Case Study: Handling High Web Volume & Healthcare.gov’s Failure

October 3, 2013

The new Heathcare.gov provides an interesting case study in doing successful(or not) high volume web sites. I happen to support the law, but the launch of the online exchanges is unfortunately a dismal failure. My company builds high volume sites, eg we got a call from a client that their products were to be featured on Oprahs Favorite Things and they expected 250,000 simultaneous users. We ramped it up in less than a week to handle over a million and had hardly a hiccup.
Healthcare4
So I was interested to see how Healthcare.gov would handle the inevitable rush on Tuesday. I tried getting in several times the first day and got the friendly ‘Wait’ screen. That’s Ok but the wait may be interminable. I finally got in later on Day 1, filled in my info on 2 screens and got an Error Screen(shown) and Try Again. Tried again – same error.

Heathcare2

Now it’s 2 Days later and I still can’t get in. I’ve heard claims that they had anywhere between 2 million and 10 million visitors on Day 1. So what? How many visitors do you think Amazon or Google get in a day?
Healtcare-gov
So it’s ashame because the people who really need the program or may visit one of the thousands of Govt ‘Navigators’ will get frustrated. This is more of a PR Nightmare than the Media is reporting so far. If they don’t fix it soon, it may undermine a great program permanently.

If you or someone you know needs help with high-volume Ecommerce, let me know. We know how to make it work.


Our Latest Project: Inventing A New Paradigm for SMB Purchasing and Sourcing

August 27, 2013

Before the Internet, we used to build software that took years of an Expert’s learning and knowledge and build it into interactive databases to help businesses get that expertise from a computer instead of a person. We called them ‘Expert Systems.’ Now with the Internet as a platform, we’re able to not only bring the expertise but also the ‘processes’ that the experts use to successfully leverage their knowledge. This is a big deal in the Purchasing and Sourcing World.

Here was the challenge. Digitize the expertise and help of a Fortune 500 Purchasing Manager for free for small and medium size businesses. The result is Focusedbuyer.com, which has been 3 years in development. It brings Purchasing Expertise that big corporations pay big dollars for, to any sized-business with an hour to spend and thousands of dollars to gain.

 

FB-Home-8-8-13

Buyers are able to create Listings for their needs and have the world respond with Offers. The Buyers can also issue Purchase Orders online and track their Suppliers Performance.

Our assignment was taking what could be a very complex User Experience such that the Users – Buyers and Sellers – can easily and intuitively make their Listings as simple or as detailed as they choose. The Expertise comes in prompting the user to provide information and detail, if they choose, that they may never have thought of. The minimum 10 required fields are shown with a plus’+” sign next to each. If the User clicks the ‘+” it opens up the world of ideas and details that could lead to a more cost-effective, high-performance sourcing outcome.

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FocusedBuyer.com is a great example of using the Internet to gain a ‘Digital Advantage(DA)’ for its customers. What does that mean?

There are 3 kinds of Business Web Sites:

1>  The brochure or marketing web site that provides mostly information and a sales pitch. These sites include text, graphics and maybe a few interactive forms for contacting or signing up with the company.

2>  The Ecommerce site that basically takes brick-and-mortar retail or wholesale and puts it online.

3>  The Digital Advantage site that leverages the Internet to do something creative and desirable online that could not be done offline in the brick-and-mortar world.

FocusedBuyer.com is a great example of Digital Advantage. There is no offline way to create Requests for Quotation, rally thousands of potential suppliers from around the world, accept offers and issue Purchase Orders in realtime.

Check out FocusedBuyer.com for your business or contact us to help you invent a new business paradigm online. Huge thanks and kudos go to FocusedBuyer.com founders, Don Jean and Tom Middleton, for providing their decades of Fortune 500 Purchasing experience, vision, hard work and patience in making this amazing new platform possible.


7 Keys To A Highly Effective Mobile Web Site

May 23, 2013

We are all aware of how our lives – and particularly our Online lives – are connected to Mobile Devices (see our March Post – “The Increasingly Mobile Web”). However, creating an effective Mobile site is not just a matter of using some conversion software or shrinking the size. Highly effective mobile sites are re-conceived to take advantage of mobile phone capabilities while minimizing their limitations.

I’ll use the example of a mobile site that we built for Coopskw.com and share our top 7 Keys to a Highly Effective Mobile Web Site.

1>     Make sure your Mobile Web Site looks good and fits all mobile phones. Too often the Web Site owner or developer is an Apple iPhone User and sees the mobile world as all Apple. Well 60% of the Mobile Users out there, use Androids! Now I hear many developers complain the Android varies so much from device to device, that they can’t control how their site will look or behave on an Android. Non-sense! Get a new developer or better yet, hire us – it can be done.

Developers also frequently use conversion software to scrunch their regular web sites to fit the smaller screen. Bad idea. Text and images become too small to read or use. Best practice is to re-conceive your site for mobile. See the screenshots below comparing the PC Web Site version to the Mobile Version. We changed the Mobile layout to fit better on the screen and display only priority links and content. We pull the content from the same database as the Full Site but redid the display.

Pathfinder Consulting builds web sites

Full Site – Fig. 1

Pathfinder builds mobile web sites

Mobile Web Site – Fig. 2

You can easily see how your site looks on various Mobile platforms from your PC by using a Mobile Phone Emulator like http://www.mobilephoneemulator.com/

2>     Show only the most important content and links. Eliminate the fluff. People on mobile devices are generally in a hurry and want a quick answer to their questions. They don’t want to sit and read a long dissertation or use a magnifying glass to read your content or click links.

Pathfinder Consulting Group Mobile Web

Key Product Details Fig. 3

3>     Make your Phone and Directions links hot. Here’s where your mobile device beats your PC – take advantage of it. Mobile Users either want to call you or find you. By making your Phone# and Directions hyperlinks, a User can click the phone number and have it call you or click ‘Directions’ and have your location appear in your ‘Maps’ app. Cool and convenient!

4>     Provide a link to your ‘Full Site.’ You may have some more content or Forms on your Full Site that a User may want to explore. Give them that option.

5>     Make Navigation Easy. Mobile devices now have a universal symbol for a ‘Menu.’ Use it.  A good clear Menu(Fig. 3) will help your User get quickly to what they want.

Pathfinder Consulting Mobile web Sites

Mobile Nav Menu – Fig. 4

6>     Include Tracking and Stats for your Mobile site. Most of our clients use Google Analytics. Remember to include their tracking code on your mobile pages. Tracking is just as important to your success on Mobile, but is often forgotten.

7>     Search Engine Optimize(SEO). Do you want your Mobile site to be found on Google, Yahoo and Bing? Remember to do all the best practices you do for your Full Site on your Mobile Site as well. I’d even venture to say that Search position is even more important on mobile. With a smaller screen and a smaller attention span, mobile users are most likely to click on the top few Search links. It should be yours.

If Pathfinder can help you master the Mobile World, please contact us. Your first hour is free – so feel free to pick our brains.


5 Predictions for 2011

February 10, 2011

Here are 5 Technology predictions for 2011, but first how did we do with the 10 predictions we made a year ago for 2010. I’ll highlight a few here and you can read more at https://outofchaosblog.wordpress.com/?s=predictions

1. Increased shift towards online sales. Online sales increased 30% plus for most retailers over this last holiday season. Amazon’s sales hit a record $10 billion in the last quarter – a 33% increase from same quarter last year. Whereas Brick & Mortar stores were lucky to eeck out 2%. With the rough Winter weather in the Northeast and Midwest, expect more folks to do their shopping from home as 2011 gets underway.

3. Search engines will interface with social media. Where is most of the online content coming from these days? Social media, of course. So it only makes sense that the Search Engines, to keep up, have to produce Social Media results and they did as predicted last year. You’ll even see realtime Twitter feeds appear scrolling on some of your Google searches.

5. Increase in people trying to find and save money online. Well this is no surprise, but the trend picked up speed with the use of smartphones last year. You could actually take pictures of products in the store and then get the best prices online. This was a real factor this past holiday shopping season for the first time. Shopping for my wife’s favorite perfume at the mall, I found myself shopping prices by Android and it was much cheaper online!

8. Proliferation of social gaming. Social gaming took off last year. Games like Farmville, Angry Birds, and even Poker took off in Facebook and on other Social platforms.  Expect to see even more robust games this year.

10. Further development of 3D technology and further penetration of 3d into traditional media. We predicted it but underestimated the traction it would have. Besides the huge success of 3D Movies. 3D TV and Games are invading the scene. 3D TV  will go past the early adopters this year to the mainstream as expensive clunky 3D glasses are replaced by either light inexpensive ones or no glasses at all!

Predictions for 2011

1>     Digital eBooks Replace Paper Books. Book publishing is changing so fast that blood is flowing in the street. Amazon sold more eBooks than paper books for the first time. More and more authors are bypassing traditional publishers to to go direct to eBook. This isn’t just no-name vanity publishing. Authors like Stephen King have already done this. The fact that eBook versions of Bestsellers are 60% to 80% cheaper than their paper siblings provides a strong financial incentive for this change. Throw in saving the trees and reading in the dark and why wouldn’t you switch?

Kindle

Kindle

Personally, I have been reading eBooks for years but I have always enjoyed the tactile experience of reading a real book and I’m a big reader! However, this year, I downloaded the free Kindle software onto my Android and I find the reading experience and the convenience just beats the traditional paper experience. I’ve gone 100% eBook and am starting to unload, sell and clear the clutter of my paper library out of the house. I believe you will all ultimately do the same.

2>     Social Applications dominate the Web. By now you’ve either played or heard of Farmville and Angry Birds. Since these programs cost in the neighborhood of $100,000 to create and are yielding $ million(s) per month, you can bet you will see many, many more. These fall into a new category called ‘Casual gaming’ and it is attracting a much broader demographic ,including women and older people, than the hard-core Xbox and Playstation gamers.
And it’s not just games. You will see multi-media rich and business applications popping up inside Facebook in abundance this year.

3>     Apple becomes the most valuable Company in the World: for a company that was on life-support only a few years ago, this is an amazing statement. Apple’s Market cap is already more than Microsoft and when it hits $422 per share(now $353), it will pass Exxon to be #1. With the iPad rapidly becoming the fastest  selling higher end product of all time; Apple iPhones for sale on Verizon’s network for the first time; and a seemingly endless stream of market-savvy innovations, I believe this will happen this year.

4>     A New Online Paradigm will arrive. Amazon, eBay, Google, and facebook – what do they all have in common? They leveraged the special advantages of the Internet to create brand new concepts of human interaction, communication and commerce. We used to call this the ‘Digital Advantage.’ Let me give you an example. The first step that traditional retailers take when they go from selling in the store to selling online, is take their store products, catalog pictures and descriptions and put them online to sell. This is all well and good and can work for some. The big breakthroughs come, when someone creates something online that can’t be done offline in the ‘real’ world. For example, eBay can only exist with the digital connection it can make globally to run an auction with millions of participants not just 100 people in a barn. Facebook uses the digital connection to keep us in touch in ways that we never could before.
So what’s next? I believe we are still in early adolescence with the World Wide Web and great new paradigms seem to come along every 2 years. We’re due. What will it be? I don’t know yet – do you?

5>     Electronic Fashion Takes Off. When we were kids, did anybody carry their school books in a backpack? Of course not. Now, where did that fad come from and do you know any kids without a backpack? Well all these devices we carry around need to go somewhere. Guys, in particular, don’t want to start carrying handbags and women don’t have much room left in theirs.

So expect more companies like Scottevest, with its line of iPad and iPod compatible clothing to spread like backpacks across the landscape. See

Now the first round will be utilitarian like Scotte, but expect color and fashion to enter soon after.  In fact, if you’d like a diamond iPad case, for $20,000, you can but it now!

diamond-ipad-case

Diamond iPad Case

http://www.ipadaccessories.com/ipad-cases/world%E2%80%99s-most-expensive-and-ridiculous-diamond-ipad-case

If you have some other predictions of your own, please share them here. If you can imagine it . . . .


Google Makes Changes – How Can You Stay at the Top of the Page?

July 2, 2010

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an interesting industry. It also happens to be pretty large considering its actual purpose: exploiting imperfections in search engines. The people who work in SEO generally don’t like to look at it this way, but all they’re doing is cheating at a game. The goal of a search engine is to give users the most accurate, high-quality results possible. When someone with a floundering website which isn’t receiving the pageviews they’d like seeks out a specialized SEO company just for the sake of getting better search-engine results, they are saying they’d rather get traffic than improve the quality of their site. Well as of late, the companies that provide the short-term relief that is SEO are going nuts, and it’s all because the company they make all their profit off of, Google, has made a pretty major change to their search algorithm.

It’s not exactly being explained this way, but the change seems pretty precisely designed to eliminate the ability to exploit faults in the existing algorithm, exactly the service that SEO companies provide. What the algorithm actually does is improve the quality of results by promoting sites with unique content.

When it comes to Google’s pay-per-click advertising, the updated algorithm will continue to use the quality and cost-per-click (CPC) figure but will be slightly tweaked for that coveted top ad position. Instead of using the actual CPC, Google will use the advertiser’s maximum CPC in the overall equation. In addition, Google will be applying a stricter threshold on the quality component for the top ad positions. Actual CPC is determined, in part, by the bidding behavior of the advertisers below you. This means that your ad’s chance of being promoted to a top spot could be constrained by a factor you cannot influence. By considering your ad’s maximum CPC, a value you set, you will have more control over achieving top ad placement.

According to Google, “In addition to increasing control for advertisers, the improved formula increases the quality of our top ads for users. This is due to more high quality ads becoming eligible for top placement, thereby allowing our system to choose from a larger pool of high quality ads to show our users.”

Other side effects include that the long-tail and mid-tail keywords (phrases with 3 or more words) are passing through more stringent semantic and ranking filters (meaning the array of broad match keywords a page could potentially rank for) have been tightened up or reduced to increase relevance.

Here’s a pretty technical video explaining the actual changes:

So who will be impacted by this change? First, those who currently have top ad positions will see more competition in that area. Second, the people who have spent their time increasing keyword density on their site just for the sake of reaching a higher position on the search engine will have wasted their time.

Really, it’s not as if Google is making a targeted assault on SEO. They are just trying to increase the quality of results and keep up with the evolving state of the web. They’ve recently begun to integrate real-time social media content into their results, which means that it will be impossible to pay a search engine marketing company to be constantly tweaking your site. Regardless, this is only reinforcing the reality that tweaking the content of your site so it’s more kosher for Google results will never stand up to regularly adding genuine, well-written content to your site which people will want to link back to. The truth is that if people reach a site solely because of SEO but the site itself is not well designed, does not have decent content, or doesn’t look trustworthy, no one is going to buy from it or link to it.

So what are the steps to take in order to compensate for this change? Obviously it’s still important to focus on where your site will place on Google. But the way to go about this is not to think from the search engine’s end and build your site around what will be successful on a results page. Rather, the priority should be the quality of your site and its unique content, its accuracy to its message or what its selling. Google is simply trying to make the web a better place – where the best sites are also the most popular sites.

Contact Us or check out our website and we would be happy to help you figure out how you can make a truly good website tailored to a better internet.


Twitter – Getting Started

May 3, 2010

A friend of mine recently said to me, ‘I just don’t get Twitter.’ You may have heard or thought this yourself. It’s the fastest growing digital medium for News, Social Interaction, and developing new business relationships.

So to help my friend and others, here is a simple ‘Get Started Guide.’

1> Most important: follow a lot of other people. If you follow someone, they will most likely will follow you back. But who to follow? Use the Search box and put in topics that interest you like ‘Baseball,’ ‘Investing,’ etc. Then read the Tweets that come up. If somebody has made an interesting comment, click on their picture to read their profile. If you like, follow them. They will most likely follow you back.

2> Post interesting stuff yourself, because when the people you follow look up your profile, they’ll want to see that you have something interesting to say. Then they will be more likely to follow you.

3> Retweet things you find interesting. Retweets not only show up on your profile but also show up to all the Followers of the person you retweeted so some of their followers may follow you.(That’s a sentence you could never imagine writing 10 years ago!)

4> Read a Blog Post I did awhile back that you may find helpful.
https://outofchaosblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/pathfinder-newsletter-twitter-your-way-to-success/

5> Most of all interact, learn and have fun with it!


“How do I make money from all this Social Media Stuff?” 5 ‘Simple’ Steps

November 12, 2009

The most common question I hear from clients is, “How do I make money from all this Social Media Stuff?” That is the $64 million dollar question and technology companies, advertising agencies, PR firms, and thousands of entrepreneurs are scrambling to answer it.

However, like anything new, 98% of it is either fluff or failure and 2% is of great value. So let’s forget the 98% and focus on the 2% that matters to you and me. First, let’s go to where the action is Twitter and Facebook. Between them are over 300 million members – many visiting and posting multiple times per day. They are interested in a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with your product or service, but some of them are interested at least some of the time. Now the trick is to find them, engage them and get them to come to you. This is where most efforts fail for lack of strategy and know-how.

So here are are 5 Things you and your business can do to make Social Media work for you:

Social Media Flowchart - Pathfinder Consulting

Create a Social Media Chain-Reaction

1> Get in the Game: either you, or someone you hire, needs to establish Facebook and Twitter Accounts; post stuff that people may find interesting both personal and professional – maybe even political. DO NOT blatantly promote or advertise your service.
2> Build your Audience: the more people that you invite and Friend or Follow you, the more responsive they will be and the greater the odds they will call on you for your product or service when they need it.
3> Triangulate for Results: cross-link all the activity, content, posts, status updates to each other and your web site. See the illustration on this page. If you do this effectively, you will create a chain-reaction or a cascade of visitors to your Blog and Web Site.
4> Make Sure your Web Site helps convert a high percentage of these new visitors to customers. Professional design, branding, credibility and message are key. Get help with this! Contact us or another talented firm. There is both art and science to making your web site sell for you.
5> Do it over again. All these media will keep evolving and changing. It is constant learning and testing. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t work, either change your approach or stop doing it. Just makes sense – doesn’t it?

So after all this, our client asks, Who has time for all this?” The answer is that most business people are busy focusing on their own business and don’t have the time, expertise, or even the inclination to do all this. But it is worth it! If you are not doing it, you can bet your competitor is and grabbing all that business.

[Warning: shameless self-promotion!] That’s where we come in. Pathfinder not only designs and develops winning web sites, but will set up, manage and maintain your social media sites, blogs and Email and triangulate them for results. Maybe we can help you?


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