2014 – The Year of Integrated Personalization

February 27th, 2014

Data-Driven Design

Organizations such as Amazon have shown us all that implementing personalization correctly, while complex, shows superior conversions and superior ROI. Last year we saw several important organizations start to position themselves for better personalization.

Here are some of our favorite personalization implementations and announcements from 2013.

  • Leading CMS providers such as Sitecore and Adobe introduce amazing new out of the box personalization features.
  • Netflix added awesome new personalization tools to its streaming service.
  • Google acquired data learning organization DeepMind to better understand complex user behaviors.
  • iTunes launched new personalization recommendations features across movies, shows, songs, and books.
  • Forward thinking organizations like Klipboard and Pandora continued to improve the personalization algorithms (and added new users as a result.)
  • Google started to marry its Ad Network demographic data with Google Analytics. While this doesn’t necessary drive personalization yet, this has massive potential.
  • My favorite personalization announcement was in August when Marissa Mayer proclaimed in an interview that Yahoo is “really a personalization company.”

If 2013 was the year of BIG data, then 2014 will be the year of how we use that data and in turn, utilize superior personalization algorithms. Most organizations now have access to new data sources and new tools to implement personalization features.

Below is a partial list of personalization types that we expect to see grow quickly in 2014. 

Enterprise Personalization:  Over the last decade, personalization has been mostly department specific (and even siloed within departments). Digital marketing had their personalized websites.  Demand generation had their personalized emails. The personalization algorithms were never connected. Lead nurturing platforms and advanced email platforms have started to enable marketers to have integrated personalization that spanned 2-3 channels. In 2014 and moving forward we can expect to start seeing enterprise based personalization strategies that begin with a core data platform (i.e. CRM) and then spread to all relevant departments (i.e. call center, event marketing, in store, email, social, sales, etc.).

CRM Based Personalization:  Most digital personalization to date has siloed. Moving forward we will always be looking to drive personalization across multiple back end systems. Coordinating CRM data with web analytics data, mobile application data, and other digital intelligence allows the website to offer personalized content as well as empowering sales teams to personalize discussions offline.

Call Center Based Personalization:  Over the last several years several organizations have shown that many prospects and customers seeking support will utilize both the digital channel and phone support. Both of these support mechanism house unique data on customer support behaviors and needs. Integrating the two provides benefits for both channels to decrease the amount of time in between a customer request and a customer solution.

Ad Network Demographics and Remarketing Data, Integrated with Web Analytics:  As mentioned before, Google started to marry the data of their Ad Network with Google Analytics. This data, with the addition of click through data from remarketing efforts, offers a treasure trove of data. Combining this data provides great opportunity for delivering highly personalized content, imagery, and navigation.

Behavioral Based Personalization:  Very few organizations have successful implemented behavioral based personalization yet. It is one of the most complex personalization algorithms and possibly the type with the most false positives. This is partially because users change their behaviors rapidly. For example, when I am looking for a good documentary to download I am a hunter often looking for a specific title, but when I am looking at Sci-Fi movies I am a browser trying to find something new. This type of personalization will start to be more prevalent in 2014 (and 2015) because organizations are starting to have better tools for tracking, identifying, and exposing behavioral data.   Companies such as Sitecore and Marketo are starting to identify multiple behaviors for each user, then exposing that information to personalization engines.

IP Address:  Advanced web teams have been doing IP based personalization for almost 2 decades. But the available data for IP based algorithms is starting to get really cool. Organizations such as Demandbase, Acxiom, and Maxmind are using IP addresses to provide websites with awesome information about visitors such as their forecasted weather, their currency, the affluence of the neighborhood they live, the most common illnesses in their area, the number of offices their employer has,  how spread out the offices are,  number of employees, revenues, profits, etc. With this detailed information, both B2B and B2C organizations can drive highly advanced personalization of content, imagery, and site functionality.

Collective Networks:  Ad networks are impressive in their ability to estimate visitor demographics based on the sites a visitor views. These ad networks are getting more accurate everyday with common attributes such as age, gender, and interests. But ad networks usually only share this information with programming for display ads, emails, and landing pages. We are starting to see organizations such as Quantcast provide site owners with glimpses into this data set to drive onsite personalization independent of the ad network.

Mobile Personalization:  Personalization has been very slow to appear in the mobile website world. It’s common in mobile apps, but rare in mobile sites. There is good reason for this. Mobile sites are highly scrutinized for load times and personalization can add a lot of server calls slowing a page load. But more and more users are switching to faster phones on faster networks. With more bandwidth and more processing power comes the ability to put more functionality in pages and personalization functionality often has the highest ROI.

To date many organizations have not yet implemented powerful personalization features due to the lack of data and the relatively high costs associated with these types of features.  But in the last couple of years we have seen more and more organizations providing the necessary data at little to no cost. We’ve also seen platform providers creating developer friendly tools to incorporate this data to drive personalization. The improved business results derived from personalization are well publicized and fairly consistent amongst the organizations that implement it. Within the next year personalization features will move from being the strategy of the technologically elite to the table stacks feature set of leading customer service and leading sales organizations.


Affinity Diagrams: Adding Color to Fuzzy Data

February 18th, 2014

At the start of the design process, it can be difficult for designers to conceive design direction from fuzzy data and requirements. The term “fuzzy data” can have multiple meanings to different people and industries, but in the context of UX Design, it is all the known information related to a project that is nebulous and not yet actionable. Here at Extractable, we often conduct user interviews that give us a plethora of notes and insights to help us understand user needs to inform our design. But even after doing all that research, it can be challenging to organize all the collected data in a meaningful way. As a UX Designer on the strategy/UX team, my colleagues and I find that the best way to handle qualitative data early in the process is to make affinity diagrams out of our notes in order to make sense of all the information.

What is an affinity diagram and when is it appropriate to use?

An affinity diagram is a simple but powerful design and product management tool to organize ideas and data. The process starts off with participants jotting down all their notes onto cards or sticky notes (one note on one card) and placing them together on a flat surface. Then after reviewing all the cards, participants would start sorting and grouping related cards together. Once the cards are sorted, participants can start sorting large groupings into smaller subgroups for further analysis. The ultimate goal of this is to group related information so that it is easily understood and larger stories or overarching themes would start to emerge.

Affinity diagrams are typically used in brainstorming sessions where potentially a ton of freeform ideas get generated. They are also frequently used after contextual inquiries or user interviews when you may have hundreds or even thousands of individual notes.


My colleague Meg and I had to identify design issues with a web tool that was not easy to pinpoint. We decided to make an affinity diagram out of our user research notes in order to help us draw more actionable conclusions in proposing a better redesign.

In our case, Meg and I interviewed five users for qualitative feedback on the web tool. After we were done with the interviews, we took over a conference room and put on some music by Ratatat (helps make the process more fun). We pulled out all the key information from our interview notes onto many sticky notes, which were then transferred onto a conference room whiteboard. Then we started grouping similar sticky notes together into larger categories such as user behavior, comments about specific features, usability issues, and so on. This helped us prioritize sketching design improvements for the most commonly mentioned issues in the user interviews. The affinity diagram also helped us see gaps in the current user experience, giving us opportunities to introduce different design solutions that we wouldn’t come up with on our own.

5 Tips for Successful Affinity Diagramming Sessions

  1. Make sure you have plenty of room: A large surface such as a whiteboard would be great, especially when you start reshuffling sticky notes and adding more annotations later on the board.
  2. Get everyone involved: Encourage participants to read their notes aloud as they place it on the surface. The process benefits a lot from cross-functional teams including stakeholders and allows your team to identify potential issues and which could quickly lead to a discussion of methods to address said issues.
  3. Trust the process: The amount of information generated in a session might seem overwhelming, but after absorbing some of that information, you will start to see relationships between notes that could turn into trends.
  4. Be flexible with groupings as they are arbitrary and completely up to you on how to use and interpret the data.
  5. Last but not least – go crazy with the colorful note cards/sticky notes; they make nice murals for conference room walls.

If you ever find yourself at a loss on how to tackle a design problem, making affinity diagrams is a great way to initiate your team on a project. It will help you see gaps and relationships in the data to uncover new design possibilities.


Two Digital Marketing Priorities For 2014

February 13th, 2014

Fire alphabet number 2 two

Let’s face it, to be savvy, marketers must push to stay on top of new ideas and new techniques that can be adapted for our own marketing efforts.

As the Director of Marketing for a data-driven digital agency, it’s especially important to keep up with the latest digital trends, technology and know-how to best utilize these practices for the agency’s marketing initiatives. Together with the team here at EXTRACTABLE, we advise and provide expertise to our own clients about implementing marketing strategies using the best methodologies of today and tomorrow. Of course I adhere to the same practices for our own marketing efforts.  It’s a constantly evolving game. As I look ahead, I see a continuation in efforts for this year in terms of how marketers will reach audiences.

With this in mind, there are two marketing imperatives for this year that will involve developing complex strategies to engage audiences.

1. Strategic SEO – New Changes from Google

 It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get serious about SEO. Marketers are going to need to push SEO strategies beyond simple keyword optimization to compete in search. Google has made some recent changes to its relevancy algorithmic and seems to be making changes at a faster rate than before; there are many new components and it will require more strategic planning.

As part of this, we are shifting away from individual keywords to long tail key phrases (and in some cases key sentences), more natural searches and the overall context of content. Also, Google will be paying more attention to what visitors are doing, once they go to your site from a search result.

Because of this, marketers need to move from a search engine-only focus to strategies to a plan that focuses on all digital marketing channel simultaneously. And by doing so, content that is created using strategic SEO tactics that will result in reaching more customers. Kudos to Google for revolutionizing the future of SEO in a strategic way, but heed this warning, this equates to a lot more work for marketers.

To get the full breakdown of the Google changes read the article from Search Engine Watch: 6 Major Google Changes Reveal the Future of SEO.

2. Content Strategy is Now the Top Priority 

It’s no surprise that content development is increasingly becoming a higher priority as companies reap the benefits and understand the inherent value it can deliver — the ability to attract and retain customers.

Content marketing is an ongoing staple of many marketing plans.  In digital marketing, content may be distributed via websites, email campaigns, advertising, newsletters, blogs, social media, videos and more. Most of us are already spending a lot of time making this happen.

We also know that campaigns should not live in a vacuum, but rather be a part of an integrated content strategy that increases target touch points and builds on a story to enhance effectiveness. While traditional content marketing does the job of developing the larger story of an organization with a focus on how to engage and attract an audience, a content strategy deals with the planning aspects of managing the content throughout its lifecycle. As Rachel Lovinger states in Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data, “Content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design.”

A strong content strategy can also be instrumental in achieving personal success. One study conducted by the Content Marketing Institute reported: “B2B marketers who have a documented content strategy are far more likely to consider themselves effective (66 percent vs. 11 percent).” See the full report from Content Marketing Institute.

If you need help with either of these two important tactics, (or anything else) don’t forget to call us. We’d be happy to help you get it going.

Maybe you’re already implementing a strategic SEO plan? Or you already have a great content strategy plan in place… Please share!



Beware of the Robots!

February 7th, 2014

How Internet Bots are Clouding Insight from Web Metrics: A Case Study in Screen Size for Responsive Design.


With our strong emphasis on the use of data in the digital experience design process, one of the first things we do when kicking off a new design process is to ask the data a key question: Who, using what devices, are we designing for?

We want to know the devices, browsers and Operating Systems that the current visitors are using so that we can optimize the experience to that mix, and deliver a responsive design that works best at the most common screen resolutions we are seeing (and will be seeing moving forward). Knowing the networks (mobile/fixed) and bandwidth are also helpful to determine the typical/sweet spot experiences a user will have with the new sites and apps we are designing.

We started working with a new client in the B2B technology space a few months back and started digging into their current Google Analytics data from the first day. First we wanted to take a look at the current typical screen sizes to determine if a responsive or adaptive (or hybrid) design was the best approach for them, and to determine which breakpoints were optimal.

Screen resolution settings in Google Analytics

(Screen resolution settings in Google Analytics)

Pulling the screen resolution out of Google Analytics for the last quarter, adding a secondary dimension of Device Category (so we could filter to just desktop, removing tablet and mobile) and then importing into Excel so we could extract and average the Horizontal and Vertical resolutions separately, we ending up with the following ‘average’ screen size:

1,119 x 798 pixels

With an aspect ratio close to 4:3 (4:2.8), this seemed low, compared to others we see, but was within the realms of the possible. However, the average screen size is not that helpful for determining design sizes, as we need to know the full distribution of screen size. Taking the raw horizontal screen resolutions and turning them into a cumulative chart produced this more visual representation of the data.

Screen Resolution 2

The chart basically shows, for each horizontal screen size, what % of users have a screen larger than that size – so 1 pixel has 100% of users with larger screens, etc. It also filters out mobile and tablet for now.

Instantly we can see a problem. 75% of all users seem to be at a screen resolution of 1024×768. And, as we have filtered out tablets, this must mean a lot of people have very small screens. In fact, a cursory glance at the Best Buy website shows that it’s not even possible to buy a computer or monitor with such a low resolution today.

So, we have a bot problem.

Some recent research from Incapsula (report here) showed that more than half of internet traffic is bots – some good (like Google’s search crawlers and monitoring tools) and some nefarious (like scrapers and malware). And both our friendly and less friendly bots tend to report as ‘standard’ agents, i.e., 1024×768 running on Windows and IE.

So, with our known infestation of bots we went back to Google Analytics and worked closely with the client to identify and filter out as many of these bots as possible. The easy ones (like Google) were already filtered. Some more were easy to spot, based on identifiers and IP networks. But for others we had to dig deeper and look at behavior on the site, such as visiting every page, something a real user would rarely, if ever, do!

The filtering had a dramatic effect, as the chart below with total traffic to the site over the last five months shows.

Visits per day 3

Once we had stabilized the data, we could revisit the screen resolution and other key data that would help inform the design. This chart below shows the “before & after” data for the horizontal screen resolution.

Horizontal Resolution 4

This totally transforms the view of the physical set up of our users’ desktop devices.  The data also looks more ‘natural’ with jumps at standard resolutions. The average resolution also moved from 1,119×798 to 1,501×922, a really significant change.

So, now that we were confident that we had killed off most of the bots (victory to the humans!) we could get back to the first question – what screens should we optimize the design to?

Merging the tablet and mobile data back in, and adding the vertical resolution to the horizontal chart we end up with this true picture of the users of the current experience.

Visits 5

Quickly we can see the main device resolutions and the share of users seeing each. The big takeaway for this project was that 65% of the users are seeing the site on a screen larger than 1,200 pixels, and almost 20% were using monitors at the full HD resolution of 1,920.

This changed our design strategy completely.  From maxing the screen resolution at 1,024 we are now focusing to optimize the desktop experience at 1,200, on tablets for resolutions closer to 1,000, and all within an overall responsive framework.

The lessons?

Always validate your web analytics to ensure your data is correct.  Bots are insidious on the web so filter them out. And as the actual desktop users are using big screens optimize for them, not just for tablets and mobile.


The Importance in Balancing SEO and Branding Terms on Your Site

January 15th, 2014

SEO flow chart on blackboard

Keeping up with the changes that search engines such as Google make to their search algorithms is no easy feat, but one tip you can run with is the importance of using natural language in your web content.

Pros and Cons of Branding Word Play

Brand strategists are great at defining guidelines for the look, tone, and voice of a brand. Often brand strategists will use words and phrases that hype up the products, solutions, and the organization. However, in doing so, these brand strategists sometimes avoid the most obvious ways to describe a product in an effort to differentiate it from competitors. For example, if every company in an industry is selling “cement” then one company might choose to differentiate itself as a “provider of robust building materials.” Brand strategists will also change the description of an organization and its products to heighten the perceived value of a product and make it seem valuable to a broader set of audiences. For example, in an effort to make a specific bank stand out as superior, a brand strategist might describe the bank’s loan products as “highly competitive personal financing solutions.”

There are positive and negative examples of this sort of word play in the marketing world. A cynic can imagine the carnival barker screaming, “Step right up! See the most mysterious mystical sites to be seen. You’ll be amazed; In this tent is the eighth wonder of the world. Don’t dare to miss this!“ The strategy is understandable. If the carnival barker said, “Come see a bearded woman with a lot of tattoos and a tiny man wearing a dress,” the show would be appealing to a much smaller audience. There are examples of this type of showmanship all over the web.

Attempts To Differentiate May Be Too Alienating

There are two significant problems with hyping a brand in this way in the online world. First, for companies that do not describe the products and organization in the same vocabulary as the customer, SEO targeting becomes very difficult. Second, when prospective customers do get to the website, they may actually be confused as to what the company does, thereby driving abandonment up and driving actual conversion down.

Search phrase data from organizations like Google shows that prospects and customers don’t typically look for products and services using the type of vocabulary that brand strategists use. In fact, the data suggests that prospective customers start with the most common phrases (typically devoid of marketing hype words).

Finding the Middle Ground

So what is a brand strategist to do? Should brand marketers stop using phrases like “ultimate driving machine” because their prospects are Googling “sports cars”?

From a brand perspective, there needs to be a middle ground. Content strategists can push brand strategists to come to a happy compromise, including the vocabulary used by the prospective customers as well as the marketing hype. Make sure the audience knows that you are speaking their language while building value.

From an SEO perspective it can be argued in either direction. Search engines like Google put a lot of weight (and scoring) in the text surrounding referring links. Sites like Visa.com don’t mention the phrase “credit card” with a significant keyphrase density but they rank very well in search results for that competitive phrase. That’s because external sites such as media sites, blogs, Wikipedia, etc. that all link to Visa.com describe it as a site with information about credit cards. This allows Visa.com to use just about any language on its site and still rank very well for important phrases. Sure, this is not common, but if you happen to have this luxury and you have a good handle on the text that external sites use to describe your site, go ahead and speak more liberally.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that search engines typically favor exact matches. If you refuse to use common phrases to describe your products and services, you are likely missing opportunities in search.


Award Wins in 2013

January 14th, 2014




We are inspired to work hard at Extractable, seeking to provide our clients with the strongest possible solutions. We work passionately, utilizing user-centered methods and data insights to create compelling and personalized customer experiences that deliver measurable business value. While we are all aligned around this mindset, it is nice to receive praise from the wider industry. In the eleven years I’ve been with the agency, I’ve never been more proud of our accomplishments as judged by our peers.

In 2013, Extractable won 59 awards in 11 competitions:

- Horizon Awards (8)
- Content Marketing Awards (1)
- Internet Advertising Competition (3)
- Communicator Awards (8)
- Interactive Media Awards (6)
- Horizon Awards (8)
- Hermes Awards (4)
- Telly Awards (8)
- Web Marketing Association WebAwards (7)
- Davey Awards (4)
- RX Club (1)
- Pixel Awards (1)

Special thanks to our clients who entrust us to challenge conventional wisdom and propose innovative design and technology solutions. We’re looking forward to an even better 2014!


Designing the perfect wedding (using best practices from the UX world)

December 4th, 2013

Since becoming a user experience designer, it is hard for me to enjoy poorly designed products or experiences. I walk around the world thinking to myself “if only they made this usability improvement, their product would be so much better!”

Sometimes, though, my user experience wiles come into handy. Like when I was planning my wedding, for example. I wanted to design an experience that would be memorable and fun for everyone – easier said than done! Luckily, the user experience design process helped me sort through the chaos of wedding planning. The similarities between wedding planning and creating a great digital experience were uncanny. And, what could have been a stressful journey actually came quite naturally to me.

Here’s how the wedding planning went:

Strategic Discovery

Discovery is always the first phase in the Extractable design process. In this stage, we strive to understand the core business goals and drivers of the experience. We meet with key business leaders to figure out what is working well (or not so well). It is important for us to understand what constitutes success in the eyes of our stakeholders so that we can put measures against these goals. At the end of an engagement, we evaluate the success of the project against these goals. The Logix Credit Union case study is a great example of when stakeholder interviews gave us key insights into business goals.

We started our discovery process for our wedding by talking with various wedding venus and vendors to understand what could be possible for our wedding day. We interviewed each vendor – from the DJ to the day-of event coordinator – about their knowledge of what has worked well for other weddings in the past. They were able to give us sample timelines and checklists that other brides had used in the past. This process helped us prioritize different aspects of the wedding and understand where to spend our budget.


User Research

In the design process, user research is the phase in which we dig deep into who the users are, what they care about, and how they think about the task or experience. We talk directly to users with interviews and solicit their input through participatory creation exercises. As a data driven agency, this knowledge about the users drives the user-centered design process. For one of our clients Micron, we conducted interviews with the primary users to understand which tasks and documents were most important to them.       See the Micron case study here.

Like many of our clients, there were many different kind of “users” for the wedding, each with their own needs and desires. My fiance and I had different ideas about where we wanted the ceremony – here in California versus in Texas, where our families live. Our families both had requests about incorporating family and religious traditions. Our friends had different music requests than our older family members. It was a task to understand exactly what was important to everyone and understand how to balance the conflicting desires without compromising anyone’s experience. In the end, we found a venue that gave us the flexibility to meet everyone’s desires: a beautiful vineyard in Central Texas.


Competitive Analysis

Competitive analysis is a way for the design team to understand the landscape of digital experiences that users currently have. It helps us figure out how to position the experience and what users expect from similar digital experiences. Sometimes it helps us to carry good ideas out on the experience we design, and sometimes it serves as a warning sign of what not to design.

If you were one of my friends who got married between the time I got engaged and married, you were part of my competitive analysis. Fortunately, the Internet also provides a plethora of ways to explore different wedding celebrations and decorations. For example, we got the idea for our “Save the Date” card from one that we found on the Internet.


Scenarios & Storytelling

After discovery, user research, and competitive analysis, the next step typically is to translate all these findings into an innovative and engaging experience. We start this process with high-level stories about how people will interact with the experience in the future. These stories serve as sketches of what the experience will feel like. By focusing on scenarios and key tasks in the experience, we ensure that the digital experience first serves the core needs of the users. Then we can build out the rest of the experience around the core experience. A good example of using scenarios is the Newport Group website, in which we focused on the primary scenario use cases for the most common tasks, such as checking the balance of a retirement account. Read more about the Newport Group case study here.

Once we had an idea of what we wanted for the wedding, we used storytelling to express the essence of the experience we were going for. Scenarios helped us to articulate how guests would move throughout the night between the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception, and what kind of activities they might do throughout the night. Communicating to vendors with a story helped them understand the context of their service and the bigger picture of the desired experience. It also focused the vendors on what was most important to us, instead of details like what flavor the cake should be (although cake tasting was quite fun!) We told a story of a formal but rustic, refined but relaxed, Fall wedding at a vineyard.

Iterative Concept Testing (on Pinterest)

Once we have the core scenarios set out, the next step at Extractable is to iterate on concepts and test them with actual users. As we design, we are constantly checking in with users to make sure we are expressing the experience in a way that matches their mental model and fits their needs. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting a sketch of a website in front of users. At other times we get more involved and make fully functional prototypes to express flows through the experience. These sessions encourage users to participate, express their ideas, and convey any feedback.

For our wedding, we went to the ultimate participatory design tool – Pinterest – to iteratively try out different wedding concepts before committing to one direction. I started a wedding Pinterest board. I pinned ideas that I was seriously considering and encouraged family and friends to pint ideas to the board. By seeing which of my pins that others liked, I got a sense of what kind of activities and decorations that my guests would like, and which ones would fall flat.



It’s been two months since we got married. As you can tell, I’m still floating from the amazing day we created. I’m certain that my user experience design expertise made our wedding day memorable and special to both our guests and us.



The Surprise Bomb In Your Website Redesign

October 28th, 2013

Award Winning Digital Agency

Many companies head into a website redesign with the belief that technology issues will pose this biggest potential threat to their project’s success. This may indeed be true in the case of very complex technology integrations. But more often, the factor that’s most likely to send your web project sideways is content. Surprised? If so, that just may be why it’s the factor to which you need to pay most attention.

The role that content plays in a website design is often underestimated and undervalued, which can lead to budget overruns, blown schedules and sites that underperform. Here, we’ll walk you through the four key web content pain points and how to avoid them.

Pain Point #1: Clueless About Current Content Effectiveness

Quick, what percentage of your webpages do you think gets less than five p in a month? The number is probably much higher than you think. In a quick study of a handful of our clients, including a Fortune 500 healthcare technology provider, we found that, on average, 87% of the total website pages receive five pageviews or less in a month. It might be easy to assume that those pages represent a tremendous amount of content that’s just not pulling its weight, and for the most part it would be a safe assumption. But if one of those five pageviews on a page led to sales, then that web page is not useless crap, it’s just not your lead dog. Understanding what content is working and what is not is essential to any website project. But the more important question is why is it not working?

If the content is just not being found, that could be because the page is not optimized for search engines or the information architecture doesn’t make it easy for the user to connect to that particular content. If the content isn’t desired, that’s another thing altogether. Whatever the reason, it’s something that needs to be addressed. At Extractable, we kick off our content strategy by performing a content audit and gap analysis where we examine:

  • The effectiveness of content
  • The depth and breadth of content available to various user types
  • The appropriateness of content type (text, images, charts, slideshows, tutorials, etc.)
  • The consistency of tone and voice
  • The relevancy to the site visitor (based on persona needs)
  • How well the site—and individual pages—are optimized for search performance
  • How well the site—and individual pages—nurtures leads and assists in the conversion process
  • How well the content aligns with stated site goals
  • The findability and accessibility of content

We also take a close look at site/page analytics and user flow analyses to uncover insights about how users are interacting with content.

And we test content messaging to see what resonates with users. It’s through this mining of information that we’re able to uncover valuable insights that can be used to shape the content strategy and the information architecture in very useful ways.

We may find that there’s a large bit of content that is decaying and no longer needs to be supported so it can be archived. Or maybe we find that there’s a requirement for a very specific type of content to address the needs of a certain user type. Knowing that early in the project means there is time for it to be developed without scrambling to find resources or budget.

Pain Point #2: Lack of Content Alignment

When it comes to content, everyone has an opinion. The trouble comes when those opinions don’t align. This can happen for several reasons. Maybe the business goals were not clearly defined or even agreed upon by the stakeholders at the start of the project. Maybe there wasn’t clear brand or positioning messaging from which to build content. Or maybe there are just differing opinions—content is subjective after all. The good news is that all of these can be avoided with some simple planning.

At Extractable, we conduct extensive stakeholder interviews in the first phase of the project as a way to define business goals and uncover and address any misalignment early in the process. We then undergo thorough user testing that enables us to map the business goals to the user needs and create a cohesive content strategy. Finally, we develop a creative brief and messaging matrix— which sets the tone and tenor for the content — that is agreed upon by the stakeholders before any creative is commenced. The ability to get early buy-in from key stakeholders on the business goals and creative approach combined with data from user research greatly reduces the likelihood that your project will be plagued by content misalignment issues.

Pain Point #3: Insufficient Resources for Content Development

It’s not unusual for clients to think that content development will be the easy part of their website redesign. Either they imagine they will have someone from Marcom write it or get a $50/hour contractor — and “and just bang out the pages.” The reality is that writing for the web is much different than for any other medium. And it’s changing all the time.

A year ago, one could estimate content development for the web fairly easily as a page was much more straightforward. Today, a page can be more like a complete, self-contained site experience all on its own. A single page may have 1,000 words of copy, multiple videos, interactive models and charts, rotating captions, animated illustrations and more. Each of these elements must take into consideration readability and scanability, the mindset of the user — (Where is he in the purchase process? What is his relative knowledge on this subject? What other products/services might he be interested in?) — search optimization factors, and more. Then you’ve got to decide what related content— such as related products, brochures, whitepapers, videos, case studies, etc. — will be displayed in promotional areas on the page. This takes a general understanding of the entire product and service offering as well as the content inventory. Add to that the need to develop traffic-grabbing metadata and content development for the web can be a very intensive endeavor. And because the websites that perform the best (both with humans and search engines) offer the richest experiences — video, images, illustrations, charts, etc. — you’ll also need to factor in extra time to create that content, too. Whew! That’s a lot more work than writing a few paragraphs of copy for each page.

If your website features a product or service that is especially technical or otherwise unique and subject matter experts are needed to help develop the content, you’ll want to factor in the SME’s time early in the process. We also like to hold a kickoff meeting with SMEs to walk them through the website functionality and get them excited about what we’re creating. We find that this level of inclusion leads to increased collaboration and engagement on the part of the SMEs. You can use the same technique with Legal teams. You might just find that you get through Legal review faster!

In short, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that content development will be easy. Use experienced professional web content developers and plan for it to take a significant amount of time. Do the math. If you think you can edit or create four pages per day and you have 100 web pages, that’s a five weeks of content development work.

Pain Point #4: Effort Associated with Content Migration is Undervalued

Just because you’re not rewriting or reworking content doesn’t mean that a content effort can be overlooked. Content migration can still be a significant effort, especially for websites with thousands of pages.

At Extractable we try to use automated methods whenever possible, but there are times when content needs to be migrated by hand. How long it takes to migrate content by hand depends on a number of factors, including:

  • The difficulty of building pages in the CMS
  • The complexity of the pages that are being migrated
  • The experience level of the person performing the migration

When working with a CMS that we know well, it’s easier for us to provide guidance around how long it will take for content entry. However, there are over 600 content management systems out there, and that’s not including the homegrown versions. So if we were asked to make an estimate for content migration on a new CMS with an inexperienced person performing the migration, we’d probably need to allow for additional hours to complete the migration. Understanding that content migration is as dynamic is the website project on which it’s being performed is an important step to ensuring that you properly resource this step.

All Hail the Content

At the end of the day, content is the reason users are coming to your website to begin with. It’s not the court jester. As has been said so many times before, content is king. So stop treating content strategy, content development and content migration as optional components of your strategy and go all in. You’ll avoid the royal pain that comes with budget and timeline overruns and be on your way to launching a website that delivers a top-notch user experience. Now that’s the bomb!

And if you need any help figuring out how to get there, let me know! I’m happy to answer any questions you many have.

Dana Larson, Chief Content Officer @ dlarson@extractable.com


Post-PC Digital Teams

October 24th, 2013

Mark Ryan, Chief Analytics Officer of Extractable, and I were recently interviewed by Sam Stern, a Senior CX Analyst from Forrester for his new report “Digital Customer Experience Teams in the Post-PC Era” and I wanted to share a few thoughts on the topics raised.

Sam’s report looks at how companies are trying to shape their digital teams against an environment in which customers are moving between devices (PCs, phones, tablets) and channels in a very fluid manner, and demanding a consistent and functional experience across them all.

We had a great conversation, sharing anecdotes and strategies from our clients, comparing our thoughts against what Sam was hearing from others during his research.

There were many observations and opportunities that we shared with Sam, based on what we have been seeing with our clients and engagements over the last few years, but two major insights stood out that I wanted to discuss in more depth today:

#1 – The external / internal cycle

As we know, larger organizations find it hard to change quickly, and this is especially true when confronted with new technology that not just challenges the current way that business is done, but also requires new skills or ways of thinking to take advantage of the technology. So, what we often see is the creation of a new group or team, outside of the standard organization, with a remit to take advantage of the new technology. We saw it with the ‘web team’ in the past, and to a lesser extent with SEO and social media in more recent years.

Over time, as the technology becomes mainstream, the external team is absorbed back into the organization, changing it in the process.
Today, we are seeing some clients and organizations with ‘mobile teams’ as a reaction to the rapid growth of the new, post-pc multi-device world we are now in. However, it makes no sense to have a separate mobile team, as mobile devices are just one touch point that customers have with an organization. Of course, certain key mobile skills are needed to fully utilize mobile platforms, but that should be delivered within the context of the total customer experience.

One good question to ask of anyone proposing a separate team focused on mobile is: “If a social media tool is delivered to the customer via a mobile device, is that the responsibility of the mobile or social teams?”

The takeaway: Focus on the total customer journey and not the specific delivery device.

#2 – The business is the experience

In his report Sam talks about the importance of getting business stakeholders involved in the customer experience design process and how customer journey mapping can be a good tool to aide in that process.

We strongly agree.

With one of our clients in the financial services industry we are working on a major overhaul of the client’s b2b broker portal. The project’s business stakeholders deeply understand their business but are new to the customer experience design world. Consequently it is proving hard for them to clearly express experience requirements and give feedback on the more advanced interactions being contemplated.

Just last week during a call to review some wireframe concepts, one stakeholder asked a question, “I understand how the navigation is supposed to work, but how will our users interact with the menu on the left?” The menu on the left was just our index of the screens we were showing in the session, not part of the design, indicating a lack of familiarity with the process we live by every day. However it is our responsibility, as experience designers, to ensure those stakeholders are part of the success of the new experience not the other way round.

Journey mapping is one tool to help with this, allowing stakeholders to see the total customer journey and where digital can assist customers.

Customer Journey Workshop

(In progress Journey Mapping exercise)

Another technique we are using much more frequently is to put higher-fidelity concepts in front of stakeholders so we can gauge their reactions earlier in the process. Once they see how principles that sometimes seem esoteric come alive in a ‘real’ experience, it’s much easier for them to express valuable feedback.

Combining the customer journey maps with interactive concepts at key touch points can become a powerful tool to evangelize an organization behind digital change.

How has your digital team changed? Do you see big changes in the future?

And, thanks to Sam Stern for helping to drive an ecosystem-wide approach to building digital customer experience teams.


EXTRACTABLE Wins 7 WebAwards

September 26th, 2013

There’s been a lot of great news for EXTRACTABLE this year and we’ve just learned about some more.

We are thrilled to announce that we have won 7 WebAwards for work with our clients Micron, GECU, Presidio and Logix! EXTRACTABLE now has a total of 39 awards for 2013.

Award Winning Digital Ageny San Francisco


Micron won three “Standard of Excellence” WebAwards in these categories:
-Directory or Search Engine
See the Micron case study
See the Micron WebAward wins

GECU (Greater El Paso Credit Union) won two “Standard of Excellence” WebAwards in these categories:
-Credit Union
-Financial Services
See the GECU case study 
See the GECU WebAward

Logix won the “Best Credit Union Website” WebAward
See the Logix case study
See the Logix WebAward 

Presidio won an “Outstanding Achievement” WebAward
See the Presidio case study
See the Presidio WebAward Win

More than 1,500 entries from 40 countries were judged during this year’s competition. Entries were judged on design, copy writing, innovation, content, interactivity, navigation, and use of technology. The EXTRACTABLE team is excited to be recognized for these accomplishments. Congratulations to the team and to our clients!