The old addage “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” never really seems to sink in to anyone’s head. Despite emancipation, women’s lib, and other major changes to civil rights, it is still very much human to pass an instant judgment call according to what we see with our eyes. After all, there is another old line that says, “The first impression is the last impression”, or how about “what you see is what you get”? When it comes to the online presence of your blog, brand, or small business, what does your target audience get?

Verification: The Real Deal

Did anyone else notice that Twitter is testing out a Verified User feature? Obviously, this is only important to those that have their identities ripped off by posers that think it’s cute to pretend they are famous people. Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) has his little blue badge of authenticity in his Twitter sidebar, not that you can’t tell him from the phony’s by the fact that his user name is splashed all over TV and he blatantly has nearly 4 million followers. But still, it signifies “I’m for real”.

Continuing to use Twitter for an example, read any blog post about gaining a quality and loyal following, and one of the first tips you’ll get is to make sure you have a custom background. This speaks volumes when a user first arrives on your twitter page, and decides what kind of twitter user you are, and whether or not they should follow you. Following someone is free, it doesn’t cost them a dime, but it’s still a valuable asset that they give: trust. A custom background proves to them you aren’t a copy-cat or fake representation of your blog, brand, or business. And like we’ll learn further, it proves to them that you pay attention to the details.

Time is Money: Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Time is our most important possession these days. Motorized vehicles, fast food chains, electronic email, and the “don’t make me think” philosophy have all continued to help us fit more activity into the same amount of time, and still we thirst for more and more. As a business owner and/or blogger, you are more than familiar with how short your day already is, but would you ever tell a customer or a reader, “I don’t have time for you”? Of course you wouldn’t. So why would you want to convey that message by presenting a website design, or even a business card design for that matter, that you threw together in a few minutes or hours?

A potential employer would never get past the fact that you showed up to an interview with unbrushed hair and in your pajamas, and a potential client will be hard pressed to get past the fact that you hurredly put something together and then used it to ask them for money or loyalty. Your excuse might be, “I just wanted to get something up so that at least I’ve got something there.” But what you may be saying to some people is, “I’m late, I’m in a hurry, I’m lazy, I’m unprepared, and I just want you to give to me, without me having to give much to you first.” That is what the employer thought when you walked into the room dressed that way: “This person is lazy and disorganized.”

Like any good investment, spending (notice that we use the word “spend” just like with money) your time on your presentation will convey the right message: “This is important to me, I want to get it right, I value your patronage, so I’ve invested in your user experience”.

Good content is only as valued as it’s box

While it is sometimes true that “good things come in small packages”, and that we may frequently find the “diamond in the rough”, typically, no matter how good the product or content is, if it’s given to you in bad packaging, you’re not going to be interested. For example, you could arrive at a five star restaurant, order the finest meal they offer, and when it is served to you in a garbage pail lid, no matter how delicious the food is, your appetite will certainly fail you. Also consider going to some event or conference. The speakers that are announced are A-list experts, the catering is top notch, the itinerary for the day has you on pins and needles, and the admission price confirms to you that surely this must be the best event you’ve ever attended. But when the venue is finally announced, and you find out that it’s just folding chairs in a Wal-Mart parking lot… you get the idea? The impression made is out the window. Presentation is key.

Authenticity, Trust, Self Worth, Value

Prove to your audience you are who you say you are to earn their trust and loyalty, take pride in yourself by dressing up and combing your hair (figuratively speaking), invest your time for a better return, and take a look again at your design, whether it be a website, business card, brochure, or logo. Are you for real?