My Latest Accomplishment: Lifetime.com

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lifetimecom2008

As most of you know, I’m a professional web developer by day, super hero by night (when I dream I can fly!).

My latest project has been the flagship website for Lifetime Products: www.Lifetime.com

Demographics and Analytics

This website serves 547,831 pageviews by 337,643 visitors (1.62 pages/visit) monthly.

The biggest challenge to the site is the audience: over 88% of our monthly visitors are new, meaning we have less than 12% monthly repeat viewership. This is explained by the similarity (and subsequent confusion) between our company (Lifetime Products, manufacturer of residential basketball equipment, outdoor and storage solutions, folding tables and chairs, and innovative utility trailers) and Lifetime Television Network (the leader in women’s television and one of the top-rated basic cable television networks).

Our visitors are primarily women (66%), 52% have no college education, 76% are Caucasian and 20% are African American or Hispanic, and 69% have a household income of $30-$100K.

Compare this with Lifetime TV’s audience and you’ll see some notable similarities: 74% are female, 84% are Caucasian and 13% are African American or Hispanic, 47% have no college education, 52% have a household income of $30-$100K.

The Challenges

The business unit requesting the re-write of the site had some specific objectives in mind for this project.

  • They wanted to add more interactivity to the home page of the site, this they accomplished by having our graphics department develop Flash for two areas of the home page.
  • They wanted to add dynamic content panels to expose our new blog (www.Lifetime365.com), our new Tips and Solutions pod, and our press releases.
  • They wanted to resign out the product lines pods (seen here: 1, 2, 3, 4) to include an interactive Flash header and add dynamic content panels to expose our new blog (www.Lifetime365.com) and our new Tips and Solutions pod (to be developed by an outsourced third party).
  • Incorporate all information from the previous version of the site in the new version.

From the IT/Development we wanted to

  • transition from SubSonic to LINQ
  • further optimize pages for search engine placement
  • semantically markup content, especially by further implementing Microformats (progressive enhancement)
  • build pages that were fully functional if the end-user did not have the Flash plug-in (graceful degradation)
  • cleanly separate content (xHTML) from design (CSS)
  • combine images with similar color pallets to reduce file-sizes and server calls (“sprites”)
  • build site using ASP.NET 3.5

The Complications

Who is our customer

First and foremost there is a substantial disagreement between some of us in the MIS Department and various executives regarding the audience and intent of the site. We have not been able to get “buy-off” from said executives regarding who our customer is (in the context of this website), which naturally leads to “what are we trying to get our customer to do?”

It is my opinion that our customer (in the context of this website) is “anyone that visits the website” which includes those visitors that come to the site in error (i.e., those visitors looking for Lifetime Television).

The conflicting opinion is that “our customers” are only those that purchase our products. While I agree that this is not entirely un-true, it effectively defeats many of the goals and objectives that have been set in the past (specifically number of pageviews, repeat visitorship, and bounce rates). In my personal opinion, an opportunity is being missed to market to a demographic segment that would have been missed though traditional targeted marketing methods; further, marketing to this audience costs relatively nothing for us since they’re already at our site, and we spent no advertising dollars to get them there.

So far we’ve seen traffic remain stable, but repeat viewership has dropped by several percent, time-on-site has dropped by tens of seconds, and our bounce-rate is up over 15%.

Usability

We had the original version of the site in testing just before we left for MIX08. When we returned we got some bad news: the outsourced Flash developer said he couldn’t cram all the content into the dimensions we provided for the .SWFs without hampering readability/usability. We all pow-wowed and agreed the font-size was too small. We concluded that we needed to make the dimensions to the .SWFs larger – requiring a redesign of all but the home page, but since the down-level pages were inheriting the styles from the top-level page, we had to re-write the styles there as well. While not overly complicated, that took time, and effectively re-booted the project.

Deliverables

We had further complications with various components being provided. Two types of deliverables are still being worked on: the 3rd party Flash components and the product specifications and brochures in .PDF format

We decided to implement a phased approach, using the “Flash alternative images and imagemaps” where the .SWFs will go when they’re delivered; and simply not including the few product .PDFs that we have until we have the full set.

For the Win!

All in all, despite its setbacks, this has been one of the most comprehensive redesigns of the Lifetime Products flagship website. It has pushed the envelope of available technologies without sacrificing usability or search engine indexability, presented more information about our products to our “customers,” further exposed our feeds, encouraged interaction and participation, and will (hopefully) drive direct sales.

The Near Future

The near-future will undoubtedly see the delivery of the 3rd party Flash pieces with will really “interactive-ify” the product pods on www.Lifetime.com.

We should also see the specifications and brochures product .PDFs delivere
d
and added to the site (hopefully) before too long.

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