Accessibility Ebook

5 Accessibility Features Built into Something Digital’s SDK Accelerator

More and more the activities of daily living occur online. We shop, bank, request a ride, check in with friends and schedule appointments via the web. The convenience of the digital ecosystem is compelling, especially at times when we feel harried, or inclement weather makes us want to stay inside. More than that, web-enablement is so wide spread that for many brands, it’s the only way to interact with them.

But what happens if your eyesight is poor, or your muscles lack the dexterity needed to operate a mouse? Such conditions can bar you from engaging in the activities of daily living the majority of us take for granted.

Recognizing the role of the web in today’s society, unfettered access to web-based services is now the law of the land. Specifically, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses help disabled people access the same services as able-bodied people, including those services offered via a website. And with 51.2 million Americans with disabilities, allowing all people to buy from your website makes good economic sense.

No doubt, designing an ecommerce site so that it is accessible to the widest possible audience can be complex. To eliminate that complexity, Something Digital created an SDK accelerator that offers five functionalities — all absent in baseline Magento —  that make ecommerce sites accessible to consumers with disabilities.

These functionalities include:

Keyboard Navigation

For a variety of reasons, many people find it difficult or impossible to navigate a website using a mouse, and must rely on their keyboards to accomplish all website functions, including selecting menu options, accessing desired content, and moving between elements on a page. For this reason, SD’s Accelerator provides functionality that allows users to navigate your website via their keyboards.

Convenience & Assistive Cues

Most people don’t need instructions on how to navigate a website or access the content we want. Decades of going online have taught us a common vocabulary. We instinctively know how to accomplish the tasks we want to accomplish, even if we are first time visitors to a site.

For instance, most website content is placed approximately in the middle of the browser to provide space for site navigation, logos, assistive links, advertising, and so on. People with good eyesight, by habit, skip over these elements and go straight to the good stuff. But if your eyesight isn’t strong, or you rely on a keyboard, you need a way to go straight-to-content or back to the top of the page.

Our Accelerator includes assistive cues that allow people with disabilities to take advantage of these conveniences.

Voice Over Support

People with disabilities often rely on assistive technology when going online to shop or access other services. These devices may be screen readers (i.e. programs that read text aloud for the user), text enlargement software, or software that allows users to control their computers via voice commands.

Screen readers literally read the contents of the screen to the user, which offers obvious benefits, as well as some surprising challenges. For instance, a screen reader must read the menu options and navigation options for the user, which means it will read all of the text contained ARIA-rolls, alt-tag, title tags and so on. As a result, the same text can be repeated over and over, causing confusion and creating a poor brand experience for the visitor.

SD’s Accelerator identifies when text is redundant, and instructs the screen reader to skip it.

Focus Management

Focus management is a big deal in creating accessible websites, and it took up the bulk of our efforts when developing SD’s SDK Accelerator. Focus, as it applies to web page accessibility, is the outline that highlights an item or element that is selected by a person who doesn’t use a mouse.

Focus management addresses challenges people with disabilities encounter as they navigate sequentially through content. Here’s a prime example: Let’s say you’re on an ecommerce site and you place an item in a shopping cart. Many sites will have an overlay or pop-up image of the mini-cart, which now becomes the center of focus. You can either interact with that mini-cart, or you can go back to page content by simply clicking outside of that mini-cart, which automatically dismisses it. Or let’s say you continue to browse products after you’ve placed an item in your cart. At any point, you can access the mini-cart pop-up by clicking on the shopping cart icon, typically located in the top navigation bar. Once clicked, the mini-cart becomes the focus of your screen, but you can easily dismiss it by clicking on the surrounding page.

Such conveniences are difficult and confusing to people who use a keyboard or screen reader. If using a keyboard, there’s no way to click on the surrounding content to close the overlay. If using a screen reader, the content is out of the expected sequence, andthere is no way to click on the original content.

The challenge, therefore, is to allow disabled people to close the overlay easily. To accomplish this, our Accelerator inserts an X for closing the overlay, and it puts the focus (i.e. outlines) on that X. (The X is a universal cue for closing a page or document.)

We also capture the focus so that the overlay is truly captive, meaning that users are prevented from accidently tabbing through the navigation, which can result in them closing the overlay without realizing it, and getting lost in the page.

Images Embedded in Text

Magento 2 has a new default theme named “Luma,” which is a clean and elegant theme that that features better usability practices than its predecessor, the “Madison Island” theme.

The Luma theme encourages website designers to embed text within hero, masthead and other images. Such text often conveys important information to visitors, but because it is part of an image, it can’t be selected. Assistive devices, such as braille displays and screen readers can only read text that’s selectable. Therefore, a person relying on an assistive device is unable to access any text that’s embedded in an image.

To overcome this challenge, the Accelerator includes numerous CMS content widgets for the drag-and-drop editor in Magento’s visual page builder tool. Essentially, the approach is to allow website designers to create images with text that is overlaid onto the image, not embedded into it. The text can match your brand typography so that the overall impact of the text and image is equally beautiful as if it had been created it in the Luma theme.

And there are additional benefits to this approach. Because the text is actionable, search engines can read it as easily as assistive devices, which means it has SEO value. It also means that the text will load on the page faster than the entire image, which means allvisitors will be able to see the message sooner.

Seamless Accessibility

All of the functionality described here are seamless to your website visitors. If they don’t rely on a keyboard or assistive device to navigate websites, they’ll never know you’ve built accessibility into your ecommerce store. Creating a website that allows more people to use it doesn’t require you to make design sacrifices at all.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Artificial Intelligence

7 Strategies You Need To Compete With Amazon in Paid Search

Amazon is an ecommerce powerhouse that keeps on growing. Between Amazon’s strong domain authority, trusted customer base, and exclusive shipping methods, it can be difficult for brands to compete with Amazon. By the end of the year, Amazon is expected to generate $258.2 billion dollars in retail sales, which will make up 49.1% of all ecommerce sales. Many brands who feel they cannot compete with Amazon have resorted to selling on the marketplace.

However, you can compete with Amazon in the digital search space. Through carefully thought-out, planned digital strategies, your business will be able to capitalize on some of the weaknesses within Amazon’s digital strategy. So, how exactly do you compete with Amazon in the digital game? Follow these tactics. By utilizing these seven strategies, your online business will be able to find a way to compete against Amazon.

Tactic #1: Bid More on Branded Keywords

You own your brand, so by bidding on more branded keyword terms, you will have the opportunity to take up more of the retail space within the SERP, above the fold. When consumers search for your brand, your paid ads and organic listings will dominate the search engine space, giving you a larger opportunity to gain more customers. Not only will your online business gain more exposure in the SERP, you will have the opportunity to save money. Google will always favor the brand and branded keywords are generally less expensive than non-branded long-tail keywords. Know that there is power in your brand.

Tactic #2: Sell Unique Product Offerings

Consumers love Amazon because it is generic and efficient, but there are consumers who still shop online for an experience. Therefore, a way to compete with Amazon is to offer unique products not sold on Amazon. Think about what products of yours are on Amazon and then create new ads for products that are not sold on the marketplace. Another strategy is to take the products that you sell on Amazon, but make your product offering more unique, like bundled promotions or entering a contest. Entice consumers to click through to your ad with something unique.

Tactic #3: Create a Localized Experience

One of the struggles brands are presented with is competing against Amazon for ad space. They have a large budget in place for CPC but a downfall to this strategy is that Amazon does not bid locally. By placing bids and narrowing down your target market based on location, your online business will have the opportunity to target the right people in locations where consumers convert. Rather than placing bids on all locations, create ads that are location specific. For instance, if you know people in the mid-west typically do not purchase your products, but consumers in New York City and Boston have the highest conversion rates, spend your budget accordingly. Do not devote money to areas that do not convert. Segment consumers based on location and offer high-quality ads to profitable locations.

Tactic #4: Create Strong Content

Part of Amazon’s paid search strategy is that they only optimize on keywords in the first headline and the rest of the ad copy is rather generic. As a result, Amazon’s ad copy and landing pages are rarely optimized. This is a great opportunity for your online business to generate clicks by creating highly targeted landing pages with ad copy full of rich keywords consumers are searching.

For example, there is a major difference between the ad copy in Amazon’s ad and Sony’s ad. Although Sony’s ad is in position number two in the SERP, Sony’s ad copy is full of strong keywords that will entice a higher CTR. By creating better content with optimized landing pages, your online business can generate more clicks.

Tactic #5: Develop and Omnichannel Experience

Similar to bidding on more branded keyword terms, creating an omnichannel experience will enhance your overall presence in the SERP. By creating an omnichannel keyword list that will be utilized in both PPC and organic search strategies, quality score will increase, CPC will decrease, and your ranking in the ad space will have more authority. Take the time to work on organic search and reap the benefits in both PPC and SEO.

Tactic #6: Narrow Down your Target Market into Niche Markets

Amazon is fortunate enough to have a large budget and strong brand authority, and bidding on broad keywords may make it difficult to receive representation in the paid search ad space. Therefore, to compete with Amazon, narrow down your target market into niche segments that have a past of making online conversions. From there create a list of long-tail keywords that these niche markets would search for. By doing this, you have the ability to create highly target ads whereas Amazon ads target a larger audience.

Tactic #7: Create a Free Shipping Promo within PPC Ads

One of the biggest attractions to Amazon is their free two-day shipping for Prime members. With over 100 million Prime members worldwide, shipping can be the make it or break it point when it comes down to your branded landing page or Amazon’s marketplace. Create an ad campaign or ad group that is geared towards offering shipping promos in order to compete with Amazon’s most utilized ecommerce strategy.

Conclusion

In Conclusion, your ecommerce store can offer a unique shipping experience for your customers that Amazon cannot offer them. Follow these strategies, adapt them to your ecommerce goals and business plan to compete with Amazon in the paid search space.

Written by: Tori Oates, Marketing Strategist

Adobe Experience & Magento

What is Adobe Experience and How is it Applicable to Your Business?

This past May, Adobe acquired Magento “in a bid to capture a bigger slice of the digital-commerce industry from Salesforce.com Inc. and Oracle Corp.” This news may seem as if it has little bearing on your day to day life, but it’s actually worth thinking about, especially if you plan on purchasing a third-party solution to round out your Magento solution in the next year or two.

First, let’s address some semantics. Adobe has two distinct product suites with similar names that people use interchangeably: Adobe Experience Manager and Adobe Experience Cloud. They’re not the same. The former is an enterprise-level platform, used by the likes of Nissan and Hyatt. Adobe Experience Cloud is a suite of Adobe-built or Adobe-acquired solutions integrated into a single platform. That’s where Magento sits.

Adobe Experience Cloud offers a lot of functionality that ecommerce managers need, many of which are redundant to solutions available via the Magento ecosystem.

Most well known is Adobe Analytics, an enterprise-levelt analytics platform, formerly known as Omniture Sitecatalyst. Why would you consider using Adobe Analytics? If your business is competitive to Google, you may not feel comfortable sharing your data via Google Analytics. If that’s the case, Adobe Analytics may be a good option for you.

Adobe Experience Cloud also offers Adobe Audience Manager, which is a data management platform (DMP) that allows you to glean insights into who your audiences are, create segments based on those insights, and offer a relevant experience to those audiences across all of your touch points (your mobile app, website, social media, forums, etc).

The DMP will allow you to identify commonalities among certain audience members — say moms who live on the west coast and like red shoes, and moms on the east coast who prefer blue shoes. You can create a “red shoe” and “blue shoe” audience segment, and ensure that when they go on Facebook or your mobile app and see your ads, those creatives will feature the right color shoe.

Additionally, it can link multiple devices to the same user, so that you can recognize the consumer and present a unified experience, regardless of whether she interacts with your brand via your website or mobile app at home or in the office.

Another tool offered in the Adobe Experience Cloud is Adobe Advertising, which includes paid search and ad buying functionality, along with access to an ad network with personalization capabilities. Adobe Advertising allows you to launch multi-channel digital campaigns at scale, all from within Experience Cloud.

Adobe Target, formerly Omniture Test and Target, is a personalization solution that makes it easy to identify your best content through tests that are easy to execute and can deliver the right experience to the right customer.

And of course, with Magento, Experience Cloud now has a robust ecommerce platform.

There are some interesting things about this arrangement. For instance, Experience Manager, the CMS, also sits in that ecosystem, and that elevates Magento’s platform to a unique position: it is the only component of the Experience Cloud that is a platform-based solution with an ecosystem of solutions that are competitive to these other Adobe products products.

What Adobe Experience Manager Means for You

The Adobe acquisition of Magento, and Magento’s integration into Adobe Experience Cloud means you have access to Adobe’s personalization and audience segmentation solutions, which are more sophisticated because they leverage machine-learning optimization.

As a manager of an ecommerce site, the real value of the Adobe product suite will be its eventual seamless integration with Magento. In the future, you will be able to adopt an Adobe product — Adobe Audience Manager or Adobe Target — with just a click of a button. This prospect will offer more than convenience (although convenience is certainly a plus). The seamless integration will mean that the applications will be able to share data, and inform how each is optimized. For example, the personalization you drive on your website can be tied back to your advertising campaigns. With all solutions within the Adobe ecosystem fully integrated, you will have a coordinated solution that makes it easy to support the entire lifecycle of the customer.

Finally, with Magento integrated into the Adobe Experience Cloud, your business will have an easy path to migrate into a much larger platform.

Those are some of our initial thoughts on the Adobe acquisition of Magento. We will keep you informed of the interesting opportunities as they rise, so that you can plan for the future.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

EYEO Festival Takeaways Banner

Something Inspiring: EYEO Festival Takeaways

I’ve been to forums in the past where speakers onstage serve up Kool-aid, in the form of flashy innovation, the illusion of collective harmony, or myths of the illusive work-life balance. And, I admit, I’ve drunk it when I’ve been thirsty for something, anything, to get me out of a design funk. But now I know there’s someplace better. In EYEO, I found a festival in which speakers serve up the human side of technological innovation, the power of critical mass, and first-person accounts of successfully, and industriously, making space in life for work that excites us.

This summer, I attended what I hope to be the first of many EYEOs, and the takeaways still feel fresh and refreshing, like the life water we all need to reenergize our careers and reevaluate our creative choices.

EYEO is an interdisciplinary tech conference that encourages collaboration across industries, borders, and cultures. The festival draws driven thinkers and leaders from all over the world, including visual and audio artists, designers, developers, engineers, data scientists, educators, and social activists. Its mission is to show how those identifiers are fluid, how our curiosities overlap, and how our communities can be more inclusive. EYEO encourages participation and the forging of new partnerships; their slogan is “converge to inspire.”

At EYEO, speakers present ideas that rise above sterile case studies or sales pitches. We’ve heard that all before and we sign up for EYEO because we know we deserve better. EYEO attendees instead get eye-opening humility, humanity, transparency, storytelling, comedy, and calls to action. Talks range from academic — like a social history of the American hardware store — to deeply personal —a first-person account of how a tragic event can alter one’s life course — to curated panel discussions that spark a fire in those of us who see injustice in the industries in which we work. Every captivating talk, roundtable, and meetup asks us to think about how we can leverage technology for good, and why we should be.

There is no marketplace and almost no corporate swag, which in itself says a lot about the principles of the event organizers. Instead, EYEO gave attendees a single notebook in which they could memorialize quotes, ideas, and sketches. Classic. Understated. But the magic is how it was designed. Prior to the conference, attendees completed a survey of short questions about their personalities. Are they optimists or skeptics? Are they adventurers or do they play it safe? Then, Accurat, an information design company lead by speaker Giorgia Lupi, transformed the submissions into an abstract data visualization that is printed on the cover, like a secret code.

The brightly-colored notebook is not only a vehicle for ideas, but also an icebreaker, an artifact, and a reflection of how each of us plays a role in a greater community, which can’t be overstated. Now it’s my turn to give back, so I’ll start by sharing my notes from the conference as they can be applied to the working environment and the work that we do at Something Digital.

Notebook + Book
Left: The EYEO notebook designed by Accurat and Pitch Interactive.; Right: “Dear Data”, an amazing book on soft data written by two EYEO speakers and friends, Giorgia Lupi and Stephanie Posavec.

Humanize Data

We have unlimited data plans with which we listen to playlists curated to our tastes, order products that are recommended for us, and monitor our health stats. Data science is literally on the pulse of everything that happens in our lives and we’re producing data all the time. Everything we do, say, hear, and see is data. Although we may not be aware of it, we’re making and processing data, from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed — even while we’re sleeping. Data can be for us to help us measure our own progress, or it can be for a corporation to market products and services to us tailored to our predictable behavior.

From a personal perspective, because of its deeper technological applications, data can often seem out of our control, or like an unreal, mysterious ‘other’ (I know I’m being watched by the device in my hand and on my wrist, but that’s just the world we live in). From a business perspective, because my work is about designing better user experiences based on data analysis —monitoring click-through rates, traffic, and popular searches — data can seem tactical, a means to an outcome.

But a common call to action among many of the speakers at EYEO is to rethink what we classify as data. Slowing down, being present, observing, and taking note: that’s data. Sources of data are everywhere. It could be as banal as the minutes a subway train arrives off schedule each morning or as critical as documenting the daily side effects of the medications we take. Counting something means it matters. Spending time reviewing this kind of data — sometimes referred to as ‘soft’ or ‘folk’ data for its lack of social currency — means spending time with ourselves.

How can this humanistic approach to data be applied in commerce? One way is to allow people to see themselves in data. We create personas by observing real behaviors of real people, making predictions based on their lifestyles and interests, and designing with the intention to show them that their needs are valuable. Data becomes a way to communicate intention. UX design is an industry driven by subjective data, like user feedback. In user testing, we ask questions to lend visibility to data that otherwise goes unseen and unmeasured.

Soft data in the marketing world can be found in social sharing and user generated content. For example, the eyewear store Tens.co features a widget showing visitors in real-time which products other customers are purchasing in that very moment. Instead of promoting only the cross sells or upsells stakeholders think customers should buy, the widget enables customers to see what appeals to the people within their affinity community and be persuaded — or not — by their own observations, giving them credit and entitlement.

Ten.co ExampleTens.co provides a visualization of what other customers are buying in real-time.

The term ‘soft’ data underestimates its merit. Observed data, in conjunction with numerical data, can be more impactful on a human level, because it reminds us that we aren’t nameless hash marks; our personalities, opinions, and stories are as important as our buying power.

Data, after all, is people.

Get Empowered

Another big talking point for speakers was to mix up power structures. Fear, paranoia, the feeling as though we are being violated by giving up data without consent — when nearly our every move is always recorded, it’s hard to not feel disempowered by technology. Add on disenfranchisement and biases that stem from a lack of diversity among the engineers who write algorithms, and it’s no wonder that an atmosphere of mistrust is brewing. And yet! We all still carry our little glowing rectangles with us everywhere anyway.

The message from many speakers at EYEO is that objects of power are only powerful when we put them in the right hands. But how do we make data less disempowering and more empowering?

Or, as Carmen Aguilar y Wedge of Hyphen-Labs asked: “What is it you need from me to see you as human?”

Vimeo Still of Hyphen-Labs ProjectOne of many inspiring projects by the women at Hyphen-Labs.

One way is to think of data analysis as a service rather than self-serving. Use data to diagnose actual problems and identify the right tools and people to fix them, instead inventing solutions to problems that weren’t there to begin with and may produce even more problems over time.

For example, when we take on clients with existing sites at SD, we evaluate their site data as it is and recommend technical debt remediation before launching new marketing initiatives. Broken components and security breaches make customers feel confused and unsafe. We show the clients the holes in their system and offer a step-by-step roadmap to fill them. By tackling the backend problems first — issues customers can’t see but that hinder them from completing tasks — we’re indirectly improving the front-end user experience and flexing our expertise to serve our client’s and their customer’s best interests first.

Another way to do good by data is to mix up power structures. If advancements in technology are predicated on the confines of the platforms and languages we use, how do we use that technology to tell stories that are not written by the marketing department of larger corporations? How do we tell new stories?

Start by bringing new voices to the table, listening, collaborating, and giving those voices due credit. In a panel on diversity, one speaker noted that HR departments don’t have a pipeline problem, they have an effort problem. One reason I’m personally proud to work at SD is that while at first I had little web experience, the managers who interviewed me saw my perseverance and history of work ethic as an advantage, and that as an outsider, I brought another perspective to the creative team. Over the course of my tenure here, I’ve witnessed SD making great strides in recruitment and retention, giving all employees the freedom to directly interact with clients, communicate their ideas, and release their code, strategies, and designs out into the wild right away. New voices that cross cultural, racial, gender, and age lines help organizations approach problem solving at multiple angles, because how each of us sees the world is path dependent and, most importantly, valuable.

Diversity — and openly discussing diversity — within an organization equips teams to be more aware of the needs of users who might otherwise go unnoticed. EYEO speakers also called on those who represent the majority to assert their privilege to protect users who don’t always get the same protections. As a web agency specifically, we need to think about the safety of every community and every individual interacting with our work by:

1. Building accessible sites.

2. Prioritizing data security.

3. Designing not just for personas, but for representation.

What if frequent visually distracting pop up notifications distress users with PTSD? What if we QA test a site on broadband internet, but it is intended to be used in a region wherein access is more limited? What if a brand aims to market their products to ‘everyone’, but the lifestyle images they display on their product pages persistently only show models of one demographic?

This leads me to:

4. Ask questions. A lot of them.

It’s a mistake to assume anything is instantaneously understandable. Coming up with a thorough checklist as a team and asking as many questions as we can is how we break free from expert mind — what we already know or think we already know — and how we prevent faceless data from amplifying our biases. This is how we get closer to actual personalization, the kind that isn’t invasive or creepy, but is humble and constructive. Questioning leads to iteration. Iteration lead to prototyping. Prototyping leads to an evolving product that continually becomes more usable for everyone. It is yet one more argument for making slow observation and human feedback a part of our professional practice.

Go Forth and Do Better

For their encouragement to humanize data, get empowered, play with new people, and to find as many ways into a problem as possible — overall, to just do better! — I can’t thank the EYEO festival speakers and organizers enough. And I encourage you to visit eyeofestival.com to meet the speakers and watch videos of past talks.

I leave you with one last scribble from by trusty yellow notebook: Find delight in the work that you do. For me the delight comes from being able to inventory the data of my own life and add a point on that graph, however its modeled, for the invaluable learning opportunity EYEO afforded me to become a better designer and advocate for SD, our clients, their users, and you.

Written by: Gina Angelotti, Interactive Designer

errors

The ways of our errors: Error recovery UX best practices

Although field validation is perhaps the least thrilling UX topic, it is arguably one of the more important. Without proper guidance to correct customer’s mistakes, the simple task of checking out on an ecommerce site can turn into a long, painful ordeal. If an error goes unresolved, it results in a 100% abandonment rate. This is not an ideal statistic to say the least. As a UX designer (and tester) there are validation issues and solutions we keep an eye out for at SD.

But first, the basics.

What is an input field? When we talk about input fields, text, dropdowns, checkboxes, and radio buttons, we simply mean the area the customer is selecting or typing into. This includes fields within checkout, registration, and account creation specifically within the ecommerce spectrum. Errors are the messages customers receive when attempting to progress through a form without entering a valid entry for required fields. The backend can put limitations such as the number of characters and the type of characters (letters, numbers, symbols etc.) on each input.

If error messages are styled, worded, and placed properly, they will successfully draw the customer’s attention, inform the customer something went wrong, and provide an easy path to error recovery.

Words matter

Clarity is key when coming up with the correct error message. A vague message such as “We are unable to process your request” leaves the customer guessing and wasting time trying different solutions. If they can never fix it, they will never buy your product.

A popular inline error message is “invalid input”, which is very ambiguous. The good thing is, the backend knows exactly what is wrong. A better way to pinpoint the error is to customize messages per input. You can use 4-10 adaptive messages to provide this clarity. If a zip code is entered without the correct number of digits, instead of displaying “You have entered an invalid number” customize the message to “5 digits are required” or something similar.

On Home Depot’s shipping address form, the error messages are tailored to the user’s current entry.

 

The right place

Say you have all your error messages tailored to each field. Great! But what if the customer is on a mobile device, and the error message(s) appears out of the customer’s view? Many customers in this situation believe the page has completely frozen. The abandonment route will likely be taken.

An easy fix is to scroll the customer directly to the offending field. If there are multiple errors on one page, however, we have to handle it a bit differently. The customer in this case should be scrolled to the top of the page to view an error message outlining the specific incorrect fields. This informs the customer how many fields to look out for as they scroll back down the form.
Also, make sure you retain the customer’s original input. That way they can assess where they mistyped.

Draw the customer’s attention to each incorrect field by highlighting the field in red and placing the error message next to the field. Red has been the most common color used for warning signals for centuries. Think about stop signs, traffic lights etc. Because red is largely associated with error messaging, it’s best practice to limit the color across websites.

Luhn Validation

There is one field that calls for special attention: the credit card number input. The bad news is this field is the most error prone due to the length. The good news is all correct credit card numbers follow what is called a Luhn/Modulus 10 checksum validation. Because of this, the credit card number can be validated on the front end, giving you the ability to inform the customer of errors as they are typing. Customers wantto pre-empt error messages, so an easy front-end validation can go a long way.

On Home Depot’s checkout as he user enters a credit card number the number is validated on the front end.

 

The customer is right

Nobody wants to be told they are wrong when they are certain they are right.

A common validation bug is not removing the red error message and un-highlighting the field once the customer has made their correction. Ensure all outdated error messages are removed once the requirements are met. Live update the error message on a keystroke level.

In this example the user has corrected the field, yet the error message persists.

 

Another issue is presenting the customer with an error before she even has a chance to attempt the field. This is less than encouraging. Make sure no error messages display before the customer has a chance to interact with the form.

Key takeaways

Optimized error recovery is the difference between a site that works with you and a site that works against you. Be mindful of the following:

  • Provide alternative error messages for each field for specificity
  • Always retain the customer’s input data
  • Optimize the mobile error experience
  • Use red only for error messaging
  • Use Luhn Validation on the credit card field
  • Keep errors messages updated and accurate

 

Although the frequency of errors may be low, the resulting severity is high. Take care of your errors as you would any other important UI element on your site, and you’ll be likely to keep every intended sale.

Written by: Lindsay Stork, Interactive Designer

 

Women in Tech

Retail Podcast Round Up – SD’s Favorite Podcasts

Here at SD it’s no secret that we love a good podcast, we even have our own Merchant to Merchant Podcast. Podcasts aren’t just for entertainment, there are so many different podcasts out there and it’s a great way to educate yourself on a topic that you want or need to learn more about. We decided to round up three of our favorite ecommerce podcasts that we listen to.

  • MageTalk– If you’re all about Magento, MageTalk is the podcast for you. Hosted by Phillip Jackson and Kalen Jordan, two developers that are extremely engaged in the Magento community. This podcast is all about Magento and the hosts want to get you as excited about Open Source and Magento as they are.
  • Jason and Scot Show– The Jason and Scot Show is a weekly podcast about the ecommerce industry. It features tons of interviews with industry leaders, digs deep into key topics, and timely news. This podcast is hosted by Jason Goldberg, SVP of Commerce at SapientRazorfish, and Scot Wingo, Founder and Executive Chairman of Channel Advisor.
  • eCommerceFuel– eCommerceFuel’s mission is to build the best community for seven-figure and up ecommerce merchants in the world. The podcast focuses on providing merchants with strategies, stories, and tips to help their business grow and hit the next level. The committee is made up of ecommerce professionals that have grown (and sometimes sold) their own seven figure-plus ecommerce stores.

 

What’s your favorite podcast? Send it our way and who knows maybe it’ll end up on our next favorites list.

SD Holiday Tips Graphic

It’s Never Too Early to Start Holiday Planning

It’s barely the dog-days of summer, and that means retailers are in the throes of back-to-school shopping (and sales tax holidays). Is it really time to start planning for the holiday season?

At Something Digital we fully believe that it’s never too early. Here are the essentials we recommend you consider now:

Make Sure Your Site Doesn’t Go Down

This past Prime Day was a bit of a disaster for Amazon…the Prime Day landing page didn’t work, and many of the product links led to error messages. Pity, given the all the work and marketing investments that went into the shopping holiday. If it can happen to Amazon, it can happen to anyone. But possible doesn’t mean inevitable. There are things you can do now to ensure your site is working as anticipated this Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all other key shopping days.

Start planning your infrastructure and site capacity now. If you’ve been lucky enough to enjoy higher traffic volumes this year (congratulations!) but you probably need to account for additional capacity for those high volume days during the holiday season.

Button Up Your Project Planning

If you’re reading this at the beginning of August, then you only have eight to ten weeks before the start of the holiday season. A top goal should be to have a long period of site stability before the holiday season rush, which means, in our opinion, a hard code freeze at least two weeks prior to Black Friday.

If you’re planning bigger changes, such as launching a new site or implementing a new ESP, make sure they’re done well in advance of the above-mentioned code freeze. If you can’t make that deadline, postpone until after the holiday season.

And if it’s not obvious, we’ll state outright: Don’t attempt to launch a new site two weeks before Black Friday!

Don’t Consolidate Risk into a Few Days

Think twice about putting all of your holiday eggs into your Cyber Monday basket. Use your marketing emails and advertising dollars to promote pre-Cyber Monday sales events, to get your customers spending on your site prior to or after the big day.

We’ve seen many of our clients do this successfully by offering incentives to shop prior to Cyber Monday. For instance, you can offer a discount for shoppers who purchase before Cyber Monday and choose a slower shipping option, or even free shipping on items if purchased before then.

This strategy ensures that your existing customers buy their gifts from you, as well as reduce the traffic load to your site on Cyber Monday.

Plan on Tried & True Traditional Tactics

Traditional tactics, such as custom landing pages and product categorization work, as long as they’re well thought out. For instance, “gifts under $100,” “stocking stuffers,” “gifts for teens,” or “gifts for her” are helpful for shoppers, and increase product discoverability.

Best selling items are also very useful, especially for shoppers who fear they don’t know what to get people on their lists.

And if you offer live chat services, consider calling them concierges and train them to suggest gifts to people who need help selecting gifts.

Plan Your Marketplace Strategy

For many consumers, all shopping begins with Amazon or some other marketplace. While we at Something Digital believe every online retailer should have a marketplace strategy all year round, it is especially important during the holiday season, given the role these sites play in product discovery.

As we mentioned in a recent block post, Is Amazon Your Competitor?, you don’t need to offer your entire catalog on a marketplace. Many brands offer their evergreen and classic styles there in order to build brand awareness, and reserve their complete catalog and newest styles for their ecommerce site. With the right merchandising strategy, a marketplace can serve as your first point of contact, and leverage those initial sales to serve as the building block for other onsite offers.

Process Planning

It’s not just your website that will be taxed this holiday season; volume will ramp up for your returns and customer service departments as well, so you should begin thinking about how you’ll handle that extra work now.

In terms of process planning for your website itself, here’s our best advice: Don’t make any changes that aren’t absolutely necessary to make. We’ve seen instances where retailers have stable code in time for the holiday rush, only to decide to implement last minute changes, such as implementing a new feature. The results are rarely good. Obviously, fix the bugs that prevent customers from discovering and buying on your site, and put off everything else until the holiday season is safely behind us.

Get Your Mobile House in Order

Consumers love their mobile devices and increasingly, they buy more of their holiday gifts on their smartphones. There’s a lot you can do to increase conversions on your mobile traffic, from making mobile payment options available, supporting social sign on, deploying auto-fill technology, among other critical tactics. All of these strategies are discussed in our recent blog post, How to Increase Conversions From Mobile Traffic.

Do you have questions about prepping for the holiday season? Let us know!

Bidding on Branded

Bidding on Branded Search Is Not Stupid

As a digital marketer, there are a few common questions that I receive whenever I first engage with a new client. When it comes to the topic of branded paid search, the conversation typically goes something like this:

Client: Should I bid on my brand terms?
LP: Yes.
Client: But why should I pay for brand terms when I already rank #1 in organic search? Won’t customers find my site through my organic SERP listing?
LP: Maybe, but why would you take the chance?

Some clients have a difficult time moving past the idea that branded paid search is a waste of money and that as long as organic is performing well, it just isn’t worthwhile. I’m here to tell you that a) this isn’t true and b) it’s time to start thinking about branded search in a more strategic way.

To start, let’s define exactly what “bidding on brand terms” means. Contrary to what some believe, it’s more involved than simply spending money on variations of your company’s name and calling it a day. When I say “brand terms” I mean any terms that are specific to or synonymous with your company. For example, the awesome female founded company Wildfang (they’re not our client – I’m just a fan) might bid on the following brand terms:

  • Wildfang
  • Wildfang.com
  • Wild feminist shirt

 

You might think, “Hey, wait a second … ‘wild feminist shirt’ is not a brand term; however, it definitely is because it’s synonymous with the brand. Product names or product categories are included when they fall under this umbrella.

 

Now that we’re on the same page when it comes to brand terms, let’s dive into the top 5 reasons (in no particular order) why you need to bid on them.

1. If you don’t, someone else will.

The space might be free of paid ads now, but if your competitors are smart, they’ll see that you aren’t bidding on your own terms and will swoop in and take advantage. If you could prevent someone from stealing your traffic (especially potential new customers), why wouldn’t you? If competitors, resellers, or affiliates are already bidding in the space, then your involvement is an absolute no-brainer. Unless you want customers to only shop at resellers, you absolutely need to buy ads to remind them that you exist and have something better to offer.

2. Brand terms are cost-effective.

They might not exactly be cheap, but they’re definitely cheaper than the broad, non-branded terms you might use for prospecting. Also, ROAS (return on ad spend) is high, sometimes netting you as much as 10-12x back on your initial investment. If you’re a new brand with a limited amount of search volume, you will probably struggle to spend money and won’t see a crazy high return at first, but clicks and conversions will start to grow as you build the brand. In this instance, branded paid search can actually act as a barometer for the success of your other strategies. If you continue to monitor it, mine your search query reports for new terms, and optimize, you will see incremental success over time.

3. You have full control over brand message.

Sure, there are organic strategies you can employ to try to control SERPs (defined meta descriptions and page titles, structured markup), but search engines don’t always abide by your wishes. Perhaps you’re running a sale that you really want to tout in your sitelinks. The sale link might show up in SERPs, but it will definitely show up in paid search if you set it as a sitelink extension. The same message holds true for landing pages. Maybe you’ve built out a really beautiful landing page for bestselling products, but you’ve noticed that organic searches don’t always direct users to it, even when it’s relevant. If you’re running branded search ads, you have the ability to control the first thing users see when they reach your site.

4. Dominating SERPs is always good.

The more listings you have, the more likely it is that a user will reach your site. If you are running shopping ads, paid search ads, and have a high-ranking organic listing, you’re in a great position. According to Moz, “searchers who see an ad may be more likely to click on an organic listing, or they may be more likely if they see a high-ranking organic listing for the same ad to click that ad.” In other words, ad presence can increase organic search click-throughs. The good news? Google charges for clicks, not impressions.

Imagine this scenario: a user sees your paid search ad at the top of the page and is then reaffirmed that your brand is legit when they also see a top-of-page organic listing. The user then clicks the organic listing and buys something on your site. While this paid search listing impression cost you nothing, it directly impacted a user’s decision to click and buy. Why wouldn’t you want this?

5. Bidding on brand terms increases overall traffic from search engines.

Everyone will tell you that spending money on ads doesn’t directly increase organic rankings, but what about indirectly? A 2012 study from Google plainly states the facts: “89% of the clicks from search ads are incremental, i.e., 89% of the visits to the advertiser’s site from ad-clicks are not replaced by organic clicks when the search ads are paused.” In other words, those people who think that they don’t need to pay for brand terms because organic search makes up the slack are wrong. You might be skeptical of a 6-year-old study, but I can tell you that I’ve experienced this behavior firsthand as recently as last month. Whenever branded paid search ads are paused, we always see a decrease in organic search. If you don’t believe me, check out this 2018 study from CPC Strategy.

If you made it to this point and are still a skeptic, all I can suggest is that you give branded search a try. Set up a campaign and run ads with a modest budget for a few months while also monitoring your organic rankings. If you don’t see a decrease in branded organic search terms after pausing paid ads, please send me an email at [email protected] and tell me how wrong I am.

Written by: Lindsay Pugh, Digital Strategist

Black Friday

Why State Tax Holidays are GREAT Marketing Opportunities

Mention state sales tax and eyes are sure to glaze over. Sure, the ins and outs of state taxes are complex (and boring). But there’s one aspect of them that’s super exciting: State Tax Holidays. And, the states themselves establish each sales tax holiday theme, so all you need to do is hitch your marketing wagon to it.

Let me explain. Most state tax holidays are tied to back-to-school, and exempt online shoppers from sales tax on basic school necessities, including clothes or computers. These tax holidays typically occur in the month leading up to the start of school. This gives you a great excuse to advertise a very specific and limited event — no sales tax on specific days — and bring customers to your store.

But back-to-school isn’t the only theme. Some states focus on other priorities that are relevant to their residents, such as hurricane preparedness (Florida, Louisiana), the start of hunting season (Louisiana), or very hot weather (Texas). These states offer sales tax-free shopping on items such generators, ammunition and energy-star air conditioners respectively.

All state tax holidays are short in duration, lasting just two to three days in most cases. All states impose limits on the types of products that can be purchased tax free, as well as spending thresholds. For a complete list of tax free holidays (dates, items covered and spending caps), click here.

How to Make State Tax Holidays Work for Your Store

Tired of generic promotions, like “Summer Sale” or “Fall Blowout”? State tax holidays are a great marketing opportunity to add a new twist to your campaigns. If, for instance, you sell school supplies to customers in say, Iowa, you can let them know that on August 3rd and 4th, they can purchase up to $100 worth of school supplies and pay no sales tax.

Other strategies:

  • Create a page with eligible items on your website by holiday.
  • Call out the state tax holiday on the product pages of eligible products.
  • Use your ad campaigns to inform eligible people of the tax free holiday, and drive them to your store.

 

Note: To ensure a positive experience, take care to target only eligible consumers. You don’t want to promote Texas’ tax exemption on A/C units to residents in Arkansas or Florida or other sweltering states.

Changing State-Tax Laws?

You may wonder what state tax holidays have to do with online retailers, since consumers don’t even pay state tax when they buy online. Don’t expect that status to last much longer. In South Dakota v. Wayfair, U.S. Supreme Court rejected the notion that collecting sales tax is too onerous for online retailers, and that South Dakota is well within its rights to require Wayfair.com to comply with state tax laws when selling to its residents. This is a new precedent set by the highest court in the land, and as our partner, Vertex explains in its June 21 blog post:

“The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair overturning the long-held Quill decision will dramatically change the landscape for online sellers when it comes to sales tax. It’s likely that the states will now increase their efforts to collect sales tax on online sales.”

This means you face a more complex future.

A Word on Vertex

If you don’t have tax software, Something Digital recommends Vertex, which is built into Magento as of version 2.2.5. Vertex streamlines the complexity of state’s sales tax (which you may be required to collect as a result of South Dakota v. Wayfair).

And complex it is! Consider that sales tax laws differ from state to state, county to county, and even ZIP code to ZIP code. In fact, sale tax laws can even differ within a given ZIP code as townships and towns can tax the same item differently. Classic example: depending on where you live, a Snickers bar may be taxable, but not so a Twix bar. Why? Because Snickers is technically a candy bar, whereas Twix is technically a cookie, and may be subjected to different tax structures. The right tax software, such as Vertex, can handle all that complexity on your behalf, and ensure you’re in compliance with all sale tax laws, regardless of where your end customer resides.

If you have questions about tax let SD know!

 

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Strategies for Amazon

6 Strategies to Boost Sales this Amazon Prime Day

Amazon Prime Day begins at 3:00 PM this July 16, and promises to be an “epic day and a half” of exclusive deals, exclusively for Amazon Prime shoppers. Whatever you’re into, Amazon assures its customers, you can find it at a great price this Prime Day.  Explore Something Digital’s six strategies on how to boost sales during this “epic day”.

Launched in 2015 to celebrate its 20th anniversary, Amazon’s goal is to make Prime Day the biggest shopping event of the year, topping even Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Though not quite there yet, Prime Day has generated impressive sales volume:

  • Sales in Billions of U.S. Dollars
    • 2015 – 0.9
    • 2016 – 1.52
    • 2017 – 2.41

 

Why You Should Care About Prime Day

Many retailers prefer to sit out Prime Day, considering it a manufactured holiday for selling stuff no one wants to buy (sales revenue in the billions prove otherwise). Besides, why should retailers participate in an event meant to benefit Amazon?

Here’s why you should care: The data show that customers who buy from a retail brand via multiple channels have stronger loyalty and higher lifetime value (LTV). You likely have many customers who are avid Amazon shoppers, which means Prime Day is a great way to strengthen your omni-channel marketing strategies. You can drive cross-channel purchase behavior by sending them emails or social messages promoting exclusive Prime Day deals. And not for nothing, 51% of all Amazon sales go to third-party marketplace sellers.

Moreover, other retailers, including Walmart, eBay, Microsoft  and Best Buy are likely to get in the game, offering enticing sales strategies as part of their Current Deals programs. In other words, consumers will be primed to shop, and are likely to go online in search of a wide array of items, and you won’t want to miss out.

Here are 6 strategies to consider to help you make the most of this Prime Day:

#1: Offer items you want to move and that are easy impulse buys

Prime Day is impulse-buy central, with shoppers purchasing high volumes of stuff they never knew they wanted. This means you don’t need to offer your top selling or evergreen products on Prime Day; ancillary products are a great option. For instance, a shoe manufacturer once racked up Prime Day sales by offering exclusive deals across a huge selection of shoelaces. No one goes online for the express purpose of purchasing shoelaces, but when presented with a dazzling array of colors and styles in the feed, the impulse to buy is strong.

Prime Day is also a great way to move inventory in order to make way for new products (e.g. offer exclusive discount on swimwear so you can stock up on winter hats).

#2: Get Into Amazon Deals

Amazon Deals are essential to Prime Day, and getting your products into any one of them can send your sales through the roof. Amazon offers many deal options — Deal of the Day, Lightning Deals, Savings and Sales, and Coupons. If you haven’t yet applied to be included in Deal of the Day, do so immediately.

Lightning Deals (i.e. deals on items that last a short duration and are limited to one per customer) are a now a consumer sport, with numerous shopping blogs offering tips on how to snag them. To participate in a Lightning Deal, you and your products must meet these Amazon criteria:

  • Have a sales history and at least a 3-star rating on Amazon
  • Include as many variations as possible
  • Not a restricted product or offensive, embarrassing or inappropriate product
  • Prime eligible in all states, including Puerto Rico
  • New Condition

 

#3: Use Sponsored Products to Your Advantage

Sponsored Products is Amazon’s PPC advertising service that helps sellers promote the products they list on Amazon. You select the products you want to advertise, assign them keywords and enter a cost-per-click bid. Then, when an Amazon shopper searches for one of your keywords, your ad is eligible for display alongside the search results. You’re charged only when an Amazon shopper clicks your ad, at which point the shopper is taken to your product details page.

If you carefully target Sponsored Products properly, and are thoughtful about your audience and your product assortment, you’ll find the tactic quite rewarding.

We experienced a great example of the power of Sponsored Products first hand when searching for a hydration vest for trail running on Amazon Prime. A product was listed for $150 (a bit high), but fortunately three competing products were listed in the feed as Sponsored Products. Although none of these products were Prime eligible, meaning they wouldn’t arrive within two days, they were $100 cheaper, and well worth the extra wait to receive the vest.

#4: Gift Cards

Gift cards are huge on Amazon and Prime customers are eager to get gift cards packs at a discount. You can leverage this impulse to encourage more omni-channel behavior, which, as we discussed above, promotes loyalty and higher LTV. For instance, you can offer a Prime Day deal of a discounted pack of gift cards that are redeemable on your own site.

#5: Gain Product Exposure via Headline Search Ads

With tens of millions of shoppers heading to Amazon this Prime Day, you have an opportunity to gain significant brand exposure, and Headline Search Ads are the perfect vehicle to help you do just that.

These ads, which appear in the search results on both desktop and mobile, feature multiple product listings of your choice, along with your logo and a headline. When customers click on your ad, they’re taken to a custom page with three or more items. If they click on a specific item listed in your ad, they’re taken directly to that product’s details page.

#6: Run Promotions on your Own Site

In the spirit of promoting omni-channel behavior (read: higher LTV), consider alerting your own website visitors to your exclusive deals for Amazon Prime Day.

This is also a good way to capture consumers who aren’t your customers, but who have been eyeing a product of yours and are wondering if you’ll offer it via a Prime Day deal.

In Conclusion

Amazon Prime Day may be a manufactured shopping holiday, but it’s catching on fast among consumers. Coming six full months before the holiday season, Prime Day may ultimately help retailers turn a profit before Black Friday rolls around. For this reason alone it’s worth taking the time to create and implement Prime Day strategies.