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Excited for UX Bristol

Excited for UX Bristol

With UX Bristol being two weeks away I wanted to talk through what I am excited about going to listen to and hopefully how it will help me back at Focus.

After attending UX Bristol 2012 I am looking forward to going again this year. Highlights for me last year would definitely be working with a team to think about mobile first design in Fiz Yazdi & Jesmond Allen's talk on having a pragmatic approach to responsive design. Joe Leech's talk on the dark arts of UX was a definite talking point for me and enjoyed discussing with friends how they implement some of these arts already without knowing it!

So what on the schedule am I most looking forward to this year? I wish there was enough time to see every talk but decisions have to be made. I think the first talk that I will make sure to visit will be with Sophie Dennis, in every day life we are often limited by time and budget yet want to deliver end products that have well thought through user experience. At other talks I have found it hard to identify how some of the visions and new ideas will relate to real world projects. I hope this talk will allow me to bring back a few new ideas on good communication with the team and stakeholders when it comes to the user experience of their websites.

Patrick Jordan's talk on positive psychology and UX, at Focus we are often designing and building web sites that empower people to find information and services that are relevant to their needs. These needs are often very different and learning how to use user experience to enhance users' levels of wellbeing. Identifying strengths and weaknesses of existing life enhancing services will hopefully enable me to think about possibilities of new functional requirements for future projects we do at Focus.

Lastly but definitely not least I am looking forward to hearing everyone's opinions and hearing great discussions about UX. Last year brought together a great mix of people from different job roles and experience levels to talk and learn from each other, I am hoping that this year will be the same. If you are going to UX Bristol hopefully I will see you there and enjoy the conference, I will talk about my experiences there in a couple of weeks.

Steve Fenn
Steve

Created on Monday July 08 2013 01:18 PM


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Web Analytics 101 - Bounce Rate

Web Analytics 101 - Bounce Rate

At Focus we are believers in keeping things simple - so over the course of a few blog articles I'm going to try and apply that approach to an area of digital marketing that can by it's nature get a bit complex - that being web site analytics.

The information you can gain from software such as Google Analytics (other analytics platforms are available!) can overwhelm - so we're going to pick a few more of the important KPIs and have a bit more of a delve and look at them - including their meaning and usefulness. (For the purposes of these articles I'm going to be referring to Google Analytics - or GA - as it's the most widely used analytics software and we happen to use it at Focus).

We start off with Bounce Rate - generally defined as the percentage of visitors who came to a page on your web site, viewed a single page, and then left - either to go to another site or by closing the browser. Bounce Rate (BR) is an important KPI that people get very excited about - especially when it's high, as this indicates lots of people are hitting your site and leaving straight away.

But is that a bad thing? It might not be - we'll explain more later.

Firstly, back to Google Analytics - which provides an overall bounce rate as part of it's 'Content' overview. But remember this will be for the whole web site, and for that reason, the overall BR isn't the most useful of stats. Instead it's best to focus on bounce rates for individual sections and pages - which is available in the list of pages seen at:
Content -> Site Content -> Pages.

To improve the accuracy of this list we also need to remove statistical anomolies that can skew the numbers (general good practice if you remember back to GCSE Maths). To do this, apply an Advanced Filter in Google Analytics to exclude these outliers - we tend to only include pages where the bounce rate is more than 10% and less than 95%.

Graphic showing Advanced Filters in Google Analytics

(See above 'advanced' surrounded in red - clicking this will allow you to apply a filter, of the type shown in green.)

Google Analytics also allows you to view bounce rates for different visitor types - by adding a Secondary Dimension. For example: if we add a Secondary Dimension of 'Visitor Type' we obtain seperate bounce rates for New and Returning visitors - this can give an insight into how engaging your web site is to different audiences.

There are other Secondary Dimensions - such as Keyword, Campaign and Landing Page - that are derived from your Google AdWord marketing activities. When applied correctly we now obtain bounce rates for individual pay per click (PPC) campaigns running from your AdWords account - this data is gold dust when looking at how successful paid-for campaigns have been (and where changes needs to be made).

So once you've got your bounce rate, how do you know if it's any good? When should the alarm bells start ringing? Whilst there are some general rules (see later), you need to bear in mind that bounce rates will vary between sites and use cases. At Focus we've built quite a few online directories for local authorities - and organisations listed in these directories tend to have high search engine rankings for specific key terms (such as their names). In this case, a user might want some contact information for an organisation - and having done a keyword search in an engine such as Google, they see the details they need in our Directory and leave the site having the information they require. In this instance - a high bounce rate, but the site has fulfilled the needs of the user.

eCommerce sites are a different story - generally we want users to convert, that is, land on a product page, move deeper into the site, use the basket and checkout. So high bounce rates on eCommerce sites are of poor value to the business and these pages need to be reviewed as priority.

Remember what was said before - look at the bounce rates of individual sections of your site rather than the site as a whole. If you are a charity, an overall bounce rate of 65% for the whole site will probably cause panic. What's more important though is to look at bounce rates for sections such as the donation facility - if 65% of users are leaving that section after one page, there's clearly some usability issues that need looking at. Taking each section at a time - with the most important sections addressed first - will help provide structure and reassurance, rather than trying to tackle the whole picture head-on.

Back to those rules then, and these are to be taken as general guides only:

  • bounce rates of 60% or over: take a snapshot, review your content as soon as you can and start planning some changes.
  • bounce rates of 25% to 60%: are generally the average, these should make up the majority of your report.
  • bounce rates below 25%: great, but don't ignore them. Make sure these pages are working really hard as clearly they are engaging the user, so ensure you include promotional news, or offers, or target them to really drive that 'call to action' and web site conversion.

Where you feel that your bounce rate is a bit scary, you'll want to consider making some changes:

  • review your content, is it out of date or innaccurate, does it engage the user? See our article on writing good content for the web, which is aimed at charities but has guidelines for all.
  • look at web site usability, is it obvious enough to the user where to go next? Does the site layout and navigation inhibit users from getting further into your site, and completing the desired 'call to action'? This is particularly crucial for landing pages used as part of PPC campaigns - literally money can be being poured away through poor design.
  • check how quickly your pages load, nothing whacks up the bounce rate like a slow loading web site.

It's also worth noting that Google Analytics allows you to check the bounce rate from mobile devices. If you've got a high bounce rate from iPhones, Androids etc the key reason could be users are hitting your 'non mobile' web site. With more and more people using their phones and tablets to view the web, having a site that's 'mobile-usable' is more important than ever.

So for starters, that's a whole lot of bouncing. We hope you've found the information above interesting and useful (well, about as interesting as stats can be....)

If you've got any questions then do get in touch, and we'll be publishing more web analytics blogs in the near future, so keep an eye out for more hints, tips and advice.

Simon Newing
Simon

Created on Thursday June 27 2013 08:25 AM


Tags: google ux usability analytics101


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Digital Love

Digital Love

The trouble with being dead busy and heads-down-cracking-on is you get a bit inward-facing... which is great for the here and now, but means you can lose sight a bit of what's happening out there in the big wide world of Web. So yesterday was a great opportunity for me to raise my head up, and spend the day at a conference in Bristol City Centre - On The Edge Digital. It was a really inspiring event - the speakers covered a range of topics, some of which we know, some we think we know and some we can learn a lot from!

The subjects included:

  • Content - matching it to your sales process, and your target audience
  • Localised SEO (search Engine Optimisation) and Searches - what does it mean to be Local?
  • Email Marketing - some easy methods to try to get improved results
  • PPC (Pay Per Click) - quick wins and Google's new Enhanced campaigns
  • Social Media - strategy, common mistakes and what channels to use
  • RWD (Responsive Web Design) - understanding more about why, and when to make the change to give the best user experience
  • Social Networking for B2B - making it the right fit; and fitting it in!

And I do love the Digital World. It's inspiring and jaw-dropping and infuriating and exciting and keeps on changing ALL THE TIME. I love learning about latest developments and trends and news and views, forming opinions, putting them into practice, and then applying new developments and trends and news and views to make ongoing improvements... and so it goes on.

If you think it's about time to review your website or digital marketing strategy, please do get in touch. There's some exciting new developments happening right now, and it's all fresh in my mind - so let's have a chat and see what we can do to get you a bit of Digital Love too :-)




Is Everything The Fault of Microsoft Excel?

Is Everything The Fault of Microsoft Excel?

I saw this article recently on CNN, implicating Microsoft Excel in the financial crisis, Europe's growth problems, the US' weak economic recovery, and the like:

http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2013/04/17/rogoff-reinhart-excel-errors/

It's an entertaining read, but of course blaming Excel isn't fair here - these are "people" errors, and they happened to have used Excel whilst making their errors.

It's no different to a calculator; if I type "10 + 100" when I meant "100 + 100", is that the calculator's fault? Of course not; so, if I type the wrong thing into an Excel spreadsheet, that's not really Excel's fault either.

But, having said that, there is the case of using the right tool for the job, and if tasked with monitoring (and limiting potential losses of) billions of dollars worth of trading, I can't help but think that a series of Excel spreadsheets that require data copying between them is not going to be the right tool for the job.

A system specifically written to do that task could have tests written against it, validation in place against unusual data, and alerts if things start to look...unusual.

Requiring a manual element to a process like this is always going to have the chance of the occasional human error.

Do you still update your website by manually copying data around? Drop us a line, and we'll see if we can help you automate the process - reducing both manual labour and human errors!

Neil Smith
Neil

Created on Wednesday April 24 2013 01:12 PM


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Abandon all hope that enter here....

Or rather less dramatically, why is online shopping littered with abandoned baskets and trolleys like a barren car park?

The answer, according to a survey from Liveperson, is chiefly:

  • unexpected delivery costs appearing from nowhere within the checkout, with 77% of shoppers saying that would cause them to run.
  • a lack of information about products, service or delivery caused 60% to leave their baskets behind.
  • 58% cited 'navigation difficulties' (which could be resolved with an isolated checkout).
  • 47% wanted to ask a question but couldn't find the answer.
  • and finally 33% wanted more help with their transaction.

Some food for thought over Easter for store owners....

Simon Newing
Simon

Created on Wednesday March 27 2013 02:46 PM


Tags: e-commerce


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Passwords - Part Two

Passwords - Part Two

In Part One, I dealt with what makes a good (or bad) password.

In Part Two, I'll talk a little about how passwords should be held behind the scenes. It's the most techie part of the series, but it sets us up nicely for Part Three, so please bear with me!

Most people don't give much thought to what Facebook/The Bank/Bob's Website do to store our passwords behind the scenes. We trust them to do a good job, but what does that mean?

Good websites (such as all ours at Focus, of course!) will never store a password in plain text. Even if my password was "password" - an exceptionally bad choice! - we'd never store in the database:

user: neil
password: password

Instead, we store the password with something sometimes called "one way encryption". In simple terms, it means it's really easy to take "password" and turn it into a seemingly random string like "5e884898da28047151d0e56f8dc6292773603d0d6aabbdd62a11ef721d1542d8" - but it's just about impossible to get from that string back to the original phrase "password". (*)

Then, if a hacker does manage to obtain somehow a list of usernames and passwords from the database, they don't see the password in plain text, but instead see this messy string - and there's no way to get the string back to "password" again.

When you login to the site, we (roughly speaking) take the string you've entered, use one-way-encryption to turn it into the messy string, and see if that matches what's in the database - if it does, then we've verified your password is correct without needing to ever store your password. (Clever!)

So, back to our example, say a hacker does obtain a list of encrypted passwords. We know they can't turn them back into password - BUT - if they know the method we're using to turn passwords into encrypted ones, they can try guessing passwords one at a time, encrypting them, and seeing if they match what's in the database. If it does, they've guessed your password.

This is a good reason you shouldn't use a common password; a hacker can (if they obtain one of the lists above), run a dictionary of common passwords through this method, and probably find some passwords quite quickly.

If your password is a good secure password, they will have to use "brute force", which is the password equivalent of trying to open a combination padlock by trying 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, etc. If your password is long, the hope is that it will take an incredibly long amount of time to break it.

If your password is upper and lower case letters, numbers and common symbols, and 8 characters long, it could take up to 23 years for a computer to "brute force" it, working 24x7x365 (**). Hopefully, you'll have changed it by then!

Now we know a little bit about how passwords are stored, in Part Three, we can draw some conclusions, spot bad websites, and learn why you shouldn't use the same password on different sites.

(*) Note for extreme techies: that's a SHA256 hash of password, which is simpler than I'd recommend using in real life.

(**) Source: http://www.lockdown.co.uk/?pg=combi

Neil Smith
Neil

Created on Friday March 01 2013 01:57 PM


Tags: passwords


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Abigails Tale

For the first time, Focus has chosen an 'official charity' for 2013, and I'm not ashamed to say it's one that's very close to my heart (at the risk of offending charities that we currently work with!)

Our daughter Abigail was born in July 2012, very premature and weighing only 2lb 12oz. She had a further complication that meant she couldn't breathe without mechanical support.

For three months, our hopes and lives were all in the hands of the neonatal team at Evelina Childrens Hospital at St Thomas in London, who were amazing and took much care of Abigail (and at times, her parents!) and Abigail couldn't have been anywhere better. The team deal with all sorts of conditions and situations with expertise and reassurance and endless patience.

Abigail has had three surgical procedures since but we have a final visit to London lined up in March and we hope she'll be signed off, back into local care. She's now a healthy 13lb and has been at home since October, causing all sorts of havoc.

The Evelina is an inspiring place, designed and built with children in heart and mind, and the staff are so positive and encouraging for all their young patients - it's an amazing place to go and sample a slice of life you don't usually see.

So throughout 2013 Focus will be making a monthly donation to St Thomas's Together We Can campaign - a small thank you from Abigails parents and the team at Focus to show our gratitude.

Simon Newing
Simon

Created on Monday February 25 2013 12:47 PM


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eCommerce pointers for 2013

Retail analysis from Capgemini has revealed that online retail has got off to a fast start in 2013 - with 16% growth on the same period last year. This against a background of traditional retail and the high street continuing to struggle in tough economic times.

The same report is predicting overall growth in online sales of 12%.

So what are the big trends and changes that online shop owners should be keeping an eye on for the coming year, to ensure they take advantage of this growing sector?

1. Mobile / Responsive Design

2012 was the year of responsive web design - and the stats show that retailers need to stay on top of their mobile offering during 2013. The same Capgemini report states sales through mobile devices were up 193% in January 2013 compared to same period 2012. "Mobile commerce is here to stay", it states. "No longer are customers shopping from their sofas at home, but instead spotting products in store and choosing to purchase online instead on the grounds of cost or convenience."

The goal of responsive design is to give shoppers the same user experience independent on what device they are using to access online stores: a desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone or 55 inch TV screen. A responsive eCommerce store adapts itself to be viewed in an ideal manner on any screen size. Combined with Google's new Enhanced AdWords, targeting users with specific devices with pay-per-click ads has never been easier.

There's so much that goes into mobile commerce (M-Commerce) that it deserves a blog post of it's own - so that'll be coming soon.

2. Product Images and Videos

Customers are faced with massive choice; a store that can show them clear, fast loading images of their desired products stands better chance of conversion than using small, ineffective product photographs that reveal no detail.

Videos are increasingly important in helping customers decide that a product and a shop are for them. This is especially relevant where complex products are being sold, or products where it's difficult for a customer to view it 'in situ'. A demonstration video of a product working can be very useful. Videos also lend themselves for use in social media campaigns and platforms such as YouTube and Twitter - helping drive more genuinely interested traffic to your store.

3. Content, Content, Content

Keep it short - attention spans seem to be getting less and less all the time. Content should be benefit led, highly readable, SEO friendly -  yet concise so that it appeals to visitors - tricky stuff!

But an effective content strategy that's followed throughout the entire store can really make the difference in conversion rates. Don't forgot to apply these principles to information pages - such as delivery details and how customers return items.

4. Personalisation

Collecting personal information has always been a sensitive topic - never more than during the rather strange implementation of new cookie laws in 2012 - but I'm not sure the average user is too worried about giving personal data in return for a more enjoyable and personalised online experience.

2013 will see agencies like Focus continue to see how personalised content can be implemented and presented - using the wealth of information gained from analytics, browsing and order history, user behavior and user preferences. Today, users have 'Amazon like' expectations from eCommerce stores, and advances in technology mean this functionality no longer out of reach for online retailers.

5. Conversion Rate Optimisation

CRO is nothing new - but in 2013 with competition never more intense, it's crucial that store owners don't waste traffic once it's arrived.

Made up of trends already mentioned - such as content strategy, mobile and personalisation - CRO adds the need to stay on top of technical developments and user expectations. For example: isolated checkouts have shown to have beneficial effects on conversion rate. Simple changes can make dramatic differences.

A/B testing and external user testing are more accessible as ever - store owners need to make an ongoing commitment to CRO, too much money is spent on acquiring new customers, only to lose them when they arrive at a store that doesn't work for them.

Simon Newing
Simon

Created on Monday February 25 2013 11:13 AM


Tags: e-commerce shopping web-development


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Passwords - Part One

Passwords - Part One

Passwords are everywhere. You need a password for your email. For Facebook. For your bank. For the iTunes store. For your favourite forum. And probably for a few tens of passwords for other miscellaneous sites too.

In this first part of a multi-part series, I'll be dealing with ways to choose a good password - or, perhaps, ways to choose a bad one.

So, what do you pick for your password? Hopefully you'll be aware that picking a word in the dictionary ("password" is still the most popular password, according to reports), or a person's name is a bad idea.

However, the old standby of adding a number is so well-known now that passwords like "Password1" (the most popular business password, owing to its use of a capital letter and a number, thereby satisfying most password rules) and "abc123" now show up amongst the most used passwords - and hence in the hackers' lists of the most obvious passwords to try.

In addition, all the people trying to guess passwords figured out long ago that swapping a letter O for a number 0 (and its obvious I/1, E/5 friends) are pretty obvious, so "passw0rd" isn't much more secure than the plain version.

Very well known, and hence obvious, are patterns of letters and numbers - "qwerty", "12345678" and "abc123" all show up in popular lists and are best avoided.

Kids/Spouses/Pets/Sport Club names and years are also fairly common, so if I know (or take a stab statistically) that you have a girl that's about six, "grace07" or "Grace07" or "Grace2007" - the most popular girl's name of that year - isn't going to last long against a determined hacker either.

Finally, clever little phrases - "trustno1" and "letmein" are so popular as to be not recommended, and, appropriately for a post on Valentine's day, "iloveyou" also shows up on most popular lists. Sweet, but insecure. Sorry.

So how to choose a better one that you'll remember?

Song lyrics or film quotes are an oft-cited idea - if you're a Hotel California fan, you could compress "Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends" down to its initial letters - "HmiTtsgtMb" - and if Tiffany makes you think of money and the Mercedes logo looks a bit like an asterisk, how about "Hmi$tsgt*b" - that is starting to look like a much more decent password.

Of course, the problem here is that you want to stay away from obvious songs (like Hotel California!) and obvious films. Favour that odd 1973 foreign film over Austin Powers quotes, please.

The very best password, however, is long and random. If your password is "GsH:oM6I0d!xMukI", the hackers are going to be guessing for a very long time indeed. Of course, the problem is: how on Earth are you going to remember that?

A password manager can be a good choice here - one that keeps your horrendously long passwords safe on your computer, and protects them with another password that you can remember.

Whilst in one way, that just moves the problem a little, it's still a good idea - it means that you're never telling anyone/any website (apart from your password manager) the key you need to unlock the very complex password that you actually give to Facebook.

It also means the hacker needs physical access to your password manager (probably on your computer itself) rather than being able to try to get into your Facebook account directly, which ups the difficulty considerably over what they need to achieve.

However, the real advantage of a password manager is that you don't need to use the same passwords for all websites. To know why this is a good idea, we need to know a little about how passwords are stored, and we'll cover that in Passwords - Part Two!

Neil Smith
Neil

Created on Thursday February 14 2013 09:19 AM


Tags: passwords


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Information Architecture as part of a user centred design process

Information Architecture as part of a user centred design process

Recently at a focus knowledge share I talked to the team about Information Architecture and its role within the user centred design process. I also talked through best practice methods and techniques that could be used within a digital project. I like to think of Information Architecture or IA as the art of organising websites or software to support usability. IA can be used outside of digital projects but this is what I focused upon.

Information Architecture can identify the goals of your website and help you to create a digital blueprint or wireframe of your potential users' process through your website. It is an important part of the strategy and solution design process right at the start of a web project. You can use it to eventually group up and define the taxonomy of all of the website's contents, products and features in a user driven way.

IA is just one part of the user centred design process, analysing your users needs and assessing the journey they want to complete on your website. It is using key usability principles such as visibility, accessibility and consistency to create the basis for what will become your final deliverable. The user centred design process as a whole incorporates a lot of real world testing to ensure no assumptions are made during the design process. IA starts off this real world testing at a very early stage, ensuring first of all you know the correct audience to test! Designers and developers must be experts in our fields, however we do not know often the intricacies of the end user and need to form our opinions on a basis of research to then take back to the client.

There is always a different amount of research required with every project. The methodology, processes and opinions of IA I am talking about just refer to common approaches rather than quoting from an exact guide to IA.

At the very beginning of any size IA process it is important to ask yourselves, your users and your client questions. What are the short term goals of the website? Why would people come to the website? We need at this stage to establish an audience, this is going to be very important as we will base the majority of our research gathering from this audience. At this point we have to really think through what different elements that make up a website's audience and how they will use the website differently from each other. You can create scenarios of them coming to the website, what their goals are and what difficulties they might have. From here we can gauge our competitors and start to address gaps in functionality in the market for the audience. This is only the start of your UX and IA journey, next you can start to define core content and the functional requirements of your website, this will lead you down a path of wireframes and lo-fi designs until you have your perfect blueprint for the website of your user's dreams!

Some of the core methods and techniques of IA were the reason I enjoyed it so much in university. Card sorting and content discussions with your peers either as part of the user group or as a facilitator is always fascinating and insightful. It helps to outline potential issues and golden points to your website that you have not thought of yet.

Creating sitemaps, wireframes and discussing the user flow throughout a website will help your designers. When they open the graphics tool of their choice they are equipped not only with their expert knowledge of the web but a knowledge of what the user needs and what goals have to be achieved by their design. Personas can often really bring a website to life, when you are discussing how best Jimmy the iPhone fanatic will achieve his goals of buying your client's products you can start to feel the website being out in the real world before it is fully created.

A full user centred design process is not always what the client has in mind when they bring a project to you, it is often the case that there is not a budget to go out and spend weeks creating personas and testing how the website flow using paper based designs. However small bits of IA and the user centred design process will always fall into a web-creative's design process, we want to create the dream websites for our users and the only people who know exactly what the dream is, is the users themselves.

Steve Fenn
Steve

Created on Thursday February 07 2013 03:38 PM


Tags: accessibility userexperience ux usability


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