February 19, 2021

13 Expert Tips For Boosting Your Company’s Mobile Site Performance And UX

With the proliferation of smartphones and personal devices, “mobile-first” has become the watchword when it comes to website design for optimal user experience. Businesses must ensure their websites are just as responsive, appealing and easy to navigate on mobile devices as they are on desktop computers—if not more so.

To succeed, it’s important to not only adopt strategies specific to mobile design but also to follow good practices for serving users on any device. To help, 13 experts from Forbes Technology Council share their best tips for optimizing modern websites and designing them for the mobile era.

1. Understand your users.

“User experience” begins with “user.” Understand them. Create a story or narrative that represents their good day and create one that represents their bad day. Those stories become the lens through which you can create an experience that addresses your users’ needs. - Tim Mitrovich, Artisan

2. Consider edge data methods.

You need a clear data strategy and a robust data architecture. Otherwise, your app will be making massive data calls to the backend. Cached data is not great for app performance, so do look at edge data methods to serve the right data at the right time for optimal customer experience. - Jacqueline Teo, HGC Global Communications

3. Create a quick and simple path to your call to action.

Ensure a clear and simple flow for each persona use case. In the browser, we had three-click aspirations. On mobile, we’ve changed that to three swipes for the user to see the clearly understood and interactive button or call to action. - Gavin McMurdo, IStreamPlanet

4. Keep your operating systems and applications up to date.

One best tip for companies trying to improve their mobile sites’ performance or UX is to ensure that all servers are running the latest operating systems and applications. Frequently patching and updating the underlying infrastructure of mobile sites will provide the latest features and the most-up-to-date security posture, mitigating known vulnerabilities that might be exploitable in the wild. - Bob Fabien ZingaDirectly, Inc./U.S. Navy Reserve

5. Invest in progressive loading.

Progressive loading (a.k.a. lazyload) can help capture your users’ attention quickly by allowing your website to show meaningful content as soon as possible. From there, load in advance what your user will see next. By continuing to prioritize the loading of resources according to when your user will need them, the entire experience will feel much snappier. - Amy Czuchlewski, Bottle Rocket

6. Know your audience and which devices they use to interact with you.

As an enterprise business-to-business SaaS solution, we looked at our data and found that 95% of our visitors are on desktop. Because of that, we focus on the desktop first. If your data says mobile devices are what your visitors primarily use—which is typically true for business-to-consumer products—then really focus on a solid mobile UX or an app. - Richard Kahn, Anura Solutions, LLC

7. Get right to the point with your message.

A lot of mobile development focuses on UX, which is incredibly important, but the message is king. Spending as much or more time on immediately and effectively getting your most important messages to your audience is vital. UX plays a role in this. But having UX and your content/messaging strategy work in unison is the Holy Grail of mobile development. - James Draper, Bidstack

8. Understand the difference between responsive design and mobile-first design.

There is a difference between a responsively designed platform and a mobile-first platform—and the distinction is important. Most companies focus on compliance and the ability of their platform to respond to a smaller form factor such as a phone. Mobile-first design asks, “How do the needs of people differ when they’re using a phone?” Mobile-first considers that features may differ on mobile versus desktop. - Pierce Brantley, Cytracom

9. Make decisions based on data, not trends.

When you decide to make changes or improvements to your mobile site, don’t just stick to the “latest trends.” Make decisions based on the real data you’ve collected on how your users or site visitors interact with your website. Measure first, then optimize. - Ivailo Nikolov, SiteGround

10. Decouple your mobile strategy from your desktop strategy.

Website strategy for mobile should be totally decoupled from your primary website, with only the message and brand being constants. What you’re trying to say has an impact on the potential direction your team can take the design. Accessibility is not really front of mind—most often, mobile visitors appreciate content that speaks to them literally. Animations and voice-overs keep you in control. - Raymond Hicks5thColumn Inc.

11. Design your site based on your customers’ behavior.

Know your customers. Learn and analyze the way they use your products. Which browsers, which devices and which platforms do they prefer? Do they usually use the product during the day or at night? Do they prefer a horizontal (tablet) or vertical (smartphone) view? All these factors should help you design a better product that best suits your customers. - Ariel Rosenfeld, 3d Signals

12. Keep the design clean.

Minimalism is the word when it comes to smaller screens. Stick with simple one-column designs if you can. Check all elements for redundancy. Be very frugal with information—especially above the fold—but be generous with call-to-action elements. Give links and buttons good breathing room. Similarly, for forms, keep the number of fields to a minimum; use more checkboxes and fewer typing fields. - Vikram Joshi, pulsd

13. Get expert help.

Bring in outside expertise, and make sure your internal leaders are there to be the bridge, not subject matter experts. Be the experts about the business, but let the experts from outside handle the design, as this is what they do day in and day out. We often try to become the SMEs for a “solution” when we should simply be the business SMEs who help and guide the outside experts. - Gene Yoo, Resecurity, Inc.

This article was published on Forbes.com

January 14, 2021

11 Must-Have Features For A Competitive Business Website

From the growth in mobile access to the rise of AI-driven customer outreach, business websites are evolving at a rapid pace. Leading-edge corporate websites now boast dozens of features that allow consumers to engage with brands in new and exciting ways, including optimization for mobile devices, interactive product demonstrations, 24/7 customer service and more. 

In today’s digital-first economy, having a website that both advertises your business and provides a seamless customer experience is not a luxury—it’s table stakes for survival. Below, 11 Forbes Technology Council members share the essential features your business website must include to keep up in the digital marketplace.

1. Omnichannel Capabilities

Although some work has been done, business websites need to demonstrate seamless omnichannel capabilities to stand out among the competition when it comes to the client experience. Omnichannel capabilities have become even more important with the rapid adoption of and reliance on digital channels during the pandemic. - Soumya Ghosh, Capgemini

2. Conversational Assistants

Conversational assistants will be the new norm to help businesses connect with website visitors in real time and create a delightful online buying experience. The basic rule-based chatbots have already shown us the value of instant gratification. With conversational AI bots, businesses will drive engagement, conversion and loyalty through real-time dialogue, content targeting and contextual assistance. - Meeta Dash, Verta.ai

3. A Frictionless Customer Experience

As more consumers move online—and plan to stay there even after the pandemic—invest in creating the most seamless digital experience possible. Use AI to eliminate friction across the online journey, identify and fix CX issues in real time, and gather data on who your customer is and what they want from the digital experience. This will inspire customer confidence and ultimately drive more revenue. - Gregg Johnson, Invoca

4. Personalization

Businesses must address continuous behavior transformation and personalization, be it in the creative handling of negative paths, implementing artificial design intelligence techniques or more intelligent chatbots. It is vital to shift from static content or A/B testing to a more one-on-one experience. This all should be seamless; heavy dependence on it can lead to the opposite effect. - Diana Xhumari, Tegeria

5. Natural Language Insights

Websites and mobile apps now need AI and natural-language-driven insights platforms that enable business users and analytics teams to quickly understand the reasons and key drivers for user/business behaviors. - Mark Schlesinger, Broadridge Financial Solutions

6. Identity Verification Solutions

With the increase in online fraud and constant data breaches, we’ll see businesses coming up with novel ways to keep the online experience safe. We are already seeing innovative identity-proofing solutions being integrated during user onboarding. I foresee this becoming more and more prevalent as identity verification solutions become more and more frictionless. - Labhesh PatelJumio Corp.

7. Transparency Around Data Collection And Usage

Websites should offer transparency and clarity into what information they collect and track specific to individual users and to what extent they directly or indirectly sell that data to third parties or advertisers. For subscription-based websites, notification of account access whenever a login is attempted is very helpful to identify users with compromised accounts. - Raymond Hicks5thColumn Inc.

8. Diversity-Focused Design

Design for diversity should be top of mind when it comes to websites. Use your website’s design to engage consumers irrespective of their gender, age, disability or ethnicity. Section-504 compliance should be incorporated to enable ease of use for disabled people. Research has shown that “men systemize and women empathize”—hence, design for customer personas when choosing graphics, fonts and colors. - Swathi YoungIntegrity Management Systems Inc.

9. Accessibility

Accessibility continues to be an area that is unaccounted for during initial development and often not prioritized when updates are made. Besides avoiding potential litigation, accessibility enhancements generally help all users by making it easier to navigate websites and take advantage of auto-fill features. Enhancements should ensure that the content is well tagged for screen readers—which helps with SEO as well. - Luke Wallace, Bottle Rocket

10. Intuitive Navigation

Businesses tend to focus on making websites look pretty. Instead, the primary design and focus of the website should be the customer. Navigation features should be clear, and information should focus on what the customer wants and needs to know about your product and business to enable an informed buying decision. It’s equally important to adapt your content to what your customer already knows. - Robert Weissgraeber, AX Semantics

11. Messaging Regarding New Opportunities

Most companies forget to articulate to their audience what they are offering and how that offering creates access to new opportunities, education and people. The core design of the technology solution needs to focus on enabling economic access to opportunities and serving the audience. - Chaitra Vedullapalli, Women in Cloud

This article was originally published on Forbes.com

December 3, 2020

11 Game-Changing Reasons To Monitor Your Website Traffic

Big data” has become more than just a buzzword. With the right analytics, data can yield valuable insights to help a business identify its audience, improve the customer experience, boost sales and more. A particularly telling but sometimes overlooked source of data for a business is its website.

Monitoring website traffic and page views can yield a variety of data, including time spent on particular pages and bounce rates. Those figures can translate into invaluable insights about your customer base and actions your business can take to improve performance. We consulted 11 experts from Forbes Technology Council for their advice on what you can learn and accomplish by delving into the data from your business’ website.

1. To Flag Changes In Trends Or Cultural Signals

Many companies have a wealth of data that just sits there. Monitoring Web traffic, impressions and page view data to flag changes in trends or cultural signals can help in shaping strategies to future-proof businesses. We monitor traffic across channels and use the data for a range of things, including conversion optimization, user experience, targeted campaigns and product development. - Saba Mohebpour, Spocket

2. To Optimize For Sources You’re Not Seeing

Look at where your traffic is coming from. It can drive strategies regarding regions to focus on, industries to target or even languages to translate your content into. It can also tell you if you need to optimize more for sources you’re not seeing. You’ll probably find some fun surprises, and you’ll learn how the world sees your business. It’s always great to have an outside perspective. - Luke Wallace, Bottle Rocket

3. To See Where Customers Are On Their Journey

The paths visitors take through your website provide valuable insights into where they are on their buying journey. If you can tie Web traffic trends to user stories, it becomes much easier to spot and act upon anomalies. For example, if the same visitor has viewed a product every business day for three weeks and suddenly stops doing so without making a purchase, you’ve probably missed out on a sale. - Jennifer Redmon, Cisco Systems

4. To Identify Consumer Interests And Preferences

Data is insightful when we look at it from different perspectives (or “dimensions,” as we call them in the data world). The same rule applies to Web traffic/page view data: By slicing and dicing the data you gain insight into who is most interested in what. It matters because the more you know your audience, the higher the chances you’ll stay relevant to your market and succeed. - Arman Eshraghi, Qrvey

5. To Create An Efficient Content Plan

Creating a content plan is not a simple task. But it can be made easier if you analyze the data gathered from your website. Tracking the traffic will help you better understand what content is sought after by your audience and what you should focus on in the future. The more you analyze the traffic and the audience, the easier coming up with an excellent and working content plan will be. - Daria Leshchenko, SupportYourApp Inc.

6. To Understand Your Engagement Level

Website analytics are key to monitoring and understanding the pathways potential customers take through your site. It will highlight if they are engaging with your calls to action or if they are leaving quickly or are unable to find key resources. Ultimately, having lots of visitors to your website is pointless if they don’t engage and they leave empty-handed, so use data to refine your site experience. - Al Kingsley, NetSupport Limited

7. To Pinpoint Your Website’s Weaknesses

Web traffic and page view data can shine a light on your website’s weaknesses from a marketing standpoint. In turn, this elucidates potential solutions to problems you may have not been aware of otherwise. For instance, are you seeing several visitors dropping off your contact page? Then maybe it needs a revamp. These insights may be subtle, but they can make all the difference. - Marc Fischer, Dogtown Media LLC

8. To Improve Key Decision-Making

While parsing through mountains of data might be a frustrating exercise, even worse is making decisions without any data at all. It’s impossible to definitively say what feature should be worked on next or where users are bouncing from your site/platform/app without data. This is a linchpin for a lot of other spending decisions—marketing effectiveness, user interface/user experience, product roadmap—you name it! - Cecile Lee, Trendalytics

9. To Enhance Your Customer Experience

That data is your customers talking to you—use it to make their experience better. A company can use data to adapt its website to maximize conversion rates, determine if a marketing campaign is driving new users and ascertain whether a particular change has led to an increase in time spent on the site. Without proper analytics, you would be running blind. - Fabrizio Blanco, Viant Technology

10. To Optimize Marketing Budgets

Companies invest a significant amount of money in media outreach and press efforts to drive visitors to their website. By monitoring Web traffic/page view data, teams can identify where the return on these investments is best maximized. With this information, one can optimize budgets to improve efficiency. - Ashwini Choudhary, Recogni

This article was published on Forbes.com

October 28, 2019

25 Nonprofits provided new websites through 48in48 Event at Bottle Rocket

Over 3,000 volunteer hours were contributed to creating updated websites for 25 non-profits during the first Dallas 48in48 event. The event, now in its fifth year, has held events in various other U.S. cities and plans to do its first international event in London later this year. Event founders Jeff Hillmire and Adam Walker are passionate about giving back to the community and also helping nonprofit organizations do even more good in the world. State Farm served as the founding sponsor and Bottle Rocket donated its space for the weekend event.

A dozen volunteer teams, including five Rocketeers, volunteered their talents to give back to non-profits by designing logos and building new websites. Additional volunteers helped organize the event and run the logistics that are required to help make this magnitude of an event possible. For more information on the event, visit https://48in48.org/dallas/.

Kathy Meadows, Founder and Executive Director at Mission Possible Kids, one of the nonprofit organizations enrolled in the Dallas program, said the 48in48 event arrived at a pivotal time for her organization as their website is expiring. “We needed a change quickly because the platform we were on won’t be available next month,” Meadows said, “Our website would’ve gone defunct, so this is saving us thousands of thousands of dollars.”

Kayden Grinwis (left), Principal at Kayden Michael Digital and Trent King (right), Art Director at Bottle Rocket, shows Kathy Meadows the first version of the new website on Saturday October 19, 2019.

Meadows said though the application process for 48in48 was intense, everyone was ‘super helpful.’

“I don’t have the website building skills even if I wanted to...what would’ve taken me a hundred years, these volunteers can do in a weekend.”

Kathy Meadows

Adam Walker, co-founder of 48in48, said he was excited for Dallas to be the seventh city to host the ‘hackathon style’ event in 2019. “Hosting at creative agencies or creative spaces like Bottle Rocket really provides a lot of energy. The team members you’ve got here seem to be pretty amazing,” Walker said.

Walker said he hopes that all professionals that participated were able to recognize that they can use their coding, designing and web talents to give back to others.

“The biggest thing is for the volunteers to be empowered to use their professional skills for good. Obviously, we want to build websites, but it’s more about volunteer empowerment."

Adam Walker

He said simply giving time to make a website or create content for these nonprofits can, “make a huge impact in the world.”

While really everyone that participated deserves recognition for their hard work, the event hosted a fun competition at the end of the event to award first, second and third place awards to the three teams that created, what four judges deemed, the most improved and creative out of the 25 websites made in the 48 hours. Awards were given to the teams of volunteers that worked on Open Hand Outreach Program (O.H.O.P), Just Bakery, and Break Bread, Break Boundaries. New websites for each of these organizations will be launched soon.

Judges (left to right) Breanne Clark, Manager of Philanthropy at State Farm; Jana Boone, VP of Marketing at Bottle Rocket; Diwakar Dewan, Head of Product Management and Technology at State Farm; and Mike Fletcher, IT Executive at State Farm.
Other volunteers help out with food, check-ins, and passing along information to the volunteers working on the nonprofit sites.
Volunteers working away for their nonprofit.

June 15, 2017

Inside the QA Automation Lab

Bottle Rocket’s Quality Assurance team is on an exciting automation journey. We’ve written the code, trained our manual testers, and are now focusing efforts on the place where it will all be put together. We’ve put a lot of hard work into our automation process and we wanted an automation lab that was just as awesome.

Our lab is an open space that is accessible to all. Shelves containing a collection of devices covering every major type, size, and operating system line the walls. Each device has its own stand and the shelves are backlit to maximize visibility. USB hubs with up to two amps per port are positioned to the side, allowing devices to charge and sync at the same time. The hub is connected to an iMac acting as the server. We anticipate being able to run tests on 32 devices at once per server.

Many of our large projects that have had multiple releases have had automation scripts created for them and can be continuously monitored. Any time a new build is created, a test plan can be triggered to download the build and run a smoke test on selected devices. This can really ease the pain of having to run the same tests on each build over and over, not to mention those server testing sessions in the wee hours of the morning.

Reports are generated and QA on the project are notified. Testers get reports from these runs complete with screenshots of each test outcome. These reports are divided into different sections, such as pages of the app, and the results are clear-cut with color-coded pass/fail icons. Each individual test can pass or fail based on criteria detailed in the test cases. If the tester is unable to see exactly what happened with just the screenshots, they can swing by the automation lab to run the test again and follow what happens in person.

This has been a journey because it wasn’t always easy; there were plenty of issues that had to be worked through along the way. Physical devices were a big problem. They’re definitely the most beneficial for testing because they are the closest we can get to real-world application of an app. The fact is, there are lots of issues that can be missed on a simulator, like things related to performance, battery level, or any kind of hardware component. The more variety we can get on the higher number of devices, the better. But working with this volume of devices has its hardships. Some of them required enhancements to our setup; high-performance devices (namely tablets) require lots of power to even maintain a charge, hence the beefy USB hub mentioned earlier. The less powerful hubs we used initially just could not keep up. Different devices can also have different settings menu navigation, meaning our test cases need to be general enough to apply to different hierarchies. Some devices even disconnect after a period of time.

Our automation engineers solved this one with a program they created called Vadr. Vadr is the interface that allows testers to access the lab and devices remotely. It shows all devices, their connection status (so we know when those difficult devices have disconnected), and allows us to choose which test/test plan to run on each device. This will make it easy for any QA tester to take advantage of our automation tools.

Our goals for an automation lab were accessibility, visibility, and efficiency. We ended up with that and more. As the physical space was created and evolved, our process and understanding of automation testing grew and solidified with it.

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