Archive for the ‘usability’ Category

Rebranding – Part 1

December 31, 2008

Building Vertical Communities

Single Artisan, Product Focused Website

In November 2006, we launched the terrakeramik.com online marketplace to introduce a single artisan, Terra Keramik of Switzerland, to the North American marketplace. Because we represented exclusively Terra Keramik, we created the initial website under the Terra Keramik brand with a focus on its 12 tableware products. The initial online marketplace was organized around beverageware, dinnerware, and a section called studio.

Business Challenges

We faced several business challenges with that product centric approach. For example, to launch the Terra Keramik coffee beverageware in North America, we had to build a premium brand from ground zero that appealed to the professional and home barista markets. We wanted to differentiate ourselves from the numerous online stores that sell $5 white and brown, machine-made, porcelain coffee cups displayed on “catalog pages” with little information about the product and no other subject relevant content or advice.

Rich, Relevant and Interactive Content

We wanted to provide useful information about the product, show how the products are used by professionals and home consumers, and provide a rich, interactive browsing and buying experience with relevant information about the entire coffee trade (growers, roasters, baristi, cafes, consumers). In effect, we wanted to build vertical online communities without duplicating the content and features already offered by successful online coffee communities such as coffeegeek, home-barista, coffesnobs, baristaexchange, and coffeed. We wanted to provide some of the basic and necessary information and tools that these much larger communities may lack, may be hard to find, or present them in a more user-friendly format.

Multiple Artisans, Vertical Communities

In late 2007, about a year after launching the Terra Keramik tableware, we introduced a second Swiss artisan, Glasi Hergiswil and its lead-free, mouthblown crystal glass products, to the North American market. This was followed by the launch of Café Kultur of Germany and its handcrafted espresso accessories. We now faced a third business challenge, how to convert from our online marketplace representing a single artisan with few products, to multiple artisans with potentially hundreds of products, each with its own distinctive brand and product lines. It reinforced our desire to build vertical communities and also compelled us to start thinking about creating an independent brand that would represent and support multiple artisans.

Rebranding – Part 1

In the summer of 2008 we began to organize our online marketplace around four vertical communities:

  • Coffee & Tea
  • Wine & Beer
  • Dining
  • Home Décor
  • The following screen shots show the terrakeramik.com online marketplace as of December 2008, organized around the above vertical communities.

    Home Page

    Home Page with neutral gray, top navigation bar showing the 4 communities and the studio (about us, etc.) tab.

    Coffee & Tea

    Coffee & Tea Community, highlighted in green on the top navigation bar. Pages with a 3-column CSS layout.

    Wine & Beer

    Wine & Beer Community, highlighted in red on the top navigation bar. Pages with a 3-column CSS layout.

    Dining

    Dining Community, highlighted in orange on the top navigation bar. Pages with a 3-column CSS layout.

    Home Décor

    Home Décor Community, highlighted in light blue on the top navigation bar. Pages with a 3-column CSS layout.

    Studio

    Studio tab, highlighted in cobalt blue on the top navigation bar. Pages with a 3-column CSS layout.

    My Account

    My Account section, accessible with the “Account” button above the top navigation bar. Pages with a 2-column CSS layout.

    Registry

    Gift and Wedding Registry section, accessible with the “Registry” button above the top navigation bar. Pages with a 3-column CSS layout.

    Stay tuned for details on building out the vertical communities

    We’re BAAACK!!!

    October 21, 2008

    We’ve been busy the past 6 months growing and expanding our online marketplace at terrakeramik.com and although we continue to be busy (especially with the holiday season only a few weeks away), we are excited to share with you some of the things we’re doing on this blog. We’ll be posting in the next few days, so check back! Thanks.

    Update: search or “pay to play”

    October 10, 2007

    We posted on December 17, 2006 (6 weeks after we launched our online marketplace) that to drive customers to our site and create brand and product awareness, we wanted to be included in the major search engines and to advertise both online and offline. However, because Google did not rank us (at that time) in the top 1000 results for several of our keywords, including espresso cups, cappuccino cups and fondue pots, we decided to participate in “sponsored search”. We were aware that sponsored search is expensive and our early experience indicated sponsored search resulted in primarily low quality visits. So we asked the question: “Should we be patient and wait until we move up in the Google search results, or do we continue to spend on the Google Adwords program knowing that it doesn’t bring quality visits, product sales or even long-term customer relationships?”

    We’re pleased to provide an update. The two screenshots below show that as of today, Google organic search ranks our website in the top 15 results (middle of page 2) for espresso cups (2,350,000 results) and top 20 results (bottom half of page 2) for cappuccino cups (1,940,000 results). For fondue pots (1,580,000 results), we rank in the top 90 results (bottom of page 9).

    googleespressocups.jpg

    googlecappuccinocups.jpg

    To achieve this impressive keyword ranking on Google, we have continued to improve the search friendliness of our website as per the earlier post and we have been very patient. We worked and waited almost 12 months!

    To improve the site, we have focused especially on page layout using Divs rather than tables (whenever possible – obviously for tabular data, tables make perfect sense) and ensuring that the site uses valid HTML and is CSS compliant. For example, it does matter where your content with keywords is on the page. If you use CSS and have column layouts, the search engines read left to right and top to bottom and give more weighting to content that appears on the top left vs. the bottom right. Also, the search engines cannot read images so you should use alt tags that contain keywords. HTML validation and CSS standards do impact on search rankings, i.e. it is important to understand that search bots that crawl your site are “blind” and do not visualize your site but instead “read” your HTML markup. Bad HTML or unecessary or messy code will negatively impact your ranking. Good HTML like using tags for titles will help Google boost the importance of the title (useful if the title contains your keywords). Using Div tags to lay out your pages rather than tables will help the search bot “read” your page faster because there is less “clutter”, which will also improve your ranking.

    You can find advice and tools that should help you to structure your site at googlerankings.com. Also read Google’s FAQ for webmasters and Google’s Webmaster blog with great advice and news about coming features.

    The key (pardon the pun) now is to maintain those search rankings. Our competitors can view our keyword rank and keyword usage using a variety of online tools. We are redesigning our navigation to use a pure CSS based navigation bar, instead of the current navigation bar based on HTML tables, javascript and jpg image files (although we do use alt tags). We’ll post about that later.

    Honorable mention in eCommerce contest

    October 3, 2007

    For all the time we put into creating our online marketplace and the website that supports it, for all the late nights and weekends, for learning how to code using PHP, javascript, HTML and CSS, it’s nice to get a little recognition. Read on.

    webassist2.jpg

    WebAssist announced the winners of its 2007 “Do More / Win More” contest, and terrakeramik.com was awarded honorable mention (4th place) in the “best eCommerce” category.

    WebAssist is a leading vendor of software solutions for the Adobe Macromedia Dreamweaver platform. The contest was open to all websites that incorporate certain of WebAssist’s products. terrakeramik.com, running on an Apache/Linux/PHP 5/ MySQL 5 platform, leverages WebAssist’s eCart (shopping cart), DataAssist (database integration), Universal Email, Cookies Toolkit, Validation Toolkit (both client and server side form validation), and SecurityAssist (registration and authentication). WebAssist products are available for PHP, ASP, and ColdFusion. WebAssist’s product suite is supported by first-class tech support as well as professional services for custom implementations.

    WebAssist has some cool new products and tools, including a tool to help create CSS compliant websites in collaboration with Eric Meyer (recognized CSS guru), and tools to integrate Google apps, PayPal, Skype and PlayStream video.

    A thank you to WebAssist for recognizing our work!

    Catering to different user behavior

    December 15, 2006

    One of the key design objectives for the terrakeramik.com website was to provide several different ways for users to browse/search the site. Although at present our site is not large, it is important to recognize that different users will navigate a website in different ways and therefore the site should cater to different user behavior. Equally important is to make any page on the site easily and quickly accessible. We did that in several ways:

  • Horizontal navigation bar with two levels
  • Contextual links embedded in text
  • List related items in right side column – items are clickable
  • Integrate a site search engine above the navigation bar
  • Minimize number of clicks to reach any page (max. 3)
  • Optimize page load speeds
  • We are using several free “web statistics” tools to track and learn about user behavior to continuously improve the user experience (our site does not collect any personal information about users unless explicitly stated, e.g. to enable the shopping cart). One of these tools, Google Analytics, allows website owners to track and analyze how users enter, navigate and exit the site, what content they view, how long they spend on the site, whether they return, and if they transact on the site. Note: Google Analytics is absolutely free, and can be used with or without Google Adwords or any other marketing/advertising campaign. It does require you to copy and paste a code snippet on every page you wish to track. Goggle Analytics is a fantastic analytical tool, but our assessment is that it is a works-in-progress (Google doesn’t label it “beta” but probably should) and some of the stats deviate more than expected from Awstats and Webalizer.

    We also would like to explain our thoughts about site search. You may question site search for a small site, but we thought that if someone came to our site looking for red cappuccino cups or yellow dinner plates, they may be more inclined to type the search phrase into a search engine rather than using the navigation bar. Or they may be looking for a cheese fondue recipe or how to make a caffe latte, in which case they may again prefer to search. Our decision to incorporate site search was also based on implementation cost (license fee plus time to integrate and configure). We found Wrensoft’s Zoom search engine to be the answer. A free version (with no advertising) is available for small websites up to 50 pages. For larger websites, you can purchase either the standard version ($49) professional version ($99) or the enterprise version ($299). Zoom is easy to install, configure and maintain (ours was up and running in about 30 minutes) and runs on javascript, PHP, ASP or CGI. It is capable of full text searching of static and dynamic files (including PDF and Flash). And it supports foreign language search. You can modify the CSS and seamlessly integrate Zoom into your site (e.g., add to the navigation bar). The search algorithm is open and configurable for the experienced programmer. The search results page is configurable, and we included a quick shopping cart at the top of the search results page. Wrensoft has just released version 5.0 of Zoom. All in all a great package!