Tools of the Trade

Let me first swear up and down: nobody bribed me to write this and nobody is planning to pop my picture on their "packaging" (although I am receptive to offers!). We were just sitting around the offices one day feeling really happy. The source of that happiness? Folks out there had developed a particular application that helped us accomplish some task with a minimum of fuss and bother.

And that got us thinking about those applications without which we really couldn't do our job well. So what essentials are in the prop room of a conversion rate marketing boutique? Walk this way ...

This is a totally cool little freebie, and we use it regularly with our clients. Enter an url and Web Page Analyzer 0.90a generates a report that identifies your download speed by connection, counts the number of objects on the page, calculates object size totals and offers some analysis and recommendations.

You will recall me shouting there are no rules in this biz, just principles. You may find, as we do, that if you have lots of objects on the page, the report will suggest you reduce the number. Weeellll, in theory fewer is better, but not always. Consider what you are doing and why you are doing it before you start making changes!

When the Internet is your medium, the screen is your drawing board. Sometimes a visual arrangement works, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you want to be able to document changes, offer comparisons, include samples in a client report.

We would have a terrible time communicating with anyone if we were unable to work from example. SnagIt is an elegant tool that lets us capture (and then enhance) full or partial screenshots and save them in a variety of formats. Best of all, most of us didn't even need to look at the instructions to get the hang of it ... it's that straightforward!

We've offered a free conversion rate calculator package ever since ever, and we'll also admit that, useful though it was, it wasn't going to win any design awards. It wasn't a very intuitive presentation - it was simply an Excel spreadsheet. Using Xcelsius, we were able to convert our calculator package into a stunning flash graphics presentation based on our Excel files. Now you can really "see" how your content and commercial metrics are interrelated. And yes, our calculators are still free!

We do a lot of brainstorming ... projects, problems, reports, how to communicate a difficult idea. And we're pretty visual folks around here - we work best when we can "see" our thoughts and how they relate. MindManager is the tool that lets us develop our ideas and map out plans of action visually, on the spot, then share those creations with others. It's an amazingly powerful tool that works the way we think.

When you need to create specialized graphics, but don't want to spend an arm and a leg for an independent designer, you can turn to some pretty powerful drawing programs. We used to use Visio. Now we use SmartDraw. We simply get along with it better. It's easier, less frustrating, more readily versatile ... and cheaper!

We're definitely not an audio-visual production shop, nor do we have any desire to become one. However, we do have a need for audio-visual presentations that help us train folks and communicate our ideas.

Visual Communicator is a clever application that makes it quite easy to create a filmed production or transform a Power Point presentation into an audio-visual file. The software includes features like background replacement, a teleprompter, video-embedded Web pages and video chaptering - and you can output the files in real time to a number of media, or view them on your computer, VCR or DVD player.

A/B testing is a powerful and essential component in your ongoing optimization efforts. Offermatica and Inceptor are two excellent sources for help.

How many times do you want to drag someone over to your computer screen to share an observation or a demonstration or even to read an email together? We're always doing that here. The trouble is, we work with people everywhere. And a few of us are scattered to the winds as well. It's real clunky saying, "Okay, everyone, type in this url ... now, do you see the orange buttons on the left?", hoping everyone finds the same page, catches on at the same speed and doesn't mind repeating everything several times.

Frankly, when I'm away on Mars, this is the app for me. You can conference call to your heart's content, but sometimes you simply have to see the stuff you're talking about. GoToMeeting, sibling to GoToMyPC (full disclosure: these folks are clients), is much simpler and more economical than webex and better for impromptu meetings. It's a gem of an application that we like even more than we thought we would!

We live and breathe pictures. Pictures for publications, Web sites, training sessions, conference presentations, promotions, client meetings - the list goes on. We manage those pictures with ACDSee. This digital imaging software offers most of the editing and file managing tools you could want for covering the basics and then some. Rotating, sizing, batch naming ... we don't think it gets much more user-friendly than this!

10. Web Analytics

WebTrends, WebSideStory, Visual Sciences, Coremetrics, Omniture, Urchin, ClickTracks and others

Imagine lots of balls in the air and nary a juggler in sight. Without web analytics, how would you know if you were accomplishing your goals, or if folks like us were successful on your behalf? How would you be able to meaningfully refine your web elements, tactics and online marketing strategies? Well, you wouldn't.

We use a broad range of web analytics every single day, with every one of our clients. We couldn't responsibly justify our existance without them. And at the end of the day, unless you really don't care what happens to you in cyberspace, neither can you.

Volume 95: 7/1/04

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