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On the subject of Development

Belles

April 22nd, 2010.

12 Quick ways to increase your conversion rate in 20 minutes

If one of your business goals for 2010 is to increase your conversion rate then here are some basic conversion tips, which amazingly so many website still fail to pay attention to.

Example of a product page

1. Include calls to action. Make sure the home page makes visitors want to move deeper into the site and that the home page reflects exactly the kind of business you are.

2. Keep your site relevant In order to gain trust and loyalty from your visitors it’s important to keep your site up to date. For example once an event is over it should be removed from your site straight away and then updated with all forthcoming events/news.

3. Know what’s visible. Your most important information should go “Above the Fold”:  Anytime a customer has to scroll down a page, they’re doing so to view content that lies “below the fold”.  I still recommend putting all your biggest selling and most profitable products above the fold so your customer doesn’t have to scroll to find it.

4.  Buy it now What happens when a visitor decides to buy a product? They add it to a shopping basket. How do they add it? They click a button or link (usually a button)and if they can’t see the button they will go elsewhere. There are still plenty of sites out there with buttons that are too subtle, or don’t say the right thing, or are hidden away at the bottom of a page. It is important to have clear buttons that also tell the customer what will happen next once they have clicked.

5. Importance of good images and design should always have visitor usability and appeal in mind.  A beautiful, funky or attractive looking web site will not help your ranking but it will help secure client interest and entice sales.

Example of a payment page

6. Keep it short make sure the checkout process is not long – if your site has a lot of pages to complete before checkout you risk the visitor giving up half way through due to time.  You only need to ask for the relevant fields to complete the purchase and follow-up with further details later.

7. Good product description should have a headline and an opening hook designed to get your reader to click on the item and find out more.  The most important elements for product description pages are:

  • Headline
  • Opening hook
  • Overview of benefits
  • Closing the sale

8. Convenience is key Visitors to the site often say how tired they are of having to open another account and having to remember another username/password.  A way around this is to offer a one page checkout process which captures customer details, but does not open an account.

9. Keep them informed When customer buys something online, they want to know when it’s going to arrive at their door. People are impatient. Giving them an estimated delivery date during the checkout process is a good start. Emailing them when their product is dispatched is great. Giving them a tracking number if using a delivery service that supports online tracking is even better. Keep the customer informed at every step of the process, before and after sale, about as much as you can.

10. Points Of Contact Many visitors to your site dislike making contact online so it’s helpful to have your phone number clearly on the contact page if that’s one of the ways you can expect to convert visitors into customers.

11. Payment options? Customers these days need a few options in order to buy online. Not everyone has a Paypal account or a credit card. You need to offer your customers as many payment options as possible, or you could risk losing potential sales. Make the user’s life easy and give them as many payment options as possible.

12. Highlighting offers and sales on your website will encourage an increase both visitors and revenue.  In your headline one should feature different benefits as this will have a huge impact on your sales.  This is often the first thing visitors to your site see so it must capture their attention and entice them to buy the product(s).

Rob

September 13th, 2009.

Avoid expensive rebuild costs and improve your existing site conversions

At business school I was taught the way to make money was to make our assets sweat. I think they meant to get the most out of everything you owned and to make sure it was being worked night and day to maximum effect.  And so at Datadial we try to do the same for our clients’ websites by making sure that they are focused on developing websites that maximise sales levels by being search engine friendly and that convert users in to buyers.

The usual reaction in squeezing more out of a website is to rush into a redevelopment exercise.  Redeveloping a website is expensive that is often undertaken on a whim and without real research into what is working and what is not on the current website. Indeed it’s often the case that the current site is perfectly capable of delivering many more sales and that it just needs refining to improve the user experience.

This doesn’t need to be an expensive exercise. The key to successful marketing is to consistently test and measure everything that you do. Delivering fantastic conversion figures is within reach for us all, no matter how small the budget.

Here are four ways that we have carried out for some of our clients to help increase their onsite conversions at virtually no cost.

1) Online surveys

What better way to really understand your customers than to ask them for direct feedback?  What is it that makes them want to buy from you rather than your competitors?  How did they hear about you?

Carrying out market research will enable you to build on what you’re doing well and make any necessary adjustments and help you to grow.  You will be surprised by how many people are willing to take the time to reply to surveys.

We recently did a survey for one of our clients Design911.co.uk which gave vital insight into user behaviour.  Coupled with Click Tracking report (see below) Design911 have been able to fine tune their website to respond to users’ expectations and behaviour.

Below is a sample of the survey results  that were produced.

des-2

des1-jpgdes3

2) Mouse tracking -

Why do other sites make it so difficult to buy anything from them?  We’ve all experienced a confusing website at one point or another.  But could your site also be suffering from usability issues?  Find out where the sticking points are with Mouse tracking.

You may also find that users are trying to click on things on your site that are not designed to be clicked on.  We found this with Design911:

With design 911 we found that that very few people clicked on the middle of the page and that lots of users tried clicking on ads on the right handside of the page which were not actually clickable.  We found too that the search box was being under used as it was below the page fold and that users were taking at least 60 seconds to make a click on key navigation items.

des-click1des-click2

3) Study your analytics

It’s all too tempting to gloss over your analytics reports – these reports contain vital information which reveal where users are getting stuck, turned on or turned off.  Seems obvious to say it but unless you take the time to check what is going on on your site you will never be able to intelligently amend your site and measure the effect of your changes.

There is a mass of information to look at but here are 3 basic things to do

Check Bounce Rates: Bounce rates tell you if a visitor who has been directed to your site via a search engine or Adwords likes what they have found.  If they leave the site immediately this is called a bounce.  If this happens you need to question if you are showing the right products for the keyword search  and if you could provide better information, or if they had come via  Adwords, are your Adwords set up correctly.

Funnels: You can set up funnels to determine where people are dropping off over a series of pages (typically the shopping cart process).  Different funnels can be set up for different goals.

Compare to previous periods: There are a number of trends such as time on site, the number of keywords that you are being found for, the number of pages per visit that are good to compare from onen time period to another so that you detect trends.

4) A/B Testing

Having pawed over your analytics you can then start making intelligent changes to your site.  How will you make more people fill in your enquiry form?  How can you get them to add one more thing to their basket.  Take a look at the forms below and guess which one had the higher conversion rate.

lovefilm1

lovefilm2

This company carried out A/B testing on their sign up form and increased their conversion rate by 10%.

This is called A/B testing or Multivariate testing which we use to determine which images, copy and design most appeal to your customers and which version increases conversion.  You can have as many or as few variables as you like when creating your A/B testing.  Ideally you would set it up to automatically serve different versions of the page to alternate users but to save money you can do it on a week on/week off basis.

We helped Conference Genie increase conversions on their site by altering the sign up process.  Interestingly we did it by making their site more complicated.

Weirdly the problem on this site was that it was too easy to use.  Users could not believe that they could just dial a default number, punch in a code and start a conference call.  So we made the site appear to generate a specific telephone number and a unique code for them.  Turning a one step process into a two step process actually increased conversions.

conferencegenie2

Making small changes instead of wholesale changes was also recently backed by Peter Fitzgerald, who leads Google UK’s retail industry division.  He said that the whole area of analytics – that’s technical jargon for examining the ways that people navigate websites when they shop online – has taken on new importance to retailers.

Simple changes can make the world of difference, particularly since statistics show that 50.1% of online shoppers who place items in their shopping carts still do not buy them.

By subtly altering a website’s layout based on how people use it, websites can increase sales significantly.

“There is often a lot of unimportant information on the top of a web page. If you move this information out of the way it can make a huge difference,” said Mr Fitzgerald.

For example when Comet, the electricals retailer owned by Kesa, the listed stores group, removed two bits of text from the top of its web page (saying ‘top checkout tips’ and ‘you’re safe with us’ respectively), its conversion rates increased by 6.7pc.  “Online retailers are spending more time on analytics to see where things are going wrong,” said Mr Fitzgerald.

Department store group Debenhams recently tested the message and positioning of an online sign-up form for its Beauty Club.  Improvements to it increased the number of customers the chain signed up by over 89pc.  Little such tweaks are being made by online retailers as a means of gaining incremental sales. Experts say that the results of the small changes can be seen almost immediately.

Google’s Mr Brittin said: “By interpreting analytics data and continually testing their sites, retailers can really understand what consumers are looking for online. Often very small and seemingly obvious tweaks can boost sales significantly.”

All of the above exercises can be implemented fairly quickly and inexpensively.  However, don’t underestimate the time you need to truly get to grips with your findings.

By constantly analysing the results and carrying out appropriate changes you will be able to squeeze every last conversion out of your site without incurring expensive redevelopment costs.

Rob

July 6th, 2009.

Just how social was Compare the Market campaign

meerkat

I attended the Online Marketing show at Olympia on Tuesday and listened to “How to implement a social media campaign” By Amelia Torcode, Partner and Head of Digital Strategy, VCCP.

VCCP and Amelia are now the darlings of the social media world following their successful Compare the Market/ Compare the Meerkat campaign.  Anna picked up an NMA award last week for the campaign.

I’ve got to say that I was a little disappointed by the presentation, especially on behalf of the delegates who had actually gone along in order to learn about Social Media Marketing.  All they got was a self indulgent “aren’t we wonderful” lecture on the Meerkat experience, along with a repeat of some of the adverts just in case you hadn’t quite got the message yet.  The talk cost £40 to attend so you would hope to learn something in return apart from how wonderful VCCP are.

But my main beef with the whole thing was actually the question of whether this was in fact a successful Social Media Campaign at all.  At its simplest VCCP came up with a cute idea, paid a huge amount to advertise it, set up a Twitter account and Facebook page and then encouraged the banter on these and other sites.  This has created incredible awareness and has kept a lot of people happy.  Site traffic has gone up 80%,  but still way below Confused.com. Succesful quotes have gone up 20%.

But was this really a social media campaign in its truest sense?  Could they have achieved a better result at a fraction of the price? Did they essentially miss the point of social marketing?

Social media is a method of generating discussion about your product or service within social network platforms seemingly without any effort being made by yourself.  In short you start a story, others pick it up and pass it around because its either funny, interesting or useful  If you get the story right you don’t need to spend any money because the “network” does the work for you. In VCCP’s case they (must have) spent a fortune on the development of a separate www.comparethemeerkat.com website and on the TV campaign, and in the process killing the average cost per conversion, although Anna claimed that this had come down by 21% but it was not clear that this took into account VCCP cost.

The point and beauty of social media is that you don’t need a TV campaign, the network does the work for you.  The message is passed on because people feel the need to.  And the number of people who link to your site ultimately help the Google rankings.  The actual spike in traffic is an irrelevance compared to the long term effect on Google rankings

On the point of search engine rankings, in her talk Anna started off by saying that Google was the benchmark around which the whole campaign was based but then did not mention Google from that moment in.  When I questioned her about the traffic from Google she was unable to answer as she had no stats and there was a separate agency altogether dealing with natural SEO. In fact any discussion about Google rankings or PPC had her flummoxed. I found this astounding.

I don’t want to knock Anna or the the meerkat campaign but it’s really interesting seeing the different approach that an Advertising agency can have to Social Media compared to a proper Online Marketing company. Advertising is all about brand awareness.  SEO is all about driving sales via the website.  As an SEO consultant myself I could not imagine implementing a campaign without keeping Google and other search stats at the forefront of any analysis of the campaign’s success.

Also I would have questioned a totally separate site, comparethemeerkat.com to be the backbone of the campaign.  Any self respecting SEO will tell you that for a social media campaign to be successful is to get people to link to your client site voluntarily which in turns helps rankings and therefore sales.  In this campaign as the majority of the new links will be pointed at the stand-alone Meerkat website.  In my opinion this is a huge miss of the campaign.  1000′s of lovely links all going to the wrong website – how depressing!

The only solution would be to 301 the meerkat website one day when no one is looking, though this is a huge social media faux-pas and could potentially lose them a lot of trust and goodwill.  Undoubtedly VCCP have been successful in raising awareness of CompareTheMarket but I am unconvinced about the benefits of the long term online presence.

If I was new to social media I would certainly have left none the wiser after this talk.  If I had been giving the talk I would have attempted to reveal the theory behind succesful social media marketing, explained how stories got picked up and spun about the web, how a traffic spike in itself is not important but the links that it brings, how the ultimate prize is rankings.  In short I would  have talked less about myself and more about how to help others, especially if I was charging £40!

Rob

June 26th, 2009.

12 things to check for your SEO Christmas checklist

santa-6-months-copy

Christmas 09 is only 4 months away.  No doubt you’ll already have your products organised and maybe some ideas on offline marketing but what about online marketing.

Because online marketing can take 4-6 months to “kick in” there’s no time like the present to activate your Christmas strategy.   So below are 12 timely reminders on what needs to be in place to ensure that your site delivers this Christmas in a way that would make Santa Claus proud.

1. Blogging – sounds similar to ‘tobogganing’ and is just as much fun

  • Simply, unless you are willing to put the time into adding useful and interesting content on your site then there really is little chance that the search engines will bother ranking you for anything more than your domain name.  You have to deserve to be number one.

2. Social Media – it’s time to get social (both online and off line) – and we don’t mean just churping along with the robins

  • Marketing is no longer a one way monologue.  It’s all about dialogue now and if you’re not up for a chat then users won’t listen.   If you say something  interesting then others will refer to it and pass it onto their friend – if it isn’t then they will talk about your competitors products instead.

3. Link Bait – lay the foundations now and reap the rewards by Christmas

  • How would you like say 500,000 more visitors to your site. Content will go viral if written properly – but before it goes viral make sure that your website can take the strain of the increase in visitor traffic.

4. Mouse tracking – discover how your customers behave online and throw them a lump of cheese…

  • Find out where people are clicking on your site and where they are getting confused. You’ll be surprised by how quickly and easily people get lost and move on elsewhere.  Make sure buttons like “Add to Basket” are big and easy to find (and look like buttons)Â

5. Cross-selling – if your customers have a basket, fill it!

  • Seems pretty obvious thing to do but many companies still miss this easy opportunity to up the customers’ spend by 10% or so.  Ask your web programmers to implemenet basket based offers.

6. Communications – ensure your data management system is working for you and send glad tidings to all your customers

  • I’m presuming you already have an email database.  If not, why not?  But continue to refine your database so that you can target relevant offers at different people.

7. Seven swans a-swimming – (well we had to give some reference to the twelve days of Christmas) Will your customers be able to swim through your site without any hold ups?

  • Should you really be making your customers register before purchase?  Are you hiding your delivery charges? (Hidden delivery charges are the 2nd most cited reason for people abandoning a shopping cart). Is it obvious how to make the order?  All these issues will effect conversion rates.  Get friends to perform specific tasks on your site and see how they perform. You’ll be surprised.

8. Content management system – check that your system will enable you to do everything you require. We’re still working on a turkey cooking programme but we are happy to cover off everything else.

  • Got a great idea for a Christmas offer? Have you checked that your e-commerce software is capable of handling this type of offer.  Find out now and don’t leave to last moment.

9. Reputation management – discover if you are featuring on your customers’ Christmas wish lists this year

  • Find out what people are saying about you with Datadial’s reputation management software and then respond to these comments and start a dialogue.  See how Love Film responded to a post I wrote about them – this was a classic bit of Reputation Management whereby they quashed my negative comment about them.

10. PPC – Pretty Perfect Christmas?  We believe Pay Per Click is the icing on the cake of an online marketing strategy (never the key ingredient)

  • Multi channel marketing includes PPC as well as snail mail.  PPC is expensive if implemented incorrectly.  Get this sorted before the Christmas rush starts.  Do all your experimenting with what works and what doesn’t or else you’ll find all the money coming in one end is going out the other end.

11. Online PR – You don’t need to bring frankincense and myrrh but if you’re doing anything quirky or different then let the blogosphere know about it

  • Do not presume that your PR company can do online PR.  Online PR is an entirely different science to Offline PR and most PR companies do not have a clue about how to create buzz on line.

12. Online optimisation – creeping round every corner making sure everything is as ‘friendly’ as possible

  • This is the most important thing to get right – If your website is not optimised for search engines then it has no chance of being ranked for its keywords.  Ask us to provide a website analysis for you.  If you ask nicely we might even do it for free, seeing as it’s nearly Christmas!

If you’ve got it all covered then you can join our happy Santa on the beach

santa-tanning-300x225

Rob

June 21st, 2009.

Boring but important – Changes to “place of supply” for VAT

VAT – are you preparing for new ‘place of supply’ rules?
Major changes in VAT legislation are on the way and it is essential that all businesses are prepared in advance to meet the requirements and avoid any possible financial penalties.

From 1st January 2010 there will be a change to the basic rule regarding the place of supply of services. This is the rule which identifies the country where services are deemed to have been ‘supplied’. Currently, if a supplier has established its business in the UK, then the place of supply will be deemed to be the UK and any services charged for will be subject to UK VAT. There are, however, numerous exceptions to this rule. Establishing whether a service falls under one of the exceptions – and if so, which one – constitutes a major headache for businesses.

The new basic rule states that if the recipient is a business customer then the place of supply is the country where the recipient belongs. Therefore, when the new rule applies, if a UK business supplies training services to a business customer in Spain and delivers the training in France then the place of supply will be Spain and the reverse charge will apply. The existing rules dictate that the place of supply is France, with the result that the UK business may need to register in France.

The new basic rule also states that if the recipient is not a business customer then the place of supply is the country where the supplier belongs.

As is now the case, there will be some exceptions, but these exceptions are in many cases different from those currently in force. It will be important to ascertain just how your business will be affected.

The changes may affect businesses which receive services from abroad. Such businesses may already account for VAT using the reverse charge mechanism, but may in future have to do this in situations where the reverse charge currently does not apply.

Another significant change, which is being introduced as an EU anti-fraud measure, relates to EC Sales Lists. Businesses supplying services to commercial customers in other EU countries will be affected. Currently, EC Sales Lists are required only for supplies of goods. Although this comes into force on 1st January 2010 you should be preparing now to collect the necessary data.

 The above was copied from an email sent to me by UK Training (Worldwide) Limited

Registered Office
4/5 The Mayflower,
Liverpool Road,
Formby,
L37 6BU.

Tel: +44 (0)1704 878988
Fax: +44 (0)1704 832124
http://www.uktrainingworldwide.com/index.asp

I have no association with them but the information is important to digest for anyone trading online.

As ever Datadial are here to assist you in implementing your e-commerce sites to the specification you desire.

Rob

November 10th, 2008.

New E-commerce launch – www.Yapp.co.uk

 

We took a dogs dinner of an old website and transformed it into a work of art that converts users to buyers. As always the project was delivered on time and on budget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Design

Yapp Wine Merchants website now has a fresh, modern design, packed with tools to help you find the wine you need.  It is unfrightening and designed to cater to Yapps broad user base.  We’ve made searching for wine fun and easy whilst retaining Yapp’s connoiseur edge.

Usability
Everyone has their own ways of looking for wine so we implemented 4 ways to navigate the site:

  • The Easy Wine selector uses dynamic searching
    Watch your search results change dynamically with easy to use search sliders. Have a play.  The great advantage of this is that it all happens on one page with no hopping backwards and forwards to and from search results.
  • The Food and Wine selector allows you to search for wine by Food Type by clicking on images of different food types.  This is not rocket science but is dis-armingly useful.
  • Advanced Search - for those who really know what they are after.
    Search by Regional maps
  • “You recently looked at”
    Isn’t it annoying when you look at lots of different items and then have to re-find them by re-doing the searches.  Well we eliminated this problem with the “You recently looked at section” so you dont have to re-do previous searches.
  • Tell a friend / Bookmark tools
    Not strictly a navigation tool but so simple and effective.  How else can you let your loved one know what you want for Christmas?  Simply post your choices to your Facebook page and invite others to have a look.


Search engine friendly

As always with Datadial, the site is built to be search engine friendly
All pages from the old site have been redirected to the relevant new pages.
The site uses Friendly URLs so http://www.yapp.co.uk/Wine-List/Rhone-South/Chateauneuf-du-Pape/ instead of

http://www.yapp.co.uk/?catid=6/?type=3/desc?=12/

Technology

Integrated stock control – the site is integrated to draw stock levels from Sage accounts.
The site is fully content managed, giving Yapp control over all aspects of the site including creating offers, mixed case offers and product information.
The site is also integrated with Datadial’s email marketing system.


Tyrone Tyrone

July 20th, 2008.

Design Patterns

Design Patterns are an essential tool for any object orientated programmer who wants to take his/her skills to the next level. Understanding the specifics of Design Pattern practices and methodologies will help developers uncover reoccurring patterns in software development and give them the tools to apply the correct solution.

For every difficulty encontered during application development, chances are this problem was encountered before (and solved). Design Patterns represent key programming practices that have been proven to get the job done in the most efficient, reusability and extensibility. This greatly increases efficiency of code and helps to break an application down into loosely compelled manageable chucks.

As a .Net developer you may have used some of these patterns without even knowing. A design patterns name captures the basic concepts that govern its use and a common practice is to include the pattern name in the name of the object that implements it.

You may have come across the following names while working with the .Net framework:

  • Proxy
  • Adapter
  • Command
  • Factory

The deeper your understanding of Design Patterns the more you’ll be to understand the .Net framework and how it can leverage you applications.

Main Design Patterns Concepts

  • Use interface inheritance over concrete base class inheritance
  • Create loosely coupled objects to promote code reuse by keeping object small and specialised
  • Defer / Delegate responsibility to specialised objects using composition

Choosing the correct pattern
The best way to decide which pattern is fit for the jobs it to break down your development specification into each requirement. If these requirement exhibit certain characteristics that relate to a design pattern then apply it. E.g. If you application is responsible for monitoring a file system and reporting changes back to a number of objects you are most-likely to implement the Observer pattern.

Summary
Once you have gained an understanding of object orientated concepts you should be ready to tackle Design Patterns. You will be surprised how many patterns that are already familiar to you and how much the put things into perspective. You’ll also find that the more you learn, the more you’ll see application development from a different perspective (almost like seeing the Matrix!!). To truly understand the benefits of Design Patterns you have to apply them to your application development. This will improve your object reuse and make future program changes less painful!

List of Design Patterns LINK:

  • Adapter Pattern
  • Command Pattern
  • Composite Pattern
  • Decorator Pattern
  • Factory Pattern
  • Flyweight Pattern
  • Intepreter
  • Model-View-Controller
  • Null Pattern
  • Observer-Observable
  • Singleton
  • State Pattern
  • Strategy Pattern
  • Template Pattern
  • Union Pattern
  • Visitor Pattern

Tyrone Tyrone

July 20th, 2008.

Introduction to Developing .Net Mobile Applications

There are many tools on the market for creating application for mobile phones and portable devices. This blog post investigates the technologies necessary for creating Microsoft related ASP.Net mobile applications.

Window Mobile (OS)
Window mobile is a compact operating system for mobile devices. These devices include Pocket PCs, Smartphones, Portable Media Centres and on-board computers for cars. Windows Mobile has been designed to be similar aesthetic to Vista and is currently at version 6.1 with a new release scheduled for 2010.

.Net Compact Framework
The .Net compact framework is a scaled sown version of the .Net Framework and uses some of the same class libraries with a few additional libraries designed specifically for mobile devices. This can be integrated with Visuals Studio 2003, 2005 and 2008 to develop impressive mobile windows form based and web based applications.

ASP.Net Mobile Controls and the Microsoft Internet Toolkit
Developing applications for mobile devices can be a challenging as there are certain limitations, which include:

  • Different mark-up languages for PDAs, Cell phones or Japanese phones.
  • Devices have a varying number or display lines, horizontal/vertical orientation and screen colours.
  • Different network connectivity
  • Capabilities, display resolution and ability to make phone calls.

All these factors must be taken into consideration when developing applications for mobile devices.

This is where the Microsoft Internet toolkit comes in, as it addresses these issues so that developers can build one mobile web application that delivers the appropriate mark-up for a wide range of mobile devices.

The mobile toolkit contains:

  • Mobile web form controls which are similar to ASP.Net controls as the generate mark-up code
  • Mobile Internet Designer which integrates with Visual Studio .Net IDE to provide a web application design environment
  • Browser Capabilities which makes it possible to run ASP.Net functionality on mobile devices
  • Quick Start Tutorial with sample code
  • Developer Documentation
  • Device adapter code samples

Using a combination of the Windows Mobile operating system, .Net Compact Framework, and the Microsoft Internet Toolkit applications can be written to run on a wide range of mobile devices in a similar manor to that of regular browser base applications.

Summary
These are the three basic tools that are necessary to start building applications that target mobile devices.
Mobile devices are becoming increasingly popular as people continually want to stay connected when they are away from their desk. Microsoft has developed a cohesive little package of products that integrate well together and provide an infrastructure similar to their full blown application development environment. This will hopefully encourage developers to venture into the world of mobile application development.

Tyrone Tyrone

July 20th, 2008.

Web Usability

Web usability is about designing your web site so that users can achieve their desired goal quickly and easily. Taking time out during development to make sure your site meets usability standards can have a huge benefit to your business.
“A web usability redesign can increase the sales/conversion rate by 100%”
- Jakob Nielson

Designers and developers must make sure they spend adequate time planning the flow of information by firstly identifying the needs of their intended users, then creating a path for site visitors to follow, which firstly, addresses a users initial concerns, then gradually takes then towards achieving their goals. This is achieved by understanding the goal the goals of you target users and then identifying the information your site needs to provide.

There are millions of web sites all competing for the same space, so it is important that you get the right information across a quickly as possible. It has never been easier for users to find a competitors web site, which may do a better job than yours. It is important that you meet the immediate needs of your site visitors as this the fundamental principle behind good web design.

Web designer must realise that if a web site is hard to use or hard to read, users will leave the site. This is because most users simply do not want to spend a large amount of time trying to figure out how to use a site as there are plenty of other sites to choose from.

Definition of Usability

  • Easy to learn
  • Efficient to use
  • Easy to recover from errors
  • Easy to remember

 

Navigation (Breadcrumb Trail)
Site navigation is crucial as users must know where they are and where they are going at all times. The easiest way to achieve this is to follow certain site convention, layouts and phrases (i.e. company logo should be in the top left corner with a link back to the home page, ‘about us’ links should display organisational information, shopping cart or basket should refer to items a user wishes to purchase etc).

These conventions must not be adhered to whenever possible as users have become accustomed to them. Developers and designer must use this to their advantage because sticking to them can increase the usability of the site.

Download Speeds
How many times have you exited a web page because it has taken too long to download? As broadband speeds get faster users are becoming increasingly impatient when it comes to page download time. On average users are prepared to wait 8.6 seconds, so it is important that you pay attention to this. There is no use having a fancy web site with high resolution images if users aren’t prepared to wait long enough to see them.

Faster page download speeds can be achieved by using CSS instead of images, placing CSS code in a separate file and using Unobtrusive JavaScript.

Usability Testing
Many web designers fail to complete adequate usability testing due to time and budget constraints. They fail to realise that a usable web site or CMS will eliminate a lot of time spent providing technical support. It is crucial that designers and developers know that the adoption of usability testing will eventually pay for itself many times over.

The key is to start usability testing early and to involve your target demographic. If possible, use five people to complete these tests as this has been known to uncover as much as 85% of usability issues.

Conclusion
Usability is a hugely neglected area of web development and is an issue that needs to be addressed. We must always remember that users always come first and that if you make the user your priority then they will reward you with their loyalty.

It is not good enough using programmers and designers to do the testing either, as IT professionals do not think like the average web user. The best way to complete thorough testing is use candidate that are similar to your target audience.

Usability is an incredibly valuable tool that can save an organisation a lot of money, improve their competitive position and customer loyalty. It’s never too late, so start today.

Tyrone Tyrone

July 19th, 2008.

Microsoft .Net Framework 3.5

The .Net framework 3.5 (released November 19th 2007) is the latest framework to be released by Microsoft. It has a host of new features and will be shipped as standard with the latest version of Visual Studio .Net 2008 IDE.

.Net framework 3.5 is an incremental build which means that instead of creating a completely new framework Microsoft has instead added new assemblies and fixed known bugs. This decision helped make the transition between .Net framework 2.0 and 3.0 as painless as possible. In essence .Net framework 3.5 contains the 3.0 framework which contains the 2.0 framework.

New assemblies include:

  • System.Data.Linq.dll – The implementation for LINQ to SQL.
  • System.Xml.Linq.dll – The implementation for LINQ to XML.
  • System.AddIn.dll, System.AddIn.Contract.dll – New AddIn (plug-in) model.
  • System.Net.dll – Peer to Peer APIs.
  • System.DirectoryServices.AccountManagement.dll – Wrapper for Active Directory APIs.
  • System.Management.Instrumentation.dll – WMI 2.0 managed provider (combined with
  • System.Management namespace in System.Core.dll).
  • System.WorkflowServices.dll and System.ServiceModel.Web.dll – WF and WCF enhancements (for more on WF + WCF in v3.5 follow links from here).
  • System.Web.Extensions.dll – The implementation for ASP.NET AJAX
  • System.Core.dll – In addition to the LINQ to Objects implementation, this assembly includes the following: HashSet, TimeZoneInfo, Pipes, ReaderWriteLockSlim, System.Security.,
  • System.Diagnostics.Eventing. and System.Diagnostics.PerformanceData.
  • System.Data.DataSetExtensions.dll – The implementation of LINQ to Dataset.
  • System.Windows.Presentation.dll –WPF support for the System.AddIn.
  • System.VisualC.STLCLR.dll – STL development in the managed world.

 

AJAX support has been added to .Net 3.5 as standard so that server and client-centric AJAX functionality can be added to existing and future web applications.

Some additional data-controls have also been added, in the shape of ‘ListView’ control for displaying data and the ‘LinqDataSource’ data control that exposes LINQ data to web applications. The ListView control is highly customisable (using templates and styles) and supports edit, update and delete operations as well as paging and sorting functionality.

Support from Vista styled Windows application has been added, which will even allow developers to update the appearance of old applications written using previous frameworks. Common file dialog boxes will be automatically updated to the Vista version. (See. http://support.microsoft.com/kb/926167)

Some of the biggest language orientated changes to.Net 3.5 are the inclusion of XAML, C# 3.0 and LINQ. Link and XAML are covered within my Silverlight and Visual Studio.Net posts.

Summary
One of the most important things to realise is that current web and windows application can be easily upgraded to .Net 3.5 as it is essentially built on the back of the previous two frameworks. Developers can make the switch safe in the knowledge that it won’t break their existing applications (unless their application exploited a bug, in which case it will!).
These types of upgrades are extremely welcome as it lessen the learning curve and give .Net developers more faith in Microsoft frameworks core infrastructure.

Tyrone Tyrone

July 19th, 2008.

ASP.Net Vs PHP

Firstly let me start by saying that I do not claim to be an expert in either PHP or ASP.Net. Although I use ASP.Net daily, I am fairly new to it. I have decided to do little investigation to the age old debate about the difference between PHP and ASP.Net. This is only a short post, but hopefully it will give readers a better understanding of how the two technologies differ. Hopefully this will be as un-bias as possible.

The reason I have chosen to investigate the difference between the two is that non-programmer constantly ask the questions: “What’s the difference between PHP and ASP.Net”, “Why can’t PHP applications talk to ASP.Net applications?” or “That could have been done in PHP so much quicker, for free”. There are so many deciding factors when choosing a web application framework. I will attempt to outline the differences using a For and Against bullet point format for both.

For PHP

  • Free
  • Open source
  • Easier to learn due to its basic scripting language structure and build in functionality
  • PHP5 now offers many object orientated development concepts
  • Has many free IDEs available that are very impressive and well supported (e.g. Eclipse)
  • Runs on Apache server which is open source
  • Run on IIS 6.0 and IIS 7.0 due to Microsoft’s implementation of FastCGI open standard
  • Has multiple platform support
  • Marginally faster due to the overheads imposed by .Net’s Common Language Runtime, which is responsible for intermediate compilation of .Net’s many languages
  • Has a huge support base as it is open source

 

Against PHP

  • Although it claims to be free, when using free 3rd party add-ons developers often run into issues when developing commercially available applications (i.e. ownership of code / intellectual rights)
  • Most PHP IDEs require lots of add-ons in-order to add similar functions to Visual Studio
  • No built in support for AJAX. Requires add-ons.

 

For ASP.Net

  • Can be developed using the stunning Visual Studio.Net IDE that offers vast array of features, that make coding much easier and development more productive
  • Developers can download a free scaled down version of Visual Studio that offers an impressive array of features. This is aimed at students and hobbyists
  • Runs on IIS (Internet Information Services)
  • Applications can be written using many programming languages (e.g VB.Net, C#, J#, C++ COBAL)
  • The .Net framework (the engine that ASP.Net is runs on) has more sophisticated error handling capabilities than PHP
  • Allows better separation of design and application logic using of code-behind pages and user-controls
  • Has built support for AJAX as of .Net Framework 3.5

 

Against ASP.Net

  • Requires a Microsoft licenses
  • Requires a basic knowledge of object orientated concepts which can sometimes deter newbie developers
  • Single platform and will only run on Microsoft web servers

These bullet points emphasise some of the main differences, advantages and disadvantages of the two languages.

Quotes from other developers for ASP.Net and PHP

For ASP.Net
ASP.Net is Strongly Typed, Object Oriented, Sandboxed, Multi-Syntax, Component Centric, Event Driven, forms oriented, pre-compiled experience.

PHP is a loosely typed, objects optional, fixed syntax, component-less, runtime interpreted, structured programming model.

Joe Stragner

For PHP
In the end, PHP is less expensive, faster, more secure, and able to be deployed from a Linux server that is also less expensive, faster, and more secure than their Windows based counterparts.

Anon

Conclusion
There are many factors that may sway you decision about which web application framework to choose. This decision should be based on the factors above, the kind of career path you want to choose and detailed research. In reality though the decision is usually down to which framework you are exposed to first as many develops get comfortable with on languages syntax and features.

My advice would be to use both; if you can, as each one has its own merits and has earned its place in today’s web application development industry.

Tyrone Tyrone

July 16th, 2008.

Object Databases

Many developers spend a huge amount of time creating well designed object orientated applications only to have to have to write complex mapping classes in-order to interact with a relational database. A large percentage of application code often consists of mapping application objects to a relation database model.

Relational databases have been the industry standard for persisting data since the mid 70’s. Relational databases consist of flat two-dimensional table that are related to other tables using keys.

Data manipulation is handled by SQL (Structured Query Language) which is standard across the majority of database vendors.

Downside
The downside to relational databases is that the application object model that developers code against cannot be stored in a relational database. Classes have to be written to provide the necessary mapping so that the objects and databases can communicate. Each object has to be flattened out to support many-to-many relationships. Each field and property has to be mirrored in database tables or views in-order for fields to match up. Stored Procedures are also needed (sometimes as many as four per class) to marshal data to and from the object. The mapping of class fields to database columns is a laborious but unavoidable task.

Alternatives
Object database approach things from a different perspective, offering a different way of designing the persistence layer of an application. The fundamental idea behind object databases is the idea that you store your data in the same way that you use it.

Matisse Object Databases
One of the major .Net object database vendors, is a company called Matisse Software Inc. Matisse have created a database management system that helps developers to bypass the whole mapping process usually associated with object application design and relational databases.

Using Matisse the object database management system, developers can create database schemas and generate application code from simple class diagrams. The development mapping process is eliminated as this is all taken care of for you behind the scenes. Performance is increased as complex joins are no longer needed. Object databases store object as they exist in the application domain along with all the necessary object relationships.

Conclusion
There are many other interesting feature object databases have to offer and this post has simply scratches the surface as to what is possible. The main point to make though is that using Matisse or any other object databases database management system allows you to stay within the object orientated paradigm, eliminating the need to bridge a gap between two different domains. Matisse’s support for VB.Net, C#, Java and C++ make it an extremely via candidate for a .Net developers that are ready for the paradigm shift or tired of the huge overheads in terms of code maintenance and database administration.

Matisse

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