Mega Drop Down Menus

I have been doing a lot of work recently to develop a mega drop down menu that is easy to apply and code and is extremely usable. If you aren’t aware of mega drop downs I would suggest you check out the article in Jakob Nielsen’s alertbox dated 23rd March 2009.

The use of mega drop downs is an increasing trend which is sometimes applied well, and other times quite badly. At a recent barcamp in Brisbane I did a short presentation looking at mega drop downs and their use. This is available at

Over the next few weeks I will put up more info on mega drop downs including example code. This may be on the webxopt site, or I may put it on a specific URL. However I’ll make sure this blog gets updated with links.

Overlay Box Usability

I have just started a new company blog for Webxopt (stands for Web Experience Optimisation) and am hoping to put all my work related info on to that site.

My first post is on Overlay Box Usability. Those are the boxes that ‘overlay’ the main content of the page – No surprises there I guess! I have talked about how to put them together and when to use them and when not to!

The post is at

btw – I’ll still be using this site for anything that doesn’t fit my work, which will probably be most things to be honest!

CSS text spacing, Internet Explorer and Dreamweaver templates

I have been setting up a site using a dreamweaver template to set areas of text that a client can edit. There were standard titles which I had put into the template and editable areas for copy between the titles.

To style and space the text I was adding into the css styling such as h2 + p then adding some padding. This worked great in firefox but when I came to test in internet explorer it completely broke.

After a bit of investigation it seems that the problem was the dreamweaver commenting that opened or closed the editable areas. The comment was coming between the h2 and p for example and ie was seeing them as not following each other. Firefox interpretes how you would expect of coarse and ignores the comment! Anyway take out the comments and ie works okay too.

This unfortunatel was the only way I could get the pages to work in ie and therefore broke the template.

This may also be of interest if you are adding commenting into your code and noticing copy spacing in ie is not right.

E-commerce Systems

I have been developing an e-commerce system for my company over the last few months. We decided to use a canned system so I looked at Goodbarry a content management system that allows you also include e-commerce.

I have to say that the site setup in Goodbarry was relatively easy, but it got frustrating when you wanted to change things that were locked in their code. The dreamweaver tools didn’t help much either. I have to say that their support was a little slow too, and their link to email support was very well hidden. In fact I only found it when I bagged them on Twitter!

I was trying to stick with goodbarry though until I got to a real problem. In Australia they really don’t have a delivery solution to products over 20kg. They do have a manual option but without the necessary control to really work.

After running into this road block I looked around for an alternative and eventually settled on gate13. These have been quite responsive to requests for info and have even uploaded special pricing from our standard delivery company. I must admit that the way you had to do this was a bit odd though. Instead of a basic and per kg weight, you had to upload prices for each weight for every postcode. In our case we have products to about 50kg and that meant nearly 300,000 lines on a spreadsheet (btw reply to me if you want a copy of the spreadsheets we put together to automate this).

The other thing that I think will be good for us is the configurable discounts. You can add affiliates, create users that see special discounts, but also create complex discounts based on combinations of items. This is great for us as we normally sell through wholesaler chains and this may help to keep them happy if they don’t like us selling online.

Things I haven’t liked are a couple of the system messages, you seem to struggle to move items like the add to cart button and the design seems to be table based (which I don’t like in my carefully coded css based design).

Gate13 are a lot more expensive than Goodbarry ($115 compared with $35 per month), but so far I have only got frustrated a couple of times!

In short for e-products or light weight goods you can probably get away with goodbarry, otherwise gate13 could be a reasonable choice.

Btw the site is if you want to take a look. It does need more work, but it is usable for our target market!

Google Launch Adwords Guide for SME

Google have just launched a guide to setting up Adwords designed specifically for small business in Australia.

I haven’t been though it yet but will edit this post as soon as I have to give my opinion. It’s good to see them demistifying, I just hope they have explained it with sufficient clarity.

Google Insight, less than Insightful

I am a bit concerned that a few of my recent posts seem to be Google bashing! First let me point out that I love most of Googles apps, I use analytics on my sites as well as Google docs, gmail etc. However I keep finding things that are perhaps not quite right!

About a week ago I did a search on Google Insights for the company I work for, and one of our competitors. I seemed to indicate some unusual activity happening, so I rushed out a report for our management meeting which is in a couple of days (from the date of this post).

To make sure I was up to date, I had another look at the stats today, and to my surprise, not only did it not show this unusual activity. A lot of the line was totally different. I have checked the keywords, period, geographic location etc and these are all the same, but the line is definitely different. Thankfully I took screen shots so you can see for yourself below: –

Same search on Google Insights - 1 week apart
Same search on Google Insights – 1 week apart

I think the moral of the story is probably that Insights may not be quite as Insightful as we think. I really don’t know why this should change, but it makes me concerned that this is really not a tool you can use reliably without significant supporting data.

Google Chrome Ubiquitous?

I have been playing with Google Chrome for a few days now and for the most part have enjoyed the experience. However there are areas which essentially mean that I will not use it as my default browser but and will only keep it for testing.

I won’t go through all the good points. I have to say though that I like the interface, even though it doesn’t really match the standard windows ‘chrome’. I haven’t however found it that fast in fact it seemed to open Google docs slightly slower than Firefox, although I have not timed this to be sure.

So what would stop me using Chrome? If I discount the very very dodgy EULA, I still think security is a major problem. In Safari there is a default privacy setting that ensures 3rd party cookies cannot get into the system, and this is on by default. All other browsers have similar settings, although most aren’t on by default. However Chrome doesn’t have a similar setting, and instead has a rather dubiously named ‘treat 3rd party cookies differently’ or something of that order setting. Not only is it not clear what this actually does, but it seems clear that it doesn’t block 3rd party cookies going out. This is of coarse exactly what Google subsidiary Double Click would want, but it is not good for consumers and their privacy.

My second and biggest reason not to use Chrome, is that it seems to be aimed squarely at Firefox, as there is no way that the large majority of IE users will ever switch. So why would Google take aim at Firefox? In my opinion the main reason could be the much smaller announcement of Firefox Ubiquity about a month before.

If you haven’t had a play with Ubiquity you really should. It is a bit like the launchers available on the Mac. What I mean by that is that you open up a dialogue box with a keystroke and then type a command. This allows you access to functionality in a few keystrokes. With Ubiquity you can add maps into gmail, add calendar items and much more all by typing a few keys. Note that most of the functionality here is to do with Googles apps. and this tool allows you to bypass Googles own interface in many cases. This you would think isn’t a bad thing, but it is where Google makes its money with its ads.

The reason for Chrome could therefore be a shot across the bows for companies trying to bypass Googles ads rather than a particular desire to make a better apps browser.

Smartyhost sucks

I tried the new Google Chrome browser yesterday and went to one of my sites to test it. I was amazed when it through up a malicious site warning so went to investigate.

What I found was some code had been added after the closing HTML tag on the page which pointed to Google-analysis. At first I thought this was some odd response of a beta browser to google analytics but on further investigation found it to be a Trojan.

At this stage I thought it could have been either our ISP trying to track our usage or our host, so I uploaded the page again and the problem disappeared. In further investigation I found that our hosting provider Smartyhost has had problems with this as far back as March of this year, and there was quite a few reports of infections and reinfections after the code had been removed.

I phoned up smartyhost support and asked them to explain why this had happened, why it has not been fixed 6 months later and why they had not informed their customers. The guy couldn’t really answer but said to stop reinfection I should change my password, and write a complaint by email.

First I went to change my password and found that I was warned not to do that due to certificate issues as I logged in. I know that smartyhost have taken the thankfully unusual approach of signing their own certificate, but am unsure if this is the problem or they have further infections. Eventually I decided I was not game to do this.

Having had all these issues I sent what I think was a strongly worded but business like email to them asking for a response in 4 hours, which I think is reasonable especially as they have had 6 months to work up a stock reply. 6 hours later and no response.

The moral of this story is that Smartyhost does not seem able to cope in any way with this sort of issue and I would strongly advise you to think twice before using them. If you are already with them I would probably say change your passwords if you date and get out fast!

Monkeying with Marketing

I came across an interesting firefox greasemonkey plugin the other day called mediatriggerwords that allows you to find and replace common trigger words used in media today. This includes things like the range of killers from Freedom fighter, through insurgent to terrorist. This really changes your perspective when you are reading news as you become more aware of the bias of the news media (or country) to a particular event.

The reason I am commenting on this is that it is not much of a stretch to go from media trigger words to marketing. Imagine a situation where your carefully crafted marketing message is re-written on the fly by your browser.

My best advice, is hopefully what most people do on the web anyway, and that is to stay away from too much marketing speak. Always use language that is easy to scan and understand, and isn’t overtly trying to sell to people. That way not only will your website perform better, it is less likely to fall foul of greasemonkey scripts!

Increase your landing page conversion

I came across this graph today and thought it was worthing passing along. This is well researched info on some easy ways to increase your PPC ad landing page conversion. Obviously these are general rules and you would really have to test your own results, but at least these give you a start on what to concentrate on.

Obviously the best results are obtained from repeated testing and tweaking your page, but it is interesting to see that removing navigation produces such a big effect. What they mean of coarse is removing standard site navigation so that the visitors only focus is the offer.