Aka why you shouldn’t settle for being average – whether you’re optimising a site or writing for one

Yup… we gave this microsite a douchey codename. Why “Project Chameleon”? Because the whole thing kept changing!

But that needed to happen. If we were going to create something we actually believed to be valuable to our audience, we couldn’t just churn out cliché content, requiring minimal effort.  

We think our journey has some relevance to the eCommerce community. Keep reading to find out why.

It all started with a terrible idea…

I (Timi, writer) had just started working with WhatUsersDo and was brimming with the careless enthusiasm of a child

I said, “Let’s make the ultimate, most definitive, all-encompassing eBook for UX! We’ll put absolutely everything in it and everybody will buy from us.”

Tom (head of marketing) and Lee (founder) read an unnecessarily long email I sent them at night, then Tom had a chat with me the next day.

His explanations about why that wasn’t a particularly great idea were so convincing, I couldn’t even pretend to disagree. We agreed to put the eBook on hold and see if it develops into something more viable.

Technically, the first change was ditching this idea.

A few weeks passed during which it would pop up occasionally. Then while I was doing some research, I found out about Michael Aldrich, the English inventor of eCommerce.

Turns out he did user experience testing. I couldn’t believe I had struck the mother of all stories. “How is nobody talking about this?” I thought. I shared his story with Tom.

“That’s cool. We can definitely use it. We could take a small chunk… hone in on a particularly problematic issue and solve that better than anyone else,” Tom said.

My eyes lit up. He’s right. “What about basket abandonment?” We said. “Let’s do it,” we said. Then we did it.

I wrote an intro and a chapter of an eBook on basket abandonment… with a twist. It wouldn’t be about the numbers – it would be about the people behind those numbers.

The first round of testing with our audience was underwhelming, if not disastrous

Nick (CEO) contacted some of his eCommerce peeps and asked them to preview what we had of the eBook. Here are some of the things we found out:

  1. The title and the content didn’t match – we were so scared of trying something different, we underplayed anything to do with UX, so as not to turn off eCommerce professionals who care more about quantitative data.
  2. The introduction didn’t set the right expectations – people went in expecting best practice tips and stats… which was the opposite of what we were trying to do.
  3. Basket and checkout abandonment has been discussed to death in eCommerce circles – were we really bringing content optimised to solve that particular issue?
  4. We were scared – we were trying to do something different and provide a new (better) way of solving a problem… without seeming too different.

Change 1 – the story

“Screw it! Let’s do this the right way and if it works, it works – if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

We accepted that the story was actually about UX and eCommerce, not basket abandonment and eCommerce (with UX as a sidenote).

We shoe-horned basket abandonment into the eBook because it felt more familiar and less likely to alienate the audience.

So I rewrote the intro and chapter I’d already written.

Change 2 – the approach

“Gated content will get us #LEAAAADDDSS… but is it better for users?”

While Tom and I were looking over them, he said, “Should this be gated?” (i.e. people fill in a form to download the content)

If we truly believe in what we’re saying… is hiding it behind a form the best way to get that info to as many people as possible?”

Sure, we can make people provide their details to download it. But they could easily put fake details. Also, they can unsubscribe straight after they get what they want.

We looked at other companies we admire who don’t gate content. We decided to trust the power of our ideas and the value of our message.

We decided to turn Project Chameleon into an ungated digital magazine.

P.S. We know we have some old gated content… the decision to go ungated is recent. This microsite is our experiment to see whether our trust in our content and our readers will be rewarded.

Change 3 – the format

“A digital magazine is expensive! Can’t we achieve the same effect (and more) with a microsite?”

After looking at some digital magazine platforms I’d used in previous jobs (in much larger businesses), Tom and I decided they were too expensive for our boisterous little team.

So, Tom suggested we turn Project Chameleon into a microsite.

“It’ll make it easier to install analytics and get granular data. It will be easier to embed videos. We can choose a sh*t-hot URL. It’ll be way cheaper!”

Again, I was sold.

So I finished writing all the sections of the story, with the NY Times microsite, Snowfall, as my inspiration.

And now, you’re reading a microsite that started off as a bad idea by a writer… working in a tech start-up… down on Cally Road. Isn’t that what the Lion King song, “The Circle of Life”, is about?

I guess the moral of this story is, whether you’re optimising a website or writing for one, aim big. And don’t be afraid of evidence that changes what you planned to do – especially if it helps you do something better.


The Project Chameleon Team

  • Nick Imrie – CEO
  • Tom Lloyd – head of marketing
  • Lee Duddell – founder
  • Timi Olotu – writer

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