Monday, October 26, 2015 now mobile-friendly

We're celebrating our own 10th business anniversary with a fresh new website. Check out on smartphone, tablet, or good old desktop and tell us what you think. Kudos to our intrepid web designers at cdeVision in Holyoke, MA -- Bill and Antonio, you're the best.

Monday, October 19, 2015

How to Write a Great Website Timeline (Part 3)

History faces tough competition on the Net: when was the last time you shared a website timeline? Before we talk about the details of General Electric’s timeline, let’s note that not only were we intrigued enough to look through each of the 12 pages of the timeline (starting with 1878), but we spotted two items so irresistible that one of our writers shared them on Facebook.

What makes General Electric’s web timeline so great? Let’s look at it in terms of the questions and guidelines in our first post on this topic.

1. Audience(s). The timeline is focused on GE’s spectacular achievements across a wide range of fields, over more than a century. There’s no mention of mergers and acquisitions, but after reading a few pages, we were sorry we hadn’t invested in its stock a century or so ago.

2-3. Major events and structure. If you want a quick overview of the company history, the leading paragraphs of the 12 segments combine to form a coherent story. The breaks in the timeline are irregular (1878-1904, 1905-1912, etc.) - presumably so that major events can be featured in the segment’s leading paragraph.

For those who want more information, the second section -- below the leading paragraph on each page -- offers a series of 8 or more major events in a slideshow of a very superior sort. Each major event has a well-chosen photo and a brief description of the event and its importance. (See #4 below.) The navigation bar beneath each event (with simple, obvious left and right arrows) summarizes this major event in a few words, and states how many events are in this particular sequence. Someone at GE knows how to work with short attention spans!

4. Context. The text for each major event puts corporate history in the wider historical context. For example, from 1913: “GE develops the hot-cathode, high vacuum X-ray tube. By replacing the cold aluminum cathode with the hot tungsten filament in a high vacuum, the company could provide tubes with better control and greater output than had ever been achieved. The development greatly facilitates the use of X-rays for diagnosis and treatment.”

5. Images. The leading paragraph on every page has an image, and so does every single major event. The images are large enough to see, but small enough to flip through easily: a tricky balance to achieve.

Below the leading paragraph and the major events is a wonderful third section: a series of GE advertisements from the period. As a brief history of advertising styles these are great fun. But even better: every single one shows how cutting-edge GE’s products were and still are. (1939: “General Electric Television Receivers! Thrilling reception of exciting events as they happen!”)

6-7. Layout and navigation. The three-part layout for each page of the timeline is easy to grasp: leading paragraph, series of major events, sample GE advertisements.

The layout is the sole point where the GE website timeline has a flaw. The header image is a photo of Thomas Edison, with links to his bio, GE’s research, and GE’s past leaders. On a laptop, this header is so large that it takes up all the above-the-fold screen real estate. We assumed this was due to the fact that the page was designed to be mobile-friendly ... but then we discovered that on a smartphone, too, the header image is so large that the tabs and leading paragraph are pushed to the next screen.
This would barely matter, if it didn’t discourage visitors from finding the excellent content below the header image. Fortunately there’s an easy fix: make the header shorter top to bottom (much wider than its height).

But that’s a minor quibble. Overall, GE provides a great example of a website timeline done right.

Monday, October 12, 2015

How to Write a Great Website Timeline (part 2)

Last week we offered guidelines and suggestions forwriting a great website timeline. This week, looks at the timeline on the website of Pepsico, a corporation that has plentiful resources and more than a century of company history. Sadly, Pepsico’s timeline isn’t spectacular.

Pepsi’s timeline is a single series of dates and events, with the most recent date at the top. A tab option at the top allows readers to skip from decade to decade.

Kudos to Pepsi’s designer for the layout, which is simple and elegant. The font for the years is easy to read, and a vertical line indicates the direction of the time flow. More kudos for the well-chosen and plentiful images. Of the 70 or so entries, 28 have illustrations.

Unfortunately, the text of the entries is subpar. We have no clue which of the 70-odd events are most important in Pepsi’s corporate history. For example, the inauguration of the first Pepsi-Cola operation in China (1982) is immediately followed by Frito-Lay’s introduction of Tostitos (1981). Given this mix of topics, we don’t even know whether the timeline is aimed at consumers or potential investors.
But much worse comes (or doesn’t) at the end of the timeline. Pepsi was founded in the 1890s, but the company history from then until 1966 is summarized in one very short paragraph. Most of that paragraph consists of names of CEOs, rather than storytelling. There’s not a single image. What a waste of a great history! If people have been loving your product for over a century, why not flaunt that fact with vintage ads, logos, and photos?

Next week, we’ll see how another major corporation handled its website timeline. (Hint: much better!)

Monday, October 5, 2015

How to Write a Great Website Timeline (Part 1)

Like a well-written corporate history, a well-written website timeline can be a great marketing tool: it can set your organization apart from its competitors, let you brag a little, and tell your story in a way that makes your company memorable. In decades of writing corporate histories, we’ve created dozens of timelines and looked at hundreds more. (For some examples, see our blog posts tagged with “web timelines.”) In the next two weeks, we’ll look at the website timelines for two corporations that have more than enough resources to make wonderfully effective timelines ... But did they?

Here’s’s series of questions and guidelines for writing a great website timeline.

1. Consider your audience(s). Will your readers be your clients or possible investors? In other words: will they be more interested in your products, or in your mergers and acquisitions history? Consider separate timelines, if appropriate.

2. Use major events as centerpieces. Given your target audience, what are the six to eight major events in your company history? Make sure these don’t get lost in a barrage of less important data.

3. Build story into the structure. Given that website visitors have notoriously short attention spans, can you make your timeline a connected story? A series of problems and solutions? A brief history of a niche subject, with your company in a starring role? A humorous escapade, like Kentucky Fried Chicken’s timeline narrated by Colonel Sanders?

4. Layer in larger timelines—maybe. Do you want to keep readers laser-focused on your company, or will you set your company’s achievements in the wider framework of science, business, politics, or pop culture? Will your framework be your company, your community or industry, the United States, or the world?

5. Add images and captions. What will you use for visuals: current or archival photos, logos, advertisements? Any item with an image will get more attention than an item with only text. Captions will get more attention than text. Choose your visuals and captions accordingly.

6. Strategize the structure. Will you have one long timeline, or split it into or sections? If sections, what are the best divisions? Decades are easy and obvious, but if your major achievements came in 1932, 1939, 1955, and 1959, consider breaking the timeline in a way that gives those dates get more attention. Don’t forget to mark business anniversaries!

7. Make navigation easy. Is the layout easy to understand? (In July, we commented on Boeing’s bafflingly complex timeline.) If you’re using tabs for sections of the timeline, can readers see that option on both laptop and mobile screens?

Next week, we’ll analyze how one major corporation handled its website timeline.