We just took the cover off a project that has been under wraps for a while now… a complete re-design of the leading security industry conference's website, rsaconference.com!
In the coming weeks on the iMarc blog, you'll be reading more about how the new site was planned, tested, designed, and built.
Before starting part 1 of the 4-part series on building RSAconference.com, I’ll let our project sponsor speak for himself:
“RSA® Conference helps drive the global information security agenda and provides a 360-degree view of the security industry. We selected iMarc as our partner to redesign the RSA Conference site to drive registration, engage users year-round, and better promote our online content. Through great collaboration the team excelled and delivered an exceptional, user-centric and responsive site, optimized for mobile devices.”
—Craig Hansen, Senior Web Technology Manager
So how do you redesign the face of the conference, with dozens of content contributors, outside vendors and service providers, multiple points of technical integration, stringent uptime requirements, and a long-established brand identity that must be adapted into a responsive, mobile-friendly design? And oh, by the way, it's a security site so it will be attacked by hackers…
Craig's team of dedicated pros were instrumental to the project success. A project this big doesn't happen in a vacuum; the RSA Conference team was on-point, on-time, insightful, constructive in every way, and open to anything at all! My hat's off to RSA Conference: they are fantastic collaborators.
Okay, ready? Let's descend into the depths of the project…
Part 1: Strategy
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” —Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Before you can solve a problem, you must understand it. So, of course, the first step of any project is learning. Appropriately enough, the 2013 conference theme is Security in Knowledge.
What are the goals?
"If everything is important, then nothing is." ―Patrick Lencioni
To succeed, you must focus your energies on the core things that matter most. This entails making decisions, and saying “no” to some things. This allows you to say “yes” to the ones that matter.
We've found that a very good way to help our clients prioritize their goals is to conduct a card sort exercise. Often used to organize existing content, a closed sort methodology is well suited to organize and prioritize goals and audiences as well.
The real value is not in the results themselves, but in the process of getting to them. All the client team members gather around a table. A stack of cards, with one goal written on each, is distributed among the team. We ask them to place each card into a priority grouping: Top, High, Medium, Low. To add a bit of discipline, only three can be Top Priority.
And then we stand back. The client team lays out each card, talks about it, and decides where to put it. Occasionally they create a new card, or remove an irrelevant card. As they talk, they create a consensus they can agree on, flush out disagreements, and resolve them. And, as they free associate ideas and chat, we learn countless facts and tidbits that would otherwise be undiscovered. The conversation informs our explorations and decisions as we move forward.
(For the curious: top goals were to improve the user experience, grow year-round engagement, and improve natural SEO. Surfacing RSA Conference's great-but-buried content was a key element for all of these. It's a cliché, but content is king!)
That's just a starting point. Many other activities followed, including…
- Assessing current site content, usability and technical infrastructure
- Auditing current content, origination, staffing and publication processes
- Interviewing internal stakeholders and contributors
- Conducting competitive benchmarking and audience analysis
- Creating user personas
- Conducting a user survey of attendees
- Analyzing current web traffic
- Identifying integration points
- Analyzing current search engine performance
The Discovery Report
Our deliverable at the end of the discovery process is the discovery report: a document which catalogs and summarizes research in a way that is easy to understand.
Through the rest of the project, it was used as a touchstone to look back on and vet decisions. It's also useful for quickly onboarding members of the development and production team, and new contributors on the client team.
Site maps, wireframes, and specs, oh my!
“Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.” —Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Having spent weeks learning, we were prepared to create the documents defining the new site.
There's a lot of iteration. We went through 16 versions of the site map, which describes content and navigation, making changes based on testing it with tools suck as TreeJack and based on our evolving plans for the site.
Wireframes define key page layouts, content and functions. These required fewer revisions, thanks to extensive and collaborative benchmarking with the RSA Conference team. We identified many best practices and sketched out ideas in meetings before ever opening a drawing app.
Finally, with site maps, wireframes, discovery findings and plenty of conversation under our belt, we could create the Production Specification — the blueprint for the new site.
The Production Spec defines every point of integration, every page, every content tool, every user interaction. It sounds like a waterfall process, and at this stage, it is. We'll test it (more on that in Part 2, including our work at the conference itself in San Francisco), and based on that we'll make changes as we do design (coming in Part 3), and during development, the engineers adapt and change the site as needed in a very agile fashion (Part 4).
In other words, plans change. But plans there must be.
# # #
Want to know more about iMarc's strategy process? Check out our Strategy Handbook, which documents our processes and deliverables. We've published it under the Creative Commons 2.0 (BY-SA) license, so you are welcome to borrow from it.
These are not the users you're looking for…
He can go about his business … Move along.
We're excited to return to the E2 Conference in Boston next week. Last year, we met a lot of forward-thinking business leaders and had some great conversations around web and mobile strategies for enterprises. We even forged new partnerships from our experience at the conference and cannot wait to attend again this year for more exchanges and connections.
This year, members of the iMarc team will be taking in sessions around user experience and mobile applications. Be sure to follow @imarcllc on Twitter for updates from these tracks. You can also find us at Pod 10 featuring our recent applications and designs, and demonstrating our mobile and web platforms. The iMarc business development team will also be available to chat, and are eager to discuss new digital strategies for providing exceptional user experience and building brand equity. One lucky E2 attendee who stops by our Pod will also win an iPad Mini; don't miss your chance to enter!
If you are in the Boston metro this Tuesday or Wednesday, use iMarc's Priority Code CMIMARC to register for a FREE pass to the exhibit hall (http://www.e2conf.com/boston/). Then, stop by the iMarc Pod and say hello! We'll be ready to start planning your next project.
I'm not a fan of CAPTCHAs, those mangled-text tests of your humanity. They make life easier on website owners at the cost of making life miserable for users.
But the spammers, do they care? Nope. So CAPTCHAs, it seems, remain a necessary evil.
But now there are CAPTCHAs that don't make life horrible for the user. Some are downright fun. Here are a few of my favorites.
How Many Kittens?
This simple, custom CAPTCHA used by PowerMax's online store takes advantage of the fact that spammers focus on attacking the common CAPTCHA systems. A single website's custom, one-off CAPTCHA isn't worth creating an attack script, even when it's as ludicrously simple as this one.
A common plug-in is a good candidate for attackers to script attacks. Solution? Use your own custom images, instead of stock ones. Jordan Kasper's simpleCaptcha jQuery plug-in makes this easy. Get the source at Github.
This one's novel: Are You A Human's PlayThru uses simple, interactive games instead. Since it's SaaS, the company has funds to continuously develop new games to stay resistant to bot attack. And if you pony up a few bucks, you can create your own custom branded games. Now this, my friend, is gamification as it was meant to be.
Chase Jarvis once said that the best camera is the one you have with
you. Given the advent of smartphones and their built in cameras,
nearly everyone has the ability to take a picture at any given
moment. Couple that convenience and portability with social sharing
and creative filtering, and you've got millions of new photographers
creating art and learning basic principles of the craft. However,
even an amateur photographer using their phone casually will
inevitably begin to wonder what else is out there and how they can
get started down the path towards becoming a more professional photographer with a more appropriate camera to take better pictures.
I need to be careful here about using words like "amateur",
"professional", and "better". I also need to apologize in advance
for using so many "air quotes" in this particular post. Let me first say
that I cringe
whenever I hear people speak in an elitist manner about photography
and gear, especially when it comes down to the end result of the
photos captured. The word "amateur" has a poor connotation that we
need to discuss. If you took Latin or French, you'll remember that
the root meaning of "amateur" merely denotes the "love" of
something, not inexperience as it has become synonymous with in modern times.
Photography is so closely tied to art that you have to change how
you define a "good" photo. Granted there are "rules" that one can
take when shooting to ensure proper exposure and composition, the
best photographs are the ones that stay with you personally and
emotionally. I've never heard anyone say they like a photo because
of the composition alone, or only because the exposure was perfect.
subject and tone are what ultimately matter when shooting and
reviewing photographs. Of course, a
"professional" will generally have more expensive gear and
experience, but even they may not share the same vision and
enthusiasm as someone with modest equipment. Maybe you're in love
with the act of taking pictures, but aren't always impressed with your
results and the technical quality of your photos. Perhaps you're
enjoying taking photos on your smartphone or point and shoot but don't
see the merit in stepping up your game a bit. Here are some benefits
you'll gain from making the jump to a DSLR.
To really understand why a DSLR will give you creative freedom over your
smartphone, we first have to understand exposure. This simply means the
amount of light allowed to fall on the camera's sensor based on the
control we have over said light.
There are three main components to
The size of the "hole" we allow the light to pass through as it hits the
sensor. This is extremely important and can be tough to understand when
getting started in photography. All you need to know now is that the
larger the hole, the more light we allow in, and the quicker we can
achieve the proper exposure. Conversely, the smaller the aperture, the
longer it takes to gather the necessary light. Things start to get
complicated when you add the fact that as our aperture gets larger, our
depth of field, or cross-section of the photo that is in focus, becomes
less deep. As we reduce the size of our aperture, you guessed it; our
depth of field becomes wider and more of our photo will be in focus.
This control is one of the key differences between smartphones and most other
cameras. The variable control we gain with a DSLR is not available to us
on a camera phone, as they have "fixed" apertures. Although good
smartphone cameras don't have terrible specs when it comes to aperture
size, control of our aperture gives us the freedom to take creative
liberties with our photos.
This is the duration we allow light to hit our sensor. The faster the
shutter speed, the easier it is to "stop" motion. Similarly, the longer
we leave the shutter open, the more we see the effects of motion in our
pictures. However, as is the case in many poor smartphone photos, these
longer durations are what make photos look blurry. Our hands and arms
move, our subjects move, and we miss moments. Even at speeds that sound
fast, 1/20th or 1/40th of a second, we'll almost always get blurry
results. Smartphone cameras choose shutter speeds automatically based on
the amount of available light and the fixed aperture setting. The sequence below was taken with various shutter speeds while shooting a rolling car to highlight the stopping power of a fast shutter.
brighter the scene, the faster the sensor will be able to gather the
light, and the camera will be able to use a faster shutter speed. On the
other end of this spectrum, dimly lit rooms and shots at night require
much more time to expose the sensor, and we're more likely to be left
with blurry pics. In these night shots especially, you'll start to see
some "noise", or colorful pixels that generally detract from your
photos. This is all tied in with the third area of exposure - ISO.
This third variable deals with the sensitivity of your camera's sensor
to light. When plenty of light is available to us, our sensor doesn't
have to guess or amplify light to provide a nice image. However, in
darker situations, the need to amplify the electronic signal to gather
light introduces unwanted noise - not unlike a microphone at a concert.
ISO numbers typically range from 100 all the way up to 3200 on the iPhone 5, and even higher on high end DSLRs. The higher the number, the more amplification and the more noise you'll see. With smartphones, since we don't have the ability to
"open up" our aperture to gather more light, and if we can't slow down
our shutter to collect the necessary light, the ISO must therefore be
increased, generally resulting in noisy and poor quality images. Of course, we can
take noisy pictures with a DSLR as well, but the expanded control we're afforded allows us to avoid this scenario.
Understanding how these three aspects of exposure work and interact
together is the key to being a technically proficient and confident photographer. Playing and experimenting with these
controls is the greatest benefit of using a DSLR over a smartphone. As
with all creative endeavors, control, possibilities, and options are
key. Control allows you to express your vision without compromise. At
the risk of getting too deep here, loss of controls and variables can often be
beneficial to creative types. Limitations force us to explore
alternate methods and tricks to achieve unique results.
Additional Benefits of DSLRs
Beyond the control you gain from manipulating all aspects of exposure, a
DSLR will also allow you to change lenses as necessary. Most entry
level kits provide a standard zoom lens, which will allow you to
photograph a wide variety of subjects. From there, you could choose to
buy an additional lenses depending on what you enjoy shooting or to
assist with tricky shooting situations. For example, one of my favorite
lenses is actually very inexpensive: a 50mm f/1.8. The number followed
by the f denotes the lens's aperture. The lower the number, the larger
the hole for the light to pass through, the faster we can gather light,
and the shallower the depth of field becomes; which is generally a very
pleasing look for portraits. The 50mm focal length is very close to what
the human eye sees, meaning your shots will feel very natural and true
to life. If you want to gain additional reach, your next lens could be a
telephoto zoom lens. An affordable and versatile option would be the
75-300mm f/4-5.6 lens. Between this, the 50mm, and a typical 18mm - 55mm
kit lens, you'll have incredible flexibility. Something important to
keep in mind is that "zooming" done on your smartphone is digital zoom,
which ultimately degrades the image quality and is the equivalent of
enlarging and cropping a file on your computer. Optical zoom through
lenses is a far superior way of bringing the action closer, resulting in
a crisper image.
A RAW file taken from a DSLR contains more data that a flat .jpg file
shot from a smartphone. These files are far more forgiving, even
allowing us to lighten or darken an image's exposure without degrading
its quality. As much as we all love Instagram filters, even the
greatest effect can't bring back an overexposed image back to life.
Sure, smartphones come equipped with a small LED flash, but these pale
in comparison to the flash you'll find built in to most entry level DSLR
kits. Taking this one step further, you can choose to add an external
flash or "speedlight" to your camera to really illuminate the scene.
Learning how to tame and modify light is critical to taking great
pictures, and I'd actually advise against going too flash crazy when
first learning how to wield your new camera. Think of your on camera
flash the same way you do an oxygen mask on an airplane: it's good to
know it's there, but you hope you don't have reason to use it.
I've always hated trying to focus on my subject with a smartphone. Auto
focus is always too slow, and as great as the concept of tap to focus
is, I've been spoiled by the robust focusing systems built in to DSLRs.
Smartphone cameras use contrast detection to discern what is crisp,
while a DSLR uses multiple focus points and projected infrared grids to
gather information about the distance and position of subjects. Although
I don't use it often, I also really appreciate the ability to manually
focus on what I'm shooting. Removing the technological assistance can be
uncomfortable at times, but is ultimately very empowering to be in
complete control of what is in focus. Lastly, a quick auto focus system,
or skilled manual focusing, cuts down on the time between seeing
something worthy of shooting, and taking the actual shot. I can't think
of anything worse than missing a smile or glance from a subject because I
had to wait for my smartphone to clumsily detect what I was trying to
shoot. Second to that frustration is trying to gauge what I'm looking at
on my smartphone's LCD on a blazing sunny day.
Image size and quality
Quality over quantity doesn't just apply to the photos you take and the
lenses you own; it is also a great way of understanding megapixels and
the images you shoot. Although most smartphones boast cameras with 6, 8,
16 and even 41 megapixels, this doesn't mean a whole lot unless they're
pixels. Sensor size means a lot when talking about the quality of pixels and how they're interpreted. A typical smartphone camera sensor is about the size of a Tic-Tac mint, while an entry level DSLR has a sensor closer to the size of a normal postage stamp. Both cameras could offer you a 16 megapixel file, but the larger sensor can more accurately translate what it has seen because the "pixel density" is closer to a 1:1 ratio.
What should I buy?
Without going too in-depth about the merits of every camera released in the last ten years, all I'll say is that you don't need the newest camera on the market to learn and practice photography. In fact, I suggest the opposite; buy the most affordable yet capable DSLR kit you can get your hands on. Don't be afraid to buy a used or refurbished camera, or even one that is a few years old. With the exception of minor enhancements and video features, most entry level cameras haven't improved by leaps and bounds that would matter to someone just starting out. One of my favorite cameras to carry around on a day out is an 8 year old, 8 megapixel Canon that I don't need to worry too much about dropping and abusing. Save your money for an additional "fast" lens, like the 50mm f/1.8 I mentioned earlier. Both Canon and Nikon offer this lens for less than $120. Mine is nearly 10 years old and works as well now as the day I bought it! The most important thing is to buy something you're comfortable with and get out there!
I'm sure that nobody reading this is pretending that their smartphone
can take a better picture (technically speaking) than a DSLR, and it
shouldn't be expected to (yet). Hopefully this post has shed a little
light on the subject of making the exploratory jump to a DSLR if you're
really enjoying the freedom and creativity that your smartphone camera
has afforded you. In the end, the best camera is the one you have with
you, so why not try carrying a better camera with you wherever you go?
Personally, I've had a long time love of photography, and I hope that
anyone trying to flex their creative and artistic chops will take the
leap to photographing with a camera that will best serve their passion.
I've intended this post to be just one in a series of helpful photography lessons. I look forward to exploring more on controlling exposure and thinking differently about how you shoot pictures. The more you understand how your camera functions, the easier it becomes to take great pictures. Thanks for reading!
We have just returned from the NESHCo Conference where we had a really
great time and met a lot of smart healthcare marketers. The sessions
were fantastic, one of which was a panel discussing the impact that the
Boston Marathon Bombing had on some of the hospitals in Boston. Overall,
attendees found it incredibly moving.
We had a lot of great
conversations and we really welcomed the opportunity to share with
others our work for Anna Jaques Hospital. Through an amazing
collaboration with our client we were able to plan, design, and deliver
an award-winning website that took the honors of a Silver Lamplighter Award!
We couldn't be more proud of the work we have done with Anna Jaques Hospital and our other healthcare clients. For more information about our healthcare experience or if you are wondering if your website needs a check-up, visit: www.imarc.net/hospital for helpful tips, best practices, and an RFP template!
We're busy getting ready for the New England Society for Healthcare Communications (NESHCo) conference next week in lovely Newport, RI to demonstrate the latest work we've done in healthcare. It's our first time attending the event, so we decided to make a splash by developing some helpful resources for healthcare communication professionals that cover best practices in healthcare marketing on the web. These resources include:
- A quick survey to evaluate your website's health
- A downloadable website redesign RFP template
- A checklist for writing a great website redesign RFP
You can check out these helpful tools at http://www.imarc.net/hospital.
We look forward to kicking off the conference on Sunday with fellow attendees from across New England by touring the historic mansions of Newport. You can then find Katie Desmond and I in the exhibit hall on Monday, May 20 and Tuesday, May 21. If you are attending, be sure to stop by our booth for a chance to win an iPad Mini that we will be giving away! Katie and I will also be available to start exploring your next website or mobile project.
If you're a healthcare communicator unable to travel to Newport next week, be sure to follow @imarcllc on Twitter for great insight from the conference.
One of the best messages I get to deliver to our clients start with, "Your website is an award-winner!"
Our team now has the honor to share with three of our clients the 2013 Communicator Award of Distinction, as well as celebrate the recognition we received for the successful launch of iMarc's new website last Fall.
The Communicator Awards is the leading international awards program honoring the creative excellence for communication professionals. This year, over 6,000 entries were judged by the International Academy of the Visual Arts (IAVA).
We're thrilled to share these awards with our deserving clients. The accolades represent our commitment to excellence across all industries.
"We're excited to be recognized for the quality of work we delivered for our clients this past year. We also put a lot of work into developing a best in class website as we redesigned our own and appreciate the nod we've received from the IAVA. It's great to see our hard work pay off!" - Nick Grant, VP, Director of Operations
I've been tracking mobile stats for years, both within the smartphone market, and as a proportion of overall use.
I've recently gone through the analytics for our active clients, and mobile use is very high — 9.6% of traffic. But there is huge variation by industry, with B2B on the low end and cultural organizations and consumer at the high end.
I'll save you 931 more words with this chart:
(Still no answer to why there's no 7" tablet traffic to speak of; in March we saw a few Galaxy Tab 7's, a couple Kindle Fires, an Asus Transformer, and that's about it. Nothing compared to the sheer number of iPads. Ping @imarcllc if you have any intel.)
This afternoon, iMarc will be observing with the rest of Massachusetts a moment of silence to honor the Boston Marathon victims and their families. It's difficult to comprehend that our backyard metropolitan was rocked just a week ago by tragedy during one of the most prestigious and historic competitions in the world. I had personally just been to the race expo at the Hynes Convention Center that prior weekend and traveled down on race day to cheer along the course route outside of the city in Framingham at the 7-mile marker. I was safely back in Newburyport by the time reports came streaming in from the media, and turned my attention to checking in and accounting for those known to be in Boston for the race.
As shocking as last Monday was, the events that unfolded over the week were just as incomprehensible. I personally was in London for a very exciting business meeting by the time Friday rolled around and, with the five hour time difference, was aware of everything being reported back home before many in my circles had even woken up to hear news that the city had been shut down and a manhunt was underway.
London showed Boston so much spirit and support, it was moving to witness during my time there. Friday was a tense day overseas for me as I tried to keep abreast of what was unfolding back home while taking in Big Ben, the London Eye, and Westminster Abbey. Anytime I mentioned to someone that I hailed from the Boston area, I was given thoughtful condolences and words of encouragement that, just as London had in 2005, Bostonians would prevail.
I was so happy and relieved to see the London Marathon on Sunday turn out to be a huge success. The outpouring of support and remembrance turned this marathon into the perfect celebration of human perseverance. Running 26.2 miles is always a test of strength, but doing so after a tragedy the magnitude of Boston sends an amazing message to the world. There was one banner I saw in London that truly moved me: "Run if you can. Walk if you must. But finish for Boston." That meant a lot. London will forever solidify a place in my heart for being so kind and respectful in paying tribute to my home's strength.
Thank you London & Love you Boston.
We have arrived at the LMA Conference here in Las Vegas and as the New Kid in Town, we are really having a fabulous time and meeting a lot of great people. As part of our experience, we are getting a lot of questions about specific topics that impact the Legal Market. We have collected some of our most relevant blog posts to help guide our colleagues through the legal marketing world.
- A lot of people that we have talked to have recently updated their site within the past 2-3 years but are wondering with some of the changes on the market if its time to revisit it. This post will help answer that question: Signs it's Time to Update Your Site Pronto.
- We are really proud of the work we have accomplished for Wilson Elser, check out what made the project so successful: Three C's to Site Launch Celebration - Congrats Wilson Elser!
- Social Media is a big question as a lot of firms are just starting to dabble in it, these two posts will help set you on your way: Extending Your Brand on Social Media and LinkedIn Company Page Pointers.
- Blogging is another important component of B2B sites, but Should your B2B site have blog comments?
For more smart marketing tips and to learn more about our experience, please stop by our Booth #326 for more advice! And who knows you may just even win an iPad mini!