193. Get more from Google Analytics

On this week’s show: Paul and Marcus are joined by Matt Curry who shares some advanced Google Analytics techniques. We have a review of Fancy Form Design by Jina Bolton and Paul goes on endlessly about the Website Owners Manual.

Play

Download this show.

Launch our podcast player

Housekeeping

How can I not mention the launch of my book the Website Owners Manual? You are going to be sick of hearing about this, but console yourself with the fact that I have a very short attention span and will soon get bored of it. Please take a few minutes to learn more about this book at boagworld.com/websiteownersmanual. I would especially encourage those of you who are web designers to check it out. This book contains all the information your clients ‘need to know’. It was written specifically to be given away to clients, so helping your projects run smoother. I even managed to pursued my publisher to give significant discounts to those buying more than 5 copies. However, as an extra bonus for boagworld listeners you can also get an additional 40% off of any website owners manual purchase (including the multi-buy packs) if you use the code ‘boagworld’ at checkout.

Back to top

News

Design interactive prototypes – Fast!

With websites and web applications becoming increasingly complex it is often hard to visualise them before build. Photoshops comps fail miserably and static wireframes are little better. The only way of truly communicating how a site is going to work is to build an interactive prototype. Unfortunately building prototypes can be time consuming and expensive. Although clients need to understand how their site will work, they are rarely willing to pay for a prototype. One solution is IxEdit, an ‘interaction design tool.’ This tool has to be seen to be believed, but essentially allows designers to build jQuery driven prototypes without writing a single line of code.

With IxEdit you can build everything from the automatic insertion of HTML to accordion effects. In fact you seem to be able to build most of the elements and effects supported by jQuery. Of course the quality of code is not going to be as good as something written by hand. That is why the product is billed as ideal for prototyping. However, for better or worse, I am sure a lot of web designers will use this tool for live sites too.

Making passwords more usable?

On the subject of Javascript and interaction, there is some interesting work being done with password masking. In show 173 I talked about some of the problems surrounding password masking. Essentially, although hiding passwords increases security it also creates a usability challenge. Jakob Nielsen wrote:

Usability suffers when users type in passwords and the only feedback they get is a row of bullets. [It] costs you business due to login failures. Password masking has become common for no reasons other than (a) it’s easy to do, and (b) it was the default in the Web’s early days.

There have been a few solutions doing the rounds. The simplest of which is to add a checkbox allowing users to keep their password entry hidden. However another popular approach is the one adopted by the iPhone. Instead of revealing the entire password it shows only the last letter entered. These two approaches have now been combined and made simple to implement using a sprinkling of jQuery. Delayed Password Masking couldn’t be easier to setup and helps go someway to improving usability.

How to be more transparent

In my post “The 10 Harsh Truths About Corporate Blogging” I wrote:

People don’t like interacting with organisations, corporations or machines. People like conversing with people. People don’t like, trust or want to work with corporations. We associated those feelings with individuals, not companies.

In other words, if you want to make a connection with your users you need to be open, transparent and show the people within your organisation. However, knowing this and doing it, are two different things. That is where a recent UX Booth post comes in. The title of the post is “Transparency: Benefits and Best Practice.” Personally, I think this is a misleading title. It doesn’t really explain in any depth why transparency is important and fails to provide much in the way of ‘best practice’ (I can see I will have to write something on this subject). What the post does do well is give you some cracking examples of sites that communicate the personalities and people behind their organisations. It certainly has inspired me to look again at the Headscape website, and I hope it will inspire you to become more open as an organisation.

In other news – Google and Microsoft talk about stuff

Normally I like to keep the content of this section of the show focused on the here and now. I see little point in reporting what might affect you ‘one day’ in the future. That said, there are two stories that have come out this week, which I simply couldn’t ignore despite the fact neither will have an impact on you today.

Google to add site speed to search algorithm

This week when talking about the importance of website speed Matt Cutts from Google said:

Historically, we haven’t had to use it in our search rankings, but a lot of people within Google think that the Web should be fast. It should be a good experience, and so it’s sort of fair to say that if you’re a fast site, maybe you should get a little bit of a bonus. If you really have an awfully slow site, then maybe users don’t want that as much.

If Google follow through on this thinking the consequences could be massive. In particular this could further undermine the already shaky rankings of flash heavy websites. It could also provide a real advantage to those with the financial resources to throw more server and bandwidth capabilities at slow websites. That said, on the upside it would refocus website owners on the importance of performance and help to speed up the web for everybody. It will also encourage better coding practices maybe push legacy tables based websites down the rankings. Of course all of this could be redundant. We have no way of knowing whether Google will implement this change, and even if they do, how great a priority they will place on speed.

Microsoft talks about IE9

The other news that might shape the future of the web comes from Microsoft. With Windows 7 complete it would seem they are turning their attention to Internet Explorer 9. Apparently the new browser is only in very early stages of development. However, Microsoft are making it clear what their priorities for the browser are. These include:

  • A desire to provide better HTML5 support
  • Significant speed increases for Javascript
  • Improved CSS support
  • Better use of hardware acceleration

All music to my ears. However, I was sad to read that according to Mashable they have only been working on the new browser for 3 weeks!

Back to top

Interview: Matt Curry on Getting more from Google Analytics

Transcription to follow shortly.
In the meantime follow Matt on Twitter.

Listeners book review: Fancy Form Design by Jina Bolton

What is it?

This book, in Jina’s own words, is aimed at anyone who’s involved with any part of the creation of an online form. Split into 5 sections, it covers the Planning, Designing, Structure, Styling and Enhancing of forms used on the internet Written in a format that is more about advising and guiding rather than teaching, this book will appeal to people who are used to the Sitepoint way of writing, and want to really understand the thinking behind creating a successful web form. It’s not one of those “learn in 24 hour” type books, but is more written as if you’re at a workshop run by Jina. This is not a hardcore reference manual that covers absolutely every permeation of a web form, but will have you more confident and eager to apply what you learn to forms you build from now on.

No bloat

With this book, Jina has tackled a subject that frustrates many a web designer. Forms are often too time consuming, too technical, or too stubborn to spend time getting right. Resources on the internet fall usually into 2 categories, not enough info, or too bloated and confusing. What Jina has managed to do is get straight to the point, without the bloat.

A form is just a form. Isn’t it?

Straight from the 1st chapter Jina had me thinking differently about forms. Before reading this book, I would not have said things like sliders, colour pickers, or drag and drop items are elements of form design, but when you look at where they are used, it’s obvious they are. I’m already more excited about forms than I was before. And I think that’s what this book does really well. It takes the process of form creation, and says “yeah, I know, a form is a form. But look, you can do this with it…”. Jina shows you how a form is very much like a website design. You need to think about typography used, colours & imagery, how the form is going to be structured and how it will affect how it used.

Good practices make perfect

Throughout the book, Jina runs through some processes for creating perfect forms. It starts with how to research and find inspiration. Many people who have built forms in the past would probably not have used the processes talked about in the book. It’s an eye-opener to best practice, and to how investing time in tried and tested techniques at the beginning will save you time further down the line. Many of the practices Jina talks about are transferable techniques, that can be adapted and implemented on web design, brochure design, database design etc. What I really liked is the way the book doesn’t force you to follow the practices, but is more like a friend giving you some tips.

Get your hands dirty

Although I mentioned this book isn’t a “teach yourself in 24 hours” jobby, it is by no means a pure reference book. You can follow along with Jina, and get your hands dirty with some HTML markup and CSS. JavaScript is kept to a minimum by using jQuery, and again has example code you can work along to.

In a nutshell

Fancy Form Design is probably the best title for this book. It explains how to design forms that look fancy. Jina does not pretend this book will make you a master of AJAX form submission techniques, nor an expert in JavaScript server-side form validation. It breaks down the components of creating a form, the content of that form, how to jazz it up with some clever styling tricks and jQuery magic, and makes you think about forms more as an important part of your design rather than a stone in your shoe. To me, this book does exactly what it says on the tin. Buy Fancy Form Design from Amazon

Back to top

  • http://www.twitter.com/mattycurry Matt Curry

    I just realised I didn’t mention what the biggest bug in Analytics is.

    If you go click the Advanced Segments dropdown, clear out All Visits.
    Now, select any 2 segments in the list, any 2, it doesn’t matter.

    Even if the 2 you’ve selected aren’t exhaustive (that combined they cover the entire data set), Google Analytics automatically also selects All Visits, and you can’t untick it.

    So, if you’re looking at 2 segments that cover only 5% of your data, you will always get a graph that also charts 100% of your data, rendering the chart useless.

    Arg. Dear Mr Kaushik, will you fix it please?

  • http://louissimoneau.com Louis Simoneau

    Hi Paul, just a heads up in the interest of giving credit where credit is due: Fancy Form Design was actually written by three authors in collaboration: Jina Bolton, Derek Featherstone, and Tim Connell.

  • http://www.rushplate.com Dan

    Hey Matt,

    Thanks for the segmentation information on the podcast. Is extremely awesome how you mentioned a few of the ways to track people at the client level.

    Cheers

Headscape

Boagworld