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Total posts: 42
Last post: November 3, 2017

Fill the Leaks in Your Website Lead Generation Strategy

Fill the Leaks in Your Website Lead Generation Strategy

By Aztek on  November 3, 2017

I have some bad news for you. Right now, your website is a leaky bucket. You may feel good about your ability to bring people to your site, but you likely suffer from at least one of the following conversion issues that many sites struggle with.

No Calls-to-Action

Here’s a simple experiment. Go to your website, and take the perspective of a visitor who is unfamiliar with your site or your brand. Ask yourself the following question from each page: “What’s the next step?” In other words, what do you want a user to do from each page of your website?

Maybe you have a phone number and email at the bottom of each page on your site, but is anyone looking at it? And are they ready to contact you? Consider some of the following page types:

  • Home Page – From the home page, you likely want to drive people to your product or service pages. Or maybe you want them to learn more about your company. Make sure you prioritize your goals for your home page, and emphasize the most important actions higher on the page.
  • Product/Service Pages – Think about giving the users the right options here. For an e-commerce site, a purchase CTA (call-to-action) makes a lot of sense. From a B2B service page, though, the CTA may be to schedule a consultation. Be specific – list the name of the contact with a link to a contact form, and better yet include a picture.
  • Contact Page - Make sure you cover the right bases. Include a contact form, but also think about including contact information for specific people or departments, location/direction information, maps, and even customer service contact details. Don’t forget about social media…

Here are a few tips when thinking about placing calls-to-action:

  • Prioritize – Avoid having multiple calls-to-action with similar emphasis. It confuses users. Prioritize your calls-to-action, and make sure the most important is higher on the page, has more of a visual emphasis, and is easy to access.
  • Think from the User’s Perspective – Remember, a user isn’t always ready to purchase, or even talk to a salesperson. So what else might they need? Detailed product information? Testimonials? Pricing? Make sure they can find what they’re looking for, even if it’s not a direct purchase or contact.

No Way to Gather Customer Information

Step 1: Design a responsive website that everyone can view and delivers the right content.

Step 2: Drive traffic to your nice, shiny site.

Step 3…wait, you forgot about step three? When a new car dealership opens, they don’t forget to hire sales people, do they?

You need some way to engage visitors to your site and drive them to contact you, or give you enough information to contact them. (And if you’re an e-commerce site, hopefully you’re collecting your customers’ information when they make a purchase)

Here are some ways to gather customer information:

  • Email subscription – The old tried and true method. Provide valuable content on a regular basis, and send it to your email subscribers. The more valuable your content, the more people will want to give you their email address to be the first to know about it.
  • Contact forms – Sounds simple, but sometimes a properly placed contact form can increase conversions from none to some.
  • Gated content – Have a valuable resource that you’re giving away for free? Consider asking the customer for a few quick pieces of information (name, email, etc.) in exchange for your valuable resource.

Other unique website lead generators we’ve seen are calculators, audits, free consultations, coupons – any time you can provide incredible value to your audience, you might want to consider asking them for something in return.

No “Middle of Funnel” Content

If you visualize a funnel, customers at the top of the funnel are just learning about your company and your products or services. At the bottom of the funnel, they are close to purchasing. Perhaps the biggest area of opportunity for many websites is developing “middle of the funnel” content for visitors who are considering products or services, but need more information. These types of content include:

  • Case Studies – Visitors want to see how other people/companies are using your products or services. They want to hear success stories. It’s why reviews are so integral to the success of a product on Amazon.
  • Spec Sheets – This may be known by many different names (whitepapers, product sheets, sell sheets, etc), but it’s essentially more in-depth information about a product or service.
  • Demos/Trials – For visitors in the consideration phase, they may not be ready to buy until they try. Offering a demo or a trial can give you a great engagement point, and give the visitor an opportunity to take your product or service for a spin.

There are plenty of other opportunities for “middle of the funnel” content – just think about what information or resources your audience needs when they’re considering your product or service.

Not sure how your website is performing? Consider Aztek’s web assessment, which is the perfect way to identify issues and opportunities with your website.

Categories:
9 Website Items to Consider Budgeting for in 2018

9 Website Items to Consider Budgeting for in 2018

By Aztek on  October 6, 2017

As we enter the final quarter of 2017, organizations are budgeting for next year. According to Forrester, digital marketing budgets are growing at a pace of 11 percent annually, but we're no longer in the "spend to see what works" stage of digital marketing. Sophisticated analytics and tracking platforms have allowed digital marketing spend to be more efficient than ever.

While there will always be "trendy" digital marketing avenues to pursue, making sure that your organization's digital presence is well-positioned is essential. Below is a checklist to walk through when planning for 2018:

  1. Responsive Design - if your site isn't designed to be viewed from all devices, you're already behind the curve. Depending on where you look, responsive design adoption rates vary, but a 2016 survey reported that 79 percent of small businesses that had a website delivered a mobile friendly version of the site. Furthermore, as of 2015, Google began penalizing sites in search rankings that did not deliver a responsive or mobile-friendly site.
  2. Site Security - Site security is becoming increasingly important in this era of almost-weekly data breaches. Because of this, as early as 2014, Google began giving secure sites (HTTPS) a minor rankings boost. An SSL certificate will protect your users, stay compliant with modern browsers, and ensure your ranking potential is optimized.
  3. Site Speed Improvements - You may start seeing a trend here, but websites with longer loading times tend to perform worse in Google. This doesn't necessarily have to do with Google's algorithm quite yet, but when users abandon your site because it takes too long to load, Google picks up this signal and thinks that the user didn't find the right resource when clicking on your search result; therefore, your site gets negatively impacted in the rankings. Take a few seconds and run your site through Google's Page Speed Insights tool to see how you perform. Not only does page speed affect rankings, it also affects user experience, conversion rates, and in turn revenue.
  4. Content Updates - When was the last time you audited and updated the content on your site? If it's more than six months ago, odds are that some of it is outdated. If it's been several years, odds are that a lot of it is outdated. And if you have a website through which you can't edit the content yourself, it's definitely time to upgrade to a content management system (CMS) like Umbraco that allows you to make quick and easy updates to your site's content. Budgeting time and resources to ensure your content is current is essential, not only on your website, but across all of your web properties (including social media).
  5. Website Integrations - If you're like most businesses, you have a few software applications running your business: CRM, ERP, E-Commerce Platform, Email Marketing, etc. But do these applications all tie into your website and/or connect with each other? Or are you manually sending data back and forth through painful Excel sheet spreadsheets? Integrating your applications with your website can mean significantly less work on your end, and big benefits for your users who can see and engage with real-time data and content.
  6. Software/Plugin Updates - If you're still using the same platform for your website that you were 10 years ago (or even five), then you're not taking advantage of some of the huge benefits of modern web platforms. And you may have a long list of plugins running that are all ready to be updated, slowing down your site and potentially not running correctly.
  7. Technical Site Audit - Do you know how your site is performing under the hood? A typical technical audit that Aztek performs reveals a number of issues that may be impacting your site's ability to rank higher, render pages correctly, and present an ideal experience for your user. As a website ages over time, links change, images move, content gets neglected, and these issues can be easily resolved once identified.
  8. Usability Study(ies) - How are your users interacting with your site? Are there problem pages that aren't performing as intended? In-depth user testing using a variety of methods can help identify the issues with an under-performing site or page, and present solutions for how to drive users to the intended outcomes that are beneficial for your business.
  9. Marketing Automation - A scary fact: You will never interact with about 97 percent of the visitors to your site on average. They won't identify themselves through filling out a form, calling your business, or purchasing a product. However, using Marketing Automation, you can build robust programs to capture more leads, identify anonymous visitors, and build engagement programs to nurture leads throughout the sales process.

Are you putting together a budget and need help prioritizing? Let Aztek help you with a web assessment, or by providing you pricing for any of the items on this list.

Categories:
A Primer on Site Speed and Performance

A Primer on Site Speed and Performance

By Aztek on  September 15, 2017

Overview

Site speed (performance) should be treated as reverently as the content, design, functionality, and SEO considerations of the website. Everybody wants their site to load fast, but often lose sight of this during the site's development when big images or video, features, and functionality seem to drive most decisions at the expense of page speed. When this happens, the end result is a slow-loading site that turns users away before they even see those features.

Instead, clients and agencies should agree on a performance budget (a size/time limit in which they believe the site should load within) to make decisions about what features and assets should be cut or included.

Key Lessons

Page speed affects SEO

Google has flat out said that page speed is a signal in their ranking algorithm. Why? Because Google knows that users are impatient, so if all other factors between two ranked sites were equal, the faster loading experience should win.

https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2010/04/using-site-speed-in-web-search-ranking.html

Page speed affects UX and therefore sales/conversions

An extension of Google's logic (above), the faster a page loads, the more likely a user is to interact with it. In fact, speed is probably more important than design. The cliche' "wow-factor" design often sought by clients may come at the expense of speed.

Consider the evidence:

Users exposed to a 200 ms delay since the beginning of the experiment did 0.22% fewer searches during the first three weeks, but 0.36% fewer searches during the second three weeks. Similarly, users exposed to a 400 ms delay since the beginning of the experiment did 0.44% fewer searches during the first three weeks, but 0.76% fewer searches during the second three weeks. Even if the page returns to the faster state, users who saw the longer delay take time to return to their previous usage level.

Page views drop off as page load times increase.

A corresponding increase in page load times from 400 milliseconds to 900 milliseconds. This resulted in a 25% dropoff in first result page searches. Whereas, a 5 second speed up (from ~7 seconds to ~2 seconds). This resulted in a 25% increase in page views, a 7-12% increase in revenue, and a 50% reduction in hardware. Google has calculated that by slowing its search results by just four tenths of a second they could lose 8 million searches per day.

A slow page costs your users real money

Another often overlooked aspect is the cost to users. Despite the perception that everyone has an unlimited data plan, the reality is much different. Most mobile plans still have caps and limits. Every time a user requests your unnecessarily bloated website, you are costing them a chunk of their monthly data allowance. If you want to see how much, try this website: https://whatdoesmysitecost.com/

You can 'trick' your site into feeling faster than it actually is.

There are techniques to make a page feel faster than it actually is. By optimizing the part of the screen that the user sees first, you can defer loading other assets until they are ready to be seen. But this is not an excuse to have a bloated, overweight page! Just like exercise, going jogging in the morning doesn't mean you can gorge yourself on pizza and soda at night.

  • Optimize Start Render Time - The time it takes for users to start seeing the page render visually. It is possible to make sure that the elements the user will see first (before scrolling) load first and they don't just see an empty page.
  • Lazy load all the things! - A technique to defer loading of page assets until the user scrolls to the point of the page where they will actually see them. If they never scroll, they are never loaded.
  • Progressive images - The image starts a low-quality, blurry version and gets clearer as image loads fully. But it holds the place of the layout, and the user sees there is something happening; which helps reduce abandonment rates.

Set a performance budget (and stick to it)

Clients should work with their web design agency to establish a performance budget. How fast should the site load? Five seconds? Four? Three? Two? This gives everyone a good starting point. For what it's worth, Forrester Consulting found that users expect your site to load in under two seconds. That may not be possible, but it's something you should be aware of.

What number should I use for my website performance goals?

20%. That's the number it takes for your users to notice a difference. You site needs to be 20% faster than it was before. Or, pick a time in which you want your site to load. Let's start with 2 seconds. That gives us this hypothetical breakdown:

  • HTML 5% 5k
  • CSS 15% 60kb
  • FONTS 15% 60kb
  • JAVASCRIPT 15% 60kb
  • IMAGES/VIDEO 50% 250kb

In the future, as you want to add things to your site and pages, you should keep that performance budget in in front of you as ask if the new feature fits within the budget. If not, can something else be removed to make room?

Issues Impacting Site Load Speed

Images - Does this GIF make me look fat?

Once you take over management of your CMS, continue to optimize images! If you're in charge of managing the content of your website, you're going to have to educate yourself on how to use it. That includes understanding some basics about the use of graphics and images on the Web. And since we're talking specifically about performance today, we're worried about image size and quality.

TL;DR: You need to keep image sizes in check or your site is going to balloon up and load slowly in no time. If you don't want to worry about this, ask you web developer to implement a Content Delivery Network (CDN) like Cloudinary that will serve automatically optimized images on your site with you having to do anything.

Plugins and Third-party add-ons add up

Chat with one of our representatives now! Signup for our newsletter! Share this page on social media! You know exactly what I'm talking about. These features seem to be on every site you visit. And they add tons of weight to a page. And the truth is, most users hate them, or at the very least ignore them. So consider their impact on your speed (and users) before adding them to your site.

Fonts. Cool it on the weights and variations.

As a designer, I was really excited when webfonts finally came of age (I've be doing this since back when you have to choose from Arial, Verdana, and Times New Roman). And brands can be picky about the typefaces they have to use for their identities. But it's easy to get carried away and load up so many fonts that your page speed suffers. Remember, even if you only use one "font", every weight and variation counts against your total performance budget. So ask yourself do you really need to use five different weights, each with a regular, bold, and italic variation?

Too many requests? Try bundling and using sprites, or maybe HTTP2

Each time your webpage needs to load an asset (a stylesheet, a piece of JavaScript, an image, etc.) it has to ask a server to get it. And in regular ol' HTTP, it can only ask for one thing at a time. So if your page is asking for a lot of things, you have just created a long waiting line of things your users can see until each request has fired. The solution? Make less requests by using a technique called bundling (basically combines all your css and/or JavaScript files into one so the page can make fewer requests). Sprites, a similar concept but for images. Or if possible, HTTP2; which allows the page and server to make/serve simultaneous requests.

Server limitations. Your bargain hosting is costing you more than you think

You may actually just have a lousy webhost who put you on an old, under-powered shared machine with lots of other sites (all competing for server resources). The solution here is easy, upgrade your hosting, but be prepared to pay more for premium.

Page Speed Tool Results. They're yelling at me for external resources I don't control!

One frustrating aspect of page speed analysis tools is they will give you a lower "score" for external resources (such as tracking scripts) that you don't control. On one hand, this seems unfair because you don't control that asset (you're just calling it from their server), on the other, it probably is contributing to your site performance so they have to make you aware of it. If you absolutely have to keep a third-party script, just factor it into your performance budget and you can still have a fast site experience for users.

Next Steps:

The speed of your website matters to your users and translates to real money for both you and them. If you think you need help imp riving the performance of your site, contact your web developer right away.

Further Reading

Resources

References

Categories:
Top 3 Reasons Why Your Website MUST Be Secured Using An SSL Certificate (HTTPS)

Top 3 Reasons Why Your Website MUST Be Secured Using An SSL Certificate (HTTPS)

By Aztek on  June 9, 2017

Internet security is a necessity when it comes to personal information. Users who feel like their information is being taken care of in a responsible and secure way will have more trust in a website. At Aztek, we push our clients for websites to be as secure as possible, that's why we strongly recommend installing an SSL certificate on all the sites we build. But before getting into the top reasons why you must have a SSL certificate, let's cover what exactly an SSL certificate is.

What is an SSL certificate?

An SSL certificate is digital file that creates a secure link between the web server and a visitor's browser to your website. This ensures that information passed between the user and the website is encrypted. Having an SSL certificate on your website provides integrity that information passed between your visitor and the website has not been tampered with, nor modified by a unknown third-party.

Server certificates can be purchased from many online sources, such as GoDaddy, and Network Solutions; however, you can also get free certificates from Let's Encrypt. Regardless of the source, all must be renewed on a periodic basis.

So now that we are clear on what an SSL certificate is, lets get into why it is important to have one.

1. Protect Your Users

This should go without saying, but if you are collecting any personal information about your website visitors you must take every precaution to protecting their data. "But I'm not collecting any credit card/payment information, my site only has a username and password box to view and download PDFs. "Why am I putting my user's personal information at risk?" you ask. Well, the fact is that users (against best practices) will re-use account credentials from website to website. So while your website may not have any sensitive payment information, the same credentials used on your site may be the same as that user's Amazon Prime account. So if you do not have an SSL certificate installed, a potential attacker could comprise the credentials on your site and use them elsewhere on other top websites.

2. Chrome, Firefox and other Internet Browsers are Changing Their Ways

Chrome and Firefox are instituting changes that will warn users when websites are not using secure server certificate. This includes warning users when a site contains username/password and credit card form fields. Users will see a "Not Secure" message in the address bar. This change was instituted in January 2017 (Chrome 56), and Google has even more changes slated for later include displaying the "Not Secure" warning for ALL sites that do not have an SSL certificate. Read more about this change and future plans.

Example of Not Secure Warning Message in Chrome

NotSecureWarningMessageExample

Image Source

Firefox has taken a different, more aggressive approach by tagging the form fields themselves with a warning message.

Example of Insecure Password Warning in Firefox

InsecurePasswordWarningInFirefox

Image Source

Conveying the message that your site is trustworthy by having an SSL could be the difference between a visitor staying and interacting with your site, or moving on to your competitor's site.

3. Google Ranking Factors

Google has announced that fast loading sites counts as a ranking factor. Under newer web server platforms, running a site under a secure server certificate may actually improve your site's download speed for your users. This has been made possible by changes in the underlying HTTP/2 protocol architecture that runs on newer web servers . Take advantage of these changes by using content delivery network (CDN) services such as CloudFlare, or hosting your website on newer versions of Windows Server, such as Windows Server 2016. Additionally, as if you need any other reasons, Google as posted back in 2014 that sites running under HTTPS will be used as a ranking signal.

At Aztek, we feel strongly that SSL has been a "must-have" for all new projects and we've even begun retrofitting several old projects over the last couple years. From protecting your website visitors, to gaining trust and confidence about visitors interacting with your website, to potentially improving your Google rankings, using a secure server certificate is a requirement and not an option!

Contact us if you would like to learn more about how we can help with your SSL needs.

Web Writing Best Practices: Process & Editing Tips

Web Writing Best Practices: Process & Editing Tips

By Aztek on  May 22, 2017

Reading online is different than reading a traditional book, magazine, or newspaper. Instead of sitting down with a nice cup of coffee and zero distractions, you're bombarded with cat GIFs, ads for the shoes you never bought (thanks Google), and links to the 20 Best Pizzas You Won't Believe Exist (you'll puke after reading #7!).

An eyetracking study by the Neilson Norman Group showed that,

"users often read Web pages in an F-shaped pattern: two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe."

Why does that matter? Because you'll need to write differently to get your point across to users online.

What web writing best practices will help improve your writing online?

First, Get Started

You can't edit copy you don't have. Start writing the ugly first draft. Don't paralyze yourself by thinking your first draft has to be perfect. It doesn't. Just put all your words down on paper. In your writing process you should have a time to get all your words on paper - don't worry about the title, don't worry about the opening paragraph, don't worry about how many times you've used the word "don't."

Follow a Process that Works for You

In the Content Matters Podcast Episode 22: How To Edit Copy, Barry Feldman outlines a 9-step writing & editing process:

  1. Write a working title.
  2. Understand the challenge/problem you're addressing for your audience.
  3. Outline the main body of your copy (use a template, get your main points down).
  4. Barf words onto a page (aka write anything that comes into your mind for your first draft).
  5. 24-hour rule. Let your writing sit for at least 24 hours, then revisit. Don't publish the first draft (unless you're Doug Kessler or Cara McCay and it is authentic for you)!
  6. Re-read and make edits.
  7. Write your opening last.
  8. Revisit your title and headings.
  9. Read it out loud. Expose all those complex grad school words and jargon.

When you're at the "re-read and make edits stage," make your words count by removing words and phrases that don't add value.

CUT-IT-OUT: Remove Words & Phrases to Strengthen Your Copy

via GIPHY

Where To Start? Big Picture Cuts & Reorganization

Ann Handley calls this part, "editing by chainsaw" in her book Everybody Writes: Your Guide To Creating Ridiculously Good Content (if you don't own this book, go buy it. right now). And that's what you're doing. Look for big chunks you can saw off or cut out, don't worry about the smaller details just yet.

  • Is your main point clear? Take out anything that distracts from the main point.
  • Is every paragraph earning it's keep and adding something unique?
  • Does the content flow? Should anything be moved?

Next: Cut Unnecessary Words & Phrases

Now that you've made the big cuts, keep an eye out for words or phrases that aren't adding value. Once you know what they are they will be easy to spot and cut out.

5 Types of Words and Phrases to Cut Out of Your Web Writing

Feel free to make the "cut it out motion" as you edit, it's fun and editing is fun. #winwin

1. Extra / Filler

Remove words used as filler - many of them end in "-ly". A lot them are adverbs. The Web doesn't like adverbs - neither does one of our favorite editing tools, the Hemingway App.

Examples of extra words: actually, easily, quickly, VERY, totally, really...

Filler phrases can be replaced with the infinitive (the to form) of the verb. Or rewrite the sentence without the extra phrase. Many phrases are used unnecessarily at the beginning of a sentence. If you want to, in order to, you can, you will need to...

Before: You will need to change your password every three months or it will quickly expire.

After: Change your password every three months or it will expire.

Before: It's actually very easy to get a million retweets. Ask Carter about his strategy to get a year's supply of Wendy's chicken nuggets.

After: It's easy to get a million retweets. Ask Carter about his strategy to get a year's supply of Wendy's chicken nuggets.

2. Superfluous Phrases

The Yahoo! Style Guide has a list seven pages long of superfluous phrases and what you can use to replace them. Key point here is to replace with more direct words or phrases when it makes sense, as long as it doesn't add confusion. Here are a few examples:

Instead of Use
a few of the a few
final result result
advance planning planning
in order to to

Before: In order to find a good conference to attend in your industry, you should research a few of the most popular ones and identify possible learning objectives.

After: To find a conference to attend in your industry, research a few and identify possible learning objectives.


3. Jargon

Replace jargon with a simpler word or phrase. What is jargon? If it's an industry term that's not in the dictionary, it's probably jargon. Or if you're using it differently than the main definition. Acronyms are also a form of jargon - always spell them out.

Before: Disavowing spammy backlinks is part of a comprehensive SEO strategy.

After: Removing spammy links to your website is part of a comprehensive search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.

4. Passive Voice

When using the passive voice the subject is acted upon by something. Not sure if it's passive voice? Try this trick by Rebecca Johnson (it involves zombies). While using passive voice isn't wrong, it can make sentences longer and harder to understand. Using an active voice (where the subject performs the action) sounds more engaging.

Before: The blog was written by Anna.

After: Anna wrote the blog.

5. "Things"

This is my personal pet peeve. What "things" do you mean? Be specific - there is a better word to use. Use it.

Before: We'll share five things you can do to improve your writing.

After: We'll share five tips to improve your writing.

Resources

These tips should get you started, but you can learn more from experts like Barry Feldman on copy editing tips to improve your writing. Or Ann Handley's book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content.Or Copyblogger.

REMINDER: CONTEXT MATTERS

Use your own judgement and keep words or phrases to emphasize a point, to maintain a certain voice, or to help optimize your site for search. Also keep in mind for non-native English speaking audiences that some smaller words can help clarify parts of the language, such as keeping the word then in the if-then construction. So don't just cut words and phrases willy nilly.

By following a process, editing in big to small chunks, and being ruthless with the delete button your content will be more web-friendly and your readers will thank you.

If you need help with your content, get in touch.

 

Image Credit- Icons: "Scissors" by Cristiano Zoucas "Point Right" by Cristiano Zoucas & "Thumbs Up" by Cristiano Zoucas with changes are licensed under CC BY 3.0

2017 StirTrek Roundup

2017 StirTrek Roundup

By Aztek on  May 12, 2017

Our team goes to StirTrek every year because it's a great conference. One big change this year was the location. In years past, StirTrek was held in a movie theater, which was awesome. But it seems the success of the conference led to them outgrowing that venue and moving to OSU's Schottenstein Center. The move makes sense because it is bigger, but as an attendee, the new venue offered only cramped seating and challenging acoustics; each session was divided only by a tall curtain and you could hear the sessions on the left and right of you. This was not a user experience improvement. But hey, just like in websites, it's the content that really matters...right?

So what new knowledge and ideas did our team bring back with them this year? Check our session summaries below.

Why your agile isn't

Travis Alexander

We transitioned to Agile a few years ago, there is always more to learn and improve on, so I tend to gravitate to these types of talks, even if I only pick up one or two new things, and this session had a few great bullet points. In no particular order:

  • Epics are just to group stories that span across sprints
  • Use sub-tasks like a checklist for your user story
  • How do you keep story points from being a time estimate (and age-old agile debate)? Establish a baseline of shared understanding for something that everybody has done, such as adding content to a modal. That's a "two". Now, all of a sudden, everyone has a common point of reference to estimate the point estimates from.

No Estimates, or Lean Estimates, That is the Question

Chris McClellan

It was ironic that this session followed the "Why Your Agile Isn't" (in the exact same room no less) because some of the ideas seemed to directly contradict the notes I took from the previous speaker. In this talk, Chris explored the pros and cons of not giving estimates at all, or finding a compromise and using something called "Lean Estimates". Lean Estimates seemed to be a more reasonable solution where estimates are not given until the are needed (JIT), and are not debated endlessly by petulant team members who are more concerned about being right than getting things done. Not that anyone has ever had that happen.

For a short time, I did not think there was any value in looking back at sprint work estimates. They are just estimates and estimates are never actual so why look back - keep moving forward. In presenting Lean Estimates, Chris really changed my way of thinking. He conveyed that using historical data can help get you quick estimates for forecasting the future. If we keep a snapshot of past done stories/items per sprint, we can use the count of those to estimate how much we think we can typically get done. When the squads are really gelling a common throughput trend will stand out. He started to see that Week 1 they got 13 cards done, then Week 2 12 cards were done, then 13 again, and then 10. This is extremely valuables to see, before even looking at the next sprint you can estimate we will get around 12 cards done.

More Better Code Quality

Jim Holmes

I always love to hear how developer teams work big and small. Jim walked us through a simple and typical development lifecycle from Idea through Building and finally to Production. He pointed out how and where you should be using collaboration to discuss quality considerations. One point he stressed in the building phase, was using the 3 Amigos. This can be a quick 5-minute discussion before the developer dives in where the developer, tester, and BA/Product Owner review the story with their different perspectives. This story kickoff should result in an agreement on what is needed to get it done correctly. As a developer when I see a story with good acceptance criteria I just want to dive in knock it out and throw it over to QA but there are so many things wrong with that will end up costing more time in the end.

Fetch and Service Workers - Revolutionizing Web Requests

Jared Faris

JavaScript conference talks are always tricky. Sometimes you can sit through 45 minutes of something that is only implemented in 1 browser or something that is demoed so generally that you have no clue how to use it in something you are working on. But this is never the case with Jared Faris, he has a tremendous way of presenting through real demos. I would recommend seeing him present whenever possible. In this session he first reviewed the Fetch API, which he wrote on back in November of 2016. At Aztek, we've used the Javascript library Q to flatten our callback pyramids with promises and get implicit error propagation. The Fetch API is something useable today with or without a polyfill to get that generic asynchronous Request and Response for data to and from the server. Seriously, start using it today.

The latter half he showed off the arrival of the less implemented Service Workers. Service Workers will give use developers really easy and powerful ways to handle caching, offline and even push notification going forward. I see a lot of benefits in these when they get settled and adopted and will probably start digging in by using them to inject additional calls for telemetry in our applications.

Make Your Team More Effective From Within

Jason Blackhurst

In this very concise talk, Jason broke down the results from Google's Project Aristotle, which explored what makes a project team successful. The results? There are basically five things that your team needs to perform at their best (and of those five things, really only three matter). They are:

  • Psychological safety
  • Dependability
  • Structure and clarity
  • Meaning of work
  • Impact of work

If you've got those things covered, you're gonna have a good team. The problem, of course, is that doing those things well is hard.

The UX of Voice

Tim Rayburn

Voice/chat as a UI continues to gain momentum and if you believe Tim Rayburn, this is the year Voice is poised to explode the way mobile did a few years ago. So the key takeaway here was to get into voice now, so you can be part of the early adopter crowd. This goes for designers, developers, and brands alike. After that big message, Tim's talk focuses mostly on Amazon's Alexa platform.

A few smaller, more tactical takeaways:

  • Keep answers short (two items), ask user if they would like more
  • Interrupting skills (Skills are what Amazon calls an application for Alexa) loses the entire session
  • Use SSML for phonetic spelling

We recently bought an Alexa for Aztek, and are looking forward to hacking on it and experimenting with our own Alexa Skills.

Use Alexa to Learn Cloud Serverless Skills

Wray Mills

In keeping with our new found interest in Alexa, we attended this talk right on the heels of the UX of Voice session. This session was way more technical. Wray took the audience on a tour of all the places and steps a developer needs to get familiar with to write their own Alexa Skill. He covered what accounts, what services, what technologies, etc. you need to get started developing your own Skill. The bad news for me was some of it was way over my head (what do you want, I'm a designer), but the good news it, it wasn't so over my head that I was intimidated. Wray assured us that even a newbie could have their first Alexa Skill up in a weekend.

And just in case you thought Alexa was only for playing music, check out what he did with his.

Girl Develop It

(Stir Trek Spaces)

This was one of the unofficial sessions for people who wanted to present a topic but maybe didn't have a full 45-minute talk ready to go. I have twin daughters who might be interested in what Daddy does for a living in a few years, so I wanted to find out what Girl Develop It was all about. From their website: "Girl Develop It is a nonprofit organization that exists to provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development. Through in-person classes and community support, Girl Develop It helps women of diverse backgrounds achieve their technology goals and build confidence in their careers and their everyday lives."

Two representatives from the Dayton and Columbus chapters talked to us about the various events they sponsor and how their classes work. I also learned that next to California, Ohio has the largest number of GDI chapters. Surprisingly, however, there is no Cleveland chapter. Right then and there I submitted an interest form to let them know that I thought Cleveland could benefit from its own chapter. Go to https://www.girldevelopit.com/ to learn more about this great organization.

Planning for Accessibility

Jeff McWherter

Accessibility is something all web developers should strive towards. As Jeff pointed out in his talk, studies show that as much as 20% of the population has a disability, and we should try to accommodate as many of them as we possibly can. There are a lot of confusing and sometimes conflicting standards out there, and Jeff did his best to make sense of them for us. A lot of this I already knew, but it's always good to hear this stuff from someone who knows more than you because there's always something new to learn.

  • WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) and Section 508 are the gold standards for accessibility, but compliance with one does not necessarily mean you automatically meet compliance with the other
  • WCAG has three levels of compliance - A, AA, and AAA. Level A rules are generally easy to meet and should not impact the appearance of the page much, if at all. AAA, on the other hand, can be pretty difficult to achieve and may significantly impact content or appearance of the page.
  • NoCoffee is a Chrome extension that can simulate a number of vision disabilities, including low acuity, contrast sensitivity, colorblindness, and visual obstructions like glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy
  • Color Safe (http://colorsafe.co/) is a website that helps you create attractive color palettes that adhere to accessibility guidelines for text and background contrast ratios

Event-Driven UX in the Real World with Angular 2 and Socket.io

Michael Meadows

Introduction to Functional Reactive Programming

Corinna Cohn

I really want to learn more about Angular, React, and functional programming. Unfortunately, two 45-minute sessions at a conference like this is not the best way for me to learn much. These talks both went pretty much over my head. I will have to do much more of my own homework before this sinks in.

Building An Audio Microscope: Freezing and Exploring a Moment of Sound with PureData

Krista Campbell

I wanted to attend something "cool" for the last session, regardless of its applicability to web development, and Krista's talk fit the bill. Using an open-source programming language called PureData, created for processing and manipulating audio and video data, Krista created an application she calls and "audio microscope". Normally, when you slow down or speed up a sound clip, the pitch is lowered or raised in direct proportion to the speed change, and if you pause the sound, it just stops. Unlike video, where you see a still clip when the video is paused, sound requires motion to work, so if you stop the motion, there is no sound. Krista's app overcomes these limitations (with a lot of complicated math that I did not understand, but that's ok, because it's cool). She can load a sound clip, speed it up or slow it down without changing the pitch at all (sing "Happy Birthday" to yourself REALLY slowly but stay in the right key), and she can even "pause" the sound for an indefinite period of time and it will continue to play that small sample of sound (start singing "Happy Birthday" to yourself but just hold "Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa" as long as you possibly can). It's difficult to describe her talk accurately in words, but it was pretty neat.

Until next year...

As always, another great year at StirTrek. As an added bonus, our own Keith Rowe won a brand new XBOX1 from one of the vendor raffles!

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Mastering Customer Intent: Two Parts

Mastering Customer Intent: Two Parts

By aztek on  May 4, 2017

Every great marketer wants to be able to provide answers and information to an ideal customer in the very moment that customer has a need. These marketers would use digital marketing so effectively, it would sometimes create a need for the customer. How do you, as a business owner or a chief marketing officer, ensure your company is going to be able to give the customer what they need when they need it? You first must understand the visitor's true intent.

Part One: Use Data to Understand Customer Intent

You may have created personas based on demographics rather than intent. For example, if I manufacture and sell boutique baby products, I might target women who are between the ages of 25-40, have at least one child in the house, and have a median household income of $80,000. This sounds fine and dandy, except for the fact that 40 percent of all baby product purchasers are people who don't even have a child in their household (think gift-buying grandparents, friends, etc.). By taking a narrow view approach and targeting by demographic you've effectively alienated 40 percent of your target market! Here are a few other stats that may have you rethinking your approach:

  • 56 percent of sporting goods searchers on mobile are female
  • 45 percent of home improvement searchers on mobile are female
  • 68 percent of skin and body acre influencers, in the last month, are men

 

How do you take a deep dive into the intent of your customers? How can your company be there for them in those moments of need? First, look at who is visiting your site as it stands and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What search terms are visitors using?
  • Do you have relevant content that is answering questions they are asking?
  • What actions are new visitors taking on your site?
  • What pages do they spend the time on? What pages do they bounce from?

Do more research on your market and who the buyers are. There very well could be more than one intent and it's important to have content that appeals to those different customers. In my baby products example, blog content for new moms would be great for those in our original demographic. A gift guide would be valuable for people who don't have a child in the home, but are buying for a friend or sister who is expecting.

Part Two: Consider the Buying Cycle

It is important to cater content to customers who are in different stages of the buying cycle. Create content for those who are just asking a question. Create a comparison page for those who are comparing your solution against others in your industry. And, create content that makes it easy for people to connect with you at the very moment they want to buy. Don’t ask your visitors to buy from your company if they are simply asking “what do I look for when switching providers?" Do write a blog post that outlines answers to their question. You may be thinking this sounds like Avinash Kaushik’s See, Think, Do Framework. It is.

The bottom line is to not alienate your audience. If you are seeing traffic to your site that indicates you have a different customer intent than you initially suspected, publish a small amount of content that appeals to them and see how it performs. Step back from your digital presence, look at the data, and form content strategies around customer intent—even if it is not what you initially expected.

Still not sure where to start? Contact us to talk to one of our team members about your business.

What Is Being Said About You Online?

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

Reputation is one thing that every human worries about- nobody wants bad things being said about them. In high school as in business, there is nothing worse than trying to overcome a bad reputation. This may be because its simply human nature to spread the bad before the good. For example, an unsatisfied diner at a restaurant is more apt to tell friends and family about the terrible service or overcooked filet than a diner that left the same restaurant full and completely satisfied. The same goes for any business or organization~ perception is everything!

Now more than even, potential customers and employees are looking for other people's comments, experiences & reviews of companies and products. People trust their peers' opinions and will use their opinions when making a decision. In the past, this may have been through word of mouth marketing or by talking to family, friends and co-workers. Nowadays, this process is occurring online at a rampant speed. It is easier than ever before for consumers (and even employees) to express their satisfaction as well as dissatisfaction with your business online. What one must worry about are the comments that "bash" your company or products. This can be in the form of forum posts, product reviews, personal blog posts, etc. These negative mentions of your company or brand can work their way up the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP). These negative comments or reviews can show up on the first page of the SERP when a potential or current customer/employee searches for your company, brands, products, key executives, etc. This can greatly affect your online reputation and may result in lost sales, damaged relationships with current customers and a lack of trust in your organization and products.

As in many situations, it is better to be proactive/preventive than reactive. Brand/company image takes a long time to build and establish. A smart business understands that one must protect their brand in every place a consumer can interact with it- this includes on the internet. You must be completely aware of what is being said about you online, take action accordingly, focus on your own site's brand content optimization and keep this a major priority moving forward. 

The first step is being aware and watch what is being said about you online.

This includes monitoring not only the major search engine results but also blog search engines, video sites such as YouTube, image sharing sites such as Flickr, blogs, forums, product review sites, as well as social media (such as Twitter) & news sites. In order to be fully aware, watch not only what is being said about your organization name but also brands, products, important keywords, executives, etc. 

The second step is to make your website(s) as Optimized as possible.

All digital content should be brand optimized. This content includes: Text content, Video, Images, Audio and Press releases.

It is also important to ensure that online assets from all departments within the organization are optimized- this includes PR, marketing, HR, SEO, etc. This is a tactic to make more of your own content rank well in the search engines. If your own content takes up most of the available space on the first pages of search results, the negativity can be diluted and the negative comments will have less of a chance of showing on the first page of search engine results.

The third step is to Engage with consumers and customers, both satisfied and disgruntled.

Once a negative comment comes up- you must address the issue, own it and react to the comment as soon as possible. Be honest and transparent with the consumer- explain the situation, accept fault if warranted and explain how you will improve/change or correct the problem.

There is a main breakdown of what you can do to help your online reputation in both the short and long term. Both of these should be considered in your online reputation strategy.

Short Term Reputation Management:

  1. Put most of your focus on the Search Engine Result Pages of the major engines
  2. Create a defined brand optimization process that is executed across all divisions of the organization
  3. Make sure all digital assets are optimized

Long Term Reputation Management:

  1. Work to identify, qualify and engage all negative online content by correcting all inaccuracies
  2. Respond to all negative comments
  3. Create open relationships and transparency between content producers (journalists, bloggers & fans)
  4. Focus on getting multiple positive rankings on the SERPs

Online and brand reputation is something that can't be ignored by any company or organization. Having negative listings on search engines for your company or products is like having a picket line outside of your building's front door. It is no secret that people are doing pre-buy research online and you must be in position to capitalize on this by making sure potential customers see and read positive things about your company, products and procedures. 

Don't waste any time, get started now with some of these great online tools to keep on top of what is being said about you:

Boardtracker.com: Monitors only forum posts
Blogpulse.com: Track to see if you are being talked about more or less
Backtype.com:  Track blog comments about brand and keywords
Google.com/trends: Watch up and coming trends in industries
Keotag.com: Track tags in bookmarking/tagging sites
Technorati.com: More tailored to track blog posts and social media sites

Understanding the User Experience

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

The web is a fluid medium. What I mean by that is, your website changes to fit the size and shape of whatever device it is being displayed on. As technology advances and our screens get smaller (and larger) and our toasters get smarter, it’s no longer safe to assume your visitors are seeing your website exactly as you are.

As designers and developers for the web, we have little to no control over the end product. It’s not like the print world, where we get to choose our paper, spot check the colors and approve the press check.

A visitor to your website may be at the office where the I.T. department has disabled JavaScript, or their toddler pushed all the buttons on their monitor and now the colors are too dark (or bright) and no matter how much you fiddle you can’t seem to get it back exactly how it was. Or they’re in line at the D.M.V. on their iPhone or Blackberry. Or they’re using the web browser on the Nintendo Wii or Playstation 3. Or…

But you see my point.

Understanding and being aware of these possible scenarios is important because if your user can’t find what she’s looking for, she’ll just hop over to Google and go somewhere else. Have you ever been to a website and been told “You must have [whatever] to view this site”? And all you were looking for was an address or who played Booger in Revenge of the Nerds? (it was Curtis Armstrong)

Frustrating wasn’t it?  But lucky for us, modern web design has advanced to the point where we can build your website with all these situations in mind. The web isn’t like a PowerPoint presentation, where we can dictate what pages are shown in what order, on our computer, with the lights turned down just right and an impressive knowledge of 80s movie trivia.

Amazon websites on different devices

Amazon.com does this, as you can see in the image above. On the left is the Amazon we all know and love as viewed in Firefox on my desktop computer. But check out how it looks on the right when I go there on my iPhone. It’s still Amazon, still has all the familiar elements of Amazon (logo, search, recommendations); but adjusts to the device instead of the other way around.

OK, pretty neat, but what about companies that don’t have the budget of Amazon, right? Let’s take a look at a the site we built for the North Coast Challenge race. Using a bit of advanced CSS, there’s a cool effect hidden in the design of the site. If you’re using Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Internet Explorer 7, resize the browser window (go on, I’ll wait) and you’ll see the runners at the top almost appear to be racing. But if you’re using Internet Explorer 6 or below, the technique used is not supported and you can’t see it. 

But everything else is still there.

Instead of disabling the site for IE6 users, or trying to force them to upgrade their browser, the website seamlessly adjusts itself to the limits of its environment, is still completely usable. You can still see the race results, learn about the race, see the photos. And you’d never know you were missing anything if you are using IE6 (and I didn’t just tell you). The content is still there.

Through proper planning and anticipation it’s possible to make sure that your user can always get the information they’re looking for, even if it’s not in the ideal way you’d like them to. Because even if we do build and test for every conceivable scenario possible, tomorrow your new customer could be checking out your site at breakfast from their toaster.

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RSS Feeds: The Benefits for Both the End-User and the Site Admin

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

RSS or Real Simple Syndication is a tool for content publishers to reach a wider audience easily. It also allows the end-user the ability to receive the information they are looking for faster without the hassle of going from site to site. Here is a brief introduction to RSS Feeds and how a user can begin working with them, and why your website should have them available.

RSS Feeds: For the End-User

I’ve been on the internet for at least 6 hours a day for the last 10 years; more so over the last 4. So, if you know what an RSS Feed is already and you want to know how it can benefit your website, then you may want to skip this brief introduction.

For those not totally familiar with what a RSS Feed is, I’ll try my best at giving a brief explanation. “RSS” stands for “Real Simple Syndication.” Basically, an RSS Feed is another way for the news services or blogs that you visit frequently deliver its content to you. Instead of you going from site to site to read your favorite blogger or to read the headlines of your local newspaper, RSS Feeds are made available so that you can read all of your sites from one place.

It’s the next step in the evolution of content delivery. First, you had newspapers, your only source for what was happening. Then, people read the news to you over the radio. Then, it became available online for you to view at your leisure. RSS Feeds takes leisure and convenience to a new level.

If you’ve heard of Netflix, then hopefully you’ll understand this analogy. Prior to Netflix, if you wanted to rent a movie, you’d drive up to the local rental place, walk through the aisles, choose a movie or two, walk up to the counter, and pay for them, with the idea you’d be back to drop off the movie 2-3 days later. Now that we have services like Netflix, we can do all of that from our home. Realistically, it took the hassle and wasted time out of the picture, and allowed the videos you wanted to be delivered to you when you want them to.

RSS Feeds are basically the same thing. Instead of you going from site to site, you just go to one location, and all of your headlines and blog posts come to you. No more wasted time going to sites that may or may not have been updated the last time you were on (plus, no more flash ads telling you how you’ve won something you really haven’t won).

To start subscribing to RSS Feeds, the first thing you need to do is get a feed reader. Depending on your daily routine, there are a number of ways to collect your feeds.

If you live in Outlook, Outlook 2007 comes with a RSS Feed Reader by default:

Outlook RSS Reader

Or, if you use Firefox, search for “RSS Reader” and choose one of the Feed Reader addons (currently 28):

Firefox Addon Search

Or, if you use Google for everything (Gmail, GCal, GDocs) then try out Google Reader. I personally use this and have no problems recommending it to everyone:

Google Reader

Once you’ve chosen an RSS Reader, you’ll need to start subscribing. To find out if a site has an RSS Feed, just look for the orange icon (RSS Feed Icon). If you read blogs and news sites, then you’ve most likely seen them, either in the sidebar or somewhere in the content, or if you use Firefox, you may see the icon in the URL bar:

 RSS Icons on CNN's website

By clicking the icon or “Subscribe to Our Feed” link, you are directed to one of two pages. If you see code, just copy the URL and add the subscription address to your reader.

RSS XML Code

If you are directed to a webpage, such as Feedburner, you’ll see options that you can choose that best suits you and what Feed Reader you decided on.

Feedburner Screenshot

Then, once you have subscribed to your feeds, you can go to your feed reader and find the news you want when you want it. Here is what my reader looks like.

My Reader Screenshot

I pick up about 300-500 posts a day from over 100 blogs and news sites. Obviously, your routine may differ, but the time I save using RSS Feeds vs. Surfing 100+ sites allows me to be a bit more productive in other facets of my day, which I’m sure my boss appreciates.
But, what about the site owners?

RSS Feeds: For the Site Owner

Hopefully, you now know what an RSS Feed is and how it can benefit site visitors. But what if you have a website? Should you have an RSS Feed on your site for your readers? In the end, it all depends on what you’re doing. Most blogging services have RSS built in. But, if you’ve had your site custom-built, that’s not always the case.

Every website has different motivations and objectives. But, if you provide timely content that you want to reach a wider audience, you may want to look into delivering that content via RSS Feeds. Here are a few reasons why:

  • It’s easy. It’s not just easy for you, but for the end-user. We’re in a time where simple is better. We want everything to be given to us instantaneously at the point that we ask for it. RSS Feeds allow that type of feedback from your website. No longer does a reader have to go directly to your site to find out if you are selling a new Snow Blower. They can just open up their reader, see your notification, and click through to your site to find out more.
  • Automate your content delivery process. When you update your website, it is not guaranteed that your readers or customers are going to notice. Instead of sending out emails every time you update, your subscribers will automatically be notified. This basically allows you to worry about the content, and allows your subscribers to get the content they want as soon as it’s available. Plus, no more emails getting blocked.
  • Make your content available to a wider audience. RSS is becoming more and more popular. It creates a direct contact between your content and the subscriber. People are reluctant to give out their email address after years of heavy spamming. But, they aren’t as reluctant to subscribe to a feed that provides them information they are looking for on a regular basis. You’ll know that your message is being delivered every time so no more worrying about being blacklisted. With RSS, you have the ability to build a strong relationship with your readers, and attract new readers who are also looking for what you offer. Plus, it’s hands-off way to update your audience.
  • You can reuse old content. It’s not just about new content. If you have old articles, newsletters, or product reviews, you can reuse the relevant content to populate your news feed.
  • Syndicate Your Content: Much like a syndicated radio show, with an RSS feed, you can easily share your content to a much broader audience. The more people you reach, the bigger opportunity you have at selling your goods. Your RSS Feed drives traffic back to your site, and having your feed syndicated means more potential visitors coming. An RSS Feed will allow you to broaden your marketing horizon and content distribution, and increase your brand awareness. Plus, syndication works both ways. If you are a local business that sells products of a national brand and they offer RSS Feeds, you can use their content in your site.

Resources

Available Readers:

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