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A New Look for the New Year

“Change occurs in direct proportion to dissatisfaction.” – Doug Horton

After a string of e-mails, I was beginning to think Charlie Byrne, ETR’s Editorial Director, didn’t like me. I kept on getting these rejection messages …

“I’m sorry David, but I don’t think we can run this essay.”

“David, this might not work for us.”

“Sorry again David, but we need to do something else.”

You see, I’d begun sending over a series of articles for Early to Rise on how entrepreneurs and businesses can improve the effectiveness of their websites. But those articles created a bit of a dilemma for Charlie.

As he explained it to me: “We have a ‘Do We Actually Do This Ourselves?’ test for all the advice we print in ETR. We don’t hand out advice we’ve heard elsewhere. And so it hurts our credibility for you to tell our readers that, for example, they should have a printer-friendly website … when our own site isn’t printer friendly. We’re working on getting that fixed … but until then, your article would raise our readers’ eyebrows. And with good reason.”

Charlie was right. Since my articles revealed a number of gaping holes in ETR’s own site, there’s no way he could publish them in ETR … until now.

Coming soon, all those articles I wrote on creating a better, more usable, search-engine optimized, printer-friendly website will appear in ETR.

Why?

Because come January 1, 2007, ETR will have a brand spanking new website that incorporates all of the principles of good website design.

Over the next few weeks, Charlie and I will be telling you about some of the features of the new ETR website. We’ll explain how we believe it improves on what ETR had before, explain why we changed it the way we did, and show you how you can adapt and apply our own learning process to your online business.

Some of these changes include:

  • A crisper, cleaner, more professional design, with a more cohesive look and feel
  • A less-cluttered on-screen layout that allows more “breathing space” for the content
  • A new in-site search engine – to facilitate searching through the 6,000+ articles in the ETR archives
  • A simpler sign-up for the ETR e-letter
  • Improved and simpler on-screen navigation – so you can jump straight to the main sections of the website
  • A simpler-to-use system for content writers and editors
  • Optimized content for better search-engine marketing
  • “Printer-friendly” pages
  • Content syndication (“RSS”) – as an additional way to read website content and for the search-engine optimization benefits it brings

The first change I want to tell you about is the one that generated the most discussion during the development of the new website. In fact, it has been the most contentious and controversial issue for every website project I’ve worked on in the last decade.

I’m talking about the website’s design.

We had to consider everything we’ve learned after years of absorbing and testing ideas from experts and expert companies like Jakob Nielsen, Edward Tufte, Future Now, and Jeffrey Zeldman (to name a few). Plus, we had to acknowledge the fact that most designers we work with have a strong print and branding bias, hence a heavy lean toward graphically intensive magazine-style designs. Then there are the Web analytics, which tell us that half our website visitors probably still use a slow, dial-up modem. Plus the fact that not everyone who enjoys reading ETR does so with full visual faculties.

And even after considering all that – and after coming up with an almost-agreed-upon design and working out the details to get it to look perfect … someone walks in and tells us that, on their brother’s old Apple Mac, it looks like a dog’s dinner.

What it boils down to is this: The most important thing for us at ETR is for the design to enhance the content we publish. It should be attractive but not distracting, and allow you to read the copy without being bombarded by garish and unnecessary embellishments.

Our business is publishing – disseminating and monetizing information. Our content inspires action and gives you the opportunity to sign up for our newsletters or reports or to buy our publications, products, and seminars. Therefore, our design must make it simpler for you to find information and guide you to elements like e-mail signup forms on the screen.

And that is exactly what we believe we have finally accomplished with ETR’s new site.

I salute the entire ETR team. They’ve done an incredible job of pulling together all the seemingly opposing ideas we had to work with … and the result is excellent.

Keep in mind that a good website is not a static “brochure” but an organic, evolving dialogue. And that dialogue involves … YOU! So, come January 1, 2007, visit EarlyToRise.com and tell us what you think.

[Ed. Note: David Cross is Senior Internet Consultant for Agora Publishing in Baltimore.]