The November issue of  InformationWeek contained an interesting Dr. Dobb’s article on Lean User Experience (UX) design. If you’re new to the concept Lean UX is all about finding a way to systematically integrate UX design – both information architecture (IA)  and visual design – into an agile development methodology. Traditional UX design (is there such a thing?) front loads the creative and IA work before development begins. Lean UX addresses the importance of using a collaborative, iterative approach to integrate the two disciplines and processes.

This article lays out an effective sample lean UX end-to-end workflow. Having the major UI design phase in the middle of the project workflow can be a great approach.

  • Get the team to find a solution;
  • Pair a designer and a developer;
  • Draw a low-fidelity wireframe;
  • Validate it quickly;
  • Build a low-fidelity prototype;
  • Do usability testing;
  • Make corrections and validate them;
  • Design the UI;
  • Code it;
  • Have users test it;
  • Demo it to the product owner;
  • Deploy it;
  • Collect metrics;
  • Validate it (is it producing the expected result?);
  • Move to the next story until the project is done.

See the full article

I’ve sat through a lot of software demonstrations over the past 11 years – both in-person and online. As part of my first job with Legg Mason Funds Marketing I was often asked to help evaluate a wide variety of products ranging from entry level VOIP customer support tools to enterprise level content management systems. In my current role I frequently evaluate products for use by clients or my internal team. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of online demonstrations for social media monitoring and analysis software. Some account executives and sales reps do a great job with these presentations; most don’t.

Here are some common mistakes that people make

  1. Don’t pause for questions. Many reps make the comment to “interrupt them at any time” – and then proceed to run through the presentation without stopping for 5 minutes at a time. It’s hard for a customer to interrupt over the phone. I’ve tried to stop people multiple times and wasn’t heard. When giving remote demos make sure to pause frequently to allow for questions.
  2. Don’t clear their screen. Close other files especially email programs so that notifications aren’t popping up during the demo. Clear other Web browser tabs and clear your Google search history box. You might not want others to see what you were searching for before the call!
  3. Don’t think about screen resolution. Some reps seem unconcerned with how the resolution they’re running will appear on a customer’s screen. For example, demos from wide screen laptops don’t look good if the customer is using a desktop with typical screen resolution.
  4. Don’t present from somewhere quite. It’s obvious when a demo is being presented from a cube farm, Starbucks, or the airport. Background noise is distracting – especially if you’re on speaker phone.
  5. Don’t take time up front to understand the customer’s specific project needs and what they’re expecting from the presentation. This gets into the overall strategy of planning and executing demos. Make sure you understand the customer’s needs and expectations. Customize your demo accordingly.
  6. Don’t know the company they’re selling to. This seems like a given, but I’m always surprised how infrequently reps do their pre sales background work.  The lack of effort is even more apparent when the next vendor’s rep clearly knows a lot about my company and our work.  I understand sales reps and account executives are generally short on time, but even 10 minutes of upfront research can make a great impression.  If you have time, do a bit of research on the individual you’re going to be talking with. Most people aren’t hard to find online – blog, website, LinkedIn, etc.
  7. Don’t know their product’s technical details. Or don’t have a sales engineer with them. I’ve been surprised that most companies I’ve been speaking with lately haven’t had sales engineer on the call. This is often typical of relatively small companies in an emerging market.
  8. Don’t know their competitors. Or don’t know their competitors beyond the top 5. One vendor I spoke with hadn’t heard of a number of the competitors I was looking at. The customer shouldn’t know their market better than them.
  9. Don’t follow up on customer questions. Don’t go more than a week without responding to questions that could not be answered on the call.
  10. Don’t seem prepared. Some reps seem to think they need to squeeze in a demo that day. Yes in general the sooner the better, but definitely take adequate time to prepare.
  11. Don’t contact customers to arrange a demo quickly enough. There may be dozens of potential products I’m potentially interested in, but given time constraints I’ll probably only arrange calls with ten or fewer. A product may not make the short list simply because their vendor took too long to respond.
  12. Don’t double check to make sure their software is running well before the call. Check with your admins or product development team to make sure no upgrades or outages are planned. If you anticipate any issues reschedule.
  13. Don’t recap the call and make sure they have all the follow up steps and questions correct.

If you’re interested in reading more about similar topics check out Dave Sohigian’s Tech Demo Guy – which is a blog I enjoy about sales engineering.

Find it on Amazon

I’ve seen this book recommended by a number of people and finally had a chance to dig into it. I definitely recommend this to anyone who’s responsible for providing software product demos. This book focuses mainly on the presales/sales engineering role, but it’s also applicable to account reps and anyone else who conducts software trainings or internal presentations.

The author does a great job of summarizing the key concept of this book into one concise page.

Do the last thing first

  1. Begin by showing the best, most compelling screen(s) in less than 2 minutes. You want to leave them asking “wow, how did you do that?”
  2. Walk through how you created the result (compelling screens). Do it rapidly, smoothly, and without any detailed explanation in less than 4 minutes. Only show features that solve customer needs.
  3. Let the audience guide where the presentation goes next based on their needs and interests (i.e. critical business issues). Obviously you still need to have structure and control the flow. But this customized portion should be the bulk of the time (20 -30 minutes).

It’s that simple. If most sales engineers and account reps followed this principal there would be a lot less bloated, boring, uncompelling, and ineffective sales demos every day.

Here are some additional interesting points made by the author.

  • Showing “extra” functionality can make the customer feel that they would be paying for features they don’t need. Stick with what’s relevant to the client.
  • Start a demo with two general confirmation questions. 1) What are the expectations/needs, and 2) what are the time constraints. Yes you should have already nailed all this down, but you still need to confirm that nothing has changed.
  • Don’t close with Q&A. Close with a summary that you control. This is true of any presentation.
  • Sales engineers should always run through their demo with the sales team before demoing to the client. Obviously.
  • There are three types of questions during a demo. This is a really interesting section of the book.
    • Great questions – support and move a demo along. Answer immediately and briefly
    • Good questions – Pose the biggest risk of derailing a demo. Put these questions on a “not now list” for the Q&A portion
    • Stupid questions. Also go on the “not now list” but likely you won’t need to answer
  • When dealing with an unexpected, relatively large audience (up to 30 people) take time at the beginning to identify the audience’s needs and expectations. Create a “to-do list” for everyone to see. Cross out features your product doesn’t have, star each item you will demo, and bullet the items that are relevant but that will not be demoed. Once the audience understands what you will be covering give them a chance to stay or leave based on the outlined agenda items. Then run through your demo based on the structure you originally intended addressing the starred items along the way.

I recently had the misfortune of dealing with a technical sales rep that seemed to make every wrong move possible. It was like they followed a script from How to Suck at Sales and Drive Away Customers for Dummies or Used Car Sales 101. The company’s software is solid, and a good sales rep probably could have persuaded me to go with their product. Here’s how this person did just the opposite.

  1. Call a potential client right away, and without doing any research on the individual or the company. It’s great to respond to unsolicited inquires in a timely manner. But it doesn’t have to be within 2 hours. It’s always a bad sign when a rep opens with “tell me what your company does…”
  2. Don’t know the competition. I shouldn’t be introducing legitimate competitors he’s never heard of. This rep seemed to only know of one industry research report on their sector – and referred to it as the Bible. There are actually three by Forrester alone. He should try reading them, and not continuously referencing one that is actually older and less relevant. Furthermore he shouldn’t tell me they’re the only vendor with technology ABC, when in reality several others have it and are doing a better job with it.
  3. Discount competitor’s strengths.  Just because the rep tells me their competitor’s products aren’t as good as theirs doesn’t make it so. Continuously referring to his competition (the ones he knew about) only made him seem unconfident and disingenuous. He should have differentiated their product by focusing on their own features and strengths.
  4. Discount a potential customer’s concerns. This should be pretty obvious, but it wasn’t to this guy. “That’s not important” or “you don’t need that” is probably not the best approach when dealing with a potential customer who obviously is well versed in their market and competition.
  5. Have no recollection (or record) of talking to a potential customer. Really? How is this possible? I had already had two separate conversations and exchanged emails with this rep. Three months later and “my company sounds familiar” to him… Are they tracking their leads on a public chalkboard? If I ever decided to do business with his company I would make sure to request a different account rep, mainly because I now think he’s too incompetent to ever have confidence in him managing our needs.
  6. Suggest delaying our conversation until I’m “close” to buying. With that attitude and approach we’ll never get close. Why would a rep ever pass up the chance to build rapport and trust from a potential customer who has already expressed that they are serious about finding a vendor in the near future? Did my needs not match his quarterly sales goal timing?
  7. Don’t follow up after a potential customer has used your free trial. I really don’t know how any company lets this slip. I had already expressed interest in their product. I’d spoken to their rep multiple times. A month later they made a free week trial available; which I took advantage of and formed a favorable impression of their product. I never hear back from any of their reps. Very strange. My only guess is that the original rep left the company and the cleaning person erased their sales leads chalk board.

If you’ve read your share of sales books the following titles probably aren’t new to you. But if you’re new to sales, or  just haven’t taken time to wade through the mountains of sales books available, these two are a great place to start. They’re straightforward, practical, timeless, and two of my favorites.

Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets (Michael Bosworth)
Bosworth spends time discussing how selling should be about helping people buy, not forcing sales. What this boils down to is adding value to the process through honesty, helping the buyer realize a shared vision/solution, and making the buyer generally feel good about the process. For anyone with a consulting background this philosophy is very familiar.  In consulting we take time to truly understand the client and their unique challenges and needs. We don’t quickly jump to assumptions or push generic solutions. Selling should be no different. Selling is about helping customers arrive at vision of a solution, and then providing (or facilitating) that solution.

3 Stages of Buying Cycle

This book provides a great road map for identifying and staying inline with the various stages of the buying cycle. Bosworth defines these 3 stages as:

  1. Define needs
  2. Evaluate alternatives
  3. Risk evaluation and action

If you’re not in tune with where the buyer is in the buying cycle – you have little chance of success.

3 Levels of Need

Another critical concept for salespersons to understand is the 3 Levels of need. These three levels are defined as:

  1. Latent pain/need – buyer doesn’t know what they need, or that a solution is even possible
  2. Active pain/need – buyer realizes that there is a problem or opportunity, but doesn’t know of a solution
  3. Vision of solution – buyer has a solution in mind, but may or may not have a provider/vendor in mind

Potential customers/clients need to be approached very differently depending on their level of need. The difference between a latent need and a active need is HOPE. It’s a salespersons job to create hope.

95% of potential customers in most markets have no hope or VISION of a solution. They may have a latent need or pain, but they don’t have a vision of how that pain can be alleviated. Therefore 95% of potential customers aren’t looking for a solution. It’s in this space where the most sales opportunities exist. It’s a salespersons job to help a potential customer realize a shared vision. However, this process takes time, hard work, and earned trust and respect. This book provides great examples and strategies for moving clients through the 3 levels of need.

The One Minute Sales Person (Spencer Johnson)
This quick read, originally published in 1984, focuses on basic concepts and approaches that are easy to comprehend, but not always easy to adhere to. The main emphasis is Johnson’s “One Minute secret” that the key to selling is not selling… it’s helping people fell good about buying. Yes it’s essentially semantics, but the underlying message is an important concept to understand. Johnson also wrote the widely popular Who Moved My Cheese?

Partnering with the CIOI recently read Partnering With the CIO: The Future of IT Sales Seen Through the Eyes of Key Decision Makers. It’s good context for anyone partnering or selling to C-level execs or senior government staff. The main takeaways:

  • CIOs have evolved and now need to be thinking more like CEOs. IT today is about providing value, efficiencies, and revenue streams. Therefore, technical sales reps need to focus more on how their products can provide business value and competitive advantages (the 80% of the sale) and less on their company and platform/product (the 20% of the sale).
  • “What happens after the sale?” is a CIOs #1 concern. “Will we be left out to dry?” or “will we receive effective, ongoing support?” Sales reps often disappear after the sale. Reps need to stay involved or else the client will have no loyalty to that rep – and likely lose respect for the product and supplier.

Sales Engineer - Part Sales Rep. Part EngineerThe role of a sales engineer isn’t widely known outside the world of large software and hardware companies. Naturally a sales engineer combines skills of both a engineer and sales representative. I like this definition from Pragmatic Marketing.

Sales engineers (SEs) are the technical glue of a technical sale. Sometimes called “systems engineers,” “pre-sales support,” or “field consultants,” SEs act as the sales team’s technical encyclopedia during the sale, representing the technical aspects of how the product solves specific customer problems. They perform technical presentations for the product. They own the demonstration script for the product

Others have argued that sales consultant is actually a more accurate name for the role. SEs almost always work together with one or more sales reps. Although startups and smaller software companies often combine the roles of SEs and sales reps. SEs don’t typically don’t exist in most consulting companies. Certainly not my company. The SE role is typically covered by a collection of other individuals including project/program managers, business development staff, and technical experts/engineers. My position as a senior/project manager often requires me to fill the role of a SE and sales representative in selling our services and demoing our products.

It’s a specialized profession that requires deep technical knowledge, as well the ability to think creatively, quickly assess people, and handle difficult situations. Many programmers or engineers would not make good sales engineers because they lack the right mix of personality and initiative.  However, for those that are able to make the transition it’s generally an exciting and rewarding career.

Here are some useful sales engineering resources.



I recently finished reading Social Media Marketing by Liana Evans. It’s a great book. Comprehensive with a high-level focus for marketers and managers new to social media. I’ve recommended it to people new to the field who just don’t know where to start. At the same time this book has enough technical depth and unique perspective to keep Web marketing and social media professionals engaged.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the National Conference on Health Communication, Media and Marketing conference in Atlanta. Social media has been one of the main areas of focus at this conference over the last couple  years. My presentation was intended to inform the audience about emerging strategies and approaches to social media monitoring and analysis. Many Federal Government agencies have now embraced social media as a communication and marketing platform, but few have leveraged its power as a platform for researching public sentiment and behavior.

I used a project I’m currently directing for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Investigating the Use of Social Media for Environmental Health Communications – as the foundation for the 30 minute talk. Our project is providing groundbreaking research on how the public is using social media to discuss and share health information.

I recently found some time to read three books that I’ve had on my list for a while.

  1. Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business
  2. Rework
  3. Marketing in the Age of Google: Your Online Strategy IS Your Business Strategy

If I could recommend only one of the three it would be Marketing in the Age of Google. A lot of people have really enjoyed Socialnomics, but for me it seemed better suited for social media newbies. I found Rework an entertaining quick read, but more practical for someone launching, or working in, a small tech startup. I am a big fan of the work the authors do at 37signals – products and blog.

Marketing in the Age of Google offers an interesting perspective  on a variety of Web marketing topics including analytics, advertising and search engine optimization. Author Vanessa Fox (formerly with Google) does a great job explaining complex topics thoroughly but succinctly.

Twitter FirehoseDrinking from the Twitter Firehose

The Twitter Firehose is a phrase that refers to the roughly 50 million daily tweets on everything from Wall Street reform to Justin Bieber’s favorite cereal. There are hundreds of tools on the market designed to monitor and measure Twitter data by allowing users to easily search and track Twitter trends. One of the big problems with most of these products is that they don’t have access to the full Twitter Firehose. Typically they might only have access to 10%-20% of all Twitter posts on any given day. There’s a couple reasons for this.

  • The cost and technical challenge of handling so much data
  • The cost – or privilege – to access the Firehose

Who’s Tapping it?

Giants like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google have reportedly paid hundreds of millions of dollars for access to the full Twitter data stream. Surprisingly Twitter has decided to grant access to the full Firehose to a number of startups including; Twazzup, Collecta, CrowdEye, Scoopler, Kosmix, Chainn Search and Ellerdale.  No one is quite sure, at least I’m not, how much it’s costing these startups (if anything), and why they were chosen when so many others have been denied. I should also mention that there are also a small number of mid-size companies that fall somewhere between the giants and startups that now have access to the full Firehose – including Jive and Converseon.

A large number of social media monitoring companies – whose goal is to collect and consolidate all relevant social media data for its clients – are left out of the party. Which means even great products like Radian6 and Scout Labs have a significant hole in their data inventory – full Twitter Firehose access. Both companies expect to have full access at some point, but when isn’t yet clear.

What Does the Future Hold?

Some experts expect Twitter to eventually be more generous in granted access to the Firehose. However, this would be opposed to the direction they’ve taken recently in switching to their own URL shortening service (rather than using, unveiling their own iPad application, and requiring third-party Twitter applications to access user accounts through the OAuth authentication standard. The latter move caused problems for a number of high profile tools like TweetDeck and a number of widely used WordPress Twitter plugins.

As use of social media has exploded over the last few years, companies and government agencies have struggled to keep pace with the constant flow of information and opinions.  Not only are organizations struggling with how to monitor social information, they’re also not sure how to analyze what they are monitoring. As a result we’ve seen a new market called social intelligence take shape.

Social Intelligence

Social intelligence is the process of monitoring, collecting, and analyzing social data to inform business decisions. I.e. “Let’s see what people are saying, see what meaning, insights, and patterns we discover, and act accordingly.” Social intelligence attempts to make sense of the endless stream of tweets, comments, posts, and other social data. This market generally involves three components: social media monitoring, social media analysis, and social media strategy.

I should note that the term social intelligence is not new – see original definition on Wikipedia – but it is relatively new in context we’re using it.  Much the way social networking is an old term given new meaning through the context of the Web and social media. It seems that Zach Hofer-Shall at Forrester is one lead voices in this area. Nielsen and McKinsey are also using the term to describe their new joint venture – NMIncite.

Social Media Monitoring

Listening platforms

Listening platforms refer to software created to allow organizations to monitor social media information. The term “social media monitoring software” could be used interchangeably. There are dozens of companies in this space now. Some are full-featured solutions to monitor all social media (or anything else on the Web) while others focus on specific platforms such as twitter. Obviously the latter are much less useful for organizations that need to see the big picture.

Forrester recently put out a great paper analyzing some of the best enterprise-level solutions. The only drawback to the report is that it’s limited to products targeting the “enterprise” market, i.e. companies over $1 billion in revenue. Unfortunately this approach leaves out great products like Scout Labs. Forrester needed some criteria to narrow down the 100+ potential vendors in the market, and that probably was the most logical selection criteria to use.

Social Media Analysis

Social media analysis comes in a variety of flavors. Listening platforms usually provide dashboards with aggregate trends and statistics. At the most basic level social media analysis involves analyzing these types of aggregate usage statistics. Many listening platforms promise to deliver more qualitative research in areas like user sentiment and tone, by using natural language processing (NLP) . However, anyone with experience using these platforms understands that limitations of NLP for social analysis.

An area that listening platforms tend to do well with is identifying key influencers – at least from a quantitative standpoint. Key influencers – whether they be bloggers, or twitter or Facebook users – are usually identified by the number of times they use targeted keywords, and by the size of their following. We then need to do some qualitative analysis to determine who are the true influencers.

We can take social media analysis to the another level by conducting a content analysis. Content analysis (AKA media analysis) typically involves manual data coding. This is a very labor intensive process but the flexibility, detail, and accuracy cannot be replicated by any software. Our team conducted a content analysis of social media data for a CDC project that I currently manage. The end result of a detailed content analysis will include statistics and usage patterns that aren’t possible with automated software – e.g. accuracy of posts and sentiment towards specific topics.

Social Media Strategy

Social media strategy should be based on organizational and project goals, but also as a result of what is learned through social intelligence. By conducting environmental scans and implementing ongoing social media monitoring organizations can learn a lot about how they should be leveraging new media to meet their target audience’s needs. Additionally, information gleaned through social intelligence will often drive larger marketing and business decisions.

I recently attended a presentation by a marketing executive form the Red Cross. A great quote she had was “social media is our canary in the coal mine for reputation management.“  I think this quote speaks well to the power of social intelligence.

Social media monitoring companies

Social media monitoring and engagement software

Anyone who works in Web consulting or communications has likely seen some variation of a Web 2.0/New Media presentation that includes the ubiquitous slide showing a montage of 2.0 companies.  I thought that I would do my part and create a graphic showing the next logical company collection… social media monitoring software companies. I created this slide for a recent presentation I gave at the National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media in Atlanta.

This is a market that is blazing hot right now as companies and public sector agencies struggle to understand how they should monitor and analyze social media. Which is great progress from where we were just two years ago. Now that most organizations have embraced the power of social media, the next step is making sure we are understanding and reaching our target audiences using all the right channels.  Social media monitoring and engagement is extremely powerful for doing just that.

Or – How not to be the person that nobody wants to invite to lunch…

For anyone who isn’t already familiar with Dale Carnegie, I recommend you get acquainted with his work by reading How to Win Friends & Influence People. This book was originally published in 1937 and still holds up today. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from reading – or rereading – this book.  Most of the principles and guidelines should be obvious to us all. However, remembering and adhering to his advice is an ongoing struggle for most.

Being Liked = Success

We can all think of a least one friend that is liked by almost everyone. Other people simply like being around them. They have hundreds of numbers in their cell phone, or 500+ friends on Facebook.  Now think about that friend’s personality and attitude. Chances are they closely follow one of Carnegie’s key points (without even knowing it) – don’t overly criticize, condemn, or complain (the 3Cs). There are more than enough other people contributing to the 3Cs.

Many of us can also think of coworkers or friends who have been very successful in their careers primarily because they are genuinely liked by others. These people might not have been pegged as “most likely to succeed” back in high school. But by treating people the right way, having a great attitude, and creating a large network of friends and colleagues, they have been able to achieve great things. Of course being universally liked isn’t a prerequisite for success – think Donald Trump – but it certainly helps. Combine this type of positive attitude and likeability with talent and hard work, and we have a recipe for great success.

Some Key Takeaways.

This is a book that is meant to be read more than once and revisited from time to time. Here are my key takeaways from my last skim through the book.

  • Reduce The 3C’s – Criticize, Condemn, Complain
  • Never say “you’re wrong.” It forces the person into a corner and into defense mode.  You can get your point across and make it obvious who’s in the wrong without actually saying it.
  • Ask questions instead of giving orders. For example use “Is there a way you can deliver this faster” instead of “You need to get this done faster.”
  • Be quick to admit your mistakes.
  • Talk about your mistakes before criticizing other’s mistakes.
  • Don’t always be right.  Even if you are always right – which is highly unlikely – people tend to dislike someone who’s always right. This isn’t to say you should make an occasional mistake on purpose. Rather it’s a matter of letting some opportunities to prove others wrong slide. For example, we don’t need to correct insignificant details in someone’s story.
  • Smile. Chances are that well liked friend of yours smiles a lot.
  • Increase celebrating achievements.
  • Increase praising others publicly.
  • Show genuine interest in others.
  • Remembers names and use them. People love hearing their own name.
  • Praise in public, criticize in private.
  • A great quote from Charles Schwab that he credited as one of the keys to his success: “I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise.”

If you enjoy this book, you may also want to check out some of his other work.  I also recommend reading The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking. It’s a classic guide to speaking and presenting in public.

Future of Online Advertising
Twitter, LinkedIn, and Zynga execs discuss the future of online advertising. Gotta love a CEO that can get away with sporting a beat up t-shirt.

AOL, Display Advertising Still Dominant
AOL Chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong says display advertising will still dominant.

Sapient’s Freddie Laker on the future of social media
This is a repurposing of his earlier article, but it’s also nice to see it in video format.

Lithium’s Paul Greenberg on the state of Social CRM
This is an area that many in the industry still aren’t aware of.

Text Link Ads

I’ve been using the text link advertising platform  for several years now with good success.  However, I initially (and foolishly) submitted a request to include this blog in my inventory just after I launched the site. Naturally, traffic was low at that time so it was not accepted into their inventory. So I let the traffic build and the Alexa and rankings catch up, and then attempted to resubmit the site two weeks ago. Unfortunately Text Link Ads is setup to reject any sites that were previously submitted and not approved. The system provides a message saying that someone will manually review the site for reconsideration. It appears this process isn’t actually occurring, at least not fast enough.


Based on my recent experience I decided to search for an alternative text link advertising provider.  I hadn’t previously heard of LinkWorth, but the site looked nice and the product was described intuitively. Additionally they offer a variety of advertising options including standard text links, inline links, sponsored content, and banner advertising. I always like to see a one-stop-shop approach. The sign up and site submission process was straightforward – so far so good.

About Text Link Advertising

In case you’re new to the topic of text link ads, essentially they’re just that…  Company A decides they want to pay for an ad on Website B. Why a text link and not a banner ad? 1) Some studies have shown that text links have higher click through rates.  2) Many Internet users have learned to ignore banner ads.  3) Text link ads can help pass on credibility and search engine ranking juice (i.e. Google Page Rank).  Google PR as it relates to text link ads has been a topic of much debate in the past, and Google previously excluded Text Link Ads from its ranking algorithm.

Next Steps

I’m anxious to give LinkWorth a test run and see how it performs. The big question mark is whether they will have a steady stream of advertisers to match with their partners (e.g. FatPurple). One of the things I like about Text Link Ads is that there seems to be a large enough variety of advertisers to meet most niche website content. I don’t plan on giving up Text Link Ads entirely (not yet anyway), but I’m hoping that LinkWorth will soon be the vendor of choice for this blog.

I recently wrote about how open source content management system (CMS) platforms like Drupal have gained a foothold in the government sector. However, the majority of enterprise-level CMS implementations at the Federal Government level are run by the big boys, including longtime market leaders Vignette (now part of Open Text) and Autonomy Interwoven.  Other large providers with a significant number of federal clients include Broadvision, Percussion Rhythmyx, Stellent (now part of Oracle), and EMC Documentum.

It has been a long, gradual process for federal organizations to tackle agency-wide CMS initiatives. But we’re seeing some recent momentum. Both the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – two huge agencies – are in the process of rolling out improved CMS solutions. provides a frequently updated list of CMS being used by government agencies. It’s always good to keep an eye on what platforms our potential clients are using.

Washington Technology recently released their list of the 2010 top 100 Government Technology Contractors. They are ranked based on related revenue from IT products and services, systems integration, telecommunications, professional services and engineering services. These contracts total more than $130 billion. Lockheed Martin retains the top spot again this year.

Two notable upward moves on the list are Deloitte LLP  from 51st to 18th – due largely to their acquisition of Bearing Point, and ICF International from 99th to 66th – due in part to their acquisition of Macro International.

2010 Company Contracts 2009
1 Lockheed Martin Corp. $16,700,588,328 1
2 Northrop Grumman Corp. $11,145,533,497 3
3 Boeing Co. $10,462,626,196 2
4 Raytheon Co. $6,727,232,555 5
5 Science Applications International Corp. $5,474,482,583 7
6 General Dynamics Corp. $5,431,882,984 4
7 KBR Inc. $4,545,440,824 6
8 L-3 Communications Corp. $4,176,624,682 8
9 Booz Allen Hamilton $3,352,844,339 10
10 Computer Sciences Corp. $3,293,278,386 9
11 Dell Computer Corp. $2,700,000,000 15
12 Hewlett-Packard Co. $2,564,014,201 12
13 Harris Corp. $2,165,268,040 13
14 ITT Corp. $2,074,983,916 11
15 BAE Systems Inc. $1,956,884,247 14
16 CACI International Inc. $1,911,928,093 20
17 IBM Corp. $1,774,623,164 18
18 Deloitte LLP $1,730,165,554 51
19 Verizon Communications Inc. $1,721,565,974 16
20 Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. $1,634,268,549 19
21 United Technologies Corp. $1,476,229,982 17
22 Battelle Memorial Institute $1,335,906,153 21
23 DynCorp International LLC $1,258,019,560
24 URS Corp. $1,225,071,020 22
25 DRS Technologies Inc. $1,006,436,334 23
26 Rockwell Collins Inc. $951,046,892 35
27 Accenture Ltd. $924,092,794 25
28 Honeywell International Inc. $915,809,845 30
29 Serco Inc. $874,739,954 28
30 SRA International Inc. $869,734,080 26
31 ManTech International Corp. $855,567,586 48
32 Sprint Nextel Corp. $848,854,000 27
33 General Electric Co. $844,458,207 24
34 Aerospace Corp. $835,402,095 29
35 Apptis Inc. $826,790,863 50
36 Bechtel Corp. $756,597,943
37 VSE Corp. $686,912,905 31
38 Unisys Corp. $666,332,137 32
39 General Atomics $661,619,386 36
40 QinetiQ North America Inc. $660,647,787 34
41 Alion Science and Technology Corp. $625,817,000 39
42 SGT Inc. $602,586,194 62
43 Combat Support Associates $579,957,228 41
44 Stanley Inc. $572,197,243 45
45 Wyle Laboratories Inc. $571,152,677 43
46 AT&T Inc. $557,855,301 42
47 Fluor Corp. $533,950,701
48 Alliant Techsystems Inc. $520,341,034 37
49 Arinc Inc. $501,641,640 44
50 Comtech Telecommunications Corp. $495,744,635 81
51 Chemonics International Inc. $476,304,239 70
52 CDW Government LLC $465,619,910 60
53 World Wide Technology Inc. $440,684,035 46
54 Arctic Slope Regional Corp. $430,015,537 58
55 Nana Regional Corp. $429,673,300 47
56 Qwest Communications International Inc. $427,120,938 55
57 Vangent Inc. $419,731,090 52
58 immixGroup Inc. $403,719,325 93
59 GTSI Corp. $383,844,248 49
60 Tetra Tech Inc. $381,344,102 56
61 Development Alternatives Inc. $379,600,000 59
62 Mission Essential Personnel $375,973,219 82
63 Coffey International Ltd. $367,621,087
64 Xerox Corp. $353,041,647 75
65 Eyak Technology LLC $342,368,972 65
66 ICF International Inc. $340,845,273 99
67 RTI International $338,846,391 66
68 Chenega Corp. $324,548,094 61
69 CH2M Hill Companies Ltd. $317,146,896 87
70 Shaw Group Inc. $306,356,970 85
71 NCI Information Systems Inc. $301,731,100 72
72 Westat Inc. $291,640,068 69
73 Artel Inc. $266,739,661 76
74 Trax International Corp. $266,369,223
75 Cubic Corp. $266,105,255 96
76 Louis Berger Group Inc. $259,546,578
77 Scientific Research Corp. $259,438,652 88
78 Sierra Nevada Corp. $246,678,386
79 Siemens Corp. $238,809,098 90
80 Chugach Alaska Corp. $229,526,943 74
81 Southwest Research Institute $229,018,335
82 CGI Group Inc. $228,061,083 78
83 Telos Corp. $223,008,225 63
84 Alutiiq LLC $219,762,894 91
85 Energy Enterprise Solutions LLC $216,105,776
86 Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. $213,982,367 73
87 ICS Nett Inc. $212,217,576
88 Oracle Corp. $206,931,072 80
89 InDyne Inc. $205,171,900 71
90 Camber Corp. $204,581,854
91 Motorola Inc. $203,986,410 64
92 Creative Associates International Inc. $193,922,433
93 Orbital Sciences Corp. $192,467,905 83
94 Teledyne Technologies Inc. $187,643,748 77
95 MicroTech LLC $180,368,009
96 STG Inc. $178,969,267 94
97 Concurrent Technologies Corp. $175,568,824
98 Cobham plc $173,304,406 95
99 Carahsoft Technology Corp. $172,359,708
100 Rolls-Royce Group plc $171,065,429

Full article

I’m always intrigued when someone puts together a top 10 (or any number) list of Web design or consulting companies. This one was compiled by the folks over at TopSEOs – who provide research and insight on internet marketing agencies and tools. They actually have a whole series of rankings based on category, e.g. SEO, development, and social media. I’m not sure how much science there is behind this list. There may actually be some “pay for rank” angle at work.

I always like checking out Web companies that I am not familiar with.  And a top 10 list is a good place to start. These are all relatively small or boutique design and communications shops. I also spent some time flipping through their portfolios. Some of these company’s sites are presented well – I was most impressed with agencyQ, while others left a lot to be desired.  I actually didn’t make it through the splash Flash intro on the #1 ranked company. I HATE it when a site takes over my browser with a full screen Flash movie.

Here’s their top 10 list

Open Source for Open Government

Drupal is arguably the most well known and widely used open source content management system (CMS). It’s a very robust platform that allows its active, devoted developer community to customize and extend the CMS to do great things.

An unlikely adopter of Drupal over the past couple of years has been the U.S. Federal Government. And it now seems like a very timely move given Obama’s Open Government Initiative. The Drupal community rejoiced with the February 2009 announcement that the new was running on Drupal. This was arguably the most high profile site (certainly in the Federal Government space) to launch on Drupal. However, the site later migrated to MS Sharepoint.

There’s debate on the reason behind the switch from Drupal to Sharepoint. Some say that Sharepoint is simply the platform of preference for the company that took over the contract, Maryland-based Smartronix Inc., and that they lacked in Drupal expertise. Others say that Drupal ended up being limited in its ability to manage the necessary workflow for the financial data that the site displays.

My guess is that it was more of a case of the new contractor needing to deliver a proposal that differentiated itself from the incumbent contractor. One good approach to doing that is to propose a new platform, and then explain your reasoning for why it’s a better option than the existing technology. The argument was made that going with MS Sharepoint offered a lot of benefit in how quickly the site could be built (apparently they only had 11 weeks).  This is certainly a valid argument over building your own content CMS, but we know Drupal can also be deployed very quickly. Here’s an interesting article on the site’s switch to Sharepoint.

Drupal fans didn’t have to wait long for another, and even more prominent, success story. The new was launched on Drupal around the same time that dropped the open source platform.

Federal Government Websites Using Drupal

The Department of Commerce and National Institutes of Health have also used Drupal, and NASA has also been reported to have used Drupal for some for internal sites.

Drupal Resources

Find out if a site is running Drupal
You might be interested in knowing if a particular site is built using Drupal. You may be able to tell be checking out the source code, or you can try this site – – which lets you enter a URL and it will run an instant check for you.

Drupal Government Group

List of local and federal agencies using Drupal

Why Drupal is a good Choice for Government
Gov Fresh talks about why Drupal is a perfect solution for open government Web initiatives.

The Future of Drupal in the Government
Presentation from DrupalCon San Fransisco in April.

Some more sites using drupal

Other Federal Government Web/IT Resources of Interest

The liquid layout for websites is dead, thankfully. Actually, it’s been largely dead for a few years now. Liquid layouts, for anyone who’s not sure what I’m talking about, are website layouts that scale horizontally 100% to the width of your browser window. I’ve had some arguments over the years with people who didn’t understand why we were “wasting all that space” by designing fixed width layouts. I usually tell them it’s for the same reason you don’t read books with 20 inch wide pages, or why newspapers have columns. It’s just plain difficult to read long lines of text. “You don’t have enough good content to fill all that space,” would be another acceptable response.  Back when screen resolutions were mostly maxing out at around 1024 pixels (probably 3 or 4 years ago), you could get away with using liquid layouts. But today’s jacked up screen resolutions create painful liquid layouts at higher resolutions of 1600+ pixels.

Even our friend Jacob Nielsen has gone against his earlier recommendation to use liquid layouts. I was surprised when I first noticed he had changed Alert Box to have a fixed 800 pixel wide layout. To his credit, he’s just adapting his guidelines to changing technology.

In the past I’ve told people who wanted to use liquid layouts to go look at 10 of their favorite sites and tell me if any of them are using that type of layout. Now I ask tell them with a lot more confidence. I just now randomly went to 10 popular sites to verify that they’re all using fixed width layouts. They are. And here are the pixel widths of their layouts.

  1. Yahoo – 972 pixels
  2. CNN – 980 pixels
  3. NY Times – 972 pixels
  4. MTV – 977 pixels
  5. NFL – 986 pixels
  6. University of North Carolina – 970 pixels
  7. MLB – 990 pixels
  8. Bank of America – 750 pixels
  9. Home Depot – 796 pixels
  10. White House (.gov) 976 pixels

You’re next question may be, how do they decide how wide to make their layout? Hopefully they find a consultant, pay them loads of money to come up with an arbitrary number in their head, and bingo – there’s the magic number. Alternatively, they look at the most popular screen resolutions for their site (say 1024 x 768) and take off enough pixels to account for other display elements like scroll bars. If you’re unsure how wide to make your site, do what I just did. Pick some top-tier sites and see what they’re using.

Lastly, just because your site is a fixed width doesn’t mean the design needs to be. The trend for good design over the past few years has been to create subtle, scaling (liquid) backgrounds to enhance the design. Or at least create a background image that fills enough space so that the design doesn’t look bare at higher resolutions. is a good example of a subtle background design that enhances the design without adding clutter.

This article discusses Sapient’s approach of using intense, full-day workshops to bring together stakeholders and project teams to discuss and define system requirements. This type of approach is very useful on large projects with numerous stakeholders, designers, developers, and managers. Having developers attend, and take an active role, in this early phase offers numerous benefits.  It often takes weeks, or even months – especially on Federal Government projects – to line up enough meetings to thoroughly define requirements.  This approach allows much of it to happen in one day. Not to mention the intangible positives, like stakeholder buy-in and team building, that these workshops offer.

Improving Communication between Customers and Developers

I’m often asked to evaluate or analyze websites that I have no relation with. Perhaps it’s a site developed by a competitor or a site we’re looking to get some quick insight on before speaking with a potential client.  While there’s no way to get very accurate traffic statistics without having access to the site’s server logs or some other analytics, there are some nice tools to give us a glimpse of the traffic levels and general visitor demographics. Here’s a quick list of some of the tools I use.

Google Page Rank

Most people reading this site are probably very familiar with Google Page Rank (PR). It’s arguably the most important ranking for a website. Google ranks all website on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most traffic). What determines a site’s Page Rank. A long complex algorithm that we’re not smart enough to understand, but essentially it’s based on the number and quality of sites that link to the site in question. Most sites on the Web don’t even receive enough traffic to rank at level 1. To put this in perspective here are some Google PR’s for some huge sites:

  • Wikipedia & Digg: 8
  • Twitter: 9
  • CNN and Facebook: 10

There’s a number of free tools for checking PR on the Web. I just use the PR tool display built into Google Toolbar, so on any site I instantly see the associated PR. It’s a quick way to assess the size of a website and company. For example let’s say I’m looking for an online card sorting tool. If I visit company A with a page rank of 2, and company B with a page rank of 6, I’m probably going to automatically assign a lot more credibility to site B.

Alexa Ranking

Alexa ranks sites from 1 to a lot, with 1 ( being the most visited site. I give a lot less weight to the Alexa ranking – in comparison to Google PR – but it too has its purpose. Alexa provides rankings for websites that don’t register for Google PR. I just checked out a site that has a ranking of 14,856,256 (only 14,856,255 spots to go guys…), which obviously doesn’t fall on Google’s PR radar. Another nice thing about Alexa is that its rankings start to show up a lot faster than Google PR. As I type FatPurple is listing around 374,883 after only about a month in existence. But we’re still showing as a big fat 0 on Google PR.  Google simply takes a lot longer to rank a site. Similar to the way I have Google PR displayed in my browser, I also have Alexa ranking automatically displayed for each site I visit.

Alexa’s top 5 websites:

  1. Google
  2. Facebook
  3. Youtube
  4. Yahoo

Compete comparison chart

Wicked Smart Websites

Yes you need to signup for paid plans to get the best features, but still offers some nice freebie tools. Sign up for their free account plan for some additional options. Compete lets you create some nice comparison graphics and analyze a variety of statistics. This is a much more robust tool than Alexa, and probably why they get away with charging for it.

Check out this nice comparison chart for these three college websites. Coincidentally these are three schools I overlooked in my college selection process, but I’m sure they would have loved to have me…



FatPurple's 1st month Quantcast Snapshot

Quantcast provides traffic statistics as well as basic demographic trends. We can debate the accuracy of the demographic statistics, but Quantcast is somewhat unique (and brave) in their attempt to map website demographics. If a site is “quantified” i.e. registered with Quantcast the numbers should be much more accurate.

And Some Others

  • Yahoo Site Explorer – You can easily find the number of backlinks (inlinks) to a website. For some reason I find that this works better than Google’s backlinks search. Yahoo tends to turn up additional accurate results that Google misses.
  • Technorati blog rankings

I also recently wrote about the discrepancies and inconsistencies between these tools. This may also be of interest – Your Website Numbers are Lying to You.

What other tools am I missing? Please share if you have others you like.

Money manInformationWeek’s annual U.S. IT Salary Survey showed a median raise for IT professionals of 0% in 2010. The survey data was gathered from 20,000+ IT professionals between November and January. It’s the first time in 11 years that IT salaries have not increased.  The pay freeze holds true pretty much across the board – managers, staffers, contractors, and consultants.

Median Base IT Salaries

  • Managers: Base $103,000, Total $111,000
  • Staffers: Base $81,000, Total $85,000

Interesting Survey Statistics

  • Highest paying market segment: Financial services (Securities & Investments). Managers earned a median total compensation of $156,000. Runner Up – Biotech ($142,000)
  • Lowest paying market segments: Local and state government, non-profit, education

Highest Paying Titles (total compensation)

  • $120,000 – Architect
  • $110,000 – Systems Engineer
  • $105,000 – Project Leader
  • $99,000 – Software Engineer
  • $94,000 – Systems Programmer
  • $91,000 – Database Administrator
  • $91,000 – Software Developer

To me there’s not a great distinction between some of those titles listed. Systems engineer, software engineer, systems programmer, and software developer are all pretty similar roles in my mind.  The report didn’t contain much information on the geographic differences in salaries and 2010 raises. Obviously some parts oft he country are doing better than others. I believe the average raise in the Washington D.C. area for IT professionals was somewhere around 3%. Not great but certainly better than the average.

Fireworks just got better

Or at least my understanding of it did. I found some time this weekend to go through some old bookmarks I’ve been meaning to get back to. One was this video demo by Adobe’s Paul Dorian on using Fireworks not only to create website visual designs, but also to create wireframes. I’ve never used Fireworks for creating wireframes – and almost always use Visio. My process is a bit outdated at this point as I work almost exclusively in Photoshop for Web design. I then take the cut up (I don’t slice… I cut) images directly to Dreamweaver. Works for me. Keeping it “old school” I guess.

Unfortunately I don’t get much time to experiment with new design and IA approaches anymore. Not much time between meetings, status reports, analyzing budgets, client calls, etc. However, this video has peeked my interest in exploring Fireworks for creating wireframes. I’m inspired to revisit my approach on the next site design I get my hands on.

Video tutorial on using Adobe Fireworks for wireframes

Here’s my initial impressions on using Fireworks for website wireframes.

  • Master pages are a big step in the right direction. When I create wireframes in Visio I’ll generally use a series of cascading background files to display common page elements across the wireframes. I’m not sure that Fireworks’ master pages will be quite as robust – but they may.
  • Using the document library will replicate the way I use stencils in Visio. One of my favorite things about Visio is that I have a custom stencil library with common sitemap and wireframe elements that I use on every project.
  • Element scaling is really cool. I often run into issues working in Visio when one of my stencil elements distorts when the size is increased.
  • Paul shows how the wireframes can be easily exported to PDF. This is important to me because I always deliver wireframes to clients as PDFs.  Having a format that everyone can view and print uniformly is a big advantage.
  • The ability to add links on the wireframes that export to PDF is cool, but potentially problematic. “If one link is clickable, why aren’t they all?” “How do I know which links work without hovering over them all?” I can see the client confusion already.  But in reality these links within the PDF are a bonus but certainly not a necessity.
  • What’s lacking for me is a clear method to create notes and page details information. For examples here’s how I structure a wireframe page (pdf). I assume it’s possible to just create another section within the Fireworks page outside of the actual web page.
  • I also wish there was an easy way to tie the wireframes to a site map diagram.

Looking forward to testing out the process in Fireworks and reporting back. Is anyone else using this application for wireframes? What other software solutions are you using?

Climbing the Consulting Company Corporate Ladder – A Comparison

I find it interesting to see the different attitudes companies have on disclosing their corporate hierarchies and career paths to outsiders. Larger organizations tend to be more open with their corporate ladder structure. And consulting companies perhaps more so than other large companies. In many cases a corresponding salary range and status can be directly assigned to the position levels; which makes this type of information even more valuable for job candidates.

With the emergence of websites like,,,, and numerous others, it’s much easier to get a picture of what these position titles equate to in average salary and bonuses.

Here’s how the career paths (aka corporate ladders) of these consulting companies stack up.

consulting career ladder comparison

I found it interesting to see how these companies are presenting their career paths on their websites. Here’s a breakdown.

McKinsey & Company Career Path

McKinsey & Company has one of the strongest online corporate ladders.  It gives nice brief position descriptions and allows you to select from three types of candidates to see the likely career path and starting point.

McKinsey & Company Career Path

McKinsey & Company Career Path

Accenture Career Paths

The Accenture website makes it difficult to track down this information, so I can’t really give them high praise for that. However, I like how they define the different paths for the associated career types – consulting, enterprise, services, and solutions. It would be great if all companies offered up estimated years in a position, e.g. 2-3 years as an Analyst before moving to Consultant, like Accenture does for the consulting career path.

Accenture Career Path

Bain & Company Career Path

Bain does a great job of outlining their positions and career path. You can hover over each of the candidate types to see the likely starting position(s), and click on any of the positions on the career path to read more about that position.

Bain & Company Career Path

Boston Consulting Group Career Path

Nothing special about Boston Consulting Groups career path (road to success) presentation, but at least they have one on their website. You can click on each position to read more about the role.

Boston Consulting Group Career Path

Booz Allen & Hamilton Career Path

There’s nothing interactive of special about Booz Allen’s career path presentation, but again, at least they have one on their website.

Booz Allen Hamilton Career Path

Booze & Company Career Path

Booz & Company’s presentation of their career path is average. Better than some. You can hover over the candidate types (undergrad, MBA, experienced) to see the likely starting position.  Position descriptions could use some more meat.

Booz & Company Career Path

Deloitte Consulting Career Path

Deloitte doesn’t display their different career paths in any type of graphical presentation, but there is reference on their site to the most common Human Capital (consulting) career path:  Analyst – Consultant - Senior Consultant - Manager – Senior Manager – Principal/ Director

Capgemini Consulting Services Career Path

Capgemini offers decent descriptions of the roles but nothing specific about advancement criteria or typical timeframes.
Typical career path: Analyst or Consultant – Project Lead – Senior Manager – Director or Vice President

Sapient and Razorfish Career Paths

I also checked out Sapient and Razorfish but neither offered career path information. It’s unfortunate because that would be very interesting to see for digital consulting firms. Perhaps they are just too small (relative to the other companies discussed) to have published career paths. I suspect if any of the big Web shops ever does disclose and present this information on their website, others will soon follow suit.

Who do you think presents the best career path? What other companies should I look at for part two of Consulting Company Career Paths?

The upcoming release of the Radian6 Engagement Console promises to improve the way companies monitor and engage customers, or their client’s customers, through social media.  I have looked at a variety of social media monitoring systems over the past few months – including entry level tools like Trendrr or SocialMention, as well as mid to enterprise level applications like Vocus and Nielsen’s Buzz Metrics. There are dozens more I’m anxious to take a look at – including products from Converseon and Autonomy. Take me to Your Leader has a nice list of dozens of free tools.  However, I’ve been less than impressed with most of the products I have used.

I’m currently leading a project for a large Federal Government agency to evaluate the effectiveness of social media for health communications. So these tools are of particular interest to me now.  This new Radian6 release has me excited. I’ve yet to see a product that systematically streamlines the engagement process like this. Does Autonomy offer this type of functionality? Does anybody else?

I’m also curious about what platforms Radian6 will monitor.  One capability that most systems lack is the ability to monitor and engage through non social media channels that have certain Web 2.0 components. For example, a news story on may generate dozens or hundreds of user comments. These data are just as important as anything being said on Facebook or Twitter.But many products seem to ignore these more traditional Web channels.

I’ve setup a Radian6 demo, and can post a follow up if anyone is interested.

YouTube Preview Image

Here are the most popular NFL team websites – ranked from 1st to 32nd. It’s not much of a surprise that “America’s Team” tops the list and ranked #1 in traffic for all three statistics providers. The Titans came in last. Maybe Titans fans were so disappointed with the 2009 letdown – after a great 2008 season – that they just couldn’t bear to watch (or browse). I also thought it would be interesting to include the total dollar value rank for each team.

Popularity * Team Website Alexa Traffic Rank Quantcast Rank Unique Visits Team $ value rank **
1 Dallas Cowboys 1 1 1 1
2 Indianapolis Colts 4 4 3 15
3 Philadelphia Eagles 2 7 5 7
4 Minnesota Vikings 12 2 4 31
5 New Orleans Saints 7 3 9 22
6 San Diego Chargers 5 5 10 24
7 Green Bay Packers 11 8 2 17
8 Pittsburgh Steelers 6 9 7 16
9 Chicago Bears 3 10 12 9
10 New England Patriots 13 6 8 3
11 New York Jets 10 12 6 5
12 Washington Redskins 9 11 14 2
13 Cincinnati Bengals 8 14 15 21
14 Baltimore Ravens 16 15 11 11
15 New York Giants 15 22 13 4
16 Buffalo Bills 14 18 18 26
17 Denver Broncos 19 17 17 10
18 Cleveland Browns 24 16 20 13
19 Oakland Raiders 26 13 21 32
20 Miami Dolphins 22 20 19 18
21 Arizona Cardinals 23 23 16 23
22 Seattle Seahawks 25 19 23 20
23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 18 28 24 8
24 Houston Texans 28 21 22 6
25 San Francisco 49ers 17 25 32 27
26 Jacksonville Jaguars 20 32 27 29
27 Carolina Panthers 27 27 26 12
28 Atlanta Falcons 21 31 28 30
29 Kansas City Chiefs 31 29 25 14
30 Detroit Lions 30 26 30 28
31 St Louis Rams 32 24 31 25
32 Tennessee Titans 29 30 29 19

* These rankings are based on traffic rankings provided by Alexa and Quantcast, and unique visitors provided by Compete.  The numbers generally reflect the 2nd half of the 2009-2010 NFL season. As I’ve talked about here, Alexa and other traffic ranking providers can be pretty inaccurate.  But I needed some metrics to work with – otherwise the Ravens would be at the top of the list and the Steelers would be at the very bottom!

** Team $ valuations by Forbes, 2009

About a year my company was tasked with customizing a Ning installation for a large client. In addition to the standard design and CSS tweaks, our developers also took on the challenge of building a custom front-end interface to validate new members against an external database, and then pass them to Ning’s registration if they were validated.  It was a nice solution.  During this project I was introduced to Firebug – a free plugin for Firefox that eases the pain of inspecting websites code when you don’t actually have access to the source code.  There are plenty of other ways to go about this, but Firebug is the quickest and easiest that I’ve found.  The expandable panel allows you to clearly see the associated HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for each page element you hover over.  This tool is a real time saver when you’re trying to decipher extremely complicated nested CSS – like Ning uses.

In this example I’ve got the Firebug panel at the bottom of Firefox expanded. As I hover over a button the HTML code is shown on the left side and the corresponding CSS code is shown on the right side of the panel.  When Ning’s CSS has 5-10 styles influencing a single page element, this plugin makes life a lot easier than trying to dig through a bunch of separate style sheets to determine the CSS inheritance.

Firebug Screen shot

Firebug makes life easier...

Who can you trust on the Web these days? Certainly not your Web anlaytics or tracking softeware. At least not without a grain of salt and the ability to selectively ignore data.

Check out these confusing and contradictory numbers from a few of the sites I maintain. The site vary in rank depending on the source or criteria used. The discrepancies in numbers between Google Analytics (and other JavaScript dependent options) and WebTrends (and other log file dependent software) have been well documented for years. But when you mix in these other rankings it further muddies the water.

It’s very important when talking Web stats with a client that your comparing apples to apples (or Google vs. Google), rather than apples to melons (Google vs. server stat programs). If they’re matching previous server stats to a redesigned site’s Google Analytics numbers – you’ve got some serious explaining to do.

It’s surprising how inaccurate Alexa’s rankings seem to be. Especially given that services like Text Link Ads use those numbers as a primary factor in ad link valuation. For example was ranked higher than – despite the fact that it get’s only a fraction of the traffic.

Rankings and traffic for the month of February 2010

* I haven’t figured out why yet, but when I redesigned this site about 5 months ago the Google PR dropped from 3 to 0 for the home page. Some interior pages still rank a 3. Very strange.

Why Don’t Google’s Numbers Match Up?

There’s a variety of reasons why Google Analytics (GA) numbers won’t match – a generally be much lower than – your server-based statistics. The most likely causes:

  • WebTrends and other server-based software typically uses server log files (that is and GA uses tagging JavaScript code in the HTML that is reported on Google’s servers. This inherently creates differences in the way numbers are reported.
  • Search engine crawlers cannot execute JavaScript (so I hear) and therefore do not show up in GA numbers. The amount of search engine spider traffic can be huge if you have a large site. Especially if it’s crawled frequently. Check out the big spikes in the page views for one of my sites in the graphic below. Search spiders seem to be the only logical explanation there.
  • iframes and AJAX applications may result in Google under reporting.
  • Views of document files (PDF, Word, etc.) may be counted as page views in log file based software, but they will not be counted in GA page views.
  • Users with JavaScript turned off with not be counted in GA. Although those people usually account for less than 5% of all users.
  • Some web managers forget to add GA’s code to every page of the site.
  • Some claim that users will often leave a page before the page (and GA code at the bottom) has fully loaded.
  • Google doesn’t like your site (or you).

Traffic spikes from search engines on a site with ~16,000 pages.

Side note – 1&1’s (the host for most of these sites) online Web statistics are painfully slow! As much business as they get you would think they would have a better stats platform. Another example of their low cost = low quality strategy.

Based on Vault’s 2010 Prestige Ratings

There’s no real surprise here at the top of the list. McKinsey once again lands in the top spot – as they do on most consulting rankings (e.g. management consulting) based on prestige. The rest of the top 15 is made up mainly of firms that have huge stakes in U.S. Federal Government contracting. I’m a bit surprised to see Accenture below Gartner, but their scores were very close, so it’s splitting hairs at that point. Sapient is the only true Web consulting/interactive firm to make the list. Curiously Razorfish – which based on the last data I saw – outpaces Sapient in total revenue making it the larget interactive agency/firm.

Top Technology Firms Based on Revenue



Company Headquarters
1 McKinsey & Company New York, NY
2 Booz Allen Hamilton McLean, VA
3 Deloitte Consulting LLP New York, NY
4 Gartner, Inc. Europe United Kingdom
5 Accenture (IT Consulting) New York, NY
6 IBM Global Technology Services Armonk, NY
7 Cisco Systems, Inc. (IT Consulting) San Jose, CA
8 Lockheed Martin Corporation (IT Consulting) Bethesda, MD
9 Oracle Consulting Redwood City, CA
10 Capgemini (IT Consulting) Paris, France
11 Northrop Grumman Corporation (IT Consulting) Los Angeles, CA
12 HP Services Palo Alto, CA
13 Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) (IT Consulting) San Diego, CA
14 Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) Falls Church, VA
15 Siemens IT Solutions and Services, Inc. Norwalk, CT
16 Infosys Consulting Inc. Fremont, CA
17 Unisys (IT Consulting) Blue Bell, PA
18 Cambridge Consultants Ltd Cambridge, MA
19 Dell Perot Systems Plano, TX
20 Tata Consultancy Services Mumbai, India
21 Keane, Inc. San Francisco, CA
22 Sapient Boston, MA
23 CGI Montreal, Canada
24 Hitachi Consulting Dallas, TX
25 Cognizant Teaneck, NJ

This data comes from Advertising Age’s 2005 rankings. Yes it’s a bit old, but still interesting to see how the large Web companies stack up. Some might be surprised to see New York firms outnumber California firms on a technology related consulting list, but keep in mind that much of this business is rooted in traditional advertising agencies that have morphed or spawned “interactive” agencies.

The Top 50 Interactive Agencies

Ranked by U.S. Revenue from Interactive Work

RANK U.S. Interactive Revenue
Avenue A/Razorfish* [aQuantive] Seattle $189.8
Sapient* Cambridge, Mass. 176.0
Digitas* Boston 155.0
4* [Omnicom] New York 92.5
OgilvyInteractive* [WPP] New York 91.2
Grey Interactive Worldwide* [WPP] New York 77.0
Modem Media* [Digitas] Norwalk, Conn. 75.4
Organic* [Omnicom] San Francisco 72.0
Tribal DDB* [Omnicom] New York 66.0
IMC2 Dallas 64.0
R/GA* [Interpublic] New York 62.6
AKQA San Francisco 61.6
Leapfrog Online Evanston, Ill. 57.9
TMP Worldwide* [Monster] New York 51.3
FCBi* [Interpublic] New York 48.0
Critical Mass* [Omnicom] Chicago/Calgary, Alberta, Ill. 45.5
Digital Impact* San Mateo, Calif. 45.0
Arc Worldwide* [Publicis] Chicago 44.8
Euro RSCG 4D* [Havas] New York 37.0
IconNicholson* [LB Icon] New York 35.0
Carat Fusion (1) [Aegis] San Francisco 33.0
VML* [WPP] Kansas City, Mo. 32.9
iCrossing Scottsdale, Ariz 31.7
Fry Ann Arbor, Mich. 30.0
AtmosphereBBDO [Omnicom] New York 28.8
WhittmanHart Interactive Chicago 25.2
Macquarium Intelligent Communications Atlanta 25.0
Nurun/Ant Farm New York 24.0
iProspect [Aegis] Watertown, Mass. 23.2
Refinery Hatboro, Pa. 22.8
Intercept Interactive New York 21.0
Blast Radius New York 20.9
IDEA II Houston 20.0
Molecular [Aegis] Watertown, Mass. 19.8
Gage Minneapolis 18.3
Brulant Beachwood, Ohio 17.6
Blue Dingo New York 17.5
Apollo Interactive Culver City, Calif. 15.5
Genex Los Angeles 15.0
One to One Interactive Charlestown, Mass. 15.0
RPA Interactive Santa Monica, Calif. 14.7
Flying Point Media New York 14.5
Arnold Worldwide Marketing Services* [Havas] Boston 14.2
Valassis One to One Solutions Lincoln, Mass. 14.0
Marden-Kane Manhasset, N.Y. 14.0
DNA Studio Los Angeles 13.2
Tequila [Omnicom] New York 13.2
Enlighten Ann Arbor, Mich. 13.0
Moxie Interactive Atlanta 12.7
TransUnion Marketing Services Chicago 12.6
Bridge Worldwide* [WPP] Cincinnati 12.0

Notes: Figures are in millions of U.S dollars. An asterisk (*) indicates figures are Ad Age estimates. 1 Formerly Carat Interactive. Published May 1, 2006.

Originally published February 2007

Web Site Wireframe

(aka Wire Frame, Page Architecture, Low Fidelity Mock-Up, Page Schematic)

What are wireframes?

Web site wireframes are blue prints that define a Web page’s content and functionality. They do not convey design – e.g. colors, graphics, or fonts.

How are wireframes used ?

Wireframes – combined with Site Maps -are the bread and butter tools of information architects. Web site wireframes are useful for conveying the general page structure and content requirements for individual Web pages. Typically wireframes are developed by an information architect, requirements analyst, or designer. In many Web groups these are all the same person.

Using detailed wireframes will frequently flush out new requirements and questions that nobody has thought about yet. They also help to keep a paper trail of functional and design decisions that are made. I sometimes use wireframes to get people thinking and generate requirements. Getting signoff on a set of detailed wireframes can save a lot of time and money. Forcing managers and clients to actually think about the site’s functionality at a page level will avoid changes later on. Otherwise programmers can end up making endless changes and tweaks to their code.

Wireframes can end up evolving into the default requirements document for a system. I sometimes end up adding a sitemap to the beginning of the wireframe document. I then add notations and requirements on specific pages. Sample Wireframe 2 below is an example of this.

How are wireframes created?

Wireframes – like most information architecture diagrams – can be created using a variety of software programs. I generally use Visio because of its powerful stencil feature. Visio stencils allow you to save libraries of commonly used shapes and elements. I have custom stencils created that allow me to easily drag and drop wireframe elements onto the screen. This really speeds up the process of creating wireframes.

I have also seen wireframes created using Excel, Word, and Power Point. So the choice is yours.

Wireframes need to achieve a balance between being too detailed and too general. A wireframe that is too precise may leave little creative room for the designer. A wireframe that is too loosely defined can be misinterpreted by designers and developers. The wireframe format used should be dependent upon the audience.

HTML Wireframes

Information Architects and designers sometimes end up creating the initial HTML layouts that are then turned over to a developer for “real” programming. This often makes sense, because in some cases it’s the IA or designer with the best command of HTML layout and design. HTML may be used to create basic wireframe templates that can be used for usability testing or to get client feedback. In other cases the HTML is created in order to keep tight control on the design, rather than leaving it up to the programmer.

Wireframe Examples

Sample Wireframes (pdf)

Sample Wireframes 2 (pdf)

Sample Wireframes 3 (pdf)

Originally published February 2007

(aka Site Map, Site Hierarchy Map, Site Diagram, Blueprint, Web Map)

Sitemaps – along with Wireframes – are my bread and butter of information architecture diagrams. When setting out to analyze and document an existing Web site one of my first steps is to sketch out a rouhg site map. The sitemap will show the major sections of a Web site, but not necessarily every page. For large sites it’s not always necessary or feasible to include all pages in a site map.

Similarly, when I’m creating an information architecture for a new site, one of my first tasks is laying out a rough site map. This helps to chunk and group content and functionality.

Web sitemaps and Wireframes

Combining a detailed site map and illustrative wireframes creates a valuable document that can guide programming and future requirements. In some cases such a document has become the default requirments document for systems my group is building.

How to Create Web Sitemaps

There is no standard best practice for creating sitemaps. I happen to prefer to use Visio – as do many others. Visio allows you to easily lay out page hierarchys and create connections between them. But wireframes could also be created in Word, Power Point, Excel, by hand, or any other method you find helpful.

Web Sitemap Examples

Site maps can be constructed in a wide variety of formats, but the general structure and principles remain relatively consistent.

  • Sample Web Sitemap (pdf)
    This site hierarchy map was used for a project in which we had to combine 6 separate Web sites into a single, cohesively – yet distinct, branded Web prescence. One of the first steps was to analyze the existing sites and document the main content sections using sitemaps. The sitemaps were used to identify duplicate content and functionality that was no longer relevant.
  • Web Sitemap Diagram 2 (pdf)
    This is a sitemap that was created for an update to a small marketing site. A key is used to distinguish revised and new content.

Originally published February 2006

In part one of Web Information Architecture Deliverables and Diagrams I discussed the various deliverables and diagrams that are commonly used throughout the industry. In part two we take a look at the factors that influence the use of these deliverables and various implementation examples.

Understanding how to create information architecture deliverables is the easy part. Sure, creating documentation for large scale sites with complex functionality can be very challenging and tedious. But it takes additional expertise and a lot of trial and error to develop an understanding of how to best apply these deliverables. There is no magic formula to decide which deliverable or combination of deliverables to use. It takes a lot of experience to know when and how to best utilize the various deliverables available. This document takes a look at some key variables that should influence our decisions.

Access to programmers

Ideally designers, information architects, and programmers would work together closely as a Web site is built and refined. However, this isn’t always possible. I have been involved in projects where I was responsible for the requirements analysis, information architecture (IA), and design. But the actual coding was turned over to a set of programmers in another division or organization. Or perhaps conflicting requirements on other projects prevent you from maintaining regular contact with the programmers. In cases such as these it is important to create detailed documentation to guide the development. There may or may not be an open line of communication between the people that created the deliverables and the developers who are now responsible for developing from it. In the world of Government contracting this transition isn’t uncommon among separate contractors. Basically you can’t assume that the programmers will interpret your deliverables the way you envisioned, and you can’t assume they will be able to get clarification form you in the future. You need to explicitly describe how the system is designed to be implemented.

Programmers with design skills

Obviously the individual skill sets of programmers vary greatly. Some are former engineers or scientists with little or no design skills or artistic eye. Others may have once been designers, graphic artists, or just have been blessed with natural artistic ability. Some programmers may have a good understanding of Web usability, others may not. Senior developers may have enough experience to adhere to general design and usability guidelines that junior developers may not recognize. It’s important for you to recognize these characteristics. You need to understand the skills of the programmers you work with and customize deliverables accordingly.

It seems most Web programmers fall into one of two categories. The first group is part developer and part designer. The other sees things in black and white and will program exactly what is given to them. Once you are familiar with the design skills of the developer(s) you can cater your deliverables to match their needs. In some cases basic wireframes or flow diagrams may be enough for a programmer. It doesn’t take much time working with a programmer to ascertain whether they are capable of taking a rough design or wireframe and creating an effective interface from it. Some developers will program to precisely meet the requirements, but are incapable of injecting their own design elements. The key is to communicate the relationship and roles. If a developer has general design skills, then it may make sense to give them some freedom.

HTML skills

In some cases it may be the designer, and not the programmer, who is best suited to create the initial HTML for a site. It’s important to recognize that a designer’s or IA’s involvement doesn’t necessarily have to end with a site map or Photoshop mockup. Often it makes sense for the designer to be responsible for creating the HTML templates. Again, it comes down to recognizing and capitalizing on the skill sets of your team. In an ideal situation, and when I have enough time, I prefer to turn functional HTML over to a developer and let them do the “real” programming.

Targeted audience

It’s always important to understand who the audience, both the primary and secondary, for the deliverable you are creating is. You may be putting together a story board with detailed wireframes for the programmers, but the document may inevitably end up in the hands of management. Thinking about the documents possible future uses can help. Adding additional documentation about the purpose and/or intended audience for the document can help add context. On a project with frequently changing requirements a good approach would be detailed wireframes with enough documentation for programmers, clients, project mangers or anyone else involved.

Turnaround time

How quickly are these deliverables needed? In some cases there may only be time to sketch out rough designs on paper (paper prototypes) and put together general work flow diagrams. In other cases there may be time to put together detailed wireframes, and in other instances time to create HTML designs for the programmers to use.

Staff workloads

There is usually a tradeoff between the workload of the designer/IA and the programmer. High fidelity designs and documentation require less overall effort for programmers than if they were given basic requirements and design specifications. If the programmer is given HTML they won’t need to spend time on layout and design. So whose time is more valuable? Who currently has the most on their plate? On a tight budget, who has the higher hourly rate? These types of questions should ultimately determine where the handoff lies.


Perhaps your group or company has been tasked with creating the design and/or information architecture for a Website. The actual development, testing, and implementation will be handled by another group. The fixed budget for your portion of the work has been set. Depending on the budget you will either have to deliver low-fidelity (wireframes, process-flow, etc.) or high fidelity (detailed story-boards, HTML) deliverables. Obviously the latter requires a greater level of effort and expense.

Project/System Use

What type if system is being developed or who is it being designed for? If it’s a non-critical internal system designed to be used by staff, then it may be ok for the programmer to work with basic requirements. Obviously you never want to implement a system that sacrifices usability or accessibility, but it may be ok to deploy these types of systems with a less polished design. Websites that are higher profile (e.g. Corporate Websites, Large-scale systems) should be given additional attention. It’s important to keep tight control of the design and information architecture. Programmers should be working from detailed requirements so they don’t have to make design decisions on their own.

Familiarity with developers

If you regularly work with the same group of programmers over time you will learn their tendencies and individual skill sets. You may have developed a level of comfort with programmer A that allows you to hand them some basic flow diagrams and design specs and have confidence that they will be able to work successfully from them, making appropriate modifications where needed. However, programmer B may need precisely detailed deliverables or HTML design templates, or else the final product will suffer.

Now let’s take a look at some real world scenarios and the information architecture deliverables I would likely use in each.

Example 1

My company has been asked to provide consulting services for a client that needs to design and launch a large new corporate Website. The organization has an IT group that will develop the site, but is looking for some outside expertise in the requirements analysis, design, and information architecture. They will be paying us on a cost (time and material) basis and have a relatively large budget set aside for our services. They want to spend the money up-front to get it done right and avoid costly redesigns in the near future. Fortunately the schedule isn’t overly tight and there will be enough time to do the work the right way. The work that I deliver on this project is a reflection of our company’s capabilities and will potentially lead to future work with the client. Therefore, I am going to spend additional time refining and “prettying up” the deliverables. Since the deliverables will be handed off to another company, they will contain extensive documentation and comments. After working closely with the client to determine requirements and establish target audiences, I decide that we will create the following deliverables.

  1. User Profiles
  2. Content Inventory
  3. Sample Use-Case Scenarios
  4. Web Site Map
  5. Paper prototypes (documentation of testing our IA assumptions)
  6. Detailed website wireframes / story boards
  7. Mockups
  8. Web style guide
  9. HTML designs and .CSS

Example 2

I have been asked to assist another division in my company with the redesign of a website for a client they are currently working with. Let’s assume the budget they can commit to the design and architecture is enough to cover detailed wireframes and site mockups, but not enough to cover HTML designs. Fortunately they have a junior developer with good design skills who can effectively (and affordably) turn the wireframes into a fully functional Web site. I won’t be in close contact with the developer once I have handed off the wireframes, so I will make sure to add a lot of notes and documentation on the wireframes.

Example 3

My group was awarded a new contract to develop a Website for an existing client. The timeline is very aggressive so we need to get moving quickly. The site is pretty basic and doesn’t require a lot of requirements analysis. The developers I will be working with are in my group so we will be working closely together as the project moves forward. I am already familiar with the skill sets of the programmers and their existing commitments on other projects. Therefore I determine that the quickest and most effective use of my time will be to sketch out some rough designs and put together some basic wireframes. I will use these to make sure the programmers don’t have any problems with the proposed functionality, and to get a quick buy-in from the client. Then I am going to build out the HTML for each major page or section. There isn’t a need to build out every page, just the ones that are unique. Once the HTML designs are finished the developers can quickly add their code and database connections, or break the pages up into includes or database elements. This approach gives the programmers a good head start and reduces their required level of effort.

Originally published December 2002

Examples of Wireframes, Site Maps, Story boards, Use Cases, Paper Prototypes

In my work as a web designer and IA I have come across many inconsistencies in the way Information Architects and other Web professionals refer to Web information architecture deliverables and diagrams. In speaking with various Web design groups I have heard multiple terms for the same deliverables. Web information architecture is a relatively new field which has yet to develop a consistent and universal set of deliverables, and terminology to refer to those deliverables. I also haven’t come across a central repository of IA deliverable and diagram documentation. This document is an attempt to fill that void.

What is Information Architecture?

Information architecture is the foundation open which websites are built. You can think of it as the blue prints for a website. It defines a website’s structure, hierarchy, and navigation.

What are deliverables? What are the most effective deliverables? The answer depends on the situation, audience, budget, time constraints, skill set of your team, and various other factors. Learning how to create these deliverables is the easy part. Gaining an understanding of when to use them, and in what format, is the tricky part.

Part 2 – How to use Information Architecture Deliverables

The following are the most widely used IA deliverables. However, there are additional deliverables which some consider to be the responsibility of the IA, while others would assign them to perhaps a PM or designer. The most widely used name for the deliverable is listed with additional synonyms also displayed. Some Web information architecture examples and samples are linked to.

Web Information Architecture Examples

1. Content Inventory (aka Content Survey, Audit)

A content inventory is intended to provide a consolidated snapshot of all the major sections, pages, and content on a Web site. This would include text, graphics, and multimedia. Some even go as far as to break content down into individual pieces or paragraphs of content. Sometimes a content inventory is performed on content that is not yet part of a Web site. This would be helpful for an organization that is collecting content to be placed on a new Web site. Card sorting would be helpful for organizing content in this situation.

Here a a couple examples of Web content invent roy variations.

  • Survey - A high level review of a site’s main sections and pages. It enables you to develop an understanding of the general site scope and major chunks of content.
  • Detailed Audit - this is a comprehensive inventory of every page on a site. This inventory will list every page’s filename, title, URL, and possibly its file type and a description. It’s also helpful to assign a unique page ID that will correspond to the pages location on the Site Map.
  • Content Map – This simply entails laying out the site content in a graphical format. I haven’t seen this used widely, and I’m not sure how much use it would serve. If you’re performing a content inventory on a current site, then an effective site map might nullify the need for a content map.

Sample content inventory (pdf)

Read more about content inventories for the Web

2. User Profile (aka Personas)

A user profile or persona is a realistic (but likely fictional) example of a target audience member. The profile commonly takes the form of a one page piece that lists the user’s name, occupation, education, demographic characteristics, computer/web experience, and site goals or likely tasks. A stock photography picture is usually used to give a face to the profile.

These profiles can be extremely useful in keeping the web team focused on the user’s needs. These may not be necessary for usability experts, designers, or information architects, all of whom should have a firm grasp of user-centric design. But they can be beneficial for project managers, programmers, and clients. When making decisions it’s helpful to be able to say “John B. really would have trouble with this,” or “Adding this link here would really make life easier for Sharon.” User profiles also help to reinforce the importance of an Information Architect. It is a deliverable that documents the establishment of target audiences, a process that might have taken a considerable amount of effort and research.

Read more about user profiles for the Web

3. Use Case (aka User Scenario, Task Analysis, User Flow)

Use cases are narratives that describe how a user might use a system or site. A use case illustrates a sequence of events that an actor (external agent) might go through in order to accomplish their goal. A use case is similar to a process flow.

  • Essential Use Case – Narratives that remain relatively independent of a specific technology or implementation.
  • Real Use Case – Narratives that incorporate the current technology and/or site design. This is basically the same thing as a Process Flow.

Sample use case (pdf)

Read more about use cases for the Web

4. Sitemap (aka Site Map, Site Hierarchy Map, Site Diagram, Blueprint, Web Map)

Site maps are one of the most critical and widely used web information architecture tools (along with wireframes). They show the overall structure and hierarchy of a Web site. They can be used as the first step in laying out the web information architecture of a site, and will provide the framework upon which to base site navigation. When I set out to understand the IA of a current site, or design an IA for a new site, I start by sketching out a ruff site map. Site maps can be constructed in a wide variety of formats, but the general structure and principles remain relatively consistent.

Sample Site Map (pdf)

Read more about Web sitemaps

6. Wireframes (aka Wire Frame, Page Architecture, Low Fidelity Mock-Up, Page Schematic)

Information Architecture Wireframes (combined with Site Maps) are the bread and butter tools of information architects. They are useful for conveying the general page structure and content requirements for individual pages.

Wireframes need to achieve a happy medium between being too precise and too loose. What I mean by this is that a wireframe that is too precise or detailed may leave little creative room for the designer. A wireframe that is too loosely defined can easily be misinterpreted by designers and developers. The format used should be dependent upon the audience.

Using detailed wireframes will frequently flush out new requirements and questions that nobody has thought about yet. They also help to keep a paper trail of functional and design decisions that are made. I sometimes use wireframes to get people thinking and generate requirements. Wireframes will sometimes end up evolving into the default requirements document for a Web site.

Sample Wireframes (pdf)
Sample Wireframes 2 (pdf)
Sample Wireframes 3 (pdf)
Read more about Web wireframes

7. Paper Prototype (aka Low Fidelity Prototype)

Paper prototyping involves using screen shots and/or hand sketched page diagrams to quickly elicit user feedback and identify interface IA problems. Using a paper prototype involves conducting a usability test using a low fidelity prototype. These prototypes can be created electronically using programs such as MS Word, Excel, Visio, or various WYSIWYG editors. However, in many cases paper prototypes are nothing more than loosely hand-sketched designs. The quicker these paper prototypes can be created, the greater the benefit. Paper prototypes shouldn’t incorporate specific design elements such as color, style, fonts, detailed graphics, etc.

You may be hesitant to present something that might resemble a 6th graders art project to a client. However, with a bit of education the client will be appreciative of the time and money you are saving them.

8. Story Board (aka Storyboard)

It’s debatable whether a storyboards are anything different than a set of wireframes, but they can tend to illustrate more of a process than a wireframe does. However in many cases IAs add usage and process notes to wireframes. I have also see storyboards (or something resembling them) referred to as Blueprint, Schematic, Grey Model, Interaction, Interaction Wireframe, IA Requirements Document, Design Document

Story boards typically combine information from process flows, site maps, and other IA deliverables. They can be used to illustrate a single screen or a whole system or site. They usually offer screen shots or some type of graphical representation of the screens, combined with a narrative description. Storyboards help to document the functionality of the site and describe how users will potential use the interface. These deliverables can be used by programmers, project managers, upper management, and clients to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Storyboards often turn into the initial requirements documents that programmers begin coding from. These deliverables provide an excellent chance to get client buy in and sign-off on the proposed function laity and IA of a site. Story boards can be similar to a detailed wireframe, and there is a lot of crossover between the two.

Sample Story Board 1
Sample Story Board 2
Sample Story Board 3 (pdf)
Sample Story Board 4 (pdf)
Sample Story Board 5 (pdf)

9. Style Guide

Style guides are used to document baseline design requirements for a site. They usually define font classes and a wide range of various design conventions to be followed. This deliverable would generally be considered the responsibility of a designer, but in some instances the Information Architect may be covering multiple roles (as is the case with me). HTML Wire frames are a good solution to solve multiple needs; deliverables for clients or management, and functional templates to start programming from.

Sample Style Guide (pdf)

Read more about Web style guides

Using Web Information Architecture Diagrams

In part 2 we take a look at the factors that influence using information architecture deliverables. Which provides more information on using Wireframes, Site Maps, Story boards, Use Cases, Paper Prototypes, User Profiles, and Site Maps and other web information architecture examples.

Originally published April 2002

I. Introduction to Website Navigation

Effective web navigation navigation is perhaps the most important aspect of ensuring a Web site’s usability. Consistent and informative navigation helps to ensure that users are able to identify where they are, where the content they need is, and what the easiest way to get to that content is. This paper is designed to give Web developers, designers, and Web content publishers an in-depth look into creating successful Web site navigation. It will examine the important aspects of designing an effective web navigational scheme. Global, local, contextual, and supplemental navigation methods will be examined

II. Poor Web site Navigation: The number one problem on the Web

Slow download speed was once considered the most severe usability problem on the Web. However, recent studies and experts have identified that not being able to navigate and find site information as the worst usability issue on the Web. Georgia Tech’s 10th GVU survey ( found that “the most dissatisfying Web experiences were a) not being able to find specific information, b) using Web sites that are confusing, and c) Web sites with slow download time, respectively.”

Even Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen has acknowledged the lessened severity of slow download speeds as compared to Web site navigation problems. He states that increased bandwidth has helped to lessen the download speed problem. Broadband connections, although far from achieving widespread use, have continued to increase rapidly. Average connection speeds have also increased significantly from the earlier days of the Web, based on the adoption of higher speed dial up modems. Also the enlightenment of Web professionals, through the preaching of usability experts such as Nielsen, has lead them to begin designing lighter (in terms of page size) sites.

However, as the Web continues to grow so do the usability problems associated with inefficient site navigation. Large robust Web sites continue to offer more and more content. With that additional content comes an increased need for consistent and informative navigational schemes. A site’s navigation should be built around the target user population and their goals.

III. Defining a site’s mission and audience

Before any thought of how a site’s navigation should be structured, a sites audience and mission must be thoroughly examined, and defined. The intricacies of defining a site’s audience and mission are beyond the scope of this paper. However, the process should involve developing a firm understanding of the organization and its goals and objectives. The targeted user population should also be studied in order to develop a series of user profiles and site tasks that the users will want to complete. A combination of interviews, focus groups, surveys, observation, and competitor analysis help to gain insight into a Web site’s mission and target audience.

IV. Defining a site’s content

In addition to defining a site’s mission and audience, specific content to be included on the site must be defined. Much of this information will come forth as the organizations members and target audiences are studied. Obviously the amount of content to be offered on a site is dependent upon the size of the client organization, and the site’s mission. It is often tempting for organizations to want to throw as much information as possible onto their site. However, content should not be arbitrarily included on a site without first giving thorough thought into the purpose of the content. Each piece of content should in some way support the site’s mission and/or user’s goals. A site with huge amounts of information is not necessarily a good site. Extraneous information can easily deter the user from effectively interacting with the site, and finding the content they desire.

V. Organizing a site’s content

Once the site’s mission, audience, and content have been defined, the next step is determining how the content will be structured. This is where designers, developers, information architects, and project managers begin to consider the site’s navigational scheme. Information architects (IA’s) are experts in organizing information and designing the most effective and efficient methods for presenting that information on the Web. Most Web site projects won’t have a professional IA on staff, but all Web professionals can adopt the methods and practices followed by IA’s.

There is a wide range of techniques used by information architects to organize the content of a Web site. The initial phase involves the grouping of the site’s content. This can be done through group meetings, interviews, card sorting, and various other methods. Card sorting involves writing the names of particular categories of content on an index card or small piece of paper. These content pieces are then grouped according to their relationship to the other pieces of content. This grouping goes on until a series of well-defined groups have been defined. These content groups will make up the major sections and subsections of the Web site. This process can also be performed using another medium, such as a white board.

The process of examining user scenarios helps to further determine what content should be on the site and how the content is structured. Using the site’s defined mission and audience, likely user tasks are examined to determine the effectiveness of the proposed content structure. An example of a scenario follows.

  • Web site: A university’s Web site
  • User: Parent of prospective student
  • Task/Goal: The parent’s child is interested in visiting the campus. The parent wants to visit the University’s site and find out the exact location of the campus so that they can look it up on the map.

By analyzing this scenario, an information architect would recognize the following things. Users will be interested in finding out the location, and exact address of the university. This information represents a quick task, in which the user wants to get in, get the information, and get out, and therefore should be easily accessible from the homepage. The scenario also indicates the need for additional content that may not have already been considered. A map of the campus and its surrounding region and roads could be included on the site in order to save the user from using a traditional map, or visiting MapQuest to lookup the address.

VI. Content labeling

Informative labeling is important to the success of a Web site’s navigational scheme. Major content sections and subsections should be given descriptive and intuitive titles. These titles will be used as labels for the various elements of the navigation.It is important that these labels are created with the user in mind. The language used for navigational elements should be consistent with the sophistication level of the users. Obviously Tech Web (, a site catered to technology professionals, may choose to use language or labels that wouldn’t be appropriate to use on, a site catered to all.

Labels should not contain internal verbiage that is understood within the organization, but would not be intuitive to someone outside of the company. This is a frequent mistake of Web developers looking to force their organization’s branding upon the site’s users. Therefore, inundating the users with unnecessary confusion. For example, Disney refers to its employees as “cast members”, however someone outside of the company should not be expected to recognize this. Therefore, on Disney’s Web site ( a link to employment information shouldn’t be titled “Join Our Cast”, in an effort to spread Disney’s culture to unsuspecting users. recognizes this and therefore titles the link “Careers”.

Site developers can’t expect users to play “guess what’s behind door #1″ by clicking on labels when they don’t know what content lies behind the label. Effective labeling allows a user to enter a site and easily decipher what they major content sections are, and therefore decide where the content they desire is located.

VII. Paper prototyping

Paper prototyping is an excellent method for gaining valuable user and client feedback early in the design process. It also allows you to save a lot of time, money, frustration, and redesign later in the development process. The goal is to receive a maximum amount of feedback for a minimum amount of effort. This type of prototyping involves roughly sketching out a site’s overall layout and navigational scheme. These can be drawn by hand, or developed in programs such as Word, Excel, or Photoshop. It all depends on the project and amount of time you have. These rough sketches are often referred to as “wireframes” or “mock-ups”.

Paper prototypes can be used to test and receive feedback on various granularities of the site. The home page and several 2nd and 3rd level pages can be used to test the site’s navigation. A helpful test is to identify a piece of content that the target user would be interested in finding, and see if the user can intuitively choose which link to follow. The content pieces should be based on the user tasks which have already been identified, such as “finding the schools address” in the example above. For the University Web site example the content piece would be the school’s address. The user would simply point to the site section or link that they feel would lead them to the content they desire. If multiple users have trouble locating important content, then the navigation and site structure needs to be rethought. Once the user has chosen a link or site section the next paper prototype can be used to illustrate what would happen after that link was chosen. Smaller pieces of paper can be manipulated to display dynamic items such as rollover or dropdown menus.

A sub section or series of site pages can be used to test the placement of specific content blocks. Paper prototyping shouldn’t show actual page body content, such as finalized paragraphs or images. However, it can be used to receive feedback on the arrangement and layout of certain content groups and categories. The user may be able to supply information about how they feel the page’s content should be displayed.

Paper prototyping is also a valuable tool to help ensure that the design team and client/project sponsor are on the same page. Seeing a tangible, albeit rough, design may help the client to recognize additional content they desire for the site. It may also help them to identify content or features that are displayed in a way that differs from what they had envisioned.

Some Web designers and developers worry that using paper prototyping will make them appear unorganized or unprofessional to the client. Some of their peers and competitors may deliver highly functional prototypes and professional looking site diagrams to their clients. However, by educating the client about the benefits of paper prototyping, the Web development team will be able to win the client’s trust and commitment. The client should be informed that “quick and easy” usability testing methods such as paper prototyping help to save time and effort, and in turn the clients money. Something every client will be glad to hear. Most clients would rather see a paper prototype, than pay for several weeks of development on a functional design that will likely be reworked. In addition some Web designers may be reluctant to rework a design that they have already spent considerable time on. Paper prototyping helps to avoid this hesitancy, by reducing the amount of work that goes into the prototype.

Paper prototyping will likely consist of multiple iterations of user testing and client feedback. The prototyping method used will partially determine the turnaround time between iterations. Hand drawn prototypes may be developed at the client’s site, as usability issues are encountered during a testing session. This type of development can greatly expedite the design process.

VIII. Global Navigation

A Web site’s overall navigational scheme may be broken down into a series of complimentary navigational pieces. These pieces are the global, local (sub), supplemental, and contextual navigation. A Web site’s global navigation serves as the major roadmap and compass for users accessing the site. Much as a site’s mission and audience define the content of a site, the site’s content and audience define the navigational scheme. The amount and complexity of the site’s content greatly influence the style of the global navigation. A large site, with loads of content, would require a more robust navigational system, than that of a site with little content.

The characteristics of the target audience will also help to determine what navigational style to use. The use of heavy Java Script or Flash navigation might be dependent upon the technological skill level of the site’s users. Although Flash has achieved almost a 99% penetration rate for all Internet users (Macromedia 2002), its use for navigational systems should be used sparingly. Unless your site has a very well defined user base in which all are accessing the site via platforms with Flash player installed, Flash should not be used for global navigation schemes. Flash currently comes preinstalled on Windows 98, Me, XP, MAC OS 8 and up, Internet Explorer 4.0 and up, and Netscape 4.06 and up. Another issue to consider is that users who set their browser security level to “high” in Internet Explorer won’t be able to see any Java Script navigational elements. However, “high” is not a default setting, and a user who has intentionally reset the Internet security setting should understand the ramifications of their action.

The use of any dynamic menu systems should be thought through thoroughly. Many users, particularly senior citizens, young children, and anyone with motor skill problems, may have trouble navigating these systems. One such navigational system is present on MSNBC’s Web site ( The site requires the user to manipulate up to four different levels of dynamic menus [see figure 1]. A task that can prove troublesome for even the most experienced Internet user. Another issue that needs to be considered when designing a navigational system is accessibility for disabled users.

Most sites currently fall short of being accessible to disabled users. Many sites feel that disabled users will make up only a tiny portion of their target population, and therefore neglect to build their sites with the disabled in mind. Governmental agencies on the other hand, are required to meet a set of criteria that ensures the accessibility of all users. Sites that are required to meet the criteria include federal, state, and local governmental agencies, as well as government contractors. Section 508 of the rehabilitation act is the legislation that sets the guidelines for Web accessibility. An in depth discussion of section 508 is beyond the scope of this paper, but more information can be found at ( Another set of standards has been established by the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The details of this initiative can be found at ( The WAI is designed to give all Web developers a set of guidelines to follow in order to make their sites accessible. As a rule of thumb, all sites should at least conform to the Priority 1 guidelines that are specified.

Figure 1
Screen shot of

The following screen shots exhibit a few of the most commonly used Web site navigational schemes. These schemes represent some of the widely used navigational systems on the Web. For most sites, it’s important to use what people already understand. The World Wide Web offers very little formal standards in terms of design. However, when certain styles are used frequently across the Web, they begin to become default standards. Designers shouldn’t try something different just for the sake of being different. This isn’t to say that designers and developers can’t get creative with their navigational schemes, just that it should support the sites mission and audience. If a site is catered to Web professionals or graphic designers, then the site can take more liberty in the design it uses.

Figure 2

Screen shot of

Strong ( uses “tabs” to represent its global navigational elements. Figure 2 shows how the tabs indicate that the user is currently on the home page. Users find this scheme rather intuitive, because it mimics a traditional paper based file system.

Figure 3
Screen shot of

Gartner ( adds a variation to the global “tab” style by utilizing dynamic drop down menus that appear as the user rolls over global navigation. The dynamic menus that appear reveal the sub navigation [See figure 3]. Using these dynamic menus makes it easy for users to access other content sections from all areas of the site.

Figure 4

Screen shot of

The New York Times ( chooses to display their global navigation as a left hand menu [See figure 4]. This particular site displays both global and sub navigation in the left hand navigational menu. Many sites utilize a dynamic left hand navigational scheme, in which global elements expand to reveal the sub navigation when the user clicks on them. Keeping all of the navigational elements in one general location provides consistency for the user.

Fox News ( adds to the concept of a left hand navigational menu by displaying dynamic menus upon rollover [See figure 5]. This particular style provides a consistent navigational location, while at the same time allowing for easy access to other sections of the site.

Figure 5

Screen shot of

IX Local (sub) Navigation

Local, or sub as it’s often referred to; navigation helps the user to navigate within a major section of the site. In figure 6 the second row of “tabs” represents the sub navigation of the “Funds & Brokerage” section. Gartner’s right hand navigational menu in figure 3 is used as the sub navigation of the “Consulting” section.

A. Position indicators

Position indication is imperative to a successful navigational system. Position indicators help users identify their location within a sites navigational structure. A user that enters a lower level page on a site, via a link from an external Web site, needs some way to ascertain where they are within the site. Position indicators allow them to recognize where they are.

There are many variations of how these indicators can be applied. They can be applied at all levels of navigation. Figure 6 indicates the users position based on the coloring of the navigational tabs. These position indicators tell the user that the page they are on is within the “Bond Funds” section, which is its self a subsection of the “Funds & Brokerage” section of the Strong Funds Web site. Gartner also uses coloring to indicate a users position within the site. Figure 3 shows that the sub navigation color of the “Consulting” section matches the color of the “Consulting” tab. Additionally the coloring of the right hand sub navigation menu shows the position within the consulting subsection.

Figure 6

Screen shot of

Figure 7

Screen shot of

X. Contextual Navigation

Contextual navigation is linking that occurs in addition to the global and sub navigational systems. This type of navigation may or may not be consistent across a site. Inline linking, which is simply making a word within site copy a link, is an example of contextual navigation. Some users find it distracting to have links imbedded within the article they are reading, because it tempts them to follow the link before finishing the article. However, most appreciate having the freedom to choose to follow the link or stay with the article.

Another example would be additional navigational schemes that are used to show related topics and articles. Notice how ( utilizes a right hand navigational box [See figure 7]. This type of use could be considered a hybrid of contextual and sub navigation.

XI. Supplemental Navigation

Supplemental navigation is used in conjunction with the other standard navigational systems. The two most frequently used supplemental navigation methods are site maps and search engines.

A. Site Maps

The purpose of a site map is to give the user an encompassing view of what content the site has to offer. It can be an extremely valuable method of giving the user insight into the structure and content of a site. However, less than half of Web sites have them (Nielsen 2002). It’s important to label the site map what it is, a “site map”, rather than “site index”, “table of contents”, etc. 63% of sites offering a site map label it “site map” (Nielsen 2002). So it makes sense to stick with what people already know.

The number one rule to designing an effective site map is to keep it simple. Many developers try to be too creative by developing interactive or dynamic site maps. Some sites offer site maps in which the user must click on an icon to reveal what content lies behind it. Other sites employ dynamic dropdown or rollover menus to display site content. These methods defeat the purpose of the site map. Users usually visit a site map for only one reason, and that is they can’t find the content they are looking for. The user should not have to navigate or interact with the site map. Other designers try to emulate a physical map or some other type of creative presentation for the site map. However, the most effective way of displaying site map information is to clearly and logically list the content under the site’s relevant sections and subsections. Sapient ( does a nice job of logically and concisely listing their site’s content. [See figure 8]

Figure 8

B. Search Engines

Users usually turn to a site’s search engine after they have failed to locate the information they are looking for using the global and local navigation. However, some users also use the search engine as their first means of navigation on a complex site that they are unfamiliar with. Unfortunately sites offering an efficient yet thorough search mechanism are few and far between. Developing a robust search engine for a large site is no small task. Companies with in house Web development teams may build their own site search engine using programming languages such as CGI, PERL, and XML. There are also many third party vendors, such as Inktomi (, who offer search engine software that can be integrated into an existing Web site.

For complex sites, search boxes should be placed directly on the home page. Users shouldn’t have to link to another page before they can use a site’s search feature. ZDNET ( offers an excellent search engine powered by CNET’s ( The search results are displayed by category [See figure 9]. This is extremely helpful in clarifying the search results for the user. Many sites simply return a list of all results containing the search criteria, and are indifferent to the content’s context or category.

Figure 9

C. Breadcrumb Trails

A Breadcrumb Trail, sometimes referred to as a path analysis, is an effective way to communicate to a user where they are within a sites hierarchy. They also provide a way for users to backtrack their movement within a site without having to rely on the browser’s “Back” button. Breadcrumbs also provide a way for users to orient themselves by acting as a position indicator. (figure 7) displays a breadcrumb trail that informs the user that they are located at “America’s Race for 3G” within the “Research” section, displayed as “Research: America’s Race for 3G”. Gartner (figure 3) also utilizes a breadcrumb trail, displayed as “Consulting > Architecture/Technology”

XII. Iterative User Testing

In addition to early usability testing using methods such paper prototyping, developers should seek user feedback at various stages throughout the development process. It is important to let users interact with the functional navigation in order to ensure sufficient usability. This will help to identify any problems associated with physically manipulating the navigation.

XIII. Scalability & Maintenance

When designing and developing a site’s navigational system, developers must keep in mind what happens after the initial site has been built. How will the navigation be maintained? How will navigational elements be modified, added, or deleted? In many cases sites have a tendency to outgrow their navigation, necessitating that additional content sections and links be added.

Who will maintain the site after its initial launch will affect what type of navigational scheme is implemented. If the site will be maintained within the client organization, by non-developers, then the navigation must be designed to accommodate this. This situation would require some type of dynamic include file that can be easily updated.

Two classes can be used to describe how the pages of a Web site interact with one another, static or dynamic. Static sites are a series of individual pages that don’t utilize common elements. A change on one page would not affect any other pages. For example, if a navigational element needed to be changed, it would need to be changed on each page individually. A static format may be sufficient for small sites, but it’s easy to see why a large static site would be difficult and inefficient to maintain.

Dynamic sites are able to utilize common elements across a site. Such elements would include headers, footers, global and local navigation, and any other content that will be used in multiple locations. There are various ways in which a dynamic site can be maintained. Two common approaches are to use templates and includes. Templates are pre built page schematics that can be applied to any individual page. For example, a particular subsection of a Web site would have its own template. The template would contain common elements such as sub navigation, header, footer, etc., while also offering blank sections for individual page content such as, body text and page title. This will allow the site administrator to make one change to the template and have it affect all pages using that template. Web design software packages, such as Dreamweaver, offer templating capabilities. Templating is also offered by high-end content management systems, such as Interwoven and Vignette that are designed for the maintenance of large Web sites.

The use of includes is another way to more efficiently maintain a large site. An include file is a file that is pulled into another file to display the include’s content. A Web page may consist of a .html file that pulls (or calls) several include files. Although this Web page consists of several files, to the user it appears as one continuous file. On a 2,000 page site utilizing a navigational include file, a change to the navigation would only need to be made to that one file. A footer is another common example of how a dynamic include could be utilized. Many sites have a standard footer that is included on every page. This footer would likely be maintained as an include file.

XIV. Conclusion

Designing a successful navigational scheme starts with defining a site’s mission and audience. These factors then help to produce the content to be offered. The content then must be structured and labeled in a manner that will be intuitive to the user. A site should use a combination of global, local, contextual, and supplemental navigational methods. These different navigational schemes should interact in a manner that enables the user to recognize where they are, where the content they desire is, and what the best way to get there is. Although there are no formal standards on how Web navigation should be structured, it is good practice to implement navigational schemes that are widely used and understood. A site’s content is it’s most important feature, however, without an effective navigational scheme the user will never find it. Effective Web site navigation does not happen by chance. Web professionals must develop a firm understanding of the issues discussed in this paper, and act accordingly.


Research Paper

Fox, C. and Instone, K. (2001). Analyzing The Analysts: An Information Architecture Analysis of Top Business Analysts’ Web Sites.

Vodvorka, J. (2000). Information Architecture, Designing the User Experience

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