In the aftermath of the WannaCry ransomware attack, I realise that most people and organisations are woefully ill-prepared for any cyberattack. It's not that they don't have the motivation to defend themselves, but rather those that do are protecting themselves using out-dated techniques and relying on incorrect information.
This group of people are the proverbial "taking candy from a baby" victims. They click on suspicious links without a second thought, and share dodgy links all over social media. They don't need the latest in malware detection software - they need education, or a painful lesson.
On a sidenote, these are the people who irk IT folks the most, especially during cybersecurity awareness / training sessions. In today's digitally connected world, "I don't know IT lah, you teach also no use" and "Aiyah, can you go teach my colleague, I too old to learn already" are no longer valid excuses. If an Ebola outbreak were to occur tomorrow, would you be too old to learn to protect yourself and still continue visiting crowded malls and urban centers?
The backstreet boyz
Remember the yesteryears when most consumer-facing cyberthreats were spyware, adware or a virus that turned your PC into a zombie? Well, some people still do, which explains why antivirus software are still seen as the main defence against cyberattacks.
Not to say that these traditional means of cyberattacks are outdated, but today, there are more threats to consider. The favourite mode of attack for many crackers and hackers these days are stealing credit card numbers and online account passwords. These attacks do not need your computer to be compromised - a central server holding these data will do just fine.
So what does it mean for consumers then? First, update your operating system with the latest security patches. Windows routinely sends update notifications, but these get ignored because the user feels lazy to install and restart the PC. That's the easiest way to block the recent WannaCry attack, but at least 300,000 users did not find the threat severe enough to update their OS before the attach struck.
Of course, maintaining an updated and reliable antivirus is also important, but with malware spreading at a speed that an antivirus software might not catch up with, don't put all your hopes with them. It's like living two blocks away from a police station, and therefore leaving your doors unlocked because "the police will catch them before they come." No, they won't.
Mirroring the real-world, there are the free-spirited netizens who believe in the goodness of everyone on the internet. Surely, they reason, torrented applications and movies that have been downloaded 1000 times before are hosted by good, kind Robin-Hoodesque figures hiding behind digital veils to protect their identity from the evil corporations and Big Brother (and Ah Gong, if you're Singaporean). Why else would anyone take the time to crack the anti-piracy features and release the full download online for us to enjoy, without taking a single cent?
Let me put it this way. If I knocked on your door, showed no credentials but offered to cook and clean the house for you for free, everyday... would you let me in?
Simple steps to strengthen your personal data and digital devices
You're probably thinking, "alright smart-ass, you know so much, you tell me what to do lor."
First, I have to admit I'm no expert, so take my words with a pinch of salt, as you should with anything you read on the internet. But most experts advise the following steps that anyone can get started on.
Hopefully, these suggestions can help you secure your online data and digital devices and reduce the risk of a cyberattack. Drop me a message or a comment if I got anything wrong, or if you feel there’s something else more important that I might have missed, or even if you have any questions on the points I raised!
It may seem hilarious now, but I can assure you that it wasn't when it first happened. As you may already know, I'm running a real estate tech startup, Krib, that competes against agents and the agent-supporting platforms like propertyguru.com.sg and 99.co.
So two days ago, I was pitching to a room full of angel investors, sharing what Krib is about and trying to garner support for the fledging startup. There was drinks all around, and it was pretty informal. Raise the emotional factor, I figured, instead of regurgitating the numbers all over again. Different strokes for different crowds, eh.
Fast forward to the second slide.
"So there's problems with the marketplace today. You're a tenant, and you want to rent a place. You do a search on Propertyguru and BAM. 1,000 listings. You wouldn't know where to start. And then you go on, and find that there's multiple listings of the same property. There's fake listings. And oh my, the quality on some of them..."
"...and landlords want to list it online by themselves without an agent. So they go onto Propertyguru and 99.co and realise that WOAH. They can't do it! These platforms are built for agents. It's helping agents OWN the marketplace, and isn't that a problem for consumers?"
Third slide, and I get more into it...
"So today our competitors are the advertising sites that just list property online, without guaranteeing any level of success. It's an old model, and Krib offers a success-based business model to ensure our users come out satisfied with it."
Some folks in the crowd nods. They clearly have had their issues with the current renting procedure, and I'm glad they're giving me some positive reinforcement. I keep up the onslaught on property websites and their clients, the agents. My pitch lasted 6 minutes, but I felt I could go on forever.
I ended it flush with excitement. Time to network, time to seal some deals, baby. It's a whirlwind of handshakes, namecards and questions with scripted answers. The mood is lighthearted but I knew I couldn't let my guard down.
I spot a distinguished gentleman just ending a chat with another entrepreneur. He walks over and smiles. I flash a grin and take up my 'bring it on' pose.
He starts first.
"Hi, I was waiting to chat with you, um... Gary. I'm the ex-CEO of Propertyguru."
Marketing is such a big word, and there's so much more things to consider these days, with both online and offline channels competing for your marketing money and customers' attention. The goal of this article is to help a business get started by building a presence online, even before talking about SEO, landing pages or online ads.
Build a website in 30 minutes
It used to take weeks to code a website and deploy it onto the 'world wide web'. For non-IT businesses, setting up a website may still be a big unknown as friends, vendors and 'experts' all weigh in with their opinions on whether you need a custom built site, a blog, a Facebook page or something else.
And here's my opinion - get a Wordpress or Weebly site. It doesn't take long, costs next to nothing, and can get you started with online customer acquisition with just half an hour of building a simple but decent looking site.
Oh, for the other options, here are the pros and cons.
Weebly vs Wordpress Content Management System (CMS)
Weebly is a straight forward drag-and-drop website builder, with a bit more flexibility in custom design than Wordpress. Where Wordpress wins in the sheer number of themes to build pretty sites, Weebly allows the user to move stuff around the website.
The other difference is that a free Wordpress account is sufficient to design a professional site. For Weebly, a basic Pro account removes the branding logo and is essential to designing a proper site. This site uses Weebly, and it hasn't disappointed so far. Your mileage may vary.
The Basic components of a website
Most business websites may have one or more of the following:
Depending on what the business is about, some pages are necessary. For example, an e-commerce website will need a contact page with a hotline and an address for customers to reach the company, even though the transaction is made online. Term and Conditions are also important to define the conditions of sale.
For a services company, a summary of services is useful for customers (and Google!) to learn more about the business. A page about the management team might also help define the corporate identity.
Maintain a blog
This is going to be repeated over and over again in other blog posts. Increasingly, a good SEO strategy involves publishing good content, and there's also a lot of marketing karma in sharing quality information with the rest of the internet. With a blog, you can:
Wordpress and Weebly have their own specialised tools to get a blog up-and-running almost immediately. Using these tools, the user doesn't need to manually create new webpages to write new articles - the blogging tool handles it all.
Purchase a suitable domain name and connect to your website
This is one part of the process that no amount of technical expertise can help. Settling on a domain name may be difficult, as over the course of the past decades of internet technology, apparently the whole of humankind has bought many ideal domain names already!
Just from an SEO-perspective, a domain with relevant keywords inside would be a plus, like this oddly specific Carpenter's Boat Shop site. But even if you don't get the keyword in your domain, there's still other areas to optimise for keywords, so don't worry.
In recent years, ICANN (the corporation that defines these top-level domains 'TLDs') have released new domains like .pro (for professionals), .bank (for banks) and .guru (for, well, gurus), to give new websites a higher chance at getting their desired domain name. The only problem is that these domains are still new, so many internet users might be suspicious of a website that calls itself abc.xyz (go ahead, click and find out who owns it!)
For many businesses, the best options are:
Connecting the domain to the website CMS
Ok, this part is pretty technical and different website CMS like Weebly and Wordpress have detailed instructions to get it done.
Basically, it involves asking your domain registrar, i.e. the guys from whom you bought the domain, e.g. GoDaddy, to change their DNS settings to 'point' to Weebly's (or your hosting service) servers. So for anyone who wants to go to your new domain, GoDaddy would tell that user's browser to go to a specific server where the website resides.
If this is all not making sense, fret not. It's just a few simple steps to get it done on Weebly or Wordpress. If even their instructions don't work out, Weebly has a template for you to email the steps to your domain registrar to get the job done for you. But if you're like me and you just bought a domain, I don't think you'll want to wait for anything longer than 5 minutes to see your new website live with the new domain, eh?
To many people, programming is a mysterious discipline that requires years of dedication to the craft of banging out codewords on a computer. Something like learning kung-fu, I suppose, under the watchful tutelage of a master programmer. Well, it might have well been that as recent as a decade ago, as I recall the painful years of borrowing massive tomes from the library, with obscure titles like "C++ For Computer Science And Algorithms."
In recent times however, extremely talented programmers with an even bigger talent for educating others have made programming more accessible. Step-by-step guides with detailed screenshots, hours of professionally shot YouTube videos, and free-to-use sample codes are all available online for free. All you need is someone to show the way.
I know, every programmer will point to Stackoverflow as the one true source for programming knowledge. Take it from me, it's not for beginners, and don't even start posting newbie questions there, or risk the wrath of short-tempered coders.
Prerequisite - A decent text editor. For the truly foolhardy, Notepad will suffice.
Learning Resource - W3School
This is the go-to place when I need to find some information on fundamental HTML components, like how to change colours, or inserting a form into the code. There's even a little interactive applet that allows users to test out HTML code on the browser immediately!
Prerequisite - Python3
Learning Resource - Automate The Boring Stuff
If you can afford to make a small investment, go buy Al Sweigart's online course on Udemy. But he has put the entire book for free on the internet, so there's no excuse not to learn. The course is designed to teach the reader how to use the power of Python programming to automate boring tasks cleverly - like searching for specific phone numbers in a 1000 page PDF document, or posting a tweet every 15 minutes.
It's powerful, relevant and it starts from the very basics of this versatile language.
Prerequisite - Java JDK
Learning Resource - Javapoint
The website may not look fancy and shiny, but it has detailed steps on starting your first program, and an applet to run sample code to test. Once you get the basics in Java programming, you can continue on with advanced concepts like object oriented programming (OOP), or check out Android programming (which is based on Java).
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If you're looking for a tutor to teach Java for kids (or adults), visit Skillsfutured and check out the programming classes there. Heh guess who's gonna be teaching it...
Prerequisite - Android Studio
Learning Resource - Android.com
The official Android site has delivered an awesome tutorial to get started on programming Android apps. It's detailed, to the point, and the site is so pretty. You can't go wrong by starting your journey in mobile development from here.
There's so many more resources for other languages that I haven't listed them, only because I haven't tried them out. But if you're keen on these languages, you can't go wrong checking their respective tutorial sites out.
Ruby On Rails
iOS programming with Swift
Assembly Programming (not for the faint-hearted)
I don't claim to be an expert on SEO, or digital marketing for that matter. Numbers scare me, as do weird acronyms like CTA, CPC and PPC. But I've learnt a fair bit over the past years, and someone recently asked a good question that I thought I can share here as well.
Creating a website is pretty easy these days, and everyone I know has, or wants to start, a website to sell one thing or another (I'm not getting into the marketplace vs your own website debate here). But after spending 1 week building the homepage, some listing pages and a contact us page... *silence*
It seems the statistics were wrong. No one IS on the internet.
Eventually, they hear of this thing called SEO, which is important to be #1 on Google and make me a million dollars fast like Gary Vaynerchuk or Tim Feriss. And they read and find out there's this whole hidden world about lead generation and SEO and SEM and building brand awareness and backlinks and everything oh my god how did I not learn all these in school! And then they start asking for help. I know... cos I was one of them.
So I'm glad someone asked me the same thing. Specifically, three questions.
What are the 3 greatest SEO strategies for lead generation?
In my opinion, the way to get leads organically is to go to the big digital world and hustle. That means being active on comment threads, forums, social media and discussion sites, deftly navigating around trolls and spam reporters.
Practically, it means:
What should a business do to effectively get incoming leads to their website?
In the short term, run an effective and targeted marketing campaign. Unless you can afford the time, paying a bit of money might get a lot of money in return. But do it with the time-tested SEO strategies, e.g. build quality landing pages, stick to the right keywords consistently, make sure there’s a clear CTA etc.
Yes, that's the hard work and patience that needs to go in to get the job done right.
What SEO mistakes should be avoided at any cost if you want to get leads?
Buy backlinks. Urgh it isn’t the 1990s anymore. Google punishes websites for doing it, and it really isn't worth the penalty, since it takes you further than where you were before.
On the flip side, it IS a good way to sabotage your competitors eh? Hmm...
It seemed like a great idea, born out of a utopian vision to enable carbon-free, lightweight and healthy urban transportation. So how did it come to this? Or this? Or this?
I enjoy an occasional cycle down East Coast park on a rented bicycle. It cost $8 - 12 an hour, and anyone who makes it all the way there to cycle would go for at least a 2-hour ride. It's bloody expensive, but it used to be the only way to enjoy the sea breeze while terrifying pedestrians all along the 15+km stretch.
All that's changed now, with cheap bike rentals powered by cleverly implemented technology, or so I thought. The 3 main companies, Ofobike, Mobike and Obike have GPS-tracking to ensure consumers can find the nearest bicycle. Renting is simple enough - just find a bike, use an app to unlock it and pay digitally, and off I go. But they obviously didn't consider that the most important part of their business, the consumer, would be potentially their weakness link.
Traditional bike rental shops must be feeling smug now. On top of the exorbitant bike rentals, they keep the customer's identity card or a $150 deposit to ensure that the bikes are well handled. I've always hated both approaches - giving away an important personal document or a shitload of money, so I can pay a company more money to use their product... well, that's not exactly sterling customer service, is it?
But it works, and future bike renters don't have to deal with broken, defaced or otherwise abused bikes. We're all at fault for why we can't have nice things. AirBnB has to deal with tenants from hell. Car renters have their share of slobs who coat the steering wheel and the interior of a car with as much as oil as they consume in the gas tank. Supermarkets deal with the problem daily.
But surely the solution is not a tech one. It shouldn't be to build a more resilient GPS that cannot be dislodged from the bike. It cannot be a marketplace where people need to rate each other to get everyone to behave themselves, like the latest entrant to bike-sharing in Singapore. It's a human problem that needs a human solution. Parents need to teach their kids to respect property, both private and public. Lose the sense of entitlement, and understand that we're all in this together. Inconvenience others, and you will get it too. It's a recurring tenet in the history of Man, but while technology has reliably progressed onward to greater things... I'm afraid humanity hasn't, yet.
Recently, I met up with an ex-colleague who is currently looking for a job. With a short career in the financial services, he expressed the frustrations of job-seeking in a tough employment market. Unfortunately for him, that's the current situation facing many PMETs in Singapore.
Over the past weeks, minister after minister have stepped out to exhort professionals to upgrade themselves for the digital economy. The Skillsfuture programme has been actively reaching out to professionals, offering subsidised training schemes to keep them relevant. But all these comes at with a fundamental requirement - the employee has to be willing to keep up.
But training is a long-term commitment, and employees currently in the middle of their job hunt are facing challenges in getting their resume to stand out. Having dabbled in the art of guerrilla marketing, I've brainstormed some unconventional ideas for my friend to get a leg up.
Run a Facebook ad
Job seekers need to get their resume to the right person in the organisation, but that seldom happens. The job application might fall to a clerk or an automated system that scans for keywords as an initial selection criteria, or the resume is just lost among the thousands of submissions for a single position.
What if the job seeker went to find the right person directly, using the vast database of profiles that is Facebook? (LinkedIn works too, but it's already crowded with job requests today)
Creating an ad is simple enough:
Who says flyers are only for real estate agents? Target the occupants in a particular geographic location if it makes sense! For example, these guys who went straight to DBS CEO Piyush for a pitch. Sure it may not be a job offer, but CEOs do stop and listen if it's sufficiently engaging.
Senior management folks are likely to stay in landed estates near Bukit Timah, Thomson and Kembangan, so drop resumes there! Just make sure to sure to use quality paper and add in a cover letter.
Be a thought leader. Or at least someone that someone else knows about.
Okay, so this may take a bit more time, but by participating actively in related physical meetups and conferences, Facebook and LinkedIn groups, Quora, Medium, Thought Catalog, Github / Stackoverflow (for developers) and other online communities, you gain street cred. Granted this blog is not exactly the most thought-inspiring site out there, every little bit counts. In time, your website and articles will replace your resume as your professional marketing channel.
These ideas may seem a bit odd and quite troublesome, compared to the spray-and-pray approach in sending out resumes. In the business of guerrilla advertising, it's always the scrappy startups that beat the well-funded MNCs because of their unconventional approach.
For the job seeker with no lack of job offers, just use what works already. But for the woefully unemployed wondering what is going wrong, consider a change in strategy. Oh, and save on giving away a part of your salary to a career counselor or manpower agency. This is free advice!
I've been going on a Udemy shopping spree, especially since they've been giving massive discounts on amazing courses (up to 90% off!). It also helps that the Skillsfuture grant applies to a select range of courses too. I never understood shopping sprees, but I think I do now. Udemy has courses for a wide range of disciplines, from art to engineering and even health-related skills - like sleeping!
This is nothing new though. YouTube has plenty of courses taught by enthusiastic bloggers (and the occasional expert), but quality is usually questionable. Udemy has a ratings and comments system to help users identify the good courses from the unimpressive ones. In my opinion thus far, the ratings haven't let me down.
So what do I have against formal education? Well, in my short time spent learning online, a lot. Paying a premium for onsite education is a dying business in my opinion. Here's why:
"He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches."
Yes, I know it's unfair to generalise all lecturers, trainers, teachers and 'facilitators' as less capable than their industry counterparts. But industry folks do have extensive and relevant experience in the real-world, and they're always updated on the latest in technology and processes.
Professional educators based in a university or a school may be better at delivering knowledge, but an actual expert somewhere else in the world might have both the teaching skills AND superior knowledge to do better. It's a game of numbers in finding a good talent to teach in locally versus finding a great talent in the world to teach remotely.
Moreover, a lot of relevant knowledge these days are still "not-in-syllabus". It's because course notes need to be drafted, developed, tested and approved by a bureaucracy of fellow lecturers, administrators and professional bodies. Meanwhile, someone taking a month-long break can film 10 hours of video, edited with snappy sequences with on-camera examples, and then release it on Udemy, Coursera or EDX.
By the time the lecturer finishes his "introduction to <insert new technology>", the software has undergone a major revision, 20% of his screenshots are outdated, some software libraries are deprecated and students are wondering why they're getting compilation errors on their worked examples.
It's worth mentioning again, that online educators are constantly judged by ruthless students who are always a click away from a one-star review. These guys need to be on their toes, responding to queries, troubleshooting problems and maintain updated course content.
On the other hand, trainers have a feedback form that students need to fill AFTER the course is completed. Sure, they may be axed in their year-end performance review, but that's after training batches and batches of students ineffectively.
Even more ineffective are academics who have to teach as part of their job, the other part being research. I've attended lectures that would have been better delivered in the lecturer's native tongue. I've seen lecturers who read off slides after slides, and then end it off with a recommendation to purchase a textbook for further reading. I've also had lecturers who delivered lectures with the eloquence of a rock. While they are still actively teaching in universities and polytechnics, online courses are covering the same content at a lower cost, with updated content, engaging slides and the ability to revisit the same lessons over and over again.
Of course, this is computer engineering. Some disciplines are more susceptible to disruption by online courses - computer engineering, mathematics, design, business, the arts and social sciences. Basically, if the course does not require a dedicated laboratory with specialised equipment, the entire class can be conducted online. With this assumption, at least half of the courses can be replaced easily with trainers from across the world.
Paper qualifications still matter today, and many people still value post graduate degrees to further their employability and personal network. But in recent years, some professions have started favouring professional qualifications over formal degrees, like the ACCA for accountants, the CISSP for internet security consultants, the Google/Facebook certifications for digital marketers and the PMP for project managers.
These courses are licensed by industry bodies, not formal academic institutions. This could also be due to the fact that many of these professions were created only in recent years, and universities have not caught up with them yet.
Online platforms like Udemy and Coursera also issue certificates of completion. Coursera is working with academic bodies to provide accredited certifications, which might eventually pose a threat to formal diplomas and degrees currently issued only by universities and colleges.
So what can formal education institutions do?
Some universities are already taking action. Harvard and Stanford are among the bigger names that have released video recordings of their classes for the world, some for free and others at a huge discount to their onsite classes. Other universities are embracing remote classes as a way to earn a degree or academic certificate. This is the way forward.
I may sound very dismissive of formal education, the institutions and the educators. No, I owe them a lot for guiding me to where I am today. Startups owe them a round of gratitude for the knowledge and skills to build online learning platforms. Silicon Valley owes them for bringing tech-savvy individuals together in one location. But where we once had no choice but to go to a physical school to learn, the internet has brought us better quality courses for a lot cheaper, and it's time for universities to evolve and produce higher standards in education at lower costs.
They've had a good run for hundreds of centuries. Right now, I hope they can last the next decade.
Many forward-thinking millennials are planning to invest in Singapore real estate. Isn't that great?
As reported in a recent Businesstimes article, the latest Manulife Investor Sentiment Index survey shows that a majority of Singaporean millenials are keen to purchase local real estate for investment purposes. However, the rental yield of Singapore property is seen to be less satisfactory than properties in other Asian countries like Indonesia and the Philippines. But is this sentiment accurate?
Global Property Guide, an international property research site, certainly thinks so. By comparing the rental yields of 120sqm apartments located in a city centres across 10 major cities in Asia, Singapore emerged third from bottom with a paltry 2.54% rental yield.
In an even more pessimistic outlook, a financial blog estimated the Singapore property rental yield at -1.74%, which meant that monthly rents do not cover the property loan installment. Indeed, this could be the case as excited investors snapped up new real estate units in the years before the authorities implemented the property market cooling measures.
Other opinions suggest that a rental yield of between 1% to 2% is already satisfactory in today's market, with the rental index still in a downward trend. To quote a landlord interviewed by the Straits Times, "I'm just glad someone is taking it."
With the overall sentiment that investing in Singapore property does not offer the best bang for the buck, why would a new generation of Singaporeans still plan to jump into the fray?
Millennials expect to work well into their retirement, to maintain their lifestyle and liabilities. Hence, there is less inclination to avoid big ticket purchases that require hefty loans.
8 out of 10 millennials believe that life will be better in the future as they work towards retirement. This encourages making bigger bets today, in the hopes of paying it off easier in the later years.
While not mentioned in the Businesstimes report, millennials might be swayed to invest in property because of the massive appreciation in resale prices over the past decades. Baby boomers and Gen X-ers had profited from investments in houses purchased decades ago, and every Singapore homeowner still harbour the hope of cashing in the trend.
Also not mentioned in the report, the ease of buying a property might also be a factor in this trend. For most other financial instrument, some knowledge of markets are required. For instance, an investor needs to have a trading account to buy a bond, a stock or a REIT. Mutual funds are even more complicated, which may overwhelm and dissuade the young investor. In purchasing a property, an agent would do the 'market analysis' for the consumer, and also handle the paperwork. All the investor needs to do is have enough salary to get the loan.
Having said that, there are savvy young investors who can read the market and identify developments with good potential and offer excellent value. In today's placid market, these come few and far between, which means consumers need to do enough research before committing to a long term investment. For millennials looking to build a family and live comfortably in an increasingly unpredictable economy, the risk is greatly magnified.
There’s two way corporates see design, and I’ve been through both sides in my short career in DBS. The first is that design is an extravagant waste of money better spent developing more features, which is the reason why internal IT systems look more like Craigslist than Gumtree. On the other side of the fence, design seen as critical to the usability of a system. Without it, user adoption would be severely limited, which is a very pertinent point in building public-facing sites.
I like to use Craigslist as an example. It’s ugly but extremely effective and efficient. Pages load in a hundred milliseconds, a big plus for SEO. Users know what they’re searching for, and Craigslist makes it easy for them to find it. A huge and continually chorus of users and designers are heralding the rise of video as the next big thing in web design. Craigslist has to proven to be resilient to progress in multimedia technology nevertheless.
Closer to home, the granddaddy of property listing websites, Propertyguru, is still going strong after a decade. They’ve recently updated their interface to reflect changing consumer needs and modern web design styles, but it’s always been the old list view for a long time. Even so, they’ve constantly beaten STProperty and young trendy upstart 99.co in visitorship and search ranking – of course much of it also due to their savvy digital marketing strategies and large user base of agents.
In many organisations, many internal IT systems are comparable to the loveable giant Shrek - huge and ugly to see and use, but dependable and capable when it comes to getting the job done. In today's complex processes with multiple dependencies, IT project managers rightfully choose to invest the limited budget in increasing the technical capabilities and functions of a custom-built system, rather than dressing it up for the benefit of a small population of users (who would demand regular training anyway, so why bother eh?)
But these examples where function trumps design are the exception rather than the norm. Without a rabid fanbase (comic book forums, Stackoverflow, the infamous Sammyboy etc) or a truly functional site (w3schools, CPF website), poorly designed websites see much traffic. Take Facebook for example. One of the world’s highest visited sites, it has to constantly roll out new functional and aesthetic changes, which are usually panned by the online community (because someone couldn’t find understand Reactions, or the poke button has disappeared etc). But after weeks or months, users grudgingly embrace the change as they adapt to the interface and understand its intended benefits to the user experience.
This leads to user interface (UI) versus user experience (UX). The image below usually expresses the difference in their definition, but both are equally important. Ideally, good UI should lead to good UX, which is a holy grail every web designer aspires to. With videos touted as the next big thing in design, I’m not so sure actually. Remember the auto-playing music that loads up when we visited certain websites back in the 90s? Yeah, that was a bad experience, even though the UI was considered pretty back then.
To be clear, I’m no expert in web design. I’m fortunate that pretty websites can now be built using templates, so not much design or coding skills are needed. But everyone who has anything to do with online marketing, development or anything in between should know a bit about design, at least to optimize webpages for search engines and also not disgust first-time visitors. A few key pointers still relevant today:
Fast page load times
Remember loading pages over a 56kbps modem? Yeah, user hate that lag time, as does the Google Search crawler. Try to search for flights using the ITC travel website, and then try it on Google flights. Both are powered by the same servers, owned by the same company, and yet one is way better than other. Doesn’t take much to figure this out.
Google is still numero uno in search, despite the best efforts of Yahoo and Bing. In an era of content content content, Google steadfastly refuses to out news tickers, lifestyle news, ads, mail etc on their homepage, which sees millions of hits a minute. Instead we just see a search field and a button to submit the query. This works. Yahoo still hasn’t figured this out yet apparently.
Don’t make users think
Online users browse. Scroll. Browse. Giggle once in a while. They come to a page that says “We optimize a new generation of floral-inspired technologists.” What is this? Don’t know, don’t care. Scroll on.
As succinctly as possible, tell the users what the website does, and how it benefits them. But only as much as required. Trim the fat until it’s a lean, efficient message, and blast it right above the fold so users see it upfront (and also shows up in link previews on social media sites). Try to design for a lazy user – no matter how good a product is, first impression matters. Superficiality matters.
In the same light as the point above, “Learn about our business” says a lot less than “Sign up for a seller account” or “Join our newsletter”. Short concise phrases can be broken up further with different colour, font sizes or highlights to emphasize important points. The 5Ws and 1H does work, even in today’s meme-hungry content culture.
There’s loads more tips, and this is just scratching the surface of an entire discipline. My final tip would be to learn a bit about HTML. Enough just to understand and not fear it. It’s future, whether we like it or not.
About this blog
Mostly startup and tech stuff. An occasional rant or two. Travel-related articles are published on my other blog.