Usually our clients are well established, so it’s not often that we get to work on a brand that is as powerful in its infancy as the Real Meal Revolution. RMR has a lot going for it, most notably its large, passionate and very vocal set of supporters that have found their lives changed through the concept of 'Banting'.
RMR tasked us with the responsibility for all things digital - from refreshing the logo, to the website, newsletters, social media, content, digital marketing, video production and the development and marketing of the online course. More importantly, they gave us a large degree of creative freedom and placed a lot of trust in us to "do what's right". This in itself was incredibly motivating for us as an agency; here is a fledgling but powerful brand with an already global reach that has given us its full trust and absolute freedom to execute the way we think is best.
At the point of writing this blog post, the deliverables that have gone live are the logo (seen above), the website, the accompanying video and the newsletter. This is just the tip of the iceberg and there is so much more to come. However, there are already a couple of key takeaways and lessons that will help guide future work. Most are obvious (but, I believe, worth stating), so please bear with me. The below relates mainly to the website, which is the biggest of the deliverables so far.
Avoid Stock Photos
A key part of all of the RMR assets, including the book, the website, the newsletter and the course, is the use of high quality, uniquely shot photography. There isn't a single stock photo on the site, and the results speak for themselves. Conversely, the use of stock photos will always make the asset (e.g. website) look slightly cheap and unoriginal, no matter how good the actual design.
This is probably the most obvious statement of the lot, but it's possible to get blinded by beautiful design and forget that while a great looking site will impress users at first glance, it won't keep them engaged for long or encourage them to return. One can only wonder in marvel at how beautiful a site is for so long; after that, it is substance (i.e. content) that makes the site sticky.
You can never track too much. Use tools such as Google Analytics and/or KISSmetrics to gather as much data as possible. Add UTM links to emailers, add event tracking to buttons and links, setup e-commerce in Google Analytics and create the appropriate funnels and goals. Even if all the data is not used straight away, once it is stored, it can be queried and analysed at any stage. The data really helps to understand how the site is being used. You might be surprised by what is being clicked and what isn't.
As mentioned in a previous blog post about user experience, the speed of the site is a fundamental factor in determining User Experience. The faster, the better. Can a site be too fast? No. Not possible. We aim for a server response time of less than 500 ms and, amongst other things, make sure that we have set all the appropriate headers so that once downloaded, content is cached on the browser. Given that RMR is a site with an international audience, and that we host locally in South Africa, we have seen the need to use a CDN for content delivery. Without a CDN, the site performs fairly poorly for international visitors, purely due to the latency when downloading all those beautiful, high res images. Having used a number of CDNs for projects, we tend to recommend HighWinds or Amazon Cloud Front Cachefly. Cachefly is one of the few CDNs that has a point of presence in South Africa, which means South African users will not suffer from a performance hit.
When the Real Meal Revolution site launched, we announced it on Facebook. Within a few minutes, there were over 150 users on the site at a given moment, with the bulk of the traffic from mobile. Is this surprising? No, given that most people access social media from their mobile devices. The current split of RMR is approximately 40% desktop, 35% mobile, and the balance on tablet.
So what does this mean? It means that while we don't design "mobile first" (which is another trendy buzz word) we do make sure that whatever design we do scales down to mobile sensibly. For us, mobile is as important as desktop: not more, not less, but the same. The stats would indicate that this is the right approach. It's not mobile first or desktop first, it's both.
Don't assume. Anything.
The server we host RMR on blocks some countries by default as they are considered "dubious". These are countries that our clients are typically not interested in, including Taiwan, Somalia, Russia, and more. But, guess what? We had a user from Taiwan complain that the site was inaccessible, so we lifted all restrictions, and promptly got a few course sign ups from those "dubious" countries. Goes to show...
The Power of Social
Often agencies (including us, in the past) will just throw Facebook and Twitter buttons onto various pages. Usually one sees a handful of shares and doesn't really think too much about it further. With RMR, this was definitely not an option. A week after launch, articles have in excess of 50 shares, with one in excess of 70. This means that careful thought has to be given as to how these shares appear on Facebook.
Essentially, this means adding the appropriate meta tags to the head of the website, making sure that the content reads beautifully and that the image that is being shared has been optimised. Facebook recommends an image of no less than 1200x630 pixels. Given that this image isn't used anywhere else on the site, and that it won't be visible to users unless shared, it is most definitely worth your while to custom design the image in the correct dimensions for the purpose of being shared. More about this can be read here.
Live chat is time-consuming, but it works
Live chat really does work. Users have no patience, no time to read and need questions answered right now. This is the sweet spot of live chat. Tools such as Olark make it possible to set up and customise in minutes. This is not where the "expense" of live chat lies. Setup is easy. The expensive part is manning it. It really becomes a judgment call on behalf of the business. Is it worth having someone monitoring live chat on a full-time basis? A simple calculation can be performed to estimate the increase in conversion that live chat will deliver vs. the cost of monitoring it (i.e. the cost of the employee's time). For RMR, we worked with a figure of a 10% increase in conversion. This is a fairly high estimate, but we wanted to rather err on the side of caution and make a stronger case for including rather than excluding live chat.
High quality video is worth the spend
It's no secret that the use of video on websites has been a major trend for quite some time. People are used to watching videos and love the convenience of doing so. There are a couple of ways of getting video onto your site: use third party supplier videos, find videos on YouTube - or, create your own. It really becomes a question of cost vs. benefit. Embedding third party videos is cheap - basically free - but I would argue that the benefit is limited - not just from a user experience point of view (no one likes rehashed content), but also from a search engine ranking perspective. A major focal point of Google's algorithm updates this year has been to focus on the stickiness of a site and the quality of content - which includes video. For RMR, we decided only to show videos that we produced, and made sure that the quality was consistent with the rest of the brand. A poorly put together video or a third party video that is clearly not "on brand" would have done more damage than good. The final result and the engagement we have gotten through the video (all completely measurable through Google Analytics events) has justified the cost of production. Judge for yourself.
Newsletter popouts work
You know those horrible popup blockers asking for your details that more or less prevent you from using the site unless you find the close button or put in your email address? Well, they work. They most definitely encourage users to sign up (whether registering or signing up for the newsletter). HOWEVER, there is no doubt that they are also irritating. With RMR, we developed a much less intrusive (but evidently no less effective) slide out that is subject to a set of conditions to ensure the user experience isn't compromised. Accordingly, the newsletter sign up form slides out (from the right) when a user lands on the site, regardless of the page, for their first three visits only. The slide out is minimised after the user's first visit, or as soon as they subscribe. Once the tab is contracted, it appears only on the home page and not on secondary pages. Got it? The idea with all of this was to find the best balance between converting (getting people to sign up) vs. irritating and distracting them, and the results have been fantastic. There are newsletter sign ups happening every minute of every day. Whether this is purely due to the power of the brand, or because of our clever approach, is debatable. My guess is that it's a combination of both.
"Answer questions" when thinking about conversion
Conversion is a major buzz word in the industry. What does it really mean though? Conversion in this case refers to "reaching a goal" such as making a sale, getting someone to sign up to a newsletter, and so on. Thinking about increasing conversion, it's really just about using common sense, using your intuition and backing up hypothesis with data (remember, track everything). The main "tool" we used when optimising the site (specifically the Online Course page) for conversion was to use our brain and to "answer questions". There is no doubt that we can get users landing on this page, but every user that lands on the page would have questions and even concerns that would prevent them from signing up. So when conceptualising this page, we thought about as many of these questions as possible and how and where to best answer them, the concept being that if we can address all concerns and doubts, there should be no reason that the user doesn't convert (sign up). This principle can apply to any site dealing with conversion. When a user lands on your e-commerce product page, what is preventing them from adding to cart and checking out? Are they concerned about security? Do they not realise that even if they don't have a credit card, they can still pay via EFT? Are shipping costs prohibitive? Do they need the goods in a specific period of time but are given no indication of when the order might be delivered? What if the garment doesn't fit? How do I return? Etc.
By wearing the hat of a user and putting yourself in their shoes, with all their concerns and doubts, one can start making decisions that have an impact - and to a business, there can be no greater impact than increasing conversion.
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