Dear Vernon City Council: about your website

There are a great number of people who don’t navigate a mobile device. Option A has a broader appeal.

Coun. Scott Anderson

The challenge with building a new website is that every stakeholder has an opinion. We all have ideas on what makes a website good.

Recently, the Vernon Morning Star reported on council’s review of the city’s new website: City uploads new design.

Naturally, each councillor had an opinion about the two design options.

I’d like to suggest a better way.

Look at the data

Those of us who design websites, web applications, and mobile apps have learned a truth about human behavior. There’s a big difference between what people say they want and how they actually act.

You have to be aware that people make confident but false predictions about their future behavior, especially when presented with a new and unfamiliar design. There’s a huge difference between imagining using something and actually using it. In addition, human preferences are rather unstable.

The only way to truly know what people want is to observe what they actually do. The great thing about the web is that we have tools to do this!

Google Analytics

Start with Google Analytics. It’s installed as a default by almost every web development firm. Viewing the source code on Vernon’s current website, I can see that it’s installed.

First, the city should see which pages are currently the most popular. You can do that by going to the Behavior > Site Content > All Pages menu. It will look something like this:

Google Analytics for a city website

In this example, we can see the homepage is the most popular (naturally). Next is the Employment page, followed by Pay a Fine. In this case, the city may want to highlight those pages on the homepage so that people can find them faster. This exactly what Chatanooga did with their website:

Chatanooga website: good municipal website design

Next, let’s address that statement made by Coun. Scott Anderson above. How many of Vernon’s residents are browsing the site on a mobile device?

To find out, go to Audience > Mobile > Overview in Google Analytics. Here’s an example:

How many people are browsing the city website on their phone?

Here, nearly 53% of website sessions happen on a mobile device (phone, iPod touch) or a tablet (iPad). I’m guessing that the City of Vernon’s stats are similar. PC sales are down, and smartphone usage continues to climb. For many people, their smartphone is their primary computing device.

How to test a design before you launch

There are also tools you can use to gather data on new website designs before you launch.

If the designs are in mockup stage (image files not yet turned into code) you can use a tool like Usability Hub to test how well each design helps users accomplish different tasks. Verify is another tool that does this well.

Another place to get data is to test how users interact with the current website. A tool like Peek User Testing will have anonymous users visit your site, and record their experience. This would allow the City to watch where people currently get stuck, or frustrated.

Test two variations

If there’s too much writing, you get discouraged.

Coun. Dalvir Nahal

Statements like this need data to back them up. This could be true, but we won’t know until we run a test.

One way to test these assumptions is by using an A/B test. These tests split a website’s traffic into two groups, and allow you to compare the results. For example, you might find that more text on the page improves engagement, and helps people achieve their desired result.

For example, when 37signals ran a split test for Highrise, they found that the homepage with more text resulted in more people signing up for the service:

Highrise a/b test on homepage

A tool like Optimizely will help you run A/B tests.

Don’t make decisions based on assumptions

I hope the City of Vernon doesn’t make website decisions based on opinions, feelings, or assumptions.

My advice? Form a hypothesis and then test it. See how people are actually using the website, and make decisions based on that.

For more reading on this, check out Gizmodo’s article.

Justin Jackson is the author of Marketing for Developers, and writes at


Photos: co-working day downtown Vernon, BC

On May 20th, we decided to have a big group co-working session at Triumph Coffee (3401-A 30th Ave) downtown Vernon.

Industry Mailout generously sponsored the meeting room, food and drinks. We had about 12-13 people show up throughout the day. We worked, we had a great lunch, and we demoed different projects that we’ve been working on. Justin was also on hand to talk about Canada’s new Anti-Spam Legislation.

Here’s a few photos:

Want to join us next time? Get on our mailing list!


Is a remote workforce the future of jobs in the Okanagan?

You might not realize it, but a growing number of people moving to the Okanagan (and Vernon, BC) are working remotely for companies nowhere near here.

In Vernon alone we have folks working for head offices in San Francisco, New York, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto.

Remote work, or telecommuting, offers its own unique set of perks and challenges, but it’s popularity amongst the tech business community is growing.  Is this remote workforce the future of jobs in the Okanagan?

Are you curious about remote work? Join us for a panel discussion on March 11, 2014, from 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm, at the Vernon Chamber Of Commerce Board Room (2nd floor).

This is a great opportunity for:

  • students interested in remote working careers
  • business owners interested in how hiring and managing remote employees works
  • government officials who want to learn about building a “remote” economy
  • current remote workers who want to network with others
  • anyone else interested in applying for remote work jobs

Click here to get a free ticket for the event.

On our panel: Justin JacksonMarty DillMikey ArceJames LoveKyle Newton, Marco Ariano, and Linda Mork.

More resources:

PS: You need to register here in order to attend the event!

The event has been generously sponsored by Sproing Creative.

Photos from May 30 #geekbeers

Startup Vernon is the place to connect with geeks, creatives, and entrepreneurs that love technology

Visit our website here.

View upcoming events.

We’re on Twitter here: @startupvernon.

We’re on Facebook here.


The future of Vernon careers is in technology

Kevin Poole, Vernon’s Director of Economic Development, had a great feature article in the pull-out section of the Vernon Morning Star. Here’s an excerpt:

While it’s long been thought that Vernon’s economy will only prosper if large manufacturers set up shop here, economic development manager Kevin Poole is counting on grassroot, technological start-ups

Kevin goes on to say that “technology is a better fit for [Vernon] in the long run”. Here’s a link to another Morning Star story on tech careers in the area.

Events News

Startup Weekend Okanagan 2013: a review

Dennis Powers has a great rundown of everything that took place this past weekend:

This was the 2nd year for Startup Weekend Okanagan and it continues to grow and get better. Follow along as I witnessed talented entrepreneurs, business professionals, marketers, designers and developers team-up and work together to build businesses in a weekend!

Big thanks to Kazia for organizing everything for “Team Vernon”: she got sponsors to pay for tickets, and secured those hotel rooms so no one would have to drive back and forth.

Click here for full story: Startup Weekend Okanagan: Business Ideas + Teamwork = Opportunity | Digital Okanagan.

Photo credit: dchymko (see the full photo set here)


B.C.s Booming Interior Tech Sector

But clearly something is going on in the Interior, as large technology company buyers are finding budding technology companies grown in places I thought were remote, like Kelowna and Trail. The question is: Have blossoming technology companies in the region put the Interior on the map? Since the Club Penguin sale, the Interior has churned out even more success stories, like Firebird Technologies Inc., a semiconductor company in Trail that sold to 5N Plus Inc. in 2009, and the appropriately named Vineyard Networks Inc. of Kelowna, which sold to California-based Procera Networks Inc. in January for $28 million.

via B.C.s Booming Interior Tech Sector | BCBusiness.


Can an entrepreneur from Vernon, BC build Canada’s next billion-dollar tech company?

Great profile on Vernon-born entrepreneur, Ryan Holmes, on Canadian Business:

But for Canadians, what’s perhaps most interesting is Holmes’s unique pledge for a startup entrepreneur: he’s gone on the record vowing to build a billion-dollar company north of the 49th parallel. Canada’s tech industry is plagued with problems, not the least of which is a tendency for our startups to sell early.

Further down, the article talks about Holmes’ Vernon roots, and his early entrepreneurial ambition:

For Holmes, entrepreneurship has always been a way of life. He started his first business, a paintball company, in high school, and his second, a Vernon, B.C.–based pizza-by-the-slice joint called Growlies, in lieu of finishing his last year of business school at the University of Victoria. Eventually, he sold the restaurant and moved to Vancouver, where he spent a winter learning how to code. He put together a portfolio and got a job at a dot-com, which in 2000 “dot-bombed,” he says. That’s when he started his own digital services agency, Invoke Media, out of which HootSuite was born in 2008. HootSuite spun off as an independent company in December 2009, raised $1.9 million and continued its exponential growth, eclipsing Invoke.

via Is HootSuite Canada’s next billion-dollar tech titan?.


Last night we discovered local blogs at #geekbeers

If you came last night: it was great to see you! We had the idea to have publishing a roll of folks at Geek Beers who have blogs.

Here are the blogs from the folks who attended last night:

n3wt0n! by Kyle Newton

Trademark Okanagan by Mike Poznanski by Kazia

Hands on Gratitude by Teresa Deak

Code Ninja by Marty Dill by me

Special thanks to Kevin Poole, from the City of Vernon, for buying the appies last night!

If you missed last night: we’ll see you in 2013!