Parallax Web Design for Engagement, Storytelling and Online Branding

We are all more aware than ever that web design styles are shifting  towards user experience as opposed user tasks and usability. Users demand to be engaged, entertained, educated and enticed into absorbing content online. Parallax web design, used in the right context, has the ability to deliver a really strong connection to an online brand experience, based on the interactivity of the website, the journey and the focus, realism and context given to the content or product.

Often, examples of Parallax web design focus on product examples, such as Google’s Nexus 7 page, but I hope to show in this post that there are opportunities for other types of organisations such as B2B businesses or charities to use Parallax design for deeper engagement. The examples show that Parallax design can offer a more interactive version of infographics, better suited to communicating your core brand messages.

As Robert Yardy explains in his review of 2013, it’s an approach we’re seeing more often:

Parallax web design is a technique of using CSS to make different layers on the web page move at different rates. When a user scrolls down a page they will be presented with content, such as photos, videos, text etc coming in from different angles and not just all moving down the screen together.

Advantages of Parallax sites

Bring your brand to life

Parallex websites have a certain advantage over traditional websites in that they can provide a richness to a brand or product, difficult to execute via more traditional web design and build techniques. Branding online is less now about an identity and tone of voice, it’s about engagement with content and the appeal and connection to the specific audience groups.  Thisrunning shoe site from Puma for example creates a rich experience that delivers depth, realism, 360 degree product views and more for its shoe. More than that though it delivers a brand experience to users that Puma are innovative, have great content to share and are giving users the empowerment to discover their branded product in an interesting way.



Parallax design example 1

Can Make Complex Information Engaging and Accessible

The web should make life simpler for people, not more complex. Parallax, done well can make complex information, through it’s presentation, engaging and informative in bite size chunks. This website for the Council for Economic Education in the USA aims to inform students and stakeholders of the reality, risks, dangers and options available to them. There is lots of data on this website, related around key themes, and if presented in a more standard way, would probably not engage the user or ensure they take in the relevant information.

Parallax design example 2

Tells a Story

Another great execution that Parallax scrolling offers, is the ideal setting to tell your story in an engaging and interactive way. Let your visitors take control and let them walk through your story at their own pace. The different layers that respond differently to the scrolling behaviour can create a sense of depth and even allow for multiple story lines. This clever example, Every Last Drop creates a highly relatable narrative, allowing room scenery to assemble and disassemble around the protagonist. Timed to perfection, the embedded facts are easy to read and digest, and are supported by the dynamic environment created by the multiple layers.  

Parallax design example 3

Disadvantages of Parallax

Slow Page Load Times

Patience is not a virtue that too many people have in today’s online space. High saturation of broadband and quick to load optimised websites offer for many, a quick on-demand web experience. The bulk of images, css and JavaScript loading on one page can take a longer than ideal time to load, especially for that important “un-cached” first visit.

It’s Simply Bad for SEO

Parallax website design simply, is not SEO-friendly. Due to the nature of parallax websites, all or in some cases most of your site content exists on one single page. This means that you can miss the opportunity to define important meta data and title tags within the site, which are one of the most important factors in determining page rankings in your favourite search engine.

Traditional websites of course offer the opportunity to target keywords by using meta tags on individual pages which communicate with search engines to establish your page ranking and thus increase the page specific relevance to the user’s tailored search terms.

Additionally, in a parallax environment, we tend of see a trend for multiple H1 headings on the page, which compete with each other for the search engine crawler’s attention because they are on the same page. This does not help clearly establish what your site or page is about and ultimately hurts your page ranking.

It’s Not Ideal for a Responsive Experience

Parallax scrolling websites are difficult to design responsively. Normally, separate mobile specific website that offer a completely different experience to the user are created for mobile, due to software, hardware , browser and connectivity issues hindering the similar parallax experience being deployed. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, for the more task centric  mobile – user, but for brand consistency it is often a bit of a let down for the client and the customer! Not to mention this if you are in the client services industry, your client may not be happy with the added expense and administration requirements of creating a second “mobile only” version of their website.

What’s best for your brand?

It’s such a difficult question and the correct answer really does depend on the context and what role or roles your website plays in the brand journey for your customer, importantly in the marketplace and amongst the competitors you face.

To expand, if you are a new brand in the marketplace, that does not offer e-commerce or a specific online – centric function. nor has any immediate plans to; for your brand, awareness and emotional connection to the brand and what you stand for, is of utmost importance. With this in mind the storytelling, impactful and illustrative nature of parallax might just be right for you. It can be a head turner, an attention grabber and a brand – awareness vehicle well worth the investment.

In contrast if you are a company that needs a website to deliver high volume search traffic, online sales, requiring an intuitive, quick, responsive and highly accessible web experience for your user, then perhaps Parallax isn’t for you.

There is though room for Parallax to be a “part” of your digital media mix at some point in the customer communication journey with your brand. For instance, if you do not wish to use the website style for your main customer or consumer website, you may still have a strong wish or rationale to deliver a campaign, event, or specific product mini – site in this format; it may just be right for that niche purpose.

The key thing to bear in mind when it comes to using this style of website design and user experience, is to weight up the pro’s and con’s and decide if it’s right for you, most importantly in relation to your own sector, marketplace and amongst the competition. Perhaps most importantly and to conclude, do not try to find a place for parallax, simply because you like it. Start with your own business goals, the impact you may or may not have to make online and the specific online goals of your users before considering the most appropriate web experience.

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Please… NO MORE Lorem Ipsum.

Good old “Lorem – Ipsum”; the poly-filler or generic padding of web design. It’s a big part of what makes some web designers and web owners often skim over and ignore what a piece of design is trying to communicate, focussing instead on whether their logo is big enough, how lovely the button styles are, or how #amazeballs the parallax scrolling on the website is. As an advocate of the importance of appropriately and contextually used content, it says something different to to me. It says:

The content doesn’t matter very much. I’ll just use this space to represent some sample content. Those that see this right now or when it’s lively likely don’t care. I have no real idea how much content ,or in what format the company wishes to present this for their audiences.

A great design is only great if it delivers the content that matters in a clear and accessible way.  Designers need to consistently design their digital products centered on the content and facilitating the most interaction and engagement with that content. For me, content IS the heart of successful web and digital application design.

How can a digital designer get a feel for page design, user experience or interactivity without a sense of its purpose, the audience needs and what it is all attempting to communicate? Writing from my experience of working on web projects over the past  decade, I have seen many examples of the projects that end up getting the best results for my clients; they are the ones that are designed around the message, and not those that are designed first, before real content and focussed messaging becomes an afterthought; something to fill a gap, that might be ill – defined.

For many it is a different way of working, but through working at Mammoth and realising beforehand the importance of branding through content – it is now the first aspect of “design” we consider. It does demand that clients think harder about what users want from the website or service, and how their content can deliver it. It’s more effort, but that can only be a good thing.

So this is a plea for the end of Lorem Ipsum and why we all need to say no…

 Why using Lorem Ipsum will make your project fail.

  1. It shows a disrespect and lack of understanding of your audience and how they want to engage with your brand.
  2. Lorem Ipsum shows you are approaching the project the wrong way round. Always think content first.
  3. Designing the site around real content that answers genuine questions is what will get results for your site.
  4. It shows a lack of collaboration between designers and content creators – the best projects see copy, imagery, video and design working iteratively, hand in hand.
  5. It often shows you don’t have the central message clear from the start. If you don’t already have brand driver and the main story established then don’t design. You essentially have nothing clear and established to start with.
  6. Designing around the content helps refine the thinking about the best way to communicate it; not how “nice” the page looks. The project is stronger for it.
  7. The words on a page and the design of the page are inextricably linked. You can’t do either of them properly in isolation.
  8. Valuable content is everything to a successful strategy at any level; large or small – one dimensional or multi-dimensional. If you treat content as an afterthought, you will fail in a content rich, time short online user landscape.

Content is key, and before design starts it is important to create or streamline the content that needs to be communicated. The… what, why, how, for whom, by whom, when, where, how often, what next?” Once this thinking is done, streamlined, tested and is matched to the brand – content creation and online design can work iteratively and with cohesion. All for the good of the users and the business.

No more Lorem Ipsum.

Content Marketing: Building brand loyalty and lasting relationships

2013, if you haven’t realised it as yet, by the vast amount of attention it is grabbing, is the year of Content marketing . Study after study have shown that content marketing can turn the unaware into aware, the non-engaged into advocates and web browsers into customers. It does though require effort, resources and quality creators. To be successful, content marketing relies on sharing a regular dose of quality content and producing this takes a big investment in time; not to mention being creative with it.

What Could Content Marketing do for You?

Content marketing if done well helps you and your business build relationships with customers and stakeholders. Surely, that’s what it;s all about in today’s world. A quick sale or smash and grab approach to any sort of custom or engagement will not last. Nowadays with people continually engaged with digital and social content, making sure you’re part of that connection and engagement through content will put you on the right track to success.

Build Trust, Engagement and Relationships

Content marketing can ensure you and your businesses’ reputation is visible, enhanced and supportive of relationship building. It helps those that see your content get what you and your brand stands for,  allowing relationships to be built and puts the consumer in the mindset of how you or your products and services could enrich their lives.

Anything worth having takes effort. Content marketing is no exception. It won’t guarantee overnight success, but it is sustainable, scalable and in the digital world a cost effective option. Done well, it will build trusting relationships and in turn an amount of social media advocates acting as your own business development department (for free!).

In an E-Consultancy survey on content marketing in October 2012 the value companies were placing on it, was clear to see from some key outputs.

  • Over 90% of respondents believe that content marketing will become more important over the next 12 months.

  • Nearly three quarters (73%) of digital marketers agree that ‘brands are becoming publishers’.

  • Less than half of companies have dedicated budgets (34%) or individuals dedicated (46%) to content marketing.

  • Increased engagement is the most commonly cited objective for content marketers, with 52% of in-house marketers and 58% of agency marketers listing this as one of their top three business objectives.

McDonald’s… They’re Loving it.

Researching the best content driven campaigns I read about this “Our Food – Your Questions” campaign ran by McDonald’s Canada. I especially like it because it’s totally user-centric putting them in control of the initiating and response questions as they ask McDonald’s the questions.

Launched in June, the Our Food, Your Questions  program invites any Canadian to ask any question whatsoever about McDonald’s food on a special website. To ask a question, participants must connect with either Twitter or Facebook, providing social visibility and a ripple in the pond viral effect.

mcdonalds our foodSo far, more than 16,000 questions have been asked (they are getting 350 to 450 per day), and nearly 10,000 have been answered. The program scope is only around McDonald’s food, so questions about non-food topics are directed to other resources, and some questions are of course duplicates. But there’s no dodging the tough questions, and that’s the amazing thing about this program.

It could have been easy for them to say, “It’s too risky,” but this is just the type of marketing edge McDonald’s needed. It has all the qualities attractive to today’s consumer — engagement, great customer service, offering transparency (and thus building trust) — and does so on a platform that makes sense in today’s social age.

Content Marketing Types

Once you’ve decided that content marketing is worth pursuing (which it will have to be eventually) you need a plan of action. It is often easier for bigger companies; they have an advantage to when it comes to producing editorial-style content with a budget to research, edit, produce and respond to their content campaigns.

If you’re an SME and don’t have the budget to work with a professional, it’s important to make sure that the type of content you create is playing to your strengths. Think about these content types below to see what mix might work for you.

1. Blog posts and articles

A great way to gain credibility, spark opinion and build though leadership. Whatever industry you are in, you have expertise that your audience will be interested in hearing about. A blog filled with advice, ‘how-tos’, opinions and topics related from your industry can be a brilliant way to present and share your knowledge and connect with your audience. If you have a flair for writing, blog. There’s no excuse.

2. Video Content 

Video content is the most effective way to engage and get across information. If your brand is visual or you have stuff worth showing off to the human eye, get the camera out and start sharing. YouTube and Vimeo are great platforms to connect to a new audience and it is much easier than you think to put together a professional looking video. Vine, a new smartphone app allowing you to shoot and publish 6 second videos, built your way at once or via stop motion has allowed many brands and individuals to get even more creative and social with their video content.

3. Images and infographics

Graphic images and infographics can be a great way to share tips and tricks with your fans in a n engaging and highly accessible visual way. This kind of content is often much easier to share – which is a great thing as long as people know that your company created it in the first place! Make sure you put your company name and URL in the image/infographic somewhere.

4. Social

Independently, but best integrated to the above content types, social media is a fantastic way to stay connected and inform and respond to your audiences. At an individual level it can allow you to provide excellent levels of customer service, at a more holistic level it can attract fans, improve your SEO and enhance your brand by having engaging content and the ability for content to easily attain viral context.

Top Tips

1. Put together an editorial calendar or schedule

Your content marketing strategy will be much more successful if you are consistent with it. Set yourself a target for each week, and stick to it! Assign certain days of the week for certain content activities (allowing time for research).It can be a good idea to plan ideas for content in one go and add them to an editorial calendar or schedule. Don’t forget to be flexible as the environment and your customers can be unpredictable.

2. Collaborate

Creating quality content week after week can be difficult. Think about utilising your network, lifting some of the pressure and getting help. If you have a team of staff working within your business, consider spreading the responsibility for creating content. This also allows these people to become more engaged within the company and also this may be attractive brand enhancing element as users get to know the staff, who are also content creators.

3. Stay professional and on brand

This is so important. Being silent and not engaging online is not as bad as being off brand or unprofessional online with content. When you’re updating your business’ blog, or Twitter feed or Facebook page, it can be tempting to stray outside your area of interest. Take my advice; don’t do it! It’s vital to stay professional and on brand. A good way to do this is to set out from day one what topics and interests you are going to post about. Also ask your audiences what they wish to see and hear and get them to contribute. Getting your audience writing content for you is worth it’s weight in gold.

4. Stay Humble. Stay Persistant

It’s NOT possible to be an overnight success in the digital world. Look at any successful blogger or YouTube broadcaster, and you’ll likely find that they were creating and sharing content regularly for a long time before they received success. This will also be true of you and your business. It’s important to stay motivated and keep going, even if it feels like no one is paying attention at first. A moment may arrive that gains some traction and builds momentum for you, your business and your content. Experience will help you attain higher levels of impact and increased chances of traction amongst audiences.

In Summary…

No matter how big or small your company is, you have the ability to use the principles of this marketing strategy and use it to reach out and connect to your audience. They want it, crave it and have time for it, so there’s no excuse. Find the right mix of type, resource and timing and success can be only round the corner.

It’s important to plan and research before jumping in with both feet. Before you get started it’s important to think about what kind of content will best showcase your business’ brand, and what kind of topics and interests it will be most relevant for you to cover. What have your competitor’s done? Are there examples abroad that could be mirrored or tweaked to suit your business? Taking the time to put these thoughts together in a strategy will be much more beneficial in the long run than jumping right in with both feet into writing and creating any sort of content.

Keep engaging your audience with quality, on brand and timely content, and you’ll see the benefits.

Content Curation: Digging out and delivering digital content that works

Content Marketing is the trending Digital Marketing topic of 2013. A strategy for the online content you are publishing, now more than ever seems essential for online engagement, search and social sharing of your brand messages or services. It’s not new of course, it’s always been there in various forms. Now though, everyone is a publisher – everyone is a mass consumer – everyone is a media outlet to spread the news – everyone is using digital as a communication tool. Now you simply cannot afford not to give your audiences the digital content they crave, how they want it and in a way to keep you competitive and engaged with your audience and customer. It’s not an easy challenge to effectively and strategically develop a content strategy that will work, especially if resources are limited.

As a blogger I know all too well that thinking, planning and actually delivering on original content to write on my blog or post on social media can be time consuming and challenging. Inspiration comes in many forms. Often the best content is not always 100% original. Often the best traction can be attained from curated content; but it has to add value. It must correlate to your brand, products, services and generate insight, interest and debate beyond the original author(s) points. Now… if you are really looking to have an impact with your audience, curation should not be the beginning and end of your content strategy. Totally original content (if there is such a thing) if you are involved in digital marketing, or mostly original, should still be a key part of your content strategy; it will build brand recognition, trust, thought leadership, differentiation and enhance your sense of meaningful content contribution to your audience. Overall though, for the majority of brands, organisations and individuals – it makes sense to centralise content curation in addition to publishing original articles and any other form of content such as news, events, products etc in their various forms.

It Takes Time…

Effective content curation happens over time. Of course it cannot exist individually, staying active across social networks, industry events and of course originating your own content play a big part of the content marketing challenge. Curation though, can play the central role in generating your brand awareness, credibility and popularity. Having something interesting to share in context to how you interpret it, the benefits to your audience, or your opinion on it’s industry validity and use can often be as effective, or if not more, effective than original content that might not meet your audiences needs.

1.Source – 2.Curate and Comment – 3.Publish

Successful curation does not happen by chance. Of course, stumbling across something worth sharing naturally occurs, but this doesn’t mean you should; you are right and also your audience might not want or care about it right now. By effectively setting up channels, approaches and time to correctly source, filter and the in a timely and effective manner, publish content, you will find results become measurable, resources can be allocated and trends can become established.

1. Source

Your sources of content to curate could be.

  • Subscribing to the most appropriate online and offline publications
  • Social Sharing sites you can or should subscribe to
  • Social media monitoring tools like Social Bro or Hootsuite
  • Aggregators such as Storify, Flipboard and Scoop.it
  • Press release distribution services
  • Google Alerts

2. Curate and Comment

Your curation content can be a selection including some of the following content types

  • Statistics, research, white-papers and reports
  • Posts from influential people important to your target audience
  • Best practice content writers on blogs, news, training, industry events sites
  • Guides and eBooks
  • Infographics are hugely popular and easy to digest information from
  • Tips and “how to” lists.
  • Videos are great for engagement so embed away…
  • Slide share presentations, which can also be embedded

3. Publish

Where might you publish curated content…

  • Company or brand blog, of course – this should probably be your hub
  • Email Newsletters
  • eBooks, guides and white-papers
  • Social networks
  • Guest author posts on industry sites

Success Factors

Strategic and timely content curation, as part of an overall content strategy can lead to many positive online factors:

  • Improve website traffic, interactivity and engagement
  • Help you or your brand / business to become a thought leader particular topic (this will take time!), naturally you’ll be more find-able online as a result
  • Generate website leads through awareness, SEO and carefully constructed calls to action.
  • Become well known by people of influence in your industry leading to networking opportunities and organic sharing potential.
  • Increased conversion on audience goals due to improved confidence in the curator and organisation

Success will be gained, as with all content marketing, when you take the time to learn and focus on what matters to your audience or community and align that with your own online value proposition. The more considered you are about any content you curate, or in-fact create, the more naturally you’ll optimise the content that your audience is craving and it will gain traction across search engines.

This video below is well worth a watch, breaking down the purpose and tactics around successful content curation and supporting some of my previous points.

My Top 5 Digital Marketing Curators

Some of the many blogs and social accounts I value highly from a curation point of view are listed below. I could list 20+ reputable sources but I guess everyone that might read this already subscribes to mashable and e-consultancy for example. For me, these curators add value as they don’t always post the same content type, don’t simply re-tweet the obvious posts from the big players, they have interesting comments and opinions based on their sourced content and keep their curation efforts varied, fresh, engaging, on brand – and importantly sprinkled with thoughtful opinion and insight. Naturally, they do not solely curate. Original and engaging content forms part of their mix and that’s one of the key reasons why their content curation is also highly valued by myself and many others. I’d recommend you visit and follow them for your own digital marketing curation efforts, or look at what they post to get some good ideas.

Simply Zesty

http://www.simplyzesty.com – @simplyzesty

Christopher Wellbelove

http://about.me/wellbelove – @wellbelove

The Drum

 http://thedrum.com – @thedrum

Silicon Republic

Siliconrepublic.com – twitter.com/siliconrepublic

Ion / Niall McKeown

http://ionology.com – @niallmckeown

Billy Ray Harris: Lord of the Ring

A Homeless Hero: The Power of Online Storytelling

This week I stumbled across a story online, not only worth sharing for it’s interesting content but also for it’s ability to highlight the true power of the digital world to share something positive, engage with people’s emotions and then encourage positive action.

Billy Ray Harris of Kansas City recently returned a diamond engagement ring, which fell into his collection cup, to it’s rightful owner. He found the ring among loose change after its owner, Sarah Darling, accidentally dropped it when she was giving him some change. When Sarah went back the next morning, she found that Harris had been waiting for her to return that ring.

What a humbling and amazing gesture for a man with nothing. A man who could have used the ring’s value to improve his current situation and get himself some things to help him survive. This story certainly helped add some more positive weight to my global humanity perception scale.

As if that wasn’t amazing enough, to show their appreciation, Sarah and her husband set up a Giveforward fundraiser with a goal of raising $1,000 for Billy Ray. The total now sits at the time of writing, €138,000 after only 10 days. With 81 days left Billy Ray could become a very wealthy man indeed. He certainly won’t be out on the streets begging for loose change.

Sarah’s husband posted a blog post updating donors with Harris’s response to the news and his plans for the future. He wrote:

“We talked about a lot of things related to my family’s ring and the many donations. We talked about one day in the future the ring may … be passed down to my daughter. We talked about how insanely positive all this has been. We talked about what he’s planning to do with the donations. The details would be better left for later but know that he has a very solid plan and a very solid way of making it happen.”

For me this example really highlights the ability for the virality of the web to raise awareness, capture the hearts and imagination of those that care, of those who become aware of such kind acts of humanity and who may not have given Billy Ray or any other homeless person their loose change. How this money and new found fame affects Billy we’ll soon see. I’m sure his selfless attitude will ensure he spreads his fortune. I’m sure amongst the escape from poverty will come a struggle with adapting to the real world and rebuilding his life under the public eye, but for now I am delighted to see the virality of the internet once again proving it’s positive worth for sharing stories, connecting individuals, raising hope and rewarding those who deserve it with positive actions.

Whilst writing this article it made me think of a previous blog post that I wrote after my Ad Age Digital Conference attendance last year. In this article I mentioned how the true value in content engagement is creating content that is emotional. People will take action, engage with and share content online that emotionally connects with them and their friends, peers and connections.

With Billy Ray Harris and this campaign, those who donated are not just donating money online to any homeless guy they heard about. If that was the case, every homeless person would set up a donation page right now and get rich. With Billy Ray, your emotions are supercharged by the story behind the campaign; the humbling actions of a man in need, who made the right choice over the selfish one and who has created the unlikeliest of friendships that we can all now read about. Now that’s emotional content. That’s what makes a difference to people’s level of engagement and that’s what has made Billy Ray Harris an overnight sensation and changed his life forever.