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What Have I Done?

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I’ve been bad


I am very critical of web sites.  I always have been.  For me, usability has come naturally.  Design quality isn’t as natural, but I work hard at it because I know there are sites I like and sites I don’t.  I studied (briefly) journalism, so I have a good idea of what is technically correct for content.  I understand SEO so I can quickly identify content written for Google.

I’ve been teaching classes in my area for over a year encouraging Realtors to consider blogging.  I share the many benefits, I harp on sites made by Advanced Access, Point2, Number1Expert and others and I’ve convinced a few Realtors to get going.  Now that a few of these are really getting going, I’m questioning myself.  Should every Realtor blog?  I’m beginning to think not.

I keep seeing the same sites (blog or not) over and over again and A) it’s getting boring and B) as a consumer, if your blog/site look so similar to the next guy’s, why would I pick you?  Maybe it’s a generational thing (I love reading the comments when I make a statement like that), but I just read a great article about “Why Gen Y Is Going To Change The Web”.  The only part I disagree on is the “going to” part.  I think we already have.

Canned Sites

These are the ones from before that I mentioned harping on.  I know about 99% of Realtors I talk to who have a site beyond their company site have one of these.  They have worked well in the past  and for a small handful of people who update their sites frequently (like a blog) they still work well.  But in my eye, (almost) all of them look virtually identical.  As someone who uses the Internet as my primary source of information, a site either has to wow me with content or design or both.  Too many links down the side, animated images all over the place, old information – it all doesn’t work.  But it’s easy, so I understand.  It’s a presence, which is better than nothing.

Blogs for People Who Shouldn’t Write

This is the new unfortunate trend I’m seeing.  I’m fortunate to be a part of such a great team here that doesn’t fall into this trap, but I keep seeing blogs that are either A) an outlet to bash on “stupid” customers, B) “I’m being trendy by blogging, but I have no idea what to say so I’ll just regurgitate the same thing my neighbor put on their blog”, C) One post every 6 months or D) “Now is a great time to buy!”

Unfortunately, a few people have made some good money off Blogging For Dummies types of books (some even specific to this industry).  Should Dummies really blog?  Maybe I’m being an elitist jerk, but methinks not.

(And yes, I can VERY easily tell when you are SEO spamming, so please stop or I will never come back to your site again. Even  friends who don’t understand SEO can tell your site reads “funny”.)

Blogs for People Who Get It

Go through the authors here.  Check out their many blogs.  When I teach, I use their sites as examples.  Yes, they cover local market conditions as MLS’s and area associations and national publications release new information.  But they go beyond; they give their own thoughtful analysis of the information.  They keep up to date on current events that may impact the community they are blogging for or the real estate market in general.  They get it.  They are truly writing for their customers, not Google, not their ego, but to be a great information source.  To me, that is blogging done right.
(Their sites are also appealing on the eye, which keeps me from cringing when I try to read the great content.)

Am I Being a Web Elitist?

Maybe.  But I would wager I’m not the only person with these thoughts.  You could potentially be wasting your time and money while scaring people away when you could (easily) be marketing yourself online correctly.  Heck, I’ll even give you my honest $0.02 on your site if you’re curious 🙂

One final word: Thank you all of my wonderful Twitter friends who listened and offered great words of encouragement during this difficult time in my life.  I plan on being back next week to share in some great conversations.

Nick runs a new media marketing consulting company helping real estate professionals learn how to implement new media tools into their marketing arsenal. He frequently gives presentations on generational marketing, green marketing and advanced online promotion. Nick is active on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Irina Netchaev

    May 16, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Nick, interesting post… insightful and real. As a new blogger, I find it hard to be as creative as some of the “old timers”. I think a blogger will either come into his/her own over time or will just give up after awhile. A great thing about Agent Genius writers is that they truly care about what they do and are open to share and help the newbies like me. 🙂

  2. Jonathan Dalton

    May 16, 2008 at 11:43 am

    So I’m sitting at happy hour a couple of weeks back and the office’s webmaster was talking to some of her proteges …

    “You need to post to your blog.”

    “I know, I know.”

    “For now, just go to x’s blog and copy the article we put there.”

    Keep in mind the article wasn’t originally written, just a canned piece dropped onto the site. (I’ve been trying for six months to get my owners to stop copying newspaper articles whole without success.)

    Blogs like the one above have no voice, no soul and no merit.

  3. Todd Carpenter

    May 16, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Nick, I know where you are coming from, but it’s important to put on a consumer’s hat when evaluating a blog. Canned sights don’t look canned when you only visit one of them. Many times, simply changing the header is all it takes to make it look original.

    Most consumers won’t recognize SEO spam either. Although some of it makes the posts impossible to read. So if someone is keyword stuffing in the short term, it’s probably going to work.

    As for quality of writing, well sometimes a new blogger just needs to find their stride. I look back at my first few months of blogging and laugh.

  4. Jay Thompson

    May 16, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I think one CAN use a template provider for a “static” site, provided they work with it to make changes. Agents tend not to be too tech savvy, and the template providers (I use Point2) make it relatively easy to modify a site. Ours (thompsonsrealty.com) has worked well for us, but I have added a ton of content to it. I don’t *think* it looks like thousands of other P2 sites.

    I get asked all the time “should every agent blog”. My personal opinion is no. It’s not for everyone (just as other forms of marketing/prospecting aren’t for everyone). It helps if you can write fairly well. More importantly, you really need to enjoy it, IMHO.

  5. Nick Bostic

    May 16, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Irina – I definitely think you’re right. One of the key aspects to me of blogging is that you do it because you want to and not because you’re being told right and left that you must. If you do it because you enjoy it and are trying to provide a service, I think that stride will be hit early and you’ll do great.

    Jonathan – Those are the exact ones I keep seeing sprout up in my area. A few are doing a great job, but some of the new ones must just be feeling a need to get content from anywhere.

    Todd – I guess my thought (I am a consumer, not a Realtor, but I am a techy) is that I’m going to research several Realtors. If I look at even 4 or 5 sites, I’m going to start to notice similarities. And you’re right, most SEO consumers aren’t going to notice. I just keep seeing more and more keyword stuffing and even my least techy friends notice it.

    Jay – You’re definitely right on this one. In my area, I work with a lot of agents whose companies provide them with a reasonably high degree of customization on their “free” site. My question I guess is why would you use the “free” canned site from your company then feel the need to create yet another canned site that you pay for? In your case, I understand, you are the company, you need a site and for that, P2, AA and N1E work great. And no, it doesn’t look like thousands of other P2 sites, when you first launched it, I was surprised when I got to the bottom and saw the P2 logo.

  6. Elaine Reese

    May 16, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Well as one of the “old-timers” you mention, my template web site and WP.com blog are working well for me, however, you may not find them “fancy” enough. Don’t take this personal, but I’m really only interested in whether potential clients like them … and it seems they do by their comments and emails. I’ve personalized the heck out of them. My blog is updated at least every other day and sometimes daily. My web site front page changes every few days.

    Like Jay, I don’t think every agent should have a blog just to say they have one. To me, an agent should have a “passion” about communicating with their public/clients. Otherwise, it would be too much of a chore, and that attitude would, I think, come across in what they write or the way they write.

    The sites I really dislike are those that ONLY talk about the agent and how they’re #1.

  7. Benn Rosales

    May 16, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Elaine, I know exactly what Nick is talking about here, and that isn’t you by a longshot. You’re a superstar in that you are targeted to exactly your market and have origionality. Beauty in a website is many levels, creativity obviously ranks highest.

  8. Scott P. Rogers

    May 16, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    >> They are truly writing for their customers, not Google, not their ego, but to be a great information source. To me, that is blogging done right.

    I agree completely! Through the course of representing buyers and sellers, we come to know a LOT about real estate, our communities, the market, and so much more. If, when blogging, Realtors can focus on sharing of this information, they will succeed. Blogging is (relatively) easy, it is automatically archived, it has an infinite reach, and it’s free!

  9. Benn Rosales

    May 16, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    click here This is a really good example of what a canned site looks like. If you suspect that you find a canned blog stolen from somewhere else, copy a line from the article and google it with quotes around it. Chances are, you’re right.

  10. Kathy Drewien

    May 16, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Interesting discussion points. One of my pet peeves is real estate agents who believe blogs, or websites, smartphones, or software are the magic solution to business woes.

    When I entered the business in the mid-90s very few websites existed for real estate agents in Atlanta. Template sites quickly became a solution for agents seeking the “easier, softer way”. Some folks understood templates were (are) a tool, and experienced success; some viewed their site as money wasted, a failure. How many times have you heard, “This [insert tool here] didn’t work in my market.”

    I believe the boring and repetitive sites you view, Nick, belong to agents who have shrink wrapped software in their office, and smartphones used only to open electronic lockboxes. So, keep recommending new tools to agents. Some will “get it” and their clients will be better for the experience.

  11. cindy*staged4more

    May 16, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I think it’s okay to be a blog critic 😉 I am all for constructive criticism.

    I think you point out a fundamental flaw in real estate blogging, which is people don’t really get what blogging is about but they know it’s the new “it” thing to do so they started to a) copy and pasting other’s contents b) write what others are writing c) write one blog and call it a day.

    Jay has a great point that not everyone should blog, it’s not for everyone. It’s really for people who a) get what blogging is about b) actually likes to write c) have no problem voicing their opinions about issues/questions/etc. After all, there are gazillion blogs out there, only the ones that have great contents stay.

    A lot of real estate professionals also feel that you require a lot of tech knowledge to blog. I am a professional stager and we are even less tech savvy than real estate agents. I can count the people who blog consistently on their company site/or outside blog (Active Rain doesn’t count) on 1 hand. Even when I talk about having a website, I see some stagers’ eyes rolling over.

    But the great thing about real estate community is that we continue to progress forward (even we are just slightly lagging behind) and it just takes a few individuals to start the trends!

    🙂

    Cheers,
    Cidny

  12. Barry Cunningham

    May 16, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    I’m standing and applauding and holding a lighter up! Been saying this since day one and unfortunately not enough people seem to get it. You said it much more nicely so perhaps they will in this instance.

  13. Tom Vanderwell

    May 16, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Nick,

    Very well said. I’d love it if you could check out my site and give me your .02 worth. But let me tell you a little of what I’m working on doing with it (hopefully by June 1):
    1. The focus is going to be exclusively two things: 1) Current market news that impacts mortgage rates and 2) Other topics that I find might be helpful, insightful or educational to the agents and consumers who read it.

    2. I’m starting a separate page called https://straighttalkguestpost.blogspot.com that I’m going to open up to agents, insurance people, title people, appraisers, consumers, architects and anyone who has something they feel they’d like to say.

    3. A third page called https://houseoftheweek.blogspot.com is going to be an opportunity for sellers and agents to feature a house that meets two requirements: 1) It has to be for sale and 2) there has to be something “special” about it. It’s design, it’s landscaping, it’s history, or something….

    So, tell me what you think, I’m all ears (figuratively speaking).

    Thanks!

    Tom

  14. Jonathan Dalton

    May 16, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    Dear Lord, I agree with Barry … I’m heading outside to check for snow. 🙂

  15. Benn Rosales

    May 16, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    I just had a T-shirt made that says “blame Nick.” Agents guilty of Nicks article can purchase these online.

  16. Barry Cunningham

    May 16, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Hey Jonathan,

    See what happens when you leave Bloodhound and take a different focus..oops..did I say that out loud?

  17. Eric- New Orleans Condos and Lofts

    May 16, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    I a way I am glad its harder to do than most agents think. Each of us are different and approach blogs in different ways. if your site has generated thousands of dollars in commissions you are going to be a better blogger and strive to be better because you know it works. Its hard to make $250,000 off your site.

  18. Jonathan Dalton

    May 17, 2008 at 12:33 am

    Barry … f*** it. I’m laughing too hard to put together a coherent response.

    But if you start singing kumbaya I’m going to kick your ass.

  19. Mariana

    May 17, 2008 at 8:34 am

    You are a web-elitist … but that is okay. We, as an industry, have multiple ways to get business and help people. Blogging is one of my favorite ways … but it is not for everyone.

    I talk about blogging when I teach InternetLeadGeneration classes for my company, but I only touch on it, and stress that it is NOT for everyone. If they don’t want/like to write, then that is a big sign that blogging may not be their cup of tea … Even the blog coaching that I am doing is aimed at weeding out the bloggers from the non-bloggers.

    Now, on a canned website note … I have an AA site that ranks #1 on Google for all kinds of SWEET terms. I dumped all the canned content and used blogging to get it there. So, there IS a place in the world for those sites. Just not a very BIG space.

    Blogging is an evolution for MANY businesses and events… Especially for real estate. I would like to think of it as a REVOLUTION … and maybe it is, a little bit. But with any evolution (or revolution) there will be a lot of commotion – both good and not-so-good until the dust settles and TRUE meanings of what is right/wrong acceptable/not acceptable cool/lame are more clearly defined.

    Nick, your “web-elitist” attitude is EXACTLY what we need to help create these definitions.

    … and PLEASE no kumbaya …

  20. Eric Blackwell

    May 17, 2008 at 11:31 am

    @Mariana- Exactly. As you and Jay have pointed out (and to jump in on Barry’s lighter comment). It’s the singer not the song. You can take any of the MAJOR standard templates and make them work-some easier than others. They look NOTHING like the off the rack model.

    Along the same analogy– Nick, I totally agree when it comes to content. Milli Vanilli just doesn’t cut it. It is not being an elitist to say the following:

    “Blogging is not for everyone. Be original. Have a unique take. Don’t write posts that suck.”

    How do you define a post that sucks? ask you wife or significant other to read it. They’ll tell you straight up. (grin)

  21. ines

    May 17, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    I’ve always had a fear of falling into the “everybody’s doing it” trap – I’ve been known to do the total opposite and it’s always worked for me – this doesn’t mean I don’t learn from others of course.

    Now when it comes to blogging I have to tell you that now that I’ve been doing it for almost 2 years, it’s not easy at all. First to capture your personality on there, second to identify and capture your own audience, then to keep it fresh and exciting – It’s A LOT OF WORK!! It definitely is not for everyone, but people that are getting discouraged should stay with it to see if they can make it work.

    I am the biggest critic of my own stuff and very often look back at what I wrote on my blog and think OMG what in the world was I thinking? But we have to remember that to have a little fun is always acceptable. Now please feel free and cruise by Miamism and tear it to pieces……it’s what get’s my wheels turning to keep it exciting.

    …and Nick……again I offer my condolences.

  22. Ken Smith

    May 17, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Should every Realtor blog?

    No.

    Could anyone image what the web would look like with 1 million plus Realtors blogging? Who would benefit? IMO the only ones that would benefit are those selling the blogging platforms.

  23. Scott P. Rogers

    May 17, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    >> Could anyone image what the web would look like with 1 million plus Realtors blogging?

    So…..apparently a presentation during NAR mid-year referenced that 4% of Realtors are blogging. If membership is still around 1.3 million-ish, that would be 52,000 Realtor blogs. I can’t imagine what the web would look like with 1 million plus Realtors blogging — but I also am not sure if it seems like 52,000 are currently blogging!?

  24. Ken Smith

    May 17, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Scott I agree there aren’t 52,000 actively blogging agents. If the number is 10% of that (5k) I would be highly shocked, again actively blogging…not once or twice per month. Most agents that start blogs give up within a couple of months, they still own a blog but they aren’t blogging.

  25. Scott P. Rogers

    May 17, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Ken — I think it’s possible that 10% (5k) have started a blog. As far as once-twice a month — it has to be a relatively low number. Does anyone know if this data is available somewhere?

  26. Jeremy Hart

    May 17, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Scott and Ken – I’ve got to imagine that AR blogs play into that number somehow.

  27. Ken Smith

    May 17, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    But even including AR there aren’t that many truly active bloggers. Plus some of the many at AR aren’t even Realtors.

  28. Rich Jacobson

    May 18, 2008 at 12:57 am

    Yes, but there are real estate professionals – valued faces & talents who come to the transaction table and make things happen. And many of them are actively blogging….

    I would agree that the true number of those actively contributing quality content to their blogs is probably a lot lower than we think. That’s great news for us. There’s still yet time to capture your unique local market, and fill the vacuum before someone else does.

  29. Eric Blackwell

    May 18, 2008 at 7:09 am

    Rich- Spot on. That is great news for us.

    Blogging is labor intensive by DESIGN. It is Earned Media. I wrote about that over at BHB. That is not being elitist to say that…it is just noticing the fact that you can either buy media with money or with time. (or both…).

    While I moderate on a major real estate website forum, I find that blogging gives me a better chance to actively converse and connect with folks more easily. It is definitely easier to convey your personality (for better or worse-grin) via blogging. IMO.

  30. Scott P. Rogers

    May 18, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    >> Blogging is labor intensive by DESIGN. It is Earned Media. I wrote about that over at BHB. That is not being elitist to say that…it is just noticing the fact that you can either buy media with money or with time. (or both…).

    Very interesting insight — as I have talked to some other agents in my company about blogging I have always said “it’s free, it’s easy….” — but I guess I tend to forget about the time consuming nature of it because I enjoy doing it. There certainly is a trade off of time in order to blog — though it seems like my time (blogging) has a higher ROI right now than my media buys (print advertising, etc).

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Opinion Editorials

Popular opinion: Unemployment in a pandemic sucks [EDITORIAL]

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) I got laid off during the pandemic, and I think I can speak for all of us to say that unemployment – especially now – really, really sucks.

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Stressed man thinking over laptop about unemployment.

Despite not being in an office for what feels like an eternity, losing my job stung. Holding onto work during The Worst Timeline was rough, considering Rome was burning all around. My job was the boat of sanity I could sit in while the waves of bullshit crashed all around. Pre-pandemic, I had just separated from my wife, so my emotional health wasn’t in tip-top shape. But then millions of people go and get sick, the economy took a nosedive, and well, the world changed. When everything around you sucks, and people are on the news crying about unemployment and potential homelessness, you’re thankful as hell that you’re not with them – until you are.

I was writing for a startup, one that came with a litany of headaches thanks to fluctuating budgets and constant directional pivots, but it was steady work. When the Coronavirus hit, it was a scenario of “we’re going to get through this,” but as we switched gears again and again, I started to get an unsettling feeling: I’ve seen this story before. When you live in Austin and are in the creative field, you’ve worked with startups. And there are always trappings on when something lingers in the air – hierarchy shuffles, people aren’t as optimistic, and senior folks start quietly bailing out. Those are the obvious moves that make your unemployment-related Spidey sense tingle, but with COVID, everything is remote. There aren’t the office vibes, the shortened conversations that make you, “I know what’s happening here.” Instead, you’re checking Slack or email and surviving like everyone else.

We were happy to be working, to see the direct deposit hit every two weeks and sigh, knowing you were still in the fight, that you might see this thing through.

We saw our entire business change overnight. Leadership rose to meet the challenges of an old model rooted in hospitality, restaurants, and events, which died with a viral disease shotgun blast. Because the infrastructure was there, we managed to help out workers, and grocery stores work together to keep people fed across the nation. It was legitimately a point of pride. Like all things, though, the market settled. We bought time.

In July, I had a full-blown depressive episode. The weight of the divorce, the lack of human interaction, my work having less value, my career stalled felt like a Terminator robot foot on my skull. I couldn’t get out of bed, and everything I wrote were the smatterings of a broken man. And to my ex-bosses’ credit, my breakdown was NOT my best work, I could barely look at a computer, let alone forge thoughts on an entirely new industry with any authority, or even a fake it till you make it scenario.

When the CEO put time on my calendar, I knew it was a wrap. Startup CEOs don’t make house calls; they swing the ax. When you’re the lone creative in a company trying to survive a nearly company-killing event, you’re the head on the block. Creatives are expensive, and we’re expendable. Site copy, content, media placements, all that can kick rocks when developers need to keep the business moving, even if it’s at a glacial pace. When I was given my walking papers, it was an exhale, on one hand, I’d been professionally empty, but at the same time, I needed consistent money. My personal life was a minefield and I’ve got kids.

I got severance. Unemployment took forever to hit. The state of Texas authorized amount makes me cringe. Punishing Americans for losing their jobs during a crisis is appalling. Millions are without safety nets, and it’s totally ok with elected leaders.

There are deferments available. I had to get them on my credit cards, which I jacked up thanks to spending $8,500 on an amicable divorce, along with a new MacBook Pro that was the price of a used Nissan. I got a deferment on my car note, too.

I’ve applied to over 100 jobs, both remote and local. I’ve applied for jobs I’m overqualified for in hopes they’ll hire me as a freelancer. There are lots of rejection letters. I get to round two interviews. References or the round three interviews haven’t happened yet. I get told I’m too experienced or too expensive. Sometimes, recruiters won’t even show up. And then there are the Zoom meetings. Can we all agree we’re over Zoom? Sometimes, you don’t want to comb your hair.

I’ll get promised the much needed “next steps” and then a rejection email, “thanks but no thanks.” Could you at least tell me what the X-Factor for this decision was? Was there a typo? Did you check my Facebook? The ambiguity kills me. Being a broke senior creative person kills me. I interviewed President Obama and have written for Apple, but ask myself: Can I afford that falafel wrap for lunch? Do you think springing for the fries is worth that extra $3? You’ve got soup at home, you know.

I’m not unique. This is the American Experience. We’re stuck in this self-perpetuating hell. We keep looking for jobs. We want to work. There are only so many gigs to fill when there’s constant rollercoaster news on unemployment recovery. And as long as unemployment sucks, there’s going to be a lot of people bracing for impact come Christmas. Hopefully, the brass in Washington can pass a few bills and get us back to work. At least get Americans out of the breadline by pumping up what we’re surviving off of – across the board. Working people shouldn’t have to face getting sick to bring in an income, while casualties of the Corona War should be able to look at their bills and not feel like the assistant on the knife throwers wheel.

I’m about to be a line cook to make extra cash till an intrepid manager hires me. Who doesn’t want a writer working the grill who reads French existentialist essays for enjoyment? I’d rather sit on park benches and day dream, but that ain’t reality. I’ve got bills to pay in a broken America. Who wants a burger? Deep thoughts come free but an extra slice of cheese is extra.

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Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Improve UX design by tracking your users’ eye movements

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Research shows that the fastest way to determine user behavior and predict their response is by watching their eyesight. Use this data to improve your UX design.

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UX design being created by a designer on a laptop.

By design, an ice cream truck is meant to entice. It is colorful, stupidly loud with two whole songs from the 30s (usually off key because no one is left alive who can service those bells), and lots of colorful stickers that depict delicious frozen treats that look nothing like reality. If you need an off model Disney character that already looks a little melted even when frozen, look no further.

This is design in action – the use of clever techniques to drive engagement. Brightly colored decor and the Pavlovian association of hearing The Sting in chirpy little ding dings is all working together to encourage sales and interaction.

These principles work in all industries, and the tech sector has devoted entire teams, agencies, companies, groups, and departments to the study of User Experience (UX) explicitly to help create slick, usable applications and websites that are immediately understandable by users. Tools to improve utility exist by measuring user behavior, with style guides and accepted theories preached and sang and TED-talked all over.

The best way to check behavior is to observe it directly, and options to check where someone clicks has proven invaluable in determining how to improve layouts and designs. These applications are able to draw a heat map that shows intensified red color in areas where clicks congregate the most. An evolution of this concept is to watch eyesight itself, allowing developers a quicker avenue to determining where a user will most likely go. Arguably the shortest path between predicting response, this is one of the holy grails of behavioral measurement. If your eyes can be tracked, your cursor is likely to follow.

UX design can benefit greatly from this research as this article shows. Here’s some highlights:

Techwyse completed a case study that shows conversion on landing pages is improved with clear call-to-action elements. Users will focus on objects that stand out based on position, size, bright colors, or exaggerated fonts. If these design choices are placed on a static, non-interactive component, a business will lose a customer’s interest quickly, as their click is meant with no response. This quickly leads to confusion or abandonment. Finding where a person is immediately drawn to means you should capitalize on that particular piece with executable code. Want it boiled down? Grocery stores put Cheetos front and center, because everyone want them thangs.

Going along with this, Moz found that search results with attractive elements – pictures and video – are given much more attention than simple text. We are visually inclined creatures, and should never undervalue that part of our primal minds. Adding some visual flair will bring attention, which in turn can be leveraged usefully to guide users.

Here’s an interesting study – being that we are social animals, follow the gaze of others. If you’ve ever seen kittens watching a game of ping pong, they are in sync and drawn to the action. Similarly, if we notice someone look to the left, we instinctively want to look left as well. While this sounds very specific, the idea is simple – visual cues can be optimized to direct users where to focus.

The Nielsen Group says we look at things in an F pattern. I just think that’s funny, or at least a funny way to describe it. We follow from left-to-right (just like we read, and as websites are laid out using techniques first developed for newspapers, it naturally makes sense that we’d do the same). Of course, cultural or national differences arise here – right-to-left readers need the opposite. Always be sure to keep your target audience in mind.

Of course, there are several other findings and studies that can further promote idealistic layout and design, and it should always be the goal of designers to look to the future and evaluate trends. (Interestingly, eye tracking is the first option on this list!)

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