App Store Meta Tags

Screen shot of Dominos home page on Nexus 7.
Why yes, Dominos, I’d love to tap again to get your real home page to order a pizza when I could have done it right here, below your over-sized app pitch that could be done in a tiny ribbon.

This is an adapted and updated version of a blog post on my site from last week. This post includes a real-world example of the feature.

This may be old news to some of you, but I haven’t found a place that collects this in one spot.

One of the most offensive experiences I have when surfing a site on my mobile devices is being forced to click through an advertisement for the site’s app in the iTunes store (even moreso when I am surfing on a non-iOS device). There is a fair number of sites I have tapped away from because of this (I also don’t expect to be served the page I came to see, but instead shunted to the mobile home page).

If yours is one of those sites, whether promoting your entire user experience or just a product, there is a less offensive way to present your pitch to users on iOS and Windows Phone.

Platforms

iOS 6

Safari on iOS 6 and later devices can promote your app with a standardized banner. Essentially you stuff a custom meta tag into your page that references your App Store ID. If the user already has the app installed, then the ad becomes a launcher instead.

The code is pretty simple:

<meta name="apple-itunes-app" content="app-id=myAppStoreID, affiliate-data=myAffiliateData, app-argument=myURL">

  • app-id is required and references your app’s identifier.
  • affiliate-data is optional and uses your iTunes affiliate string.
  • app-argument is also optional and can allow users who have your app installed to jump to a specific place in your app.

More details at Apple’s developer site: Promoting Apps with Smart App Banners

Windows 8

Microsoft offers a similar feature for users of Windows 8 in non-desktop mode who are also using Internet Explorer. I have not tried it, so I cannot explain how this works as the user changes modes nor how it works with the “charms” feature of Windows 8.

This code is relatively simple as well, though it requires two meta tags and supports up to five:

<meta name="msApplication-ID" content="microsoft.build.App"/>
<meta name="msApplication-PackageFamilyName" content="microsoft.build_8wekyb3d8bbwe"/>

  • msApplication-ID is required and references your app’s identifier.
  • msApplication-PackageFamilyName is required and contains the package family name created by Visual Studio.
  • msApplication-Arguments is optional and lets you pass arguments to your app.
  • msApplication-MinVersion is optional and can direct users with an old version to the Windows Store.
  • msApplication-OptOut

More details at Microsoft Developer Network: Connect your website to your Windows Store app (Windows)

Google Play, BlackBerry App World, Etc.

In addition to Google Play, BlackBerry App World, I looked for similar features for the Firefox OS and Ubuntu Mobile stores. I know there are other mobile platforms out there for which I did not look.

If you know of other app stores that offer similar features, please let me know so I can update this post.

Real-World Example

One of our spin-off companies, SWRemote, has an app available for iPads. There is value in promoting the app to visitors of the site but not in blocking their access to the site content with a splash page or an extra click, especially if they are not on iPads. The SWRemote web site is powered by QuantumCMS (yes, I am promoting our web content management system), which makes it about 30 seconds of effort to add the necessary meta tag to the site.

Screen shot of the QuantumCMS custom meta tag screen.
Screen shot of the QuantumCMS custom meta tag screen.

If you are already a client of ours on QuantumCMS, all you have to do is choose Site Configuration from the Settings menu and pop into the Marketing tab. This is the screen that allows you to add custom meta tags. Press the Advanced button and you are off to the races. In the Name field, for this example, I just entered “apple-itunes-app” and in the Content field I provided the custom ID for the app appended to “app-id=.” As soon as I hit Save the web site was showing the app bar to visitors:

Site on the iPad3 without the app installed. Site on the iPad3 with the app installed.
Screen shots of the SWRemote site on an iPad3 both with the app installed and without it installed, showing how the bar changes its message.

Oddly, even though the app runs on the iPad Mini, which is running iOS6, the app bar never appeared on the site when viewed on the iPad Mini. On an iPhone 5, the app bar started to appear and then disappeared — probably as the device recognized that there is no iPhone version of the app.

If/when there is an app available for Windows Phone, the process to add this feature will be the same, allowing the site to promote both apps dependent on the audience. QuantumCMS helps make the process easier, with no need to code any changes to your site templates.

Related

There are other places where custom meta tags are used to display targeted content. One example is used for Twitter Cards and another example is used with Google News. While you can build support for them, neither Twitter nor Google is going to use them unless you have been vetted in advance.

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“Good” Friends Can Make Good Clients

One day, years ago, I had lunch with two friendly faces. We met at a nice little place in downtown Buffalo. One gentlemen was a business partner of mine at the time (Let’s call him Bob) and the other was a fellow soccer coach, who also happened to be an attorney (Let’s call him Don).  While we caught up on the details of our lives, people kept dropping by our table to say “hello” to my friends. Most of the interactions were very formal and very brief, but it happened often enough that it struck me as odd and definitely left an impression.

When our meal came to an end, Bob and I walked out together and he marveled at how funny it was that I was on a first name basis with one of the most powerful and influential people in the area. I didn’t even know who he was talking about, which made it even more comical for him. It was then Bob explained to me who Don really was. I had no idea that my good friend Don was in fact, “Mr. Smith, high-powered attorney extraordinaire” to most of the free world!

Interestingly, this has happened to me again and again, over the years. The office is on high alert because “Mr. So-and-So” is coming in from large company X.  Mr. S shows up and guess what? He’s actually Jimmy or Sandy or Kev. I usually get greeted with a “Tommy” or “Tommy Boy!” and then there’s five to ten minutes of soccer talk before we even broach the business of why they’ve come to Algonquin.

You see, I’m heavily involved in the soccer community here in Western New York and that involvement has led to some great friendships with some well-connected people.

My point here is not to convince anyone that I’m a big shot or special in any way. Name droppers annoy me to be honest, hence the fictional names above. But, to me, stories like this are great testaments to the fact that it’s so important to think beyond the office… To get out into our communities and become involved. There are thousands of organizations out there in need of quality leaders and volunteers. Finding one that speaks to you can offer the amazing opportunity to both make a difference and make some new friends. And, to be brutally honest, sales guys can always use more friends.

I realize this might come across as calculated, but that’s not my intention at all. I’m not suggesting you join boards or organizations in order to schmooze potential clients. What I am suggesting is that if you put yourself out there, in a way that you’re genuinely motivated to do, you’ll meet like-minded people and like-minded people often make the best clients.

The cornerstone of the corporate culture here at Algonquin Studios is the idea of “Family, Faith, and Work,” recognizing that “Faith” doesn’t have to be Sunday worship. Maybe your faith is about building houses with Habitat for Humanity or teaching kids the value of team sports and exercise with Buffalo Soccer Club. Whatever it is, think about giving it some of your time and best efforts.

I hear it all the time. “I don’t have time to volunteer for an organization outside of my day job.” But the funny thing is, if you make the time, you just might find that you really enjoy it and who knows… Mr. Smith, who sits on the board, might just become your “good friend Don.”

Letting Mobile Users See Desktop View of RWD Site

Originally posted on my blog on January 11, 2013.

Bruce Lawson tweeted out a seemingly random musing today that I have pondered myself — what if, while on a mobile device and surfing a RWD web site, I want the desktop version of a site?

There are many reasons as a user that this might be the case, ranging from poor development practices that hide chunks of content you need to see to just wanting to know what it looks like.

Clearly it’s enough of a use case that mobile browsers such as Opera Mobile, Chrome, Firefox, and so on, have a feature to request the “desktop” version of a site from a menu built into the browser.

Except that feature doesn’t work with a RWD-powered site because media queries, typically based on viewport width, are used to deliver styles for traditional desktop window sizes. The browser feature only sends a different user agent string (bypassing terrible user agent sniffing) but doesn’t do much else. Your 320-pixel-wide device is still 320 pixels wide, and the media queries know it.

Until the mobile browser makers report a false viewport (or, rather, assume one when choosing CSS from a set of media queries), we’re kind of stuck. While I have many ideas on how that might work, that won’t address the issue today.

While I had bandied about an idea to address this on the redesign of my site a couple years ago, it took a client request last year to get my team the time to finally code a solution.

There are some core steps the hammer out in the logic of any solution:

  1. Put a link on the page to view the desktop layout. I prefer to have it in the raw HTML over writing it in with script.
  2. In the more mobile-friendly CSS files allow this link to display. In the more desktop-friendly CSS files hide the link.
  3. Either using a round-trip to the server or client-side script, remove the media query logic and serve up the “desktop” CSS.
  4. Warning for Europeans: cookies. Set a cookie with that preference for the user. Whether it is for the current session, forever, or somewhere in between is worth an internal discussion.
  5. Now display a link to view the “mobile” version of the site. Again, this can be done with or without script.
  6. If the user clicks the link to see the mobile version, re-instate all your media queries, clear the cookie and pretend nothing happened.

This process is a bit oversimplified, but it covers the broad strokes.

There are some hurdles, of course. Your users might not understand what you mean by “desktop” or even “mobile.” You could make the link to get out of one of the views too hard to find. You could bump up against expectations set by the mobile browser feature to request the desktop site. If you serve mobile styles to IE6 users, you could confound them if you don’t clear the link from the page for them. And so on.

You can play around with what we implemented for our client at CHSBuffalo.org. View the source to see the styles and script. There is obviously logic on the server side, but you can make up your own for your own server platform.

These screen shots should give you an idea of what to expect when you visit the site:

The CHSBuffalo.org site as seen on an iPhone and on a Nexus 7, all styling determined by media queries.
CHSBuffalo_iPhone_desktop CHSBuffalo_Nexus7_desktop
The CHSBuffalo.org site as seen on an iPhone and on a Nexus 7 after clicking “View desktop layout” (with the zoom as the user would initially see it). The link to return to the mobile layout is at the top, though not as obvious as it could be.
CHSBuffalo_iPhone_desktop_oops
This is what the user on an iPhone sees as soon as the desktop view loads—note the link to return to the mobile view is nowhere to be found. We did a poor job there and will have to fix it. Don’t make the same mistake if you try this.

Related

Seven “Did You Know?” Things About QuantumCMS

As a Software Support Representative here at Algonquin Studios, I field phone calls on all manner of issues, ranging from user error to scheduling training sessions and I’ve started keeping lists of the most frequently asked questions about QuantumCMS, our flag-ship content management system. I thought I’d take this opportunity to share seven things that I think could be incredibly useful for QuantumCMS users. Here’s hoping they make your day just a little bit better:

1. Right-click Menus in the WYSIWYG Editor

Have you checked out the right-click menus in the WYSIWYG editor? These right-click menus are especially helpful in editing hyperlinks, tables and images as they let you:

  • Quickly edit the Link Type, Target, and URL of an already-created hyperlink.
  • Quickly modify image properties so you don’t have to search for the image icon.
  • Access editing options for existing tables, including the ability to add new columns to the right or left of a current cell; add new rows above or below the current cell; delete whole columns or rows; and edit table and cell properties.

2. Those Little Blue Numbers

What’s with those little blue numbers next to each item under the “Properties” tab? They’re there to let you know how many of each type of property are associated with or applied to the page. For example, if there’s a small blue “8” next to the option for Linked Pages, it means there are 8 linked pages associated with the page. These numbers are intended as a quick, visual indicator that there’s “more going on” on the page than what you might find on your content tab and to remind you to review the properties of each page when making edits.

3. Free Training Sessions

We host free, monthly QuantumCMS training sessions.  Each online session, held at 2 pm on the 2nd Tuesday of every month is open to every QuantumCMS user at your organization! For more information pertaining to the training sessions, check out the QuantumCMS user forum.

4. User Manuals

We offer general user manuals that explain all the universal features of QuantumCMS, along with Custom Documentation detailing the specific features and functionality developed especially for your custom site. Both manuals are available by logging into your QuantumCMS authoring tool and clicking the “Help” option in the upper right hand corner of the dashboard.

5. Tutorials

We’ve created tutorials for almost every feature available in QuantumCMS but if you can’t find helpful documentation on something you’re struggling with, you can always email our support team at support@quantumcms.com. We’ll walk you through the issue at hand, but we’ll also get to work on documenting the solution to the problem. With feedback from our clients, we’re constantly working to create better support documentation and your input might be just what we need to make another helpful addition to our tutorial library!

6. Reports

For the latest QuantumCMS release (4.2.1) we listened to you, our clients, and created new reports to help you better manage your web sites. All reports are available by clicking the “Reports” option in the upper right-hand side of the dashboard. New reports include: Linked Pages, Page Properties, Pages per Property, Application Usage, Page Security, and Public Access by Role.

7. Page History and Drafts

Each page on your site has a “History” and “Drafts” section. You can access this information via the “Properties” tab within the editor. Each time a page is saved, a copy, complete with all the associated information, images, links, etc., is stored in QuantumCMS. Using the “History” screen, you can view, restore, or create a draft from a previous version of the page. A helpful feature while making page edits allows you manually save a page as a draft, creating a separate version of the page on which you can complete all of your editing work without affecting your current page content. Then, once you’ve completed your edits (and only when you’re ready), you can replace the current version with the draft, making your new content live!

Which QuantumCMS features do you you use frequently and think are the most helpful?  Let us know below in the comments!

Blogging For Business, Part 2: Choosing the Right Platform

In my previous post, I wrote about whether corporate blogging is right for your business and broke down the benefits and risks. In this post, I’ll take a look at some of the available platforms.

Simply put, there are a lot to choose from, but all platforms should provide two basic features:

  1. the ability to post content (usually including photos and videos)
  2. the ability to receive and display comments for each post

Those are the basic cornerstones of blogging. However, many platforms (certainly the best) provide additional features that may prove essential for your blog, including:

  1. the ability to customize the look of the blog or choose from a set of themes
  2. the ability to add extra features through plugins (widgets built by third party developers that can be embedded on your blog)
  3. the ability to allow content to be posted by multiple authors
  4. the ability to audit content written by other authors
  5. the ability to moderate comments

There are a slew of platforms that offer these features and many more, and they do it for free. In fact, because there are so many quality platforms to choose from that at Algonquin Studios we’ve actually decided not to implement blogging features into our content management solution, QuantumCMS, thus far, and simply work with clients to pick the best platform for them and integrate the blog with the main site as needed.

So, without further ado, let’s look at some of the best options out there.

WordPress

WordPress is a free blogging platform that offers a ton of built-in features, including all of those I mentioned above. I don’t have the statistics for it, but if WordPress isn’t the #1 blogging platform today, it seems to be on its way. Indeed, this blog as well as my personal blog are built on WordPress and it’s generally my preferred choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

The reason that I like WordPress in particular is because it has a simple yet rich interface and is constantly updated with bug fixes and enhancements by a dedicated team of developers. They also offer two hosting solutions: you can host your blog with WordPress for free or you can download the codebase and host it on your own server if you need extra flexibility or want to integrate with other sites.

Blogger

Blogger is Google’s blogging platform. Right there, you probably already know what to expect. Recently, Google has taken steps to standardize the interfaces of its most common tools including Mail, Drive, and Blogger. That means if you have used any of Google’s other products, then Blogger should feel pretty comfortable to you.

What I like about Blogger is its simplicity and clean interface. It’s a tool designed for the non-technical user so it’s very easy to use. Despite that, Blogger is a fully featured tool, although it does not have quite as many configuration options as WordPress.

Tumblr

Tumblr is a what I would call a “quick and dirty” blogging platform, but what most people call “social blogging.” Tumblr makes it really easy to share the awesome stuff that you find online or in life. Tumblr blogs are often full of photos, videos, and links. In some ways, it’s more like Twitter than it’s like other blogging platforms, although there’s no limit to what you post.

What I like about Tumblr is just how easy it is to share content. However, I’ve found that the interface is not as intuitive or robust as other platforms. It’s also worth noting that Tumbr blogs tend embody a more casual attitude that is perhaps more appropriate for individuals than most corporate businesses, but if you just want to post photos, videos, and other neat stuff, it’s probably the best fit.

Posterous Spaces

This is another popular solution that I’ve not personally used, but is described as somewhere between WordPress and Tumblr. Like Tumblr, Posterous tries to make posting content really simple (even via email), but has more advanced features like WordPress.

Twitter

Okay, Twitter isn’t truly blogging software, but it is considered “micro blogging.” If the idea of writing content gives you pause, you might consider starting with a Twitter feed, where you never have to write more than 140 characters.

Bringing It All Together

If you decide that you’re up for the challenge, don’t just pick a platform and go. Check out some of the available options first. Take a look at example blogs on each platform and the available features. With just a little legwork, you’ll find one that works for you and you’ll be blogging in no time.

Blogging For Business, Part 1: Is Blogging Right For You?

Over the last few years, I’ve been asked many times by clients about blogging. Blogging is nothing new, of course, but starting a corporate blog is a bit different than starting a personal one.

A corporate blog requires planning, writing guidelines, and, often, an approval process. It also requires some degree of skill and dedication. Can you write meaningful content that engages readers? Can you keep to a schedule and post content even when you are busy and have other priorities?

Benefits

If you can keep up a blog, then you may be rewarded for your efforts. The most obvious benefit is increased awareness of your business and traffic to your web site, which could translate into increased sales or revenue.

Without getting too technical, having a blog and posting meaningful content gives you another way to draw users to your web site. In all likelihood, that user will read your content and never return. That’s part of the nature of blogging. However, if that user finds your blog in a web search and finds the content to be helpful, he may then visit your web site and, potentially, engage your services, buy your products, or refer a friend or colleague to your site.

Having a blog may even elevate the search ranking of your main web site. By cross-linking the main site and your blog, you can potentially build clout in search engine ranking algorithms, especially if your blog generates a lot of traffic.

Risks and Pitfalls

Before jumping in, you should also consider potential risks. What if an author writes something that makes the business look bad? What if a post incites negative comments? Negative feedback could turn away potential customers, degrade your credibility, or even drop your search ranking, but that doesn’t mean you should disable the commenting feature. Instead, you’ll have to determine the appropriate solution for your business.

You should also avoid a classic pitfall: the temptation to use your corporate blog as an extension of the sales department. Users typically stumble upon blog posts when looking for information and overselling your services may turn off users from returning or make them question the credibility of the content.

Tips for Success

In most cases, a corporate blog should provide expert information or advice about topics in the respective field, or provide customers an inside look at a business’ work environment or philosophies.

Don’t put that all on one person’s shoulders. Allowing multiple employees to contribute will lessen the load and will fill your blog with a variety of topics and opinions.

Keep a schedule. Your employees are busy and it may be difficult for them to contribute regularly. Set up a schedule that allows them to contribute as possible, based on workload.

Bringing It All Together

Ultimately, as a business owner or marketer you have to weigh the pros and cons to determine whether a corporate blog is right for you.

Keeping up a blog isn’t easy. You need to be dedicated and willing to write content, often. You also have to be prepared to accept the risks. But, done well, a blog can boost your business and your reputation in the field.