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The Expert

This sketch shows why it’s important for engineers to understand client services and for project managers to learn as much as they can about the technical side of their business. Otherwise, you literally agree to do the impossible, the impractical, the ineffective, or the intolerable.

Pushback is key with clients. If you’re being hired for your expertise, you need to sell your expertise, not just blanket agreements with the client’s requests, no matter how absurd.

A good lawyer would not agree to let you bequeath the moon to your dog in your will. Similarly, a good developers or designers should not let clients act against their own interests.

Post Status on Matt Mullenweg Becoming Automattic CEO

Post Status on Matt Mullenweg Becoming Automattic CEO

Brian Krogsgard offers some interesting thoughts on the recent role reversal between Matt Mullenweg and Toni Schneider as well as Automattic growing up as a company:

Automattic has really grown up over the years. In the tech world, it is quite an underrated company in my opinion; few companies can tout the influence (with over 74 million sites running WordPress in the world) they have on the internet itself. They’ve proven that building applications on open source software can be profitable and scalable. They’ve helpedpioneer the coming onslaught of companies enabling remote workers. They’ve acquired other startups (mostly) without killing them. They’re successfully bridging the gap between WordPress.com and WordPress.org with long term investments like Jetpack. They’ve grown to a staff of well over 200, which is both large for a startup and tiny consideringWordPress.com is now the 8th largest website in the world.

I started developing and managing WordPress projects in 2007. In the years since, I’ve only become more and more pleased with that happy accident. Automattic’s flourishing gives me confidence that my business and the websites we build for our clients are going to be running on WordPress for many, many years to come.

Is Gmail Helping or Hurting Email Marketing?

Is Gmail Helping or Hurting Email Marketing?

I’ve seen conflicting opinions on Gmail’s new image policy—the popular service will now be showing email images by default, rather than requiring used to click “display images” at the top of each received message.

Ryan Tate at Wired says that this will be a boon for email marketers:

The new setup also means that people and companies who send you email will be able to find out when you’ve opened and read their messages, because loading these images requires a call back to the sender’s server. That said, the sender still has to know how to rig their emails to take advantage of this, and that means that sophisticated corporations are far more likely to take advantage of this privacy hole than your friends and relatives. They’ll have to evade Google’s filters for “suspicious” content, and you’ll have to check your Gmail over the web — not via a local client — for this change to impact you. But it’s an important development.

This would seem to make sense were it not for this contradictory explanation of the new image policy from Ron Amadeo at ArsTechnica:

Embedded images will now be saved by Google, and the e-mail content will be modified to display those images from Google’s cache, instead of from a third-party server. E-mail marketers will no longer be able to get any information from images—they will see a single request from Google, which will then be used to send the image out to all Gmail users. Unless you click on a link, marketers will have no idea the e-mail has been seen.

To get the definitive answer on this issue, I went to the authority: MailChimp. As it turns out, both Wires and Ars got at least part of the story wrong. MailChimp contends that this change will both help and hurt their customers:

In Gmail’s announcement today, they said image caching allows them to securely turn on images by default. Image caching still lowers our ability to track repeat opens, but turning those images on means we’ll be more accurate when tracking unique opens. At least, theoretically it should work that way.

By leaving images turned off, Gmail has been allowing subscribers to open emails without downloading our tracking pixel, so those opens were invisible to us. If Gmail is going to display images automatically, those previously invisible opens should suddenly become visible.

So, as with most things in tech, this is about trade-offs. The policy change in Gmail is helping marketers by giving more information about who is reading their emails, but less information about unique opens.

Of course email marketing is ultimately about driving sales, traffic, or some other action outside of reading the emails themselves. These conversion metrics will remain unaffected as services like MailChimp will still provide unique tracking URLs for each email recipient.

I’m curious to see if this policy in Gmail is followed by other webmail providers like Hotmail and Yahoo. If so, we could see the entire email marketing industry deemphasize the unique opens metric as it may become a very unreliable measurement.

Attack of the Modal Windows

Andy Beaumont on the rise of modal windows, the new pop-ups:

What we’re witnessing here is the first wave of the second world pop-up war. Those of us who lived through the first one can only describe the horrors to our disbelieving children. This time though, the pop-ups are winning because we don’t yet have the tools to fight back. The web has seemingly evolved into something that actively antagonises people — why would anyone in their right mind hide the content that visitors are there to see?

Beaumont goes on to show how management-beloved “analytics” can only show part of the story of modal windows:

Analytics will tell you that you got more “conversions”. Analytics will show you rising graphs and bigger numbers. You will show these to your boss or your client. They will falsely conclude that people love these modal overlays.

But they don’t. Nobody likes them. Conversions are not people. If you want the whole story here you should also be sat in a room testing this modal overlay with real people. Ask them questions:

  • “Do you like that overlay asking you to sign up for the newsletter?”
  • “Do you understand what will happen if you do sign up for it?”
  • “Do you know that there is content behind it?”
  • “Do you know how to close it to get to the content?”.

It’s extremely unlikely that they like it. It’s fairly likely that they do know there is content behind it. And it is also fairly likely that they don’t know how to close it.

As I’ve said before, building a brand means giving people what they want—high-quality content that’s easily accessible. Trying to build a brand using this kind of digital arm twisting will be perceived by users for what it is, the online equivalent of a a used car salesman giving you the hard sell.

So instead of pursuing conversions, build trust. It’s the foundation of every successful website.

How Not to Design for Mobile

“Crapshaming” brings us examples of mobile design from prominent brands that range from 67% to 100% content that users did not request.

Lesson: Give users content and they will love your brand. Try to build your brand via harassing sign-up or ads, and your users will flee.

Some Holidays Shouldn’t Involve Sales

With the notable exception of non-profits and other civil organizations who work with veterans, it is generally not a good idea for commercial entities to engage in any sort of social media campaigns involving holidays like Veterans Day or Memorial Day.

At best, your attempt to promote your product, service, or “brand” will come off as being in bad taste.

At worst, you will produce one of the offensive and shameless social media blunders highlighted by the Atlantic’s Philip Bump.

Perhaps most shameful is the spelling-mistake-laden offer of a free bloomin’ onion to veterans. Our veterans deserve better than your deep-fried root vegetables, but more importantly, the holiday deserves more respect.

Save your promotions, discounts, contests, sweepstakes, and other commercial tie-ins for more festive holidays, like Halloween or Independence Day.

Of course even the folks highlighted by Mr. Bump aren’t as bad as 9/11 advertisements. Simply the worst.

2014 Guide to Business SEO

Portent provides a good quick and dirty guide to SEO.

A large swath of these issues are address in our SEO work with clients, so if you’re an existing customer or work with a similarly well-rounded group of geeks, these items can be checked off your list in advance.

However, many of the recommendations provided by Portent are content-specific, so the list is worth reading for non-technical folks who have an editorial role in their company’s website.

It’s only when both sides come together—technical and editorial—that SEO can have a significant impact.

Launched: Manhattan Institute’s “Public Sector Inc”

The Manhattan Institute had been running their Public Sector Inc blog on Movable Type for years and wanted to move to WordPress, but were unsure of the best way to migrate, especially given the very limited support offered by Movable Type for those who want to leave the platform. Thankfully I met Manhattan’s Communication VP Lindsay Craig (now president of the National Review Institute) at the State Policy Network annual meeting in 2012 and told her about our TP2WP.com conversion tool and how ReadyMadeWeb had considerable experience rescuing folks from both MovableType and its sometimes uglier cousin TypePad.

Late this summer, the folks behind Public Sector Inc—the brilliant Tatyana Kustus, Kasia Zabawa, and Stephen Eide—began working with ReadyMadeWeb on making the transition to WordPress. After a few rounds of design, data conversion, and a few hours of manual content massaging, we’ve launched Public Sector Inc as a new designed and fully mobile-responsive website.

Here’s the before and after:

ReadyMadeWeb also redesigned the Public Sector Inc logo complete with social network profile icons:

PS-Logo-4PS-Logo-3

We’re extremely happy with how this project has turned out and grateful to have worked with such talent folks at the Manhattan Institute!

Homepages Featuring Background Photos

Nick Pettit offers a great bit of advice on the Treehouse blog:

Photos of your product and people using it play on the customer’s empathy in ways that colorful layouts and illustrations cannot. It helps them identify with the product and visualize themselves in the same context.

He continues:

Making them span the entire width of the browser window adds to the immersion and transforms the page into a place, if you will.

Pettit provides several key pointers on using photos in homepage design and a couple of great examples. Here’s one my favorites from Harvest, which up until recently served as ReadyMadeWeb’s billing platform:

Simple_Online_Time_Tracking_Software_-_Harvest-4

Upon reflection, it’s entirely possible that this photo, which has been in place since we signed-up for Harvest, had a big influence on my deciding to purchase the service. Picturing myself helping team members log their time made we focus on Harvest’s time tracking feature, which was already important to me, but the photo helped that idea stick.

More Than Mobile

Sworn Enemies Nesting DollsJeremy Girard writing for Smashing Magazine uses a unique case study to explain why selling responsive is so important for clients, even for a client who reported to have only 2% of its traffic from mobile phones:

Two percent of traffic from mobile devices is so low a figure that, when I first saw it, I questioned its accuracy.

This particular company does not market or sell to the general public. It is a B2B company that works with a relatively small group of distributors and contractors from a defined geographic area. The client attributed the low mobile traffic to this demographic, which would access the website from an office desk, not on the road with a phone.

I agreed that mobile figures would likely be lower for this demographic than for a typical audience (for the websites we manage, 30% of traffic comes from mobile visitors, although some websites get over 50%) — but not this low. I felt that something else was happening here, and my gut told me that part of the reason was that the website worked so poorly on mobile devices. I suspected that the lack of a mobile experience kept mobile visitors away.

I did not share this theory with the client at the time, but in the year since the new design went live, the mobile traffic figures have climbed, from 2 to 17%. Granted, that is still lower than what many other websites get these days, but it is a sizeable jump and cannot be ignored.

Demand for a mobile experience was there, but the traffic didn’t reflect this because of an outdated design.

Girard also points out how responsive design is not the same as creating a mobile design and shouldn’t be presented in that way to clients. Instead, it’s important to understand what responsive design really encompasses, a design methodology that should work well with devices of all sizes, whether they be phones, phablets, tablets, netbooks, laptops, desktops, or a beautiful 27″ iMac.

photo by: ▲Bonard▼