Contradictions & Compromise: The dilemma of online shopping at Xmas!

I am a woman of many contradictions, my husband will testify to this willingly! When we got married in May I wanted it to be classy & stylish with stunning scenic photos but I don’t like getting dressed up and don’t like being in photos; I work in Digital Media but I am not a fan of gathering gadgets and gizmos & have an inbuilt distrust of sharing information online (I blame too much knowledge!); I am a fussy eater in that there are some foods that just disagree with me but I love fine food and am a passionate cook; and if they are not good enough examples of contradictions for you then how about: I am a climber & love being in the mountains but I’m terrified of heights.

The latest contradiction I’ve encountered is surrounding my dislike of shopping. I’ve never been a great person for busy crowded shopping centres, or parading up and down high streets browsing for things that I didn’t know I wanted let alone needed! I find I get wound up by the constant changes in temperature and claustrophobic stores, and I can never locate the items I may be looking for if I do venture towards making a purchase. Usually this is very good for keeping money in my pocket but periodically it can be distressing such as when I really need a new pair of shoes as the old pair is starting to wear through, or at this time of year (xmas) when I need to buy Christmas presents. You see the trouble is that though online shopping is on the boom, and the advent of web phones and tablet devices means that you can do your shopping whilst on the train, I really want the local shops to do well. I am a huge fan of the traditional high street, and want to support my local traders. I’m a great believer that by supporting local businesses you are keeping money in the local economy, and that they provide better quality better value products.

There you go, my latest contradiction: I hate shopping in stores and I spend a large portion of my time perfecting online shopping experiences for customers, but I also want to shop in store rather than shop online.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who suffers from these contradictions in beliefs and preferences. There must be many of us who surround ourselves with them: we don’t want to pay high taxes but we believe in the NHS and would hate to be without if we were made redundant in these tough times, and in all honesty we would probably rather that we didn’t have to work hard to earn money but we want to live a nice lifestyle and go on holiday. At the end of the day we try and balance it out and live life to the best we can. Life is full of compromise too.

In this spirit I will be doing my best to balance my online shopping with shopping local; compromising on steering clear of the crowds with a desire that the local businesses get the custom they need to thrive and keep delivering good quality products. My plan for doing this: research everything online, make a list of ideas and types of gifts so that I can keep my time spent in crowds to the minimum, then head into town and proceed to buy everything from local and high street shops. Wish me luck!

Pinteresting Stats?!

A couple of months ago I went to an introduction to Pinterest session run by Creation Social Media which inspired me to create a Pinterest account. I blogged about it and promised to report back on the success of my trial. Obviously this trial has only been running for 2 months and is not that scientific in that my working patterns have made consistent posting rather difficult (!) and I have also been increasingly using Hootsuite to post to multiple social media locations which could affect the success of Linked In and Twitter. However I have seen some very interesting trends during this time and I wanted to share my thoughts.

Impression 1: A picture of success!

After setting up the Pinterest account I had a flourish of interest with my pins being repinned, a new visitor source on my site stats, and most interesting of all the duration of time spent on my site by Pinterest visitors was markedly more than my traditional sources of traffic (Google, Direct and Twitter). In fact my conversion measurements (duration and contacts) were very high from these original PInterest visitors. This was very much as had been predicted during the  introduction session that I’d been to and I was pleasantly surprised as I didn’t think my largely ungraphical business model would lend itself well to marketing via a picture based site.

Impression 2: PInterest responded better when traffic pushed by Twittter?

After this initial flurry of activity over the first couple of weeks traffic started to return to the usual patterns and it seemed, from the timing of visits and my tweets, that I would only see activity from PInterest if I pushed traffic to Pinterest via Twitter and they subsequently visited the site. I suspect that this is because much of the content I was adding to the PInterest was linked to my regular blogs and that this resulted in regular PInterest activity on my part being on a less frequent basis than the number of my tweets. However the other interesting stat I saw was that the engagement or visit duration of these visitors was dwindling and as they were mostly repeat visitors I suspect that this is because the ‘new’ factor had gone, they’d seen the main site content before and were just viewing the blog or had seen the blog elsewhere.

Finishing Figures: Fizz fizzled out.

By the end of the two month period I have virtually no visitors from PInterest anymore compared to my other regular sources, and those that I am seeing are not sticking around or converting.
In all honesty as those who do follow me on PInterest will know I haven’t actively pushed PInterest for the past fortnight but the trend was very clearly moving this way and I don’t suspect it would have made much significant difference. In reality the initial interest generated by PInterest just wasn’t there anymore.

What does it all mean?

I don’t think you can judge PInterest on these stats. Apart from the inconsistent approach I’ve used, I have always been uncertain that my business was well suited to advertising through this model and I know other businesses have had more success with it. In reality my business is a service that I provide so people are more likely to look for me through Linked In or find me by recommendation or searching for my skillset. However there are some learnings I think I can make from what I’ve seen:

  • PInterest was more successful when I backed it up with other Social Media tools such as Twitter and when it linked to blogs.
  • Fun pictures were great at generating click through traffic but Infographics had a far better engagement level when the visitors reached the site (I believe they were better targetted to my audience)
  • Repinning other pictures and sharing on PInterest increased my follower base but not necessarily in the right target market and didn’t seem to have a material impact on my overall website stats. However the figures I have are not really large enough to make a call on this for certain. I suspect it is like Twitter or Facebook, conversation and engaging with other users is important to build a community but only a percentage of that community may actually want to use your services regularly. The rest may be just browsing.
  • PInterest like all Social Media tools is only good when you use it regularly, keep updates new, fresh and relevant, and have eye catching graphics.

Have you used PInterest for your business yet? What are your findings? I’d love to hear what you think.

When the line between good manners, the truth and effective management become a bit blurred….

Pinocchio learned the hard way about telling the truth
Why are there some instances when we find it so hard not to lie?

I’m sitting in the doctors surgery waiting for my regular MOT & wondering idly if I’m going to catch a cold from all these folk coughing & sneezing. Many folk know each other, either neighbours or regulars to the surgery as is often the case amongst a certain age group. As each arrival sits down they ask ‘how are you doing today?’ politely & their acquaintance replies ‘oh not so bad thanks…’ & proceeds to discuss their recent ailments & mishaps on holidays. I can’t help but wonder what it is that makes us still ask how someone is doing if they are sat in a doctors surgery, & what makes the replies so positive when they clearly aren’t.

At one point a gentleman about to leave the surgery bumps into an acquaintance coming through the door. ‘How are you?’ the person entering asks with a smile.. ‘I’m at the doctors so how do you think?!’ is the curt retort. I wanted to cheer, but it seemed rude!

We do this all the time at home, work & play. There’s a certain etiquette & set of manners which seems to make masking the truth a more polite & acceptable way of behaving. I am a strong believer in good manners & I certainly have no objections to the door being held open for me by anyone, man or a woman, but there are times in the work place where honesty really would be a better policy.

Here are a few of my honesty bug bears which can hamper projects:

  • Being scared to give negative feedback – too often the success of a product is hampered because honest feedback wasn’t given early enough. This can be due to a number of reasons including someone’s position within an organisation (we have a kind of inbuilt warning system that prevents us criticising the boss!), not wanting to offend the creator, not feeling confident enough to speak out, but in almost all cases there is a way to provide feedback that is constructive and still polite even though it may appear negative. An example of this could be if you spot an issue with the layout of a webpage which could affect the usability of the site then it is important to raise this early as reworking it later can cost time and money, and it’s totally possible that nobody else has spotted it. If you raise it and it’s been considered and the end result is still the same then at least you understand the thought process behind it.
  • Identifying real reasons for wanting something (aka ‘the hidden agenda’) – this is all too often the case if organisational politics get in the way of working well as a team, and sadly it’s often the case if there are organisational restructures under way. This is often not really lying it’s just not telling the whole truth, and often it is totally understandable in the delicate employment climate we are living in. However, unfortunately, as a project manager it can be very difficult to ensure a quality end delivery if you don’t understand the whole picture. Often by bringing out into the open the real reasons for wanting something an approach can be found which will take this into account and is less likely to affect the end quality.
  • Talking about money (what’s my budget/what will it cost) – this is a particularly British curse. When I was travelling around Asia I discovered the  joys of bargaining and it was an accepted culture that both parties haggle and meet in the middle and everyone is happy with the outcome. However we are not good at haggling in the British culture, possibly because of a competitive spirit, and I suspect possibly because money is so often a taboo subject, but in all honesty I don’t know why. Never the less this often results in long drawn out conversations about what the cost will be for certain work where both parties are trying to ‘win’ – either by paying less than they wanted or charging more than they expected. Recently I had a very refreshing experience where I was liaising with someone who was really pushed for time to agree a cost. So in order to speed things up I was told a fixed budget and asked to come back with an approach which meant I could fit within it. I was then able to come up with the most efficient way to get them the most amount of work in that budget. It may have felt slightly awkward and not in normal every day etiquette to begin with but with both of us being up front and honest we were able to get the best out of the arrangement for both parties.

There are plenty more instances where it’s deemed acceptable not to tell the whole truth in a work situation and I suspect that a bit more honesty would actually be helpful. Have you any good examples or ‘bug bears’ where a bit more honesty rather than perceived good etiquette would have helped you to deliver something a wee bit easier? I’d love to hear about them.

Waterfalls and the need for agility

Steall Waterfall
A classic waterfall can be made easier to navigate with a bit of agile thinking!

I was out walking at the weekend and the huge amount of rainfall on Saturday night resulted in some spectacular waterfalls on the Sunday, reminding me of a blog I’ve been meaning to write for a while now about my thoughts on the different types of project methodologies.

There are many methodologies for delivering projects, from the traditional Waterfall methodology to the increasingly common Agile approach. Even within these general categories there are specific approaches such as PRINCE 2, APM or SCRUM. There are many people who are firm advocates of one approach or the other, and amongst the project management world I have heard much debate about the pros and cons of each.

Before starting work with various organisations it is not usual for me to be asked about which approach I use, and I will often be advised as to the methodology that is in place at that organisation and which needs to be followed. Though I do believe a consistent approach should be employed across an organisation, or at least a programme of work, so that everybody is working the same way and can understand what is going on; I am not someone who believes that any particular methodology or approach should be employed rigidly within an organisation, nor that it should follow a text book example to the letter.

This may sound like I’m sitting on the fence but this is not the case, it is just that I prefer a more practical approach. I prefer to use a methodology that best suits the organisation, the project and the team who will be delivering it, and if it’s possible to do this within an existing framework then that would certainly be the approach I would recommend.

Never the less I find that in the Digital World there are a specific set of challenges that occur in project delivery which need flexibility and agility to be overcome, however if a purely agile project approach were to be followed then it may conflict with an organisations need for clarity on scope (what is being delivered), timescale (when it is being delivered) and cost.

A diagram of how a more agile waterfall might work
One way of making a classic waterfall more agile

For many organisations the idea of not having a signed off set of requirements, timescale and budget up front is not something that they can easily take on board. However the nature of delivering large scale digital projects does not lend itself well to a purely waterfall approach; a website is not a static entity in that the site is likely to be constantly changing throughout the project, even if this is just purely in terms of content, and these changes risk impacting the way that the end product looks and works if they are not considered frequently throughout the main delivery.

Increasingly, therefore, I am finding that a hybrid approach to delivering projects – where a more traditional waterfall methodology is combined with prototyping and iterative project delivery (a more agile methodology) – is the better way to balance the needs of the technology providers with the business owners.  This more agile waterfall model can take many forms but for me the key is in understanding the business requirements up front, alongside the costs and timescales which may be constraining factors, then working on the solution with all parties (designers, developers and the requestors) in a manner that ensures that if changes are required throughout the build they can be incorporated as early as possible with minimal impact on the overall objectives. By constantly reviewing the delivery with everyone there is less chance of surprises and less chance of the end delivery being unsatisfactory.

I’d be interested in your thoughts. Do you think the days of running a strict waterfall methodology for digital projects are over? Are you an advocate of an agile approach? Or do you too think that the answer lies between them both and will be different depending on the need of the organisation?

If you’d like to know more about reviewing your project methodologies, or need support with a digital project then contact Saja Ltd we’d love to help


When is a website broken and when is it the message that’s broken?

The other day I wrote a blog noting that one of the most common questions I’m asked is how much does it cost to build a website in which I tried to explain why this is also such a difficult question to answer, and why it may not be the question which organisations should be asking.

A marketing purchase decision funnel
Potential customers go through many stages before making a decision to use a service or buy a product, and being able to measure your effectiveness at each stage in reaching out to these customers will help you to serve them better.

Another concern which seems to come up quite alot is “I have a website but it is not doing me any good.” When I dig a bit further into what is meant by this it often turns out that though they have set up a website they are not seeing any increase in customers as a result.

Fixing this problem is as important as fixing a website that doesn’t load, or one that has issues with it’s appearance when it does load. If a website isn’t loading then the fact it’s broken is quite obvious, however when everything appears to be working fine technically but the site isn’t achieving what it was built to do then something else must be broken.

Here are some questions you can ask to see if you know whether your website is working for you:

  • Do you have analytics on your website to tell how many potential customers are visiting your site and do you know how to interpret the numbers you are getting?
  • Does your website have goals or objectives as to what you are trying to achieve with it? (ie is it trying to sell something, is it generating leads/contacts or are you providing an information service) and can you measure the success of these specific goals?
  • Do you understand the steps your customers go through before making a decision to use your service, and are you able to measure your impact at each of these stages?

Potential customers go through many stages before making a decision to use a service or buy a product, and by being able to measure your effectiveness at each stage in reaching out to these customers it will help you to serve them better.

There are many challenges with marketing online in ensuring you are effective at each of these stages but two of the most common issues are: high volumes of traffic but no increase in customers purchasing or contacting you, suggesting the visitors are not getting something they need; or low volumes of traffic, suggesting some extra digital marketing is required possibly from some Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) improvements. Both of these can be resolved by analysing the traffic to your website to highlight where the potential issues are and often they can be improved by making some fairly simple changes. However the most important thing is to understand what your objectives of your website are so that you can make sure these are being met.

By understanding what stages your customers go through, and by understanding your goals for interacting with your customers at each of these stages, you can then put in place ways to meet both you and your customers needs. Then by measuring your success at each stage you can start to make improvements based on your findings: a recipe for continued success!

Whether you’re an expert at looking at web statistics or not, sometimes if you are running a business it  can be difficult to take a step back and look at your customers’ journey in finding you. Often it can be helpful to have some support giving a fresh perspective, particularly in identifying ways to fix any issues with a site not being as effective as it can.

Whatever your reason, if you’d like support to analyse whether your website is working for you, or to help you to meet your website’s goals better, then get in touch – I’d love to help you be as successful as you can.