Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why you new CMS won’t “fix it”

Ever heard the phrase “the new CMS will solve all these problems”? It’s popular with Digital Managers, IT project people and the sales guys from the latest on-trend software company.

If you have heard that phrase, did that new-beaut content management system actually solve the problems your digital team was suffering?

Not all of them, am I right?

Depressing I know, but there’s a good reason why simply rolling out the latest “cloud-based”, “AI-driven personalised customer experience” platform with “industry-leading digital asset management tools” won’t fix all your digital experience and management problems. 

Your problems aren’t caused by the software. The cause is something much closer to home. And it’s a pretty common one, that’s been around a lot longer than the world wide web or Google.


Why am I picking on people?

There’s a pre-digital saying that I quite like. “A bad workman blames his tools.” That’s as true today, in our real-time, AI driven, CX personalised world as it was back when Thatcher was something other tan an ex-UK prime minister.

I’m not trying to talk down the hard work digital teams put into building and maintaining quality digital collateral. I’ve run digital teams, so I know how hard they work to get it right.

The tools they need to do so aren’t all built on 1s and 0s.

Now don’t think I’m against the new tools and functionality the Adobes, Drupals, Oracles and Joomlas of this world keep dreaming up. I love ‘em. The things we can do around personalisation, device-specific content and digital asset reuse are amazing. They blow my little HTML-coding mind.

But they’re not going to fix the core problems that plague many digital teams, they may mask some of your issues and alleviate the pain, but they won’t fix them.

What’s my problem?

So what are these problems I’m banging on about? Well might you ask.

Let me answer that question with some of my own:

  1. When was the last time you looked for an image in your DAM and found the perfect one, first time, no problems? I’m not talking about an image you loaded five minutes ago, I’m talking about raw, optimistic search.
  2. How confident are you that every page on your website is up to date, relevant to your users and compliant with current industry regulations? Every page, not just the top tiers of your nav.
  3. Do you know who has access to your CMS and what each of them can do in it? Really? Everyone? How many ex-team members still have logins to your system? If that number is zero, I’m really impressed.

Even the best, most advanced content management systems are simply big databases full of templates, content, assets and code. They succeed or fail, based on how we set them up and what we do with them.

Governance is king

What I’m getting at here is this. It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles your new CMS has, if you don’t have a robust governance plan embedded at every level.

Sounds a bit ‘content police’ doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to be. Mostly, you just need a set of ‘how we use this thing’ rules that everyone knows, agrees to and follows. This is easily done if the content team are the ones who write the rules in the first place. 

Personal ownership is a beautiful thing.

So what does a governance plan look like and how is it going to solve all those problems?

Let’s break it into its component pieces, shall we.

A governance plan is simply a list of rules around the who, what and when of your content.


The who is all about roles and responsibilities. For each type of content in your CMS, including the code that runs the CMS, you need to decide who can do what to it.

For example: 

  1. You want your manager to be able to review the articles you write, but not edit them. She’d have Readaccess to content articles.
  2. Now, your manager has OKed your article, you need the content producer to finalise it. He needs to format the article and publish it to the site. He’d have Read / Write / Publish access.

Each person who uses the CMS needs their own login, role and responsibilities. Once you look at all the people who need to Read, Write, Publish and Administer your site, this can get quite complicated. 

Also, people come and go from companies, and move from role to role while they’re there. When someone starts, they need access to the CMS. Each time they move, someone needs to check if they still have the right access. When they leave, their login needs to be deleted.

See? Complicated.

Get it wrong and you could stop people being able to do their jobs, or worse you could accidentally allow the wrong person to edit and publish content onto your site.

Get it right and everyone can do their jobs and no-one’s going to publish the CEO’s personal phone number on the home page.


The what of your plan covers a multitude of sins. It can include:

  • Types of content you need to manage.
  • Naming standards so all your content is consistently labelled – a must if you want to find anything later.
  • The metadata you need to tag and classify your content, so you can find it, group it and assign it to the right workflows and review cycles.
  • Places you want to put your content – websites, eDMs, print and billboard advertising – and the devices it needs to appear on.
  • Steps your content needs to go through to be published – workflows.

Each of these needs to be mapped out and agreed to by the whole team. Everyone who uses the CMS needs to know what they can upload, what to call it, where it’s going to appear and how to get it through a workflow.

In an ideal world, these ‘whats’ are meticulously mapped out during the rollout of a new CMS and shared with the whole team. In a not-so-ideal world, some ‘whats’ are left out and “sharing” is more of a concept and less a reality.

In almost all situations, after the rollout is complete, the ‘whats’ are neither revisited nor actively communicated again, until the next CMS revamp.

When you think about the profound impact those ‘whats’ have on the usability and flexibility of your CMS, it’s a bit mind-blowing how little attention is paid to them.


When is all about currency. When was a piece of content created? Is it still current or relevant? When should it be reviewed and when retired? 

As Gerry McGovern is fond of pointing out, we are far better at creating content than we are at deleting it. Yet, out-of-date content can harm us far more than content that hasn’t been published – clogging our SEO, giving our customers incorrect information and eroding our brand.

Each piece of content, be it an article, an image or contact form, needs a ‘when’ – a review date.

If you team applies a Review, Rewrite, Retire strategy to all the content you have published across your digital landscape, you may just end up being the only crowd with 100% accurate, relevant, legally compliant content on the world wide web.

You think I’m kidding? There are very few sites out there that don’t have at least a little bit of out-of- date content. Try finding some on your favourite site – 5 points for each page more than 12 months between edits.

One plan to govern them all

So that’s what makes up a governance plan: 

  • Who can create and edit content.
  • What they can create.
  • When they should edit it.

It sounds simple when you put it in three bullets, but those three words can spell the success or failure of your content management lifecycle.

The way we do things around here

Agreeing on your Who, What and When is half the battle. To win the war against content chaos, your Who, What and When need to become the ‘way we do things’ for your CMS. Each person who uses the CMS needs to know:

  • Their role in the CMS – what they can and can’t do in the system.
  • What they are creating – and how to name it, tag it, where it’s going to be used and how to get it approved.
  • The content’s shelf-life – when they will need to review it.

Sounds like a big task? It is. But believe me, it pays off. Invest some time creating your Who, What and When and spreading the word and you’ll reap the benefits. Up-to-date content, fewer ‘help’ calls from your CMS users, easily findable content, no more griping about the ‘crap CMS’. 

Sounds a bit more doable now, doesn’t it?

Can I still have a new CMS?

I’d be the last one to stop you getting a shiny new CMS with integrated digital asset management, personalisation, A/B testing and all the other bells and whistles. Hey, buy two – I’d love to have one myself.

Just make sure your bosses don’t think that getting a new CMS means you can skimp on your governance.

(Thank you to for the image)

The 12,000 emails of Christmas

Have you been getting a lot of emails lately? I have. Every morning I wake up to a brimming in-box. It’s really quite exciting to be that popular, until I actually look at the emails.

  • 1 Hour Sale!
  • Deals: Up to 70% Off Books
  • EARLY ACCESS: 50% Off Store-wide
  1. 12 Days To Christmas – Offer 2 (this one threw me, I am sure there are15 days til Christmas)

In other words ‘Come and spend your money with us! Now!!

Every morning, and all day, they pour into my in-box. A constant stream of eDMs all screaming for me to spend my ‘Christmas dollars’.

OK, so eDMs are nothing new, and yes I know I can unsubscribe, but at this time of year they come in rather intimidating numbers.

Normally I just delete them and move on with my life – the unsubscribe process is often too much effort for me to bother with.

But this is Christmas, every retailer’s favourite time of the year. Australian shoppers are expected to spend $46.8 billion in the six weeks leading up to December 24 this year. 

 It’s not that surprising that everyone wants a piece of that pie.

I wouldn’t mind a piece and I’m not even a retailer!
What I don’t understand is why the online retailers think they’ll get more money out of me by constantly sending me emails.

Some of them are sending me three or four emails a day. It’s like having a demanding three-year old in my inbox.

They’re not even targeted emails. They don’t even have a “Dear Sophie” or “We thought you’d like this item, as you bought item X last year”. No they are just sending me any and every email they can think of, in the hopes that I might get so overwhelmed, I’ll accidentally buy something.

Surely we’re past this kind of eBombarding. In this age of big data and tailored messages, shouldn’t these companies be sending me tailored offers? And fewer emails!
They’d have a lot more luck sending me one email with an offer tailored to my preferences than a deluge of generic offers.

Ten years ago I worked for a medium sized software retailer. Our marketing team had this amazing application, I believe it was called a ‘CRM’. Using simple filters from this ‘CRM’, our team could match up a customer’s email address with details of what products they had and send them an offer tailored to them?

Being the bright spark that I am, I suggested to the team that we could do something similar with customers who signed up for training courses and other services through our website.

Every eDM we sent to our customers was personally addressed and tailored to the customer – by the products they had, the services they’d used and anything else they’d expressed an interest in.

That was 10 years ago.

Online retailers, for the love of little Christmas decorations, buy a CRM, put data into it, hook it up to the channels where you gather leads and use it. Or at least stop sending me quite so many emails, my inbox is getting so fat, it’s running the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

The power of the Dark Side (of online content)

I’ve been watching a lot of Star Wars recently, and I think I may be missing something. It seems way too easy to turn to the Dark Side

Look at poor old Anakin. He really wanted to be good and for quite a while he was. The Jedi took him from his mother when he was 6 years old, then he watched her die minutes after he next sees her – yet still he’s on the Light side.

OK, so he kills a lot of Tusken raiders, but ‘good’ Jedi run around killing people as part of a normal working day, so was that really Dark?

He’s forbidden to fall in love, yet he’s practically thrown at that sexy minx Padme. Sure, the relationship’s a bit rocky to start with, but it doesn’t get in the way of his Jedi-ing (at first). And really, can love be considered Dark?

Yes, I know the Emperor uses the threat of Padme dying to turn him, but I’m not convinced it was is love that put him at risk, there was a fair amount of ego-stroking there too.

So, what was so Dark about him? He seemed like every other sulky, arrogant 18 year old I’ve ever met. The first time I saw Revenge of the Sith, I had difficulty telling him apart from my brother at the same age – has an answer for everything, usually in mono-syllabic grunts, and he’s angry at the world for not spinning his way.

But he was moody and arrogant way before he became Dark. He spent half the trilogy arguing with poor old Ewen McGregor about pretty much everything.

It seems like he only became Dark when he stopped listening to Ewen and started listening to the corporate big wigs – you know, the Emperor (think Marketing Manager) and Darth (Product Owner?).

Maybe that’s it. Maybe being Dark isn’t about giving into your hate and anger, as the Emperor keeps saying. Maybe it’s giving into the corporate mindset? Thinking only about the bottom line, rather than what the customers need?

That certainly seems to be the case out here in Web World.

Think about it, what is the content that immediately turns us off?

Blogs and tweets and content marketing that says “Look at me. Listen to me. Buy my product / service…” but doesn’t really offer the reader anything useful. Ego-centric and attention seeking puffery, talking up the company / product / service but not really telling the reader anything useful.

Advertising in general often fits in this category.

Most of us start out the same way as young Anakin. We may not be chock full of mediclourians, but we’re equally full of ideas, writing styles, grammar (hopefully) and good syntax. And we all have high ideals about writing clear and useful content, helping web visitors with useful, usable content and generally making the web a better place.

We start out writing highly worthy content, maybe even pieces for not-for-profit organisations. We remain true to the ‘force’ and edit our content carefully to keep it clear, concise and beneficial to our readers.

But then the mighty dollar comes into play. We have to make a living out of our Jedi writing talents. Whether we end up working for large corporations, or we simply contract out to the highest bidder, money becomes the driving force behind why we write.

After all, we have to make a living don’t we?

And it is kinda nice being paid to do what you love.

Whether it’s the first time you see your name as the by-line on an online news site or your manager complements you for writing 20 pages of marketing content in one week, just producing content can give you a buzz.

To tell the truth, with all the sign-offs you need, and all the arguments you need to have with ‘non-content people’, to get the content approved on a corporate website, just seeing the stuff published can be a real high (or sigh of relief).

This is where the Dark Side waits.

Writing content can very easily stop being about providing useful information to your readers and become something darker.

It happens like this.

You write some useful, interesting, beneficial content and submit it for signoff.

Marketing say that it lacks brand appeal and needs more selling points.

Product says that it doesn’t talk up the new functions of the product enough.

Communications say it’s not using the company voice.

Legal are concerned that it may put the company at risk, but won’t tell you how or what changes to make.

Your manager is happy with it but feels that it needs an image to catch the reader’s attention.

You try to take the feedback constructively, tuck your UX ideals firmly back into a box and write a second draft.

Marketing are happy with the brand aspect but are concerned that the selling points aren’t obvious enough.

Product say the product functions are there but you haven’t given them enough prominence.

Communications concatenates all your text to make it more ‘personable’.

Legal feel you’ve lessened the risk, but feel you’ve talked up the product features too much and may be over promising.

Your manager likes the image but the text is too long to fit around it without readers having to scroll.

You take five, have a coffee and try not to pull your hair out.

After the coffee, you rewrite the content to fit everyone’s comments, shorten it to please your manger, take out all the useful information so that Legal are appeased and fill in the blanks with adjectives and hyperbole so that Product are happy.

Everyone loves the content. You feel pleased, but somehow a little hollow.

And little bit by little bit, you slip over to the Dark Side, where the corporate agenda takes the place of useful content.

It is a slippery slope.

Sadly, we can’t just convince the Product Owner (that’s our Darth Vader) to turn to the Light side and throw Marketing into a convenient generator shaft. We have to do it the hard way.

Each time we get feedback that pulls our content towards the Dark side of corporate marketese and puffery, we have fight back with usability and common (or not so common) sense.

We may not have light sabers but we have our writing skills, an Internet full of best practice content writing examples and the force on our side.

Well maybe not the force, but we do have usability testing, site statistics and live chat. You can always turn to the Rebellion (our customers) if you need more fire power.

Sophie Fanning – Web Trainer at

Dog with leash in its mouth

Obedience training for your website


Will customers ever learn? (your site)

A few years ago, I ran a website that sold software.

Now and then we released patches to our software, as you do, and I remember having the oddest conversation with our server guy.

Now the thing about releasing software patches is that you want people to download them. They make your product work better, they even fix things in your product that don’t work without the patch.

With this patch we wanted to capture the customer’s product number so we’d know who had downloaded the patch and who hadn’t. Then we could email anyone who hadn’t downloaded the patch and pretty much throw it at them.

It was a major patch and, I think, a fairly vital repair to our product.

You’d think we would want to make downloading these patches as easy as possible.

Well I thought so.

Not so much my server guy. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Can we just capture their product number give them a link to download?

Server Guy: They’ll have to log into the portal.

Me: But we don’t need them to log into the portal, we just want to capture their product number.

SG: They’ll have to log into the portal.

Me: That would make it harder for them. Most of them have the software on a different computer than the one they use for emails and the web.

SG: They’ll have to log into the portal.

You get where this conversation was going, don’t you?

Eventually, I managed to convince Server Guy to just capture the product number but those are two gruelling hours of my life I’ll never get back.

So why was Server Guy being so stubborn?

Well I did get to the bottom of that. It was to do with keeping the code-base clean and not having to build new fields in the database. Also I think he was worried about security.

All worthy reasons, but it was the next one that floored me.

“They just need to learn how the system [web page] works.”

Seriously? Online customers, who can easily buy their software from another website, should learn the way our site works, to download a patch to our software, to fix an error we caused.


Now that got me thinking, because it’s neither the first nor the last time that I’ve been told that customers should just learn our websites.

In my mind, anyone who has worked in the digital world for more than 10 minutes should know that expecting your site visitor to “learn how the system works” is a recipe for site death. Customers who can’t figure out how to use your website will leave. They won’t stick around to work it out – not unless they have no choice in the matter.

Even then, they’ll find a way to sever the ties and not use your site again.

When a site visitor can’t figure out how to use your site, one of two things happens. Either they feel stupid or they think your site is stupid. If a website makes you feel stupid, you’re not likely to use it again. If you think a website is stupid, you’re even less likely to use it.

So there was me, wondering how on earth Server Guy could be thinking it was a good idea to make our site visitors jump through hoops just to keep his code-base clean.

“Don’t worry about it”, I told myself. “You’ve fixed it now, get on with some work.” So I sat down to draft my monthly report to the website’s governing board.

In MS Word.

Word 7 that is. You know, the version where they introduced the “ribbon” and took away all my short-cut keys.

Yes, that one. Where you have to relearn all the habits you’d built up over 15 years of using MS Word before they brought in the ribbon.

Ohhhhh I see. That’s how it works:

Dev: “I’ve got a great idea about how we can improve the interface.”

UX person: “But won’t changing the interface make everyone have to relearn the application?”

Dev: “That’s OK, they can just learn how the new system works.”

And, since it was MS Word, the word processing program most companies’ have as standard, I really did have no choice but to learn how it works.


Makes you think though.

We can get so caught up in our new design or functionality or nav structure that we forget about the people we want to use it.

Just because your ‘improvement’ makes sense to you, that doesn’t guarantee it won’t be another person’s Word 7.

PS apologies to Microsoft, I’m quite happy on Word now, it just took me a while to get used to it. I still miss my short-cut keys though 😦

Dog with leash in its mouth

Obedience training for your website

Servant of many masters – how do you create content for all digital devices?

I’m fascinated by how we use our different devices these days.

I was in a café the other day with a friend of mine and her phone rang. She pulled it out of her bag to answer it, but didn’t put it to her ear. She just plugged in her hands free.

And no wonder, her phone was huge.

I asked her about this and she told me that she mainly used her phone for reading and sending emails and texts and scanning online articles.

Her phone isn’t really a phone, it’s a mini tablet that just happens to take phone calls.

More recently, I was out and about with Mr Man and we were discussing an email he needed to send. He said he didn’t want to do it until we got home, as he hated the tiny keyboard on his phone. His phone is much smaller than my friend’s one and he mainly uses it as, well, a phone.

He does like to scan Facebook and read his various hobby sites on his phone, he just doesn’t like typing on it.

My phone is about half way between Mr Man’s and my friend’s in size and I know I bounce from it to other devices depending on what I’m doing:

Phone for quick scans – emails, Facebook, LinkedIn, the Weather App, etc – and oddly enough phone calls and texts

Tablet for surfing the InterGoogle, checking IMDB and reading things that interest me.

Laptop (with separate large screen) for doing serious stuff – like writing this blog.

I haven’t turned the TV into a web device, yet, but I am sure it is only a matter of time. Not sure what I’ll use it for, but I’m guessing on-demand movies.

Of course I’m an amateur compared to my step-children. The munchkins would be crippled without their iDevices. Particularly the girls! Low hanging fruit when it comes to disciplining them.

Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, You Tube…you name it and they are glued to it as often as we let them.

OK, so they’re on iPads, so it’s all about Apps, but they do stray onto the InterGoogle now and then. They discovered the website version of Facebook the other day and couldn’t believe the amount of information on the page!

And that is the thing that got me thinking about this post. If people constantly jump from phones to tablets to laptops or even desktops, how do we build our websites to make sure they get a satisfying experience across the board?

We know that phone screens are small, unless you’re my friend in the café, so we can’t pack all the widgets and functionality into a phone screen that we might on a 1920 x 1080 desktop screen.

We also know that mobile phones are slowly taking over as the device of choice for online stuff – this year 33% of all web pages served globally were viewed on mobile phones (thank you

So what do we do?

One approach is to design the whole web experience – desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile phone – to suit the smaller phone screen. I looked at some examples of this approach in my June post Banner-style home pages – beautiful design or annoying barriers and I wasn’t all that keen.

It’s the easiest solution – one site design, one set of content to maintain, but does it meet your site visitor’s needs?

I think of how delighted my step-daughters were when they discovered the Facebook website, having previously only used the App. It was a bit like Christmas, they kept discovering new things they’d never seen before.

Imagine your customers having the same reaction when they view your website on a computer and a screen larger than their phone or tablet. You could reward them for coming to your ‘full’ website by giving them useful tools or information.

Of course that’s a bit of a two edged sword, you don’t want your mobile customers to miss out on great content and functionality, just because they’re using a different device.

Many of the studies I’ve read suggest that the smaller the device, the more simple and task oriented the site should be. Having started using an iWatch recently, I can understand the logic in that argument.

As Jakob Nielsen and his team have pointed out in many articles, the small screen and large ‘click area’ of mobile phones do lend themselves to simpler designs and streamlined tasks. A point they also make, that resonates with me, is that the mobile phone has a major role as a time waster – giving you something to do while waiting for that bus or business meeting.

Recent studies are showing mobile phones stacking up the numbers as the device of choice when making online purchases. My query there is how much research do customers do on other devices before they make that purchase on their phone. I’m also curious to know what kinds of items we purchase our phones vs other online devices? Do we make smaller, trivial purchase on our phones, but keep the bigger ones on our laptops or even take them offline?

It pays to do a bit of research to find out what people are more likely to want to do on each type of device and then tailor your different web offerings to match.

A daunting task? Yes, but didn’t we get into digital because we like a challenge?

Of course you could always use a responsive design.

One set of content, with <div> tags reformatting it to display nicely on each device. This is very ‘in’ right now. I do it myself on my site.  It works quite nicely if your content is simple and renders nicely on a mobile – i.e. it doesn’t create a page takes up 20-30 ‘screens’ on the phone.

But I don’t think it solves the whole problem, it addresses how to lay out the content but I’m not convinced that it deals with the questions of how much complexity – tools, widgets, and more detailed content – is easily digested on a mobile device vs a PC.

I think we need to put thought, research and usability testing into identifying the different tasks, and the different content and functionality to satisfy those tasks, customers want to perform on each type of device.

Mobile devices haven’t been around very long, and they are constantly changing. I believe we have quite a way to go before we can confidently know what to serve to a phone vs what to send to a larger screen.

Who knows, maybe the whole industry will be overtaken by the ‘next big thing’ and we’ll be creating ‘websites’ that are served directly to a customer’s optic nerve?

Dog with leash in its mouth

Obedience training for your website

Change is good – but how much is too much?

It’s amazing how much time you can waste, tweaking a website. I launched a new site a month ago and not a day goes by that I don’t make some small change to it. This morning I spent four hours trying to get it to render nicely on a mobile.

It still doesn’t display properly, not sure why. Cascading style sheets are not my forte

Still, I managed to add some useful content while I was in there, and I fixed a navigation link, so I didn’t waste the whole morning.

But the question remains, how often should you update your site and when should you draw a line in the sand and say “enough, this is done”?

Well that really depends on the size and complexity of the website.

In theory we should publish new content to our sites as often as we can – get our good news stories out there, start conversations with our customers, keep our social media initiatives rolling along and keep the site “live” in our customers’ minds.

But what about our core content? How often should we update that?

I ask this because I have edited and republished every page on my site, on average, around once every second day for the last month. This may be a bit excessive, but I am a perfectionist when it comes to my own content and the site (and the company it represents) are both rather young.

Many of the large corporate websites I’ve worked on had pages that haven’t been touched since they were first published.

I worked on one site that had the same content on the home page for over 6 months. The only thing that changed was the latest news release and that didn’t get updated as often as you’d think

Regardless of the age-old saying about the immediacy of websites and how they can be updated in real time, most website content isn’t updated half as much as it should be.

There are some pages that are updated regularly, they are small in number and usually related to one of three things:

  • Sales
  • Social and content marketing
  • News and public relations

These are the areas of the site with metrics that management care most about – How much are we selling online? What are our customer saying about us? and What good news are we telling our customers?

The rest of the site, the pages that outline who we are, what we do, how to contact us and how to get support for our products and services, they often remain untouched from the day they are created.

Typically what happens is this:

Rebuild – the site is rebuilt as part of a move to a new CMS platform, a company rebrand or some other large IT or marketing-led initiative.

This is usually done by a project team with KPIs around speed and delivery, rather than content quality or usability. All the content is pushed through the necessary signoffs as part of the project.

There is often a large well-funded team working on the project, with access to any part of the company when and how they need it.  This I know, as I have often been part of that team.

At this point, the site has high visibility in the company due to the expense of the project.

Launch – the project delivers and the site is launched to an unsuspecting public. The project team all celebrate a successful delivery and then go on to the next gig.

Maintenance – the site is now turned over the BAU team. Often the same people who were looking after it before the rebuild. The spotlight is no longer on the site, as the project has been delivered.

One of two things tends to happen at this point, depending on the attitude of senior management.

  1. If management are savvy in the world of web, the web team are given a mandate to keep the site current and the tools, resources and authority to do so.
  2. If management are not so up with the play, the web team are left to their own devices with little direction or accountability beyond keeping the lights on.
    They may have KPIs around online sales or the number of blog posts they publish, but they will have little or no incentive or power to maintain the overall quality and currency of the site.

I’d like to say that scenario 1 is the more common, but in my experience we often end up at door number 2. Most companies will only put time and energy into a whole-site review when they’re rebuilding the site for other reasons – the new CMS / rebranding exercise we met earlier on.

Many poor web teams end up with a site that has no clearly identified owners, little or no governance around who signs off which changes and a company that is all care and no responsibility. Everyone is a “web expert” these days, thanks to Google, Facebook and their ilk, and will happily tell you what is wrong with the company website, very few people are happy to take responsibility for putting those wrongs right.

So we’ve gone from one end of the spectrum – updating pages every day – to the other – leaving pages to stagnate.

Which is worse?

I can tell you that one of them takes a lot less energy, but that probably isn’t relevant right now, unless you’re the resource manager for a web team.

I do know that I’m planning to tone down my updating rampage from now on. I need to concentrate on other things, like getting clients. But there are other reasons why I need to leave my site be for a bit.

One is Google. Agile though Google is at crawling through the worldly wise web, even those huge data farms can’t reindex my site every day. I need to keep the site structure and content constant for a bit, so Google can catch up with me.

The other is customers, which is more relevant for me. We humans are creatures of habit, we like a bit of familiarity around us. If I constantly change the content on my site, I’m preventing site visitors from forming a comfortable view of what I have to offer.

So I’m going to cut back on my edits. Maybe only update once a week, rather than every day. I’m optimistically telling myself that from now on, the only changes I’ll need to make will be publishing links to my blog posts (ie this) and my You Tube posts. Now wouldn’t that be nice?

As for those larger corporate websites I mentioned, how often should they change their content? The best answer I can give is – when the content needs to be changed.

Yes I know, a “how long is a piece of string” answer, but bear with me.

The key is not necessarily to update or change content but to make sure that content is still up to date and relevant to your customers.

The trick is to make sure it looks up to date.

On the sites I’ve managed, I set a review date against all of my pages – 6 months for information pages, shorter for more high traffic areas, like product or sales materials. I’ve also made sure that there is someone there to conduct that review when it comes along.

Yes, I am a governance girl! I’m quite good at getting people to step up and own site pages.

I also made sure that the last publish date was visible at the foot of each content page on the site. Even if I’d only changed the colour of a button, the page looked up to date.

Remember, perception is reality!

Dog with leash in its mouth

Obedience training for your website

Why do I like my iWatch?

When Apple first released the iWatch I was dubious at best, verging on scornful. “Another iDevice” I thought. One that seemed to have more form than function. The function it had only worked when it was slaved to another iDevice.

“This is just a cynical move on Apple’s part to create demand for their brand” said I. “Apple are going after the youth market with another must-have cool thing” – my step-kids were evidence of that.

Anyway, I already had a watch, a gift from my husband that matched my wedding rings and had pretty, sparkly diamonds in it. Why would I want a big plastic one instead?

Then I got a phone call… “You’ve won an iWatch. What colour would you like?”

“Hmmmm…. Black?”

So now I have this big plastic watch that has to be strapped firmly to my wrist to even work (can anyone say eczema?) and sulks if you take it more than 15 metres from my iPhone.

And the screen!! Who can use a screen that small? The buttons are at least 50% smaller than the recommended touch size.

Sell it! You say. Well why not?

I did consider that.

But then the watch started talking to me…

OK not actual talking but there were little, polite buzzes (like a butler’s cough) telling me I had a text message or that I’d completed my “Move Goal” for the day.

I even got awards for moving!

Slowly, I started to like the little thing. Going for longer walks just to please it. Trying to find more energetic exercise routines to impress it. Even standing up when it told me to.

And sleeping… I was getting to bed earlier just to see if I could convince it that I actually slept for eight hours.

Then I discovered that I could use it instead of my phone. I could leave my phone in my pocket or briefcase and just talk to the watch – OK this doesn’t work all the time and I’m told the sound quality isn’t the best, but it’s fun for me.

This got me thinking about our relationship with devices and why a cynic like me can be won over by Apple’s latest gimmick.

Putting aside the fact that Apple employs some very smart people, who specialise in anticipating the next gadget market, I came up with a theory.

What are the two things that the iWatch does for me that my other iDevices don’t?

  1. It tracks my movement, heartbeat, calories burnt and steps walked 24/7 and reports back to me – the scorecard.
  2. It acts as a conduit to my phone, notifying me when I have calls and messages. My favourite trick it being able to control my music from my wrist – the remote control.

While the second trick is nifty, it’s the first one that won me over.

Yes, we have FitBits and Garmen heart rate monitors, and yes they are probably cheaper than an iWatch (although I won this watch, so cost wasn’t really a factor for me) but the stats I get from the iWatch have actually changed the way I structure my day – my exercise and my sleep.

Now that I can see, in real time, how many steps I’ve walked, calories I’ve burned, kms I’ve walked and stories I’ve climbed, I walk further and faster and I even look for opportunities to walk up stairs!

There is a cartoon I rather like – it has two images.

Image 1. God is telling King Sisyphus he has to push a bolder up a hill only to watch it roll back down again. King Sisyphus doesn’t look happy.

Image 2. God tells King Sisyphus that he gets a ‘point’ each time he gets to the top of the hill. Happy King.

To me, the iWatch tracking my exercise and sleep has the same effect. Because I can track my movement, heart rate and calories, I now find meaning and purpose in simple tasks like walking to the supermarket to do the shopping.

We humans thrive on definition and positive feedback, my iWatch gives me both.

I still think the watch my husband gave me is prettier, but now I only wear it on special occasions (and try not to think about the calories I’m not tracking).

How do we know we’re listening to our customers’ voices?

Usability testing is a funny thing. On the surface, it’s a vital key to unlock the all-important “voice of the customer”. But how do you know it’s the customer’s voice you’re hearing?

When I built my first intranet, it never occurred to ask my ‘users’ what they thought of it. I just polished and published my pages and hoped for the best.

Back then, just getting people to look at the intranet was an achievement.

It wasn’t until I launched my first major corporate website that I thought to test it. I’d been reading Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think and it got me thinking.

So I drummed up a bit of budget. I got a whole $500 to buy thank you gifts for my test subjects. I think we gave them Gold Class movie tickets. And I cajoled our training team into recruiting test subjects for me, from the customers they trained each day. $50 tickets to spend an hour with me, telling me how easy / hard it was to complete simple tasks on our site.

Well… did I learn a lot!!  The site wasn’t half as easy to use as I thought. None of my test subjects could find our Contact Us page (the third most frequent task on the site).

Embarrassing, but I certainly heard my  customers’ voices. I sat right next to 10 of them and listened!

That was my first usability testing experience and the first time I sat in the facilitator’s seat.

My second time around was a bit more complicated and a lot more costly.

A year after my first tests, I went back to senior management and asked for $40k to hire a professional usability firm to run end to end testing on the new booking process for our training courses.

A bit of back story

When I first launched our website, customers booked training courses by:

  1. Sending an email to our training team.
  2. Getting a phone call.
  3. Discussing what they wanted and providing a credit card number.
  4. Done.

Then we ran a multi-million dollar CRM project, so that we could better manage our customers. Those same training customers who had taught me so much about my site a year earlier.

With this new CRM, came with a new process for booking training courses, all online, “out of the box”. Now all our customers had to do was:

  1. Search for a course in our catalogue – assuming they knew what course they wanted to do.
  2. Sign up each person who wanted to do the course – you had to sign them up separately.
  3. Set up an account in our system – you know, contact person, address, phone number, name of your first born son etc.
  4. Then, and only then, could they see how much the training would cost, any discounts etc.
  5. Finally they could pay for their course – if they had the right credit card – we only took Visa and MasterCard.

It was when I tried this process myself, in our staging site, that I went to our management team cap in hand

Not my smartest move, I had no evidence that the process was flawed. Only my gut instinct.

The new booking process was launched on our website with no usability testing. Six people out of every ten who tried to book a course dropped out before they completed their booking.

In one month the training team had a drop in revenue of 40%.

Talk about voice of the customer! More like footsteps of the customer running away to find an easier way to book training courses.

I got my $40k.

When senior management watched recordings of the testing they were happy to invest in a change to the journey.

The good, the bad, and the plain wrong

I was lucky in my first two forays in to usability testing. 

When I tried my hand at it, I had clear and easy to follow instructions from experts like Jacob Nielsen and Steve Krug. I diligently followed all their advice about:

  • remaining neutral 
  • not asking leading questions 
  • letting the test subjects find their own way around site.

When I outsourced my testing, the company I used were true experts. They facilitated each session calmly and clearly without leading the subjects in any way. They were quick on their feet and followed the subject wherever they went, gently encouraging them to share their thoughts on each aspect of the process.

Both times, my customers’ voices came through loud and clear.

I only wish all my usability test experiences were as good.

More recently, I commissioned a different company to do some simple task analysis across the site I was managing. All we wanted to know was how easy it was to complete key tasks, mainly sales and support tasks, on our site.  Not rocket science. 

I won’t bore you with the details, but one incident stood out.

Towards the end of the third session, we were doing 10 in all, I realised that none of our test subjects had used our Search. Not one.

Thinking about it, I realised that not a lot of the visitors to our live site used Search either. I was curious as to why. Given that our Search box was rather large and very prominent, you’d think people would use it.

Was our navigation structure that good? Were people searching our site via Google? Hearing from our customers would be very useful right now.

I pulled the facilitator aside and asked her to add a question at the end of the next seven sessions. I even gave her the words:

“I notice you haven’t used the search at all. Could you please talk me through why you didn’t feel the need to search.”

Simple, right?  Well apparently not.

I sat through the next session. And no, the subject didn’t search. I waited at the end to see what the subject would say…

The facilitator gets to the end of the session and then:

“Could you complete this next task by using the search box please?”

What?!!  That’s not what I told her to ask.

She wasn’t even listening to my voice, let alone the customers’.

Take out the middle man?

Facilitated usability testing can really fall on its face if you have the wrong facilitator. It’s so subjective.

So what’s our alternative?

Take the facilitator out of the equation. Let the customer speak for themselves.

These days we have a whole range of non-facilitated testing options. Non-facilitated usability testing applications are all over the web.

For those of you playing at home, these applications let you set up a set of tasks for subjects to complete on your site (or in your online application, as long as it is on a publicly accessible browser, you can test it), add a series of questions and then invite subjects to do the tasks, answer the question and comment.

You can even ask your subjects to turn on their computers’ cameras and talk out loud as they complete your test.

I still have my reservations about these kinds of tests. 

They are just a bit cookie-cutter, artificial intelligence for me.

Sure they’re more objective. And there’s no facilitator to accidentally influence your subject or go off script. They’re cheaper too – easier to get budget from management.

But, in my mind there are two down sides:

    1. Just like the site you’re testing, once you’ve set up your test and hit Go, the test is on its own. You can’t change anything and you can’t see what’s happening.

So if a test subject gets stuck, or something goes wrong, your test subjects are as alone as they would be on your website. There is no one to ask for help. And you’ll only know about it after the test is over.

I can almost hear the usability community thinking up how they can test the usability of usability tests.

  • Even if everything goes to plan, I don’t think the feedback you get from your test subjects is as rich. 

Most of their feedback will be typed – either comments or answers to your questions. There are very few people who are more talkative when typing than when they talk out loud. So you’re not going to get as much feedback as you would from a facilitated test.

“Ah, you say, what about the camera? Surely you can get feedback from them talking to the camera?” How many people do you know who are comfortable talking to themselves? Particularly when they’re not being prompted.

Again, I’m not seeing the quantity or quality of feedback you can get from a facilitated test.

So how do we listen to our customers’ voices? 

It seems to me that we have two choices:

  1. Trust our facilitators to stay neutral, not influence the test subjects, and act as the voice of the customer.
  2. Take away the facilitators and turn to the online tests. Our customer’s voices will come out as sound bites and statistics. But at least we’ll hear them.

And that’s the point really, any tool that lets you hear what your customers are saying about your site is better than none.

How else will you know if they can find your Contact us page?

If you’d like some help with talking to your site users or with your site content in general, have a chat with F-Two consulting. We can help you teach your website how to talk your customers’ language.

Websites don’t always tell us what we want to know

Have you ever looked at a web page and found you have more questions than answers? If you’re anything like me, this happens to you quite often.

For example:

The other night, I was trying to book a hotel room for the family – me, Mr Man and our rug-rats. We wanted a room for one night and preferred to have a separate room for the offspring (privacy when sleeping is a key requirement).

Simple right? Wrong.

I found rooms that slept 5 (we have three rug-rats). I found rooms with the option of double beds and bunks. I even found a whole house for rent.

What I couldn’t be sure of was whether the room we wanted had all three single beds in the adjoining room (we’ve been caught out before).

Such a small detail, but it meant the difference between me booking the room or looking elsewhere. One little detail lost that hotel a booking.

Now the rest of the site was lovely, pretty pictures of the rooms, clear rate information but that one detail, one the person who built the site could easily find out, but hadn’t thought to highlight, didn’t make it onto the site.

There’s a fairly simple explanation for why this information wasn’t on the site. The person building the site hadn’t thought to include it. Why not? They were focusing on the things they wanted to promote about the hotel, they weren’t thinking about the details people might want to know.

They’d just spent who knows how many hours thinking of all the attractions of the room – bar fridge, microwave, an iron and ironing board – lots of hotel stuff.

The room looked lovely, if it weren’t for that one question I’d have booked it in a heartbeat.

These kinds of information gaps are the result of what is called the ‘danger of too much knowledge’. If I already know something, it doesn’t always occur to me that someone else might not know it, or that they might even want to know it.

Because the person who built the site knew where the beds were, it didn’t occur to them to spell it out for each room. They might not have children, or they might like sharing a room with their children, so the location of the beds wouldn’t be an issue for them.

This kind of communication gap can happen outside the web too:

  • Writing an email to a colleague with feedback on a document
  • Giving a friend directions on how to find your house
  • Telling your other half how to perform a task that you usually do around the house

Your communication could leave your colleague, friend or other half with only half the information they need.

My Mr Man does this to me rather frequently.

You have context that they don’t – you might even have had the whole conversation in your head but only half of it made it to your mouth – it’s very easy to miss out details when they’re already in your head.

When you’re explaining something to another person, you’re much more familiar with the concept you’re trying to communicate than they are – it’s in your head after all.

The difference between these other forms of communication and your website is that your colleague, friend or partner can ask you for more information.

You web visitor can’t. Well they can but why would they when it is easier to just go to a different website that provides them with the information they want.

So how do you create web pages, and other forms of communication, that don’t have these information gaps in them?

There are a couple of things you can do:

  1. Question, question, question – interrogate your content. Try to think of every question you want your content to answer and test it against those questions.
  2. Give your content to someone else and ask them to do the same thing.
  3. If you’re writing for an external site, with an audience of customers, ask the call centre what their main queries are. Make sure your content addresses all those queries.
  4. Most of all – test your content with real users. Get them to try all the tasks your site needs to satisfy and see what questions they come up with.

A good technique to use for any kind of communication is to put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re communicating with. Ask yourself “what do they need to know?” not “what do I want to tell them?”

The key to good communication – communicate for your audience, not yourself. 

If you’d like some help with your site content, have a chat with F-Two consulting. We can help you teach your website how to talk your customers’ language.

Are we really happy to scroll?

Someone said to me recently “people are happy to scroll” on websites.

That comment got me thinking. People are happy to scroll. Are they? Is it really that simple? Does this mean we can create pages with as much content as we like, confident that our site visitors will happily scroll down from screen to screen until they find what they’re looking for?

It’d be nice, wouldn’t it, to not have to worry about keeping our pages short and succinct? Think of all that time you’d save not having to edit every page to keep it as focused and structured as you can.

Sadly I don’t think it’s that simple.

In a way, scrolling through web pages is very much like turning pages in a book or magazine. You’re happy to do it, but only if you are fairly confident that there is something on the next page that will interest you.

The comment was made to me by a colleague, when we were workshopping a new home page for the corporate website we both worked on.

I might have agreed with him if we were talking about a news release or blog page. These pages, by their very nature, lead us to scroll down the page to read them. But we were talking about the home page. This is the page people see when they first enter the site (well 40% of people, thanks to Google and a lot of SEO work, we had a fair amount of deep-site entries).

These people just typed in our URL and hit Enter. They had no context and no information to go on other than what they saw on that page. If the home page doesn’t show them something relevant to why they came to the site, why would they go any further?

When I’m looking a website home page, the only things I expect to have to scroll down for are news releases and the site footer.

As it was, I thought the comment very naïve and not based on customer behaviour.

Why do we scroll?

According to Amy Schade of the Nielsen Norman Group, the ‘fold’ (the bottom of the first screen you seen when you open a web page) is still a barrier to be aware of. The fold is a more complex beast these days, as it shifts around depending on the device your site visitor uses. But it’s still a very good idea to put the key points, or at least navigation links to the key points, of your page where your site visitors can see them without scrolling.

Why? As Ms Schade points out in her article The Fold Manifesto: Why the Page Fold Still Matters it is about interaction cost. Simply put, if you can’t see it, how do you know it is there? If a page has information that you want, but you can’t see it when you first open the page, you have to go looking for it – thus increasing your interaction with that page.

Imagine walking into a shop. Choose your favourite type, I’ll choose a clothing shop (I am female).

So you walk in and all you see are jeans, ads for jeans and the accessories that go with jeans – belts and the like.

Would you walk around the shop looking for business shirts? Maybe they have a rack of them out the back?

Now why would you do that if there is no indication that the shop sells anything other than jeans?

Of course, if the shop displayed a rack of shirts in amongst the jeans, you might have more reason to look further.

A simplistic example maybe, but I don’t think we’re that different in our thinking online than we are offline. If I don’t see at least a hint of what I’m looking for on a web page, I am very unlikely to scroll down that page looking for it.

So why did my colleague confidently tell me that “people are happy to scroll”? Well he (yes, he. I shall refrain from any gender based comments on pig headedness but feel free to make assumptions yourself) may have been thinking about smart phones and tablets and how we tend to swipe a lot on them.

He also could have been thinking that websites in recent years are a lot more content rich and therefore web site visitors are becoming accustomed to longer pages. Blogs, for example, very rarely fit in a single screen (I think I’m well into screen 2 or 3 here, depending on what you’re using to read this).

Personally, I think he just liked the design he’d copied off CommBank, but maybe I’m a little biased?

I could be old-fashioned but I still like to see headings or links to tell me what’s on a page.  Don’t expect me to randomly search down an overly long page just because you think I’m happy to scroll.

If you’d like some help tailoring your pages to stay ‘above the fold’ or you’d like to tidy up your site content, have a chat with F-Two consulting. We can help you teach your website how to talk your customers’ language.