Saturday, 27 November 2010

Log analysis, SEO and where are we now?

I began by trying to find some independent reviews on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) software tools and drew a blank. Anyone have any pointers? Instead, I have found some reviews of the state of SEO today. This has burgeoned quickly in 5 years to become an industry in its own right with awards for companies that can prove results in improving web sites in specific ways for their clients. It has also migrated into the newer channels of Twitter and Social Media with SMO (Social Media Optimisation) as an acronym. Many web development companies partner with an SEO organisation and work with them in developing a site that behaves as the client wants.

As search and the way results are filtered, ranked and displayed have become more sophisticated (although some would dispute that), the optimisation techniques have had to change, driven by the increasingly powerful search engines such as Google. The changes leave bodies in its wake as SEO companies run to stay still. It's a tricky business working with moving goalposts! When search engines announce a shift in strategy it has serious implications for SEO companies that have based their offerings on other factors driving the search ... and so on. The medium develops, matures, takes some false steps, stabilises for a while and then moves on again. This isn't so new in our line of business. But because SEO is by its very nature measurable, an SEO company often takes the ongoing responsibility for reviewing and reporting the results to the client after the site has gone live. When the search strategy shifts, the SEO company needs to revamp – naturally.

It used to be easy enough and well within the control of the web developers when meta-tags and keywords dominated. Then the importance of links grew fuelling companies specialising in cross-linking between their clients. Now social media has expanded and has driven the perceived need of how to influence/reach more people, analyse data, refine search matches and so on.

If you're interested in the historical overview, The SEO Theory and Analysis Blog, by Michael Martinez, has a good outline of the development of SEO half way down the blog 17th November beginning How search engine optimisation has evolved

Tim Nash has a more techie and amusing take on an historical approach outlined at So you want to be an SEO.

The more serious stuff is found in The SEO Best Practice Guide, econsultancy April 2009, but you have to pay £250 for the full monty.

Finally, you might like an opposing point of view from the SEO Whistleblower, Steve Chapman, ZDNet, where he explains why any company promising to make you Number 1 in Google rankings has it wrong.

Whatever, interesting times in the SEO/SMO arena, eh?

Friday, 19 November 2010

HCI (Human Computer Interaction) in jeopardy?

This week I've spent hours on the phone complaining about poor interface design on diverse web sites that I've tried to use (for personal use) in all honesty – and failed. I failed in my complaints too! In the end I've realised I'm talking to the wrong people. If you go through to the Helplines noted on the web sites you get through to Customer Services and all the people want to do is ignore what you say, sell their products, and get on with the next call.

What I was trying to achieve was a change in the interfaces to help the User Experience, lower the companies' complaints and increase their service/product conversions. No one listened, no one recognised that mine was constructive criticism, no one offered to put me through to their web designers. I've given up.

The first issue arose because a company only allowed you to choose one category of definition for a training course when our training courses don't fit because they are cross-discipline (iMedia Project Management and related courses, I'm talking about here). I genuinely couldn't stretch the categories/sub-categories to suit - with the best will in the world . You either had to be Business and Management, IT and Telecommunications, or Design and Media.

This narrowness would have implications of how people searched to access information about the courses and we cross all - taking into account the people who have attended in the past. Added to that issue, although the company did allow online courses, they insisted on you putting in a number of hours, days, weeks that it would take someone to complete a course. That's an oxymoron for online as people can access and complete as they want. I'd have been happy for a range of hours but no, it had to be a definite number! And so on...

The second issue involved me trying to buy a product online but the number of personal questions I had to complete for the shop to form an account was off-putting, and then their Terms and Conditions made it so hard to opt out of the details being sent to all and sundry, that I aborted the transaction. Yes, you guessed it. The company contacted me by email anyway asking if I'd had trouble with completing the request! That just confirmed my poor opinion of their online ethics.

Finally: the most frustrating. I'd received documentation (from a supposedly Top 100 company) indicating that a service I'd had offline for years was now online if I wanted. Yes, good, I thought. But when I tried to register online, the info in the document bore no relation to the online screens. Really, I mean as basic as the words Password and Account Number were not called those names on the screen when in fact that was what they wanted in the end to start the process. When I muddled through by trial and error expecting to be accused of trying to subvert the system at any moment (hacking?), I was finally told on screen that the second stage would take 5-10 days to be posted to me. No mention of a two stage registration process in the documentation and I haven't got that amount of time left to register now because I hadn't thought it was time sensitive before my service period runs out!

Sorry about all the whinging but too much in too short a time for me to throw off! And, I did try and rectify the situations as best I could by speaking to the organisation. Where are the interface designers? Where are the trials with genuine users? Or, are the professionals not being allowed or paid to do their jobs? After all, online is just business now, isn't it, nothing special!?

In the spirit of and on behalf of the HCI professionals, I'll end on a positive note. Take a look at Joshua Jonson's article: "The difference between good design and great design", Sept 2010.

I found this through a great site for HCI – or UX (User Experience) if you prefer, called InspireUX. InspireUX have a strapline explaining their mission as:
User Experience quotes and articles to inspire and connect the UX community
They have amalgamated loads of relevant material. Hope you can use some to influence your clients.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The untold truths behind Project Management!

It's rare that you get someone telling it like it is – but this week we found a veteran project manager, Ken Young, exchanging war stories for you. It's good therapy!

His account, Project Managers: Fall guys or Heroes?, on The Register, 8th November, contains some gems of experience. Do you relate to these definitions of Project management?
' with accountancy, its beauty is usually apparent only to the dark masters of the art.'
'PM is part science (think fiendishly difficult maths meets string theory), part psychology (combine the persuasiveness of a salesman with the bloody-mindedness of the doorman), and part making the impossible happen ("we need it yesterday")'.
It's evident that Ken deals with traditional Projects rather than iMedia because his account doesn't match our situation exactly. We're less chart-bound and more hands on, I'd say, but even discounting the odd statement now and then, it has the ring of truth.

But if you look at the comments attached to this article, there's a sad tale. Loads of workers hate Project Managers, it seems. They don't buy into the skills, the human shield aspect, the fall guy to stave off management, etc. Now that cries out to me to be addressed. What's going on? We're winning the battle with management recognising our skills but not with the workers, it seems. They don't realise that they can only get on with going their job without the stakeholders, clients and management all interfering because the PM takes the strain over many of the aspects. We'd thought that in iMedia there was a potential problem of the 'doers' not respecting the PM unless he/she had come through the ranks and had demonstrated good hands-on skills in one of the key areas, but it appears this lack of respect is wider.

We'll be following the set of articles – hope you do too. The next has happened: How not to do Project Management, 10th November, The Register.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Accessibility in the mobile arena

It took years for the interactive industry to recognise and implement web sites that conformed to accessibility guidelines for disadvantaged people due to physical or learning impairments - many would argue that this still hasn't happened and lots of web sites are still impenetrable for disadvantaged users. However, at least guidelines exist and research been done so that when and if clients demand accessible sites, your designers can demonstrate compatibility and you can build the requirements into the Time, Cost, Quality spec.

What about mobile? In many ways the development of mobile offerings has been experimental, entrepreneurial - in the spirit of interactive communication development, you might say. And after finding out how, when, and what to offer in the mini interactive environments on the mobile devices, and then how successful they have been, everyone wants a part of the action. There's no stronger motivation than feeling left out!

So it'll be no surprise that the guidelines for mobile are coming! Watch this space. But don't worry. You need to deal with these as you have web accessibility guidelines. The ones that become legal requirements you must heed and educate your clients that you have to operate in this way. The voluntary guidelines will depend on your client, their ethics, and their market requirements. All you need to do is ask the right questions at the right time in the project start-up and work out the implications for time, cost and quality. Perhaps time to revise your scoping questionnaire?

What's happening then? In mid October the UK government convened a forum of experts to address the issues of interactive accessibility and making services more inclusive. This will have implications for web and mobile.

The well known web accessibility initiative, , is already addressing mobile accessibility issues.

The RNIB, renowned for championing web accessibility for its sector, offers useful resources for its members about the use of mobile on its site. They are useful for us to note too.

Finally, yes, the phone operators themselves have some initiatives for disadvantaged customers – such as Vodafone, who will concentrate on two strategies. The first will look at assistive products and services, and the second Inclusive design.
Our strategic objective by March 2011 is to offer an option that makes access to telecommunications possible for hearing impaired, visually impaired and elderly customers in each of our markets