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Tim Peter Thinks

Tim Peter


July 20, 2015

5 Warning Signs That Your Website Sucks

July 20, 2015 | By | No Comments


Does your website suck? Does it meet your customers' needs?Does your website suck? I’m not asking to be mean. Really. Building a website that meets the needs of your business and your customers is a tricky balancing act. You want to project a robust, yet friendly brand. You want to make sure the site is usable, but also good looking. You want to promote your company without getting in your customers’ way. You need to represent the needs of disparate internal stakeholders, but you don’t want to drive the design and functionality based on your org chart. You want Google, Bing, and other search engines to find your site and boost its rankings in their results. You want your customers to like, link, and share your content with their friends, family, fans, and followers among their various social networks. And, of course, you want it to look world-class without breaking your budget.

Sounds simple, right?

Well… not really. While no one set of tips and tricks guarantees a perfect site designed to achieve an optimal balance among these disparate demands, a few best practices can ensure your site works well in most cases. If your site exhibits more than one of these common warning signs, it’s a pretty good indication your website sucks. Here’s what those warning signs are —and how you can prevent them.

Meager Images

Does your website offer clear, crisp images, designed to work well on “Retina-caliber” displays? Do those images show your product and services clearly? Or do your customers have to lean in close and reach for reading glasses every time they want to see a picture (even if they don’t wear glasses)? On the web today, a picture is worth a thousand words. Poor quality, low resolution images — or too few images overall — make it difficult for your customers to truly see what they’re buying when they buy from you. Invest in high-quality, high-resolution images that illustrate your offering clearly. Google’s recent emphasis on images in search, including Carousel and Business View underscore how seriously the search giant takes images as part of the overall consumer experience. And don’t forget the move towards image-sharing in social, including Instagram, Pinterest, and, yes, even Twitter (images are proven to make social posts more shareable). Your customers value images. Make sure your site does too.

Poor Mobile Experience

OK. Before you read any further, grab your mobile phone (or open a new tab if you’re reading this on mobile), and navigate to your website. What does it look like? Can you read the text? Do the images appear clearly? Can your customers find key calls-to-action like your address, phone number, or add-to-cart? No? Well, you’re not alone. Research from Foresee Results (highlighted here) shows that “…functionality on mobile apps and sites was the area for biggest improvement across… mobile retailers” and that “…mobile is affecting direct sales contribution and purchases in other channels, too.” Those effects can be negative, too, if your customers can’t find what they’re looking for when on their mobile device. Responsive sites rank better for SEO, usually cost less to maintain than a dedicated mobile site, and, as a general rule, work better across a wider range of devices. Oh, and they help your customers, too. What’s not to love?

No Web Analytics

An old consulting saw states, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Time and again I see companies running their websites without any web analytics in place. Which means, of course, that they’re not really managing their sites. They’re just guessing what customers care about — or don’t. If your site lacks analytics, take a few minutes and have your administrator at least place tags for Google Analytics on your site. Today. Once you’re able to measure, you’ll be able to manage your site so much more effectively. And you’ll begin to put your site to work for your business more effectively too. What should you measure? Well, I’m glad you asked… High Bounce Rate Bounce rate is what happens when customers view a single page on your site without drilling deeper into your information. A high bounce rate is the kiss of death for most businesses, as it means your website wasn’t good enough to answer your customers’ questions without leaving them looking for a better answer — especially if they look to a competitor. Even worse, you might have paid — with money, time, or resources — to bring those folks to your site. That’s pretty much the definition of “sucks” in my book. Identify pages on your site that have both lots of traffic and a high bounce rate, then set to work on improving those pages (look to copy, headlines, images, and calls-to-action first). Getting these pages to not suck should be your web team’s #1 priority, even ahead of SEO, PPC, or email marketing. Driving traffic to a page that’s just going to cause customers to bounce is a waste of customer goodwill. So don’t do that.

Limited Traffic Sources

I once worked on a site that got almost 80% of its traffic from organic search and a big chunk of that organic search traffic from a relatively small set of keywords. Guess what happened. Search traffic fell during the economic downturn (it was a luxury products company), and the overall business suffered. As one company executive put it after I showed them the issue, “Google sneezed and we caught a cold.” You’ve all heard the adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket. Well, the same holds true for your website. Look at the sources driving traffic to your site, then build a plan to grow each of the following categories:

  • Natural search
  • Referrals
  • Direct navigation
  • Email
  • And, if you’ve got the budget, paid search.

You’re looking for both quantity and quality here, so don’t just jump on spammy link-building techniques or wasteful spend solely to get additional traffic. Instead, focus on quality partners and proven tactics to increase across and within each of these key categories. While it can’t guarantee you won’t “catch a cold” when someone upstream sneezes, it will help you spread the risk and improve your “immunity” to any changes in the marketplace.


You’ll notice I didn’t talk about conversion rate or returning visitors or more detailed metrics for your site. It’s not that those are unimportant; they are. Very important, in fact. But it’s more important that you get the basics right first. Focus on these five areas to start with, then look at building a more detailed picture of your customers’ online behavior. Building a high-quality, customer-focused website is an ongoing process that requires constant attention and clear goals. Look at where your customers come from, what they’re trying to accomplish, and how well your pages support their goals at each step along the way. It won’t guarantee you’ll win every sale, every day. But it will help you attract and retain more customers in the long run. And that surely doesn’t suck.

Do you want learn even more about how your customers’ changing behavior shapes e-commerce and marketing? Be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You can also check out these slides and video from my recent webinar, “Digital Marketing Directions: Three Key Trends Driving Your Marketing Next Year”:

And, finally, you might want to take a look at some of our past coverage of the e-commerce, mobile commerce, and digital marketing overall, including:

Note: A version of this post originally appeared on Biznology, where Tim Peter writes a monthly column.
Tim Peter


April 9, 2013

What Are Your Customers Actually Buying? (Travel Tuesday)

April 9, 2013 | By | No Comments

Customer satisfactionTravel marketing — as well as service marketing generally — depends on providing your customers a great experience every time for a pretty simple reason: The experience is the product. It’s not like there’s an object that “leaves the store” with them. Airlines, in particular, are learning this lesson the hard way right now as recent research shows declining customer satisfaction… despite improving operational execution.

This need to get it right, to at minimum meet your customers expectations every time, is the topic of this week’s Travel Tuesday post on TravelStuff, “What Are Your Customers Actually Buying?” Check it out.

Interested in more? Sign up for our free newsletter and get more information on how to build your social, local, mobile marketing strategy. And, if you’ve got a minute, you might enjoy some past coverage of customer experience in marketing, including:

Tim Peter


February 8, 2013

Thinks Out Loud Episode 17: What's Wrong With Google's Enhanced AdWords Campaigns

February 8, 2013 | By | One Comment

Google's Enhanced AdWords Campaigns might enhance their bottom line


Now stay warm and dry, Big Thinkers. Watch out for Winter Storm Nemo this week.

Contact information for the podcast:

Technical details: Recorded using a Shure SM57 microphone
through a Mackie Onyx Blackjack USB recording interface into Logic Express 9 for the Mac.

Running time: 12m 47s

You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes [iTunes link], subscribe via our dedicated podcast RSS feed or download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player below:

Tim Peter


February 1, 2013

Thinks Out Loud Episode 16: Respect Your Customer

February 1, 2013 | By | One Comment

IStock 000019738550Medium



The two Douglas Hubbard books I mentioned on the show are:

Contact information for the podcast:

Technical details: Recorded using a Shure SM57 microphone
through a Mackie Onyx Blackjack USB recording interface into Logic Express 9 for the Mac.

Running time: 12m 03s

You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes [iTunes link], subscribe via our dedicated podcast RSS feed or download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player below:

Tim Peter


January 28, 2013

Finding and Following Your Customer's Digital Footprint

January 28, 2013 | By | 3 Comments

4 ps of marketingI had the great privilege to guest host @IBMBigData’s weekly CXO Chat on Twitter focused on Customer Experience Optimization. The session was called Finding & Tracking Your Customer’s Digital Footprint and looked at your customers’ digital footprint and how you can leverage consumer behavior in your marketing and customer service efforts. It was an incredibly lively discussion and I learned as much as I shared.

Since it was on Twitter, my answers were limited to 140 characters or fewer. But I think that really focused the discussion clearly on the best things you can do to improve your customers’ experience using the data available to you. In the sections below, I’ve tried to capture the spirit of the session while adding some context (e.g., tweets/questions/etc. from other participants) where appropriate.

Anyway, check out the Q&A for yourself:

Can you follow your customers’ digital footprint?

  • It is possible. But first think about what you’re collecting and why.
  • Customer relationships depend on trust. Make sure you have treat customer data with care.
  • Have a clear sense of what’s your data (aggregate usage information, opens, clicks, shares, retweets, etc). vs. customers’.
  • All personally identifiable information (PII) belongs to customers, always. Handle with care.
  • If you’re uncomfortable telling customers how you plan to use their data, ask yourself whether you should collect it at all.
  • RT @IBMbigdata @Marco_Saito “Capture” probably wrong verb. “Access” better. Footprint doesn’t need to be in your database…
  • Finally, remember you don’t need to know everything to know enough to help customers achieve their goals.

How can businesses track the digital footprints to profile their customer base?

  • Don’t be afraid to start small. Gather the data that will help you help your customer.
  • Exactly: RT @DnBUS: Businesses need to rethink marketing segmentation. It’s more dynamic & individualized than trad. demos.
  • Focus on your customers’ behaviors first. They’re a better predictor of future behavior than anything else.
  • Great point. RT @Marcio_Saito Most times, more important to know which venues customer are (context) than what they said (data).
  • Ask customers permission and to volunteer additional information in exchange for content, services, utility.
  • Then (where appropriate) join those disparate data together to create a clearer picture of customers wants, needs, dreams
  • RT @ValaAfshar: Mature service orgs are using prior contact history and predictive analytics to deliver proactive services.
  • One participant on Twitter (@marksalke) asked: “But do customers/consumers care to be ‘analyzed’?”
  • My reply: @marksalke It’s an important question. Depends on how you’re going to use it. Customers want help. If if helps, then yes. If not…
  • But don’t ask customers for the things you should already know (past contact, repeated discussions, etc.)

How far back should we trace the digital footprint? Why?

  • Only go back as far as necessary to help your customers accomplish their goals. Remember trust matters more than anything.
  • Exactly right: RT @stevemassi: customer will ID themselves when theres value in it for them
  • Whenever you’re gathering customer information, ask “how does my having this help my customer?”
  • It’s very easy to slip past “helpful” and towards “creepy.” Don’t go looking for data you can’t use to help your customer.
  • @SJAbbott Seeing those trends is fine. Data in the aggregate is cool if you exclude PII. Just don’t try to mine individuals that way.

How do you use the digital footprint to personalize the customer experience?

  • Focus on behaviors first. What do your customers do? How can you enhance the experience based on what you already know.
  • Tough to give examples in 140 chars, but consider the following scenarios…
  • We already know so much that we could use better. On website, what browser, referrer, geolocation, search query, etc.
  • How can you use that data to offer more relevant responses, content, experiences?
  • On social channels, activity, friends, followers, fans, etc. What do these tell us about customer wants, needs, dreams?
  • @tmustacchio It’s one approach. Though instead of “all available” data, focus on most meaningful data first.
  • Definitely. RT @IBMbigdata Use digital insight to fill in gaps in customer story to then personalize the exp
  • Great! RT @adamtoporek Blend internal data with social/public footprint for total picture. Then take WIIFM approach to cust

How do you bridge the gap between digital and physical footprints?

  • Carefully. 😉 Again easy to slip into “creepy” territory. Instead ask, “How do my customers use these channels together?”
  • Pay attention to transitions. Are customers shifting between physical/digital based on choice or frustration?
  • For many businesses mobile will be key. RT @DnBUS A5: One way to integrate physical & digital footprints: mobile.
  • Keep messages consistent across channels as people move. Help keep them from getting lost.
  • 60% of consumers between 18-34 sleep with their phone due to FOMO (fear of missing out). Offline no longer exists.
  • @SMSJOE That’s right. Customers don’t think “channel.” They think “company.” If you do it bad in one channel, it can follow you.
  • Mobile will drive much of the transition between offline and online. See here:
  • RT DnBUS @stevemassi Good point. We must also get permission to observe mobile use & offer guidance. Understand context of use 1st
  • @marksalke @stevemassi Many already are today. Mobile doesn’t just mean your app. It’s a truly “personal” computer now.

How can businesses take advantage of digital footprints to innovate, differentiate and grow?

  • Again, think first about how it helps your customer. Use data to improve service.
  • With rise of consumer review, photo and social sharing sites, your brand is what your customer says it is.
  • Exactly! RT DnBUS A6: Digital footprints can fuel innovation by revealing what customers need & want & what they expect from you.
  • Customers who have great experiences tell their friends. Customers with bad experience tell everyone they know.
  • Listening to what your customers real needs then applying those lessons will help you improve products and quality of service.
  • Yep. RT @ValaAfshar The art of building trust is to use the information *not* to manipulate, but rather to personalize and inspire.

What best practices should companies employ in leveraging and cross pollinating digital footprints?

  • Protect your customers’ private data first, last, and always. You don’t own it but it’s entrusted to your care.
  • @OBI_Creative I basically agree. But remember you have to listen deeply for what they really want, not just what they say they want.
  • @OBI_Creative Think Henry Ford’s (apocryphal) “faster horse” quote:
  • Establish and maintain cross-functional teams representing different aspects of customer journey. Avoid silos at all costs.
  • Each member of team needs to reflect context as well as content of digital footprint. How/why it matters to customer interaction.
  • @thecxguy asked: “but the question remains. What is “private”?”
  • I responded: Tricky question. Consumers will differ on where the line is, but I still believe PII is (mostly) private.
  • RT @DnBUS: Remember that each “touch”/interaction–regardless of communicating team–is a brand experience.

Should customers disguise their digital prints from businesses? Why or why not?

  • Whether they should or not, they will. Especially from companies that haven’t earned their trust.
  • Customers will increasingly protect their footprint when companies misstep. Don’t misuse what isn’t yours.
  • Customers should share their footprint but only if they receive value in exchange. Data is currency.
  • RT @thecxguy exactly. progressive biz will show their cust what data they collect, what they use it for and give option 2 opt out

It was a great session and I look forward to continuing the dialogue with this group. You should check them out, too.

Interested in more?
Sign up for our free newsletter
and get more information on how to build your social, local, mobile marketing strategy.

Tim Peter


September 19, 2012

Speed (Or Lack Thereof) Kills

September 19, 2012 | By | No Comments

Speed killsI don’t talk about site performance very often. But today’s news about Bank of America’s website challenges today brought it top of mind. If you don’t know what’s happening, here’s what CNN had to say:

“Bank of America’s website was sluggish and intermittently unavailable for many users on Tuesday, in an outage that the bank hadn’t explained by the end of the day.

Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) spokesman Mark Pipitone said the company is ‘working to ensure full availability,’ and that online banking is available ‘although some customers may experience occasional slowness.'”

I worked for Charles Schwab during the dot-com boom. And I remember our sites occasionally having performance issues due to the extreme demand from customers to execute ever more trades, ever more quickly. Unfortunately, whenever we had problems, it both irritated customers, cost us money, and hurt our reputation (the only consolation was that most other online brokers were having the same problem, so customers didn’t have many better options from which to choose — I’m not saying that’s the right approach, merely that it was the reality at the time).

Of course, you don’t have to be a financial services company to experience poor site performance. There’s a memorable moment in “The Social Network” where Mark Zuckerberg loses his mind on Eduardo Savarin after Savarin stops payment on their hosting account, potentially knocking the nascent site offline entirely. First Zuckerberg ensures the sites remain online and, later in the movie, ensures Savarin isn’t in a position to do it again.

If you’re a retailer, you probably vacuum and dust your stores regularly, restock shelves, and ensure easy access to merchandise. If you’re a restaurant, you wipe the tables and sweep the floors, polish the silverware, and relight the candles. If you’re a hotel, you make the beds, change the towels, and clean the bathrooms.

And, if you’re a website, you do everything you can to ensure your customers have a speedy and uninterrupted experience. Speed matters. It’s not a technical concern. It’s basic customer service.

Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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Tim Peter


October 17, 2011

It just works

October 17, 2011 | By | No Comments

It just worksAccording to Google’s “Ten things we know to be true”, Google strives to “Focus on the user…” knowing, “…all else will follow.” Google became the dominant search engine by offering a simple, usable interface on top of great search technology. It just works.

Apple introduced a new voice-activated personal assistant, called Siri, in its new iPhone 4S. I have one and it’s amazing. Ask it “Will it rain tomorrow?” and it responds with a quick look at the forecast. Tell it to send a text to your business partner, or your daughter, and it opens the messaging app and asks you what you’d like to say. Speak your message, tell it to send, and you’re done. Again, it just works.

I bring this up because there’s a raging debate right now on Google+ about whether Siri is just a re-heated version of Android’s Voice Actions, who got there first, and, near as I can figure, whose dad can beat up whose.

One commenter on the thread noted, “Everyone is spitting chips about [Siri’s] useless ‘Natural speach (sic) recognition’ – Basically for idiots that cant (sic) remember 5 commands…”

Pity his spell checker doesn’t just work.

Ignoring the “idiots” part for a moment, the key here is “can’t remember 5 commands.” I’ve had an Android phone for the better part of three years. And I used Voice Actions maybe 5 times. Why? Because it didn’t “just work.” I had to learn how the tool wanted me to work. And, frankly, remembering those 5 commands wasn’t worth the time or benefit. With Siri, I don’t have to remember any commands. I just say what I want to say and, more often than not, it just works.

Now, this isn’t meant as a review of Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Android operating systems. I also don’t care whose dad can beat up whose.

More importantly, neither do your customers.

You see, the problem with Android Voice Actions is that it focuses on the technology, not the user. I don’t know if Apple is using superior technology than Google. Maybe they’re not. I don’t know if Siri is going to “win” the race forever. Maybe they won’t. But, as an “idiot user” (though I prefer “moron in a hurry”), I can tell you that Siri is much more useful than Voice Actions and that, at least over the last few days, I use it all the time.

Maybe the novelty will wear off. And, if Google focuses on its users’ needs with the next version of Voice Actions—as they’ve done with their search engine for years—maybe they’ll have the best tool on the marketplace. But, right now, there’s no question in my mind that Siri is the best user experience on the market for voice control. It just works.

If you think your customers consist of “idiots” who “can’t remember” what you want them to do, then that’s your problem, not theirs. Because they’re not idiots. Or “morons in a hurry.” What they care about is whether your product solves their problem—and whether or not it just works.

Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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Tim Peter


September 26, 2011

How long can you afford to suck?

September 26, 2011 | By | No Comments

Customer service mattersHas this ever happened to you? I was standing in line at my local Rite Aid, waiting to buy a bottle of water and some Excedrin for an increasing-by-the-minute tension headache while watching four employees (two cashiers, an assistant manager and the store manager), debating the value of a coupon with one customer.

Now, I’m all for personalized service, but that’s crazy.

During the wait, I watched a few people quit standing in line, put their purchases down and leave the store.

I wonder if any of them came back.

Judging by the items on the counter, the amount of the coupon couldn’t have been more than a couple of bucks. Why didn’t the manager just credit the first customer, then shove her out the door to handle the growing line behind her? Or better yet, ask the assistant manager and one of the cashiers to open additional registers to deal with the growing line?!?

Now ask yourself: Do I ever do that to my customers?

  1. Is your website or e-commerce provider too slow, making your customers “wait in line” to pay?
  2. Are your product descriptions unclear, making your customers search for more information?
  3. Are your pictures or screen font too small, making your customers squint or lean in?
  4. Is your value proposition poorly stated, making your customers unsure why they should buy from you?

Amazon has killed many bookstores (and other retailers) by ensuring fast, free shipping, reasonable prices and a broad selection. So, ask yourself, why does Powell’s Books continue to do well? (Full disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate.)

Zappos has reinvented the retail shoe business by providing unbelievable customer service (though, not at the expense of other customers), good selection and a simple return policy. But Nordstrom’s doesn’t seem to suffer. Why?

Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity have hurt many “traditional” travel agents by offering a range of travel products, loads of travel content, and (relatively) transparent prices. And yet, many niche travel agents have excelled during this same period. Again, why?

In all these cases, and many more, the long-time industry players have adapted to the needs of their customers and differentiated themselves from the larger, online-only players. Powell’s focuses on rare and used books, along with hiring committed, book-loving readers. And sells plenty of new books, too, because people who love to read recognize that Powell’s shares their concerns. Nordstrom’s continues its legendary return policy and, again, excels at customer service. Those niche travel agents? Same thing. Relentless customer service, typically building truly extraordinary trips for their well-heeled clients and fulfilling the most unusual requests with grace and style.

Your business is under siege. New entrants, online and offline (though, really, who’s only “offline” these days) seek to help your customers with their problems. And if their problem is you, you’ve now got a bigger problem.

Mobile only makes it worse. For you, that is. For the customer it’s great. Not happy with the service you’re getting? Take a look on Foursquare or Google Mobile or Facebook and find a better option.

Those with deep pockets have one advantage: their deep pockets may buy them a little time while they work out the kinks in their operation. But, too many better options exist for your customers if you’re not paying attention. And too many customers will get out of line, put their purchases down and leave the store.

Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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Tim Peter


March 28, 2008

Small Business Ecommerce Link Digest – March 28, 2008

March 28, 2008 | By | No Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I led with the economy, and this week is no different. Not because I think we need to be overly concerned. No. I think we should be focused. A tough economy is the right time to evaluate what works, what doesn’t, and what to do about both. The least you can do is often the best. So, this week’s pitcher of link juice flows to folks focused on optimizing – getting the most from the least. Drink hearty, lads and lasses.

Have a great weekend, all.

Tim Peter


March 14, 2008

Small Business Ecommerce Link Digest – March 14, 2008

March 14, 2008 | By | No Comments

So, it’s slowly becoming official: we’re approaching/in a recession/death spiral. Bummer. Ah, well. It could be worse. You could be Client 9.

We at thinks tend to take the long view on these things. And the long view is good for ecommerce. Without further ado, here is this week’s list of ecommerce links to brighten your spirits in these dark days. They might just help you compete more effectively, too.

That’s it for the week, folks. See you on the other side.