Beantin

James Royal-Lawson

UX

Lokaltidningen mitt i: minimising the user experience

I think pretty much everyone has an opinion about how the news industry should adapt in order to survive in the digital age. Even I’ve turned out a few blog posts on the subject.

Middle of nowhere

Local newspaper company Mitt i Stockholm publishes 31 newspapers here in the Greater Stockholm area and they have a rather peculiar puzzling terrible digital strategy which manages to minimise the user experience for a huge section of their target audience.

In this blog post I’ll walk you through a few parts of their digital presence and highlight some of the problems. I’ll also, in the spirit of free local newspapers, offer Mitt i some free advice.

Mitt i advert for their app on the Stockholm metro

Download our app!

In recent weeks Mitt i Stockholm has been pushing their recently launched mobile app fairly hard. There have been adverts in every Metro train, full page adverts in their own publications, plus other places, all enticing people to install the Mitt i app. The app promises you “piping hot news about everything to do with the capital city”,

I don’t think they thought things through from a reader perspective at all. I’m also not convinced that this idea has been built on clear business goals either.

What’s in it for me?

The adverts on the Metro system, and the full page adverts in all the editions of the printed newspaper give very little information. The app for iPhone and Android (but not iPad) claims to deliver a “unique news service about Stockholm” but fails to give any specific details.

Searching for “mitt i” and installing the app was pretty painless. Although reading the poor reviews didn’t give me high expectations. On Android it would appear the app didn’t work at all with the latest version of the operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich. It worked for me, usually. It did though crash and close itself on a number of occasions.

Everything needs to be tested and tested well. Use vistor data from your web site to help prioritise the devices and platforms you test. Make sure you keep an eye on reviews and comments to your newly launched app and make sure you’re ready to fix any bugs and quickly release an updated version.

Given that Mitt i is produced in 31 local variations, it was immediately puzzling that the app lacked any way of choosing my edition. You see news articles from all 31 editions of the newspaper. It may be harsh, but I don’t want local news from Lidingö, I want it from Enskede.

An article in the app comprises of a picture, a headline and body text. The only additional feature are buttons to increase and decrease the text size and next/previous article buttons. There are no links, and most significantly, no ability to share the article whatsoever.

The article is totally locked within the app. There’s no way of recommending it, or passing it on to a friend. Not even the familiar Android “share” menu appears. There’s no way an article could become viral, or be used in order to acquire more readers for the newspaper.

Make sure your content can be easily shared. Make use of standard share functions. Test sharing your content on relevant social networks to make sure it displays as you’d expect.

One of the features (not mentioned in the marketing for the app) is their restaurant guide with map and (editorial) reviews. There is, of course, no possibility to add your own comment or rating, or even to add a new review. Hardly a unique selling point for the app. Much better similar services exist.

Screenshot of the in-app map showing the locations of restaurants that have been reviewed

If the restaurant reviews are strategically important and must be included in the app, then why not enhance them with information and content from other services, such as Allakartor. Allakartor makes its data available via an API, making it relatively straight forward to include.

Website lacks content

The lack of any sharing in the app starts to become a little more understandable (but no more forgivable!) when you take a look at the Mitt i website. The content from the various newspapers is only available as e-zines. That is to say, a flash or image-based presentation of the content built from a PDF version of the newspaper.

It’s difficult to make content any less accessible then is achieved by publishing it in this way. Viewing this type of e-zine on tablets or mobile devices is hopeless. It also not very search engine friendly – and by that I mean not only unfriendly for Google but also for on-site search and the visitor. Searching the archive on Mitt i rarely gives a satisfactory result.

In addition, no article has its own URL. You can’t share a link to a particular story. The best you can do is link to a whole page from the paper . This is something I managed to do, but I suspect not something very many typical readers would achieve.

Avoid using ezine publications. They rarely deliver good user experiences. Make the PDF available as a download. Publish content in it’s own right on dedicated, shareable, pages.

What no start page?

As part of the campaign to promote the app, Mitt i has moved their normal start page and replaced it with a splash page. Splash pages are known to irritate users. A certain percentage will leave immediately on seeing a splash page.

Screenshot of a replacement start page for mitti.se advertising their app

Determined users will click on the “enter site” link as quick as possible in order to get on with the task they came to the site to complete. Trying to distracting visitors as soon as they arrive is rarely a good plan.

The splash page itself is poorly constructed, with almost the entire content of the page contained in an image with no textual alternative. The links to the Android and Apple apps are made created using an image map, something that most of us avoid like the plague these days.

If you do deploy a splash page (which I wouldn’t recommend) then place it on its own URL. Redirect your index page temporarily to your splash page with a http 302 temporary redirect code. You may also want to make it no index. Take care to code the page correctly, making it as accessible as possible.

Search Engines

Splash pages are not only terrible for visitors, but also for search engines. Removing almost all the text-based content from a web page results in a very poor quality snippet. The title of Mitt i in Google at the moment is “Mitt i app” with a description of “to the mitt i homepage”. Hardly enticing.

Screenshot of Google search results showing how badly mitti.se appears

The Mitt i web site fails to follow even the most basic SEO advice such as unique page titles and quality meta descriptions. Mitt i search results take a further hit due to the amount of content only available as PDFs or as images. As mentioned earlier, none of the articles from the newspapers are available as specific web pages.

Make sure articles are published as web pages with their own distinct URLs. Make sure page titles are descriptive, unique and contain relevant keywords. Make sure a well written meta description is included on every single page.

Frustratingly poor

There is demand and interest for local news, and thousands of people take the time to read the paper editions of Mitt i. It’s frustrating how poor the digital strategy is for this local newspaper – they have the content, it just needs to be better utilised.

Rival free local newspaper company Direct Press does a much better job with their web presence. It’s not perfect, but at least the content from their publications is available online in a way which is accessible, shareable and findable.

It’s important to think holistically. Consider how every thing you do (both online and offline) fits together; how it is seen, consumed and interacted with by your customers (readers, members, supporters, or whatever you’d like to label them as).

With the revenue obtained from advertising in (printed) free local papers such as Mitt i in terminal decline, minimising the user experience of their readers is hardly a strategy that will help them innovate and survive.


James Royal-Lawson+ is a digital strategist and web manager based in Stockholm Sweden.

Stop using QR codes!

This autumn the use of QR codes in advertising in Stockholm has exploded. There are more codes visible now than ever before. Unfortunately the majority of them are poorly implemented.

If the QR code doesn’t add to the user experience, don’t use them!

In this blog post I’ve collected together a number of recent examples of QR codes in the wild here in Stockholm, Sweden.

Almost every single code took me to a standard desktop website (or campaign site). Most of them led to a page that was not designed or adjusted for handheld devices.

If a fishy bites, hold on!

QR codes are not going to be scanned by a large number of people – irrespective of the hype, most people don’t know what the hell they are, don’t know how to scan them, or don’t care about scanning them.

When you get someone who does know what they are, and does bother to scan them – you want to make sure you hold on to them! This means what happens once they’ve scanned the code needs to help them take the next step in a relevant context.

Build for the context

By and large this means always think mobile when you are using QR codes. This is the context your target audience are in when they scan. Anything other than mobile-ready content or service will make their interaction more difficult. This will reduce their happiness, reduce the chance of meeting your goals, and potentially damage your brand.

QR Codes in the wild

Nokia N9

Nokia N9 advert with QR code

The code leads to the full desktop website. No handheld or responsive version available.

FV Seleqt

FV Seleqt Sugar Snaps with QR code

Scan this product packaging and you are taken to a desktop site showcasing their products.

Krusovice

Krusovich sign at an event with QR code

Leads to a page that has been designed for mobiles. The page contains a form, but there is still room for optimised it to make completion as easy and as successful as possible from a touch-screen device.

Biltema

Biltema catalogue with QR codes

Two tiny codes, very close together. One for the Android app and one for the iPhone app. They do both scan, but you have cover up one of the codes to ensure you scan the correct one.

Scan

Scan advert with QR code

I didn’t manage to get this code to scan. It was very badly positioned (right at the bottom of the advert) meaning I had to get down on my knees to try to scan it. The code was also relatively small and contained a lot of data.

Norskfisk

Norskfisk advert with QR code

Scan the code and you end up at a recipe, on a desktop web site. No mobile version.

SEB

SEB advert with QR code

Code to apply for a loan.

Stockholm Film Festival

Stockholm Film Festival programme with QR code

This year’s film festival site is really quite good, but shame they used a code that pointed straight to the desktop site. No mobile site is available, but there is an iPhone app.

Skanska

Skanska advert with QR code

This code was featured on an advert on the Stockholm metro leads to a desktop website.

Pantamera

Pantamera adverts with QR code

One of the few better implementations included in this blog post. The codes lead to YouTube videos, which serves a mobile version of it’s site (or can even open directly in the YouTube app on many mobiles).

Flickr

You can find all of these QR codes (and more) in this set on my Flickr stream.


James Royal-Lawson+ is a digital strategist and web manager based in Stockholm Sweden.

12 Articles worth reading… (Spotted: Week 22-27, 2011)

For your reading pleasure this time, a collection of links (with summaries) including articles related to: web management, SEO, intranet, UX.


Web management

The web is critical. The web team is not

‎”According to a McKinsey report, From 2004 to 2009, the Internet’s contribution to GDP in mature countries averaged about 20%.” – just think how much it could be if more organisations made good, well managed use of it!

Greenpeace R2D2 QR Code

I’ve read a fair few good things have been said about aspects of Greenpeace’s “Volkswagen” campaign – but they haven’t done a good job of using QR Codes. Yes, it looks good on R2D2’s side, but (amongst other problems) the code leads to a non-mobile version of the site…

Härmed anmäler jag Riksdagen för brott mot lagen | Emanuels randanmärkningar

The new “cookie law” came into force on July 1st here in Sweden, basically making pre-approval of cookies a requirement for a website (with some fuzzy not clearly defined exceptions). Have you adjusted all your (Swedish) sites? A draft recommendation of what to do to comply is available from IAB Sweden.

The Web Is Not A Farm! It’s Time To Tear Down The Silos

All hail the generalist! Conferences covering every “Silo” seem to be talking about how the Silos that exist in web [well, business…] have to be broken down. Unfortunately a lot of time, it is the Silo topic of the conference that paints itself as “right” and it’s all the other Silos need to be broken down. Thankfully, Kristina Mausser writes some sense. All hail T-shaped people and generalists!

A Comprehensive Website Planning Guide

Some nice parts in this Guide from Smashing Magazine. Unfortunately, it’s missing some really important aspects. What about migration? Most companies aren’t start-ups with no existing digital presence. What about SEO? Keyword research? Taking care of redirects? And then a big miss – usability testing?

Five years from now, there’ll be no such thing as a webpage

Well, no – but kind of. Yes, social (networks, content & search) will continue to make huge changes to how we consume (create and share) content – but the hub of the internet will still be pages.

UX, IA & Testing

“Come as you are” – Part 1: The Reckless years

A series of blog posts sharing stories and experiences from 13 years of working with Information Architecture. Martin is currently the lead IA and UX architect for The Guardian.

Changing the Guardian through guerilla usability testing

Examples of Guerrilla usability testing from the lead UX/IA at The Guardian newspaper in the UK. Although it’s a compliment to “proper” testing, there’s really no excuse for doing no testing at all when it’s so simple, quick (and low cost) to just get out there and collect some data!

SEO

Getting “Pure” Search Results

Some tips about how to get “clean” non-personalised search results. Useful for research. I particularly like Scroogle – allows you to search Google as a “Google virgin”.

Why Google SERP CTR studies are a waste of time

We all know how “ranking number 1 in Google” is a silly phrase these days. This article does a good job of looking at patterns in click through ratios of SERPs and analysing the behaviour. You even get a reminder of some good housekeeping tips for improving your snippet.

Intranet & Collaboration

Does your intranet make a difference for your customers?

Nice reminder from Jane that the intranet should be helping you help your customers. In particular I like the example at the end of the post where she quotes a large bank that broke their workforce down into 3 groups: front line, back office, and analytical. All of which have very different expectations and needs from the intranet – and require different strategies (and tactics)

The multiplier effect

A blog post on the Economist Blog about social collaboration platforms as a talent-centred ecosystem for organisations. They talk of “T-shaped brokers” with deep specialist knowledge (the vertical bar) and a desire to collaborate (the horizontal bar). I’ve dubbed a variation of such people as “super-creators” previously.

11 Articles worth reading… (Spotted: Week 18-21, 2011)

For your reading pleasure this time, a collection of links (with summaries) including articles related to: web management, UX, cookies, search, UX and search.


Web management, UX, mobile web

10 rules to make a great online bank dashboard – Meniga blog

The headline says “online bank” but these 10 rules are just as good for any website

Going Mobile!

‎”It’s not about making our site work on a mobile device, it is about what our users need when they’re mobile”. A case study from Utah Valley University

New Data: 33% of Facebook Posting is Mobile

Some stats saying that a third of FB updates are from mobile devices. Probably a pretty reasonable statistic – but it was calculated using 70,000 publicly available updates. No idea if that’s a representative selection of FB as a whole. It will of course vary quite dramatically from country to country.

How to improve the usability (and conversion rate) of your forms

Nice little check-list for making better forms.

Intranet

Is your intranet a dinosaur?

Good set of 6 questions to ask yourself about your Intranet and help prioritise activities. Given that most orgs don’t have an intranet strategy, answering these wouldn’t be too bad a gap-filler.

Cookies

The Cookie Law in Sweden – Self regulation committee started by the IAB

From July the 1st, an amended law comes into force, making it effectively illegal to create cookies when someone visits your (Swedish) website without explicit permission (in advance). Exactly how the law should be intepreted is a bit unclear. There is a trade organisation working on a recommendation. This change, driven by the EU, is perhaps excellent news for companies offering hosting outside of the EU…

Information Commissioner’s Office

Countries across europe are starting to implement new laws regarding Cookies. The new Swedish law comes into effect on July 1st, but it’s still unclear exactly what needs to be done. Here though is an example of what the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK has done: a banner on every page asking you to accept cookies

Search & personalisation

Personalization gone too far

Every single service is fighting to give us “exactly what we want”. But is exactly what we want really want we want? or need? Take 10 minutes to have a look at this thought provoking TED talk by Eli Pariser.

Social Search goes global

Google has rolled out search results from your social circle globally. So now everyone will see links shared by their “friends” in their SERPs when Google deems it to be relevant. I’ve been watching this for the a fair while now, and it really affects the order of the search results. This is

Analytics & Tools

Google Analytics’ New Site Speed Report Tracks Page Load Times

You can now get page load data in Google Analytics. It’s only sampled data (you don’t get figures for every page view) and it needs a slight modification to your trackng code – but worth monitoring. Slow page load times causes visitors to give up.

probably the single most significant shake up of SERPs (for an individual) in ages.

URL Shortening Services Compared: Bit.ly Pro and Yourls

I make use of both Yourls and Bit.ly pro. Bit.ly pro is a more convenient in a number of ways – but wth Yourls you own the redirects, you can decide the shortened URL. The power is totally yours.

UXPodcast – breaking down silos

For quite a while now Per Axbom and I have been discussing the idea of starting a podcast, in English, aimed at UX and web professionals everywhere. Aiming to spread knowledge, reach out to new audiences, and probably most important of all – help break down the silos that exist and link skills horizontally.

We were both attending UXLx 2011 in Libson Portugal, so we decided that this would be a good opportunity to make a pilot episode of the podcast. We’d probably have time to plan it, think up some topics, and record it for release in the days just after the event.

Ambitious plan, but we’ve made it.

During the conference one of the topics that repeated itself throughout was that of silos. That all the silos that exist within businesses must be broken down. In particular, UX needs to reach out and get more cosy wth other silos. This seemed like the perfect encouragement to do the UXPodcast. Building on the decades of web geekery that myself and Per have stockpiled and taking advantage of our “UX” and “non-UX” labels.

You can listen to the first, pilot, episode here on UX Podcast. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss future episodes!

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