Sometimes, a responsive web design is not the most appropriate way to develop a company’s mobile presence. There, I said it. Recently, all the talk is about responsive design – justifiably for the most part; it is a genuinely significant change for a lot of clients who now need to consider how and where their websites are viewed, beyond the desktop. And for web designers it’s probably the most significant change in development practices since we all decided that HTML and CSS were a better way to build sites than Flash. But it’s not always appropriate.
A recent case in point is the work I’ve been doing for Momentum Events. It’s a big WordPress site with a lot of custom plugins, a lot of content, a lot of assets (PDF downloads, etc.), a lot of traffic, and a good number of mobile users.
We took the decision to design & develop separate desktop and mobile sites. In this way, we would serve up code bases that were substantively different from each other (something made straightforward with WordPress and the addition of the excellent ‘Any Mobile Theme Switcher Pro‘ plugin) and provide tailored user experiences as a result.
But why? Why didn’t we do the same thing – but with a responsive design?
Well, okay, we could have. Mostly. But here’s the thing: pages are big, and mobiles are slow. The home page for Momentum has 22 images on it … most of them are ‘lazily loaded’ so they don’t exert a page weight immediately – i.e. they don’t impact download time of the page – but still, on a mobile device, that’s going to slow the site down considerably. (A common mistake when developing for mobile is assuming that everyone everywhere has a decent connection. Well, I’m in rural Ireland, my client is in Manhattan … I can tell you this: we have very different expectations of our mobile network speeds!)
Additionally, the home page connects to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus. That’s a lot of external connections that we don’t have control over. Again, these will be loaded in such a way as to not impact the download of the home page – but on a mobile device, they’ll potentially create a ‘stuttering’ experience whilst the connections are made.
A page size of a few Mb’s is not ideal on a desktop browser … but on a mobile browser it becomes downright irresponsible. As Brad Frost points out:
One of the biggest challenges of creating responsive web designs is the balancing act of delivering a full experience while still maintaining a snappy user experience across the board
Across the board, only 3% of small screen versions of websites are significantly lighter than their desktop equivalents. That’s not good.
But yes, we could have developed our site to be within that 3% (and given ourselves shiny apples and gold stars as reward). But still – we chose a dedicated site.
For us, it came down to context and relevance in the end. Our feeling was that – for business users looking to find out about business conferences – we wanted to present different information – information that was more relevant – in a mobile context. So, the home page of the site for the desktop version talks about ‘big picture’ things (mission statements, business partners, company brochure) as well as the events themselves … but the mobile version of the home page – that’s all about the events. Just a simple list of events that makes it super easy to get right into the guts of the content.
A dedicated event page of the desktop version – again, that has a richer experience for the user: speaker photos, connection information, twitter stream, LinkedIn Group information, and so on. The mobile version of the same page is much much lighter – and arguably more focussed.
However, if you want to serve up substantively different content to different devices then perhaps a dedicated mobile site is the way to go after all. You can achieve it quite readily, without a lot of the attendant headaches you may get when attempting the same effect responsively.
I first watched this a while ago – maybe 6 months – and I still chuckle when I think of it. Shawn Achor talks about happiness. This is particularly interesting to me at the moment, having had a conversation with my 9 year old son about why I don’t watch the news any more. (The reason I don’t watch the news any more is because it obviously only reports a tiny percentage of what happens in the world – and obviously always the bad stuff. It’s not representative and it’s a pretty shoddy lens through which to develop a world view).
Anyway, this Ted Talk is great – I think you’ll like it too:
I tend to have a lot of tabs open when I’m browsing – often, upwards of 20. I also like to listen to music while I work – I have the sound turned up on my laptop, or I have iTunes going from my main computer through my lovely JBL speakers. So few things annoy me more than when one of my swiftly opened tabs starts automatically playing audio.
Whether it’s a YouTube video set to auto play, or an obnoxious website that provides it’s own backing music – I want rid of it. Currently, there are no easy ways for me to identify which tabs is playing the audio – so I have to trawl through them all looking to see which ones have a video running, or might have their own soundtrack, or whatever. It’s a hugely invasive pain in the butt.
But for how much longer?
Google Chrome (my browser of choice) appears to be working towards tab level indicators for audio. Hooray! It’s currently available in Canary (which is kind of like a beta-Chrome you can download if you want to access the latest bleeding edge browsing features – but more stable than Chromium – their nightly build of Chrome). This little video shows it in action:
It’s not often that Google introduces modifications that genuinely improve the way I work. Sure – plenty that are nice to haves (I just played with the latest version of Google Maps – and it looked and worked great – but a bit unnecessary since I had no problem with the old Google Maps, it did everything I needed it to do pretty well), but few that are a genuine improvement.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I first had a play around with the new Gmail interface.
In short, they’ve added automatic filtering for different types of messages: primary (typically emails from real people – stuff that could be expected to require an action or a response), social (updates from Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, or whatever), promotions (all my email newsletters go in here, promotions from suppliers who I have a relationship with, and so on), updates (has my Amazon order shipped yet?) and forums (I’m active in a few online forums – and they all go in here).
Nice. Of course, the most surprising thing about it is that it works – I’ve not had to shift any messages from one box to another (although I could easily if I needed to, and the act of doing it once should ensure that Gmail learns for next time) and all the groupings so far seem sensible and relevant.
It’s even happy on my Android phone. The split into inboxes hasn’t been disruptive at all, it works as I would expect. My only complaint so far is that sometimes the message counts aren’t right in the mobile app – but that used to happen before. Hopefully it’s a bug that’ll get iron out.
What all of this means is that I can process emails in batches more easily. I know that I can leave my ‘social’, ‘forums’, ‘updates’ boxes alone all day (all week) if I wanted to – I’m not distracted by a bloated ‘unread count’ – and only deal with emails in my priority inbox.
The people behind it were looking for $65,000 on Kickstarter to help fund their project. They raised $484,013. Those that backed them on Kickstarter are going to be getting seeds to plant their own glowing plants. How cool is that? Back them up to $90 and you’d have received a book on how to grow your own glowing plant!
Good stuff – and if, one day, street lamps are replaced by glowing plants and trees I think that would be great. A little creepy. But great.
(They’ve a website here)
Probably not. Not that much anyway.
Since Google became the best place to get reliable search results on the web (what, 10 years ago?), they (and I) have been preaching that a well structured page with well written content containing a good balance of keyword information and useful information to the potential viewer, is the best way to get your page naturally noticed by google. But I’m not sure it is any more.
Increasingly, the Google search results page is being taken over purely by Google products, with natural search results being pushed further and further down the page. The screenshot below shows the results of a search for ‘Solar panels Northern Ireland’ (was wondering how to make the most from this great weather!)
It’s a screenshot that was taken from my 13″ MacBook Pro and shows the full screen as I saw it. And there isn’t a single organic search result on there. You’ve got the top left of the page taken up with adverts from googles AdWord product – as well as more ads on the right hand side. You’ve got a map generated by google map which lists some local businesses – which conincides with the businesses listed beneath the ads in the main column, in that they’ve all set up Google+ pages in order to get their presence boosted.
So, if you’re looking to promote a business and are thinking that search is a good way to do so, you probably have other factors to consider first. Like it or not, your website will become part of Google’s environment and to succeed you’ll need to be in that environment. Screen real estate is at a premium – particularly on mobile devices, and Google is eating up more and more of it. Organic search is still important – particularly if your business isn’t looking locally for the bulk of it’s customers – but it’s competing with more and more google products, and there’s only going to be one winner there.
At the beginning of last month I wrote a post about custom dashboards in google analytics and I promised at the time I’d come back and write a companion post about setting up goals and funnels in google analytics.
There is going to be a cross over in some of the subject matter on these two blogs – but for now, the rule of thumb will be: things I find interesting in the day to day of running my business (cool tips & techniques I find online, great gadgets I need to save up for, etc.) or current interests (like productivity, or the mobile web) will be featured here.
For Website Owners will deal more specifically with the challenges facing business owners who are now also website owners – how they should go about promoting their business online, getting more customers through their website, or just getting a handle on their social media efforts. And you can check it out here.
It’s not a very closely kept secret – I’ve had a little notice at the top of the page for a couple of weeks, but the time has finally arrived to take the wrappers off of the book I’m writing.
I’m writing a manual for website owners which will guide those who have recently launched a website, are planning to launch a website, or who already have a website but feel like they’re not getting enough out of it, through the sticky business of managing, marketing and developing their online presence. (Phew … I may need to work on condensing that).
Photo by Horia Varlan – http://flic.kr/p/7uJEFv
Before I go into more details – I’m going to ask you 2 favours:
1. I’d ask anyone who thinks this might be interesting to sign up to the books newsletter. You’ll get a free guide: 7 Tips to Effective Email Marketing, and you’ll receive weekly updates from the For Website Owners blog.
2. I’ll also ask you to visit the Facebook page for the book and like that too.
Thanks – your help and support is appreciated. I’ve told myself that if I can’t get a certain number of people to sign up from this blog post / email, then the project itself probably isn’t a goer.
What’s it all about?
Well, the book will cover all the areas that I’ve helped clients with over the past 10 years. What often happens when a client and I launch a website is that the client doesn’t quite know what they should be doing next. And so I will often walk them through the first few months – through the basics of getting their online presence found, getting it promoted, measuring it’s success, and developing it’s ongoing strategy. In many ways, this is more vital time for the client than the development process.
That’s all good, but I thought that there might be a better way to distribute that knowledge – that help – to a (marginally) wider audience and in a more digestible format than sitting next to me for a few months. So, a book.
What it will be is this: a guide for website owners who want to make the most from their websites, who perhaps don’t have as much time as I do to be keeping up with what’s current, what works and what doesn’t. Website owners who don’t want to hire a consultant for a website that’s already been built – but want to know what they should do themselves. These people are, after all, often self starters who are used to taking things on themselves.
I know that this is something needed by customers – I know it’s something worthwhile. What I need now is your support – so, checkout the book page, sign up for the newsletter – and follow the progress on Facebook. It’ll be a journey alright, and a good one at that.
The monthly round up of useful things I’ve found in the past … ooh, 30 days or so.
Dealing with broken padlocks on ecommerce sites:
Occasionally, a site I’m working on will throw up problems around it’s security certificate … an ecommerce site would typically require every element on it’s page be referencing a secure location on the site – through https, rather than just plain old http.
When you set up a secure page, that’s all fine … however, as the site matures and more content gets added, it’s inevitable that, at some point content from an insecure location will creep in. What happens in those situations is that the little padlock that sits in the address bar of your browser will display as broken. depending on the browser, the padlock may not be closed tight, may be a different colour, or may have a little warning sign on it.
You need to track down the offending piece of content – and that can be tricky. Enter my favourite tool of the month: Why No Padlock. Simply enter the URL you wish to check and it’ll tell you what insecure resources are being referenced. Sweet. All you need to do now is fix them, and check again. (Beware, when you check again, that the insecure result hasn’t been cached. Best to check in a new browser altogether.)
Regular Coffee …
One just for the U.S. readers I’m afraid … Regular Coffee offers subscription based coffee delivery. Nice, simple site that gets the job done – and a nice example of establishing brand credentials through personality and good writing:
We like coffee. Hell, who doesn’t? And yeah, we can tell the difference between gas station battery acid and a fresh roasted gourmet cuppa. What we don’t like is standing in line behind some be-spectacled coffee shop lurker while he interrogates a nose-in-the-air barista about growing altitudes and roasting temperatures.
We don’t need ten different choices of bean or eight different ways to brew ‘em. We just want a good cup of coffee so we can get on with our day. And go to work. At a job! You ever hear of those, Mr. Lurker?
Check it out … and send me some!
This is a web page
This, from Justin Jackson is a neat reminder – lest we forget – that it is words and content that build web pages, web apps, web whatever. Not fancy design, not responsive layouts, not really cool stuff people are doing over there … just words.
Payments in Space?
Worried about how you’re going to shop online from space? Don’t worry, PayPal is on it. (Although, amusingly, their site appears to have a faulty SSL certificate and could be in need of Why No Padlock). PayPal founder, Elon Musk is a leader in the private space race and his company seem (only half-jokingly) intent on solving a galactic payments problem. A problem which, it has to be said, doesn’t really exist yet. (via)
… and finally:
For Website Owners
This is bigger news than merits the final spot in a monthly round up, but consider this a pre-announcement for those of you who don’t already know. I’m writing a book. Yikes. The book will support new website owners as they learn how to promote, manage and develop their website to help their business.
Two things to ask you: please sign up to the newsletter so you can hear more about the book as it develops. You’ll receive a free copy of my 7 Tips for Effective Email Marketing‘ eBook.
And also, please head on over to the new Facebook page for the book and click ‘like’.
The other week – and for only the second time in 10 years – a customer declined to pay an invoice. I’m not going to go into the reasons – it wasn’t an especially acrimonious discussion, and it boiled down to a mis-understanding more than anything else, but still – it burnt for a little bit. But, in my new spirit of positivity and productivity I swiftly (enough) decided to see what lessons I could draw from it.
1. My business is very much dependent on the trust I build up
Over 10 years I’ve built up a lot of credit in the ‘trust’ department. People trust me to do a good job, to do it on time, and to do it for a price commensurate with the value I provide. In turn, I trust them to pay me. I also trust them to recommend me to their networks, I trust them to speak well of me because word of mouth is probably my biggest single marketing channel.
But the relationship between that trust and my income is too closely linked. Everything is based on a one to one level. I earn the trust of one company or individual, and one company or individual repays that trust (financially and socially).
I’m wondering if there’s a way to introduce a multiplier here – a way to leverage that trust relationship so that the benefits are far greater than one to one.
2. I am still largely trading time for money
Most of the work I do trades time for money – I put in a number of hours, and I get paid in more or less direct proportion to those hours. I’ve talked (to myself, to colleagues, to friends and family) a lot in the past about breaking that relationship, about charging more on value than on time – but it’s always easier to talk than to do (although this short, free, e-book: Breaking the Time Barrier would help anyone looking to do that), and, apart from a few notable exceptions, I haven’t been particularly successful with that.
I’ve also started making money from the by-products of my business – and have done that with some success, both with the website hosting I offer my clients and with the email marketing. And those work well.
But if I want to achieve some of the financial goals I’ve set, then I need to make a greater break from that time:money relationship. That means some different ways of monetising my services – whether that’s through better application of the ‘charging by value provided’ idea, or by packaging my knowledge in more saleable chunks – like with the For Website Owners book I’m writing.
The change is coming – it’s just figuring out how best to make it.
3. What kind of customer do I want?
I’ve often wondered whether it’s better to have a small number of high-paying clients, or a large number of low-paying customers. Swings and roundabouts. My business is entirely built around a small number of clients. I typically prefer this – fewer relationships to manage, I feel like I know each of my clients personally, and even the ones whom I’ve never met, feel like good friends. (Often, especially the ones I haven’t met!)
If you’re selling products or services to many thousands of people, what different issues arise? Well, customer ‘hate’ is inevitable – you’re always going to get people taking advantage of the anonymity provided by the internet to dump on you, your services, your family, whatever. But there’s also a degree of anonymity afforded the product creator – a remove from the day to day interactions, the meeting and greeting, that go hand in hand with a client business.
I know many web designers who have moved into building web apps – wanting to get away from the client cycle of agency or freelance work. They’re then surprised that trading a few customers for many, many customers hasn’t solved their problems.
So the lesson here, I think, is to figure out who the customers are that I want, and build something for them. Whether that’s one of me to a few customers, or one to many, whether it’s one really big thing, or many many smaller things. You’re going to have a better experience working with the customers you want to work with than with the customers who you’ve fallen into working with.
I’m only just beginning – but I’m working on ways in which this business, the business of web design with TickTock, can be more enjoyable for everyone involved. Hurrah!