Monday, April 30, 2007

Relaunch Frenzy

Anyone that's worked in the Internet will be able to share the pain I am currently going through.

I am relaunching the website for the company I work for. Relaunch hell is well under way!

While I am getting help, the company I work for is fairly small so as I'm leading this project, I'm also doing a lot. So the inner-most circle of relaunch hell!!! (I do have some great help, but no one ever haves enough help for a relaunch, right?)

Yet there are some real wins for this relaunch that I have been pushing for that make it all worthwhile, including:
  • site architecture moved from organizational to client-focused and terminology more user-friendly
  • stripping formatting code from the main web copy and making awesome use of CSS
  • switching to XHTML
  • adding elements of website accessibility for disabled users
  • new design - with more real estate
  • much more engaging, flexible homepage
  • adding navigation aids, such as breadcrumbs, colour-delineated channels, awesome Quick Links feature (I blogged about this earlier)
  • adding a lot of content to fill in gaps as identified by our search logs & focus groups
  • printer-friendly version added for every page
  • improved page cannot be found page (so users don't get that useless default 404 error)

And some other things. But I'm too tired from all this relaunch work and Facebook fix.

So forgive me blog readers if you don't hear from me until this is over in late June.

To fill in the Webslinger gap, I have a great idea...

I hear that I have blog readers but so far I think only 4 people read it. So if you read this blog, prove it!

Let me know what your tip is for surviving a relaunch!

Or let me know what last-minute things I should add or any general relaunch tips. Let me hear it - I can use the support and frankly this will be only social interaction I'll be getting until relaunch.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Facebook is cyber-crack

It was exactly 10 days ago today that a friend, Lisa, invited me to join Facebook. I heard of Facebook but had no idea that it was open to anyone other than university students (Facebook opened their doors to anyone as of Sept. 2006).

It's only been ten days but it's been ten days of a cyber-crack induced haze of Facebook addiction. In that short time, I've gone from a Facebook virgin to Facebook tramp. During this time, I've forsaken my previous devoted amours of LinkedIn and even you, dear blog.

In honour of ten days of Facebook bliss, here are my ten favourite things about Facebook:
  1. it's the most fun social networking site - LinkedIn may be more useful but isn't much fun and MySpace may be more popular, but it sucks
  2. you can post embarrassing photos of your friends and tag their name to the pic and then all their friends will see the photo and join in the laughs
  3. great way to find old friends and actually reconnect for free. You can find friends by searching by their name or joining your past school's inevitably pre-existing Group., the granddaddy of social networking sites lost their edge by insisting on charging for this same functionality
  4. their event feature is like other sites (e-vent and Upcoming) but these sites make you get your contact network to these sites, whereas Facebook easily integrates with your existing network for private events and it also allows public events, or a combo of both
  5. as they say, Facebook is a stalker's best friend - Facebook's homepage makes it very easy to see exactly what your friends are up to (and it's way more fun than Twitter!)
  6. has same cool Group functionality as Yahoo or Google but as with point #4 you can tap into your existing network rather than try and get them to come to another website
  7. lots of sites try to encourage community by having members fill out Profiles but only Facebook seamlessly creates a network out of Profile interests. For instance, I had no idea so many people (320 in fact - some even under 50) shared my love of Golden Girls - now I don't feel so alone!
  8. has no annoying audio clips that start to play automatically when you visit a friend's page, like MySpace does
  9. let's you block "Friends" without their knowing it, which I have used to tune someone out without any awkward unpleasantness
  10. with ten friends you can too play the Friends Game! It's oh so much fun!

Yes, Facebook offers the addictive highs of cocaine and heroin, without the body-ravaging side effects.

Try it now! C'mon all your friends are doing it...

Monday, April 16, 2007

How to pay online with no credit card

My colleague, Michelle, at Scotiabank will be happy to know that I read all of their digital marketing and educational material. As such, I recently noticed that it is now possible to use your debit card online, through Interact Online.

I use my credit card to shop online, as I am not worried about the security (particularly since I don’t do business with those types of merchants in the first place) and I love/am obsessed with Air Miles, which my credit cards offers with every purchase.

For those without a credit card or reluctant to use it online, however, buying products or services online has long been a fundamental roadblock.

While Interact Online helps remove some e-payment obstacles, there are still roadblocks:
  1. one has to bank online (which is granted a large and growing number of Canadians)
  2. only Scotiabank, RBC, TD, and soon BMO customers can use it
  3. only a small number of merchants and few major businesses offer it (looking at the list of participating merchants, there wasn’t one I would be able to use)
Considering the last two limitations, it explains why I hadn’t heard of this service before, even though it launched in Dec. 2005!

The winner in alternative online payment is still, unquestionably, PayPal.

PayPal, in addition to allowing service via credit cards also hooks up with one's online bank to facilitate online payment. PayPal is offered at more, and more important merchants than Interact. (There are lots of things to love about PayPal. PayPal earned my loyalty ever since I first used it to buy my cherished Simpsons' Halloween figures on eBay, but that’s another post)

Finally, another option is emailing money. Scotiabank offered this service at least a couple years ago and I love it. Granted, I don’t like the additional service charge, but it sure is an easy way to send money. Never could figure out how to do an online bank transfer, but emailing money only takes a couple minutes – essentially all you need is a online bank account, your payee’s email address and a question to pose to the payee that only they will know the answer to. The downside of the ease of this service is there is no excuse now when borrowing money to not pay it back!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Breadcrumbs help hold a website together

In an upcoming website relaunch I’m working on, I’m making a few tinkers to the website. Overall, I’m trying to move the site from an organizational focus to a client focus – all in the hope of users finding the information they want and need quickly and easily.

One technique I’ll finally be deploying is breadcrumbs.

Breadcrumbs, for those that don’t know, are named after Hansel & Gretel. When being lead to their doom deep in the forest, Gretel threw breadcrumbs to mark their trail so they could return. To prevent you from getting lost in website wilderness, breadcrumbs are links on top of a webpage that show you where the page you are on is in the hierarchy of the site architecture.

Breadcrumbs don’t show you where you have been, as some believe they should, as that’s what the Back button and History files are for.

To see a sample of it, check out a HowStuffWorks’ article How Science Fiction Musicals Work. Note the links on the top-left corner that say “Main > Entertainment > Arts” – that’s breadcrumbs.

Jakob Nielsen Alertbox article yesterday Breadcrumb Navigation Increasingly Useful highlights the benefits of breadcrumbs and the arguments for and against.

Among the benefits Nielsen sites:

* Breadcrumbs show people their current location relative to higher-level concepts, helping them understand where they are in relation to the rest of the site.
* Breadcrumbs afford one-click access to higher site levels and thus rescue users who parachute into very specific but inappropriate destinations through search or deep links.
* Breadcrumbs never cause problems in user testing: people might overlook this small design element, but they never misinterpret breadcrumb trails or have trouble operating them.
* Breadcrumbs take up very little space on the page.

The only convincing argument against breadcrumbs is the time it takes to add them to an existing site. It’s not something that can be phased in, so adding this to every page in a website is a significant effort, hence the reason I’m timing it with a relaunch.

Online drives offline sales

I still keep hearing the criticism of the Internet that e-Commerce is a fraction of retail sales. For years, I have been trying to convince people that the influence of websites far exceeds the total amount purchased online. Online purchase totals are almost insignificant compared to the influential power of Internet vehicles to help consumers decide their offline purchases. And I'm not even factoring in the value of brand building online.

For instance, almost everyone, with a computer and Net connection, does at least some research online before booking a trip. But buying trips online is still rather difficult if you have complicated plans and it lacks the in-person assurance of having someone to advise you and to rely on if anything goes wrong.

Researching online but buying offline also applies to clothes, books and DVDs, property, investments, appliances & electronics, decorating products, etc.

Today, I found a study that confirms my point. Internet sources are the most-consulted sources of information for car buyers. Car manufacturers obviously have known this, as their websites are among the slickest looking and have the coolest functionality among any websites.

The fully study by Capgemini and sited in, shows that Internet sources represent three of the top five sources (the study was for buyers in the U.S., U.K, France, Germany & China). Manufacturer’s websites was the top source, even beating dealerships.

The top sources with their respective percentages of respondents are:

  1. Manufacturer websites = 49%
  2. Family & friends = 46%
  3. Manufacturer-specific dealer = 46%
  4. Information websites = 45%
  5. Dealer websites = 43%
  6. Specialist automotive press = 37%
  7. Independent e-Tailer websites = 31%
  8. Independent car valuation services = 29%
  9. Print advertising = 25%
  10. Used car dealer = 25%
  11. TV advertising = 24%
  12. Non-specialist press = 17%
  13. Web forum and discussion groups = 16%

I think this case is now officially closed. I’m not even going to argue this point any more – though I may send them this link.