Tag Archives: microsoft

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Visual Studio Live Share Can Do That?




Visual Studio Live Share Can Do That?

Burke Holland



A few months ago, Microsoft released its free Visual Studio (VS) Live Share service. VS Live Share is Google Docs level collaboration for code. Multiple developers can collaborate on the same file at the same time without ever leaving their own editor.

After the release of Live Share, I realized that many of us have resigned ourselves to being isolated in our code and we’re not even aware that there are better ways to work with a service like VS Live Share. This is partly because we are stuck in old habits and partly because we just aren’t aware of what all VS Live Share can do. That last part I can help with!

In this article, we’ll go over the features and best practices for VS Live Share that make developer collaboration as easy as being an “Anonymous Hippo.”


list of anonymous animals in Google Docs


Google Docs has an interesting way of handling anonymous participants (Large preview)

Share Your Code

Live Share comes as an extension for both Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code (VS Code). In this article, we’re going to focus on VS Code.


vs code live share extension readme page


(Large preview)

You can also install it via the VS Live Share Extension Pack, which includes the following extensions, all of which we are going to cover in this article…

  • VS Live Share
  • VS Live Share Audio
  • Slack Chat extension

Once the extension is installed, you will need to log in to the VS Live Share service. You can do that by opening the Command Palette Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + P and select “Sign In With Browser”. If you don’t log in and you try and start a new sharing session, you will be prompted to log in at that time.


vs code command palette showing option to sign in with browser


Use the VS Code Command Palette to start a new Live Share session (Large preview)

There are several ways to kick off a VS Live Share session. You can do it from the Command Palette, you can click that “Share” button in the bottom toolbar, or you can use the VS Live Share explorer view in the Sidebar.


vs code with boxes drawn around the different parts of the UI that can be used to start a live share session


There are a myriad of ways to start a new VS Live Share session (Large preview)

A link is copied to your clipboard. You can then send that link to others, and they can join your Live Share session — provided they are using VS Code as well. Which, aren’t we all?

Now you can collaborate just like you were working on a regular old Word document:

The other person can not only see your code, but they can edit it, save it, execute it and even debug it. For you, they show up as a cursor with a name on it. You show up in their editor the same way.

The VS Live Share Explorer

The VS Live Share explorer shows up as a new icon in the Action Bar — which is that bar of icons on the far right of my screen (the far left of yours for default Action Bar placement). This is a sort of “ground zero” for everything VS Live Share. From here, you can start sessions, end them, share terminals, servers, and see who is connected.


vs live share viewlet


The VS Live Share Explorer is a heads-up view of all things Live Share (Large preview)

It’s a good idea to bind a keyboard shortcut to this VS Live Share Explorer view so that you can quickly toggle between that and your files. You can do this by pressing Ctrl/Cmd + K (or Ctrl/Cmd + S) and then searching for “Show Live Share”. I bound mine to Ctrl/Cmd + L, which doesn’t seem to be bound to anything else. I find this shortcut to be intuitive (L for Live Share) and easy to hit on the keyboard.


the keyboard binding screen in vs code with a binding created for the vs live share viewlet


You can create a binding for the VS Live Share Explorer viewlet (Large preview)

Share Code Read-Only

When you start a new sharing session, you will be notified thusly and asked if you would like to share your workspace read-only. If you select read-only, people will be able to see your code and follow your movements, but they will not be able to interact.


vs code notification prompting user to choose read-only sharing


Sharing sessions are read-write by default, but you can make them read-only (Large preview)

This mode is useful when you are sharing with someone that you don’t necessarily trust — maybe a vendor, partner or an estranged ex.

It’s also particularly useful for instructors. Note that at the time of this writing, VS Live Share is locked to 5 concurrent users. Since you probably are going to want more than that in read-only mode, especially if you’re teaching a group, you can up the limit to 30 by adding the following line to your User Settings file: Ctrl/Cmd + ,.

"liveshare.features": "experimental"

Change The Default Join Behavior

Anyone with the link can join your Live Share session. When they join, you’ll see a pop-up letting you know. Likewise, when they disconnect, you get notified. This is the default behavior for VS Live Share.


vs code notification with the name of the person who has joined the live share session


VS Code will alert you whenever someone joins your session (Large preview)

It’s a good idea to change this so that you have to manually approve someone before they can join your session. This is to protect you in the case where you go to lunch and forget to disconnect your session. Your co-workers can’t log back in, change one letter in your database connection string and then laugh while you spend the next four hours trying to figure out how your life has gone so horribly wrong.

To enable this, add the following line to your User Settings file Ctrl/Cmd + ,.

"liveshare.guestApprovalRequired": true

Now you’ll be prompted when someone wants to join. If you block someone, they are blocked for the duration of the session. If they try to join again, you won’t be notified and they will be unceremoniously rejected by VS Live Share.

Go and enjoy your lunch. Your computer is safe.

Focus Followers

By default, anyone who joins your Live Share session is “following” you. That means that their editor will load up whatever file you are in and scroll whenever you scroll. Even if you switch files, participants will see exactly what you see.

The second that a person makes changes to a file, they are no longer following you. So if you are both working on a file together, and then you go to a different file, they won’t automatically go with you. That can lead to a lot of confusion with you talking about code in the file you’re in while the other person is looking at something entirely different.

Besides just telling each other where you are (which works, btw), there is a handy command called “Focus Participants” that is in the Command Palette Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + P.


vs code command palette showing live share focus command


Access the “focus” command from the VS Code Command Palette (Large preview)

You can also access it as an icon in the VS Live Share Explorer view.


vs code live share explorer focus icon


Send a follow request by clicking the follow icon in the VS Live Share Explorer viewlet (Large preview)

This will focus your participants on the next thing you click on or scroll to. By default, VS Live Share focus requests are accepted implicitly. If you don’t want people to be able to focus you, you can add the following line to your User Settings file.

"liveshare.focusBehavior": "prompt"

Also note that you can follow participants. If you click on their name in the VS Live Share Explorer view, you will begin to follow them.

Because following is turned off as soon as the other person begins editing code, it can be tough to know exactly when people are following you and when they aren’t. One place you can look is in the VS Live Share Explorer view. It will tell you the file that a person is in, but not whether or not they are following you.

A good practice is to just remember that focus is always changing so people may or may not see what you see at any given time.

Debug As A Team

Participants can share any debug sessions that you run. If you start a debug session, they will get the exact same experience that you do. If it breaks on your side, it breaks on theirs, and they get the full debug view into all of your code.

They can step in, out, over, add watches, evaluate in the Debug Console; any debugging that you can do, they can do too, and they can control it.

Debugging can also be launched by participants. Be default, though, VS Code does not allow your debugger to be started remotely. To enable this, add the following line to your User Settings file Ctrl/Cmd + ,:

"liveshare.allowGuestDebugControl": true

Share Your Terminal

A lot of the work we do as developers isn’t in our code; it’s in the terminal. Some days it seems like I spend about as much time on my terminal as I do in my editor. This means that if you have an error on your terminal or need to type some command, it would be nice if your participants in VS Live Share can see your terminal in addition to your code.

VS Code has an integrated terminal, and you can share it with VS Live Share.


vs code command palette with share terminal selected


Access the “Share Terminal” command from the VS Code Command Palette (Large preview)

When you do this, you have the opportunity to share your terminal as read-only, or as read-write.


vs code prompting to share terminal as read-only or read-write


Always share your terminal read-only unless you absolutely have to share it with write access (Large preview)

By default, you should be sharing your terminal as read-only. When you share your terminal read-write, the user can execute arbitrary commands directly on your terminal. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s heavy.

It goes without saying that having remote write access to someone’s terminal comes with a lot of trust and responsibility. You should only ever share your terminal read-write with people that you trust implicitly. Estranged ex’s are probably off the table.

Sharing your terminal read-only safely allows the person on the other end of the line to see what you are typing and your terminal output in real time, but restricts them from typing anything into that terminal.

Should you find yourself in a scenario where it would be quicker for the other person to just get at your terminal instead of trying to walk you through some wacky command with a ton of flags, you can share your terminal read-write. In this mode, the other person has full remote access to your terminal. Choose your friends wisely.

Share Your localhost

In the video above, the terminal command ends with a link to a site running on http://localhost:8080. With VS Live Share, you can share that localhost so that the other person can access it just like it was their own localhost.

If you are running a shared debug session, when the participant hits that localhost URL on their end, it will break for both of you if a breakpoint is hit. Even better, you can share any TCP process. That means that you can share something like a database or a Redis cache. For instance, you could share your local Mongo DB server. Seriously! This means no more changing config files or trying to get a shared database up. Just share the port for your local Mongo DB instance.

Share The Right Files The Right Way

Sometimes you don’t want collaborators to see certain files. There are likely private keys and passwords in your project that are not checked into source control and not suitable for public viewing. In this case, you would want to hide those files from anyone participating in your Live Share session.

By default, VS Live Share will hide any file that is specified in your .gitignore. If there is a file that you want to hide, just add it to your .gitignore. Note though, that this only hides the file in the project view. If you are in a shared debugging session and you step into a file that is in the .gitignore, it is still loaded up in the editor and your collaborators will be able to see it.

You can get more fine-grained control over how you share files by creating a .vsls.json file.

For instance, if you wanted to make sure that any files that are in the .gitignore are never visible, even during debugging, you can set the gitignore property to exclude.


    "$schema": "http://json.schemastore.org/vsls",
    "gitignore":"exclude"

Likewise, you could show everything in your .gitignore and control file visibilty directly from the .vsls.json file. To do that, set the gitignore to none and then use the excludeFiles and hideFiles properties. Remember — exclude means never visible, and hide means “not visible in the file explorer.”


    "$schema": "http://json.schemastore.org/vsls",
    "gitignore":"none",
    "excludeFiles":[
        "*.env"
    ],
    "hideFiles": [
        "dist"
    ]

Sharing And Extensions

Part of the appeal of VS Code to a lot of developers is the massive extensions marketplace. Most people will have more than a few installed. It’s important to understand how extensions will work, or not work, in the context of VS Live Share.

VS Live Share will synchronize anything that is specific to the context of the project you are sharing. For instance, if you have the Vetur extension installed because you are working with a Vue project, it will be shared across to any participants — regardless of whether or not they have it installed as well. The same is true for other context-specific things, like linters, formatters, debuggers, and language services.

VS Live Share does not synchronize extensions that are user specific. These would be things like themes, icons, keyboard bindings, and so on. As a general rule of thumb, VS Live Share shares your context, not your screen. You can consult the official docs article on this subject for a more in-depth explanation of what extensions you can expect to be shared.

Communicate While You Collaborate

One of the first things people do on their inaugural VS Live Share experience is to try to communicate by typing in code comments. This seems like the write (get it?) thing to do, but not really how VS Live Share was designed to be used.

VS Live Share is not meant to replace your chat client of choice. You likely already have a preferred chat mechanism, and VS Live Share assumes that you will continue to use that.

If you’re already using Slack, there is a VS Code extension called Slack Chat. This extension is still a tad early in its development, but it looks quite promising. It puts VS Code in split mode and embeds Slack on the right-hand side. Even better, you can start a Live Share session directly from the Slack chat.


vs code slack chat extension


The Slack Chat extension puts Slack inside of your editor (Large preview)

Another tool that looks quite interesting is called CodeStream.

CodeStream

While VS Live Share looks to improve collaboration from the editor, CodeStream is aiming to solve that same problem from a chat perspective.

The CodeStream extension allows you to chat directly within VS Code and those chats become part of your code history. You can highlight a chunk of code to discuss and it goes directly into the chat so there is context for your comments. These comments are then saved as part of your Git repo. They also show up in your code as little comment icons, and these comments will show up no matter which branch you are on.

When it comes to VS Live Share, CodeStream offers a complimentary set of features. You can start new sessions directly from the chat pane, as well as by clicking on an avatar. New sessions automatically create a corresponding chat channel that you can persist with the code, or dispose of when you are done.

If chatting isn’t enough to get the job done, and you need to collaborate like it’s 1999, help is just a phone call away.

VS Live Share Audio

While VS Live Share isn’t trying to reinvent chat, it does re-invent your telephone. Kind of.

With the VS Live Share Audio extension, you can call someone directly and do voice chat from within VS Code.


vs code command palette showing start audio call option


Make audio calls from VS Code using the VS Live Share Audio extension (Large preview)

The other person will then get a prompt to join your call.


vs code notification asking if you would like to join the audio call


VS Code will ask you if you want to join an audio call that is in process (Large preview)

You will see a speaker icon in the bottom status bar when you are connected to a call. You can click on that speaker to change your audio device, mute yourself, or disconnect from the call.


vs code options showing options like mute and disconnect for live share audio extension


You have full control over audio settings when in a VS Live Share Audio call (Large preview)

The last tip I’ll give you is probably the most important, and it’s not a fancy feature or obscure setting you didn’t know existed.

Change Your Muscle Memory

We’ve got years of learned behavior when it comes to getting help or sharing our code. The state of developer collaboration tools has been so bad for so long that we are conditioned to paste code into Slack, start an awkward Skype calls that consist mostly of “tell me when you can see my screen”, or crowd around a monitor and point excessively, i.e. stock photo style.


a group of people pointing at a computer screen


(Large preview)

The most important thing you can do to get the most out of VS Live Share is to actually use VS Live Share. And it will have to be a “conscious” effort.

Your brain is good at patterns. You are constantly recognizing and classifying the world around you based on patterns you have identified, and you are so good at it, you don’t even realize you are doing it. You then develop default responses to these patterns. You form instincts. This is why you will default to the old ways of collaboration without even thinking about what you are doing. Before you know it you will be on a Skype call with someone sharing your screen — even if you have Live Share installed.

I’ve written a lot about VS Code and people will ask me from time to time how they can get more productive with their editor. I always say the same thing: the next time you reach for the mouse to do something, stop. Can you do that something with the keyboard instead? You probably can. Look up the shortcut and then make yourself use it. At first it’s going to be slower, but if you are willing to deliberately adopt a different behavior, you will be astonished at how fast your brain will default to the more productive way of doing something.

The same goes for Live Share. You will be on a call sharing your screen when it occurs to you that you could be using Live Share. At that moment, stop; click that “Share” button in the bottom of VS Code.

Yes, the person on the other end may not have the extension installed. Yes, it may take a moment to set it up. But if you work on establishing this behavior now, the next time you go to do this, it will “just work” and it won’t be long before you don’t even have to think about it, and at that point, you will finally have achieved that “Anonymous Hippo” level of collaboration.

More Resources

Smashing Editorial
(rb, ra, il)


See the article here:

Visual Studio Live Share Can Do That?

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A Brief Guide About Competitive Analysis




A Brief Guide About Competitive Analysis

Mayur Kshirsagar



In this article, I will introduce the subject of competitive analysis, which is basically a method to determine how well your competitors are performing. My aim is to introduce the subject to those of you who are new to the concept. It should be useful if you are new to product design, UX, interaction or digital design, or if you have experience in these fields but have not performed a competitive analysis before.

No prior knowledge of the topic is needed because I’ll be explaining what the term means and how to perform a competitive analysis as we go. I am assuming some basic knowledge of the design process and UX research, but I’ll provide plenty of practical examples and reference links to help with any terms and concepts you might be unfamiliar with.

Note: If you are a beginner in UX and interaction design, it would be good to know the basics of the design process and to know what is UX research (and the methods used for UX research) before diving into the article’s main topic. Please read the next section carefully because I’ve added reference links to help you get started.

Recommended reading: Standing Out From The Crowd: Improving Your Mobile App With Competitive Analysis

Competitive Analysis, Service Design Cycle, Five-Stages Design Process

If you are a UX designer, then you might be aware of the service design cycle. This cycle contains four stages: discover, explore, test and listen. Each one of these stages has multiple research methods, and competitive analysis is part of the exploration. Susan Farrell has very helpfully distinguished different UX research methods and activities that can be performed for your project. (You can check this detailed segregation in her “UX Research Cheat Sheet”.)

The image below shows the four steps and the most commonly used methods in these steps.




(Large preview)

If you are new to this concept, you might first ask, “What is service design?” Shahrzad Samadzadeh explains it very well in her article, “So, Like, What Is Service Design?.”

Note: You can also learn more about service design in Sarah Gibbons’s article, “Service Design 101.”

Often, UX designers follow the five-stages design process in their projects:

  1. empathize,
  2. define,
  3. ideate,
  4. prototype,
  5. test.

The five-stages design process.


The five-stages design process. (Large preview)

Please don’t confuse the five-stages design process with the service design cycle. Basically, they serve the same purpose in the design thinking process, but are explained in different styles. Here is a brief explanation of what these five stages contain:

  • Empathize
    This stage involves gaining a clear understanding of the problem you are trying to solve from the user’s point of view.
  • Define
    This stage involves defining the correct statement for the problem you are trying to solve, using the knowledge you gained in the first stage.
  • Ideate
    In this stage, you can generate different solution ideas for the problem.
  • Prototype
    Basically, a prototype is an attempt to give your solution some form so that it can be explained to others. For digital products, a prototype could be a wireframe set created using pen and paper or using a tool such as Balsamiq or Sketch, or it could be a visual design prototype created using a tool such as Sketch, Figma, Adobe XD or InVision.
  • Test
    Testing involves validating and evaluating all of your solutions with the users.

You can perform UX research at any stage. Many articles and books are available for you to learn more about this design process. “Five Stages in the Design Thinking Process” by Rikke Dam and Teo Siang is one of my favorite articles on the topic.


The most frequent methods used by UX professionals during the exploration stage of the design life cycle


The most frequent methods used by UX professionals during the exploration stage of the design life cycle. (Nielsen Norman Group, “User Experience Careers” survey report) (Large preview)

According to Nielsen Norman Group’s “User Experience Careers” survey report, 61% of UX professionals prefer to do the competitive analysis for their projects. But what exactly is competitive analysis? In simple language, competitive analysis is nothing but a method to determine how your competitors are performing, what they are offering and how well they are doing it.

Sometimes, competitive analysis is referred as competitive usability evaluation.

Why Should You Do A Competitive Analysis?

There are many reasons to do a competitive analysis, but I think the most important reason is that it helps us to understand the rights and wrongs of our own product or service.

Using competitive analysis, you can make decisions based on knowledge of what is currently working well for your users, rather than based on guesses or intuition. In doing competitive analysis, you can also identify risks in your product or service and use those insights to add value to it.

Recently, I was working on a project in which I did a competitive analysis of a feature (collaborative meeting note-taking) that a client wanted to introduce in their web app. Note-taking is not exactly a new or highly innovative thing, so the biggest challenge I was facing was to make this functionality simpler and easier to handle, because the product I was working on was in the very early stages of development. The feature, in a nutshell, was to create a simple text document where some interactive action items could be added.

Because a ton of apps are out there that allow you to create simple text documents, I decided to do a competitive analysis for this functionality. (I’ll explain this process in more detail later in the section “Five Easy Steps to Do a Competitive Analysis”.)

How To Find The Right Competitors?

Basically, there are two types of competitors: direct and indirect. As a UX designer, your role is to study the designs of these competitors.

Jaime Levy gives very good definitions of direct and indirect competitors in her book UX Strategy. You can learn more about competitive analysis (and types of competitors) in chapter 4 of the book, “Conducting Competitive Research”.


Types of competitors


Types of competitors. (Large preview)

Direct competitors are the ones who offer the same, or a very similar, set of features to your current or future customers, which means they are solving a similar problem to the one you are trying to solve, for a customer base that you are targeting as well.

Indirect competitors are the ones who offers a similar set of features but to a different customer segment; or, they target your exact customer base without offering the exact same set of features, which means indirect competitors are solving the same problem but for a different customer base, or are solving the same problem but offer a different solution.

You can search for these types of competitors online (by doing a simple web search), or you can directly ask your current and potential customers what they are using already. You can also look for your direct and indirect competitors on websites such as Crunchbase and Product Hunt, and you can search for them in the Google Play and the iOS App Store.

Five Easy Steps To Do A Competitive Analysis

You can perform a competitive analysis for your existing or new product using the following five-step process.


5 steps to do a competitive analysis


5 steps to do a competitive analysis. (Large preview)

1. Define And Understand The Goals

Defining and understanding the goal is an integral part of any UX research process. You must define an accurate goal (or set of goals) for your research; otherwise, there is a chance you’ll get the wrong outcome.

Draft all of your goals right before starting your process. When defining your goals, consider the following questions: Why are you doing this competitive analysis? What kind of outcome do you expect? Will this analysis affect UX decisions?

Remember: When setting up goals for any kind of UX research, be as specific as possible.

I mentioned earlier that I recently performed a competitive analysis for a collaborative meeting note-taking feature, to be introduced in the app that I was developing for a client. The goals for my research were very general because innumerable apps all provide this type of functionality, and the product I was working on was in the very early stages of development.

Even though your research goals might be simple, make them as specific as possible, and write them all down. Writing down your goals will help you stay on the right track.

The goals for my analysis were more like questions for which I was trying to find the answers. Here is the list of goals I set for this research:

  • Which apps do users prefer for note-taking? And why do they prefer them?
    Goal: To find out the user’s behavior with these apps, their preferences and their comfort zone.
  • What is the working mechanism of these apps?
    Goal: To find how out competitors’ apps work, so that we can identify their pros and cons.
  • What are the “star” features of these apps?
    Goal: To identify functionalities that we were trying to introduce as well, to see whether they already exist and, if they exist, how exactly they were implemented.
  • How comfortable does a user feel when using these apps?
    Goal: To identify user loyalty and engagement in the apps of our competitors.
  • How does collaborative editing work in these competitive apps?
    Goal: To identify how collaborative-editing functionality works and to study its technical aspects.
  • What is the visual structure and user interface of these apps?
    Goal: To check the visual look and feel of the apps (user interface and interaction).

2. Find The Right Competitors

After setting the goals, go on a search and make a list of both direct and indirect competitors. It’s not necessary to analyze all of the competitors you find. The number is completely up to you. Some people suggest analyzing at least two to four competitors, while others suggest five to ten or more.

Finding the right competitors for my research wasn’t a hard task because I already knew many apps that provided similar features, but I still did a quick search on Google, and the results were a bit surprising — surprising because most of the apps I knew turned out to be more like indirect competitors to the app I was working on; and later, after a bit more searching, I also found the apps that were our direct competitors.

Putting each competitor in the right list is a very important part of competitive analysis because the features and functionality in your competitors’ apps are based on exactly what users of those apps want. Let’s assume you put one indirect competitor, XYZ, under the “direct competitors” list and start doing your analysis. While doing the research, you might find some impressive feature in XYZ’s app and decide to add a similar feature in your own app; then, later it turns out that the feature you added is not useful for the users you are targeting. You might end up wasting a lot of energy, time and money building something that is not at all useful. So, be careful when sorting your competitors.

For my research, the competitors were as follows:

  • Direct competitorsQuip, Cisco Spark Meeting Notes, Workboard, Lucid Meeting, Less Meeting, MeetingSense, Minute-it, etc.
    • All of the apps above provide the same type of functionality, which we were trying to introduce for almost the same type of user base.
  • Indirect competitorsEvernote, Google Keep, Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Microsoft OneNote and other traditional note-taking apps and pen-paper note-taking methods.
    • The user base for all of the above is not exactly different from the user base we were targeting, but most of the users we were targeting were using these apps because they were unaware of the more convenient ways to take meeting notes.

3. Make A Competitive Analysis Matrix

A competitive analysis matrix is not complex, just a simple spreadsheet. You can use Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, Apple Numbers or any other tool you are comfortable with.

First, divide all competitors you’ve found into two groups (direct and indirect) and put them in a spreadsheet. Jamie Levy suggests making the following columns:

  1. competitor’s name,
  2. URL,
  3. login credentials,
  4. purpose,
  5. year founded.

Example of competitive analysis matrix spreadsheet from UX Strategy, Jaime Levy’s book.


Example of competitive analysis matrix spreadsheet from UX Strategy, Jaime Levy’s book. (Large preview)

I would recommend digging a bit deeper and adding a few more columns, such as for “unique features”, “pros and cons”, etc. It would help to summarize your analysis. It’s not necessary to set your columns exactly as mentioned above. You can modify the columns to your own research goals and needs.

For my analysis, I created only four columns. My competitive analysis matrix looked as follows:

  • Competitor nameIn this column, I put the names of all of the competitors.
  • URLThese are website links or app download links for these competitors.
  • Features/commentsIn this column, I put all of my comments, some ”star” features I needed to focus on, and the pros and cons of the competitor. I color-coded the cells so that later I (or anyone viewing the matrix) could easily identify the difference between them. For example, I used light yellow for features, light purple for comments, green for pros and red for cons.
  • Screenshots/video linksIn this column, I put all of the screenshots and videos related to the features and comments mentioned in the third column. This way, it became very easy and quick to understand what a particular comment or feature was all about.



(Large preview)

4. Write A Summary And An Analysis

Once you are done with the analysis matrix spreadsheet, move on and create a summary of your findings. Be as specific as possible, and try to answer all of your questions while setting up a goal or during the overall process.

This will help you and your team members and stakeholders make the right design and UX decisions. This summary will also help you find new design and UX opportunities in the product you’re building.

In writing the summary and the presentation for the competitive analysis that I did for this collaborative note-taking app, the competitive analysis matrix helped me a lot. I drafted a document with all of the high-level takeaways from this analysis and answered all of the questions that were set as goals. For the presentation, I shared the document with the client, which helped both the client and me to finalize the features, the flows and the end requirements for the product.

5. Presentation

The last step of your competitive analysis is the presentation. It’s not a typical slideshow presentation — rather, just share all of the data and information you collected throughout the process with your teammates, stakeholders and/or clients.

Getting feedback from everywhere you can and being open to this feedback is a very important part of the designer’s workflow. So, share all of your finding with your teammates, stakeholders and clients, and ask for their opinion. You might find some missing points in your analysis or discover something new and exciting from someone’s feedback.

Conclusion

We live in a data-driven world, and we should build products, services and apps based on data, rather than our intuition (or guesswork).

As UX designers, we should go out there and collect as much data as possible before building a real product. This data will help us to create a solid product that users will want to use, rather than a product we want or imagine. These kinds of products are more likely to succeed in the market. Competitive analysis is one of the ways to get this data and to create a user-friendly product.

Finally, no matter what kind of product you are building or research you are conducting, always try to put yourself in the users’ shoes every now and then. This way, you will be able to identify the users’ struggles and ultimately deliver a better solution.

I hope this article has helped you plan and make your first competitive analysis for your next project!

Further Reading

If you want to become a better UX, interaction, visual (UI) or product designer, there are a lot of sources from which you can learn — articles, books, online courses. I often check the following few: Smashing Magazine, InVision blog, Interaction Design Foundation, NN Group and UX Mastery. These websites have a very good collection of articles on the topics of UI and UX design and UX research.

Here are some additional resources:

Smashing Editorial
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Monthly Web Development Update 6/2018: Complexity, DNS Over HTTPS, And Push Notifications




Monthly Web Development Update 6/2018: Complexity, DNS Over HTTPS, And Push Notifications

Anselm Hannemann



We see complexity in every corner of a web project these days. We’ve read quite a bunch of articles about how complex a specific technology has become, and we discuss this over and over again. Coming from a time where we uploaded websites via FTP and had no git or anything comparable, now living in a time where we have a build system, transpilers, frameworks, tests, and a CI even for the smallest projects, this is easy to understand. But on the other hand, web development has grown up so much in the past 15 years that we can’t really compare today to the past anymore. And while it might seem that some things were easier in the past, we neglect the advantages and countless possibilities we have today. When we didn’t write tests back then, well, we simply had no test — meaning no reliable way to test for success. When we had no deployment process, it was easy to upload a new version but just as easy to break something — and it happened a lot more than today when a Continuous Integration system is in place.

Jeffrey Zeldman wrote an interesting article on the matter: “The Cult of Complex” outlines how we lose ourselves in unnecessary details and often try to overthink problems. I like the challenge of building systems that are not too complex but show a decent amount of responsibility (when it comes to ethics, privacy, security, a great user experience, and performance) and are working reliably (tests, deployments, availability, and performance again). I guess the problem of finding the right balance won’t go away anytime soon. Complexity is everywhere — we just need to decide if it’s useful complexity or if it was added simply because it was easier or because we were over-engineering the original problem.

News

  • The upcoming Safari version 12 was unveiled at Apple’s WWDC. Here’s what’s new: icons in tabs, strong passwords, as well as a password generator control via HTML attributes including two-factor authentication control, a 3D and AR model viewer, the Fullscreen API on iPads, font-display, and, very important, Intelligent Tracking Prevention 2.0 which is more restrictive than ever and might have a significant impact on the functionality of existing websites.
  • The headless Chrome automation library Puppeteer is now out in version 1.5. It brings along Browser contexts to isolate cookies and other data usually shared between pages, and Workers can now be used to interact with Web Workers, too.
  • Google released Lighthouse 3.0, the third major version of their performance analyzation tool which features a new report interface, some scoring changes, a CSV export, and First Contentful Paint measurement.
  • Chrome 67 is here, bringing Progressive Web Apps to the Desktop, as well as support for the Generic Sensor API, and extending the Credential Management API to support U2F authenticators via USB.
  • We’ve seen quite some changes in the browsers’ security interfaces over the past months. First, they emphasized sites that offer a secured connection (HTTPS). Then they decided to indicate insecure sites, and now Chrome announced new changes coming in fall that will make HTTPS the default by marking HTTP pages as “not secure”.
Desktop PWA in Chrome 67
Desktop Progressive Web Apps are now supported in Chrome OS 67, and the Chrome team already started working on support for Mac and Windows, too. (Image credit)

General

  • In “The Cult of the Complex”, Jeffrey Zeldman writes about how we often seem to forget that simplicity is the key and goal of everything we do, the overall goal for projects and life. He explains why it’s so hard to achieve and why it’s so much easier — and tempting — to cultivate complex systems. A very good read and definitely a piece I’ll add to my ‘evergreen’ list.
  • Heydon Pickering shared a new, very interesting article that teaches us to build a web component properly: This time he explains how to build an inclusive and responsive “Card” module.

UI/UX

  • Cool Backgrounds is a cool side project by Moe Amaya. It’s an online generator for polygonal backgrounds with gradients that can generate a lot of variants and shapes. Simply beautiful.

Tooling

Security

  • As security attacks via DNS gain popularity, DNS over HTTPS gets more and more important. Lin Clark explains the technology with a cartoon to make it easier to understand.
  • Windows Edge is now previewing support for same-site cookies. The attribute to lock down cookies even more is already available in Firefox and Chrome, so Safari is the only major browser that still needs to implement it, but I guess it’ll land in their Tech Preview builds very soon as well.
DNS Over HTTPS
Lin Clark created a cartoon to explain how you can better protect your users’ privacy with DNS over HTTPS. (Image credit)

Privacy

Web Performance

  • KeyCDN asked 15 people who know a lot about web performance to share their best advice with readers. Now they shared this article containing a lot of useful performance tips for 2018, including a few words by myself.
  • Stefan Judis discovered that we can already preload ECMA Script modules in Chrome 66 by adding an HTML header tag link rel=“modulepreload”.

Accessibility

  • It’s relatively easy to build a loading spinner — for a Single Page Application during load, for example —, but we rarely think about making them accessible. Stuart Nelson now explains how to do it.
  • Paul Stanton shares which accessibility tools we should use to get the best results.

JavaScript

  • JavaScript has lately been bullied by people who favor Elm, Rust, TypeScript, Babel or Dart. But JavaScript is definitely not worse, as Andrea Giammarchi explains with great examples. This article is also a great read for everyone who uses one of these other languages as it shows a couple of pitfalls that we should be aware of.
  • For a lot of projects, we want to use analytics or other scripts that collect personal information. With GDPR in effect, this got a lot harder. Yett is a nice JavaScript tool that lets you block the execution of such resources until a user agrees to it.
  • Ryan Miller created a new publication called “The Frontendian”, and it features one of the best explanations and guides to CORS I’ve come across so far.
  • The folks at Microsoft created a nice interactive demo page to show what Web Push Notifications can and should look like. If you haven’t gotten to grips with the technology yet, it’s a great primer to how it all works and how to build an interface that doesn’t disturb users.
  • Filepond is a JavaScript library for uploading files. It looks great and comes with a lot of adapters for React, Vue, Angular, and jQuery.
  • React 16.4 is out and brings quite a feature to the library: Pointer Events. They’ll make it easier to deal with user interactions and have been requested for a long time already.
The Frontendian
Inspired by the parallels between basic astrological ideas and push notification architecture, the team at Microsoft explains how to send push notifications to a user without needing the browser or app to be opened. (Image credit)

CSS

Work & Life

  • Anton Sten wrote about the moral implications for our apps. A meaningful explanation why the times of “move fast and break things” are definitely over as we’re dealing with Artificial Intelligence, social networks that affect peoples’ lives, and privacy matters enforced by GDPR.
  • Basecamp now has a new chart type to display a project’s status: the so-called “hill chart” adds a better context than a simple progress bar could ever do it.
  • Ben Werdmüller shares his thoughts about resumes and how they always fail to reflect who you are, what you do, and why you should be hired.

I hope you enjoyed this monthly update. The next one is scheduled for July 13th, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you like what I do, please consider helping me fund the Web Development Reading List financially.

Have a great day!

— Anselm

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Monthly Web Development Update 6/2018: Complexity, DNS Over HTTPS, And Push Notifications

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What Happens After The Conversion? How To Optimize Your Marketing Campaigns For Higher Quality Leads

How excited would you be if you doubled the number of leads your marketing campaign was generating in less than a month? What if you found out that the improvement wasn’t an improvement at all, because as lead quantity went up, lead quality was going down? That’s exactly what happened with a campaign I ran once. I can assure you – it’s not fun! One survey of B2B marketers found that their #1 and #2 challenges were generating high quality leads and converting leads into customers: Your Landing Page Conversion Rate Is Only Half Of The Story Converting visitors to leads…

The post What Happens After The Conversion? How To Optimize Your Marketing Campaigns For Higher Quality Leads appeared first on The Daily Egg.

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What Happens After The Conversion? How To Optimize Your Marketing Campaigns For Higher Quality Leads

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How To Optimize Your Marketing Campaigns For Higher Quality Leads

How excited would you be if you doubled the number of leads your marketing campaign was generating in less than a month? What if you found out that the improvement wasn’t an improvement at all, because as lead quantity went up, lead quality was going down? That’s exactly what happened with a campaign I ran once. I can assure you – it’s not fun! One survey of B2B marketers found that their #1 and #2 challenges were generating high quality leads and converting leads into customers: Your Landing Page Conversion Rate Is Only Half Of The Story Converting visitors to leads…

The post How To Optimize Your Marketing Campaigns For Higher Quality Leads appeared first on The Daily Egg.

Original post:

How To Optimize Your Marketing Campaigns For Higher Quality Leads

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Contributing To MDN Web Docs




Contributing To MDN Web Docs

Rachel Andrew



MDN Web Docs has been documenting the web platform for over twelve years and is now a cross-platform effort with contributions and an Advisory Board with members from Google, Microsoft and Samsung as well as those representing Firefox. Something that is fundamental to MDN is that it is a huge community effort, with the web community helping to create and maintain the documentation. In this article, I’m going to give you some pointers as to the places where you can help contribute to MDN and exactly how to do so.

If you haven’t contributed to an open source project before, MDN is a brilliant place to start. Skills needed range from copyediting, translating from English to other languages, HTML and CSS skills for creating Interactive Examples, or an interest in browser compatibility for updating Browser Compatibility data. What you don’t need to do is to write a whole lot of code to contribute. It’s very straightforward, and an excellent way to give back to the community if you have ever found these docs useful.

Contributing To The Documentation Pages

The first place you might want to contribute is to the MDN docs themselves. MDN is a wiki, so you can log in and start to help by correcting or adding to any of the documentation for CSS, HTML, JavaScript or any of the other parts of the web platform covered by MDN.

To start editing, you need to log in using GitHub. As is usual with a wiki, any editors of a page are listed, and this section will use your GitHub username. If you look at any of the pages on MDN contributors are listed at the bottom of the page, the below image shows the current contributors to the page on CSS Grid Layout.


A list showing names of people who contributed to this page


The contributors to the CSS Grid Layout page. (Large preview)

What Might You Edit?

Things that you might consider as an editor are fixing obvious typos and grammatical errors. If you are a good proofreader and copyeditor, then you may well be able to improve the readability of the docs by fixing any spelling or other errors that you spot.

You might also spot a technical error, or somewhere the specs have changed and where an update or clarification would be useful. With the huge range of web platform features covered by MDN and the rate of change, it is very easy for things to get out of date, if you spot something – fix it!

You may be able to use some specific knowledge you have to add additional information. For example, Eric Bailey has been adding Accessibility Concerns sections to many pages. This is a brilliant effort to highlight the things we should be thinking about when using a certain thing.


A screenshot of the Accessibility Concerns section


This section highlights the things we should be aware of when using background-color. (Large preview)

Another place you could add to a page is in adding “See also” links. These could be links to other parts of MDN, or to external resources. When adding external resources, these should be highly relevant to the property, element or technique being described by that document. A good candidate would be a tutorial which demonstrates how to use that feature, something which would give a reader searching for information a valuable next step.

How To Edit A Document?

Once you are logged in you will see a link to Edit on pages in MDN, clicking this will take you into a WYSIWYG editor for editing content. Your first few edits are likely to be small changes, in which case you should be able to follow your nose and edit the text. If you are making extensive edits, then it would be worth taking a look at the style guide first. There is also a guide to using the WYSIWYG Editor.

After making your edit, you can Preview and then Publish. Before publishing it is a good idea to explain what you added and why using the Revision Comment field.


Screenshot of this field in the edit form


Add a comment using the Revision Comment field. (Large preview)

Language Translations

Those of us with English as a first language are incredibly fortunate when it comes to information on the web, being able to get pretty much all of the information that we could ever want in our own language. If you are able to translate English language pages into other languages, then you can help to translate MDN Web Docs, making all of this information available to more people.


A screenshot showing the drop-down translations list


Translations available for the background-color page. (Large preview)

If you click on the language icon on any page, you can see which languages that information has been translated into, and you can add your own translations following the information on the page Translating MDN Pages.

Interactive Examples

The Interactive Examples on MDN, are the examples that you will see at the top of many pages of MDN, such as this one for the grid-area property.


Screenshot of an Interactive Example


The Interactive Example for the grid-area property. (Large preview)

These examples allow visitors to MDN to try out various values for CSS properties or try out a JavaScript function, right there on MDN without needing to head into a development environment to do so. The project to add these examples has been in progress for around a year, you can read about the project and progress to date in the post Bringing Interactive Examples to MDN.

The content for these Interactive Examples is held in the Interactive Examples GitHub repository. For example, if you wanted to locate the example for grid-area, you would find it in that repo under live-examples/css-examples/grid. Under that folder, you will find two files for grid-area, an HTML and a CSS file.

grid-area.html


<section id="example-choice-list" class="example-choice-list large" data-property="grid-area">
    <div class="example-choice" initial-choice="true">
        <pre><code class="language-css">grid-area: a;</code></pre>
        <button type="button" class="copy hidden" aria-hidden="true">
        <span class="visually-hidden">Copy to Clipboard</span>
        </button>
    </div>
    
    <div class="example-choice">
        <pre><code class="language-css">grid-area: b;</code></pre>
        <button type="button" class="copy hidden" aria-hidden="true">
        <span class="visually-hidden">Copy to Clipboard</span>
        </button>
    </div>
    
    <div class="example-choice">
        <pre><code class="language-css">grid-area: c;</code></pre>
        <button type="button" class="copy hidden" aria-hidden="true">
        <span class="visually-hidden">Copy to Clipboard</span>
        </button>
    </div> 
    
    <div class="example-choice">
        <pre><code class="language-css">grid-area: 2 / 1 / 2 / 4;</code></pre>
        <button type="button" class="copy hidden" aria-hidden="true">
        <span class="visually-hidden">Copy to Clipboard</span>
        </button>
    </div> 
</section>
    
<div id="output" class="output large hidden">
    <section id="default-example" class="default-example">
        <div class="example-container">
            <div id="example-element" class="transition-all">Example</div>
        </div>
    </section>
</div>

grid.area.css


.example-container 
    background-color: #eee;
    border: .75em solid;
    padding: .75em;
    display: grid;
    grid-template-columns: 1fr 1fr 1fr;
    grid-template-rows: repeat(3, minmax(40px, auto));
    grid-template-areas: 
    "a a a"
    "b c c"
    "b c c";
    grid-gap: 10px;
    width: 200px;
    
    
    .example-container > div 
    background-color: rgba(0, 0, 255, 0.2);
    border: 3px solid blue;
    
    
    example-element 
    background-color: rgba(255, 0, 200, 0.2);
    border: 3px solid rebeccapurple;
    

An Interactive Example is just a small demo, which uses some standard classes and IDs in order that the framework can pick up the example and make it interactive, where the values can be changed by a visitor to the page who wants to quickly see how it works. To add or edit an Interactive Example, first fork the Interactive Examples repo, clone it to your machine and follow the instructions on the Contributing page to install the required packages from npm and be able to build and test examples locally.

Then create a branch and edit or create your new example. Once you are happy with it, send a Pull Request to the Interactive Examples repo to ask for your example to be reviewed. In order to keep the examples consistent, reviews are fairly nitpicky but should point out the changes you need to make in a clear way, so you can update your example and have it approved, merged and added to an MDN page.


Screenshot of a tweet asking for help with HTML examples


MDN looking for help with HTML Interactive Examples. (Large preview)

With pretty much all of CSS now covered (in addition to the JavaScript examples), MDN is now looking for help to build the HTML examples. There are instructions as to how to get started in a post on the MDN Discourse Forum. Check out that post as it gives links to a Google doc that you can use to indicate that you are working on a particular example, as well as some other useful information.

The Interactive Examples are incredibly useful for people exploring the web platform, so adding to the project is an excellent way to contribute. Contributing to CSS or HTML examples requires knowledge of CSS and HTML, plus the ability to think up a clear demonstration. This last point is often the hardest part, I’ve created a lot of CSS Interactive Examples and spent more time thinking up the best example for each property than I do actually writing the code.

Browser Compat Data

Fairly recently the browser compatibility data listed on MDN Pages has begun to be updated through the Browser Compatibility Project. This project is developing browser compat data in JSON format, which can display the compatibility tables on MDN but also be useful data for other purposes.


An example screenshot of the old tables on MDN


The Old Browser Compat Tables on MDN. (Large preview)


An example screenshot of the new tables on MDN


The New Browser Compat Tables on MDN. (Large preview)

The Browser Compatibility Data is on GitHub, and if you find a page that has incorrect information or is still using the old tables, you can submit a Pull Request. The repository contains contribution information, however, the simplest way to start is to edit an existing example. I recently updated the information for the CSS shape-outside property. The property already had some data in the new format, but it was incomplete and incorrect.

To edit this data, I first forked the Browser Compat Data so that I had my own fork. I then cloned that to my machine and created a new branch to make my changes in.

Once I had my new branch, I found the JSON file for shape-outside and was able to make my edits. I already had a good idea about browser support for the property; I also used the live example on the shape-outside MDN page to test to see support when I wasn’t sure. Therefore making the edits was a case of working through the file, checking the version numbers listed for support of the property and updating those which were incorrect.

As the file is in JSON format is pretty straightforward to edit in any text editor. The .editorconfig file explains the simple formatting rules for these documents. There are also some helpful tips in this checklist.

Once you have made your edits, you can commit your changes, push your branch to your fork and then make a Pull Request to the Browser Compat Data repository. It’s likely that, as with the live examples, the reviewer will have some changes for you to make. In my PR for the Shapes data I had a few errors in how I had flagged the data and needed to make some changes to links. These were simple to make, and then my PR was merged.

Get Started

You can get started simply by picking something to add to and starting work on it in many cases. If you have any questions or need some help with any of this, then the MDN Discourse forum is a good place to post. MDN is the place I go to look up information, the place I send new developers and experienced developers alike, and its strength is the fact that we can all work to make it better.

If you have never made a Pull Request on a project before, it is a very friendly place to make that first PR and, as I hope I have shown, there are ways to contribute that don’t require writing any code at all. A very valuable skill for any documentation project is that of writing, editing and translating as these skills can help to make technical documentation easier to read and accessible to more people around the world.

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Best Practices With CSS Grid Layout




Best Practices With CSS Grid Layout

Rachel Andrew



An increasingly common question — now that people are using CSS Grid Layout in production — seems to be “What are the best practices?” The short answer to this question is to use the layout method as defined in the specification. The particular parts of the spec you choose to use, and indeed how you combine Grid with other layout methods such as Flexbox, is down to what works for the patterns you are trying to build and how you and your team want to work.

Looking deeper, I think perhaps this request for “best practices” perhaps indicates a lack of confidence in using a layout method that is very different from what came before. Perhaps a concern that we are using Grid for things it wasn’t designed for, or not using Grid when we should be. Maybe it comes down to worries about supporting older browsers, or in how Grid fits into our development workflow.

In this article, I’m going to try and cover some of the things that either could be described as best practices, and some things that you probably don’t need to worry about.

The Survey

To help inform this article, I wanted to find out how other people were using Grid Layout in production, what were the challenges they faced, what did they really enjoy about it? Were there common questions, problems or methods being used. To find out, I put together a quick survey, asking questions about how people were using Grid Layout, and in particular, what they most liked and what they found challenging.

In the article that follows, I’ll be referencing and directly quoting some of those responses. I’ll also be linking to lots of other resources, where you can find out more about the techniques described. As it turned out, there was far more than one article worth of interesting things to unpack in the survey responses. I’ll address some of the other things that came up in a future post.

Accessibility

If there is any part of the Grid specification that you need to take care when using, it is when using anything that could cause content re-ordering:

“Authors must use order and the grid-placement properties only for visual, not logical, reordering of content. Style sheets that use these features to perform logical reordering are non-conforming.”

Grid Specification: Re-ordering and Accessibility

This is not unique to Grid, however, the ability to rearrange content so easily in two dimensions makes it a bigger problem for Grid. However, if using any method that allows content re-ordering — be that Grid, Flexbox or even absolute positioning — you need to take care not to disconnect the visual experience from how the content is structured in the document. Screen readers (and people navigating around the document using a keyboard only) are going to be following the order of items in the source.

The places where you need to be particularly careful are when using flex-direction to reverse the order in Flexbox; the order property in Flexbox or Grid; any placement of Grid items using any method, if it moves items out of the logical order in the document; and using the dense packing mode of grid-auto-flow.

For more information on this issue, see the following resources:

Which Grid Layout Methods Should I Use?

”With so much choice in Grid, it was a challenge to stick to a consistent way of writing it (e.g. naming grid lines or not, defining grid-template-areas, fallbacks, media queries) so that it would be maintainable by the whole team.”

Michelle Barker working on wbsl.com

When you first take a look at Grid, it might seem overwhelming with so many different ways of creating a layout. Ultimately, however, it all comes down to things being positioned from one line of the grid to another. You have choices based on the of layout you are trying to achieve, as well as what works well for your team and the site you are building.

There is no right or wrong way. Below, I will pick up on some of the common themes of confusion. I’ve also already covered many other potential areas of confusion in a previous article “Grid Gotchas and Stumbling Blocks.”

Should I Use An Implicit Or Explicit Grid?

The grid you define with grid-template-columns and grid-template-rows is known as the Explicit Grid. The Explicit Grid enables the naming of lines on the Grid and also gives you the ability to target the end line of the grid with -1. You’ll choose an Explicit Grid to do either of these things and in general when you have a layout all designed and know exactly where your grid lines should go and the size of the tracks.

I use the Implicit Grid most often for row tracks. I want to define the columns but then rows will just be auto-sized and grow to contain the content. You can control the Implicit Grid to some extent with grid-auto-columns and grid-auto-rows, however, you have less control than if you are defining everything.

You need to decide whether you know exactly how much content you have and therefore the number of rows and columns — in which case you can create an Explicit Grid. If you do not know how much content you have, but simply want rows or columns created to hold whatever there is, you will use the Implicit Grid.

Nevertheless, it’s possible to combine the two. In the below CSS, I have defined three columns in the Explicit Grid and three rows, so the first three rows of content will be the following:

  • A track of at least 200px in height, but expanding to take content taller,
  • A track fixed at 400px in height,
  • A track of at least 300px in height (but expands).

Any further content will go into a row created in the Implicit Grid, and I am using the grid-auto-rows property to make those tracks at least 300px tall, expanding to auto.

.grid   
  display: grid;  
  grid-template-columns: 1fr 3fr 1fr;  
  grid-template-rows: minmax(200px auto) 400px minmax(300px, auto);  
  grid-auto-rows: minmax(300px, auto);  
  grid-gap: 20px;  

A Flexible Grid With A Flexible Number Of Columns

By using Repeat Notation, autofill, and minmax you can create a pattern of as many tracks as will fit into a container, thus removing the need for Media Queries to some extent. This technique can be found in this video tutorial, and also demonstrated along with similar ideas in my recent article “Using Media Queries For Responsive Design In 2018.”

Choose this technique when you are happy for content to drop below earlier content when there is less space, and are happy to allow a lot of flexibility in sizing. You have specifically asked for your columns to display with a minimum size, and to auto fill.

There were a few comments in the survey that made me wonder if people were choosing this method when they really wanted a grid with a fixed number of columns. If you are ending up with an unpredictable number of columns at certain breakpoints, you might be better to set the number of columns — and redefine it with media queries as needed — rather than using auto-fill or auto-fit.

Which Method Of Track Sizing Should I Use?

I described track sizing in detail in my article “How Big Is That Box? Understanding Sizing In Grid Layout,” however, I often get questions as to which method of track sizing to use. Particularly, I get asked about the difference between percentage sizing and the fr unit.

If you simply use the fr unit as specced, then it differs from using a percentage because it distributes available space. If you place a larger item into a track then the way the fr until will work is to allow that track to take up more space and distribute what is left over.

.grid 
  display: grid;
  grid-template-columns: 1fr 1fr 1fr;
  grid-gap: 20px;


A three column layout, the first column is wider


The first column is wider as Grid has assigned it more space.

To cause the fr unit to distribute all of the space in the grid container you need to give it a minimum size of 0 using minmax().

.grid 
    display: grid;
    grid-template-columns: minmax(0,1fr) minmax(0,1fr) minmax(0,1fr);
    grid-gap: 20px;

three equal columns with the first overflowing


Forcing a 0 minimum may cause overflows

So you can choose to use fr in either of these scenarios: ones where you do want space distribution from a basis of auto (the default behavior), and those where you want equal distribution. I would typically use the fr unit as it then works out the sizing for you, and enables the use of fixed width tracks or gaps. The only time I use a percentage instead is when I am adding grid components to an existing layout that uses other layout methods too. If I want my grid components to line up with a float- or flex-based layout which is using percentages, using them in my grid layout means everything uses the same sizing method.

Auto-Place Items Or Set Their Position?

You will often find that you only need to place one or two items in your layout, and the rest fall into place based on content order. In fact, this is a really good test that you haven’t disconnected the source and visual display. If things pretty much drop into position based on auto-placement, then they are probably in a good order.

Once I have decided where everything goes, however, I do tend to assign a position to everything. This means that I don’t end up with strange things happening if someone adds something to the document and grid auto-places it somewhere unexpected, thus throwing out the layout. If everything is placed, Grid will put that item into the next available empty grid cell. That might not be exactly where you want it, but sat down at the end of your layout is probably better than popping into the middle and pushing other things around.

Which Positioning Method To Use?

When working with Grid Layout, ultimately everything comes down to placing items from one line to another. Everything else is essentially a helper for that.

Decide with your team if you want to name lines, use Grid Template Areas, or if you are going to use a combination of different types of layout. I find that I like to use Grid Template Areas for small components in particular. However, there is no right or wrong. Work out what is best for you.

Grid In Combination With Other Layout Mechanisms

Remember that Grid Layout isn’t the one true layout method to rule them all, it’s designed for a certain type of layout — namely two-dimensional layout. Other layout methods still exist and you should consider each pattern and what suits it best.

I think this is actually quite hard for those of us used to hacking around with layout methods to make them do something they were not really designed for. It is a really good time to take a step back, look at the layout methods for the tasks they were designed for, and remember to use them for those tasks.

In particular, no matter how often I write about Grid versus Flexbox, I will be asked which one people should use. There are many patterns where either layout method makes perfect sense and it really is up to you. No-one is going to shout at you for selecting Flexbox over Grid, or Grid over Flexbox.

In my own work, I tend to use Flexbox for components where I want the natural size of items to strongly control their layout, essentially pushing the other items around. I also often use Flexbox because I want alignment, given that the Box Alignment properties are only available to use in Flexbox and Grid. I might have a Flex container with one child item, in order that I can align that child.

A sign that perhaps Flexbox isn’t the layout method I should choose is when I start adding percentage widths to flex items and setting flex-grow to 0. The reason to add percentage widths to flex items is often because I’m trying to line them up in two dimensions (lining things up in two dimensions is exactly what Grid is for). However, try both, and see which seems to suit the content or design pattern best. You are unlikely to be causing any problems by doing so.

Nesting Grid And Flex Items

This also comes up a lot, and there is absolutely no problem with making a Grid Item also a Grid Container, thus nesting one grid inside another. You can do the same with Flexbox, making a Flex Item and Flex Container. You can also make a Grid Item and Flex Container or a Flex Item a Grid Container — none of these things are a problem!

What we can’t currently do is nest one grid inside another and have the nested grid use the grid tracks defined on the overall parent. This would be very useful and is what the subgrid proposals in Level 2 of the Grid Specification hope to solve. A nested grid currently becomes a new grid so you would need to be careful with sizing to ensure it aligns with any parent tracks.

You Can Have Many Grids On One Page

A comment popped up a few times in the survey which surprised me, there seems to be an idea that a grid should be confined to the main layout, and that many grids on one page were perhaps not a good thing. You can have as many grids as you like! Use grid for big things and small things, if it makes sense laid out as a grid then use Grid.

Fallbacks And Supporting Older Browsers

“Grid used in conjunction with @supports has enabled us to better control the number of layout variations we can expect to see. It has also worked really well with our progressive enhancement approach meaning we can reward those with modern browsers without preventing access to content to those not using the latest technology.”

Joe Lambert working on rareloop.com

In the survey, many people mentioned older browsers, however, there was a reasonably equal split between those who felt that supporting older browsers was hard and those who felt it was easy due to Feature Queries and the fact that Grid overrides other layout methods. I’ve written at length about the mechanics of creating these fallbacks in “Using CSS Grid: Supporting Browsers Without Grid.”

In general, modern browsers are far more interoperable than their earlier counterparts. We tend to see far fewer actual “browser bugs” and if you use HTML and CSS correctly, then you will generally find that what you see in one browser is the same as in another.

We do, of course, have situations in which one browser has not yet shipped support for a certain specification, or some parts of a specification. With Grid, we have been very fortunate in that browsers shipped Grid Layout in a very complete and interoperable way within a short time of each other. Therefore, our considerations for testing tend to be to need to test browsers with Grid and without Grid. You may also have chosen to use the -ms prefixed version in IE10 and IE11, which would then require testing as a third type of browser.

Browsers which support modern Grid Layout (not the IE version) also support Feature Queries. This means that you can test for Grid support before using it.

Testing Browsers That Don’t Support Grid

When using fallbacks for browsers without support for Grid Layout (or using the -ms prefixed version for IE10 and 11), you will want to test how those browsers render Grid Layout. To do this, you need a way to view your site in an example browser.

I would not take the approach of breaking your Feature Query by checking for support of something nonsensical, or misspelling the value grid. This approach will only work if your stylesheet is incredibly simple, and you have put absolutely everything to do with your Grid Layout inside the Feature Queries. This is a very fragile and time-consuming way to work, especially if you are extensively using Grid. In addition, an older browser will not just lack support for Grid Layout, there will be other CSS properties unsupported too. If you are looking for “best practice” then setting yourself up so you are in a good position to test your work is high up there!

There are a couple of straightforward ways to set yourself up with a proper method of testing your fallbacks. The easiest method — if you have a reasonably fast internet connection and don’t mind paying a subscription fee — is to use a service such as BrowserStack. This is a service that enables viewing of websites (even those in development on your computer) on a whole host of real browsers. BrowserStack does offer free accounts for open-source projects.


Screenshot of the download page


You can download Virtual Machines for testing from Microsoft.

To test locally, my suggestion would be to use a Virtual Machine with your target browser installed. Microsoft offers free Virtual Machine downloads with versions of IE back to IE8, and also Edge. You can also install onto the VM an older version of a browser with no Grid support at all. For example by getting a copy of Firefox 51 or below. After installing your elderly Firefox, be sure to turn off automatic updates as explained here as otherwise it will quietly update itself!

You can then test your site in IE11 and in non-supporting Firefox on one VM (a far less fragile solution than misspelling values). Getting set up might take you an hour or so, but you’ll then be in a really good place to test your fallbacks.

Unlearning Old Habits

“It was my first time to use Grid Layout, so there were a lot of concepts to learn and properties understand. Conceptually, I found the most difficult thing to unlearn all the stuff I had done for years, like clearing floats and packing everything in container divs.”

Hidde working on hiddedevries.nl/en

Many of the people responding to the survey mentioned the need to unlearn old habits and how learning Layout would be easier for people completely new to CSS. I tend to agree. When teaching people in person complete beginners have little problem using Grid while experienced developers try hard to return grid to a one-dimensional layout method. I’ve seen attempts at “grid systems” using CSS Grid which add back in the row wrappers needed for a float or flex-based grid.

Don’t be afraid to try out new techniques. If you have the ability to test in a few browsers and remain mindful of potential issues of accessibility, you really can’t go too far wrong. And, if you find a great way to create a certain pattern, let everyone else know about it. We are all new to using Grid in production, so there is certainly plenty to discover and share.

“Grid Layout is the most exciting CSS development since media queries. It’s been so well thought through for real-world developer needs and is an absolute joy to use in production – for designers and developers alike.”

Trys Mudford working on trysmudford.com

To wrap up, here is a very short list of current best practices! If you have discovered things that do or don’t work well in your own situation, add them to the comments.

  1. Be very aware of the possibility of content re-ordering. Check that you have not disconnected the visual display from the document order.
  2. Test using real target browsers with a local or remote Virtual Machine.
  3. Don’t forget that older layout methods are still valid and useful. Try different ways to achieve patterns. Don’t be hung up on having to use Grid.
  4. Know that as an experienced front-end developer you are likely to have a whole set of preconceptions about how layout works. Try to look at these new methods anew rather than forcing them back into old patterns.
  5. Keep trying things out. We’re all new to this. Test your work and share what you discover.
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Best Practices With CSS Grid Layout

The Rise Of Intelligent Conversational UI




The Rise Of Intelligent Conversational UI

Burke Holland



For a long time, we’ve thought of interfaces strictly in a visual sense: buttons, dropdown lists, sliders, carousels (please no more carousels). But now we are staring into a future composed not just of visual interfaces, but of conversational ones as well. Microsoft alone reports that three thousand new bots are built every week on their bot framework. Every. Week.

The importance of Conversational UI cannot be understated, even if some of us wish it wasn’t happening.

The most important advancement in Conversational UI has been Natural Language Processing (NLP). This is the field of computing that deals not with deciphering the exact words that a user said, but with parsing out of it their actual intent. If the bot is the interface, NLP is the brain. In this article, we’re going to take a look at why NLP is so important, and how you (yes, you!) can build your own.

Speech Recognition vs. NLP

Most people will be familiar with Amazon Echo, Cortana, Siri or Google Home, all of which have an interface that is primarily conversational. They are also all using NLP.




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Aside from these intelligent assistants, most Conversational UIs have nothing to do with voice at all. They are text driven. These are the bots we chat with in Slack, Facebook Messenger or over SMS. They deliver high quality gifs in our chats, watch our build processes and even manage our pull requests.




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Conversational UIs built on text are nice because there is no speech recognition component. The text is already parsed.

When it comes to a verbal interaction, the fundamental problem is not recognizing the speech. We’ve mostly got that one down.

OK, so maybe it’s not perfect. I still get voicemails every day like a game of Mad Libs that I never asked to play. iOS just sticks a blank line in whenever they don’t know what exactly was said.




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Google, on the other hand, just tries to guess. Like this one from my father. I have absolutely no idea what this message is actually trying to say other than “Be Safe” which honestly sounds like my mom, and not my dad. I have a hard time believing he ever said that. I don’t trust the computer.




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I’m picking on voice mail transcriptions here, which might be the hardest speech recognition to do given how degraded the audio quality is.

Nevertheless, speech recognition is largely a solved problem. It’s even built right into Chrome and it works remarkably well.




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After we solved the problem of speech recognition, we started to use it everywhere. That was unfortunate because speech recognition on it’s own doesn’t do us a whole lot of good. Interfaces that rely soley on speech recognition require the user to state things a precise way and they can only state the limited number of exact words or phrases that the interface knows about. This is not natural. This is not how a conversation works.

Without NLP, Conversational UI can be true nightmare.

Conversational UI Without NLP

We’re probably all familiar with automated phone menus. These are known as Interactive Voice Response systems — or IVRs for short. They are designed to take the place of the traditional operator and automatically transfer callers to the right place without having to talk to a human. On the surface, this seems like a good idea. In practice, it’s mostly just you waiting while a recorded voice reads out a list of menu items that “may have changed.”




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A 2011 study from New York University found that 83% of people feel IVR systems “provide either no benefit at all, or only a cost savings benefit to the company.” They also noted that IVR systems “score lower than any other service option.” People would literally rather do anything else than use an automated phone menu.

NLP has changed the IVR market rather significantly in the past few years. NLP can pick a user’s intent out of anything they say, so it’s better to just let them say it and then determine if you support the action.

Check out how AT&T does it.

AT&T has a truly intelligent Conversational UI. It uses NLP to let me just state my intent. Also, notice that I don’t have to know what to say. I can fumble all around and it still picks out my intent.

AT&T also uses information that it already has (my phone number) and then leverages text messaging to send me a link to a traditional visual UI, which is probably a much better UX for making a payment. NLP drives the whole experience here. Without it, the rest of the interaction would not be nearly as smooth.

NLP is powerful, but more importantly, it is also accessible to developers everywhere. You don’t have to know a thing about Machine Learning (ML) or Artificial Intelligence (AI) to use it. All you need to how to do is make an AJAX call. Even I can do that!

Building An NLP Interface

So much of Machine Learning still remains inaccessible to developers. Even the best YouTube videos on the subject quickly become hard to follow with subjects like Neural Networks and Gradient Descents. We have, however, made significant progress in the field of Language Processing, to the point that it’s accessible to developers of nearly any skill level.

Natural Language Processing differs based on the service, but the overall idea is that the user has an intent, and that intent contains entities. That means exactly nothing to you at the moment, so let’s work up a hypothetical Home Automation bot and see how this works.

The Home Automation Example

In the field of Natural Language Processing, the canonical “Hello World” is usually a Home Automation demo. This is because it helps to clearly demonstrate the fundamental concepts of NLP without overloading your brain.

A Home Automation Bot is a service that can control hypothetical lights in a hypothetical house. For instance, we might want to say “Turn on the kitchen lights”. That is our intent. If we said “Hello”, we are clearly expressing a different intent. Inside of that intent, there are two pieces of information that we need to complete the action:

  1. The ‘Location’ of the light (kitchen)
  2. The desired state of the lights ‘Power’ (on/off)

These (Location, Power) are known as entities.

When we are finished designing our NLP interface, we are going to be able to call an HTTP endpoint and pass it our intent: “Turn on the kitchen lights.” That endpoint will return to us the intent (Control Lights) and two objects representing our entities: Location and Power. We can then pass those into a function which actually controls our lights…

function controlLights(location, power) 
  console.log(`Turning $power the $location lights`);
  
  // TODO: Call an imaginary endpoint which controls lights   
}

There are a lot of NLP services out there that are available today for developers. For this example, I’m going to show the LUIS project from Microsoft because it is free to use.

LUIS is a completely visual tool, so we won’t actually be writing any code at all. We’ve already talked about Intents and Entities, so you already know most of the terminology that you need to know to build this interface.

The first step is to create a “Control Lights” intent in LUIS.




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Before I do anything with that intent, I need to define my Location and Power entities. Entities can be different types — kind of like types in a programming language. You can have dates, lists and even entities that are related to other entities. In this case, Power is a list of values (on, off) and Location is a simple entity, which can be any value.

It will be up to LUIS to be smart enough to figure out exactly what the Location is.




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Now we can begin to train this model to understand all of the different ways that we might ask it to control the lights in a different location. Let’s think of all the different ways that we could do that:

  • Turn off the kitchen lights;
  • Turn off the lights in the office;
  • The lights in the living room, turn them on;
  • Lights, kitchen, off;
  • Turn off the lights (no location).

As I feed these into the Control Lights intent as utterances, LUIS tries to determine where in the intent the entities are. You can see that because Power is a discreet list of values, it gets that right every time.




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But it has no idea what a Location even is. LUIS wants us to go through this list and tell it where the Location is. That’s done by clicking on a word or group of words and assigning to the right entity. As we are doing this, we are really creating a machine learning model that LUIS is going to use to statistically estimate what qualifies as a Location.




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When I’m done telling LUIS where in these utterances all the locations are, my dashboard looks like this…




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Now we train the model by clicking on the “Train” button at the top. Do you feel like a data scientist yet?

Now I can test it using the test panel. You can see that LUIS is already pretty smart. The Power is easy to pick out, but it can actually pick out Locations it has never seen before. It’s doing what your brain does — using the information that it has to make an educated guess. Machine Learning is equal parts impressive and scary.




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If we try hard enough, we can fool the AI. The more utterances we give it and label, the smarter it will get. I added 35 utterances to mine before I was done and it is close to bullet proof.

So now we get to the important part, which is how we actually use this NLP in an app. LUIS has a “Publish” menu option which allows us to publish our model to the internet where it’s exposed via a single HTTP endpoint. It will look something like this…

https://westus.api.cognitive.microsoft.com/luis/v2.0/apps/c4396135-ee3f-40a9-8b83-4704cddabf7a?subscription-key=19d29a12d3fc4d9084146b466638e62a&verbose=true&timezoneOffset=0&q=

The very last part of that query string is a q= variable. This is where we would pass our intent.

https://westus.api.cognitive.microsoft.com/luis/v2.0/apps/c4396135-ee3f-40a9-8b83-4704cddabf7a?subscription-key=19d29a12d3fc4d9084146b466638e62a&verbose=true&timezoneOffset=0&q=turn on the kitchen lights

The response that we get back looks is just a JSON object.


  "query": "turn on the kitchen lights",
  "topScoringIntent": 
    "intent": "Control Lights",
    "score": 0.999999046
  ,
  "intents": [
    
      "intent": "Control Lights",
      "score": 0.999999046
    ,
    
      "intent": "None",
      "score": 0.0532306843
    
  ],
  "entities": [
    
      "entity": "kitchen",
      "type": "Location",
      "startIndex": 12,
      "endIndex": 18,
      "score": 0.9516622
    ,
    
      "entity": "on",
      "type": "Power",
      "startIndex": 5,
      "endIndex": 6,
      "resolution": 
        "values": [
          "on"
        ]
      
    }
  ]
}

Now this is something that we can work with as developers! This is how you add NLP to any project — with a single REST endpoint. Now you’re free to create a bot with some real brains!

Brian Holt used the browser speech API and a LUIS model to create a voice powered calculator that is running right inside of CodePen. Chrome is required for the speech API.

See the Pen Voice Calculator by Brian Holt (@btholt) on CodePen.

Bot Design Is Still Hard

Having a smart bot is only half the battle. We still need to account for any of the actions that our system might expose, and that can lead to a lot of different logical paths which makes for messy code.

Conversations also happen in stages, so the bot needs to be able to intelligently direct users down the right path without frustrating them or being unable to recover when something goes wrong. It needs to be able to recover when the conversation dies midstream and then starts again. That’s a whole other article and I’ve included some resources below to help.

When it comes to language understanding, the AI platforms are mature and ready to use today. While that won’t help you perfectly design your bot, it will be a key component to building a bot that people don’t hate.

Great UI Is Just Great UI

A final note: As we saw from the AT&T example, a truly smart interface combines great speech recognition, Natural Language Processing, different types of conversational UI (speech and text) and even a visual UI. In short, great UI is just that — great UI — and it is not a zero sum game. Great UIs will leverage all of the technology available to provide the best possible user experience.

Special thanks to Mat Velloso for his input on this article.

Further Resources:

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The Rise Of Intelligent Conversational UI

Case Study: Getting consecutive +15% winning tests for software vendor, Frontline Solvers

The post Case Study: Getting consecutive +15% winning tests for software vendor, Frontline Solvers appeared first on WiderFunnel Conversion Optimization.

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Case Study: Getting consecutive +15% winning tests for software vendor, Frontline Solvers

Get a Glimpse into the Future of PPC From Microsoft’s Senior Manager of Global Engagement

Purna Virji on AI and PPC
As I learned at the start of February, if you’re a lucky enough to get one-on-one time with Purna Virji, Senior Manager of Global Engagement at Microsoft, you ask her about the future of search, AI, and pay per click (because she makes everything sound pretty exciting).

Purna—named the #1 most influential PPC expert in the world by PPC Hero in 2016—is on the forefront of what’s coming down the pipeline in our industry. She’s joining us February 21st as a speaker for Marketing Optimization Week to share her insight into AI, and today we’re sharing a sneak peek of what to expect in that session.

Watch our chat below, or read on for the condensed Q&A.

Jen: What do you imagine the day-to-day life of a marketer will be like with access to exciting AI? You grab your morning coffee, log on to your computer, then what?

Purna: [Then] you’ll be getting all kinds of wonderful notifications about performance, new insights, and ideas for engaging with your audience. AI solves some of our biggest problems—including [how to] engage with people in this world full of distractions.

AI is super helpful because it can analyze all of the different data and touchpoints to see what’s working (or not), and it can help us get really good at personalization and engaging with people in the way they’d like to be engaged with.

It also gives us new interfaces. Things like chatbots or digital assistants, as well as virtual reality. So if I interest somebody through a chatbot to look at the latest collection of shoes, I can just put on my HoloLens and take a look at a 3D hologram in front of me of all the latest styles.

It’s really about cool ways to engage with brands and people in a very seamless manner.

Jen: You’re speaking at Unbounce’s Marketing Optimization Week February 21st on how to prepare for AI’s emerging role in marketing. As a preview, can you share one of those things we can all prep for?

Purna: Yes! I think one of the things marketers can prepare for is to understand what AI can do for us and try to touch the waters a bit more with a chatbot. [In my talk] I’ll be giving people some tips for how to incorporate a chatbot within search. For example, Bing offers a conversational bot right in the SERPs, so I’ll give some tips on how you can set this up and a strategy you can use for your bot.

Jen: Chatbots are very hot right now.

Purna: It’s because they’re so easy and convenient. You’re already using a platform you’re familiar with—whether it’s Skype or Facebook Messenger or Kik—or whatever platform you use to talk to your friends. In that same platform, I can order a pizza or check on a status of my order, or do anything I need to do with a brand in that same place. There’s no multiple hops that have to happen.

Jen: It seems like, for customers, chat is very natural. It’s how we already go about our world.

Purna: yes—conversation is the first thing we learn. From babies to now arguing about who’s going to take the trash out. Conversation is [still] at the forefront of all of our lives.

Jen: Here at Unbounce we’re a Conversion Platform for marketers, and many of our customers pair landing pages with PPC in social or search. How do you see AI impacting pay per click the most in the next few years?

Purna: I think AI will have a couple of different roles…

For one —it’s going to make it easier to hone into the right person. We’re already seeing some signs of this with our much more advanced audience targeting, such as in-market audiences—which lets you slice and dice audiences based on people who are more likely to buy —so it’s going to [enhance] reaching the right person at the right time.

It’s also going to help us take a lot of the effort and pain out of the administrative side. We saw this with bit automations…it’ll make things like reporting a lot easier, keyword research a lot easier. Anything that’s really a repetitive task can get automated and can be improved by AI. Time savings and more effective ads – it’s a win win for all.

Jen: Y’know, we hear some marketers kind of demonize AI, or see it in a sort of detrimental way. But you don’t see it this way.

Purna: No, I don’t think so. I think the way AI has been designed and actually, the way companies like Microsoft, Google or IBM, who are at the forefront of creating AI…I think the responsibility is on people like us to infuse the technology to respect humans. And, I mean, that’s one of the pillars we’re building our AI on, that it is respectful to the human. It’s there to augment what we can do. It’s not there to replace us or destroy us or anything like that.

All AI is doing is taking what we’re good at and giving us a little super power. It’s like wearing a little jet pack so we can run faster or slide faster. When you think of it that way it’s giving us gifts we didn’t have access to before.

Jen: You’re no stranger to setting up an AdWords or Bing campaign. So, what’s a little known technique that anyone managing paid spend can do today for more impact with their PPC ads?

Purna: I’d say there are two things. The first is to make sure you’re implementing in-market audiences. If someone was to ask me, “what’s one tip for success for 2018?”, I’m a big believer of the power of in-market audiences, it’s still in pilot in open beta so anyone can sign up an be a part of it and test it.

Throughout the testing period we’ve seen such amazing results from many people. It allows you to reach an audience that’s in the market or looking to buy specific products or services you’re selling. We have over 120 different categories, so if you just layer them onto your existing ad groups or campaigns and just adjust the bids accordingly, you have a better chance of reaching people who are interested in what you sell but may not know who you are…you’re just reaching this very qualified audience.

If you can do [this] and combine it with the wonderful landing page learnings you get with Unbounce, I think that’s a really win win solution.

Jen: We know voice search is going to have a much bigger role to play. What should PPC’ers be thinking about to prepare for this?

Purna: We are seeing voice being adopted more and more. We’ve seen Mary Meeker’s internet study…and Google [has shared] that 20% of their mobile traffic is voice now, because voice is easy.

I would say PPC marketers should think about the differences or what’s unique to voice. First, it tends to be much more local. If you’re running local campaigns, you’ll want to think about the queries relating to your business that people may ask if they’re in a hurry or on the go.

And second, all marketers (including SEOs too) should consider: are we providing the right information? I.e. do we have some sort of structured data or schema markup that can give the search engine much more insights into understanding what the page or information is about.

Lastly, [we can] look at the keywords. Voice is of course more conversational and with conversational queries, we tend to have longer phrases, [so] we’re much more clear on the intent. If you can, look at testing some of the most common, broader questions or phrases that get asked and actually test adding them in keywords. Ask yourself what could be the right way to answer [the query].

In the old days (ha, just last year!) we would look for shoes, like mens sandals. We’d go to the website, select colours, size and width. But now with voice, you self-select in the query itself. You say “show me blue strappy summer sandals in size 8”. If I then [have] to go to the website and do the selections again I’m quite annoyed, but if I got to a page that showed just what I was looking for? It’s about making it very seamless for the customer.

Jen: so prepare for more granularity…
Purna: exactly, [it’s] on page as well, which is why it’s important to look at some of the landing page options you have, [and ask] —“are we answering the right questions” in the right way.

Jen: You’ve seen dozens of landing pages for PPC. What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when creating landing pages to pair with their search ads?

Purna: It’s not being specific enough. If [someone’s] looking for something and your ad promises something, does your page deliver on that promise?

For example, if I’m doing a search for waterproof digital cameras and see an ad that talks about waterproof digital cameras on sale, and I go on your landing page and its all of your digital cameras —again you’re giving the searcher more work to do.

You want to make life as easy as possible, answer the right questions, and don’t go too broad. Yes – there’s the temptation, especially with newbie PPC marketers— Let’s just send people to the homepage. As you know that’s just not going to work and they’ll realize that soon.

Also, as you say, the call to action—even sales people fail at this sometimes—you don’t or forget to ask exactly what you want [visitors] to do. So making sure you do that is a huge advantage.

Don’t miss Purna’s session February 21st as part of Marketing Optimization Week. She’ll be joining other experts from Drift, Hanapin, and Emma delivering the latest tactics you can use to see better results. See the agenda here.

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Get a Glimpse into the Future of PPC From Microsoft’s Senior Manager of Global Engagement