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Big Orange Slide

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Quality Assurance, meet Obamacare

December 2, 2013 by Helen Garcia

Obama health care website V2

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) website debacle. The problem is the website that’s supposed to allow millions of Americans to enrol so they can choose and purchase insurance plans doesn’t work properly.
In the last few weeks, congressional post-mortem hearings have been held with all stakeholders in the website, including all the web development contractors (CGI Federal, QSSI, Oracle, et al.) and key government bodies like the Department of Health & Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The result? A whole lot of finger-pointing and excuses. No one is taking any responsibility for this major “fail”. Everyone is blaming one another.

President Obama initially said, three days after the rollout, that the website got “overwhelmed by the volume” and he promised a “tech surge” to fix the issue. Although this is a really great excuse, (one that some of us in the tech world have used before), it’s not exactly true. Experienced technical teams should have foreseen such an incredibly high volume of users and should have taken measures to handle such a volume.

Yes, millions of people hit the site at virtually the same time and caused a crash, as the site was overburdened with verifying each user’s insurance eligibility.

Yes, the site couldn’t handle the response of millions of Americans registering.

Yes, the site was excruciatingly slow, and Americans, who were eager to enrol, either gave up or were kicked out of the system.

The real issue, however, seems to boil down to one major deficiency: Quality assurance testing.

CGI Federal and other development contractors claim overall end-to-end testing was the responsibility of an agency within the Department of Health & Human Services. Furthermore, CGI Federal informed their client that more time was needed to work out the major issues with the site. But the Obama administration, fearing political blowback, refused to delay the launch of the website despite the warnings from CGI Federal. Failure to meet the October 1 launch date was said to be “not an option.”

This is where everything seemed to fall apart.

Anyone who has been a part of the development of a website (or any digital project for that matter) knows that the most critical and important stage is the quality assurance testing phase. Before any website goes “live,” it must go through rigorous testing, iterative revisions and re-testing in order to ensure a positive user experience and a fully functional end result. If it doesn’t work, you’re likely to lose your audience… And then, what was the point in the first place?

There are several phases of quality assurance testing that must happen before anything is made visible to the public. Quality assurance analysts conduct several forms of testing including functional testing (does it work?), usability testing (does it work and make sense to the user?), platform testing (will it work on Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc.), regression testing (after developers fix a problem, does it work now?), and much, much more. Testing takes time and resources, but it’s so integral to a successful launch.

In the case of the Obamacare website, we can assume that with the launch date fast approaching, corners were being cut and timelines were being shaved. Agreeing to have the client conduct quality assurance testing is definitely not a best practice, especially when that client is paying more than $500 million for a foolproof solution. Did a full quality assurance test actually happen or did the client just review the front-end/visual part of the site without actually testing the functional areas? It’s hard to understand why any of the parties in this debacle didn’t take ownership of testing the most important and controversial website in American history.

So what can we, as a digital agency, learn from all this?

Test your work. Period. Make room in your timeline for a full quality assurance review. If the timeline is tight, try to revise your scope instead of shaving off valuable testing time in order to meet deadlines. Never, ever expect your client to test the final product properly unless they have a trained quality assurance analyst on their team and you have the ability to work side by side with that analyst. Get a test plan created by a qualified quality assurance analyst and follow that plan. Make time for testing!

For the Love of Brevity

November 28, 2013 by Julia Hart

Once, during a high school classroom discussion, my English teacher shot out of his chair in a vigorous fit of inspiration and bellowed one simple sentence that forever ignited a light bulb above my head: “Omit! Needless! Words!”
 
Omit needless words. For the sake of simplicity, efficiency and beauty, omit needless words.
 
So why don’t we?
 
In an industry laden with sharp tongues and tight deadlines, you’d think we’d be masters of verbal efficiency. Yet we contribute to countless meetings that spill hours beyond their time slots. We create campaigns so verbally and conceptually intricate that we sometimes end up communicating little value to consumers. We pen long-winded decks that propagate fluffy language. And then we repeat.
 
Smart, meaningful communication is concise. Just as a piece of art should contain no unnecessary lines, or a machine no unnecessary parts, the language of advertising should omit all that is unnecessary too (thanks for the inspiration, Strunk.) We’re in the business of selling ideas, and if we can create great ones, our work should speak for itself.
 
We’ve all heard the phrase that talk is cheap. And most of it is. But smart talk is valuable, and guess what? It takes up much less of our time. And with that in mind, it’s my goal to omit my own needless words and face each day with smart, concise talk. Who’s with me?

Grip + Apartment Therapy

November 25, 2013 by admin

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Earlier this month, Grip’s “Creative Playground” of a workspace was lucky enough to be featured on Apartment Therapy. We were thrilled by the opportunity to share the philosophy and process behind transforming Grip into what it is today, and thought we’d share our favourite excerpt and photos from our feature right here on the blog.
 
Props to Apartment Therapy, Rich Pryce-Jones and Justice Darragh for capturing our personality perfectly! For the full article, click here.
 
Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Industrial Chic.

Inspiration: Somewhere between the Coliseum, a children’s playground, a mechanics service bay, and a nightclub.

Favorite Element: The big orange slide.

Biggest Challenge: There were several. Probably the biggest hurdle was cutting the holes in the top floor to create the 3-storey atrium. That, and convincing my CFO that we should cut holes in the floor to create a 3-storey atrium.

What Friends Say: Can I try out the slide?

Biggest Embarrassment: When clients try out the slide.

Proudest DIY: Not really DIY, but Kardinal Offishal shot a music video here last year.

Biggest Indulgence: Probably the slide, and the fire pole. And the 9000 square foot rejuvenation spa and Brazilian waxing emporium. Okay, I was kidding about that last part.

Best Advice: Hire a great designer that collaborates with you. Show them what you like, but give them a blank canvas and keep an open mind. We had a very tight budget, so we tried to use inexpensive materials in a creative way.

Dream Sources: Inspired by the work we do, we tried to make elements of our space represent some of our clients. The dining booths were inspired by our YUM! Client (KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell). The silver boardroom (which we call the “Beer Fridge”) was a nod to Labatt, our beer client, and the large black circular reception desk represents an oversized tire, for our Honda/Acura client. At least that’s what we tell them all. Hopefully it makes them feel a little guilty if they decide to fire us.
 
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David Bowie is…

November 22, 2013 by Lana Pawziuk

The David Bowie is exhibit, on now at the AGO until November 27th, has drawn a crowd of spectators that spans the generations. The multi-media trip, covering five decades of Bowie’s career, explores what influenced him early-on, as well as his own influence on culture.

Set to audio clips from interviews and musical tracks, the exhibit is a blend of cultural and pop history, photography, costume design, videos and art. (Check out this gem from a 1979 appearance on Saturday Night Live).

It also includes 300 objects from Bowie’s personal archive and a unique installation of Bowie’s 100 must-read books. The exhibit’s end features contemporary artist Paul Robertson’s Periodic Table of Bowie which truly captures the depth of Bowie’s influences and nods to Bowie, the chameleon.

The exhibit shows that David Bowie is many things: musician, illustrator (Bowie started his career in advertising), experimenter, artist, actor, and inventor.

Over the years, Bowie has used his talent to transform himself into different characters – often setting the stage for things to come. One of the earlier examples is when Bowie brought the androgynous Ziggy Stardust to life in 1972. More recently, after a long design process, Bowie chose to alter his Heroes album cover to be the cover for The Next Day album. While it appears like a quick and simple design decision, it was much more than that.

After five decades of entertainment, Bowie is still going strong. He’s a true multi-disciplinary artist and an important icon and definer of pop culture. The David Bowie is exhibit brings Bowie in all his myriad forms to life. See it while you still can, – only a few days left at the AGO!

The SEO Paradigm Shift

November 19, 2013 by richardbramer

Google’s recent move to remove all organic keyword data from all analytics reports has certainly garnered some attention. Countless posts have been written to highlight, debate, scorn and in some cases dismiss this final step in a long drawn-out process of removing keyword-specific referral metrics from a website’s data pool. Many search engine optimization (SEO) analysts and digital marketers panicked, dreading the inevitable client explanation for loss of data, as well as the impact on their capability to optimize and increase conversion through rich, organic search traffic. Solutions and workarounds were put forth, none of which were 100% accurate, but all of which combined to salvage a solid SEO metric and reporting amalgamation moving forward.

What hasn’t been given sufficient attention is how Google’s move affects the goal of SEO, and what this move means in the overall direction of search results, and where achieving top rankings in search results is headed. When viewing this move alongside other recent updates from Google affecting search results, it is clear that SEO has entered, and still is entering, a major paradigm shift. The traditional, tactical role of targeting keywords through on-page SEO elements (adding more keywords) and building anchor text-optimized links has been replaced with quality content marketing that provides utility, demonstrates topical relevance and earns popularity among social connections. In other words, a more personalized search is being introduced that won’t rank sites based on how relevant they are to specific keywords, but instead on how useful they are at answering queries to you and to your online community.

It all began on May 21, 2010, when Google introduced encrypted web search, removing certain referrer strings from the code and then announcing that all users logged-in to Google properties would not have their referrer keyword data reported. Over the next three and a half years, more and more users remained logged-in to Google while searching (now the norm) and top browsers (Firefox and Chrome) implemented SSL encryption, eliminating roughly 50% of keyword data worldwide. Then, on September 23 of this year, Google made all searches “secure”, cutting off all keyword data, and thus heralding the “data apocalypse.” Except, of course, from their paid search advertising meal ticket.

But not knowing which specific keywords are driving traffic to your site is not the end of SEO, as we know it. There are several workarounds that allow us to estimate with accuracy, such as measuring your site’s rankings in the search results for various keywords. Although this is only an indicator, if a ranking for your top referring keyword has improved to a top position, you can attribute any increase in volume, engagement and conversion to this change with a fair amount of certainty. Another solid method for inferring keyword data is by creating a custom segment within analytics to isolate all users coming in from the “(not provided)” source and then view which landing pages they are arriving on. From this, you should be able to establish which keyword, or at least which keyword theme, is driving traffic. The other two obvious methods would be to use Bing keyword data (depending on share of traffic) as a representative sample for overall organic search traffic or to derive insights from your paid search campaign results.

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With this custom segment we can determine volumes around menu, delivery, and location keyword themes.

The most important takeaway from this move by Google is how it fits into the much larger puzzle of recent search updates that have completely re-shaped the practice of SEO. First off, the integration of all Google accounts along with the growing share of users that are always signed in while searching has led to a larger influence of Google+ within the search results. Websites that have been +1’d or content that has been shared by anyone in your network (or your network’s network) will have a significant advantage at ranking highly for relevant searches. For example, if you are searching for pizza delivery and someone in your Google+ circles has +1’d a place close-by, a website that would normally rank on the second or third page of results may now rank in the top three positions. Highly localized and personalized search means Google is clearly not finished trying to make Google+, and its seamless connectivity across all Google entities, a significant player.

The latest update to Google’s algorithm, known as Hummingbird, is an update designed to address the rise of more specific, long-winded and diverse searches such as “organic/vegetarian restaurants near the Air Canada Centre.” People are not simply searching for broad, general keywords anymore. In fact, 20% of searches every day are new and unique. The new Google algorithm – with its patented synonym identification based on co-occurring themes – allows it to parse full questions (as opposed to parsing searches keyword by keyword), and therefore allows it to identify and rank answers to those full questions within indexed content. In other words, Google is now understanding more conversational searches, as well as crawling sites in a more topical and contextual manner. While keywords are still important, more weight is being placed on how keywords interact to tell a full story, demonstrated by a recent SEO trend of over-investing in high-quality content from authoritative sources.

When you combine Google’s removal of keyword-specific data from site analytics, the recent rise of local and personalized search results and the shift in algorithm to focus more on topical relevance/authority, it’s clear that SEO will never be the same. Gone are the days of measuring keyword volumes and cheating the system through technicalities. Now that we’re all logged-in to Google most of the time, user tendencies, location and network all have an impact on search results. Furthermore, the Hummingbird algorithm update has broadened the scope of how Google crawls sites and understands content, setting the stage of more emphasis on high-quality, utilitarian content, in more conversational and topically relevant settings. So this “data apocalypse” and accompanying tweaks to what sites match our queries is actually an exciting and welcome development in the world of SEO. The lines between SEO and generally solid digital strategy are becoming increasingly blurred, as the focus is no longer on the keywords themselves, but on the audiences and their immediate needs. It is now near impossible to be lazy about creating and optimizing content – a welcome development from where we’re sitting.

So What’s the Deal with Insta-Ads?

November 15, 2013 by Chelsea Thompson-O'Brien

Alas, Facebook has revealed the monetization strategy behind Instagram, which comes naturally for a company well-versed in the mobile space – 48% of daily users only access the parent social network from mobile, and 48% of ad revenues are driven by mobile ads (as revealed in Q3 earnings.)

We’ve heard the success of the first-ever Instagram ad published on November 1, 2013 by Michael Kors. Compared to five non-promoted posts (all featured on the “Popular” page), the promoted post saw over four times as many likes, reached approximately 4.4 million users, garnered 33,000 new followers (16 times more than average) and over 5% of impressions led to “likes.” Of the comments, 20% showed negative sentiment, but 1% showed clear purchase intent.

The numbers speak for themselves. Content-wise, Instagram ads push marketers and agencies alike to be more creative, strategic and visually appealing, and to remain relevant, and to be seen across the network as being up to users’ standards. The platform will house the most user-friendly of social ads to date if they continue their intensive filter process to ensure only high-quality content, relevant to the style and functionality of the platform.

Is it worth the investment for marketers who have already succeeded on the platform? Targeting is an obvious issue when considering that brands like Michael Kors, who have established massive communities of passionate followers based on compelling content, are now being exposed to users who may not show an interest in luxury fashion. Although targeting currently sources data from both Instagram and Facebook, it still has a ways to go before it eliminates the concerns of reaching too far outside your ideal target.

So what’s next? Fashion bloggers[1] are hoping to monetize their own posts as a response to consumers discovering new products through the platform, which could also play out well in the beauty category. The addition of mobile commerce would fare well as a source of mobile revenue for Facebook as a whole, especially as they continue to venture further into the mobile sphere.

Are you anxiously waiting for the massive rollout? What do you think of Instagram ads?


[1] http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/fashion-bloggers-see-missed-opportunity-monetize-instagram-posts-153576

The Circle by Dave Eggers

November 5, 2013 by Lorrie Zwer

The Circle

‘Secrets Are Lies. Caring Is Sharing. Privacy Is Theft.’

Dave Eggers’ new book, The Circle, takes place in a dystopian near-future where the invention of TruYou, incorporating and connecting all of a user’s email, banking, purchasing and social accounts to their true self, has lead to a total loss of anonymity. A kinder, gentler Internet for a brave new world.

The titular ‘Circle’ is a re-imagined Google on steroids – where the company and its thousands of freshly-scrubbed, newly-graduated employees gather on an idyllic California campus to find new and interesting ways to integrate the company into daily life. A life where privacy is a sin and failure to share experiences is treated as a crime against society.

The protagonist, Mae Holland, is a 24-year old recent graduate who leaves her small-town dead-end job for an entry-level ‘Customer Experience’ position at the Circle, where she quickly learns that every aspect of her performance is measured, and she must constantly strive to be the best. Eggers’ clichéd characterization is off-putting – of course, Mae has a rich, successful friend, an afflicted father and a high school ex-boyfriend, all used to middling effect to show the evil of the Circle as Mae’s upward mobility within the company is tied to its rapid push into omnipotence.

The Circle

The stale characterization fits well with the sledgehammer of a plot. The sequence of events is a rush from beginning to end, each readily apparent to the reader before it happens, as though Eggers wanted to make sure everything fit within the inevitable screenplay. The book lacks subtlety and nuance and reads like the equivalent of a 1970’s Afterschool Special. If your parents read it, they’ll likely try to convince you to close your Facebook account.

Dave Eggers has proven to be a fine writer and his subject is ripe for satire. I can only assume that The Circle is his attempt to cash in on a film deal. My recommendation is to avoid the book and wait for the film to hit Netflix.

Code Red

November 1, 2013 by lucyfosterfriesen

gripBlog_image_CODE RED

People in advertising are a trendy bunch. It’s always fun to be in the loop, to know the lingo, and to be a part of the conversation du jour. Learning to code is red hot right now in digital circles and beyond. While it’s great that coding has become a larger part of the cultural lexicon, I think everyone would benefit from stepping back and taking a minute to think about why they’re doing it and what they hope to accomplish.

Keep in mind that this is a field. People dedicate many hundreds of hours to learning it. That doesn’t mean you should be intimidated, but it also means you shouldn’t expect to pick it up in a day. To me, it seems that a good goal in all of this is to become more familiar with the way coding languages work, what they’re best used for in your industry, and what to be aware of when working with each.

Here’s how to keep your learning focused:

- Start small and think about your goals
- Define a project for yourself
- Make something!
- Talk to and check in with people who know what they’re doing

Look into workshops and websites. There are so many to choose from. I’m a big fan of Ladies Learning Code and will be attending one next month. If you’re interested, get out there!

Codecademy.com Learn the building blocks of web development. Language specific options.
CodeSchool.com Code School teaches web technologies in the comfort of your browser with video lessons, coding challenges, and screencasts.
CodeRace.me Learn to code via a fun racing game.
Dash.GeneralAssemb.ly Learn how to make awesome websites. Dash teaches HTML, CSS, and Javascript through fun projects you can do in your browser.
LadiesLearningCode.com A women-run not-for-profit group working to empower everyone to feel comfortable learning beginner-friendly technical skills in a social, collaborative way via in-person focused classes. Gentlemen welcome too!

#GripLabLive Presents: Alan Cross

October 8, 2013 by Big Orange Slide

Pat Andrews – Associate Partner, Creative – recently had the pleasure of talking to Canada’s foremost and self proclaimed music geek: Alan Cross. Topics discussed? The Ongoing History of New Music, chick-lit, Can-Con, Reach for the Top and Disco Duck. Enjoy!

#GripLabLive Presents: Terry O’Reilly

September 6, 2013 by Big Orange Slide

Last month, GRIP was honoured to host Terry O’Reilly at our first #GripLabLive. Watch as Creative Partner David Chiavegato interviews the award-winning copywriter, best selling author and host of CBC Radio’s The Age of Persuasion.