The Analysis Centre in Affino has undergone a continuous evolution since we originally launched the very first version. Every single Analysis screen has seen two or more updates over the past year, some have seen dozens.
Recently we’ve accelerated the evolution considerably as technologies firm up and we’re able to roll out much smarter, more immediate analytics interfaces.
Previously a great deal of our focus was on the Dashboards, we found that in practice very few users ended up configuring these, instead preferring to use more basic tools which needed less effort.
It means that we’re now focusing more on ready-made stats interfaces which are optimised right from the outset to give you the best views of immediate activities whilst also giving you insight into long-term trends.
The one exception is the Customer Ladder in which all the metrics are customised by you, far beyond what was possible with the Dashboard.
Besides the death of Flash, and the impact that had on most dynamic online analysis tools, we found that Affino collected too much data, too easily. On the surface it’s great to capture and retain every data point, but very quickly this incidental data starts to weigh down on performance and drive up costs.
We believe we now have the mix just about right by extending the data series to two years, and we’ll scale up from here. We have done this by doing a great deal of data crunching.
Aggregating data continuously to provide daily, weekly and monthly overviews essential for long term trends, cleaning up the millions of un-used underlying data points.
At the same time we’re also providing better insight into Now and the most recent trends.
Updated Analysis Centre
When you go to the Analysis Centre there is now an instant overview of the activity on your site, with live updates of how many members, guests and bots are on-site along with the latest activity. There’s also handy snapshots of the overall level of user engagement for the day and recent past.
The Analysis Centre itself is now organised into categories so that for example all the Promotional analysis tools are grouped. When you go into each analysis screen, you will notice that many are now much faster than
The new Messaging 2 suite in Affino is not simply an incremental update, it is a complete re-imagining of how messaging should work for businesses online.
It has meant a fundamental re-think of how bulk and targeted messages work, and breakthrough improvements for notifications and auto-responders.
Sales and Marketing Automation
Messaging is at the heart of sales and marketing automation. Typically though it is necessary to integrate with many different systems to achieve even the basics of an effective messaging campaign.
Although Affino’s Messaging doesn’t do everything that tools such as Mail Chimp, Mandrill, Hub Spot, Eloqua, KISSmetrics and Scout do, it does a big part of it, and a whole load more.
It also does it at no additional cost, with easy-to-use tools, and with no code integration required.
Message Campaigns vs Mailing Lists
The first big change with Affino’s new messaging comes with the splitting off of the mailing list from the messages being sent. Affino now has Mailing Lists and Message Campaigns in place of Newsletters. Mailing Lists manage the actual subscribers, whilst Messages are sent out based on your Message Campaigns.
This means you can target your mailing lists in much more creative ways by running multiple messaging campaigns against individual mailing lists.
It also means you can do much more to target your subscribers effectively, whilst maintaining a unified unsubscribe and bounced subscriber list across multiple campaigns.
Premium, Personal and SMS Message Campaigns
You can now run three distinct types of messaging campaigns. Premium messages act the same as the previous Newsletter messages. These are tailored messages which can have high design values and where the message content can be highly targeted, automated and personalised.
It is now also possible to send out bulk SMS messaged and Personal messages. Personal messages are instant messages which appear to be sent individually, but are in fact sent in bulk.
We have also made it much easier to send out individual messages and to test / preview those messages. You can now simply enter in the message content, and Title where they are being sent by email. You can then preview them, send test messages or simply dispatch your message
The most significant of the eCommerce introductions in the Affino 7.1 release is our new Store Credits system. This of course bolsters the existing Service Credits - where Consumers are rewarded for their onsite activities with access to premium features and functions. Store Credits of course give your website a fully monetised approach to incentives.
Customers can accrue Store Credits in three ways - by making a purchase, similar to the Boots / Frequent Flyer / Nectar / Tesco loyalty points schemes, secondly by triggering any of the circa 40 Conversion Events (various online activities), and finally - Credits can be assigned manually to Users - either for incentive purposes or for transactional refunds.
The Checkout Screen (top) makes customers aware of the Store Credits system (name it what you like!) and displays ’Total Points’ accrued and ’Points received’ for that specific transaction.
The above, second visual, is actually a composite of 2 different control-side screens - a ’Store Credit Profile’ above and the ’Incentives’ panel below - as appears on any of Affino’s 40 Conversion Events. For the former, you set the Point limits - the Threshold / minimum points required for redemption, and the Maximum Order Percentage for which the points can be redeemed. There are two different conversion rates - the Points to Currency Conversion Rate - i.e. how many points to a penny/cent; then you have the Currency to Point Rate - which is how well you reward customers for their purchases. A typical rate for Points to Currency is 100 points = $1 in value, whilst $1 spent typically renders 1-5 points or up to $5 in credit for every $100 spent.
On each Catalogue Item you can activate the Credits via a ’Credit Scale’ setting - default value is 1, but you can increase multiplier up to 10 meaning 10x points for that Item - a ’0’ value means the Item is exempt from Credits.
The bottom panel in the visual shows how you can assign ’Store Credit Points’ for each of the 40 Conversion Events - so that you can monetarily reward loyal participants on your site - i.e. Customers who post reviews, ratings, recommendations and other useful editorial or social content / media.
The final component of how Store Credits incentivise is
Affino 7.1 is now out, and it’s a major release in every way. Whilst there are many aspects to this Affino release, the two key threads are improved scaling and greater engagement. Affino 7.1 has been significantly re-architected to scale with new search and analytics engines. With the release of Affino 7.1 we will also be migrating sites to our new super-scaling cloud.
We’ve rolled out big updates to many core Affino services including Messaging, Search, Analysis, Customer Ladder and Relationships. We’ve also introduced great features such as Store Credits for incentivising customers, and Design Panels for creating great popups.
The combined improvements in the Customer Ladder (engagement), Messaging and Analysis add up to a breakthrough for sales and marketing automation. The new Messaging Campaigns for bulk premium, personal and SMS messages, come with advanced targeting, filtering and triggering options and great analytics.
Site Search has been completely re-engineered around Solr which gives Affino greatly improved performance on searches, and allows for much smarter searching. Core management elements such as relating content have also seen big updates focused on making editorial teams much more productive.
Altogether there are nearly 400 great new updates in this release, many of which will be transformative when fully rolled out on existing Affino sites.
We have also fixed most of the identified low-level issues which arose from the Affino 7 launch, and which are inevitable with the introduction of such a significant new platform.
The Affino 7.1 release is a signifiant update, and unlike most Affino releases, this one takes some time to run as we’re completely restructuring all the analytics data and refreshing the search indices. Given how intense this update is on the infrastructure, and that your site will be moved to the new hosting cloud, it is essential that you co-ordinate your update with your account manager.
Also in this release is a significant change to how most images are presented as you can now set the margins around the main images using Design Styles / CSS. It is essential to review your pages to ensure that the images are presented as expected, and note that you can now optimise the layout.
The upcoming Affino 7.1 release is another significant step forward for Affino. It will see completely new search and messaging engines, greatly improves sales and marketing automation, much more usable relationship management, much improved stats and reporting, refined mobile experience, and smaller pages.
All of these key improvements aren’t simply incremental, they are dramatically better.
New Site Search Engine
Site Searches will be much faster and much more capable. You’ll be able to use conditional OR and NOT searches, check for word proximity, similar searches, fuzzy searches, range searches and phrase searches. Even better, almost everything will be indexed in near-real-time.
We’re reworking the entire messaging system, so it will be much more capable, run powerful message campaigns, act as auto-responder, with multiple message type options including SMS. We’re also further introducing a completely new level of message campaign analysis.
Sales and Marketing Automation
Affino 7.1 has greatly improved sales and marketing automation, with a much improved customer ladder, reports and charts. This is a big deal for online sales, e.g. messaging a sales person when a shopping basket fails, or if a person has filled out a form and watched a demo video.
We’ve reworked the way we log / crunch all Affino’s stats to restore Affino’s ability to track things up to the last two years. This means significant improvements to most of the analysis screens. Not only that, but the Dashboards will be useful again.
Related Items have been massively upgraded, all ajax driven for instant selections with the ability sort relationships plus create two way relationships instantly.
We’re crunching down the pages, removing a lot of the tables, shifting more to CSS, and building compression directly into Affino. This means even faster pages and the ability for your sites to serve more pages within each hosting band.
Improved mobile Control Centre, and significantly improved mobile interfaces on the live sites.
Improved SEO Management
We’ll be introducing some new SEO power tools for SEO pros to make
In my definition, the essence of Retail Social Commerce is not just the ability for customers to interact with ecommerce catalogue items and convey their likes and recommendations - it is the ability for other customers to correlate those recommendations with their own personal preferences.
The above illustration touches on the 4 key areas in my opinion, and I will reference examples of each here below:
LIKES - largely popularised by Facebook, these are now pretty much ubiquitous on most sites - you simply tick an option or click on a ’thumbs up’ icon to indicate you like something - Facebook then cleverly references all these likes on the User’s Timeline. This is the simplest form of recommendation.
HOTLISTS - Amazon popularised these with their ListMania Lists, but there are lots of different examples of this - for instance the various DJ charts on juno.co.uk. In some ways these are really just more structured listings of ’liked’ items, but their impact is far stronger as when you see several examples of something you like in a list, you are more likely to check out the other entries. In various types of retail, Lists and Featured Charts are key to the selling process.
COMMENTS - The postive ones of these are a stronger form of ’likes’ - in that a positive comment not only indicates a liking for something, but offers up additional collateral / reasons to buy. ’Likes’ may have a nominal value of recommendation while the impact of positive comments / reviews is far stronger. I particularly like how Amazon lists the comments on the same page - I find comments hidden behind a tab are less impactful - far better to have a summary list of a couple with a more link than hiding all of them behind a one click selection.
PROFILES - Profiles are really useful as the final convincer for a recommendation, and this is one of the few areas where Amazon needs a lot of improvement. Being able to go to a user’s profile - something like the Facebook Timeline - and get a real context for a person’s likes and recommendations is key to the impact of those recommendations. We humans are always looking for like-minded souls, and really only pay heed to those we think are on the same wavelength as ourselves. In viewing a User’s profile - with a full outline of
The above screen capture tells you everything you need to know about why it’s no longer enough to be in the top 10 on Google, as the world goes mobile. You now get 10 times as many referrals by being No.1 than you do by being number 2, and that ratio gets bigger by each position down the ranking.
66% of Search Screen is Paid-for
It also highlights the immense power that Google now has with search placements, when two out of the three top search results above the fold on mobile are now paid-for. There’s no way that Google can justify taking up so much of the screen space on mobile with paid for listings, and it goes a long way towards devaluing the SEO efforts that millions of companies are investing in.
What’s interesting is that if you use Google’s own search app on the iPhone you typically only get one ad shown, and you get a completely different set of results than if you use the main iPhone Web search. What is noticeable that Google sites, such as YouTube videos rank much higher on the Google app search results than they do in the general web search results. It means that in the app 80% of the initial screen is either paid for, or a Google property.
Winner Takes All
The world of search engine optimisation has entered an era where the winner takes all, where being the top ranked entry now can cost a factor more than it did previously, and where different entry points to the Google search engine give different results. It also means that increasingly the way to get the top rankings is to engage fully with all of Googles initiatives, whatever the cost.
It also means that many companies will get a higher rate of return when investing in social engagement, more direct online sales and smart affiliations.
Google has to be very careful with how it evolves the paid-for search marketing over the next couple of years, or it could see a big dip in its earnings as companies no longer try to compete in the winner takes all gamble that is Google Search.
Ecommerce is speeding up, and no one is safe if they’re not fully committed to meeting the evolving market head on. 2013 will see big winners and losers as more shopping goes digital.
Here are some of the key trends for the coming year.
Nothing comes close in importance to being able to tailor the buying experience for each and every one of the shoppers who comes to you, whether it’s online, on mobile devices, kiosks, in-store or via television.
The starting point for personalisation is the unified user account. This means offering a single login for the user across all devices, with instant syncing of user data across all different sales interfaces, or preferably using a single client-facing commercial engine across all platforms.
Product listings, product searches, recommendations, emailers and community engagement should all be tailored to the individual user. This should be done on recently viewed products, identified interests, and increasingly by using game mechanics to automatically identify and guide users’ buying preferences.
The economics, scale and distribution of Cloud setups mean that companies must embrace cloud services in 2013. Even though there are still occasional headline stories on cloud provider down-time, cloud services are maturing rapidly, and in real-world scenarios downtime is becoming increasingly rare.
On the other hand the cloud costs keep on coming down, and the service levels are rising dramatically each year. It means the cost / performance / scale / reliability equation has now firmly swung in favour of cloud setups rather than in-house infrastructure for ecommerce.
Being able to deliver a rapid response, at scale, globally, is best delivered via cloud platforms. Solutions such as Scalr mean that it is now possible to automatically scale up and down your infrastructure. This means that you only pay for what you use, and can run much fewer servers as a baseline, even within the same day as demand scales up and down. It also means that you can address peak demand with the best response times.
Using Content Delivery Networks means that your media and static files are delivered locally, globally, with much faster response times. Using cloud-based storage networks with offsite backup networks means
2013 is going to be all about being Responsive, so expect priorities to be very fluid to meet the ever evolving needs of the Affino community. One overwhelming priority we will have for 2013 will be Responsive Design. We’re going to be introducing Responsive Skins which means that pages will transform to fit any device, however they are turned.
The second Responsive element is that in 2013 we are going to turbo-charge Affino’s evolution. The past years have required a great deal of effort to evolve Affino to work on mobile and tablet devices; to become super-scalable and reliable; to run on the latest cloud-based architectures; and to have a new 21st Century management interface. All of those are now at highly evolved states.
It means that the Comrz team can now focus on rounding out Affino Social and Commercial platforms; do much deeper integration with the leading Social communities; evolve key communication and promotion aspects such as direct and real-time messaging, and a new approach to A/B and Multi-variate testing.
Below are many of the key challenges we will be tackling during the course of 2013. Expect the most productive Social Commerce platform to become even more so.
We will be introducing Responsive Skins to Affino in the first half of 2013. Responsive Skins will mean that Affino pages will automatically re-organise themselves to provide the best experience whatever form-factor of device is being used to navigate the pages. This will affect how everything is displayed on Affino sites and is the major undertaking for the year.
As part of the process, the new Skins will be light-weight, fully CSS-based and Affino will have built-in code compression to minimise the page size.
Usability and Learnability
We will continue the major initiative to make Affino as learnable and usable as possible. This was what we spent most of 2012 on, and Affino is now much more usable than ever before. Key initiatives include new Setup Wizards, Control Centre Zone filters, and the new Media v3 management interfaces.
Continuing from last year we expect to make hundreds of further usability improvements throughout the course of the year and have already wrapped up some great ones for Affino 7.1.
For the first time, Affino runs great on mobiles and tablets. It’s been a long-term project we’ve been working on for the past two years, and it will be a year or so until everything is likely to be perfect across all mobile platforms.
For anyone working in mobile, it’s a minefield, and lots of decisions have to be made along the way. I’ve posted previously about how under-developed mobile browsers are, but that has largely changed in the past year. For the most part they’re now great, in particular Safari on iOS and Chrome on Android.
With Affino 7 out initial target devices are the latest generation IOS (iPhone / iPad) and Android (mobile / tablet) devices. Mobile browsers will continue to improve in their capabilities and standards support.
When we brought out the alpha version of our mobile tech last year we did all kinds of optimisations to work around limitations with iOS 4 / Android Browser. Apple and Google have since then updated their platforms a couple of times (4 in the case of Google) and the browsers are far better than before. A side effect of the updates though was that all of the work-arounds we did for earlier mobile browser versions were broken when those browsers were fixed.
It has lead us to a principle for our mobile platform development which is that we won’t code for mobile browser bugs, instead we will do our best to work around the issues, and if that is not possible then the expectation is that the mobile browsers will be fixed soon enough.
We’ve tested Affino 7 on a lot of mobile devices. Many different Android phones and tablets (most of the leading ones and all Nexus devices), half-a-dozen iOS variants from old iPhones to the latest iPods / iPads and iPhones. We have also tested Affino on Windows Phone 7 and the Kindle HD. Both WP7 and the Kindle have some minor issues, but these issues are platform specific and the expectation is that they will be solved by Microsoft / Amazon respectively.
In practice 90% of users and above should have a great experience using Affino on their mobiles, and now that we’ve completed the initial phase of mobile optimisation, we will be accelerating to roll out mobile optimisations throughout all Affino’s interfaces both on the Control and Display sides.
Our priority for Affino 7 has been to make the most productive platform available for running your business online. The integrated nature of Affino means you only have to manage your community, content, products, design, , promotions and analytics in one place. This is by far the most effective approach for managing an online business. What we have done with Affino 7 is to improve in every way how how you manage your online business.
Affino 7 has a New Control Centre, with the pages delivered by a New Page Generation Engine, and it runs on a New Cloud Architecture, all with the intent to deliver the best Social Commerce platform on the market today.
New Look Affino
We’ve brought together great productivity ideas from the Affino user community and the Comrz team. It has meant re-styling, re-factoring and re-architecting Affino from the ground up to be more productive and easier to learn. Affino 7 also has a great new minimalist look, and now works great on tablets and mobile devices. With Affino 7 we’ve set a new baseline which means that every new element we roll out in Affino will be that much better.
Affino has a brand new Control Centre and Live Edit tools. It is now optimised whether you’re using it on a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device, so you can use it anywhere any time. We’ve really raised the bar for every management interface in Affino. You fill find almost every task easier to do, with great new short-cuts, lookups, help items, searches, lists, entry forms, and navigation elements.
Affino has been brought right up to the leading edge with it’s platform support. It now runs on the latest technology which means it is faster, more reliable and more scalable than ever before. It also means that the Comrz team will be able to accelerate the development of the Affino platform in the weeks and months ahead.
There’s a great new Design Centre. The Design Objects are now completely managed within native browsers with no Flash requirement. All the Design Control screens have seen significant updates and Affino now has better than ever custom CSS support. We’ve also introduced some much needed enhancements such as padding on Design Cells and full Font styling, along with a breakthrough ability for you to be able to secure each and every Design Element