Posts tagged "web content"

A Week in Google: Surviving the Algorithm Change and Updating Chrome OS

How Websites Can Survive the Latest Google Crunch

Late last month, the great Google significantly tweaked its mysterious search algorithms in an attempt to lower the rankings of low-quality, SEO'd-out-the-wazoo content aggregator sites.  

Though the change obviously targets content farms, practically anyone can be negatively affected — even sites that use legitimate optimization methods. So, we asked: What is a quality website? What is quality content? Does your webpage need perfect grammar, diction, punctuation and spelling to qualify as good content? Or, is it the discussions and the subject that matter?

In the end, our own J. Angelo Racoma boiled down surviving Google's algorithm change to three tips: 

  1. Focus on loyalty
  2. Watch your link neighborhood
  3. Write for people

Check these out in full detail here

Google Fudges Up Gmail Accounts, Messages go AWOL

Last weekend, 150,000 Gmail users came face to face with a nightmare to end all nightmares: Their inboxes were wiped clean. No e-mails, no themes, no folders, no labels. Nothing. Said Google:

…a very small number of users started having difficulty accessing their Gmail accounts, and in some cases once they got in, trouble viewing e-mails," a company spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement. "This is affecting less than 0.08% of our Gmail user base, and we've already fixed the problem for some individuals. Our engineers are working as quickly as possible and we hope to have everything back to normal soon. We're very sorry for the inconvenience to our customers.

Yes, Gmail is a free service and yes the affected percentage was fairly low, but the crash still doesn't bode well for the company's hopes of becoming a viable competitor in the enterprise space. "Well—what if the cloud fails?" asked one user. "If, ultimately, Google does not make this right in a timely way and I lose the main record of the last seven years of my life …that will forever affect how I view trusting an anonymous server farm somewhere with my critical or even not-so-critical data." 

Chrome OS Updates

Chrome OS version 0.10.156.46 is here, and primary tweaks include better trackpad functionality for Google's pilot programme Cr-48 notebook. Now quality testers can test the user experience with added control settings and sensitivity before Google releases the hardware, which it's been touting since December of last year. 

General updates include:

  • 3G modem activation fixes
  • 3G connection to the carrier fixes
  • Wi-Fi connectivity/Out of the Box fixes
  • Auto update engine and debugging improvements
  • Power optimizations
  • GTalk video/chat optimizations
  • Audio CPU utilization improvements
  • Improved on screen indicators: brightness, network status, update icon

If you own a CR-48 Chrome Notebook, let us know what you think about the updates in the comments below.

Facebook Chat Now Available in Hotmail Inboxes Everywhere

When it was first announced that Hotmail would offer Facebook chat access from within the inbox, it was only available to six different regions.This week the Hotmail team has expanded the feature to reach customers worldwide.

Dick Craddock, Group Program Manager for Windows Live Hotmail, fully admits that Gmail beat them to bringing chat to the inbox, but Hotmail hopes to earn some kudos back by offering the integration of Facebook chat as well.

If you're a Hotmail user and you want to try it out, first connect your Facebook account to Windows Live and confirm that the “Chat with my Facebook friends in Messenger” box is checked. Once the two accounts have been linked you can start a chat from Hotmail by clicking on the name of a Facebook contact.

Says Hotmail's official announcement

Since announcing the availability of Facebook chat in Messenger worldwide two weeks ago, nearly 2.5 million more people connected their Facebook accounts to Windows Live, bringing the total to over 20 million customers. And with three out of four Hotmail customers using Facebook, we expect that many more people will want to take advantage of this feature, now that it’s available from your Hotmail inbox.

Google's Soft Spots

It's a fairly clever move on Hotmail's part. Consider the alleged battle between Google and Facebook, which was most recently highlighted when the social network nabbed the Internet giant's place as the most-visited website in the United States.

Spokespersons from both sides of the fence will tell you that there's no real competition here, as the companies are inherently different. These claims haven't quelled speculation in the slightest, of course, and we would personally be scratching our heads in wonder if the Facebook chat functionality suddenly appeared in Gmail.

Hotmail's addition further supports the idea that Google might want to watch its back when it comes to Zuck's kingdom, as well as the social media movement as a whole (something Google seems continually unable to latch onto). 

At the same time, it's also a feature that could bring some life back to both Hotmail and Messenger if it's successful. If Facebook chat within Hotmail is something you plan on trying, let us know in the comments below how it turns out, and whether or not you think it has a lot of pull.

The Web Engagement Tag Team: Testing and Personalization

Engagement is all the rage, yet achieving it requires many skills. Key to the deal is the ability to test and refine your content, with a goal of increasing personal relevancy.

Companies must engage website visitors on a one-to-one basis by providing personalized, relevant and proven content. By optimizing content, organizations can significantly increase revenue as well as augment search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) efforts.

Prioritizing Personalization

One-size-fits-all websites are old news. You have less than seven seconds to capture a visitor’s attention, while delivering a relevant and engaging experience. Is your site content prepared to keep all your visitors engaged, no matter where they click?

Providing personalized content to website visitors is a key step most companies miss. While every website visitor has a unique profile, repeat visits are almost assured if the content offered is targeted and engaging. Targeted product and service recommendations are the most widely recognized forms of website ‘personalization’, however, true personalization — recognizing each customer’s known interests and attributes on the individual level — gives a powerful platform from which to optimize content and offers, a vital key to long-term engagement and loyalty.

Don’t forget that the design, layout and presentation of site content are equally as important as relevancy. Testing content ensures that each individual visitor is compelled by what they see, finds the content relevant and increases the chances of visitors converting to customers.

The Magnitude of Multivariate

Even minor changes to font size, color and language on a webpage can significantly increase conversion — which multivariate testing then analyzes in a live environment to statistically determine which content yields the best results. By simply removing the "Add–to-Cart" icon below each product image, a leading online retailer realized a 63% increase in conversion — proving that the dollars really are in the details.

Multivariate testing is largely recognized as the most effective way to increase conversion of website visitors to website buyers, as well as helps e-commerce enterprises discover the navigation paths of their traffic.

However, in order to be truly effective, testing must be integrated into a company’s culture and repeated in multiple variations to be effective. A leading travel site who was looking to quickly evolve its website to stay competitive, decided to test 15 call-to-action variants, which led to an 18 percent increase in seating revenues. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, this allowed the company to make decisions based on analysis rather than subjectivity, while safely removing re-design risks and reducing innovation timelines.

Pieces of the Same Puzzle: Content, SEO and SEM

Purchasing keywords to drive traffic to an inefficient landing page or website is like putting the cart before the horse. But content optimization is a powerful way to augment SEO and SEM efforts.

When a website uses the most effective content and design elements throughout the site (including landing pages), the cost of acquisition through search marketing is reduced, making it easier to translate clicks into lasting consumers.

Remove the guesswork from design and content decisions through accurate testing abilities, and prove exactly what drives your visitors to make purchase decisions on your site. This indisputable data will ensure that your search marketing and SEO budget results in more than just increased page views. At the end of the day, converting traffic to dollars is the only metric that matters.

About the Author

Mark Simpson is one of the founders of Maxymiser, a London-based firm focused on conversion management practices.

WEM: Understanding the Core of Web Engagement

The engage word is prolific these days — its popularity far ahead of the practices which cultivate it. Tools are evolving to help, but they are probably best considered threads in the fabric, rather than the magic solution for your analytic and communicative needs.

Web Engagement Management (WEM) will iterate in practical application and our knowledge will continue to evolve. Analysts Scott Liewehr and Ian Truscott of The Gilbane Group are furthering the cause with an investigation of the core capabilities of WEM, and then going another step with maturity measures for each area.

The 5 capabilities so far defined include:

  1. Content Management
    Content management, not web content management. This is the capability of an organization to manage and publish different kinds of assets to multiple visitor touch points. The web is one touch point.
  2. Social Media
    Engaging means going beyond a presence on Twitter or Facebook. Success and maturity is about how these things are leveraged and measured to form an integrated part of the audience experience.
  3. Visitor Insight
    How sophisticated are your analytics? What are you measuring exactly? Is the data solid? Having lots of visitors could mean they like pictures of funny kittens. Having well-understood, engaged visitors is a business asset.
  4. Integrated Campaign Management
    In most organizations our websites are part of a greater digital communications machine and our audiences view us a single entity across multiple touch points. This capability is about how each of our digital marketing moving parts works together.
  5. Organizational Preparedness
    The discipline of engagement spans various parts of an organization, some of which have have often been traditionally quite separate. Your capability to engage relies on how well these parts can collaborate for a this multi-channel brand experience.

Reviewing their work to-date and opening up the conversation Scott and Ian are holding a series of 3 live webinars (same material, different timezones) this week. The event title is Demystifying Web Engagement Management: Why it’s Crucial to Your Business and How You Can Master It

You can can sign-up for your most convenient timezone:

  • North America — Wednesday November 3rd at 2pm Eastern (Register here)
  • Europe — Thursday November 4 at 15:00 CET (Register here)
  • Asia Pacific — Thursday November 4 at 10:00am AEST (Register here)
Facebook To Automatically Share User Data with External Sites?

facebook_logo_10.jpg

Surprise, surprise! Facebook's making changes to its privacy policy yet again. This time it looks like they foreshadow some of the features and changes to be announced at the f8 Developer Conference in April. Among the most notable—and jarring—is sharing your personal data with select Facebook Connect partners without your consent. 

Say What?

What it sounds like in the proposed policy change outline is that third-party sites will be able to use a person's browser cookies to automatically sign them into Facebook Connect:

Today, when you use applications such as games on Facebook.com or choose to connect to Facebook on sites across the web, you are able to find and interact with your friends. These applications require a small set of basic information about you in order to provide a relevant experience. After feedback from many of you, we announced in August that we were moving toward a model that gives you clearer controls over what data is shared with applications and websites when you choose to use them.

"In the proposed privacy policy, we’ve also explained the possibility of working with some partner websites that we pre-approve to offer a more personalized experience at the moment you visit the site."

 

This move feels a bit similar to when Facebook quietly made their 'Everyone' setting a default toward the end of last year. The setting made user content available to not just everyone on Facebook, but everyone on the entire Internet—including search engines and third-party sites. 

And though Facebook proudly told the Federal Trade Commission that 35% of their users had noticed the popup indicating a policy change and adjusted their personal settings accordingly, that still left 65% in the dark. Social Media researcher Danah Boyd made the following observation during her keynote at this year's SXSW conference: 

…I started asking non-techy users about their privacy settings on Facebook. I ask them what they think their settings are and then ask them to look at their settings with me. I have yet to find someone whose belief matched up with their reality. That is not good news. Facebook built its name and reputation on being a closed network that enabled privacy in new ways, something that its users deeply value and STILL believe is the case.

Absolutely Positively Connected

We admit, it's nice to have one-click access to third-party sites. Proof can be found in the popularity surrounding Facebook Connect, as well as the big names that've followed suit with the technology, such as Twitter and their upcoming @anywhere feature. 

“The right way to think about this is not like a new experience but as making the [Facebook] Connect experience even better and more seamless," said Barry Schnitt, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications and Public Policy at Facebook in an e-mail to ReadWriteWeb. "People love personalized and social experiences and that’s why Facebook and Facebook Connect have been so successful. We think there are some instances where people would benefit from this experience as soon as they arrive on a small number of trusted websites that we pre-approve.”

Then again, Boyd's talk on privacy struck a chord in a lot of people. Sure, we all appreciate one-click action, but that doesn't mean we want zero-click action. 

Additional rumors about upcoming stuff from Facebook include the infamous "Like" function being spread out to sites outside of the social networking platform. Imagine everything you enjoy on the Web, no matter what site it's on, feeding back into your Facebook stream. The benefits for all sides are obvious. 

Though details aren't rock solid, it's obvious that Facebook is working on spreading its tentacles out to the far reaches of the Web and everywhere in between with as little permission from its users as possible. Which side of the fence are you on? Read through the latest privacy change proposal and let us know.

Webtrends Optimizes Social Media Marketing for Facebook

Today it was announced that Webtrends (site) has decided to expand their analytics capabilities for Facebook yet again. The upcoming measurement tools—slated to be released with the next iteration of Webtrends Optimize—will enable both marketers and developers the ability to test, segment and target their specific campaigns inside the popular social network.

Marketers + Facebook

Webtrends has been poking around Facebook for a little while now. In February of this year the company gave marketers a peek into their promotional efforts (tabs, apps and share features), claiming Facebook to be a critical step in the marketing journey. 

“The ability to have concrete measurement on investments within Facebook and compare them apples to apples with other digital channels is critical to marketers,” explained Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, Webtrends' vice president of marketing. “Our comprehensive approach to measuring Facebook, beyond just applications, allows marketers to understand the broader picture of how their Facebook investment is performing.”

Making Sense Of It All

The Webtrends Optimize platform allows users to test content in real-time. Add that to the massive level of popularity Facebook has reached and the climbing interest in social media marketing, and you get a ton of campaigns and investments being made within the social network. The need to optimize them seems like a natural next step.

"Giving marketers the ability to optimize Facebook campaigns is an important step for us,”  continued Kaykas-Wolff.  “With the ability to measure ads, custom apps and tabs, Flash, and testing, Webtrends undoubtedly provides the most comprehensive way to measure and optimize what marketers are doing inside the most densely populated and active site on the web.”

Meanwhile, Coremetrics offers a similar solution. Fully integrated into the Coremetrics Optimization Platform, Impression Attribution enables businesses to analyze how Facebook investments drive website sales and conversions. The tool links activity around Facebook fan pages, ads and applications, to behaviors and conversions.

"Facebook campaigns – just like any other marketing program – must support strategic business objectives,’ said Coremetrics’ Chief Strategy Officer, John Squire. ‘Our approach to social media analytics is built on the premise that people interact with a brand in many different ways, through many different channels, and that the true measurement of ROI demands a fully integrated view of your customers."

Basically everyone's on the same page. To learn more about Webtrends' approach, head over here for a detailed look at Webtrends Optimize.  

Gartner: Mobile User Experience to Drive Design of Web Apps

One day the mobile interface will influence everything from the way we collaborate, communicate and design. According to Gartner’s five social software predictions for 2010 and beyond, the mobile web will change the way we think about user engagement, work spaces and the PC-based web.

Going Beyond the Web

Number four on the list focuses on the design of PC-based collaborative applications. More specifically, the prediction says:

Within five years, 70% of collaboration and communications applications designed on PCs will be modeled after user experience lessons from smartphone collaboration applications.

In other words, the mobile web will influence the user interface of the future. While at first glance, this may seem unusual, we are reminded that soon there will be more than 300 billion phones in use worldwide. Mobile devices, by design, are for communicating and collaborating at anytime, from anywhere.

As smartphones become more sophisticated and user-friendly, Gartner expects “more end users to spend significant time experiencing the collaborative tools” on these devices. If Gartner’s predictions are accurate, the implications on design and usability will be significant. We examine a few of them.

Design and Accessibility

At present, the way a website looks on a mobile device is secondary to the larger screen they interact with on the desktop. Soon, however, (if not already) designers and developers will have to build sites separately or primarily for the mobile web. This means, that technology departments will have to actively testing on all advanced smartphones as well as established platforms for consistency and accessibility.

Collaboration

The mobile interface may change the way people work. As more applications are designed for mobile users to actively engage and collaborate, organizations may need to design tools that employees and customers can access more readily than a landline phone and with more features.

Exposure

Gartner points out that “for some of the world, [mobile apps] will be the first or the only applications they use.” It used to be that a website was an organization’s window to the world, and thus the most important part of a user’s interaction.

It may be that a user’s first interaction with an organization or product is through a mobile device or application, making it essential that companies start simplifying interfaces so that they are consistent across platforms or build multiple entry points to guarantee they are accurately represented.

Of course, a lot can happen in five years. The Gartner predictions serve as a reminder to think ahead. To remind oneself of the evolutionary nature of user behaviors can help organizations, designers and developers anticipate changes and build for the future, not the present.

#SXSW: Twitter Copies Facebook Connect with @Anywhere

Twitter announced a tool called @anywhere at this year’s SXSQ event. The new feature enables users to enjoy the Twitter experience (almost) anywhere and anytime, without signing into their actual account.

Are you reminded of Facebook Connect? Yeah. Us too.

Oh-So-Convenient

Just like Facebook Connect, Twitter’s @anywhere enables users to plug their Twitter credentials into popular sites and share information across platforms. For example, if you see a video you like on YouTube (an @anywhere launch partner), you’d be able to tweet about it from within YouTube’s site, rather than redirecting to twitter.com or your Twitter application of choice.

"When we're ready to launch, imagine being able to follow a New York Times journalist directly from her byline, tweet about a video without leaving YouTube, and discover new Twitter accounts while visiting the Yahoo home page — and that's just the beginning," explained Twitter’s co-founder Biz Stone on the company’s official blog.

We initially caught wind of the possibility of a Connect-like tool for Twitter back in January. Like we said then, considering the number of Facebook Connect fans (today more than 80,000 sites have integrated the tool), it makes a lot of sense to see Twitter following suit. After all, the microblogging superstar has made it quite clear that they’re aiming for a very successful 2010, and this new release proves that.

However, the tool isn’t exactly like Connect. "For example, while both permit easy sharing of content to one's networks, Twitter @anywhere seems poised to do more distribution of content across the Web,” said Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray. "The idea of allowing people to access relevant, real-time information from the Twitter network wherever they surf is a bit different than I've seen done with Facebook Connect, and it promises to open up the Twitter experience to people who as of yet may not have seen a reason to visit, register and participate."

Doomsday?

We can’t help but wonder what this means for third-party developers. We talked a couple weeks back about a cryptic tweet sent out by Twitter engineer Alex Payne:

If you had some of the nifty site features that we Twitter employees have, you might not want to use a desktop client. (You will soon.)

Back then developers worried that Twitter would soon lose the need for them. Payne has since removed the Tweet and told developers not to worry, but now that @anywhere is upon us, it might be worth it to worry just a little.

Google Analytics Now Tracks Silverlight Content

How would you all—including non-techies—like to be able to track how users interact with your Silverlight content? Well, now you can. Google Analytics has officially integrated into the Microsoft Silverlight Analytics Framework.  

Drag and Drop

It sounds fairly simple. Using the Google Analytics component, designers will be able to drag and drop icons for tracking the number of interactions on a design element. Then, within Google Analytics, they can segment and compare the difference in behavior between users who interacted and those who didn’t.

Tracking features supported include event tracking, pageview tracking and custom variables.

Why Google Analytics?

“One of the core principles of Google Analytics has been to democratize the utility of the web analytics tool, and to open up the platform with an API,” wrote Nick Mihailovski of the Google Analytics API Ttam on their official blog page. “This enables developers to innovate new uses of Google Analytics to help analysts, marketers, and executives make better data-driven decisions. Since we launched Google Analytics, developers have extended the product to track Flash/Flex and recently Android and iPhone Devices.”

The announcement was made at this year’s MIX10 conference, which saw a lot of focus on the new Analytics Framework for Microsoft's RIA technology in general. Designed to support data collection modules online or off, the framework parties with more than just Google, too.

"We also wanted to support multiple analytics services simultaneously," said Michael Scherotter, principal architect of the framework. “Multiple analytics vendors hooking into an application using different mechanisms can interfere with performance and appear as glitches to end users,” he explained.

We're not surprised to see Google at the front of the line for a next-generation solution such as this, and we expect similar announcement from companies like Webtrends and Omniture in the near future.

The Difference Between Usability and User Experience

As long as there’s been an Internet, the discussion between user experience and usability has been explored. Although they are conceptually linked, taken separately, they highlight different elements of the human-computer interaction.

Yet in these days of advanced user interfaces, from mobile devices to e-readers to tablets, has the line between user experience and usability blurred? And if so, what does it mean for web standards and design? We examine their distinctions, roles and implications in an effort to answer these questions.

The Road

Throughout the early days of the Internet, the analogy of a road was widely used to describe usability and user experience. The story goes, a usable road is one that is wide and straight, and enables drivers to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, albeit in a very boring manner.

However, a road with a high level of user-experience is completely different. With great scenery and smells that stimulate driver emotion, the road may take twists and turns, but is not as direct as the usable road.

As the Internet has grown, so have the roads built by designers and developers. There many more interstates and back roads, not to mention an increase in vehicles, pedestrians and traffic signals.

The road analogy is no longer sufficient to define user experience and usability.

What Comes First?

Surely these concepts exist separately from one another: a site that is purely functional (i.e, Craigslist); or a site that is pretty but hard to navigate (Sputnik Observatory), but when using both, which comes first in the design process is not always clear.

The Nielsen Norman Group says that:

"User experience" encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products. The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company's offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.

Jakob Nielsen defines usability as:

a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use.

He also outlines five quality components of usability, including:

  • Learnability
  • Efficiency
  • Memorability
  • Errors
  • Satisfaction

Using these definitions as a guide, it seems that in order to create a user experience, you must first understand what the user’s needs are, which can be measured using the five qualities outlined above. The user experience is only necessary once a website performs a function relevant to the user. If the user’s needs are met, the user experience can enhance the online process.

Yet, the user experience doesn’t always enhance a necessary or desired online interaction. Consider the mobile experience. In 2009, Jakob Nielsen called it “miserable,” citing that it is “neither easy nor pleasant to use the Web on mobile devices.” Research shows that when websites are designed specifically for mobile devices, they are easier to use. In this case, going from point A to point B requires that the user experience come before usability.

Designing Usability and User Experiences for Devices

What about when a device is not just a website, but a series of interactions and applications? When a reader wants to read books electronically, the manner in which they engage with a book can affect the product’s functionality.

We recently spoke about web standards for e-readers and how it will no longer be acceptable for e-books to be online iterations of scanned copies of print books. While it may be a way to get from point to point (reader to book), it doesn’t enhance the user experience if pages are poorly laid out and hard to read.

The iPad, on the other hand, seems to be intentionally focused on usability more than user experience. Users cannot multitask, it doesn’t include a built-in camera, Flash, or USB outlets. But it does address issues of effectiveness, efficiency and user satisfaction.

The blog UsabilityPost says that:

The iPad will succeed not because of what it has, but because of what it does. What it does is enough to cover all the basic needs of many people: look stuff up on the Web, keep a calendar, check email, show photos to your friends and watch videos.

The iPad is designed to be more than the iPhone and less than a Macbook and appeals to a segment of users that want a bigger screen than their phone from which to surf that web, but better portability than their laptop.

Yet, there are components of the iPad that will inherently increase the user experience of some interactions, like reading e-books, which will feature color and more dynamic layouts than the Kindle currently does.

The Future of Usability and User Experience

As the web continues to evolve, user experience and usability will continue to advance along with it. It may be impossible to keep up with definitions, but their implications will be evident.

Ultimately, all websites, devices and interfaces aim to be useful to those than interact with them. Being in tune to the needs of your users will ensure that your product is successful. However, we needn’t lose sight of the impact that enjoying the online experience brings to a product as well.

While it may not be appropriate or possible for them to coexist, designing sites that combine elements of each can only improve and evolve user behaviors.