatives listed here. Thus, the cost/benefit ratio is not as stunningly favorable for search as it is for my other recommendations. It's still favorable, though, so you should work on it.
Users increasingly depend on search as a primary interface to the Web. While search is getting fairly good for the Internet at large, it remains miserable on most websites and intranets.
Fixing your site's search requires that you buy and install better search software, and then tune it for your content and user queries (by adapting the spell-checking suggestions, for example). Worse, you must fix your content so that it's searchable. For example, you have to write meaningful page titles that actually explain the page's content so that people will know what they'll get when they click on a search hit. You also have to write using your users' vocabulary.
While it's expensive to rewrite your content for findability, doing so also improves your standing in external search engines, and SEO (search engine optimization) is one of the highest-ROI Internet marketing tactics. This is a much better investment than running ads that most users won't see due to banner blindness.
10. User TestingUser testing should really be #1 on this list because of its ability to set your project right with almost no investment. But I know that most readers tune out when I harp too much on the need for testing: people prefer to be told what to do rather than run their own studies.
However unpopular, I still recommend that you do your own user testing. There are always issues that are unique to your own industry that can't be resolved by reading general research insights. And remember: usability studies can be cheap, especially when you use low-cost paper prototypes that let you test an interface while it's still in the early design phase.
Bonus Tactic: Loyalty ProgramFor 10 years, I've recommended loyal-user programs, such as frequent-browser points modeled after airlines' frequent-flyer miles. Virtually no websites have taken me up on this idea, so I can't claim that it's a proven high-ROI tactic like those on the official top-10 list. But, take loyalty programs as a bonus idea: it's likely to be one of the main ways the Internet can fight back against search engine overlords and return more of the value to the websites that create it.
We've recently been observing people shopping online and are seeing some user loyalty emerge: more users are now starting out at a preferred site rather than a search engine. Perhaps we're finally seeing some websites that are good enough to be worthy of a bit of loyalty.
To encourage more loyalty, reward your repeat users. Discount offers and free shipping are the obvious ideas, but a website is a computer and we can go beyond these old-world approaches. For example, there are products in limited supply that sell out every holiday shopping season; give your loyal users first dibs on your allocation -- or let them register for future allocations before you make them available to the general public.
Serving Customers, Not Chasing HypeThe high-ROI ideas I have highlighted here have one thing in common: they add value to your site by enhancing its value for customers. That is, they give users what they want and need. These ideas are not the latest over-hyped stories the trade press loves to cover. Users want you to get back to basics and invest in the simple things that really matter to them.
Interface design is about making money for the company. Execution and workmanship are what you need, not fashion and advanced features. Do the basics, and do them well.


Confessions of a Web 2.0 Spectator

The Web 2.0 world is here. Any of us working in the web space hear this all the time. The way people interact with information on the web has changed. People are sharing more information, consuming what others are sharing and commenting on it. People are now in control like never before. As companies like HP make changes in their web experience to adapt to this change and pioneer new web opportunities, it makes me wonder – how will different types of users benefit from this change? Do all users realize they will benefit from this? Or, are there some that need to be enticed?
Is the Web 2.0 world for everyone? I’m a 35 year old female who works on the website of a high-tech company. I interact with the web constantly both in my personal and professional life. I’m one of those people that shops online all the time and prefer it to going to brick and mortar stores whenever possible. I enjoy reading blogs on topics of interest. I read all my news online and haven’t read a newspaper in years. I upload digital pictures and share them with friends and family weekly. I visit regularly. I download music from iTunes to listen to on my iPod. I consider myself very web savvy. But I feel like I have a deep, dark secret and here it is: Even for sites I visit and enjoy reading regularly, I never post. I enjoy customer reviews of products and they play a large part in my making a purchase decision but I admit I don’t recall ever writing one. I visit because I am interested in seeing what news stories other readers think are the most worthy but I never “digg” anything myself. I’m what used to be called a “Lurker”. Do people still use that term? I’m not there for the social interaction. I’m not interested in people reading my witty comments and I’m particularly not interested in engaging in a dialogue with someone I don’t know on a topic. But I am interested in reading what other people have to say on certain topics. I’m interested in what other people think of products they own. And I’m interested in what people have discovered about those products.
I was recently chatting with someone about my current practice of photo sharing. I use a basic photo sharing site where I upload my photos regularly, buy prints and then send an invitation to my small group of family and friends to view them and buy prints if they wish. But I have been told that this makes me somewhat archaic and old-fashioned. I’m not Web 2.0. I’m not hip. I’ve been told I must get on Flickr. But here is my question: Why?? The site I currently use meets all my needs. I buy prints to create my scrapbook pages. My children’s grandparents can view and buy pictures of them. The additional functionality that Flickr offers doesn’t interest me. I’m not interested in broadcasting pictures from my vacation to the world nor does it sound appealing to have anyone I don’t know comment on them. It actually sounds creepy to me to have anyone I don’t know view pictures of my children. Is this because of my age? Am I too old for Web 2.0 fun? Or could this be a personality trait of mine? Whatever the case, I’m certainly not alone.
While reading an article titled “Social Technographics” from Charlene Li at Forrester, I see I’m in good company. Charlene breaks the web population into six categories. At the top of the social ladder are Creators - those who publish blogs, upload videos and run their own web pages. Creators represent only 13% of the population. At the other end of the social participation ladder on the web are the Spectators who are represented by 33% of the adult online population. This group passively reads blogs, listens to podcasts and watches videos.
It looks like I’m falling right where would be expected based on my age. Comparing Gen Y to Gen X, Charlene Li states the following “While significantly fewer members of Gen X are at the top of the participation ladder, that four out of 10 are already using social media as Spectators means that they are well positioned to take the next step”. (If you don’t know what Gen Y and Gen X are: From Wikipedia: Generation Y was born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. Generation X was born approximately between 1961 and 1981).
My thought is that for many types of Web 2.0 functionality, there is something for everyone. For the person who wouldn’t post a customer review of a product, they will likely still benefit from seeing how customers rate our products when making a purchase decision. These are the types of Web 2.0 functions that I think will be most useful and widely used on (with “used” meaning both created and consumed).
Another example would be to allow customers to share in HP’s learn and use portion of the site. What things have customers learned about our products through usage that would be valuable to other customers? The person who has discovered that a particular setting on one of our cameras drastically improves the picture quality in certain situations. The person that has through trial and error discovered how to more successfully print a certain type of document using one of our printers. These could be posted in text comments or by uploading a video demonstration. Posting these types of comments/videos may not be for everyone. But many people will post. And many many more will benefit from them doing so.
In our Web 2.0 activities on, what do we do with the people who aren’t interested or perhaps just don’t yet know they would be interested in 2.0 functionality? Do we try to convert them? Push our Web 2.0 functionality in the hopes that everyone will eventually realize it is fun and useful for them? Or do we ignore them? Dive head first into the Web 2.0 world for the Creators only? Or, do we simply invite them? Provide Web 2.0 functionality for those that want it and have plenty of other useful content for those that decide they don’t.
If we can provide an engaging way for people to learn about HP’s products from other customers, anyone who is researching our products on the web can find value in it not only those who consider themselves Web 2.0.
So I will continue to enjoy the new face of the 2.0 web and all the new social content now available to me. Although I suspect I will continue to enjoy it passively as a Spectator. But who knows. I did write this blog. Perhaps there is hope for me yet.