Technology redefines categories and experience

7E99A285-9B1F-4D8B-B72E-036022AEBE12.jpgI was not waiting on line at 5am for the iPad like some other people around the US. It's a device without a niche for me right now.

Think what you will of it, however, the technology behind the iPad and similar devices is helping to redefine categories that have had relatively little innovation in centuries.

Take the book industry. Now, I love my Kindle and it's innovative enough, but it uses the same paradigm as a print book. It works for what I need (quick consumption and ease of travel), but it is limited.

The experience of the Kindle is okay. It could be smoother and reminds me of what Blackberrys were like about 5 years ago. Get your hands on a new Blackberry and you'll see what I am talking about. It's smooth and easier to use yet still functional. The Kindle will catch up quickly.

Now, think about what publishing can look like on a device that senses when you tilt it or when you touch it. Have a look:


[video embed]

The experience that new technology provides opens doors and lets us shift our thinking about old standards and the experience that can be delivered.

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Maximizing ROI: content as commerce

iStock_000009060484XSmall.jpgIn my career working in the digital marketing space, I have worked on hundreds of projects for clients in practically any industry you can think of. In that time, I have had the pleasure of working on a number of e-commerce sites that provided me a fantastic perspective on designing with conversion in mind.

One of my key takeaways in doing business online is that no matter how you execute (basic website, social media engagement, search engine marketing, etc.) and no matter what industry you are in, you MUST treat your content as commerce.

I cannot tell you how many meetings I had been in where people say, "We are not an e-commerce site, how can we measure ROI?". That's a bad point of view to have and this post will hopefully work to change your mind.

So, what do I mean by content as commerce? There are a couple of steps in this process. First, you have to do the little things right from the start. Usability is, as in e-commerce, a key to making sure that users can find what they are looking for quickly.

Second, map out your site and weight content that is a priority, then compare it to your actual traffic. See a difference? Here is a good model that I have used before to help with this mapping. This is from a guest post that I did for Drew McLellan back in 2007.

step1.png Draw a map of your current site. You can use Visio, Word, pen and paper or anything else you have at your disposal. Just treat each page/object/action as a block and show them in their hierarchy.
step2.png Now, create a copy of the map and color code each page so that is aligns with your business goals. For this example we'll say red is a top tier page that generates revenue, orange is a second tier support page, yellow is a third tier information page and blue is non-essential.
step3.png Now, create a copy of the color-coded map and roughly scale each section as it relates to your page view metrics so that pages with more views are larger and less views are smaller. Try to keep them in proportion. This is where people go on your site compared with your business goals. In our example, we need to create tactics that shift more views to the red blocks and less to the blue. (Note: you could also scale based on time spent on each page or other key metric)

Third, we need to assign values to content in order to get some more concrete numbers. For example, you could assign a value of $5/5 points when a consumer downloads a PDF or $25 when they sign up for your email newsletter or $30 when they become a fan on Facebook. The more you roll these numbers up across all of the channels you participate in the better. This is obviously behind the scenes, so you can try it in your own time.

Action NameValue#Total
Download White Paper$15.00750$11,250.00
Became a Fan on Facebook$25.002,500$62,500.00

How do you get those numbers? You can obviously make them up, but this has more impact when the numbers are real and when they have executive buy-in. Another way is to use some old school comparisons like impressions or cost-per-acquisition. Ideally you can get to a place where you start to see the metrics take shape and the more that shape is printed in dollars, the more successful you will be. (You wouldn't spend time and money promoting something useless would you?)

Keys to succeeding with content-driven sites:


  • Create a clear interface for your users
  • Rank content in the order it is valuable to the business, weigh that with the value to the consumer (these should ideally be aligned)
  • Visualize your traffic to see where it is going and shift it to the content you value
  • Adapt over time. You can A/B test content, tease it with advertising or promote it in email to see what works. This makes the rest of your marketing better as well.
  • Assign values for specific actions and track it over time.

What are your thoughts? What would you add to this list?

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Great technology is transparent

iStock_000004728491XSmall.jpgDo you remember what the web looked like in 1995? Do you remember the pain it took to dial up and wait for the page to load? Do you remember early email systems like Pine? If you do, you know what highly visible technology feels like. You basically had to write code to make some of the things work and the experience was clunky and hard to manage.

Contrast your experience in 1995 to today. Your network is likely always on, surfing happens in seconds and your mail is a natural extension of your body (well, almost). You don't think about the technology behind Twitter, you just use it. You don't think about the hosting infrastructure behind Facebook, it's just there for you.

If you look at the Web2.0 movement and the development of social technologies, it's all about making the technology disappear. The less we think about our interactions the better the experience.

Ways to spot unnecessary technology:


  • If your site was designed by a developer, chances are this is abundant
  • If you have to think about options before you click, you need to simplify
  • If you have to do any type of calculation in your head, you need to clarify
  • If your site is 100% in Flash, you're probably dead on mobile platforms

What other ways can you spot unnecessary technology?

Take a look at the experience you create for your customers. Look at it across platforms (mobile, web, applications, widget, etc.) and ask yourself if you have to think about the technology. If you do notice it, you need to look at alternatives to improve. Can you make the process shorter, more simple or just generally more enjoyable?

How would you rate the experience with technology at the following sites? Does the technology get out of your way or do you have to think about it?


  • Amazon.com
  • Apple.com
  • Moo.com
  • GetSatisfaction.com
  • Twitter.com
  • MySpace.com
  • Facebook.com
  • Your local newspaper site
  • Your website

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Launched: Skittles.com

skittles.pngLaunched is a series that I am renewing to highlight practitioners who are using social media in consumer and B2B campaigns. The goal here is to cut out the theory and rhetoric and focus on real world examples of social media in action.

** Let's cut the BS on this one. I've seen a lot of people pontificate on if this launch is good or bad. Honestly, that is up to Skittles and their agency who are the keepers of the campaign objectives and analytics.

Now, on with the post. There has been a lot of buzz around the new launch of the Skittles.com website. Long story short, Skittles launched a site that uses third-party social media outlets as the base for their content. That means load up the site, you see a small Skittles widget on top of either Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr or Wikipedia. Take a look at the video to see what I mean.


[Feed readers click through to the post to see the video.]

It has certainly created a lot of initial buzz, but that seems to be quickly tailing off.

Twitter Buzz:
Picture 24.png

Blog Buzz:
Picture 25.png

Picture 26.pngWhat I have not seen, and this may be more telling about their overall approach, is engagement from the brand. No outreach, commentary or other follow up. That is a huge loss for the brand in extending the conversation to an even broader audience.

As I mentioned in the video, the age verification "restrics access" to the content (even though it is wide open if you go directly) if you are under 13. Via Quantcast (not 100% accurate, but picks up trends) around 16-26% of their total visitors are under 13. Doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Pros:


  • Very open and transparent
  • Bold move for a consumer brand (I wonder what legal said)
  • Provides easy access for customers to engage on their own platforms
  • Created buzz online (was it all echo chamber rhetoric?)

Cons:


  • Not what you would expect at Skittles.com (games, Flash video, etc.)
  • There are some usability challenges that detract from the concept
  • It has been done before (although not at the brand level)
  • Social media is susceptible to attack/fraud/defamation and, while transparent, could be of concern for a lot of companies

Key Takeaways:


  • We need to know the goals of the campaign to judge this fairly
  • Buzz has definitely picked up, I wonder if they'll be as open with their sales trend data to show results
  • Good embrace of social media (especially with a younger audience)
  • The total lack of any control is a little scary, why not pull in all of this content into a branded site? Does this form factor add or detract?
  • You need a VERY open legal team to let something like this through, with Skittles they are young, open and it may not concern them at all

What say you? Take the following poll and let me know. Is this smart, dumb or are you waiting to see?

For my complete library of my videos for marketers, click here.


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Two tips on building microidentity

iphone.jpgLittle things are the new big thing, right? Well, in keeping with that notion, I wanted to share a couple of little tips on online identity. Whether you're a blogger or a corporation, these two items go a long way. One is very old school and the other is as new as new can be.

New school: apple-touch-icon.png

This one I found out when my lovely, amazing wife bought me an iPhone for Christmas. Thanks dear!! Through the iPhone you can add a blog/site to your menu just like an application. If you do this without following the next steps, however you get a very generic, non-identifiable icon. It looks something like this:

Picture 11.png

Not impressive, not readily identifiable. After a bit of digging, however I learned how to add an icon to replace the generic default. To do this you'll need to create a PNG file that is 158x158 pixels. Here is the one I created:

apple-touch-icon.png

Now, rename that file to apple-touch-icon.png and upload it to the root directory on your website (meaning it will be at http://www.yourdomain.com/apple-touch-icon.png). The iPhone/iTouch does the rest. It resizes and rounds the corners and adds that shiny love to the image.

UPDATE: Here is a quick video overview of how this one works.

[Click through to the post if you cannot see the video.]

Old school: favicon.ico

Depending on how geeky you are, you may or may not know this little file. The favicon.ico controls the tiny logo/headshot that appears in the address bar for a site when you visit (see below). It's a small differentiator, but that's okay.

To create this file head over to this site. From here you can create one from scratch or upload an existing image. Keep in mind the output is around 15 pixels square so make sure you use something simple. Once you have the file, you need to upload it to the root directory for your site. (Ping me if you need more info on this one.)

Shows up in the address bar in your browser

Picture 8.png

Shows up in tabs when you have them open

Picture 9.png

Shows up in your bookmarks to help them stand out

Picture 10.png

These are both easy tactics to implement can make a big difference in user experience and usefulness. Feel free to add Techno//Marketer on your iPhone and let me know your thoughts.

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The age of Facebook vs. MySpace: January edition

iStock_000005753573XSmall.jpgWhat does the real population of Facebook look like? How does it compare to MySpace? This is the latest edition of my look at social networks and their populations from a marketing perspective.

All numbers in this post are US-only and are collected using each site's advertising management systems so they are up to date and accurate from a marketer's perspective. (Who wants to talk about populations that can't be reached by marketing? Not me.)

What you need to know right now:

  • MySpace's total population is down 4% in the US
  • Facebook now for the first time has more people ages 36-45 than MySpace, soon will overtake 46-50 as well as 31-35
  • Facebook's over 30 growth is still booming at around 24% per category
  • Facebook's under 30 growth was stagnant
  • MySpace still dominant in HS and college age groups

Facebook Overview:

Facebookhad fairly consistent gains across most age groups, however for the first time I see slowdowns in the under 35 population. Surprises include:
  • Less than 2% growth in the 18-21 and 22-25 year old groups (down from approx. 22% gains over past 4 months)
  • 13-17 year old growth is under 8% and the 26-30 year old group gained just over 11%
  • Facebook is 56.89% female and 43.11% male

MySpace Overview:

There were some surprising shifts in the population of MySpace this month. Of note:
  • Overall, the US population on MySpace dropped by 4.16%
  • 26.87% drop in the 36-40 age group from November's numbers
  • 32.93% drop in the 41-45 age group from November's numbers
  • 40.65% drop in the 46-65+ age group from November's numbers
  • MySpace is 52.71% female and 47.29% male

MySpace down 4%; Facebook under 30 stagnant; Facebook finally overtakes MySpace in 36-45 populations

January's look at the real age of MySpace vs. Facebook (US)

Totals.png
Click to enlarge image.

Here are the actual December-January numbers:

AGE RANGEFacebookΔ last monthMySpaceΔ last monthoverall variance
13-175,593,200+7.21%17,072,104-2.94%305%
18-2110,802,300+1.24%20,326,180+1.89%188%
22-257,703,340+1.87%13,029,345+3.32%169%
26-305,966,040+11.19%10,528,581-5.70%176%
31-354,123,740+18.27%4,958,016-15.37%120%
36-403,055,720+23.90%2,843,813-26.87%93%
41-451,580,460+26.74%1,577,310-32.93%100%
46-50963,900+23.88%981,911-40.65%102%
51-65+1,416,820+23.41%7,030,912-7.51%697%

Other key takeaways and burning questions:


  • These numbers represent all total users who can be reached through each site's advertising systems (not all active users)
  • I'm continually interested in the Boomer audiences on these sites and how they engage
  • MySpace's reporting system has been on the fritz, we'll have to see next month's numbers to get a real sense of the space
  • MySpace skews younger than Facebook, engaging more of the highschool population
  • Will need to look at Facebook under 30 numbers next month to see if the growth remains slow

What do you think? What other networks are you investigating? The demographics and targeting options on both sites let you reach your audience in targeted/tailored ways.

UPDATE: Data sources: If you're curious, here is where the data comes from on both sites.

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Visualizing interaction design

Picture 5.pngDid you know that there is a large, passionate community of digital design experts who focus on the ways that a consumer interacts online? It's a level above and beyond what a pure web designer does. Their thinking goes beyond Flash intros and shiny 2.0 graphics. These professionals think about how we consume sites visually and physically with the mouse and help brands convey their identity no matter the format.

A problem that I run in to often is that people don't get what interaction design is. I start to explain that it's a custom process that is generally design-led. Still, they look at me puzzled.

Picture 6.pngTo solve this, I've started looking for great examples to show people. One of the coolest examples of this is for a site that was done for Mercedes Benz in the UK. It's called A-to-S (playing off of their A-class and S-class lines).

The site uses Flash as the technology platform, but the experience behind each letter allows you to almost touch the screen. The mouse interacts in very logical, physical ways.

Have a look and let me know what you think. These small details make the difference in the experience when used correctly. Yes, there is more to interaction design, but I'm looking at the basics here. The complete definition of interaction design (IxD) can be found here or on the IxDA website here.


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Social reputation patterns

Picture 12.pngI found a very interesting post on the Yahoo User Interface blog today discussing social reputation patterns. Reputation is a way to create engagement inside a community and plays an important part in many social networks and other action-driven sites.

Some quick examples of reputation systems are LinkedIn's profile completeness and eBay seller ratings. Having these levels of reputation in the system give interactions an added value. In eBay, sellers are given the incentive to deliver what they say they will, because they know they'll be rated afterward. LinkedIn's profile completeness level is dependent on helping others in the system and encourages more interaction.

Here are the patterns that Yahoo mentions:

rep-patterns.jpg

These patterns can also be used in different types of community environments. They range from altruistic, nurturing communities to combative, winner-takes-all environments. Certain brands can use each to deliver value to their community.

472E4A77-4380-4EEA-B7ED-77A106C45D91.jpg

Take a minute now and think about the communities that you participate in where users are given an incentive for taking action. Where does it fit in these patterns? Most sites use multiple patterns to engage different groups of users and it's a very powerful technique to engage users online and drive repeat visits and extended loyalty.



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What would it take to topple Twitter?

Picture 1.pngTwitter has a double unfair advantage over its competitors; a huge user base (estimated at over a million users now) and a very solid head start.

This hasn't stopped a host of new competitors from trying to give it a go. Among the latest competitors are BrightKite, Jaiku (who is owned by Google), Plurk, Utterz and even Facebook and LinkedIn have begun enabling micromedia updates on user profiles.

Picture 2.png
[Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod]

However, as Twitter's service woes keep mounting and user sentiment keeps edging toward the negative, I have to wonder...what would it take to topple Twitter?

In order to understand this, we need to look at what makes Twitter work. Let's break them down so we can see how it's gained such wide-spread popularity.

  1. Simplicity: Twitter does one thing really well. It lets you communicate what you're doing right now. Now other functionality (no matter how easy it would be to implement), 140 characters, one text field and one button. Anybody can look at it and start using it in minutes.
    What competitors need to do: Though I think that there is room beyond 140 characters of text on a service like this (think video and photos), it needs to remain easy to use. Design and usability needs to be where the majority of the development time is spent. The technology should, as I've said before, fade away to the background. If it's not clear on what the user should do within 5 seconds of opening the page it's too complicated.

  2. Ease of use: This builds on the previous idea of simplicity. Twitter let's you use it. It gets the heck out of your way and adds value by supporting conversation. The interface guides the user smoothly through the interactions. Posting a message is easy, replying is easy and the content is simple text. That's ease of use.

    What competitors need to do:This is a no-brainer. Any competitor who is going to topple Twitter will have to have an extremely easy to use service. Like I mentioned before, a lot of attention needs to be paid here. Too many services offer more features/better technology, but are a pain to use.

  3. Mobility: Twitter has a very strong mobile platform. Not only is the SMS (text messages) updating solid, but the mobile site allows most of the regular site's functionality from nearly any device and network. Either option allows for seamless use when away from the browser.

    What competitors need to do: There is no option for the competition to miss this crucial piece of the equation. The portability of the user experience has to be in place. Users need to be able to update and receive updates from any device in the world. SMS is growing in popularity and allows quick updates from US networks. The mobile site allows more reach and really lets the user step away from their computer with confidence. SMS also serves an important role in getting messages to people and breaking through the clutter.

  4. Platform agnostic: We just touched on the mobile platform, but Twitter's open architecture has allowed developers to extend the service to IM (AOL/GTalk/Jabber) as well as desktop applications. For IM, users add Twitter as a friend and send it their updates. Applications like Twhirl work like any desktop application (think Start > Applications > Twhirl) and don't make you keep a browser open at all times.

    What competitors need to do: This is another area that any competitor worth their salt will need to copy. The open architecture allows the development community to do its work and enhance the service faster than the competitor would be able to.

  5. Strong RSS: Twitter has a very strong RSS architecture. You can subscribe to individual's feeds, your own feed (messages and replies) and use the RSS feeds to build other services. Other services like Twitterfeed use RSS to update Twitter accounts automatically. You can look at my "Techno//Marketer" twitter feed for an example. That feed is 100% auto-generated by Twitterfeed.

    What competitors need to do: No question here either. RSS is a staple of the new digital frontier.

  6. Widgetization: Twitter had this right from the start. One of the most powerful ways that Twitter spread through the social media space was from the blog widget that allowed people to promote their messages as well as the service. It added value to the reader and drove new users. You can see my example in the right-hand panel of this blog.

    What competitors need to do: The more options people have to spread their content the better. Formats should be adjustable (width, height), customizable (color, branding) and should work everywhere possible.

  7. The community: This is Twitter's ace in the hole. No matter how good other services are, no matter how easy they are to use, no matter how comprehensive the utility there is no use for a service like this that doesn't have a community. While some competitors have been around longer they have not been able to build the buzz and following that Twitter has. Some of this is due the founder's background (having founder Blogger.com) having an immediate, connected audience.

    What competitors need to do: You have to transplant the community. What I mean is that a competitor that's looking to topple Twitter (not build a new, unique audience) will need to use the openness of Twitter against it. Accounts will need to be moved over while keeping all of that user's connections in tact. to move user's networks in whole. Accounts and logins will need to be moved to make it as easy a transition as possible.

What would you add to this list? Is Twitter indomitable at this point or are they Yahoo in 1999 with Google just around the corner?


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The scalability of language; the role of design

In this final installment of my series on the scalability of language online, I want to take a look at the role of design. So far we've looked at the challenges of language, the problems with machine translation, and the role of video. Design, though, enables ideas to transcend language to reach a much broader audience.

One of the best (if not the best) example of someone who uses design to convey complex ideas effortlessly is David Armano. Let's look at this illustration. To convey the complex ecosystem that has been created through the birth of social media and the immense fragmentation, David used a series of ripples. Like a rock thrown into a pond, it's something everyone is familiar with. The size of the circles conveys their impact (as would the size of the rock). It's intuitive and doesn't need copy to assist it.

Picture 17.png

I asked David to give his thought on the use of design to overcome the language gap:

0A5913B7-CCF6-4621-AA7F-7BC3CD62B598.jpg"We were born with two eyes. Before we could speak words, we could see the world, recognize the faces of our parents and gaze into their eyes.

Somewhere along the way, we forgot how important visual stimulus really is. We scribbled drawings before writing. Visuals help bring us back to a universal understanding where words can sometimes fail us. It's time to pick up our crayons again."

Picture 18.pngOther bloggers use design to help us think through ideas. Roger von Oech uses his offline products to inspire us all to be more creative. He taps into his wildly successful (and I can personally say very helpful) Whack Pack series to help you think differently. The imagery on each card gives you a better idea of what you can expect.

Design also manifests itself with photography and there is nobody who uses photography better and is more prolific than Thomas Hawk. Thomas is a photographer in San Francisco who covers topics that he is passionate about including photography (duh), photographer's rights and social media. Many of his posts are comprised of single photographs that convey the emotion of the time and place.

These are just a few of the examples where design helps to transcend language. It's a very powerful tool when put in the right hands. Design can just as easily confuse and bankrupt ideas of their merit.

Who have you noticed that uses design to convey ideas? Have you seen it used incorrectly? Let me know your thoughts.

[This was supposed to auto-post last Friday. Sorry for the delay.]


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The most powerful branding tool. Ever.

dig.jpgIf I were to give you a tip on the most powerful tool any company has at their disposal to positively impact their brand, would you act on it? When companies talk about branding, they often turn to the standard creative elements. They conduct focus groups and prepare branding briefs before the first pixel is pushed into place on the logo. If you're really serious you have a whole identity package. But that's not branding, that's just a logo right? From there they create the marketing campaign. Print ads are created to build emotional connections with people, TV spots reinforce the company image and convey the same emotions. Hundreds of hours are spent planning the website, the information architecture, the experience design, the content. When it's all said and done you have one damn fine looking marketing campaign.

Most companies know that part (very few do it right). The part they don't get is the tool that I am talking about. Customer service. Customer service is so powerful that it can make up for bad products, downtime and inconvenience. Conversely, poor customer service can kill even the most well thought out, killer product or service.

A brand is the sum of the interactions with an entity over time. Still, the last interaction with a product or service usually sticks with us. How many times have you felt your opinion of a company turn sour when somebody in the store isn't helpful? How many times have you sat on hold waiting in line only to not really get the answer you're looking for?

The last interaction is the only one that matters.

So why is customer service so often overlooked as a branding tool? It's hard to get right. Here are some of the challenges:

  • It takes time. Lots of time. Customer service takes training, dedication and people who are aligned with the company's goals. Time is money after all and most companies look at the short term outlay instead of the long term benefit of building customer loyalty and creating a great total brand experience.
  • High turnover. Typically customer service is made up of entry level folks packed into small offices strapped to a phone 8 hours a day. Why not really turn to results-based incentives here? Why not dress up their work area so they have a great attitude and convey to your customers?
  • Everyone is in customer service. This means the CEO, the VPs, the account people, the programmers, the designers, the administrative staff, everyone. This is a key shift in thinking that needs to take place. One off day for one person will have an impact on your brand image. The last interaction is the only one that matters. You may not get another chance.
  • Not just for consumer packages goods. Customer service happens in every industry whether you label it customer service or not. Law firms, ad agencies, PR firms and accountants all are in customer service. The problem is that it's not ingrained in their corporate philosophy, they think it beneath them. That's the
  • Too easy to rely on technology. No message board or crowd sourced solution can replace human interaction. Technology is a great way to give people access to basic, commonly asked questions. However, when a person's questions are not answered by those solutions they can be left frustrated. Have you ever tried to reach Flickr, Technorati or Feedburner to get a prompt answer to a question? They make it 100% impossible to talk to a human. Don't be like those guys.

I think David Armano summed it up well in his reply when I posted this on Twitter a couple of days ago.

Picture 6.png

Picture 5.png

How do you integrate this common sense into what you do? How can you improve your support system? What will you do NOW to take action to create a customer service culture?

What do you do to make sure every personal interaction is the best it can be?


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Developing personas for marketing strategy

people2.jpgPersonas are an extremely valuable tool for marketers in any field. If you're not familiar with the term, personas are representations of your target audience based on research and interviews. From PR to digital to advertising, any marketing team or agency can benefit from developing client- and/or brand-specific personas.

As an example, let's say one of your target audience types is a 18-21 year old male who likes emo music, skateboarding and high-end electronics. You would come up with a name for this person along the lines of "Nate" and you would find an image of him to use in your planning. When you start making decisions about marketing strategies, you would check back to "Nate" and ask if it would reach him. What would reach him more effectively? What message does he need to hear. That is a basic model of persona development. Here is some more information to guide you through the process.

Why personas are important:

  • Personas put a face on the customer. Some persona programs give people names so you can refer to them and see them in a physical representation. The agency Organic creates persona rooms where their people live so the project team can become fully immersed.
  • Personas remove the tendency to think of yourself as the customer. You have to step back and this gives you the structure to do so.
  • Act as a guide throughout the process of developing marketing communications programs, cross mediums (print, digital, outdoor, TV, etc.).
  • Keeps designers, copywriters, programmers on track and avoids waste by remaining focused on the customer.

How people screw them up:

  • Personas take time and research to get right.
  • This includes some time in the field and meeting face-to-face with the customer.
  • People think they know their customer without looking at data.
  • Personas are often used up front in the marketing strategy process and don't carry through the process.

How you can avoid screwing them up:

  • Get data. Collect it from the web and third party sources. Analyze web traffic. Do in-person interviews and ethnography. Get a big picture view and then analyze it objectively.
  • Talk to your customers. Videotape them. Record the audio. Take notes. Come back with a real feeling for who you are trying to reach.
  • Compare what you saw to the data and look for the insights.
  • Evolve the personas over time. Adapt them as your product lines change or the economy changes. These should be living, breathing entities.

A great sample model.
I found this great model on Idris Mootee's site in a post where he compared the problems that MBAs and MFAs have in the workplace. It's a great start to being able to wrap your head around these ideas.

persona_10 steps.jpg1. Finding the users
Questions asked: Who are the users? How many are there? What do they do with the system/brand?
Methods used: Quantitative data analysis.
Documents produced: Reports.

2. Building a hypothesis
Questions asked: What are the differences between the users?
Methods used: Looking at the material. Labeling the groups of people.
Documents produced: Draft a description of the target groups.

3. Verifications
Questions asked: Data for personas (likes/dislikes, inner needs, values). Data for situations (area of work, work conditions). Data for scenarios (work strategies and goals, information strategies and goals).
Methods used: Quantitative data collection.
Documents produced: Reports.

4. Finding patterns
Questions asked: Does the initial labeling hold? Are there more groups to consider? Are all equally important?
Methods used: Categorization.
Documents produced: Descriptions of categories.

5. Constructing personas
Questions asked: Body (name, age picture). Psyche (extrovert/introvert). Background (occupation). Emotions and attitude towards technology, the company (sender) or the information that they need. Personal traits.
Methods used: Categorization.
Documents produced: Descriptions of categories.

6. Defining situations
Questions asked: What is the need of this persona?
Methods used: Looking for situations and needs in the data.
Documents produced: Categorization of needs and situations.

7. Validation and buy-in
Questions asked: Do you know someone like this?
Methods used: People who know (of) the personas read and comment on the persona descriptions

8. Dissemination of knowledge
Questions asked: How can we share the personas with the organization?
Methods used: Fosters meetings, emails, campaigns of every sort, events.

9. Creating scenarios
Questions asked: In a given situation, with a given goal, what happens when the persona uses the technology/engages with the brand?
Methods used: The narrative scenario - using personas descriptions and situations to form scenarios.
Documents produced: Scenarios, use cases, requirement specifications.

10. On-going development
Questions asked: Does the new information alter the personas?
Methods used: Usability tests, new data
Documents produced: A person responsible for the persona input from everybody who meet the users.

*Diagram developed by Lene Nielsen of Snitker & Co.

More quality persona resources:

So what else do you do when planning personas? How do you develop them? How do you adapt them? What's the balance between qualitative and quantitative feedback?

 

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Voiceless, spoken communication

Now this is pretty cool and I just have to share. I found the following video on Marc Andreesson's blog and it blew my mind (as it did his). These guys have developed a way to intercept and translate speech before it gets to your vocal chords so you don't need to say what you are thinking, you just have to think it. Check out the video below.

This is very cool technology and may well shape the way we engage with technology in the future. You could be sitting at your desk and just think things like "open Microsoft Word" and it would open. You could create thought to text software that would actually work because the words are pre-digitized. This could possibly enable speech impaired individuals to communicate "vocally".

What other implications will technology like this have on our day-to-day lives?

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Guest blogging at Drew's place

iStock_000004187609XSmall.jpgPlease take a moment and check out my guest post at Drew McLellan's blog today when you have a moment. The topic is creating a solid 1.0 digital foundation before moving into a 2.0 world.

A quick excerpt:


Pardon the idiom, but if you don't have your marketing ducks in a row it's hard to make a move into emerging media.

Too many companies try to jump to Web2.0 and skip many important steps in the process. This makes for a hard sell internally and an even more awkward transition.

This post focuses on what you're already doing online and how to make a smooth transition to 2.0.

Here is the link to the post. Thanks Drew!


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If you build it they may not come (back)

iStock_000003829565XSmall.jpgYou've heard the old riddle right? If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, the same is true with web sites that take the time to create RSS feeds, but don't tag them properly on the page. Not every visitor to your site hunts for the hidden little orange icon buried deep on the page (rss-icon.jpg). The majority of people use the RSS indicator built in to their web browser. Did I lose you? Let's take a look at some examples.

If you go to a site that does this right, when you land on the page your browser should display an RSS icon in, or around, the main URL address bar.

If you look on FireFox on a PC, here is what the consumer sees (note the orange icon next to the URL of the blog):
Picture 13.png

If you're on FireFox on a Mac, you see something like this (very similar to the PC version):
Picture 10.png

If you look on a PC running Internet Explorer, you will see the following at the top of your screen. Note the RSS icon in orange on the lower right-hand side. If there is no feed detected, that icon will be gray.
Picture 12.png

Now, if the short bit of code I am about to show you is not in place, here is what they see. I found it very ironic that this happened on Microsoft's main RSS listing page, go figure.
Picture 11.png

The solution is to add a bit of code to the pages that have RSS feeds available. The code looks like this (but just ask your IT folks to figure out the details).
Picture 14.png

The reason I bring this up is that if I land on a page that doesn't have their code in place, I will keep moving, not subscribe and they've lost the chance to communicate in the future. Bloggers are lucky here as this is automatically built-in, but other sites need to add this into the code.

Each visit is an opportunity to build a relationship and, with the opt-in nature of RSS, this is a no brainer. Even if a page contains multiple feeds, pick one as your default (it is possible to list multiple). People don't want to hunt for icons like they're hunting for Waldo.


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End of the line or beginning of a new opportunity?

iStock_000003947644XSmall.jpgImagine this scenario for a second. You're walking through Barnes & Noble. You've just picked up a hot cup of coffee and now you're ready to browse. You start checking out the new fiction best-sellers and move through the magazine section. Finished there, you head towards the business section picking one of a dozen routes. Just then, BAM, you're standing on the sidewalk. You think to yourself, "what the...?".

This same situation plays itself out every single day when millions of people reach error pages on the web. This typically happens when a user mis-types a link or the link is mislabeled by the site. The errors typically look like this:

Picture 15.png

First, you need to find out how you're currently handling the problem. Go to your site and type in your URL and then add a "/75;yu" (that's a totally random keystroke). If you see the error message above, you have a little work to do. There are opportunities here for marketers who are smart enough to realize it. Here is how a couple of sites handle these errors.

Technorati: Here is a basic approach. Technorati gives you an error message, but adds links to quickly find whatever you typed just in case you were guessing. Picture 8.png
Google: Shame on Google for such a poor error page. The company could easily take you to a search result page similar to Technorati. Picture 10.png
Greenpeace: Greenpeace takes advantage of the situation and uses it to educate the user on its mission. Click the image for a larger view. Picture 12.png
Marvel Comics: Marvel uses a touch of Homer Simpson-esque humor. Picture 11.png
Craigslist: The Craigslist error page is as simple as the site. Very basic, but in line with their voice. Picture 13.png
The Motley Fool: The Motley Fool has a great little page. A Haiku for the error message with a search embedded on the page to get you back on track. Picture 14.png
Bloglines: David Berkowitz sent me this one from Bloglines. Nice little bit of humor. Picture 1.png

So, when your customers make a wrong turn, are you going to help them out or kick them to the curb? Do you have an example of a page you like? Let me know in the comments!

[Links: A List Apart has a great article on the perfect 404 page]


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The blogger, journalist divide

This post is a little off-topic for Techno//Marketer, but I think it's an important issue to address concerning social media and it happened in my hometown. (This post is not, and will never be, political in nature.) The local newspaper here in Cleveland, The Plain Dealer, took a fairly progressive step and created an area of their site dedicated to political debate and hired four bloggers to create the content. Two covered things from a liberal perspective and two from a conservative under the banner "Wide Open".

Picture 1.png

As of November 2, 2007 the project has been cancelled in the midst of quite a bit of controversy. Here is how things played out. These four bloggers were hired by the paper to present their opinions as bloggers. One of the bloggers openly attacked a politician's policies and stated that he had contributed to the campaign of that politician's opponent. The politician who was attacked complained to a Plain Dealer reporter who relayed his concerns to the PD's editor. The editor asked the blogger to refrain from covering that candidate and when the blogger refused, he was fired. Subsequently, one other blogger quit the project in protest which led to its suspension.

According to the blogger who was let go, he (and the others) were hired as just that. Bloggers. Not reporters. The bloggers were being paid, which is where I think this gets a little gray and his contribution to the opponent's campaign just adds to the fire.

So let me turn this to you, my readers and get your input on the crossroads of blogging and journalism. Here are some important questions to ponder:


  • Can a newspaper include blogger content and have editorial separation?
  • Are bloggers and journalists separate anymore?
  • If they are, are they bound by the same code of ethics?
  • Does paying the bloggers create the conflict of interest?
  • Do you think the Plain Dealer would have pulled an editorial piece under pressure from a politician?
  • Can traditional newspapers survive against pressure from citizen journalism?
  • What if no money had changed hands and the bloggers just contributed? Does that change things?

Let me hear what you think! Can we all just get along?


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Separation of work and play

fbvsli.pngOne of the most talked about points of contention in social networking to date is the idea of separating personal and professional networks. I've heard this from friends in the industry as well as from non-marketing friends. My industry friends all have an opinion. They, mostly, have all moved to Facebook and have limited interaction with LinkedIn. I don't, however, think this speaks for the majority of people as evidenced by my non-marketing friends who work in a variety of fields from non-profit, office equipment and financial services. They're just starting to connect with LinkedIn (the social networking primer?) and Facebook is a buzzword about as far away from them as the moon ("It's for kids").

Single Network with Overlap

separate2.pngLike I said, I have heard both sides of this story. Facebook, for example, is betting on the fact that you will consolidate all of your contacts (professional and personal) into one network. Further, they're releasing a way for people to group their contacts into personal and professional groups to aid you in this separation. (Note that it would be impossible to use LinkedIn as a social network in the way Facebook operates.)

The question with the consolidated network idea, in my mind, is the overlap. How do you deal with a co-worker, client or other contact who you know outside and inside the office? Do you want the client (no matter how close you are) seeing your weekend party images or images of "your friends" going back to homecoming and doing keg stands? That is the real trick with segmenting the overlap.

Separate Networks with Overlap

separate_1.pngOn the other side of the coin sits LinkedIn. They don't want to be your social network, they want to be your professional network. LinkedIn is betting that a physical separation between social and professional is how people want to keep things. LinkedIn is very professionally focused, image-light and keeps out-of-office banter to a minimum.

The main issue with this segmented approach is, again, the overlap. If you have professional friends on Facebook who you have professional contact with, you have to go to LinkedIn and invite them there as well. The same thing happens in LinkedIn where you have to go to Facebook to invite those you have social contact with.

In the end, I don't think this is an either/or situation. I think that this plays out at the individual level. Personally, I keep these two networks in sync manually and, in the end, they blur together for me. I don't post anything too personal on Facebook so I'll connect with anybody. LinkedIn is set up to do more with my information from a professional point of view. I can search companies, see who is connected easily, etc. Facebook needs to build these tools in to truly compete at the professional level.

The next generation of professional may use their Facebook network as the end-all, pro/social network where they do everything.

So how do you distinguish between the two? Do you actual patrol the people who you connect with on each and keep them separated? Do you keep em separated?



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First//Look: Microsoft's Tafiti (beta)

Picture 3.pngThe competition for search eyeballs is an intense game. Anything that a company can do to test new waters or create real differentiation could potentially be a driver for new user acquisition. Of the big three search proprietors, Microsoft has stepped up with an innovative new visual search tool called Tafiti (which means "do research" in Swahili).

Built on the company's Silverlight (it's basically another version of Flash and could be the downfall of this product) platform, Tafiti allows users to search in an interactive, visual environment. The motion is fluid and rich and should appeal to anybody who is tired of the stark white look of Google or the overly crushed look of Yahoo. This universal search tool incorporates images, RSS, news and books into one search with a visual toggle between them. The option that allows you to drag results to a pile for later reference is a very cool idea. (Makes me wonder if/when Apple would partner with Google to do something like this.)

Here is the video for your review.

[Feed readers please click through to the post if you cannot see the video.]

Key takeaways:


  • All major search players are moving to universal search
  • Visual search overlays like this one could be a part of next generation search apps
  • Because items like images, videos, RSS, books, etc. will be indexed, marketers need to start looking at tags and other meta data to make sure people can find them
  • Silverlight = Flash functionality, but it's a separate plugin
  • Would be interesting if Microsoft built another version of this in Flash to bump up adoption

Related posts:


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What my dogs can teach you about user experience design

First, meet my dogs. Two loving, balls of energy named Copeland and Crawford.

boysinwater.jpg

Now, if you know my wife and I, you know that our dogs are our children. We tend to spoil them and go a little overboard at times. But, we love them. One of the indulgences we treat them to is doggie ice cream. They come in the same type containers that ice cream used to come in (maybe it still does) in school when you would eat it with a tiny wooden spoon.

There are two types of doggie ice cream to choose from in the ice cream section at the grocery (I am not making this up, go check for yourself), Dogsters and Frosty Paws. Our dogs will, honestly, eat anything so we generally buy a couple boxes of each and ration them out when the temperature gets hot.

copeland_icecream.jpgSo what does this have to do with user experience you ask? I'll tell you. The Frosty Paws ice cream comes in a paper cup and the Dogsters comes in a plastic one. Want to guess which company has actually seen dogs with their product in the real world? No matter how fast I am to retrieve the container after they're done, one of my guys has usually half-chewed and digested the container. Now which would you rather have your dog eat, the paper one or the sharp, splintering plastic one?

Needless to say we have switched entirely to Frosty Paws because it is crystal clear that they've actually spent time with dogs and their products in the real world. They care enough to adjust the product (which also used to come in plastic containers) to use paper for the health and safety of the dog.

So let's put this in the perspective of digital marketing. The user experience is the differentiator between just being some random website and something you would add to your bookmarks. It's the difference between vanity and utility, between forgotten and viral. The best experience designers study how the users interact in the real world and adapt the objects to meet their needs. Maybe people are looking at your site on mobile phones. Maybe you have a lot of busy moms who have a kid in one arm and are trying to find quick information. How do you know unless you engage them in conversation?

Do you test new features with your customers in real-world conditions? How many services lose support because of poor testing and experience design?

Any experience designers want to weigh in here?


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The importance of getting people to the finish line

There they goMy wife ran the Cleveland half marathon yesterday and so, being a supporting husband, I drove her down and hung out waiting for the finish. I had a couple of hours to kill so I walked around downtown shooting some images. I caught the runners at the one mile mark seen here and I got to cheer on some friends and some interesting characters including running nuns, a guy in a full business suit and a hippie on roller blades being pulled wildly by two huskies.

Once I stopped laughing and everyone passed by I headed down into the Warehouse District and then into the Flats. As I was standing there shooting with my eye to the camera I heard what sounded like a LARGE group of people running up to me. I turned and there were 30 runners with 10K badges asking me "Where are we? Where is the race?". I was shocked that this many people got sidetracked from the course and I quickly sent them back up the hill toward the finish line. It turned out they were amongst the strongest runners on the pack.

I don't know if you've ever run a race like this, but the last thing you want to have to do is think about where you are going on top of running flat out. People are supposed to be directing you with cones, signs, police officers and race vehicles. The runners should just need to run. That's it. It turned out that the lead vehicle was sent the wrong way along with several hundred 10K runners who ran up to 2.7 extra miles while lost. (The local paper picked it up here.)

handbike_cornering.jpg

It made me think about the user experience on web sites (I do that a lot you know). When a visitor comes to your site, do they intuitively know where to go? Do they know what to do? Or, will they get so off course that they just give up?

People shouldn't have to work to get to where you need them to be online. If your goal is a purchase it should be easy to browse, add things to a cart and check out. If your goal is an RSS subscription, it should be prominent on the site and use best practices. If people have to put in too much extra effort to give you what you want, they'll quit and probably not return.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I need people to do?
  • Can somebody, with no prior knowledge of the site, do that easily?
  • How do you make sure people stay on the course?
  • If they get off-course how do you bring them back?
  • How do you make sure people return the next time they need the same thing?

Do you think about this on your site? If so, how do you do this? If you don't you should take a hard look and think about making some alterations.


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WYSIWYG lets millions publish thoughts and ideas

digits.jpgI've been around the internet since, well, the start of the commercial internet (~1995). In order to publish your ideas in the early days of the Internet on the internet you had to know HTML. Truly committed authors learned HTML by copying other people's code, but most were prohibited. This was a huge barrier to publish for a LOT of people.

The web was created by a few and read by many. Compare that to today's user-generated content movement where everybody is enabled to create. This movement is in large part due to the simplification of publishing tools. One of the most important parts of publishing is the WYSIWYG editor.

If I lost you at WYSIWYG, it's easy. What You See Is What You Get. Basically, it's like using Microsoft Word inside a web browser. Whatever you type, however you type it is the way the user will see it in their web browser. Here is an example of the WYSIWYG editor in TypePad.

Picture 3.png

Here is a practical example of how this simple innovation allowed millions to publish. Let's say you want to create a two column table with two rows in order to list music groups and their albums. Here is what you have to do in HTML:

   <table>

    <tr>

     <td>Group</td>

     <td>Album</td>

    </tr>

    <tr>

     <td>The Beatles</td>

     <td>White Album</td>

    </tr>

   <table>

Not too simple eh? It's definitely not transparent to the user. Compare that to the method you use in the WYWIWYG editor:

Picture 2.png

You hit the table button and viola you have a table. Anyone can do it. This is a simple and clear example of what I mean when I say that good technology is that which is transparent to the user. When you use one of these easy editors you just know what to do. If you want to bold something you highlight it and hit the B icon. If you want to bullet pointed list you hit that icon.

This may seem elementary, but I'm telling you this one simple idea of eliminating the need to write HTML code is allowing blogging to take off. If I had to hand code each post and FTP it to the server I certainly wouldn't be posting each day. It could have turned others off to the medium completely.

I'm going to feature more examples of great, transparent technology in the coming months. What examples have you come across?


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Use it or lose me

fingerprint.jpgWhen a customer (or potential customer) comes to your site, what information do you ask of them? If you're a good marketer, you are driven to learn as much from each person as possible. Now, that being said, there is a wrong and right way to do this. Have you ever been to a site and the signup form looks something like this:


    First Name
    Last Name
    Email address
    Zip Code
    Company
    Job Title
    Education Level
    Household Income
    Industry
    Company size
    Name of your Mother's cousin's niece
    Your blood type
    Your mother's cousin's niece's blood type

Obviously some of these are fictitious, but much of what is asked for today is just as ridiculous. In reality marketers only need the first three items (first and last name and email), the rest should be determined through what I call Active Customer Discovery (see chart below). This exercise is all about lowering barriers to entry and creating honest conversations with customers.


activediscovery.png


The point of the chart is to show that information discovered over time (not all up-front) is more valuable, more accurate and easier to acquire. How you ask? Here is a quick example that's worked in the past:


  • Collect the information I outlined above
  • Send a thank you email to the person asking them to confirm their registration
  • After confirmation, take the user to a thank you page that asks them if they would like to opt-in to your newletters/alerts/sponsor messages
  • If you want somebody's age, offer a birthday club
  • Offer poll questions, surveys and contests and record those results for each user over the course of time
  • Come up with other creative ways to ask for information and then immediately add value to the customer
  • Come up with a way to analyze the information to add more value to the site

Here are the basic questions to ask yourself before setting up your next signup form:


  1. Do you even need the information? - Ask yourself this question and if you don't actually do anything with the information, cut it out. The risk you run is turning somebody away from your content by asking them something that you don't have a need to know.
  2. Can you get this information someplace else? - Most geographic information (city, state, country) can be gleaned from your statistics package. People lie on forms so why even ask?
  3. Do you give the customer something for this information? - If you're asking me for my household income, what are you going to do with that? Are you tailoring your product to show me less or more expensive items? If you're just using it for demographic fodder, there are better ways to get the information.

The takeaway is that the more you collect over time, the more you really begin to get insights into your customers. On top of learning more, you'll have more accurate information and people will have an incentive to update their information if it benefits them. So, if you don't use what I give you (if I give it to you at all) you just might lose me forever.



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Learning from Adobe's Kuler

Picture 1.pngAdobe Labs recently released a new community environment (named Kuler) that allows designers to create, share and interact with color palettes. Here are some interesting points in Kuler that can/should be applied to other communities and used by social marketers:



  • Celebrate your customer's core tenets: Color choice is one of the key factors that separate good designers from great ones. Adobe has found a way to celebrate this building block and allow a task that is usually done in solitude to be expressed openly and in a supportive, peer-driven community.
  • Hyper-focused: Adobe could have started a much broader network covering all areas of design, but they chose to have a focus. Now they can gauge interest and tailor the expansion of this network over time in a more cost-effective manner.
  • Ties in to product (it's a utility): It's no secret that Adobe is looking to move its suite of products online. This is a brilliant step to start getting designers to work online and create a feeling for what is possible. This community site also allows users to download color palettes for use inside CS2/3 to extend the value of the information beyond the browser.
  • Simple, tailored interface: What would you expect from a design company? The interface is clean, modern and utilitarian. Users can surf in a fluid environment using Adobe technology and learn at the same time.

As opposed to the usual, non-strategic corporate entry into community sites ("give me MySpace, but with my logo on it"), this is a good model for a consumer product company looking to get into the social fray. Start with a focus, add value to your customers, allow them to share and promote your brand through their interactions and test the waters for a more robust solution down the road.



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Page views are dying, but are visits the answer?

admitone_ticket.jpgOne the the main challenges of interactive marketing is measurement. For quite some time the page view has been the gold standard of analytics. However, as technology changes the page view measurement is quickly losing credibility and content publishers are looking for a replacement.

The problem: The specific problem is that as user-centered technologies like AJAX penetrate the market, there are less pages viewed. Simple eh? Here is an example I use in presentations when explaining AJAX.

It's April 14th at 4:45pm. You just started doing your tax returns (you know who you are). You're filing online and you come to a page that needs to find you local school district.

    Old way -- you are shown a pull down menu with all of the states listed. You choose your state and the page reloads with all of the counties (that's one page view). You choose your county and the page reloads with all of the cities (that's two page views). You choose your city from the list and the page reloads with all of the applicable school districts (that's three page views). You then submit the form and get a big refund check.

    New way -- you come to the school district finder page and see a list of states. You choose your state. As you click your state the list of counties appears immediately below (still one page view since the page did not reload). You choose your county and a list of cities loads (still one page view). You select your city and the list of school districts appears (still one page view). This saved you time as a user since you didn't have to wait for the page to reload, but the site lost two page views.

The first A in AJAX is where the problems lie. It stands for Asynchronous, which is a complex way to say that the data transfer is happening in the background and doesn't require a new page load. The technology is very powerful and really adds a lot of value to the end user since the web application works just like an offline application (when done right). A good example is Google's Docs and Spreadsheets applications which work using similar technology. If you go to docs.google.com and create a spreadsheet. If you didn't know you were in a web browser, you would think you were using Excel.

So that's the problem. A few people have proposed a potential solution as AJAX adoption spreads quickly increasing the number of sites where the page view is irrelevant. ComScore recently put their weight behind using the unique visit as the new standard. Here is a breakdown of what they've said:

  • Unique Visits - this is the number of unique visitors who come to your site. Each user is tracked by IP address. This number will also give the best gauge of overall site performance and will also replace page views in the sales process.
  • Average visits per visitor (30 days) - this number shows engagement on the site. The more visits per visitor the more engaged the person is with the content.
  • Time on site - time on site is not a new metric, but is still very valuable to determine engagement. We will even see an 'average time per visit' using this metric and the average visits per visitor.

One of the biggest shifts that this will require is website valuation for sponsorship and advertising among SMB's. Most online ad sales people are just coming up to speed with setting real value on websites and they've been using page views. If you look purely at the numbers, 'unique visits' is going to be lower than 'page views'. How do you explain that to an advertiser? Steve Rubel does a good job outlining his concerns here. I'll dig into how this can be approached from an advertiser and site owner's viewpoint in a future post.


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