Archive for the ‘Online Technologies’ Category

Case Study: How a Landing Page Rescue Fixed a Leaking Sales Funnel!

June 20th, 2018 by Cameron Collins

fix leaking sales funnelAccording to Wikipedia1, people in sales and marketing positions have been talking about sales funnels since the 1920s. The sale of many products and services involve a lead time from investigation through to purchase. Having a certain number of leads at each stage of the sales funnel or customer journey is frequently used as a lead indicator of your likely sales volume at a point in the future. Marketing attempts to ensure that people entering an organisation’s sales funnel have a certain problem they are trying to solve or need that must be met, and that are aware that solutions to these problems exist. The organisation then attempts to guide the prospective purchasers through their process of research, interaction with the sales team, competitor evaluation and ultimately the purchase of that organisation’s products/services.

A well-managed sales funnel perpetuates interaction with the individuals even after they become clients. Client’s evaluations of the company, employee performance, products and services are ongoing. The sales process should nurture and support clients, leading to repurchase, renewal of contracts and referrals, that is, back to the top of the funnel.

Unfortunately, in practice not all leads will emerge from the bottom of the funnel as clients. Even the best companies will lose a few leads along the way. Astute marketers will be constantly seeking to identify and improve all interactions down through the sales funnel and seek ways to fix common leaks. Improving the efficiency of their sales funnel ranks as the second highest sales priority after closing more deals2.

The Graffiti Eaters is an example of a company who understood the benefits of a sales funnel but knew theirs was leaking somewhere along the way. They came to us with an existing website, Google AdWords campaign, and frequent blog and social media content to target prospects in the early stages of the sales funnel. Relationships with existing clients were maintained through blog and social media content as well as more personalised email newsletters.

After analysing the entire cycle, it became clear that the hole in this funnel was the website. We were able to drive significant traffic to the website of people who were looking to purchase their services via first page ranks in Google search results for relevant search terms. We were able to ensure the Google AdWords ads were displayed above organic search results. We were also able to encourage relevant traffic to click on the ads. However, once traffic reached a landing page of the website, much of the traffic did not continue on through the sales funnel. Potential clients were lost and there was little to show for the advertising expenditure.

Landing pages play a key role in paid ad campaigns; they support the ad with more detailed content, and help the prospect to take action and interact with the vendor. After clicking on an ad, visitors should be directed to a page that provides a clear, specific solution to their problem in a tone and style suitable for the audience type. Once the visitor has interpreted the key messages, that visitor should be guided on how to act on this information. A clear, yet tasteful ‘call-to-action’, such as a form for requesting a quote, a booking form, a request further contact link or the option to make a purchase.

After analysing The Graffiti Eaters website, we found that the landing page provided an unsatisfactory user experience and had significant room for improvement (see image below).

leaking sales funnel

A cluttered appearance, with excessive text, images and animations grouped close together made it difficult for visitors to find the key information. Style inconsistencies throughout the navigation, headings and text provided a substandard appearance which wasn’t appropriate for the predominantly B2B audience. The call-to-action comprising 3 different options was confusing, and on mobile devices, it was only visible by scrolling to the bottom of a very long page.

We analysed the top performing websites in graffiti removal and similar industries which target the same audience. A design was selected which overcame the aforementioned issues (see image below or visit www.graffitieaters.com.au/graffitiremoval/).

leaking funnel

The text was simplified to demonstrate the key points that owners and managers of commercial properties are looking for when seeking a professional graffiti removal service. A video was provided for those who are prepared to spend more time on the page.

We provided a clear call-to-action via the ‘Get it Off Now’ button which leads to a simple form, handling both bookings and quote requests. This button is part of a sticky header, which stays in view while the visitor scrolls down the page. A second button was placed towards the bottom of the page with the label ‘Request a Quote’.

The mobile number listed in the sticky header features click-to-call functionality when viewed on mobile devices. This enables visitors to click on the number and automatically call head office. As with the booking/quote request form interactions, this is linked to AdWords conversion tracking so that we can monitor the number of leads the ads provide.

These changes are part of an overall re-design of the website which is now clean, modern and user-friendly on desktop, tablet and mobile devices, while retaining The Graffiti Eaters unique branding elements.

We reviewed the results of the AdWords Graffiti Removal ad group during April 2018 and compared it with April 2017 when the previous website was in use. The landing page gained an astonishing 242.85% more leads in April 2018 than in April 2017.

To put this into perspective, we compared the conversion rate of the Graffiti Removal Ad Group in April 2018 with global averages for AdWords campaigns across all industries3.

blog-landing-page-rescue-statistics

The campaign for The Graffiti Eaters achieved more than double the global industry average for conversions and more than triple the conversions gained from the previous website. Not only is the client receiving more leads, they are receiving far greater return on their investment.

The effect of the new design was felt throughout the website, with the number of quotes completed increasing by 44.95% and the number of new clients generated increasing by 25.53%. A great result!

The Graffiti Eaters are one of many clients we are proud to have assisted with Google AdWords management (PPC), website design, and sales funnel optimisation.

Contact us to discuss how you can increase sales by optimising your digital marketing.

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purchase_funnel

2 HubSpot

3 WordStream

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How can Business (big and small) Harness Artificial Intelligence?

April 30th, 2018 by Heather Maloney

Futuristic city with delivery person sending off drones with packages from skyscraper
A recent Contactpoint blog post described the way in which artificial intelligence and machine learning are impacting our world at large and how it works. This blog attempts to answer the question “How can business, both small and large, utilise AI to make significant advancements?” AI is certainly not a technology only available for large corporations.

I assert that there are 3 main ways that your business can benefit from artificial intelligence (‘AI’):

  1. By integrating your website / app with software that has been improved by the use of AI. Such integration will significantly improve the value provided by your solution.
  2. By using software that has been improved by AI for running your business, thus significantly improving the manner in which you run your business, on an ongoing basis.
  3. By running your own deep learning exercises to determine the answer to a difficult question, which either improves your business performance or your understanding of your clients.

I expect that you already, perhaps unknowingly, use the outcome of AI or machine learning every day. Understanding it will help you harness it even more, so let’s explore just a few examples of each of these opportunities.

Integration
The Google search engine is underpinned by the use of AI – the more web pages it crawls, the better and better it gets at providing people with valid and useful search results. That’s part of the benefit of AI; traditional programming requires modification over time in response to the way people use it, with AI driven solutions, they learn and improve on their own.

Baidu, the so-called Chinese version of Google, allows you to upload an image, and request “similar images”. The search for similar images is not based on text around the images on a web page but solely uses the content of the images (2). Images, in technology terms, are made up of pixels of colour, which individually tell you very little. It is the manner in which the colours are combined, and the hard and soft edges around groups of pixels, which determine what is actually represented. AI underpins Baidu’s ability to find similar images – a very complex problem, and probably not something you could program a computer to perform. Traditionally the ability for a programmer to tell a computer how to achieve a goal was a prerequisite to solving that goal programmatically. With the use of AI, instead of telling the computer how to solve the problem, the program is allowed to train itself to solve the problem, getting better and better at achieving a task the more times it is performed.

We all use text search to find the things we need in Google or other search engines. It’s been possible to integrate the Google Search Engine into your website or app for many years, including restricting the search results to a particular domain or set of domains, thus providing excellent search results to your visitors without needing to write a search engine algorithm yourself. The ability to also search by images may be the differentiator that your website or app needs to deepen the value for your customers.

Other AI enriched applications that may enhance your application include:

  • Voice recognition – for speech to text and voice control of your app.
  • Language translation.
  • Image recognition e.g. Facebook suggesting name tags for people in photos you upload.
  • Route planning e.g. navigating from one place to another, taking traffic and other factors into consideration.

Clickup.com, a project management software, provides another example of integration. They announced this month that Clickup is now integrated with Alexa and Google Talk, allowing users to quickly interact with the online software by voice (3).
Google and Microsoft allow you to play with some of their AI enhanced functions via websites (4).

Operations
There are many functions that all businesses carry out. These functions are attracting the application of AI in order to make the tools used to complete these tasks, exponentially better than they have been before, and thereby attract new business.

Keeping up with the last news in your industry during your morning commute is now so much easier thanks to tools such as Voice Aloud which enables your smart phone to read an article to you while you drive (carefully of course). Your smart phone will also allow you to search using voice commands, using Google Voice Assistant or the iPhone Siri, allowing you to search hands free.
I recently asked my Android phone “Okay Google, what do I have on today?” expecting to have a list of my appointments read to me – it did that and, then started playing me 2 – 3 minute snippets of daily news recorded by various news agencies around Australia. It was a fantastic way to keep up-to-date and it “learned” that behaviour all on its own.

Google Search enables you to find relevant information, and this search is very accurate, powered by AI. It’s very important for Google’s revenue from online advertisements that Google Adwords provides relevant ads to searchers, because it is the relevance that inspires people to click on an ad, thus earning Google revenue. Similarly ads which appear in amongst Facebook news feeds are very reliable for showing your ad to the right audience, and once you have achieved excellent click through the result of Facebook’s AI research ensures that it will promote your ad to “look-a-like” audiences, based on what it knows about the people who already clicked. You can now much more confidently spend money on pay-per-click, because you can tailor your ads to specifically targeted audiences.

In a recent Contactpoint blog we talked about chatbots – the best of these are underpinned by AI, improving their results the more they are used so that they can help answer an inbound question before the human gets involved.

A number of online customer service and customer relationship management tools are now underpinned by AI. In these functions AI is bringing valuable insights as you use the tools, such as:
- Which clients are at the greatest risk of leaving you? (5)
- Which phrases and styles of interacting with customers produce the greatest sales results?
- What are the most important additional products or services to provide to your customers?

The better banking and financial management tools are now underpinned by AI to help you identify fraud (6). Similarly computer networks are being better secured from intrusion, viruses and malware now by solutions that use AI to detect unusual behaviour (7).

If your operations involve designing products and engineering, AI is making great inroads into design tools to help speed up the process (12).

Actionable Insights / Solving Problems
So far we have considered AI lead improvements to more general problems. Your business will be operating in a particular domain in which you are an expert, and in which there are very specific problems that have not yet been solved, or can’t be solved quickly & reliably for a large number of customers. This is where the power of AI may be the most potent, because machine learning / deep learning can be used to arrive at breakthroughs in your particular domain. Whilst it helps if you have lots of data in order to feed the deep learning process, for smaller businesses, you may be able to access public data to achieve the same goal, or use pre-existing neural networks to solve your similar problem.

Tools such as Chorus.ai are ready to take your organisation’s live data, in order to provide you with valuable insights in a specific operational area (8). In the case of Chorus.ai it analyses your meetings, particularly sales meetings, to help you get the best performance out of future meetings.

AI is being used to great effect by large corporations such as Walmart to quickly respond when high turnover products look like running out of stock, recently reporting a year-on-year 63% increase in sales (10).

Smaller organisations are also using AI to gain actionable insights, including a Zoo which now has a much better accuracy in predicting high attendance, and therefore staffing requirements, based on using AI to determine all the factors (not just weather) that increase visitor rates (10).

Domo is a tool created to help businesses, small and large, collate data from a wide range of sources (social media, ecommerce, chat bots etc), and help an organisation spot trends in real time (11).
In the area of product design and engineering, a concept called Generative Design underpinned by AI, is enabling faster design and many more possible designs to choose from by allowing all the constraints of the product to be entered, and then allowing the program to generate a large number of possible solutions (13).

However, for a problem more specific to your industry or expertise, you may need to perform a highly customised deep learning experiment. Once you have determined the question you need to answer for your specific area of expertise and industry, there are 7 steps in performing your own AI or deep learning experiment:

  • Gathering data
  • Preparing the data
  • Choosing an AI model to suit your question / domain
  • Training the model with data which contains the results / answers
  • Evaluation of the performance of the model
  • Tuning of the factors determined by the model
  • Applying the model to fresh data in order to gain insights or greater performance. (1)

As a business owner or leader you should be considering the way in which artificial intelligence or machine learning can change the way in which you operate and solve your customer’s problems. Don’t hesitate to get in contact if you would like to discuss how AI can be put to work for your organisation.

Read this article to understand more about how machine learning works, and how artificial intelligence is impacting our world.

If you would like to discuss how AI might benefit your organisation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Heather Maloney.

References:
(1) https://towardsdatascience.com/the-7-steps-of-machine-learning-2877d7e5548e
(2) https://www.wired.com/2013/06/baidu-virtual-search/
(3) https://clickup.com/blog/alexa-google-assistant-project-management/
(4) https://aidemos.microsoft.com/ & https://experiments.withgoogle.com/ai
(5) http://www.bizdata.com.au/customer-smartdetect?gclid=CjwKCAjwlIvXBRBjEiwATWAQIseaubDdIaMGue_bjuC9BZU3WLErB1Qj9u12XKmkZGZPz-UGO4balhoCaxgQAvD_BwE
(6) https://www.techemergence.com/machine-learning-fraud-detection-modern-applications-risks/
(7) https://www.techemergence.com/network-intrusion-detection-using-machine-learning/
(8) https://www.chorus.ai/product/
(9) https://www.morganmckinley.com.au/article/how-ai-helping-small-business-today
(10) https://www.clickz.com/5-businesses-using-ai-to-predict-the-future-and-profit/112336/
(11) https://www.techemergence.com/ai-in-business-intelligence-applications/
(12) https://www.engineersrule.com/solidworks-puts-artificial-intelligence-work/
(13) https://www.autodesk.com/solutions/generative-design

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While you are waiting for a human, try me!

February 13th, 2018 by Heather Maloney

In the last year or so, due to the increased use of online chat, including Facebook Messenger and Slack, chatbots have become much more common. Chatbots are computer programs which interact with a customer in response to information he/she types into a chat tool / instant message program. The increased use of chatbots has lead to maturing of the tools to create chatbots, providing an opportunity for your business to utilise bots not just to provide faster help for customers with problems, but also to support sales enquiries.
chatbotblog

Why would a customer be willing to interact with a bot?

The prime benefit for a customer is to get their problem solved or question answered more quickly. No matter how many people are added to a customer service team, there will always be times of peak enquiry where you have to wait to talk to a human.

Why wouldn’t a customer want to use a bot?

The most likely reason people would rather talk to a human is because they feel that it is harder to get their problem across to the computer, and because of that, it’s a more frustrating process and less likely to result in a satisfactory answer compared to talking to a person, whether by chat or by voice.

What to do?

To overcome the hesitation of people to use chat bots, several strategies have been used in the past including:

  1. Forcing users to first use the bot – Making the first interaction/s or all interactions in your online chat tool orchestrated by the bot, and not accessible by a human, with the option after a period of time attempting to solve the problem, pointing the customer to way to get to other support options. A similar strategy was used in the past with knowledge base functionality, whereby a person submitting a support request via a form was directed to first search the knowledge base, and only then after searching, were they given the option to submit a question.
  2. Pretending to be human – giving the bot human qualities, like attempting personality and humour, and giving them a human-like avatar or photo.

Neither of these strategies are very successful. People know when they are talking to a person, so trying to pretend otherwise can be felt as offensive to the intellect. Forcing people to use a bot first, again adds to the frustration of getting a result.

I believe that both chat and bots have their place in the provision of customer service. If I can get further information about a product I am considering via online chat, I am more likely to buy. It’s great knowing that I can just jump onto a chat within a website or web application, ask a question, and get an answer without having to dial up, sit in a telephone queue, and finally get through to a person. If on the way to getting my chat question answered, a bot steps in to try and help me get my solution more quickly, then I’m fine with that too, as long as I can differentiate the two types of assistance, and I can choose to ignore the advice of the bot and still get to chat to a real person, even if that takes longer.

Chatbots are great to help organisations provide 24/7 support, attempting to answer the question when an operator isn’t available, but allowing a person to take over the enquiry when the next support shift starts.

Steps to Creating a Useful Bot

When a human provides customer service the first step is to understand the enquirer’s problem. If they have heard the problem before, a proficient customer service operator can very quickly rectify the problem or provide the right guidance to the customer. Understanding the problem, of course, relies on the customer describing the problem in a way that’s understandable by the customer service person. And therein lies the difficulty. People describe the same problem in a myriad ways because they don’t always understand the nature of the problem themselves.

Take someone who has forgotten their password as an example. Whilst you may think most people would understand how to describe that in the fewest number of words, those who are less technically savvy might not realise that’s their problem. They may instead report that as “I can no longer login to your system”. In such a situation, a human being knows to quickly ask questions based on the statements made by the customer, and will glean clues from their tone and manner and the way they say those words. The customer service person could ask “okay, did you type in your username and password?” or they might say “when was the last time you logged in?” The answers provided by the customer will allow the support person to discover the root cause of the caller’s issue. If a bot is to determine the cause of a customer’s problem and the best solution, it needs to be able to interact with the customer and know the right questions to ask based on the way that a person communicates the problem. This is the challenge of programming a bot.

Step 1: Choose the Most Common Problems

Because it is challenging to program around the issues that people have, the first step when creating a new bot is to choose the most common problems or most frequently asked questions, that your customer service team currently deal with. Issues such as forgetting your password are unlikely to be the most common problems reported to your team, as such issues are likely already made easy for the customer to solve on their own. However, there will be issues that occur over and over, or questions raised on a regular basis, that you will be able to identify and solve, even if that is by pointing the customer to the right help article. Look for common categories of problems, as well specific issues and questions that re-occur.

Step 2: Document how people describe the problem

In order to program a bot to assist customers with a particular problem, you need to identify all the common ways that a person may describe the same problem. That’s when they actually know what the problem is. For example for those who realise that they have forgotten their password, there are still many different ways that a person may say that. They may say “I don’t know my password”. Or “I have forgotten my password”. Or “I have forgotten my login details”. Or “I don’t know what my password is”. Or “I need a new password”. Or “I have lost my password”. Or “Please reset my password”. These may not sound that different to a human, but to a simple computer program, they have similarities but they are all different.

You are likely to find that the one statement by a customer could actually require different solutions depending on their answers to other questions. Back to our password problem, if a user says “I can’t login” then the next question might be “Have you forgotten your password?” if the answer is no, then the next question might be “Have you forgotten your username?” and may lead to yet further questions. If the answer is yes, then the answer may have reached the end of the logical decision tree, ready for the solution.

As you document the questions that may be asked in order to discover the actual problem, you are likely to identify other questions and problems that you can solve along the way. You will need to decide how much time you will spend on these other problems based on how common they are, but at the same time, you don’t want to leave the customer hanging.

Step 3: Determine how the bot will direct the customer in order to solve the problem, or answer the question

Once you’ve worked out all the different ways a support request could be phrased by a customer and the questions you need to ask to get to the root of the problem, then you need to work out how the bot should respond. In the case of a password reset being required you may then program the bot to provide the password reset link. A password reset is a very simple problem to solve. The most common problem for you maybe something much more complicated.

The solution could be one or more of: providing a link to a help article which explains how to carry out a task, suggesting a list of possible products that meet the customer’s requirements, providing a link to a step by step screen overlay guiding the user through solving a particular problem, or staying in the chat in order to wait for a human to help.

Step 4: Test

Having programmed your bot to handle some common problems, it is now really important to test it with customers. You will gather much information about how useful it is by looking at your customer’s interaction with it.

If you give your customers the ability to rate the support they received or the help article you delivered to them, they actually may not choose to rate you, but you should still be able to see if they then needed to ask another question, or the same question in a different way.

Step 5: Refine and Extend

You should expect to continue to build on the list of questions or ways that a customer can ask about a particular problem. Over time you will also find the problems that are coming out the other end and not solved by the bot become your new most common problems. As I mentioned not all customers will be comfortable chatting, or chatting with a bot, so multiple support options should be provided.

Where can I place my bot?

Chatbots can be added into your mobile app, web application or website, but also into your Facebook page, Slack and other chat tools that are being used by your business. Where you will place your bot will help you select the tools you use to build it.

If you need help working through the process of creating a bot for your organisation, we would be very pleased to help.

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Online Chat for Collaboration and Team Work

February 9th, 2018 by Ammu Nair

slack-logo-small
Despite threading and advanced searches added to newer versions of email clients, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of email threads that are a mile deep, and segregate discussions based on projects.

The implementation of Slack into Contactpoint has helped us to solve this problem by providing a way to organise conversations into what are called “channels”. You can create ‘open channels’ to post company wide announcements, which are available to all members of the company. More confidential or private messages that needs to be exchanged between team members of a particular project can be carried out in ‘private channels’ – this means Slack allows us to create channels for different projects, topics or conversations between certain team members of our organisation. Direct messages offered by Slack, are just quicker, shorter and better alternatives to email messages. We can get a quick message to each other without having to write on sticky notes, or craft a properly structured email.

Slack has also made it quite simple to search for that link to a great resource that someone in your team posted 3 weeks ago! Slack searches can be filtered – which allows you to search only in specific channels, or only in messages from a particular team member – and can be sorted.

File-sharing, one of the basic prerequisites of collaboration, is supported by Slack which allows you to share all kinds of files in a hassle free manner by drag-and-drop or from Google drive or DropBox. The shared files can also be searched through, or starred as a favourite for later / quicker reference. Paste the link for your Google Drive spreadsheets or DropBox file along with comments, and these files will be in sync and searchable instantly. That brings me to another great feature that makes Slack a one-stop platform for collaboration. Slack can be easily integrated with a large number of apps in the market – yet another way to have all your information in sync, as it allows centralised access to all your notifications. This has greatly reduced our effort and time in switching between different tools and apps, while checking notifications. Apart from Slack’s huge collection of pre-built integrations, Slack has known to be very flexible in allowing you to build your own integrations quite easily, thereby making it advantageous for large organisations as well. Imagine your IT team receiving notifications when a new Zendesk item is created, or your team receiving a notification when when your daily web traffic exceeds a certain number of visitors. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

Integration is what catapults Slack into a category all its own. The solution enables you to centralize all your notifications, from sales to tech support, social media and more, into one searchable place where your team can discuss and take action as required. We have built our own integration with Slack so that online chat enquiries from Enudge are immediately pushed to a particular Slack channel, helping the appropriate customer service staff to see the enquiries without delay, and then see the solutions in the same place.

Slack also provides you a companion – Slackbot – to remind you of a meeting, or even remind your colleague about lunch time! Whether you have a team member working remotely, or you are working alone, Slack serves as an excellent tool to increase your productivity, by allowing you to schedule reminders, meetings, or even setup video and screen-sharing calls.

With apps for Android, iOS and Windows, all the Contactpoint team are now well-connected, and our messages are with us, no matter where we are!

Slack, is being employed for similar reasons across many large corporations as well as small businesses. For example, Oracle recently introduced Slack organisation-wide. Other tools are available, and in fact we have used other online chat tools for many years prior to implementing Slack. However, with the ease of integration across platforms, and the many add-ons which can be easily installed, Slack has quickly provided many improvements for our organisation and ways of working.

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Technology Predictions for 2018 around online tech

December 11th, 2017 by Heather Maloney

2018 Tech Predictions

As we wrap up the last 2 weeks of 2017, we have been considering what we are likely to see in 2018 technology. You might like to mull over this with your mulled wine and Christmas pudding (or beer and BBQ). Better still; give it some thought as you carry out new year planning.

The Top 8 things we expect to see around online technologies during 2018:

  1. Increased pressure on smaller online retailers. If you don’t provide a very niche product or experience, that is, if the products you are selling online have many competitors, then your customers are likely to migrate to the larger online retailers including Amazon. The winners will be those with the most products, with the more consistently lower price, providing an easy shopping experience, and fast low cost delivery.
  2. Increased percentage of market share to smart phones running the Android operating system, particularly due to the uptake of Google pixel, but also lower cost Android smart phones.
  3. Increased automation of homes using internet-connected devices due to the major marketing push of Google Home.
  4. Increased integration between apps to make completing the jobs you need to get done even easier.
  5. Increased specialisation of apps for niche markets, again with the intention of making it super easy for people carrying out a task in a well-defined category, to achieve that task as efficiently as possible.
  6. Increased online shopping and therefore parcel delivery into homes; delivery costs paid by the consumer will continue to fall.
  7. Increased use of Apple Pay and Android Pay as more and more people use their smart phones as their payment device.
  8. Increased development of apps that utilise AI / machine learning, making decisions on behalf of organisations in order to more rapidly provide a personalised experience for individual app users.

Feel free to contribute your thoughts!

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Controlling my App using Voice

October 15th, 2017 by Heather Maloney

Adding voice recognition to my mobile app
In order for the apps on your smartphone to be voice controlled, they need to be specifically programmed that way.

Some of the more common voice-enabled apps you are likely to find on your smartphone are:

  • Calendar – ask your smartphone the time of your next / first appointment, on a particular day, and it will tell you the answer and automatically show your calendar appointments for that day on screen
  • Phone – tell your smartphone to call person X, or send a text message to person Y, and it will take care of these tasks, prompting you for the details as required
  • Alarm – set an alarm to go off at a particular date and time
  • Search – ask your phone to search for a topic, and it will display a clickable list of search results

Voice recognition technologies have improved significantly over the last few years, providing numerous options with regard to voice enabling mobile apps, including:

  1. The Android operating system for wearables (e.g. Galaxy watch), smart phones and tablets includes in-built voice control actions for carrying out commonly used tasks such as writing a note. It also comprises the ability for an app to include its own “intents” which listen for voice activation once the user has launched the app. Finally it includes methods for allowing the user to enter free form text for processing by your app.
  2. Google Voice Interactions API – a code library provided by Google which allows an app to be triggered via the Google Now interface – that’s what you’re using when you say ‘Okay Google’ and then say a command.
    okay-google
  3. Apple devices (iPhones, iPads, iWatch) are built on the iOS operating system. Native iOS apps are written in either Objective C or Swift (a more recent language). With the launch of iOS 10, the Swift programming language included a Speech framework to allow developers to more easily implement listen for voice commands, and manipulate voice into text for use within apps.
  4. SiriKit was released in 2016, providing a toolkit for iOS developers to add voice interaction through Siri into their iOS 10 apps.

    What-is-my-heart-rate-voice-interaction-with-mobile-app
  5. Cross platform apps need to use 3rd party libraries to interface with the native speech recognition functions.

It’s important to know that the speech of the user is processed by Apple’s servers or Google’s servers, and then returned to the mobile device, so some lag may be noticed particularly when dealing with longer bursts of voice. It may also have privacy considerations for your users.

3rd party APIs exist which are completely contained within the mobile device, meaning that the user doesn’t need to have an internet connection to use them, and the privacy issues are reduced. An example of such a 3rd party API is the CMU Sphinx – Speech Recognition Toolkit. The downside of using such a library is that you can’t avail yourself of the amazingly accurate voice recognition the large players have developed over time, including for many different languages.

Obvious apps which provide the user with significant benefit from the use of voice control include:

  • An app which improves or assists the job of a hands-on task e.g. chefs, surgeons, artists, hairdressers …
  • An app which is needed while a person is driving e.g. navigation, finding locations, dictating ideas on-the-go …
  • An app needed by a person with disability.
  • An app which involves the entry of lots of text.

We expect to see more and more support for voice in all sorts of applications in future. What would you like to be able to achieve through voice commands?

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Can voice input be added to my web form?

October 13th, 2017 by Heather Maloney

power-of-voice-newsletter
Given the recent proliferation of ads about Google Home, it’s now common knowledge that you can easily talk to electronic devices and instruct them to do things such as search the web, play your favourite tune, give you the weather forecast, call a friend, or tell you the time of your first appointment on a particular day. Google Now is the technology that enables voice control of Google and Android devices, and Siri powers voice control on Apple devices. Windows 10 provided Cortana to do the same.

When you are using a smartphone to interact with a form on a web page, then you can usually fill in a form using voice … how easy or hard that is depends on your device. On an iPhone (and an iPad) when you bring up the keyboard in a form, there’s an additional ‘microphone’ icon that you simply need to tap in order to speak your entry. If you are using an Android Samsung Galaxy phone, you can switch your entry from keyboard to voice by swiping down from the top of the screen and choosing Change Keyboard, and then choosing Google Voice … yes, that’s 3 steps :-( .

When it comes to using a PC or Mac, filling in a form usually relies on typing. Now that I am getting used to talking to electronic devices, I find myself looking for more ways that I can use my voice to control the device rather than having to type everything. Talking, even for me as a very fast touch-typist, is quicker than typing. Plus, speech control enables you to control your device when you need to be using it hands-free.

What about my web form?
In answer to the question posed by this blog article, yes! voice input can be added to your web form even when you are entering text on a PC or a Mac. To demonstrate, we’ve added a very simple voice entry capability to the enquiry form on the Contactpoint home page. Please note; this example only works in the Chrome web browser, and of course you must have a microphone on your PC or Mac in order to speak to fill out the form. To use the voice input:

  1. click or press on the microphone icon beside a field
  2. click to Allow access to the microphone (you will only need to do this the first time)
  3. talk to complete the field!

As you are speaking you will see that there’s a red recording icon pulsing in the browser tab. When you stop talking, the recording will also stop, and then what you said will appear in the box.

From a programming point of view, there are several ways to implement voice input into a web form. The example on the Contactpoint home page uses a very simple method involving Javascript and the webkitSpeechRecognition which is an API for Google Chrome, giving the browser access (after the user has specifically allowed it) to the microphone and then handling voice input very nicely. Google’s team has spent many years refining speech recognition, and the webkit gives you quick and free access to their powerful functionality.

Other Javascript libraries have been developed to enable much more sophistication in the manner in which you can use voice to interact with a web form. Annyang is a great example, whereby specific parts of your web form can have tailored voice interactions enabled so that whatever you say has context e.g. choosing from a drop down list in a form will know about the allowed options, and match the voice input with one or more of those options. Due to the additional sophistication, there’s obviously more effort involved in using this library. Another benefit is that Annyang functionality works in any web browser.

If you would like to improve the usability of your web forms by enabling speech entry, feel free to get in touch!

Handy Hints for voice entry of text:
If you speak your text message without including punctuation, paragraphs and the like, it can be a lot harder for the recipient to understand your message. But have no fear, the following list will have your test messages reading just like you typed it!
“full stop” – if you pause and then say “full stop” Google Now and Siri will type in a ‘.’
“exclamation mark” – if you say “exclamation mark” Google Now and Siri will type in a ‘!’
“question mark”- if you say “question mark” Google Now and Siri will type in a ‘?’
“new line” – if you pause and say “new line” Google Now and Siri will move the cursor down to the next line.
“comma” – if you pause and say “comma” Google Now and Siri will type in a ‘,’

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Top SEO Issues – Why isn’t your website highly ranked in Google?

July 13th, 2017 by Cameron Collins

search-engine-optimisation-tips

In the digital marketing department of Contactpoint, I work with a diverse range of businesses and organisations to enable their website to rank higher for relevant Google searches. Those whose websites rank high on the first page of results reap the rewards of increased website traffic from their target market, an increase in sales or enquiry, and the ability to decrease spending in other areas of marketing such as paid advertising.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), the practice of optimising a website for higher search engine rankings, takes time to learn and implement, and at times requires technical skills. Without any prior knowledge of SEO many business owners or marketing managers are under the impression that if they build a website and write a few pages of content, Google will automatically rank it on the first page of results and traffic will flow. In our experience, it’s rare for a website that hasn’t had optimization applied to achieve good ranks.

In the majority of searches, Google has to sort through thousands, sometimes millions of search results to select the best results for a visitors query. This is important for Google – if they frequently display unhelpful results, people would have no reason to use their search engine.

These are the two factors which all top-ranking websites are successful at doing:

  1. Providing a great user experience
  2. Making it easy for Google to interpret and understand the content on their website

I will now elaborate on 6 of the most common SEO issues which I frequently identify and rectify for clients, enabling them to reach the first page of search results.

1. Search Terms
Many businesses pursue SEO as they operate in a competitive industry, therefore having relevant search terms which allow you to stand a realistic chance of ranking highly in Google is crucial. For example, let’s pretend you are a builder. If we type ‘Builder’ into Google 331,000,000 search results are displayed:
selecting the best search terms for your search engine optimisation

‘Builder’ is a word that could apply to many situations, and is what we call a ‘broad term’ in SEO parlance. If we try something a little more specific, such as ‘Builder Melbourne’ 952,000 results are listed. We can search even more specifically and try ‘Extension Builder Melbourne’ we find that 536,000 results are displayed.

As much as possible, we look for search terms for our client’s websites in which less than 500,000 search results are displayed. Of course, that’s not always possible, but we have enabled many of our clients to push through the crowd and emerge on the first page of results by swapping broad search terms for something more specific.

Another consideration is the type of websites you are competing against. Do searches on the search terms you are targeting return many .gov or .edu websites? Google deems these websites to be highly trustworthy and authoritative in a specific category, so if your domain name ends in .com.au or .com, you will likely be better of pursuing different search terms.

2. H1 Headings
What is a H1 Heading? For most websites it is the first and largest heading on each page in their website. For example on the Contactpoint Search Engine Optimisation page, the heading is, of course, ‘Search Engine Optimisation (‘SEO’)':
using headings to support search engine optimisation
Google uses the H1 Heading as a key determinate of what your web page is about, therefore we recommend inserting 1-2 search terms inside this heading. Common mistakes we see regarding the use of H1 Headings in websites include:

  • No search terms
    This is especially common on the homepage of a business, with headings such as ‘Welcome to *insert business name here*’.
  • Multiple H1 Headings on the same page
    using headings for optimising for SEO
    This often arises as the website owner prefers the style of the H1 Heading and wants to use it throughout the page. The downside of this is that your headings lose their effectiveness.

3. Thin Content
Thin Content – that is, only a small amount of content, including little use of the target search terms and perhaps just in bullet point form – is a common and easy mistake to make when launching a new website or redesigning an existing one. Weeks, even months are spent focusing on achieving the right style and functionality, and the text is sometimes given a lower priority or left to the last minute.

Thin content can hurt your search engine rankings in two ways. Firstly, Google deems pages which are lacking text to provide a poor user experience, therefore they are unlikely to be ranked highly. Secondly, Google relies upon text to interpret the contents of your page, and therefore for which searches your page should be suggested. We find that clients who have approximately 500 words of relevant text, written in natural language, on each main page see significant improvements in their search engine ranks.

4. No Redirects & Broken Links
Allowing previously functioning hyperlinks to become detached from a live web page is another common mistake which can occur if a new website launch isn’t properly managed, or when changes to pages and products are made over time without considering what may have been linking to that page. What happens to those who stumble across your old page through Google, links from other websites and social media, or previous visitors who are returning? Instead of seeing the appropriate page, they will be presented with an error page, which is basically a dead end. Most people who stumble across an error page will simply return to Google and visit one of your competitors.

The correct practice is to add a 301 redirect which ensures that anyone who uses an old URL ends up on the replacement page, or whichever page you allocate as being the best alternative. This type of linking also passes on the ranking power of the old page to the new page and removes the impact on your standing with Google that can occur if you have many broken links.

Keeping track of all the dead end links which have been created over the years can be difficult – we help website owners to identify these links and redirect them to appropriate areas of your website.

We also recommend a custom error page, in the event that you miss implementing a re-direct on an obscure barely visited page. The custom error page will include a general message about your services pointing the visitor to the main navigation of your website, which will also be included. This way they are much more likely to keep browsing around to find what they were looking for rather than to return straight back to Google.

5. Demonstrate Authority & Trustworthiness
As part of Google’s commitment to displaying the best quality search results and providing a great experience for their users, Google seeks to display websites which can clearly demonstrate authority and trustworthiness in their chosen field.

One way that a website can demonstrate this is through high-quality backlinks. A backlink is when another website incorporates a link directing traffic to your website. Google judges a websites backlinks in a very similar way to how humans judge each other – if you associate with intelligent, honest, and trustworthy individuals, it is often assumed that you also possess these characteristics. If you associate with liars, criminals and other untrustworthy individuals, then it is often assumed that you also possess these traits.

We help clients to create a backlink strategy and gain recognition from the best sources in their area of expertise.

Trustworthiness can also be demonstrated through an SSL Certificate – meaning that all of the content of your website is transmitted encrypted between the web server and the person viewing or submitting information to your website. You may notice that some websites will have a padlock and the word ‘Secure’ displayed to the left of their URL. Google is starting to show preference for websites which serve all content over SSL (“secure socket layer”), and like many other ranking factors, we expect the importance this will increase over time.

We routinely arrange the purchase and implementation of SSL certificates into our client’s websites which are attached to the website domain. Generally SSL certificates are renewed on a yearly basis.

6. Duplicate Content
One of the most common SEO issues is duplicate content. ‘Duplicate content’ refers to the situation where the same content is available from multiple URL’s. Common instances of duplicate content include:

Faceted Navigation
This is particularly common in e-commerce websites where products are placed in categories to enable visitors to navigate a large product range with ease. For example a shirt may be found in the multiple categories such as:

  • men’s shirts
  • business shirts
  • on sale

Ideally, the product page of a particular shirt would have the same URL no matter what category it is located in. However, some websites fail to do this and will show the same product page under different URL’s such as:

  • www.fancyclothing.com.au/mens/mensshirts/red-shirt
  • www.fancyclothing.com.au/mens/businessshirts/red-shirt
  • www.fancyclothing.com.au/mens/onsale/red-shirt

The Same Text on Multiple Pages

You may want to ensure that whatever page your visitors enter your website from; they can always find out about the core product/services your business offers, or the key reasons why you’re the best at what you do. Even though the pages contain different URL’s this can still cause problems. For example, if you’re trying to rank for the term ‘business consulting’ but you have the same text describing business consulting on 10 pages, which page is Google supposed to display in their results?

www, no www, https / http

It’s not entirely necessary to enter the exact URL of a website for it to be displayed. For example the Contactpoint website can be accessed by typing different combinations such as:

  • https://www.contactpoint.com.au
  • http://www.contactpoint.com.au
  • www.contactpoint.com.au
  • contactpoint.com.au

You will notice that whichever URL is used, it will always direct to https://www.contactpoint.com.au. This has been implemented as our preferred URL, and it is easy for Google to identify.
We find that some websites do not direct to a preferred URL, simply retaining the URL which was entered. Website visitors won’t notice a difference, however Google sees this as four duplicate websites instead of one unique website.

When performing an SEO review, we search for any possible duplicate content issues which may be harming your search engine ranks, and implement solutions which improve the ranks without harming your visitor’s ability to navigate the website with ease.

By now you can probably gather that search engine ranks are influenced by a vast number of factors. By helping clients to overcome these factors and implement strategies to reach their target market, we create what is in many cases a business’ number one marketing channel. Contact us now for an obligation-free discussion about how we can assist your website to rank higher in Google searches.

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Why not offshore my app development project?

April 17th, 2017 by Heather Maloney

onshore your app developmentOkay, you’re going to think I’m bias – I own a web & mobile app development company based in Melbourne, Australia, so of course I want to discourage organisations from offshoring the development of their apps.

However, fact of the matter is that I’ve heard countless war stories of offshored developments that have gone wrong … either the whole development has been thrown in the bin due to a poor quality result, or a project that was meant to be delivered by a particular date for a specific cost has escalated in both time and cost. My organisation has been the beneficiary of such malfunctioning projects, but not before the organisation has been through months of pain and disappointment prior to arriving at my door.

Apart from the issues of getting what you actually want, in an appropriate time, and for the low cost you expect from offshoring, there’s a third concern – security of your intellectual property. How do you really know that your solution isn’t being re-used for other foreign organisations to achieve the same or similar outcomes in their local market or the global market? If you needed to pursue a competitor for theft of your IP, doing that in a foreign country is going to be exponentially more difficult than locally. The risk of reputational damage to a local provider also provides you with additional leverage if an issue arises.

So why do off-shored projects so often go wrong? Anecdotally it would seem that the following issues are the primary reasons:

  1. Communication – first and foremost, effectively communicating your requirements is best done with the person/s carrying out, or at least overseeing, the development in the same room. Offshore developers try to overcome this with business analysts in Australia preparing vast documents on the required solution, adding time and cost to the project. Because the analysts are primarily in Australia, passing on of the information usually relies on the developers reading the vast amount of output and then following it … again inefficient, and developers aren’t known for wanting to read long documents before they start coding.
    Offshore developments usually require additional management in order to manage the offshore teams and co-ordinate communication, reducing the benefit of the lower developer hourly rates.
    Agile methodologies require close proximity of the developers and the clients to be successful.
  2. Time Zone – the effect of working in different time zones almost always adds to the project timeline. Someone has to wait until the start or the end of the day to communicate with the team, and when one team is working, the other isn’t, making asking a quick question in order to keep progressing down the right path either very difficult, or adverse for the work-life balance of team members.
  3. Cultural Differences – written English is heavily subject to interpretation. Cultural differences can increase the likelihood of incorrect interpretation. Trying to achieve a solution that feels like it was built for the Australian marketplace is also less likely from an offshore team, which is why design (UI & creative) is rarely carried out offshore.

From time to time I am asked to manage an offshore team in order for a client to get the benefit of lower cost developers. I always politely decline. We are able to develop great solutions, in a timely and cost effective manner because we have our developers in the same room, can have efficient discussions and decision-making about the developments if a difficulty arises, and because our clients are also close to the developers when the need arises. We also bring to our clients many years of experience, industry knowledge and of course cultural understanding.

There are times when you can’t get the resources you need, when you need them, locally such that offshore is the best option. But perhaps you should instead consider breaking down your development to smaller chunks so that a smaller, local team can meet your requirements. Smaller developments of shorter durations are also more likely to be successful, cost effective and deliver value to your customers and organisation more rapidly.

If you require a web or mobile application to be developed, I’d love to discuss the potential opportunity with you, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Use of Animation in Websites

March 3rd, 2017 by Chris Torralba

headline - website animation
The use of animation in web design is a current trend, although thankfully we haven’t returned to the days of flaming logos. Animations in websites work best when they serve a purpose and enhance the users experience. Adding animation to a website can bring a design to life, even if the motions on the page are subtle. Websites without any animation at all may run the risk of looking outdated. This blog post is going to look crazy busy, and you’d never combine so much animation in the one page, but below we describe the various ways animation can be employed to give websites that extra visual appeal and improve usability.

Attracting attention
Animations can direct the users focus to any point on the screen. As long as there are not many other competing elements on the screen, even the smallest amount of motion will grab attention. This can be used to influence what the user sees, or establish a visual hierarchy pointing them to important points on the website. Visuals like a slow fade, a box crawling in from the side, or a tile spinning to reveal more information are more preferable than the content suddenly appearing out of nowhere. In the example below animation is used to reveal the products tagline followed by a shop now call to action button.
animation to attract attention

Engaging the visitor
Animations can be used to point out possible ways for visitors to engage further with your website. The right animation in the right place can help get your message across and engage users. Animations as simple as changing the look of a button when the mouse pointer hovers over them can make your pages feel more alive and prompt visitors to select press or interact with your content. A good example of this would be an animated call to action button. Such buttons need to be displayed prominently on your website. Adding [restrained] animations make them more obvious and will let users know that they are interactive. In the example below when the mouse is hovered over the button not only changes shape and colour but produces bubbles as well.
Button hover effect

Web Forms
Animations when used correctly allow designers to produce faster, easier to use, and more productive web form experiences. Animating web forms is a great opportunity to add some subtle and interesting effects to a web page. Web forms are elements that your user will interact with and making them fun to use can enhance the experience. Because animated visuals can teach more effectively than words or static images animations can also be used to show a user how to fill out a web form, subtle animations can guide user interactions and make form filling less confusing. In the example below animation is used to let the user know when his details have been correctly processed.
Web form animation

Visual Appeal
Whilst animating for the sake of beauty can be easily overdone, making the user experience that bit more enjoyable or sophisticated will help to bring your visitor back, and help to encourage sharing of your website. Below is an example of a very subtle animation that just adds some class to the design of the image link.
animation for visual impact

What’s your favourite example of animation?

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