Large Organisations And Web Technology

The other day I was looking at IT vacancies on TradeMe and Seek. It’s clear that many larger organisations are behind the curve when it comes to web technology.

If your website is built on ASP.NET you are operating at a major flexibility disadvantage to smaller organisations. A smaller organisation can take advantage of essentially “better” tools without needing to convince 20 middle managers that the new platform is safe and secure.

For example, I am currently building a niche web application on the side. I’m using AngularJS and the latest in HTML5/CSS3 to make it as lightweight and flexible as possible.

If I was a front-end web developer, working for an organisation that requires “3+ years experience in ASP.NET”, I would not have advanced beyond the stage of wireframing.

As it stands, I have a working prototype I can work with in less than a month. Working backwards from this, I’ve redesigned how the whole application should work after seeing it work in my browser window.

The friction that large organisations must deal with in order to get projects that embrace better web technology means that small organisations have an enormous competitive advantage.

If you are a smaller organisation, you should be at the forefront of experimenting with web technology because you can achieve the greatest competitive advantages from light and flexible web technology.

How A Central Organisation Wiki Reduces Risk

Every organisation has institutional knowledge that is probably written down somewhere, in some database, exactly where the team member who needs it to complete her task can’t find it when she needs it.

And the same team member probably finds herself performing tasks repeatedly that would be made much easier if all of the information she needed was in one place.

A central organisation wiki is storage place for all of the relevant information that your entire organisation needs to do its job properly. It can encourage team collaboration, make hiring temps easier, reduce the risk of losing institutional knowledge when a key team member leaves and above all provide a more efficient way to keep track of the organisation’s information.

Having an internal wiki reduces operational risk considerably. If you are using something like Atlassian Confluence you can set permissions so users can only access and contribute to things they need to. You can therefore prevent people stumbling across sensitive Word documents or Excel spreadsheets when trawling through files accessible to all team members.

Having a central repository for all of your organisation’s information makes it far easier to conduct induction training for new team members, keep everyone on the same page and reduce the risk of information silos being formed between team members or different teams.

In this day and age, not taking advantage of tools like a central organisation wiki is risky business. If you’re running a support system and find yourself opening up Word documents when there could simply be a Wiki page with the same information, you are costing your organisation a lot of unnecessary time and money.

Atlassian BitBucket vs GitHub

Australian firm Atlassian are best known for their suite of productivity enhancing software like JIRA for issue tracking and Confluence for making team collaboration far easier.

But when it comes to real world utility, BitBucket is Atlassian’s answer to GitHub.

Git makes it easy to track versions, collaborate with team members and compare code revisions. But you need to pay to keep your repositories on GitHub private.

BitBucket offers up to 5 private repos and what I think is a nicer user interface.

While collaboration and open source is wonderful, in the real world there are some code repositories better kept private – like that killer app you’re working on.

Until I integrate one of my repos with JIRA & Confluence I’ll be using BitBucket instead of GitHub.

The Difference Between Price And Value

Price is what you pay.

Value is what you get.

If you are competing on price alone, you can’t deliver much value.

Your invoices at the end of the month will be eaten up by saving for provisional tax, business overheads, drawings for living expenses and whatever your core business expenses are.

The problem with the obsession over “free stuff” is that many businesspeople have developed an aversion to paying for things that will generate a positive return on investment.

They could spend $50 per month on customer relationship software that would make repeat sales easier and build stronger customer relationships, but they won’t because $50 per month is just some toy.

If you are worried that you will lose customers by increasing your prices, you are either:

  1. Not creating enough value for your customers or
  2. Targeting the wrong customer segments for your product

Think about the career path of a successful lawyer. They graduate and are billed out at $150 / hour. They get admitted to the bar and gain experience in their area of expertise, raising their chargeout to $250 / hour. They have a decade of experience and a lot of court time under their belt – charging $500 / hour plus is not unrealistic.

There is nothing wrong with raising your prices if you are delivering more value to your customers.

Thinking about how economic concepts tie into this idea, a profit-maximising firm should be willing to make as many investments that have a positive return as it can afford.

While that might be a stretch due to borrowing constraints or skill shortages in particular fields, it makes perfect sense.

If a product or service costs you $50 / month it only needs to generate an additional $51 / month in revenue to be justified as a worthwhile investment.

A business tool like customer relationship management software can generate thousands of dollars per year in additional revenue.

The difference between price and value is so immense that it is a no-brainer to invest in CRM tools if you are running a business.

And if you are selling anything, making the difference between price and value clear to potential customers is one of the most important parts of the education process that leads towards a sale.

Outsource Your jQuery Library To Google

We are in the age of broadband, but every little page loading improvement counts. And when so many websites using jQuery use the Google CDN links for all sorts of libraries, the library your site uses might already have been downloaded by the visitor when they accessed another website using the same library.

Checkout the Google Hosted Libraries page and take advantage of the network effect. The more sites that use Google Hosted Libraries, the faster loading times will be for all manner of sites.

The only scripts you need to store locally are your custom ones. Let Google take care of hosting the libraries you use – AngularJS, jQuery, jQuery UI or Web Font Loader if you use Google Web Fonts in your projects.

What Is Your Big Idea?

To stand out from your competitors, you have to push a big idea.

The Apple iPod’s big idea was “1,000 songs in your pocket”.

Google Drives big idea is “all your documents everywhere you go”.

A big idea doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.

A twist on your unique selling point.

An improvement on your key value proposition.

A marketing message that clearly shows why your product or service is better than your competitor’s.

A big idea should flow through everything you do.

Design perfection is a big idea that shines through everything Apple does.

Steve Jobs was a perfectionist – he studied typefaces at college and was obsessed with writing and clear fonts on the Mac.

An obsession with perfection led to a suite of products that were perfect by themselves – independent entities that reflected amazing design and value creation.

A big idea is linked to the sort of value you are creating.

Although it’s tempting to be funny, you don’t need to be.

Every product or service has a big idea around it.

You just need to figure it out before your competition does.


Keep Web Copy Simple

The goal of copywriting is to get the reader to buy.

It’s not to make the reader feel good about themselves.

It’s not to make the reader feel good about your sustainable business practices.

And it’s not to make the reader feel good about the 201 new improvements in your 3rd tier product.

The goal of copywriting is to get the reader to buy.

You need to keep web copy simple.

You can’t copy and paste your flowery marketing material onto a web page and expect it to deliver qualified sales leads into your sales pipeline.

I like to ask three questions when I’m writing copy.

  1. Is it clear what I want the reader to do?
  2. Is it possible to reduce the word count?
  3. Will this copy lead to a sale?

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Why Words Are Important

USA Today was the first newspaper to have colour photos and a flash design. It was ahead of the curve, and its recent website redesign is busy but cool. It certainly stands out from its major competitors – the WSJ, the NYTimes, CNN & NBC News.

As I was exploring the redesigned site, I stumbled across a column from Michael Wolff called “What ad biz needs are writers”. In it, he explains how advertising has moved away from solid writing because of new technology. He shares stories of how advertising executives don’t write memos because they can’t write.

Almost all the intellectual capital of the advertising business is still vested in campaigns, most of them print campaigns, from the early ’60s through the mid-’80s: The Silver Cloud (Rolls-Royce); Think Small (Volkswagen); We Try Harder (Avis); You Don’t Have To be Jewish (Levi’s Rye Bread); The Ultimate Driving Machine (BMW); The Absolut Bottle (Absolut); Just Do it (Nike); Macintosh introduction (Apple).

These are all word ads. They tell a story; they make a case; they offer a big idea; they change the way we think. And often it takes quite a lot of words — text-heavy copy. The more you get someone to read (the job of the copywriter), the more the reader is engaged with what you are saying — and selling.

Steve Jobs Though Words Were Important

My favourite part of the column is where Steve Jobs understanding of how important good writing is:

The late Jay Chiat, then CEO of Apple’s agency, Chiat/Day, once told me that every time a new person was put on his account, Steve Jobs, who was as shaped by good advertising as he was by innovative technology, would say “but can he (or she) write?

Although advertising is currently obsessed with social media, video and “fluffy” branding exercises, good copy can create a connection between a customer’s problems and your company’s solution. Writing clearly requires thinking clearly about your product first. If you can’t explain why your product is best in a few sentences you need to go back to the drawing board.

Web Marketing Copy Should Be Clear and Concise

I think that copywriting is extremely important. If you simply copy and paste your print copy onto your website, you are just making it harder to connect with customers.

Copywriting for a website needs to revolve around your unique selling point and short, snappy descriptions that drive customers to more detail if they want to read it.

Putting up a link to a PDF brochure is not going to help you win business! Is it really that hard to break that PDF down into 5-10 brief slides that include links to more detail?

An easy way to stand out from your competition is to choose the words on your website carefully.

Wheedle Does Not Reinvent The Wheel

The New Zealand online auction marketplace is currently dominated by publicly listed TradeMe. They enjoy a monopoly on online auctions and use this market power to frequently increase their success fees and listing fees. When you think about selling something online in New Zealand, TradeMe has the power of a verb.

I’ll put it on TradeMe if it doesn’t fit


We’ll just get a new flatmate off TradeMe

The market position of TradeMe has had many attacks from both well-funded and not-so-well funded startups. So far, none of them have succeeded. For some reason I am yet to figure out, Rich Lister Neil Graham has moved away from his transport industry expertise into something he clearly has no first-hand knowledge of.

Wheedle Is Down For Maintenance

So far, Wheedle has encountered the following problems:

  • No restrictions on user names
  • A slow-loading frontpage that is a rip-off of TradeMe and shows no innovative thinking
  • No integration with social media
  • Password reset including plain-text passwords which presents a security risk
  • Lots of publicity but problems for people trying to place listings

Who is behind the Wheedle advertising and web development? There is clearly a transfer of wealth going on here. Neil Graham is being charged significant amounts of money to launch a sub-standard competitor to a major incumbent with monopoly power.

Having a $10 million dollar war chest to go up against a media behemoth (Fairfax) in a marketplace where the other major competitor is APN News & Media is as close as you can get to insanity. For starters, why has Wheedle done the following?

  • Kept the success fee model?
  • Not taken advantage of new web technologies to make search and listing far quicker than TradeMe?
  • Fell into the “build it and they will come” trap?
  • Outsourced to India pretty straightforward web development?
  • Not tested sufficiently before launch to avoid multiple “Wheedle Is Down for Maintenance” messages?

I don’t think that Wheedle can succeed. It will be a success for the “experts” advising Neil Graham. He will lose his investment unless some dramatic changes are made. If I was Neil Graham I would go back to the drawing board and ask – how can we make an online marketplace that is easier to use than TradeMe?

If his team can’t answer that question in an elevator pitch they should exit the marketplace immediately before burning through more of his hard-earned millions.

How Domino’s Pizza Could Improve User Experience

It is 2012 and making it hard to order your product is the last thing your business should be doing online. But Domino’s Pizza has managed to produce a corporate website that fails to put the user experience first.

We went to the Domino’s Pizza site to order a pizza. I have FlashBlock installed so I didn’t see the order button. But after enabling Flash, is there really an improvement to my user experience?

No there isn’t! In fact by having the key feature of the site require Flash you almost lost a sale. My friend completed the order on his laptop because Flash crashed during the order process.

If you look at the source code you will see that they’ve pretty much imported the Australian template, including the meta tags.

This is terrible for search engine optimisation. If you are not thinking clearly about how search engines categorise your content, you are losing. Domino’s Pizza is essentially telling robots that Domino’s NZ delivers to Australian capital cities. Absolutely tragic in this day and age.

So how can Domino’s Pizza improve the user experience?

  1. Replace Flash with HTML5 & CSS3. In 2012, it is completely unnecessary to have an autoplaying video. It is rude and it is really bad when you have a deal offer obscuring the main reason people visit your site – to order a pizza. What is even worse is that the whole ordering process is in Flash. It is not 1999. Flash is not cool.
  2. Make ordering a pizza the focus of the site. There is so much clutter! Having the “order online” button to the right hand side and not the central focus of page is insanity. How about a search box for your local store and then “order your pizza now” in a CSS styled button instead of an ugly Flash siren?
  3. Build your website from the ground up. If you are working with a corporate identity, it doesn’t mean you have to import the template and all of its accompanying design and user experience errors. Domino’s Pizza could start from a blank slate like it has with its apps for phones and build something that works.

My friends and I were shocked at how a major business in New Zealand could fail to create a positive user experience. One of the features of the Domino’s ordering process in Flash is a timer that shows how far along your pizza is in the process. It crashed in the middle of it!

Overall, Domino’s Pizza needs to seriously look at its website. A complete overhaul that shifts the focus from marketing to people who have already chosen Domino’s over Hell or Pizza Hut towards making ordering a pizza as simple as possible without the use of Flash would lead to increased order completion rates.

I would love to look at Domino’s analytics to see how many sales fail to complete because people get frustrated with their site. By the way I’d like to say to Lance Wiggs that I’m kind of borrowing your “red text on screenshot” annotation strategy. I hope you don’t mind.