John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

Why You Should Avoid the Golden Ratio

In the last two days, I have been blown away by Twitter’s new design. It is a delightful improvement. Media is impressed because it is bright, shiny, new and vastly improved. Why is it so much better? Twitter’s new design is great because it is both functionally and aesthetically improved. Bravo Twitter!Golden Ratio on

Remarkable attention (even Mashable remarkable attention) has been paid to the way that Twitter made use of the “golden ratio” in the new improved design, but you should avoid the Golden Ratio and here’s why:

There is a long history of paying attention to the golden ratio in design, in natural designs and in web design – ( had a great tutorial that remains relevant and informative.) But you should still avoid it.  So – if the Golden Ratio is good, and if Twitter’s new design is a sensational improvement why should you avoid it?  There are four things are wrong about highlighting the use of the Golden Ratio.

  1. There is nothing unique in using the Golden Ratio in web design.
  2. There is nothing unique to Twitter as a current website using the Golden Ratio
  3. Most importantly: Using the Golden Ratio is NOT good web design, it is detrimental. 
  4. When web design matters, the important gold is the Golden Triangle.

There is nothing unique in using the Golden Ratio in web design. It has been an element of all sorts of designs, and it has been an element of web design forGolden Triangle and Golden Ratio years.  It provides a nicely balanced web page, aesthetically pleasing and it is a design that pays homage to a traditional approach to design.  You should avoid it because it is the wrong kind of gold. The Golden Ratio is NOT the best thing about web design and usability.  The Golden Triangle is!  (and this overlay shows both the Golden Ratio and the Golden Triangle

Here is an example of the Golden Triangle, overlaying the Golden Ratio.

Golden Ratio on ChrisBrogan.comBefore going any further, it is VERY important to mention that Twitter is not unique in using the Golden Ratio. Look at a dozen current websites, and it is a safe bet that eight out of ten of those websites use the Golden Ratio. Chris Brogan uses the Golden ratio with his blog. I use it with mine. Amazon uses the Golden Ratio, Facebook uses it, Brightfuse uses it. Almost everyone uses it.  Don’t believe me? Look at these overlays of various websites.Golden Ratio on

The Golden Triangle is way more important. If you’ve never heard of the Golden Triangle – it refers to Google’s Eye-tracking studies that show a sort of golden triangle on the top left side of a web page. It is where people focus on search results. The “Golden Triangle” is important because it shows where people focus on EVERY web page. The Golden Ratio puts important elements of a web page in places where people aren’t looking. It puts unimportant elements of web pages in places where people look first.

Golden Ratio doesn’t equal Golden Triangle! For most websites, the Golden Triangle is essential, but the Golden Ratio should probably be avoided.  

A final thought: There are some designers  who do NOT use either the Golden Ratio or the Golden Triangle.  FourSquare (4sq) doesn’t use the Golden Ratio or the Golden triangle. They probably do not really care about either golden design reference because 4sq’s websiteisn’t really relevant to their business. Why not? Well, for FourSquare, their website is NOT their primary user interface, and website usability isn’t nearly as important to them as the other interfaces and applications that they provide. 

FourSquare screenshot with Golden overlays.Let me say that again. For FourSquare, their web design isn’t critically important because of the other apps that people and businesses use access their service. Their website design is just not that important.

That is very significant for FourSquare, and also for Twitter. For Twitter, their website is NOT their primary interface either because Twitter’s customers use Tweetdeck, Social Oomph, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter App for BlackBerry, Hootsuite, Twittergrader and another half million apps. That is really significant for Twitter because for them, the Golden Ratio might be irrelevant to the Golden Triangle, and equally irrelevant to the quality of their redesign.  Regardless of Golden Triangle, or Golden Ratio, Twitter’s redesign is still a serious winner! 

Design is just not essential for people and companies who have websites where they know that the website is not the primary interface that your customers use. Those websites can design with considerations for the Golden Ratio. If your website design IS a primary interface for your customers – take heed of the Golden Triangle instead.

September 30th, 2010 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Marketing | one comment

Kindle is Your Paradise

Killer gadgets today are killer because they let us do everything. Is your newest latest Droid/Blackberry/iPhone a killer gadget? Maybe it is, but maybe not. What about the Kindle that only does one thing? Maybe a better question is, do you want more “killer gadgets?” Or do people need one device that does one thing?

From my perspective, the Kindle is better than a killer gadget. It is a paradise device and a paradise business model. The Kindle does only one thing, really well. That is the point. It is killer BECAUSE it does only one thing. It is paradise because it does only one thing. It can give YOU paradise if you have one, and it is paradise for Amazon. The proof is in this delightful, engaging, brilliant Kindle Ad. Please watch it because it explains everything:

On the surface, if you have $140 sunglasses and love sitting poolside reading your Kindle, it is an easy sell that your Kindle will work better than other multifunction book-type devices. (iPad) Depending on what statistic you pay the most attention to, Amazon is selling either 143 or 180 digital books for every 100 hardcovers sold.   Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos says it is “astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months.”  That is a tipping point!

Back to the Kindle Ad!  The great irony is that Amazon’s Kindle mirrors the most successful single purpose device in the last decade, in every meaningful way – the iPod. The iPod is a singular-purpose device created a billion-dollar digital download store for Apple. (Perhaps $15 billion) Amazon’s Kindle is another killer gadget, but it is better because it is a single purpose killer gadget. The single-price digital music pricing model has simultaneously destroyed and reformed the music industry and it might yet do the same thing to the motion picture industry. Meanwhile, the publishing industry is being pushed and perhaps dismantled by Amazon’s amazing digital sales… driving per-copy prices down way past where publishers want.

So – coming full circle, here is the situation: iTunes drives Apple revenues with a product to be used on Apple’s iPods. Amazon’s delightful advertisement with their Paradise Device is thoroughly brilliant. It takes Apple out of the black turtleneck cool and plops it down. Where? in a the gut of a man wearing a semi-yellowed white-ish t-shirt over wrinkly khakis (1) at a pool with an iPad (2), sitting side by side with a kindled-up bikini girl. Mr. Apple-man is without sunglasses and looking kind of uptight and stressed, but she finds every relaxed way to look simultaneously hot… and very cool. People might not notice in the commercial, but there is a subtle plate of apples in the background (3)   Back to the stress… in this commercial, this alternate vacation reality – it is the iPad that is stressing him. His iPad is not relaxing and is not helping his vacation one bit! It is not helping him find paradise and it sure didn’t help him select his poolside wardrobe.

When you look at these two people, you can tell neither is married. (4) You can tell that she is enjoying her vacation in paradise. She has the shades, the attitude, the smile, the perfect hair, the perfect black bikini, and the perfect device with which to download digital content… and reading. Why is it so great that she has a single purpose device?  Everyone wants the paradise that comes with no deadlines, no meetings, no emails, no texts, no web to browse, no pdf’s, no buzzers, no noise, no distractions, and nothing at all beyond reading. It is only one simple pure function. Yet, nothing is getting between her and her Kindle. It is almost an intimate connection. A bargain that cost less to her than her sunglasses.

In a cluttered world filled with multifunctional device Swiss army knives, the Kindle is a Katana – sharp, purposeful, effective and to enemies, it must seem splendidly frightening in its potential and its execution. In the advertisement, everything in the girl’s vacation is elegant, relaxing and perfect. She is lost in the Kindle, lost in her reading. She has reached that intimate Kindle-paradise and left the stresses of her life behind. It is exactly the moment in exactly the vacation that everyone could use – everyone with lives that are torn by a never ending assortment of multifunction devices that sing like canaries in a mine full of hyper stimulated under-satisfied stress.  Matt Richtel wrote a great piece in the New York Times about how “Digital devices deprive the brain of needed downtime.
So – she is cool… she is hot… she is on vacation… and she can read her Kindle in direct sunlight, with her high-end fashionable sunglasses on. Why didn’t he bring sunglasses? Was he too busy in is iPad world with stimuli hitting him everywhere? Was he really TRYING to read or was he hitting on her? Does he not know how to adjust the brightness and contrast on his iPad? It doesn’t matter at ALL to her. She doesn’t have a care in the world. She is on vacation in paradise. She can relax perfectly with her kindle on her vacation reading her book in her world without interruption. That is exactly what she wanted. She didn’t want the sunlight to blind her. She wanted to be fashionable. She wanted to relax, cool by the pool, and her Kindle is exactly what she needed. Suddenly the Kindle is black bikini cool in a world of drab white t-shirts. It is a single word, a single device with a single purpose, and it is simultaneously cool, hot, functional and inexpensive. Does he need a pair of $150 sunglasses to read his iPad? No, he needs to ditch the iPad for a Kindle. The Kindle is EVERYTHING he needs. The Kindle is singular in purpose and effect. It is the paradise that he seeks, even on a perfect day when he is actually IN paradise.
The Kindle is exactly what Amazon needed. It isn’t perfect, multifunctional, or multitasking. It doesn’t read all the formats. It doesn’t try to make nice with the Nook or other devices. It is a single-purpose device in a world of multipurpose devices that gives people a way to escape all those other intrusions on their lives. The Kindle is the device that wraps an ADHD world into a single stimulus that can draw you in and encompass you the way that an afternoon with a good book could in a world that has gone by, long ago, far away. And for every Kindle Amazon sells to turn your life into a paradise, it will sell, based on current averages, 24 digital books.

Narasu Rebbapragada writes about people who pursue “any machine that does as many things as possible, that’s what I want”  but also talks how  the Kindle “retains the fundamental characteristics of the printed page, (and) encourages deep attention to story.”   Deep attention to a paradise where one device does one thing and doesn’t interrupt itself and you.

Books are to the Kindle as music was to the iPod, and anything more is unnecessary and detracts. You might say that with Amazon’s paradise device, Apple just got Kindled.

September 21st, 2010 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Environment, Life, Marketing, People, Technology | one comment

Rinse and Repeat

Your hair is dirty today, so you will probably wash it. You will probably use shampoo and conditioner, and on both bottles, the label says “rinse and repeat.” Social media and Search Engine Optimization are two arts that you can think of as Shampoo and Conditioner. They are mutually supportive, like shampoo and conditioner, and both do well with a continuous process of improvement- that you can think of as Rinse and Repeat.

That might or might not be good advice for conditioner and shampoo, I’ve always suspected the reason for that blurb on the bottle was to get people to use more shampoo, or perhaps for people who wash their hair weekly. Regardless for the shampoo directions, everyone should realize that “rinse and repeat” is thoroughly outstanding advice for both Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Social Media.

Social media and Search Engine Optimization are two arts that you can think of as Shampoo and Conditioner. They are mutually supportive and both do well with Rinsing and Repeating.

I read two nice articles today: “7 signs that you ignored your social media plan” on Outspoken media, and “How to optimize your site for search” in Inc. magazine.

I read the Social Media Plan article in Outspoken Media, and realized that Rinse and Repeat is critical to social media. When a person or company contributes no unique content and no other value to social media, there should be an expectation of *no return on the non-investment.* To get the best return, a company has to produce and add unique content, invest thought, words, communication, time and perhaps even some money. Thanks Lisa for a great guide to “what not to do.”  The important thing is DOING. It is important to rinse and repeat. Social media requires a continuous and constant care and feeding. If you did not do it today, do it now. If you did not do it yesterday, do it today. The value of social media as an element of your marketing plan is DIRECTLY related to how much you contribute to social media.

As I was reading the article on SEO, I realized there a considerable number of things in common between SEO and Social Media. The two arts both require rinse and repeat. They both thrive when tended to. SEO results and Social Media results are positive or negative in proportion to the resources that are devoted to both of them.  Both are elements that are built-in. SEO is built into each page, and Social Media is built into the culture.  Both are hard to quantify. Both benefit from evaluation of efforts, results and the relationship between effort and results, and both SEO and Social Media benefit from an approach that involves a cycle continuous improvement.  Call that Rinse and Repeat for SEO and Rinse and Repeat for Social Media – but the analogy from hair care goes further:  Social media benefits SEO & and SEO benefits Social media in the same way that conditioner works well on hair that has just been shampooed.  Social Media and SEO are mutually beneficial.

That’s something to think about when you rinse and repeat. 

What do you think?

September 13th, 2010 Posted by | Continuous Improvement, Marketing, People | 3 comments

Less Clicks: Good and Bad

Having less clicks in an advertising campaign can be both good and bad, but not for the most obvious reasons. It is important to remember the business objective behind the advertising so that when you create an advertising campaign, so you can use the campaign to reach those objectives. It is important to measure those objectives and it is important to try to improve your results.   There are times when fewer clicks can be good for meeting a business objective. So lets talk about clicks. 

Generally when you develop a Google ad campaign, your ads are shown on Google as a response to a search, and you pay when people click on your advertisement. (generally meaning that they are taken to the particular landing page on your site where you try to convert that click, and that specific interest in your products and services into an action – a sale, a registration, brand building or whatever)

The theory behind developing your advertisement is to develop the ad that converts the highest possible percentage of ad-views into ad-clicks. Here is an example: If you have 1000 people search for “Buick Regal” in Winston Salem, NC, and you sell Buick Regals in or near Winston Salem, NC,  and you develop an ad campaign, you want to get a high percentage of those people to click on your advertisement.  You might have a text based ad campaign that says something like this current campaign from Vestal Cars:

2010 Buick Regal
Get your Buick Regal Internet Price
Now & call For Special Incentives

If you click on Vestal’s advertisement, you come to an inventory page that shows their current inventory of Buick Regal automobiles.  That seems well formatted, well directed, and as effective as possible. If someone is searching for a Buick Regal to purchase, Vestal Cars is showing them exactly those cars, in that location. If a potential customer searches for that, and clicks that, Vestal has done everything right to (a) convert views to clicks, and (b) convert clicks to action.   In this case, the business objective is to sell cars.  To sell cars, they need customers to consider their cars, to look at their cars, to visit their car lots, and ultimately to find a car they want.   Vestal Cars wants to get people who are already searching on Google for a particular car to see their inventory of that car.  Their thought is likely that a person searching for a particular model of car is apt to be interested in that particular car. In the nebulous world of search-advertising, that is a pretty logical assumption, and I think their well-crafted advertisement is as likely to sell cars for them as anything.  I’m not sure why they’re returning 2010 Buick Regal information instead of 2011 Buick Regals, but apart from that very minor quibble, I really like their advertisement. For the most part, they have done it right.  In their case, a higher click through rate will likely support their business objective – and fewer clicks would be bad.

Google’s Adwords are a very effective way to advertise, and per-click charges make billions of dollars of revenue and profit for Google each quarter. Large companies spend millions of dollars on campaigns annually, and for particular events.  (AT&T spent more than $8m on the iPhone 4 release, and BP spent more than $3.5m for “oil spill” related searches recently.) Those companies, however, are really enormous.

There are cases in which smaller businesses, and entire categories of smaller businesses might not want someone to click their advertising. Think about that. For particular categories, an absolute minimal % click rate might be optimal. For these businesses advertising campaigns, fewer clicks would be wonderful. Why?  Why would you develop a campaign to target less clicks?  That campaign would be done where less clicks is a more effective way to support the business objective.  What would that look like? 

Here’s an example where the fewest clicks possible produces the best results – the most optimal business results.Twin City Towing Tow Truck  Although that is good, not for the obvious reason, it is also bad, and also not for the most obvious reason.

I recently put together a campaign for Twin City Towing.  Their business objective was to increase their volume of towing. To do that, they want Google advertising to increase calls to Twin City Towing for people who want  Towing services and the other services that they offer:   Here are the two advertisements that I put together as part of this campaign.

Twin City Towing, W-S, NC
24/7 flatbed towing – Cars, Trucks
Boats, Etc,Call 336-692-2615
$59 Quick Tow, Car Towing
(336) 692-2615 WS – NC
More Towing & Services Available 

This campaign was designed to target searches that were done in and around Winston Salem, NC for about a dozen terms like “Auto Towing”  “Local Towing” and “Tow Truck.”  All of this is pretty straightforward. I also targeted the advertisements for good placement.

Here is my most important point: A perfect response to this advertisement would be someone who saw the advertisement and called Twin City Towing to get towing services. (not a person who clicks through to Twin City Towing’s website.)

Because the advertising is charged per click, I want great placement on the advertising, and I also wanted the highest response to the advertisement for people, but I also want the lowest possible click conversion.  Here are possible response rates and their implications: If there is a click through rate of 2%, and 100 advertising impressions shown at a cost of $1.00 per click, my cost to reach 100 potential customers is $2.00. If I have a 20% click rate, my cost of reaching those same 100 potential customers is $20.00.  (or, for the same $20, I can reach 1000 customers.)

Think about this: If a business wants someone to CALL for a tow – why bother getting them to click to a website that tells them what to call? Why not simply include the phone number in the advertisement? Including the phone number in the advertising means that a stranded motorist who does a mobile phone search for tow truck doesn’t need to click through to a website, he needs to call a tow truck. Including the phone number saves the customer a step. It is simply more convenient for someone that needs to get towed, and that should increase business.  This is a case in which a lower click through rate simultaneously gives customers what they want while increasing business more cost-effectively. So what has the response been for this ad campaign?  From August 31 to September 6, 2010, here are the actual raw statistics:

Impressions: 959  –   Clicks: 4  – Click-rate:  0.42%  -  Cost per click: $1.29   -   Total cost $5.15

For most campaigns, that would be an extremely low click-through-rate.  If the campaign continues at this rate, a theoretical advertising budget of $100.00 could last for almost 20 weeks and reach almost 20,000 people.  If the business has added two tows this week, their cost for adding each tow will be approximately $2.57.  That is extremely cost-effective advertising, built on a counterintuitive philosophy of Less Clicks.

So – that seems good, but it is actually both good and bad.  Where is it bad?  Earlier I described search advertising as nebulous. The downside of advertising for a response that does not result in a click is that without other changes, it will be impossible for Twin City Towing to know, based on their call volume, and also impossible based on Google’s advertising campaign statistics if particular towing calls are actually coming from Google Advertising.   If there is an increase of call volume from towing customers, it might be cyclical, it might be due to a decrease in car reliability. It might come from Bing, or Yahoo, or perhaps the yellow pages. Because the response is NOT click-based, the perfect response to their Google advertising produces zero in specific and measurable statistics. 

So is this a good ad strategy?  Would it also work for cab companies? Would it work for other business segments? Are there better ways to quantify how this ad campaign meets the intended business objective?  

What do you think?

September 7th, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Marketing, Technology | no comments

Are You Stale?

Are you stale? Is your business stale?

I was in a wonderful quaint gelato shop earlier this evening – Café Gelato. I enjoyed the chocolate and amaretto gelato, and I was amazed to see the clerk there (Sarah) reading a copy of “Always On.” For those who haven’t read it, “Always On” is a slightly dated but very useful book that describes the impact of the internet on marketing and advertising, from a customer perspective.
Always On” talks about looking at the customers viewpoint, listening to the voice of the customer, and it was fairly predictive, even though it is a few years old now. The book does NOT explain how the Old Spice guy could put about a hundred videos on YouTube, and DOUBLE sales of Old Spice products… But the book explained how that could be done, before Old Spice executed it. The book emphasized the importance of customer-focused advertising and marketing. That is absolutely essential.

So back to the question – Are you stale? You may never want to ask the question, “Are you stale?” It sounds like a negative question. Nobody wants their business to be stale, nobody wants to be seen as unchanging, static, or inflexible. Nobody wants to be wearing an five-year-old dusty suit or dress and nobody wants to give the appearance that they are caught in the 20th century. But what about your business? Is it stale?

You might not want to ask that question either – so try asking this: “Are you fresh enough?” Think about what that means. Are you new enough? Are you current? Are you fresh? Are you fluid? Are you flexible? Are you responsive? Most importantly, are you as fresh as you need to be to keep your current customers, and deepen your relationship with them? Are you as fresh as you need to be to get new customers? Ultimately, are you as fresh as your customers want you to be?

If it is important to be fresh, and important to not be stale, how would you measure it?

This is pretty easy. If you have never asked this question before… you are stale. If your website hasn’t changed in 6 months, you are stale. If you haven’t tweeted this month, you’re stale. If you’ve never put a video on YouTube, you are stale. If you are only now realizing that Facebook has gone from 53 million users to 500 million users in the last two years… you are stale.

If you put a new sign up at a brick-and-mortar business every three years, that might be frequent enough to keep it fresh. But the internet is always on. The news cycle is always on. Advertising and Marketing is always on. The great effect that has is that social media, internet and all of its tentacles are a living breathing thing that works for your business 24 hours a day, every day, every week. The not so great effect is that if your business’s online footprint is stale, your octopus might as well be wearing a five year old dress.

Is that an unattractive picture to paint?

Fixing it is up to you. Painting it is up to you. It is up to you to make your online marketing and advertising fresh. Make the decision to ensure that your online presence is always fresh. Keep it fresh. Be fresh. Your customers will know, your revenue, and your success will reflect that.

DO something about your online presence. Do it today.

September 4th, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Marketing | one comment