Monthly Archives: June 2012

Mega dropdown, return of the drop down!

What, you may ask, is a mega dropdown? Quite simply put a mega drop down is a large dropdown menu that lists more than just the secondary navigation items for a particular section. There are varying ways to implement this, from a full sitemap style list of all the links below the level a user is currently at, through to cleverly constructed ones that include cross promotion and imply site structure to the user.

Firstly, I should state that by and large I am a fan of mega dropdowns, but I would like to think that this is a sensible appreciation rather than a blind one. Mega dropdowns have got of bad press recently, especially from the development world. This is probably largely due to the potential SEO issues that they can present if not constructed properly, but my view is always that user experience should be the core driver for web design rather than technical opinion. That is not to say that technical opinion is not valid, far from it, and the concern that full site link listing as an approach to a mega dropdown confuses google spiders is a valid one. There are some really good blog posts out there that talk about this (for example: http://raisedbyturtles.org/mega-menus-and-seo/), where a sensible view is taken.

So why do I think they are a good thing? Primarily a good mega dropdown will be constructed to imply an element of structure whilst also serving more than one type of user. For knowledgeable users who want to deep dive into a specific area of a site, having to trawl through page after page trying to find something can be frustrating, but building a site that serves them and doesn’t offer the periphery content for less knowledgeable users conversely risks alienating potential new customers. A mega dropdown allows this journey to be constructed in a way that a user can easily choose at what point they want to drop in. In the world of fast self service this is, in my opinion, an important thing to facilitate. However, this also highlights a big drawback of mega dropdowns as well, if you want to guide a user through a specific journey then allowing them to freestyle through your site will ultimately disrupt that.

Another important advantage of the mega dropdown is that it signals the end of day gone by when complicated sites meant being stuck in a labyrinth of pages with no idea how you got to where you are and only a breadcrumb to guide you back. It subconsciously opens the users mind to the ‘site map’, the avenues and alleyways of your websites and where content is. A well structured mega dropdown will imply a site structure and also give you a great opportunity to cleverly cross promote as well. It will also subconsciously begin to educate users in the way that certain types of content fit together and therefore how your proposition fits together as well.
But what about tablets and mobile? Mega dropdowns primarily operate on a hover basis and this obviously presents a problem for users on a tablet or mobile, where hover isn’t an option. There are a number of potential ways around this, one of which would be to construct a mobile menu version. Another option would be to consider the journey a user will want to take when browsing on these devices, as the content for a mobile device will probably not be the same as the desktop site.
The key things to consider with mega dropdowns are; do you have a big enough site map to require one? does the journey your users take benefit from one? and would a mega dropdown enhance the user experience?
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The latest buzz word is…

One of the big buzz words in the digital world at the moment is ‘strategy’…everyone needs a strategy, be it a social media strategy, a mobile strategy, even a tea making strategy! But why has ‘strategy’ become the latest term to be bandied around by all and sundry? Probably because people are suddenly seeing the value in having a long term strategic idea of where they are going, rather than being reactive with no vision beyond the next couple of months. The recession has focussed the minds of many companies into really concentrating on what they do well and spending money only in the places that will work towards that and affect the bottom line in a positive way.

I don’t think everything does need a ‘strategy’, although I wholeheartedly applaud and encourage anyone who thinks in terms of the long game rather than only a few moves ahead, but one area that I think is important to look at both holistically and strategically is content.

Many people think they have a content strategy because they know what is on their website, they know what each page is for and they have taken the time to optimise the content for SEO, make it a nice consistent experience and generally ticked all the boxes on ‘building a website 101’. They even know how that content will change over the course of the next few months or years, great, but it doesn’t take into account the bigger picture. The problem is that your content does not stop at your website, or in your printed offline items, or in email comms to your clients. Content is an immense concept and it exists in what I coin ‘the content eco-system’.

So what do I mean when I say ‘content eco-system’? It sounds a bit fluffy doesn’t it, but it is relevant. In the modern age it is important that customers and potential customers encounter your brand consistently wherever they are. The reason for this is that you want them to know it is your brand no matter what channel they absorb it in, rather than having to work to recognise that it is you. Therefore the ‘eco-system’ that your brand operates in covers your website, printed assets, adverts, social media sites you engage in, even the conversations people have with each other about your brand. The latter might seem a bit odd to consider as part of a strategy but think about viral campaigns; the aim of these is to get people talking about your brand in a specific way…to create a buzz. Even if you can’t control what people are saying about your brand, you can guide the conversation in certain directions.

The point I am making is that your content strategy needs to cover every facet of where your brand is encountered. You need to build a consistency throughout these channels that allows people to instantly know it is you, no matter where they are, and allowing them to get a consistent experience. Why is this important? Because you want people to become advocates of your brand and this should be achieved through a consistent and enjoyable experience.

The aim is to put in place a 4 stage process that brings new customers to you naturally:

> A person encounters your brand

>They are interested so visit your site

> They identify with your brand and so become a customer

> They have a good experience so they tell others about it

If done successfully then once people become advocates and tell others about your brand, those others will engage, visit and become customers and in turn spread the word.

This will only work well if the content that you have on 3rd party sites, in adverts and other promotional content is consistent in experience with your own website and customer services. And it also needs to be appropriate to your brand and suitable for the channel it is in. There is no point having a blog if you rarely have anything interesting to say. If you have a Facebook page then there needs to be a reason for users to visit it regularly, to keep the community alive. There is no point creating emails for customers if the emails don’t have anything useful to say, then it is only spam. This is the type of thing that a good content strategy should do. It should consider when, where and how content is created and placed, when it is created and controlled by you and when it is the people out in the big bad world who do it for you. But the most important thing, is that it should make sure that the content created is serving the brand in the right way. If it isn’t then you are just wasting your money!