Top 10 things our clients have been talking about in 2013

Bloggers just love ‘prediction’ articles because they generate lots of traffic and interest, as we all look to gaze and plan into the year that will be: articles that try to predict the next big things to prepare for and look forward to.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure what shirt I’ll wear tomorrow - let alone when websites will (yet again) let us smell products before we buy – so don’t ask me for predictions.

What I can offer however is hindsight, having worked on some amazing projects with some great clients through 2013.

And with the benefit of that hindsight, here are the top 10 things my clients are talking about.

And the five things thankfully they’re not.


1. Speed

OK, so speed isn’t the latest, hottest topic or trend, though speed has finally hit the mainstream. My clients are starting to look up from their keyboards and delegating responsibility for making their websites fast.

Which of course presupposes that clients now understand the importance of website speed, and in increasing numbers, they are.

Speed has a direct correlation to website performance (i.e. conversion rate) and making a website faster will immediately translate into greater sales. Literally.

And it’s not only users that penalise websites that are slow by bailing from these websites, it’s Google too: Google does not rate slow websites at all.

I wrote last year that speed was the new ‘king’ when it came to websites, but that having said this, the issue in clients (and indeed among web developers) was that nobody owned speed: nobody was responsible for thinking about it and so it rarely got thought about.

At the end of 2013, I’m still not sure that anyone exactly owns it, though there is certainly awareness and worry about it. (I dread clients going to web conferences because they come back armed with all sorts of stats and questions about website speed!)

Which of course means that with all this client awareness of the topic, speed is no longer king: it is just a given.


2. Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping is essentially mapping the journeys your customers have across your different channels and funnels.

Customer Journey Maps let you see the different pathways your customers can and do take, the time and difficulty of each interaction and where your different channels might be in conflict with each other; e.g. call centre says one thing, website says another.

A whole bunch of concepts such as ‘design the gaps’ have sprung up, mantras and methodologies that help clients actually do something once they have the data and visualisations to know what is going on. As people get their heads more and more around Customer Journey Mapping, what it is and what benefits it can offer, no doubt these mantras and methodologies will grow in number.

Ditto the different shapes and sizes these Customer Journey Maps comes in, with different web development agencies and in-house teams improving and improving on the visualisation of their data, much in the same way that analytics more generally have become more visual over the years.

I should also note that as a by-product of Customer Journey Mapping, I am seeing much more of a focus on website user journey mapping more generally and indeed, we have started to overlay user journeys onto our prototypes.

It is mainly clients in finance, insurance and retail that are becoming concerned with Customer Journey Mapping, though this will of course grow over time to any business with marketing, apps and a call centre.


3. The Call Centre

The call centre is dead. Long live the call centre.

Well who would have thunk it? That expensive, to-be-outsourced, surely-its-time-is-over call centre is well and truly back in vogue and for two good reasons.

Which is not to say that the call centre hasn’t always been in vogue for certain clients and industries (e.g. insurance), though looking back across 2013 and what our clients have been talking about, the ‘call centre’ is becoming much more of a mainstream discussion.

The first reason the call centre is back is all around ‘conversion’. The conversion rates of call centres smash even the most optimised websites, hands down.

As a life insurance client put it to me some years back, ‘people don’t buy life insurance, they’re sold life insurance.’

And it’s true across the line: as a friend pointed out to me a little while back, nobody switches their electricity account online, though if an 18-year old backpacker calls you, there is a pretty good chance you’ll be switching in minutes.

Commensurate to say, if you have a call centre and you see the merit in engaging it as part of your strategy, you need to consider two important factors:

  • You need to tell your online users to pick up the phone and may well have to incentivise them to do so; e.g. why would I pick-up the phone if I am already on the car rental website checking our prices? As an example, if I were offered a free upgrade on bookings over three days, then perhaps I would pick up the phone?

  • You need to make sure that online transactions are easily transferred to call centre. Think back to Customer Journey Mapping and if you have a drop-off of information between the customer picking up the phone, you’ll be doing yourself unnecessary damage by frustrating your customer.

The second reason however for why the call centre is back in vogue, is for an entirely different reason.

Your call centre is talking to your customers all day, every day: they’re answering questions.

Which means they know what your customers are thinking and wondering and needing. Which in turn, should help you understand the shape of your website and the content you need to be investing in.

Indeed, before we engage in working with a client on content planning or designing an infographic, the first thing we do is get the top 10 or 20 questions asked of the call centre.

I was most impressed by a financial services client for whom we have recently designed a new and quite interactive mega-nav (menu). The navigation, the links and the information offered to users is not based around the traditional, underlying website architecture. No, that would be boring and it isn’t what users were ‘asking for’.

Instead, the entire navigation and mega-nav is based around questions customers have of call centre.

And of course you guessed it, the mega-nav is working really, really well.

I appreciate that sophisticated retailers and businesses have seen the value in call centre for much longer than I am giving credit; but the call centre makes my 2013 list because it is those clients that aren’t so sophisticated, whose ears starting to prick up in 2013 about the topic of the call centre.


4. Responsive Design

I’m a bit bored about writing about responsive design; it’s starting to become the new ‘don’t build your website in Flash’.

Nonetheless, the push into responsive design, the knowledge of the responsive design topic and the willingness by clients to invest in responsive design is admirable.

I won’t labour the reasons for designing your website responsively because this has been done ad nauseum.

What I will say is that we’re really starting to see the numbers and ROI from the investment in responsive design by some of our clients and they’re damn impressive.

True story: one of our retail clients redesigned their menus to be responsive and optimised for tablet: a small move you might say in light of what they could ultimately do. Sure, a small move, though not so small to see literally an immediate doubling in sales on tablet devices.

All for an even smaller investment.

And as bored as I am with responsive design, some clients are now designing for different handset types based on analytics and what they're seeing. Indeed, rather than picking a device to start with and building out from there, we are designing for all three key interface sizes. 

Responsive has brought problems and plenty of new opportunities at the same time. We're onto the next version of responsive design and the next 12 months will be amazing to observe as we tailor experiences to devices and screen sizes.


5. Analytics, data, A/B Testing and continued optimisation

I must stress – indeed amongst all of the points in this blog – that I talk aggregately when I refer to clients and their hot topics for 2013.

I would never dream of suggesting that sophisticated retailers – the Amazons, Kogans and Catch of the Days of this world – are not more than well behind the eight balls of most of the trends and technologies I write of today. They are.

But most businesses – in most industries – are not sophisticated. Sure, the finance and insurance industries are generally ahead of the bell-curve though even then, we’re really only talking the big four banks and the cunning challenger-brand insurers.

I make my general observations about the sophistication of clients, because it almost feels silly to be writing the following: only now, at the front door of 2014 are clients starting to take analytics seriously.

Yes, unfortunately, it’s true.

Like speed and that challenge of who ‘owns’ speed, analytics has traditionally not had an owner or the right owner. Analytics fell to the marketing department though the marketing department didn’t have the right skills or mandate to do anything useful with the analytics.

It wasn’t their fault.

Analytics are about analysis so you need analysts who get it. Not marketers. But for a long-time, nobody knew this – after all, nobody knew what could be drawn from analytics and so didn’t think to engage an analyst in the first place. Worse, few web developers have traditionally understood or promoted the power of analytics to the clients because – you guessed it – web developers are not analysts either.

They just don’t know.

But things are changing:

  • Management is asking for numbers and putting pressure on web teams.

  • Web teams are becoming more sophisticated, broader and will increasingly have access to an analyst.

  • Analytics and the way that they are reporting and visualised has become much better. Heat mapping tools and A/B Testing tools offer easily-understood insight into what is happening on a website.

  • People (analysts) are really getting their head around tools such as Google Analytics and the power these tools can hold; get someone to tell you about the capabilities of the Google Analytics API and you’ll see what I mean. Business Intelligent (BI), ‘data cubes’ and pivot tables are now mainstream in web teams.

  • We now have a plethora of tools such as Qualaroo, and Treejack to allow us to inexpensively test, understand and respond to users and how they’re using our websites.


From this, clients are started to respond.

Clients are starting to make decisions based on the qualitative and quantitative data we’re collecting. Clients are starting to make these decisions more frequently and at the right time: before they start a redesign, before they change their architecture, before they adjust the settings of live chat.

Web developers such as myself are also becoming much more proactive because we know we need to be, for several altruisticas well as self-serving reasons: it leads to more business!

A/B Split Testing is becoming seriously mainstream and there are plenty of – sometimes too slow – tools that allow clients to quickly and by themselves, started testing. This is awesome. Look back two years back, and this was inconceivable.

Talking on the topic of analytics, I’d love to have added that ‘Session Replay’ technologies had made the list for 2013, though Session Replay technology not on the radar of many clients just yet.

I suspect however, that if the ‘analytics and optimisation’ trend continues, Session Replay technologies will definitely make the list for 2014.


6. MVP and Program Lifecycles

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is certainly a bit of a rage among clients, albeit interpreted and applied as a different variant to the traditional, startup MVP concept made popular by Dropbox and the like.

Briefly, MVP means developing the minimum that needs to be developed, both to keep budgets to a minimum as well as to test and evolve as feedback comes in from users.

The reason I say that our clients are adopting a different variant of MVP to the startup variant is simply because few of our clients are Silicon Valley garage-based startups: they’re established businesses with established brands and customers. Rightly or wrongly, the status quo for established clients is to scope, test, refine and launch polished features with as little disruption to users and customers as possible.

But that is not to say that MVP or the variant most of my clients are adopting isn’t a good thing or beneficial.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is that some clients are talking about wanting to ‘fail’; they’re launching polished experiences, though they’re small experiences. Clients are then learning from what has worked and not worked and are then iterating and improving. They’re almost being ‘agile’, though in the traditional sense of the word, not the overdone development sense of the word!

The second is around budgets. MVP – or whatever rough notion exists of it in the minds of clients – is keeping people focused on budgets: both assigning budget and doing what is necessary to meet budget.

Of course clients have always talked about budget and money, though the MVP concept has brought the conversion not only earlier in the project, though it has made the conversation more rationale as well. Could be just me, though MVP seems to be strengthening the partnership and transparency between client and agency, with a collective want to make the budget fit without ugly surprises and fights.

I dunno, maybe it’s just me though MVP is a good thing for everyone, however it has been interpreted. 


7. Google and what the hell is going on?!

On almost all fronts, what is going on with Google?

With the latest Google update – Hummingbird – Google Search is no longer about SEO. That’s right, for all intents and purposes, websites with any obvious hint of SEO other than best-practice structure will be identified and punished.

Google is only interested in high quality content and doesn’t care about your efforts to impress it, other than making sure that it – and your users – can access the content quickly and enjoyably.

In many ways, this turns the SEO Agency model on its head: SEO Agencies are experts at SEO content, they’re not content experts.

Moreover, many SEO Agencies I talk to still struggle to explain the effects of Hummingbird, whatever their role moving forward might be. I wrote a while ago about the recalibration of SEO in terms of its relative and perceived importance in the web development mix and I am more convinced than ever that this is the case.

Our clients are investing heavily in engaging, high-quality and interactive content and they’re not letting their SEO companies near it.

Of course, SEO is a lot more than words on a page and it is here that Google becomes more unknown and confusing.

We’ve been lectured that Google+ is an essential ticket to good SEO and that Google’s PageRank algorithm takes Google+ seriously. This all seemed a little unfair and unbalanced thing to do by Google (you know, don’t be evil) though plenty of us started engaging with the new social network as if it were Facebook.

Indeed, despite the fact that good quality and consistent blogging has always seemed to have a direct correlation to traffic and leads on our own website, an SEO colleague recently told me to scale it down in favour my Google+ activity.

But now it seems the joke is on me according to several people who have painstaking tracked that Google+ has seemingly no obvious weight on SEO.

In fact, a client I met in Brisbane the other day made the good point that he suspects that the whole point of Google+ is simply to help Google build a profile on users to better target them for search results and ads; and that it has nothing to do with SEO or Google PageRank at all.


Which is not to say that ‘social signals’ and getting Likes for your content is not a good thing to be doing, though the advice which told me to drop everything in favour of Google+ would seem to have been wrong or premature at best.

Of course, everything I have said under this heading of Google could be entirely wrong and I wouldn’t be surprised.

And that is my point, who knows what on earth is going on with Google?

A lot of people would like to know.

My advice remains simply to have the best website you can – appealing and entertaining to as many relevant users as you can make it – and push your content into different networks to help drive exposure and traffic. Make the site fast, work well on mobile and update it regularly.

Assume Google will do the rest because whatever happens, you’d only be speculating if you knew what it was that was happening.

(And yes, I expect recriminations and angry emails from SEO people pretty shortly after reading this blog, but hey, you’ve had your turn in the sun.)


8. Personalisation

Personalisation of website content and functionality has been a talking point for several years and the benefits of serving a relevant and tailored experiences to users based on who they are or are not, their past sessions and what they have or have not done have never been in question.

And yet until recently, very few clients had been doing any real personalisation.

That is now starting to change.

Implementing personalisation is a strategic, analytic, technical and never-ending project. Daunting stuff for any client, though we’ve reached that point where having crossed off all the usual suspects in improving our websites and their conversion performance, we need to reach higher and that could mean personalisation.

Research, planning and baby steps is my advice to clients. You can’t just check ‘personalise’ in your CMS and even if you can (and yes, some CMSs claim to have such a button), it might well not be a great idea anyway.

Rest assured however, the results are well and truly in and the results from personalisation are good, especially if you can tailor the experience by device in addition to the many other permutations you will no doubt discover.

I will do a separate blog on how I think a business should approach personalisation, though do start the process and make it a project. The research and planning work won’t kill you or make your head implode too much: I can’t stress that personalisation is not for the faint of heart.


9. Investing in a dedicated resource

Lots of clients have large, capable, dedicated teams of people working in their digital departments.

For these clients, digital is a serious channel and one that needs ongoing work and growth.

Lots of other clients have no digital departments.

This has to change and thankfully, is slowly starting to.

For one of my clients, online is now half its sales and yet only 10% time, budget and effort. You can see the need for change.

Invest in your online channel with a dedicated resource – reap the rewards big-time in the medium term.

Enough said.


10. Content

With ‘speed’ abdicating the throne, the web has a new king and its name is content.

(And yes, for those in the know, 2013 was widely predicted to be the year of content and so, in my humble opinion, it was.)

And boy, has content become king with quite some gusto and noise and for good reason.

  • Content is the pinnacle of website optimisation: it is where the rubber hits the road in terms of conversion. Sure, it’s important that users can read your green TALK WITH US TODAY button, though content is why they’ll click it.

  • Good content builds trust. It keeps users on-site longer.

  • Good content reflects well on you and you look good.

  • Good content is, well, good.


Which of course means a number of things to those planning and building websites.

The first is that that the conversation around ‘usability’ and ‘making it simple’ are thankfully starting to wane. We get it – you want a simple, usable website, I want to build you a simple, usable website: let’s talk about something else.

The second is that how and when content is approached has changed dramatically.

In the old days, somewhere towards the start of the project, someone built out an elaborate website information architecture (IA) – the tree or skeleton of pages making up a website.

Somewhere towards the end of the project, someone had to type it all up (generally not the joker who came up with the herculean IA in the first place).

Microsoft Word is opened and pages of content are produced. (And then quite possibly optimised by the SEO folk to make it better for Google, less so for you and I.)

Today, we wouldn’t dream of such a thing. Content comes first and it ends first, not last.

The process is a collaboration of different skills and people and the outcome is anything but A4 pages of words. It is interactive, rich content.

It is a website designed around needs-based journeys and stories, not listings of products.

The payoff is a better Internet for all of us: users get better content, clients get more traffic and leads. Indeed, as the king of websites, content is even moving to ‘Content as a Service’ and content continues to be the gift that keeps on giving.

I cannot overstate the importance of content, investing in good content and investing in a contemporary content production process.

And then continue to invest.


Thankfully, 2013 also saw a few things drop off the radar: thank goodness!

By the end of 2013, clients, web designers and commentators had dropped references to some of the more overdone themes of earlier years: those vaguely accurately-used buzzwords that make the hairs on my neck stand up: the “Can you make this viral?” sort of statement.

Which is not to say these buzzwords are irrelevant – just that us web developers get it.

In no particular order:



We get it… you expect us to use the latest technologies and you’ll judge us if we don’t. Either way, as a web developer, I’ve discovered that rather than argue back, it’s easier just to say that you’re using HTML5 (or 6 or even 7 for greater effect) whether you are or not.

And if you are, respect your older browsers. As if you didn’t already know that.



Like the distant, puff of white mist they are, thankfully clouds are increasingly out of the reach of the vocabularies of clients and IT guys: “Just checking you’re going to build our new website in the cloud.”

Yes, you’re website will be hosted somewhere and it may be a cloud. Though not for the intergalactic scaling reasons you think.



Go away. If it can be done, it will be done. Though rarely so in a real suppler/client web project.

But we’ll adopt the best practices of agile just the same because they are genuinely good practices. 

As long as people stop asking.



There was a great website called ‘Should I be a social marketing expert’ and no matter your answer to it, the answer was always ‘NO!’.

Social might be very interesting to you, though not to me as a web developer.

Social sits in its own corner of the Internet. Websites sit in another. Except that two corners are joined by a long wall, that is about all we need to hear.



Video is still important– especially – in eCommerce. But don’t get carried away with corporate video or suggesting that people ‘don’t read’.

They only can’t read because your website makes it difficult to do so. And that is your problem, not theirs.