State Your Price

One of my pet peeves at the moment happens to be websites which do not clearly display the prices of various services or products.

Canonical has brought this to the fore again. What I write has nothing to do with the company or their services (both of which I think are great), but has everything to do with their website.

If you are selling a product or service, hiding the price behind either sales representatives or registration walls is not going to make me more willing to part with my money. I might just end up paying more money to someone else because they clearly state their prices. This happens for a number of reasons:

  • I know what I am getting into. This probably goes without saying, but I like knowing what I might be paying right away so that I can start formulating what value the product might have. My mind needs that frame of reference and hiding it isn’t going to help me make a decision.
  • You seem more confident. Just come out and say what you are charging because you are confident that is what it is worth! Hiding the price just screams “you might not like this, so let us try and talk you into it.”
  • It is more honest. I’m going to be more willing to trust your company if you are honest with me, and part of that is laying out how much you are charging me. Yes, there are going to be times when I am going to have to contact a sales representative, but I already know that if I am an edge case. Let me make that decision.
  • No more steps needed. I am not required to take another step (call you or contact you) to continue with my research. As much as we might not want to admit it, price is a part of every decision (in determining value) so make it easy for me to do what research I need.

I’m more likely to leave a site and move onto a competitor than try and hunt for prices. Simple as that.

Sweat the Big Stuff

As I was getting ready for bed last night, a phrase popped into my head.

It’s the small stuff that makes the difference.

It’s a true statement. In a lot of ways, the tiniest of details can make a huge difference between a good product and a great product. The way something feels can change how you interact with something. My Logitech MX620 wireless mouse feels infinitely better in the hand than a cheap Microsoft Basic Optical Mouse. You pay more, but the experience is better as well.

However, the small stuff wouldn’t matter if you don’t get the “big stuff” correct first. I don’t care how good the mouse feels in my hand if it can’t effectively track my movements. A cake with excellent frosting can taste terrible if the underlying cake is stale. A car can look awesome, but if it doesn’t have wheels it’s a huge paperweight on your front lawn.

What I’m basically saying is that before you can start fretting over the details you need to have your foundation in place. Sweat the big stuff and get that right, otherwise all of those small tweaks you make will be for nothing because you’ll still have a terrible product on your hands.

It will just look really good doing nothing.

Content Workflow Musings

One thing I am tasked with doing right now is coming up with a viable workflow for content creation at Martin Luther College. There are a couple of goals I am trying to keep in mind.

  • enable faculty/staff/students to create content for various sections of the website
  • create a system that allows staff to vet and proofread created content before it goes “live:
  • have the system not get in the way of posting information in a timely manner
  • everyone can use it and understand it

Not exactly the easiest things to work out. Plone provide a workflow mechanism, and I will be working within that so that all content can stay within Plone from start to finish. Granted, a lot of it will be pulled from print publications or written in Microsoft Word, but the idea is to get it into Plone and then work from there.

The main problem I am running up against in my own mind is balancing the need to vet/control the content and allow creators the sense of ownership for the content they create (getting it up in a timely manner). How much control should an editorial team exert on the content that goes up?

I don’t even pretend to have the answers right now, and a lot is going to change as I grow into this role, but I think an approach that is flexible enough to change based on the person who is creating the content and the area they are posting is probably needed.

I’ll try and give a few examples.

  • Someone creates a new page outlining the programs available at MLC. They submit it via Plone and it can either be posted directly to the site or merely submitted for approval. Considering it is main content for the college having to do with academic programs, I believe that submitting it for approval is the best course of action.
  • Graduate Studies has their own section of the website chronicling what is going on with the program along with links to various sources that might be of interest to the students. The head of the program creates the content for this area. I can’t help but think that he should be able to post directly to the area pertaining to his program.
  • Breaking news on the campus: a bear has just gotten a honey pot out of a tree! Awesome. Someone from PR writes up an article with a picture and wants to post it up as soon as possible. In this case, one of the few editors should be able to quickly vet the article and then post it directly from Plone. It could be the head of PR, webmaster for the school or whomever.

Those are just some thoughts on various situations. One about vital information, one about continually-updated information for program-specific students and another about speed. I don’t know what is right or wrong, and I’ll be changing my tune soon enough as I find out what actually works, but I really feel there needs to be flexibility and no hard-and-fast rules that can get in the way of both simplifying things and obfuscating them when the need is there for each.

Content and Mission

I am currently in the middle of reading Clout, a book by Colleen Jones, and a sort-of-companion-book to Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson. First, if you haven’t read these two books and work with web content at all, you should pick both of them up and read them. There is so much great stuff in both of them that I cannot possibly recommend them highly enough.

However, that’s not the point of this post. The point of this little post is to put down my current thoughts on content and mission and where they intersect. It came to me in the shower (where most of my decent ideas come), and I’m kind of ashamed that I didn’t have this in the forefront of my mind to start, but here I go.

To set the stage, my current job is to complete “revamp” the website for Martin Luther College. The college is not just from where I graduated, but also resides in the town I grew up in and provides pastors, teachers and staff ministers for the synod I am (and have been) a part of. To put it simply, I have a vested interest in the institution.

One request has been to include a Bible passage on the homepage (the new one). While a worthy goal, and something I hope to incorporate in some fashion, it got my brain working for the past couple of months and I never really understood why it was working. My mind tends to do that.

Finally, it hit me. The talk was about a specific piece of “content” on the homepage, but it never went any farther than that. People were so caught up in the minute details that they has missed the forest in front of them. The idea was to incorporate the mission of the college (to train people for the public ministry) onto the homepage. But, it stopped right there and no one talked about it any further. From that point forward all of the talk was of portraying us as “just another college.”

However, the mission should not stop as lip-service on the homepage (for anyone) and should permeate all of the content on every page to portray what makes you, you. This goes for a college, for a business, for a government agency and for you individually (and for me as well). The content and the mission are so vital and intertwined that to try and separate the two is both foolhardy and dangerous.

Do I have the answers? No, of course not, but I’ve at least calmed that part of my mind for a little while. Maybe I can devote some of that to solving some other issues.