183. Inspired

On this week’s show: Paul shares 3 ways to make your site stand out from the crowd. Matt Curry introduces us to Google website optimiser and Lyle Barras reviews Dropbox.

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Housekeeping

A couple of random pieces of housekeeping this week.

Sponsor SXSW

First, we are looking for some Micro sponsors for this year’s Great British Boozeup. In case you don’t know the Great British Boozeup is a party that Headscape and Clearleft have thrown for the last few years at SXSW.

This year we are looking for some additional sponsors. So if you are a company interested in reaching out to the web design community and have £500 to spend, drop us an email and will look at making you a sponsor.

We want to showcase your work

Second, I really want to start showcasing upcoming members of the web design community on Boagworld. Therefore, if you have written a great blog post that you think Boagworld readers would like, drop me a line with a link to the post and we will look at reprinting it on Boagworld. Obviously we will link back to your own blog and publish a little bio about yourself.

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News

6 Steps to Creating a Unique Selling Proposition

One of the first questions we ask new clients before beginning a site redesign is “what are your unique selling points?” Of course in reality it is extremely rare to find an organisation that have truly unique selling points. However, every organisation should have a clear idea of what their distinguishing features are. What are the things that makes them stand out from the crowd.

What surprises is how few clients know what their USPs are. This is fundamental stuff and yet many organisations fail to address them. Whether online or off an organisation needs to be able to clearly articulate what sets them apart.

There is an excellent post on Sitepoint this week entitled “6 Steps to Creating a Unique Selling Proposition” that kinds the reader through the process of establishing their USPs. The six steps include:

  • Describing your target audience
  • Explaining the problem you solve
  • Listing the biggest distinctive benefits
  • Defining your promise
  • Combining and reworking your promises
  • Cutting the whole thing down into a single statement

It is a great post and definitely worth a read if you are a website owner trying to communicate what your organisation is about online.

Building a blog with HTML 5

Last week I was at the Future of Web Design Tour in Bristol and was fortunate enough to hear Bruce Lawson talk about building a blog with HTML 5. It was a real eye opener.

Many of us have the perception that HTML 5 is a technology we will work with in the dim and distant future, when all the major browsers fully support it. However, that is not the case. Browser manufacturers already support many of the elements in HTML 5 and handle gracefully many of those they do not. The result is that we can start building sites using HTML 5 now.

In Bruce’s talk he built a basic blog live on stage demonstrating many of the new characteristics of HTML. It was an amazing demonstration that significantly improved my understanding of how this new specification would work in practice.

Unfortunately the talk is not online yet. However in the meantime Bruce has released an article on HTML 5 Doctor which covers exactly the same subject.

This is a ‘must read’ if you code HTML. There really is nothing stopping you using HTML 5 right now. However, if you are still to be convinced listen to next week’s show where we plan to interview Jeremy Keith on exactly this subject.

Colour communicates meaning

Colour is one of the most powerful tools in a designers arsenal. Colour can have a profound impact on how we respond to design and significantly influences our behaviour.

However, it is often an area that is underestimated by website owners. They view colour as a personal preference not as something that we respond to collectively. That is why I was so pleased to see Rob Mills post “How Colour Communicates Meaning.”

The post is a great introduction into colour theory and the meanings that are communicated through your choice of colour. The post looks at:

  • How colour affects our mood
  • How different colour communicates different messages
  • The cultural significance of colour
  • How colour is inspired by our surroundings
  • The political and religious associations of colour

It is a great post that introduces the reader to the world of colour theory.

With all of that in mind it is unsurprising that picking a colour palette can be tricky. One approach used by designers is to use a key image or photograph as the basis for a colour palette. Another post we came across this week shows you how to use Kuler as a tool for doing exactly this. So next time you are struggling to select a colour palette checkout this Sitepoint post on how to use Kuler to pick a palette from an image.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Web Project Management

TheSamBarnes.com is a great blog about web project management. We have mentioned it before on the show and it is certainly one of my regular pit stops.

Web project management is not the most exciting of subjects, but one that to some extent we all have to deal with. Whether you are freelancer running your own projects or a website owner dealing with politics and external suppliers, there is no avoiding project management.

A new series on the blog particularly caught my eye. It features the seven deadly sins of web project management. At the time of writing there were only two posts dealing with four ‘sins’. Nevertheless it is shaping up to be a great series.

If you ever find yourself managing projects this is a series you will want to read.

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Make your website stand out from the crowd

This week we discuss how too many websites look the same as their competition. If you want users to remember your site it needs to stand out from the crowd.

Read 3 Ways To Make Your Website Stand Out From The Crowd

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Listeners feedback:

A/B Testing

Joshua writes: I recently read an interesting post over on the 37signals blog about how they use Google Website Optimizer to test different versions of their landing page to see which converts the best. Do you guys have any experience using tools like this? Any tips or thoughts on the subject?

I’m Matt Curry, Head of New Media for apetito, and for my sins I’m one of Paul’s clients. We’ve worked with Headscape for around 5 years now, predominantly on WilthsireFarmFoods.com, an ecommerce site with a unique elderly customer base, which if you subscribe to the podcast, you’ll know a fair bit about by now.  As at WiltshireFarmFoods.com we have a healthy obsession with conversion rate and website optimization, so Paul’s asked me to respond to a reader question this week. How exciting.

Joshua writes: I recently read an interesting post over on the 37signals blog about how they use Google Website Optimizer to test different versions of their landing page to see which converts the best. Do you guys have any experience using tools like this? Any tips or thoughts on the subject?

Google Website Optimiser is a tool used, unsurprisingly, to optimize the conversion rate of your site. Now every site ultimately wants a user to do something, be it buy a product, subscribe to service, make a donation or something simply forwarding the article to a friend – if your site has a clear goal, Google Website Optimiser allows you to perform 2 types of tests on your website content, A/B Split tests and Multivariate Tests.

In the case of 37 Signals, they were seeing if Website Optimiser could help them increase the conversion rate of their paid plan signup page – they were testing different variations of copy for the Heading and subheading of the page, to see which combination worked the most effectively.

This is of course nothing new, and indeed, some platforms such as Demandware have content testing built in, alternative analytics packages such as Omniture or Coremetrics also do this, and looking at email content, many ESP’s such as Pure allow you to test multiple subject lines and broadcast times. At Wiltshire Farm Foods, being as obsessed with conversion rate as we are, we’ve performed numerous tests, such any rate changes a new design brings, testing changes to Average Order Value during a price led promotion, and checkout abandonment rates given different variations of microcopy.

Whilst simple A/B testing can be performed in easier ways – remember a simple landing page conversion test can be done by varying destination address in your Google Adwords, Google Website Optimizers power comes from it’s multivariate testing suite. This allows you to perform tests on variations of your content, as in the example from 37SIgnals, to see which combination works better at driving your visitors to action.

However, if you have a particularly complex site, as we have, Google Website Optimiser can be frustratingly limited. For example testing a new product detail page layout across the site – when you have friendly URLs in place, which we do via an isapi rewrite,  can be rather difficult. Google Website Optimiser is very strict on the criteria needed to complete a test, and if you most of your content is dynamically generated, be prepared to write considerable additional code to ensure you’re calling the correct tracking script for each experiment.

If all this sounds too much for you, remember many such tests can be done using User Defined Variables in your Google Analytics. I dearly love the Advanced Segments part of Analytics, and despite “still” not being able to overlay segments, it can tell you a great deal about your site. So, for example, for an A/B test based on a redesign of dynamic content such as a Product Details page, you could set the variable to “New Design” or “Old Design”, and track goal conversion from there.  Just remember to drop a cookie to ensure a consistent experience. Being able to set visitor variables like this in code, rather than having to rely on the strict requirements of Google Website Optimiser, means your open to test a great deal more.

Remember, that if you’re testing a radical change to your website, you should expect an initial drop in conversion – users tend not to like change! You may wish to only test the new design with only a small percentage of your traffic, and increase the percentage as you become more confident. When we launched the new Wiltshire farm foods website mid February, we started with only 1 in 20 visitors seeing the new design, and gradually (or not!) increased it as we saw the positive effect on conversion rate it had.

And of course, nothing even got to this stage without User Testing – but that’s a topic for later!

Personally, I’m surprised by the significant increases in conversion that 37Signals had – how many of us even read the headings of such pages – you normally can’t expect vast jumps in conversion rate unless you are radically changing content.

The most successful variant 37Signals tested was the one that communicated no commitment, a minimal time cost – signup takes less than 60 seconds, and a delayed monetary cost with a 30 day free trial – yet giving immediate utility to the user.  I’m not exactly shocked it won! If you haven’t read Richard Thalers Nudge, which deals with incentives & choice architecture, then I heartily recommend it.

Of course, any good website copywriter would be able to tell you this, without copious testing.  There’s certainly a danger, especially when you are looking at testing and changing copy that each page may end up with a different tone of voice, and your site could easily come across as schizophrenic. If you’re serious about conversion, employing someone to develop an audience-appropriate tone of voice is very important.

I’d be interested if 37Signals play around with the words “Free Trial” – since with nowadays promotionally savvy audience, these words can have negative connotations.

Finally, I would say, as a caveat, don’t get wrapped up in statistics, it sounds corny, but analysis paralysis can happen, getting so wrapped up in each little percentage point increase that you forget the bigger picture. We’re all clever people, we hopefully know our audience, what works and what doesn’t, and we should trust our gut instincts more.

A review of Dropbox

Lyle Barras has been kind enough to send us an audio review of Dropbox:

Hi Paul and Marcus, my name is Lyle and I’m a hobbyist web developer. I’d like to give a quick review of an online tool called dropbox and a little about the way I use it.

Dropbox is an online storage device. You simply sign up for an account at www.getdropbox.com; the free accounts give you 2GB of storage, and then download the little application.

You can download as many copies of the application as you want so that you can sync up as many computers as you want and the really great news is that it’s Mac, Windows and Linux compatible. I have tried it on all three and it works seamlessly. There is also a pretty cool web interface if you happen to be on a machine that doesn’t have the app installed.

As soon as you place a file or folder into the dropbox then it sync’s to the other machines you have set up and the file is there almost immediately.

If 2GB isn’t quite enough you can upgrade to one of the two paid accounts. Pro 50 gives you 50GB for $9.99/month and Pro 100 gives you 100GB for $19.99/month. I think the Pro 50 is pretty good value if your storage need is big enough.

At any time you can refer the tool to your mates. If they then sign up, even for a free account and download the app then you get another 250MB of free storage and so do they. To date I have referred two of my mates and got 500MB free.

I have found one problem with dropbox. When I upgraded my iMac and MacBook I found dropbox to be a bit glitchy and crashy. I did a bit of Googling and found that dropbox had already released a new fixed version of the app.

To pinch a bit of the advertising guff from the site

Dropbox replaces:

  • Emailing file attachments to yourself and other people
  • Using USB drives to move files between computers
  • Renaming files to keep a history of previous versions
  • Complicated backup software
  • FTP servers, system-specific sharing methods, Network Attached Storage (NAS)

As I said at the beginning I’m a hobbyist web developer. I had been using a memory stick to carry round my work as I can really justify one of these posh versioning tools. I was sick of thinking “Right I’ll do a little bit” and find that I have left the drive at home or in the office.

Dropbox replaces all that. I just use it as my memory stick and it’s always there I don’t even need to be connected to the net as long as I have sync’d the machine recently.

I’m utterly sold and couldn’t imagine not having my dropbox now.

Thanks for your time guys, keep up the good work and keep up the dodgy jokes Marcus.

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  • Rich Quick

    I honestly thought Marcus was going to say something like: “I didn’t think I could introduce Rich to the people I was with .. because I like them and didn’t want them thinking I knew low-lifes like Rich.”

    ;o)

  • Amy

    Great show! Love listening to each and every episode that comes out. Lots of very useful information I’ve come to get from listening to your podcasts for the past few years. Love anything that comes out of the UK regarding web technologies. Such an inspiration!~

    Amy
    Quincy, MA USA

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