MidBoh Web Services

Affordable Search Engine Optimisation and other Web Technologies

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Did you get the memo, Flash websites are a disaster on mobile devices

I drafted a post for this blog more than 12 months ago. I was reluctant to show the image from a live website that might be seen in some way as holding the site to ridicule. I decided at that time not to publish the story. I have reconsidered. The story is important and the site is a classic example of the associated pitfalls. The business involved seems to be successful despite my concerns and is probably unconcerned by my opinion.

I have a long-standing love-hate relationship with Adobe Flash (mostly hate I’ll concede as my history of writing on the subject will confirm). It is a great tool but it should not ever have been used as the cornerstone of a website. I read another story recently, that I think only puts another nail in the coffin for Flash for web development. I’ll come back to that later, but first my original draft

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I don’t get it. This was the response my wife was given when she tried to visit the website on her iPad to buy 2 vouchers worth $49 each. How can a website interested in providing services to a wide range of customers seriously pretend that the above response is acceptable. Self interest alone should be sufficient to change the website. This response effectively snubs anyone attempting to view their site using iPhones and iPads.

In case anyone missed the memo, Adobe Flash doesn’t work on iPads and iPhones.

Only The Team Room will know for sure what percentage of their web visitors use these devices but I suspect it will be significant. For some of my customers it is as high as 20% of all visitors. I don’t know of any business in these tough economic times that can afford to thumb their noses at this many potential customers.

This is the article I read recently - Using Adobe Flash For Your Web Site? Google Mobile Results Will Issue Searchers A Warning. I haven’t been able to reproduce this warning using the Australian version of Google yet. That isn’t surprising. Google often has a progressive roll out of new features across there various local platforms. But I expect it will be apparent in the next days / weeks.

If your website relies on Flash (ask your developer if you aren’t sure) and you have any significant volume of visitors on mobile devices (check your analytics package or ask your developer - but every business I know has at least 20% of their visitors on mobile devices), then you need to make a change - and soon.

Once this warning is visible in search results on Google Australia, you will have no idea how many potential visitors will see this warning and not even attempt to visit your site. That could be catastrophic.

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Filed under flash google

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Who knew hamburgers could be good for you?

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Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know there was a name for that funny icon with 3 horizontal lines. I knew it was a menu and that I had mostly seen it used on responsive websites when I used my Android phone to visit them.

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Soon after I learned the name for it, I started using a hamburger menu (not the same as the one you see in the drive through) in a project I am currently developing. In the project it is an easy way to hide or re-display the side menu, to free up space for the primary display.

Now it turns out, there might be a reason to use it in other contexts. Well that’s the suggestion in How Hamburger Menus Can Increase Your Conversion Rate.

I’m not convinced the research they quote directly proves the use of the  hamburger menu as a means to reduce the distractions on a landing page is effective. It is a reasonable theory and should be tested in situations where a benefit might be possible.

I also wonder if the icon itself is universally recognised. If it isn’t it may effectively render the menu inaccessible, rather than just temporarily hide the complexity / distraction of a menu. The effect it will have will be heavily dependent on the audience.

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photo 1 credit: Nick Bastian Tempe, AZ via photopin cc

photo 2 credit: iconfinder.com

Filed under hamburger menu ux ui

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Time to re-think email strategy in the mobile era

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Once upon a time, men in white coats invented email. Maybe it was pimply faced programmers sipping Jolt Cola, eating pizza and never seeing sunlight. Whichever is the real origin story, some decades later, email moved from the exclusive domain of universities and government offices into the hands of the rest of us. [Marking 25 years of the internet in Australia]

Early adopters used a personal computer to access a mailbox somewhere, often one provided by their Internet Service Provider (ISP). Mail stayed briefly in the mailbox until it was collected and then it lived on the PC until it was deleted (perhaps never) or until the PC died.

That model served us well for a long time, but relied on the fact that we only ever used one PC and mostly that PC lived in the office or at home.

We have moved into the mobile era and, like it or not, willingly or not, we now use multiple devices - perhaps a mobile phone, a tablet and a laptop - to check mail. The model of having all the mail in one spot works, sort of. We read new mail on the tablet and phone but we leave mail in the mailbox until we access it and download it on the laptop. Well that’s what I’ve been doing for some years.

I am not much of a road warrior. I don’t need full and continuous access to my mail where ever I am and regardless of whichever device is at hand. On the occasional day trip with tablet and phone in hand, I can read and respond to new mail. The big catch-up happens when I return to the office.

I can see a time for me when this will not be efficient. I’m sure many of you have already faced this issue. Some have resolved it. Others are still looking for a solution.

For a person in the technology business, this may seem like a major admission. In my defence, let me say that my technological expertise extends more to back end development (databases and applications) and niche activities like search engine watching. Email has always just been a tool and not really a very exciting one, so it hasn’t really given me a reason to dig too deeply.

What sparks the current interest? There have been three client cases recently, each with quite different requirements, where I haven’t really been able to devise a suitable solution. My frustration is not that I can’t sell a solution. It is that I can’t help my clients.

What is the solution? Not my current method that’s for sure.

Recently I tried leaving the mail in the mailbox for up to 30 days, even when I have downloaded it to the PC. So far, this is just getting confusing and shows no sign of being a good solution for me.

I think the solution is to have a specialised mailserver with adequate storage. All mail is left on the server and local devices (phone, tablet and laptop) all synchronise with the server. For some this solution has been apparent for years.

The dilemma now is do I use a cloud based mailserver or do I need to dedicate a device in the corner of the office for this task.

Both options have advantages and disadvantages. Issues like security, amount of storage required, access to the server all need to be considered and resolved.

For now the jury (me) is still out. I know a change is needed. I’m just not sure what the change will be.

Photo Credit: xJason.Rogersx via Compfight cc

Filed under Email

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Don’t let your domain renewal notification go missing

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At the start to every month, Andy and I send out our newsletter to clients. The newsletter includes website traffic statistics, some relevant keyword ranking information, a couple of paragraphs on a topical idea and a list of recent blog posts.

This month, the topical story was a true story about a client’s domain that expired on the first of the month. I think the topic is vitally important to every business, so I am posting the content of the newsletter here ……

Some of you manage your own domain registration. This usually means in the weeks prior to the expiry you receive one or more emails from the registrar asking you to renew.

We had a situation this week where we noticed one of our client domains went off the air. After a little checking it was obvious the domain had expired. As soon as a domain expires no one can access it.

The renewal emails had gone straight to the client’s junk folder and had not been noticed. Fortunately, the domain was expired only 24 or so hours and it was a simple matter to reactivate it. The down side was for a day no one could see the website and emails to the domain were bouncing back to the sender. To some it would have appeared as if this company had gone out of business.

A couple of issues to think about ..

  1. Your domain name is an important asset for your business. It is a cornerstone of your ability to communicate with customers. It needs to be protected.
  2. Do you know the email address associated with the domain? Is it one you use regularly? If you aren’t monitoring that address you could easily miss the notification.
  3. Do know when it’s due to expire? Mark your diary with the expiry date and use an alert to get plenty of warning.

If you don’t know the email address we can look that up for you. But if you don’t know the expiry you will have to look through your old accounts or your emails from 2 years prior.

Three clients responded to the newsletter. It’s great to get feedback. Craig replied to say he had just renewed his domain. He’s safe for at least another 2 years. Angie replied to say she regularly checks the junk mail folder. Brett’s response was “I have been getting renewal notices and signed up to auto renew [mydomains].” This triggered a response. Here’s my reply to Brett.

Some registrars call automatically generating an invoice and sending it out as “auto renew”. If that’s the case you still need to keep an eye out for the email. Others hold your credit card details on file and charge it with the renewal fee at some point prior to expiry. Just watch that the credit card doesn’t expire between renewals.

Do you have your domain registration sorted?

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Filed under domain registrations expired domains

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Bad reviews are like a bad smell - lingering and unpleasant

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I recently had need of a repair to my washing machine. It’s German and it seems like not all of the local appliance repairers handle it. During the process of looking for someone I came across this review page on the Google Plus page for a local repairer, that I had used previously when we owned a different brand of washing machine.

Both of the reviews are unflattering. Both have been hanging around (like a bad smell) for some time (2 and 4 years). I don’t know how many people have read the reviews or been influenced them. I do know that Google reports the page has been viewed 60,301 times, so the chances people are reading the review is high.

The lack of positive comments make these negatives starkly obvious.

The Google Plus page has been claimed by the business (it shows a tick to signify it is is a verified local business) and has been updated to show business hours. But these are the only signs of life. The header image has not been personalised, and there are no photos, not even a company logo, on show.

I can’t know if the company is aware of these reviews, and if they are, what their attitude is towards them. Blissful ignorance is not a good strategy.

As businesses, we know (or should know) these types of sites exist and that many of them carry reviews. It’s not difficult to develop and maintain a list of pages that reference the business. It then becomes a simple matter to periodically visit the 5 or 6 mostly locations where reviews will be lodged to see what’s changed. Using Google Alerts with a series of brand name searches can also help identify sites other than the 5 or 6.

As part of the process of developing the list of sites to review, it is also worth researching the policies these sites have for arbitrating disputes about claims made in the reviews.

These are “no brainer” tactics, but they are reacting to something that has occurred. We also need some proactive tactics in our arsenal. Asking customers to provide reviews and making it easy for that to happen is about acquiring positive reviews. Positive reviews will help minimise the impact of the occasional miss step in customer relations.

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Filed under review sites bad review

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Mean it when you ask “Like us on Facebook”

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A “Like us on Facebook” in the corner of the window near the entrance of a shop in a large suburban shopping centre. Perhaps it seems like a reasonable effort, but it seems to lack conviction to me.

Of course I may be very wrong. This particular chain has over 12,000 likes on their Facebook page. Then again, the likes might be coming from other activities - ads, competitions, the promise of discounts or they just have some really enticing content.

The connection to Facebook is certainly more obvious on the corporate website than it is in the window of this particular outlet, which is just as well. That sign does not attract much attention.

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Filed under facebook likes

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"Someone wrote a bad review about my business! What do I do now?"

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"They point the cannon at you" .. John Fogerty - Fortunate Son

First step is to take a breath and consider the options. Ill considered action might make the situation worse.

Next step is gather some information. Here are some things to look for:

  • how old is the review? There’s a big difference between posted yesterday and posted 2 years ago. Some reading the review will pay little attention to it if it’s old, particularly if it’s the only review or only bad review.
  • how many other reviews of your business exist on this site and what’s the mix of favourable to unfavourable? Read everything objectively. There’s a huge difference between “these guys suck” and “I didn’t find what I was looking for”. Again smarter readers can tell the difference between them and one bad review amongst many glowing reports.
  • does the site showing the bad review have a policy on how to handle disputed reviews? You might need to look for a support or FAQ page to get this information. The good sites do and these are the ones more likely to influence buying decisions. You may be able to get the review suspended while you resolve the issue with the reviewer. If all goes well you may be able to get them to withdraw the review or even better change it or supplement it with news of a favourable resolution.
  • how important is this site for traffic to your site? If the review is old and you are still receiving traffic, perhaps it isn’t influencing readers. Some bad reviews are just unbelievable and are generally ignored.
  • is the bad review page found ahead of your website when you search for some “brand” or “vanity” searches (your business name or domain with and without your suburb or primary product e.g. Acme Widgets, Acme Widgets Refern, acmewidgets.com.au, etc). If your domain is ahead of the review not all searchers will see the review. The exception to this might be a searcher looking to see what else they can find out about you. It’s hard to guess how many people might take this action. If they’ve already made contact with you or have largely made their decision to buy from you they may not be significantly influenced by the review.

If you’ve made it this far there’s one more factor to consider when assessing the damage. Some searchers will go directly to a directory site like TrueLocal when they are looking for service providers. For those searchers if your page is in the results, the chance of the review being seen is high. But I don’t have any information to know how many people are in this situation. I do know that few of my customers have much traffic to their website directly from TrueLocal (even those that don’t have bad reviews), but they get plenty of traffic straight from the search engines.

As I’ve argued directly to my customers and here on the blog - prevention is better than cure. Start a process to regularly ask new customers to provide feedback. Making a habit of it will make it easier and is more likely to provide a steady stream of positive reviews that should be sufficient to dilute even the most venomous review.

You need to be aware some review sites will tend to discount reviews where it is the reviewer’s one and only review anywhere on their site. So identifying customers, who are already active on the review sites, could pay dividends. But as a friend of mine repeats at me often - don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. (No my friend is not Voltaire, just someone who quotes him. Personally I’m more comfortable with John Fogerty.) By this I mean, still ask even novice reviewers. They might like the process and start providing more reviews for other businesses. That will raise the credibility of all their reviews. Even if that doesn’t happen, the review sites still have to pay attention to the number of reviews being accumulated. They will filter out some reviews. They can’t filter out all of them.

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Photo Credit: Melody Ayres-Griffiths via Compfight cc

Filed under review sites online reputation

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Plumber & Electrician and Google+ & Yelp

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It was the best of times, it was the …. no not really. I was just trying to be creative when starting a blog post, by riffing on a Tale of Two Cities. A Tale of Two Tradies or Two Social Networks - not exactly Dickens.

What I am interested in writing about is just the differences I observed when reviewing the web presence of two potential customers. I couldn’t find the plumber in Yelp or the electrician in Google+.

Tradesmen are generally ultra local businesses. Yes they can travel far and wide to serve clients and keep their daily rosters full, but most are much better off if they can work locally. This allows them to keep the travel time down (lowers fuel bill) and lets them see more customers in a day (raises revenue potential). Both good outcomes.

Ultra local businesses are usually well served by having a web presence on Google Maps and in directories that support searches by category and location. Google+ feeds directly into Google Maps and Yelp is one of several directories that provide those search facilities.

Worth noting that both of these services support client reviews (always worth cultivating).

At its simplest, achieving online success is about doing lots of things well. They don’t have to be big things, but well targeted is good. Both of these platforms (Google+ & Yelp) are well targeted and are easy to establish. To do one and ignore the other is limiting your reach. Take a shot at both. You may be surprised by the outcome.

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photo credit: Camilla Hoel via photopin cc

Filed under tradies google+ yelp

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Timely communication with customers - what’s the limit?

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We’re all used to seeing image sliders near the top of many websites we visit. The image above was from one website I visited today. It was one of 3 or 4 images being shown. Image sliders are a great way to communicate timely information with customers in amongst the images that demonstrate the products or services on offer.

In this case, the company was announcing the closure of their showroom for the Easter period. Not everyone will be pleased the showroom is closed but even so this is a clear attempt to keep everyone informed.

How long after the re-open date should this communication be taken down? I think it should almost be as soon as the business returns to operation, in this example on Tuesday 21st April.

The issue is I’m writing this on 26th April. I don’t know this organisation’s trading policy for Anzac Day (25th April) but leaving the Easter message on show and not providing information about Anzac Day trading seems a massive oversight to me.

Filed under Image slider easter anzac day

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eCommerce is hard work

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This image is of a fairly typical eCommerce page - images and text laid out in sections. The text below the first image has the text “Zen Pain Relief Herbal Gel - 40g” (all in capitals, which I find a bit hard to read), followed the snippet which reads “Zen Pain Relief Herbal Gel is a powerful…”. The snippet is mostly just the caption repeated. I wonder if a better alternative might be to make the full description start ..

"A powerful pain relief for injury, muscular cramps and strains, Zen Pain Relief Herbal Gel contains Arnica montana flower, Spatholobus suberectus stem, Boswellia carterii stem bark resin as well as many other ingredients which assist with muscle and pain relief."

That should reduce the repetition on category pages and better explain the product at the same time. If your site is a bit like this one, perhaps you should try this idea with one or two items. Then check it out with a “customer” hat on to see if it makes the page more helpful and seem less cluttered.

Anything you can do to convey information and make your customers life a little easier can only help your eCommerce site be more successful.

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Filed under ecommerce