How interactive marketing fails because of technical architecture

Interactive marketing is a branch of advertising that aims to involve people directly in marketing materials, providing an avenue for engagement that’s just not possible with print, radio, or television advertisements.

In most cases, “interactive marketing” means “websites”. Interactive television (iTV) is also emerging, though in limited markets at this point. But the issues are similar, if not the same:

How you build something is just as important as how you designed it.

I raise this point only as a result of working with Scott on his presentation for Flash In The Can Chicago (currently underway in the Windy City). Scott has been working for quite a long time on search engine optimized Flash — something of a holy grail in the industry. Flash on its own doesn’t index well in search engines, and everyone wants Flash-based websites.

Perhaps it’s my zeal about making the next great thing, but in my world Technology and Design walk hand-in-hand during the development of any interactive project. Design creates the feel, Technology brings it to life. Design gives the idea, Technology fleshes it out. Both feed into one another, and both grow as a result of each other. You remove one of them, and the other fails.(Don’t believe me? Is there any value in a series of flat images that do nothing? Would you really use a website that was nothing but black text with blue links on a white background with no images or other colour?)

A lot of people out there focus on only one of these things, and it’s in rare cases that it’s Technology. People focus on Design not because its easier, but because that’s what their customers/clients see. If Technology is done right, it’s utterly transparent. It’s when Technology fails that people notice.

How can Technology fail? Think of the things that Technology needs to support:

  • Navigation (this includes browser button support, deep-linking, and the use of navigation within the interactive piece)
  • Tracking (yes, we track user behaviour, so we know what’s working and what’s not working)
  • Content Management (CMS or more manually-operated, doesn’t matter)
  • Domain Management (DNS support, sub-domains)
  • SEO (can search engines even see your website and content?)
  • Content Delivery (the bigger the website, the slower it is to download)
  • Usability (is the site easy to use, Jakob Nielsen’s viewpoints notwithstanding?)
  • Accessibility (are you compliant with WCAG or US 508?)
  • Maintainability (very few websites will never be changed)
  • Standards-compliance (not all browsers are made equal)

That’s just to name a few things. Some of these are more obvious than others, and some are definitely more serious. To illustrate, let’s look at an example: HyundaiCanada.com.

Normally, I don’t like picking on websites (it just feels petty), but it’s relatively recent and I feel that the Technology failed on the delivery. I mention it only because Scott pointed it out as an example he wanted to use to show a failure of SEO.

  1. Complete failure of SEO. As already mentioned, this website does not index at all — all the content is in Flash. Flash does not index in search engines because SERPs have problems with reading the text inside. Only Google currently parses SWF files properly, but the Text Object contains only text — no differentiation for titles, links, headings, etc. No context means no ranking.
  2. Framesets. This site was launched just over a year ago, April 2006. This is well into the Web 2.0 era, and there is plenty of information about building sites effectively. Framesets aren’t even a part of XHTML 1.0 Strict, and are generally regarded by professional web developers as a “bad idea”. They used to make sense … 10 years ago.
  3. Lack of bookmarking. Let’s say you like the Tiburon. You want to tell your friend about it. You’re writing a long email explaining how to get to the page with that information.
  4. Speed of loading. There’s 1.16 MB of data to load the Tiburon page (for example), having started right from the root of the website. While not really a lot of data (a product page within Rolex.com is over 2 MB), all the data comes from Hyundai’s servers, and doesn’t seem to use Akamai (or some other form of CDN) to speed up local delivery.
  5. Try hitting hyundai.ca. Hmm… no cars there. No direct link to the Canadian Hyundai Motor website. Poor experience.
  6. Don’t have Flash or can’t support JavaScript? You see nothing.

You’ll note that none of these specific examples really affect the development or maintenance of the website. This is all about what the user experiences. And user experience is crucial when you’re competing for customer dollars. Let’s say, by comparison, you happened to be interested in a Ford Focus.

  1. It appears as the first organic result in Google. (The fact that Ford also had the foresight to buy Adwords is also a smart move.) That’s a big start to having someone find and purchase your product.
  2. No framesets. This page actually has content, and there’s nothing that browsers won’t support.
  3. Because it does appear through a search engine, you can also bookmark it.
  4. It’s still heavy, and doesn’t use Akamai, but the content loads before the Flash components do, so you get the impression that you’re getting somewhere.
  5. Ford.ca works just fine, thank you.
  6. Even without Flash or JavaScript, you’ll get something. It won’t be particularly pretty, but it loads and you can use most of the site without too much trouble. That’s called elegant degradation, and is always a good idea.

That’s not to suggest that Ford doesn’t have any issues, but it’s miles beyond HyundaiCanada.com.

Building a website? Are you thinking about how you’re going to build it? If you’re not, you should be — because your competition is.

2 Replies to “How interactive marketing fails because of technical architecture”

  1. I agree with the technical standpoint Jeff, but as someone who just used their site to price a vehicle — it was really easy and quite fun to go back and forth to juggle different variations for the Hyundai Accent.

    Perhaps they have little to no SEO objectives beyond coming up when someone types in “Hyundai” – though the site not working if you don’t have javascript or flash is pretty sad.

  2. Fair enough, but what you’re describing is experience. The experience of doing something such as this is very valuable (though I will point out that it’s also very limited at Hyundai — they didn’t get you a lot of options to play with). But the value of that experience is pretty crappy if you’re not sure where to look.

    Those of us in the industry, such as yourself, or those who are web-literate can usually figure out without a lot of effort where to go. But what about someone who has access to the ‘net, wants to do research, but it only told by a friend to “Google it”.

    Not so good. Especially if you want to “compare hyundai accent”. The comparison tool there is horrid. (A far better one exists at MBUSA.com, which I know well from having worked on it in the past.)

    And frankly, if a company’s interactive objectives don’t include SEO, then they’ve effectively arranged a really kick-ass party and not sent out any invitations.

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