Friday, June 27, 2008

So why use a splash page in the first page?

In the previous post I discussed problems associated with sites using splash pages. Here I touch upon why a Flash page should be incorporated into a site.

Flash splash pages are ideal when the web designer needs to test browser / plug-in compatibility, choose screen sizes, or provide an option between a high bandwidth flash enabled site and a low bandwidth HTML one. The splash page acts as the cross roads of a process funnel, directing users how they may interact with the site. It is also ideal for sites that need to post warning message or disclaimers about the content of the site, or if the site is multi lingual.

Splash pages are often used by creative boutiques, individual photographers, designers as an ability to showcase creativity. Here the intro Flash can help set the mood to highlight how the company wishes to promote its services, people expect such companies to be able to dazzle with their creativity and such an intro to a site is often expected.

When and if a Flash Splash page is to be used there are ways to increase the effect. One way is to use a cookie to track if a user is a repeat user. This will then automatically redirect the user to the home page bypassing the Flash-Splash. Using a text or graphic ‘Enter Site’ is an ideal alternative for skip intro and helps people who may be new to the internet. Users usually expect flash pages to load slowly, providing the user interesting facts in the pre-loader or an activity to do while they wait for the splash to load is good way to keep them occupied and prevent them from switching sites.

Lets Splash with Flash

As the web evolved over the years, we have seen a number of innovations and gimmicks that have come and gone. One such marvel is splash pages made in Flash. Splash pages in Flash were originally envisioned to be akin to digital book covers – aiming to provide a feel and set the mood for the site to come, helping spark off the anticipation.

The question for the modern day interactive marketer is when to use a Flash splash page and whether it is truly effective. With the average click attention spans pegged at about 3 clicks use of a Flash Splash needs to be carefully evaluated. For a repeat user having a splash page doesn’t provide any value to the visit as he is most likely to skip the intro, having seen it previously, in such a scenario it is merely an obstacle to where he wants to get to.

From an SEO perspective, Flash pages are not considered a boon due to the absence of keywords and the fact that these pages usually have one link (leading into the site) and are rarely cross-linked. The fact that Flash Splash pages have redirects make it even more less likely that the page will be listed by a search engine. Some search engines crawl through only the first three levels of a site and a splash page is effectively the first level. This is yet another way in which a Flash Splash affects the SEO chances of a site.

Taking into consideration the drawbacks of using a Flash Splash, one option is to provide the user with a skip intro option. This however insinuates that the content of the intro is not of primary importance, leading to the issue of credibility. The splash also detracts viewers from the homepage. If a viewer gets frustrated with the load-times, he encounters for an intro animation he might just head elsewhere, even landing on a competitors site! Thus, the splash page acts as a barrier to the site’s primary offerings. Bailout rates for splash pages have been found to range from 16% to 71% for splash screens (Nielsen 1998, Sullivan 1997, Marlatt 1999).

Monday, June 16, 2008

Computing the Potential of IT in Retail

With retail booming across India it is high time to take a closer look at the impact IT has on the retail scene. It is a well known fact that today’s retailers are highly dependent on IT for processes such as stock keeping. The question that poses the interactive advertiser is, how can IT be leveraged profitably within the retail space to promote products.

One solution that has been implemented in certain stores such as Shopper Stop is store specific interactive displays. These are screens that are very similar to the Out of Home advertising screens that have popped up around metros. The differentiating factor being that these screens are focussed on in-store promotions.

The next logical step would be to use OHP LCD projectors to project brand specific messages within the store on a larger scale. Interactive kiosks could be effectively used for white goods and high involvement purchases, allowing consumers to discover the features of products showcased. This would educate customers and alleviate the burden on the sales force (which is often ill-equipped to deal with customer queries anyway.)

Beyond the obvious and what perhaps may have the most potential is in-store IT enabled announcements. In-store announcements as it exists today are dull and boring, employees who read out offers are merely doing it to make their daily bread and put no emotion into it. The result, an irritating cacophony that no one is really paying attention to within the store. The need for the day therefore is an automated system that generates in-store announcements that have some feeling to it. The problem is that the system would need to be highly dynamic to be able to keep up with constant changing offers.

A possible business model would be to have studios that are established for the sole purpose of recording such in-store announcements for retail chains. This could result in announcements that are not only pleasing to the ear but might actually induce customers to inquire about the offer at hand.