Beantin

James Royal-Lawson

webstrategy

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.

Webbstrateg Skatteverket

I’ve been self-employed now for 6 years. I’ve been a web and intranet consultant for the past 8. It’s not been often I’ve seen a job advert during that time where I’ve really thought – the person they are describing is actually me.

It’s even less often that an advert has been such a good match and so appealing that I think straight away – yeah, let’s apply, let’s get this job!

The job in question is as web strategist (and web responsible) at the Swedish tax authority (webbstrateg hos Skatteverket).

Skatteverket logo

So how do you apply for jobs these days? I’ve spent recent years bringing in work to my company rather than applying for jobs. But if I stop and think for a moment; the job is for a web strategist.

I’m one of those, obviously, as well as a web manager. So how about I approach this like a digital project? And how about I write about it here? That way, this post can be not only part of the application but also something to share.

One of my mantras (or tools in my toolbox if you will) is “Why, what, how, measure!” (Repeat as needed). So let’s try following that template for this application.

10 WHY
20 WHAT
30 HOW
40 MEASURE!
50 GOTO 20

Why?

In this case, the why is quite straight forward. We’re doing this for one quite obvious goal – to get the job as web strategist. This also helps a bit later on, as measuring the success of this mini-project is also quite simple (or brutal!) I either get the job or I don’t. There is also a secondary goal – sharing – which is one of the principles in my manifesto.

The goal of getting the job can then be broken down into a number of sub-goals. One of them is making sure that I make the shortlist for an interview. The creation of a short-list is often handled by HR (or a recruitment firm), especially in larger organisations.

Another sub-goal is to get the attention of those choosing their new employee – those working within communications, and in particular Anders from the web group, who is listed as a contact person in the job advert.

Those are my goals – but what goal does Skatteverket have? A good indication is the opening line in the advert: utveckla skatteverket.se så att webbplatsen möter användarnas behov. That translates as “develop skatteverket.se so that the website meets the users’ needs”.

What?

The basics: I need to submit an application for this position, including a CV and a covering letter. Such traditional steps can’t be avoided and are essential in order to stand a chance of reaching the shortlist. It would be nice to submit a link to my LinkedIn profile and this blog post, but that isn’t enough on it’s own. I have to meet the requirements of the application process.

But I don’t need to stop there – this blog post can be used as the centre piece of a short (and intensive) content marketing campaign that would also include the Beantin Index rating for Skatteverket and perhaps an annotated reply to the job advert.

I’d normally analyse the competiton too. In this case, that’s awkward as most applicants will apply without letting the world know. Given the closed nature of everyone else’s applications, being open with mine gives me a differentiating factor.

How?

My CV needs to be dusted down and updated, LinkedIn needs to be checked over and the chance taken to improve some parts (checking over your LinkedIn profile is something I recommend doing regularly anyway). A covering letter needs to be written – that, in part, can be an introduction and link here.

I could include this entire post as the covering letter but there are some risks with that; This blog post lacks further details of my motivation and specific responses to the requirements in the job announcement. Both of these items (to be submitted via the website) will need to be produced in Swedish.

Target audience

Time to do a bit of research about the target audience. Who are they? Do I know them, or have contacts that know them? What do they do? What do they want to hear?

Well, of the 5 names listed at the bottom of the advert, only one of them – Anders Åhlund – has a linked in profile. I can see that I’ve got 3 connections who have Anders in their network. Next step is to contact those 3 and talk about the application.

Eva Corp (Director of Communications) doesn’t appear to be on LinkedIn, but she is on Facebook and we have one mutual friend. I’ll get in touch with that friend too.

Of the other names, none of them appear to have a Facebook or LinkedIn profile that has any connections in my “circles”.

Anders is present on Twitter and we’ve already had a brief conversation. In fact, since I started work on this blog post he’s also followed me. We’ve also a number of shared contacts.

Although only one of a number of people involved in the recruitment process, Anders is clearly the best target audience for our small, fun, content marketing campaign.

Analytics fun

Part of Anders’s role at Skatteverket is working with web analytics. This is something else I could perhaps make use of. A quick look at Skatteverket’s website reveals, like so many other website, that they make use of Google Analytics.

One feature of Google Analytics is its campaign tracking variables. This is where you can “tag” links to content on your site with details of which campaign, source and media they are part of. This makes tracking and measuring of their performance possible.

As these campaign tracking variables are simply passed as attributes in the URL, and don’t need to be “created” within Google Analytics, you can have a bit of fun with them and create your own. In this case, I can use the variables to send a message to Anders. Although it requires a bit of help by getting people to click on this specific link.

I have, of course, no way of knowing if Anders will check his campaign reports soon enough for it to get noticed during the recruitment process – but it’s a simple (and fun) tactic, with little time needed to action it.

Measure

Did I get it? Well, the deadline is on March 8, so we’ll have to wait a little while yet before the result can be measured. But of course, I’ll update this post with more details later on. In the meantime, entertain yourself by giving this link another click

Also by James

Here’s some further reading…

And here’s some further listening…

Update: 20120329

Skatteverket have called me for an interview (via email with instructions explaining how to log in to their website and choose an available timeslot). What came as a bit of a surprise was the instruction to bring proof of Swedish citizenship to the interview. This requirement wasn’t mentioned in the job advert. Skatteverket got back to me and said that there was a miscommunication and the job isn’t security classed after all…

Update: 20120426

Yesterday I received a phone call from Eva Corp, Head of Communications at Skatteverket. They had finally come to a decision about the position. It had taken them a fair while – almost a week longer than I’d been told it would be.

The decision was that they’d gone with one of the other candidates – A candidate that had experience of working in the public sector, which I haven’t. I received some glowing feedback from Eva with regard to all other aspects of my presentation and interview, and that i’m thankful for and proud of.

So, as far as measuring the success of this “project”, the result is in. I failed. But it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s been a fun and giving process, and as I’m staying self-employed Skatteverket could always make use of me as a consultant…<grin>


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

The complete website redesign: why you should avoid it

Never do a complete redesign & rewrite of your website in one go.

Many companies are still locked in a 3-5 year redesign cycle – a point is reached when the unhappiness with their website reaches such a level that a total redesign is ordered.


The website redesign cycle

While we’re at it

A “while we’re at it” attitude comes into action.

While we’re at it…

  • we’ll redesign the look of the site…
  • we’ll change the interaction design…
  • we’ll rewrite all the content…
  • we’ll change the navigation and structure…
  • …and what the hell, we’ll change CMS while we’re at it too.

Sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? Well, not really. There are very few situations where I’d advise an organisation to do a complete and utter redesign, rewrite, and rebuild of their website all at the same time.

Much more complex

Not only do all those changes executed at roughly the same time require quite a sizable heap of cash, they also increase the complexity of the project by several orders of magnitude.

The increased complexity often translates into; the overunning of the project in terms of both time and money, poorly researched decisions, difficulty in making sensible decisions.

Furthermore, we’ve got the poor old user. If your repeat visitors make up a significant segment of your visitor base, consider what a complete re-working of your site will do to their world.

Search Engine impact

Finally, the big one. Something regularly under appreciated is just how symbiotic the relationship between your website and the internet really is. Everything you publish is analysed and indexed by the search engines. Other sites link to your content – perhaps many of them deep link to content beyond your index page.

Digital fingerprint

This presence, your old website, is a digital fingerprint. Google webmaster tools (and similar services) can give you an idea of what that fingerprint looks like.

What Google (and other search engines) think about your site is made up from all the words you use across all the pages on your site, its URLs – as well as; page titles, internal links, incoming links, the anchor text of all those links, and numerous other signals.

If you rewrite all of your content, change all your URLs, and redesign all your pages – all at the same time – how do you think that impacts on your fingerprint?

Minor surgery

So if a complete redesign – a full monty – is out of the question – what should you do?

Minor surgery, rather than heart surgery. Tweak. Constantly evolve. Change a few pieces at a time. Measure and test how well those pieces work. Adjust them, rewrite them, tweak them. Measure again.

Support network

If you for whatever reason can’t avoid the big bang, or you come onboard too late to steer the ship clear of the iceberg – then make sure you’ve got the right support network. The complete website redesign is the biggest challenge web management can throw at you.


is a freelance web manager and strategist based in Stockholm Sweden.

12 Articles worth reading… (Spotted: Weeks 13-17, 2011)

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


Web strategy & User experience

All the kings are dead. Long live the ecosystem.

Nothing is king. Everything is king! Here’s a quote taken from my Beantin Manifesto: “Until we stop arguing about which discipline lies at the top (or bottom) of the pyramid (“xxx is king”), until we start linking these skills horizontally, until we stop boxing ourselves in and closing the lid, our organisations and clients will fail to get the best out of this fantastic medium.”

Hard economic lessons for news

The internet has disrupted a number of industries. Some have take it in their stride, others have fought long and bloody battles to hold it back. News and newspapers still need to wake up and smell the coffee. What use in a newspaper? I wrote at the end of last year. I just love the rules of business models in this post by Jeff. “Tradition is not a business model”.

How to Build the Perfect Facebook Fan Page, 2011 Edition

This is quite a nice little guide to the new look Facebook pages – especially if you’re familiar to how the old ones looked and worked.

Opening the floodgates

In my February newsletter I wrote about how Flattr had all the right pieces but in the wrong order. They needed, amongst other things, so reconsider their user acquisition strategy. They’ve taken a step in the right direction and now you can receive micropayments for your content without being forced to make micropayments to others.

The fall and rise of user experience

Well considered, well observed, thought provoking, inspirational, damning – I’ll stop now and leave you to read Cennydd’s transcript of his speech at IA Summit 2011.

11 articles about An Event Apart Seattle 2011

Over in Seattle at the end of March An Event Apart took place. Luke Wroblewski published his conference notes in the form of 10 blog posts. Lots of UX, design & strategy goodness.

Search

How Google Instant’s Autocomplete Suggestions Work

If you hadn’t already realised, Google’s autocomplete suggestions are complex things. They take into account location (so specific as to what part of town you’re in), language, browsing history, trending topics, legal judgements, sensitive topics, and more.

Hoppande resultat i början av sökmotoroptimeringen

Magnus has written a whole load of posts this week, but I wanted to share this one. I’ve had a few conversations recently where I’ve brough up the affect of “freshness” (grace period) and “trending topics” (QDF – Query Deserves Freshness) on new pages – it deserves a little bit of understanding.

Holistic SEO for the Data driven web

Yet another good post from Jesper – search optimising has always been a balancing act – man and machine. Giving the machines the right (meta)data so that people can find it – using the search mechanisms that they prefer. As the web becomes more semantic and increasingly social, search (behaviour) follows.

Google adding other social sources to realtime, social efforts evolve

Until now it’s been pretty much only Twitter that has appeared in Google’s real-time search (and blended SERPs) but other sources are now starting to appear. So far, I’ve only seen other sources (such as Friendfeed and Facebook) via Google.com.

Intranet

The 13 hats of an internal community manager

Quite a good list from Steve Radick of what’s required from an internal community manager. The specifics will very from organisation to organisation, but generally this covers the role well.

Web developement

The Cicada Principle and Why It Matters to Web Designers

Beautiful. The geek in me wept with enjoyment at this fascinating mix of nature, web design and mathematics.

Coping with Over Four Hundred Devices: How Netflix Uses HTML5 to Deliver Amazing User Interfaces

Step into the world of web management with Netflix, where they are maintaining a cross platform presence using HTML5 (instead of native apps) and some serious split-testing methodology. A relatively small team, A more manageable code base, quicker development – and potentially a more consistent user experience.

Add sharing to printed newspapers with QR codes

QR codes aren’t all about campaigns and coupons. They can quite easily be used to add value and to help customers/readers/visitors do what they’d like to to. I’m going to give you an example of how they can help improve sharing of printed articles.

Despite the looming figure of Death hanging over their shoulders, traditional printed newspapers are long from their EOL. That said, the way in which we consume media is developing all the time. I read most content digitally, through a web browser (on my laptop and my tablet) or via an app (on my tablet).

I regularly share the links to content I consume, often adding my own little comment and opinion. The channels I use to share are varied, but mainly Twitter, Facebook and Yammer – and myself (somethings have to be saved to be read later – there are only so many hours in the day!)

The Economist

Despite my digital life, I still have a fondness for printed newspapers and magazines. That said, the number of publications I subscribe to has reduced dramatically over recent years, but one that has remained is The Economist. I enjoy it’s stability and consistency. A 15 year-old James wouldn’t be shocked at how the present-day Economist of 38 year-old James looks.

What is frustrating is that I still have the same urge to share when I’m reading the paper version as I do when reading articles digitally.

This is where QR codes could add real value for me.

Printed share buttons

So why not add share buttons to printed articles? Okay, it’s obviously not possible to put actual sharing tools in printed paper, but it is possible to print a scannable barcode alongside the article.

Rather than have direct link to the digital version of the article encode in the code, why not take one step further in helping the reader and provide a link to a ready made sharing page?

I’ve taken the Wikipedia page for How to win friends and influence people and made it into an example document. In the footer of each page I’ve placed a QR Code. This code links to a simple share-page that I’ve made. (It would be sensible to include some indications of what the QR code does when scanned – I’ll update the example document later to include that.)

(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

The share page

Scanning the barcode takes you to a share page that shows the article title and then offers a number of easy to press links enabling you to share the article on Twitter, Facebook or via email. Or if you fancy – you can even be a little crazy and open up the actual web page.

Screenshot of the share page taken on an Android tablet

Increasing sharing

If The Economist printed a little QR code at the end of each article, I’d share plenty more articles with my friends and followers than I currently do.

If you produce a printed publication, why not try it out? My share page is just a simple example, but it would be relatively easy (and low-cost) to produce a branded, slightly more advanced, version. Producing the QR codes is straight forward, and even possible to automate.

Let me know how you get on!


is a freelance web manager and strategist based in Stockholm Sweden.

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