Google <3 Product Information

Search engines – and especially the most glorious of them all, Google – are gatekeepers to all online content. Your website is virtually nonexistent if search engines cannot find it. Also, the competition for a spot on the first page of search results is fierce – very few have the patience to browse through all the pages, and a ranking on the second page reaps few rewards.

It is thus advisable to take some time to consider Google when setting up a website, online store or a product catalogue. The inner workings of the search algorithm are a well-guarded secret, but certain fundamentals are pretty easy to take care of on product information pages.

Product descriptions

  • Google penalizes you right away if product description is missing. Compose descriptive content that describes the product to the customer – and the search engine – as comprehensively as possible. However, avoid excess wordiness.
  • Always strive for unique content. Google lowers your ranking instantly if the same text is being recycled on several websites. It is worth your while to fine-tune e.g. the manufacturer’s descriptions a little, even though it might be easier to publish it as is. Here too setting yourself apart from the others is commendable.

Extensive, diverse content

  • Diverse content is rewarded: in addition to comprehensive written content, use images, videos, links, attachments…
  • If the page has no images ranking goes down. Pay extra attention to image alt texts, so that your page will appear in the image search results as well.
  • Offer plain language web addresses (URL addresses). In addition to Google, users too like links that convey directly what the page is about – it’s best to forget automatically created nonsense string addresses.

Offer many routes to your content

  • The ranking goes up if the website is referenced from several other websites, because this makes Google perceive your site as more trustworthy.
  • Importers, for instance, may boost the online store of the local wholesaler or retailer by linking to these sites directly from their own site. Take into account, though, that the websites need to be trustworthy (see Section ‘Don’t cheat’).

Invest in usability

  • Google – like the rest of us – loves pages that load quickly. Fast websites get a considerably higher ranking in the search results.
  • There will be a penalty if the mobile users have been neglected and the page does not scale to smaller screens.
  • Search engines also try to rate the quality of your site by monitoring how often users return straight back to the search result page after visiting your website. If Google notices that your website responds poorly to the needs of customers, your ranking will decline.

Don’t cheat

If you get caught cheating, the consequences might be severe: in the worst case you will end up on Google’s black list and your website will not be dropped from the search results entirely. You can earn Google’s disregard by, for instance, doing some of the following:

  • Buying external links referring to your website that typically come from notorious spam sites or social media accounts. If you get busted doing this, your site may be completely removed from the search results. Not a recommendable maneuver.
  • Flooding your website keywords with countless keywords and excessive repetition. Your ranking will likely end up at the bottom end of the results, even though everything else were AOK.
  • Dispersing broken web links that tell Google that your site is not up to date. This most likely will not drop you completely off the search results, but weakens your ranking in comparison to a web page that has working links.

You’ll receive more information about Product Information Management and its possibilities by leaving your contact information and we will get in touch.

Vision of a CIO: Kill ’em all!

I recently had an interesting conversation with an information management officer from a medium-sized Finnish company. He had joined the company around a year earlier, and it seemed like the strategic work on enterprise architecture had been completed and the roadmap for systems architecture was beginning to be clear. Moderate-scale modernisation, renovation, and systems updates expected within the next three years. Or four years –

these plans always overrun a little bit.

The guy’s vision for 2020 was music to a well-marinated PIM consultant’s ears. Paraphrasing liberally, the goal is an updated, modern architecture where master data and its related processes have been put in order, information flows according to API thinking, and communication with customers, at the highest possible level, is allowed using information resources and automation.

From our nice and straightforward chat, one quip stuck in my mind.

So my aim here is to kill around 16 systems, leaving only 5 or 6 systems instead. In the spirit of Metallica: Kill ’em All!

Excitement in the air and brains in overdrive – great vibes! Extra points for getting the favourite band from our youth mixed into the same pot with business applications, interfaces and data. I also got the feeling that it might be fun to work with them in the future.

After the meeting, however, I got to thinking about today’s challenges in leadership in information management. Though if any topic has been written about at length and from different perspectives, it is this one. And in Finland we have some really solid know-how, recognized at an international level too (take IT Standard for Business as a single example).

But right now I couldn’t stop contemplating the Metallica approach.

The remaining 5-6 systems specified by the CIO are, of course, main systems critical to business activities. They own the basic information associated with each system. In this case, they also include a platform for e-commerce that, among other things, will be used to run future online trading of different business units.

canter_sieniasateella_blogi

This is the basis on which business and core processes operate. Master data is managed and cared for using best practice, and modern interfaces deliver it to the right place at the right time. Using BI and analytics tools, valuable information is produced to support decision-making so that operations can be developed in the right direction and that leadership can be based on knowledge, not guesswork.

Then there is the layer that is full of the pulp of tools and applications, and the boundaries of which are irritatingly mushy.

Business wants to develop customer experience and communication, online commerce and sales toolbox – let alone marketing digi-gizmos. All this as agilely as possible, please. At the same time costs need to be kept under control and activities need to become more efficient.

In turn, people, regardless of unit and role description, wish to use tools that are quick to learn and easy and efficient to use. Perfectly natural. If this is not realized, problems tend to get piled on the desks of data governors and information management.

How should this ever-growing and shape-shifting tangle of applications, utility programs, and cloud services be managed? Who is responsilbe for what? Who even knows what apps we have in use, and for what purposes? Which is the right model for us: the ’Master of Apps’ or ’…And Apps for All’? What information is used where? Is some place producing information that is valuable from a business point of view and which should be linked to a process or analytics? And so on…

By the way, I am not jealous of today’s CIOs.

I am also not surprised that there is a worldwide race to invent new titles and roles to manage these areas, as one man/woman shows have not been sufficient in a long time.

It would be interesting to hear real-life examples of what practices you have in place for depicting applications and information flows. Are there, or have you come across, any good ready-made models, or have you developed or drawn ones for your own needs? Leave a comment or send a private message. I would gladly exchange views on this.

Next time I was planning to open up and explain how I have tended to structure, from a product information management and digital development perspective, an information architecture framework that addresses the requirements of today. I suggest that nobody holds their breath waiting for that though, as a suggestion entitled ’Mushroom gathering trip to the forests of Nuuksio’ hit my inbox while I was writing this. Have a nice fall!

 

A versatile job function motivates and educates

Our Customer Relations Manager Katri has enjoyed working for Canter for over five years now. The Engineer with a post graduate degree in Communications Technology, had been working as a project manager and done some coding before joining Canter. She was drawn to Canter because of the development opportunities and to be able to take on new challenges.

We have a really small organization. Usually there is a possibility to affect things, if you choose to do so. In a small organization, the advantage is also to be able to do many different things. The versatile job function is what I enjoy most in my work.

katri_canter_blogi

Working for Canter educates and develops every day.

Dealing with different customers, my understanding of their business functions has increased a lot. Our product interfaces with many areas of business, so by these projects, I have been able to understand comprehensively the customers’ organizations. It is a continuous learning from the smaller customers to the larger customers. Also to be familiarized to different corporate cultures is interesting.

When asking about future goals and visions, thoughts are targeted towards product development.

I am eagerly waiting for our new product release to be used by our current and new customers. I believe that it will enable even more comprehensive customer work and bring many new and interesting projects.

Katri has a clear message for a potential job seeker:

By doing you learn a lot and it is not worth hesitating to apply. You can go a long way by using your common sense and with an active and independent work attitude, combined with your previous know-how is the best way to develop. When adding lots of sense of humour to this, no doubt that you will feel at home with us.

katri_canter

What are the best things in your work?

We have wonderful and fun customers and the best colleagues, with whom it is great to work with, year after year. We have a good time at work. Our new office is comfortable and enables you to work in different environments. And as our official quiz-director, I have to mention the excellent quizzes and competitions that we have regularly with our staff.

We are looking for new reinforcements, so have a look here to see our open positions.

New strengths in product development

Last spring, we got a new employee at the office with Abel starting with us as Full Stack Developer. Abel has now been working with Canter for half a year, and we interviewed him and asked him about his thoughts of the new job and work environment. The developer, who formerly worked at Aalto University, where he also graduated, says he has been well received at his new job.

Abel_Canter

I knew nothing of Canter before I was contacted and started actively looking for information. I arrived at the interview and ended up working here. I was very positively welcomed and immediately got to working with new, interesting challenges.

When asked about his goals, the answer is prompt.

At the moment, I’m working with our next-generation product version, and the goal is to take this project further according to the project timeline together with Janne and Tuomas. I have learned plenty of new things in a short time, and this type of work and learning fits me like a glove. I like it that I have the opportunity to develop every day.

Getting to know the new work environment and workmates has also been smooth.

The people here are very extrovert and helpful to each other, which is something that helps solve even the greater challenges quickly. What has been surprising is that we also have some people who are very talented musically, and that I admire greatly :-)

Would you like to be part of our growing and developing team? We are looking for new reinforcements, so have a look here to see our open positions.

Virtual Shopping Is (Almost) Here!

In collaboration with the Myer’s store chain, eBay has published the world’s first 3D virtual online store. This pretty simple concept consists of a cardboard “Shopticals” box, into which a smartphone is attached. An app is loaded into the smartphone which is then viewed through the cardboard box mount.

In a virtual store there is no need to click the mouse. All the choices and navigation are accomplished by aligning the gaze. If you look at a certain item or a product for a while, more detailed information will be listed. The store has 3D images of the most popular products in each product category. Right now the virtual store is available only in Australia, but surely we will soon have something similar.

Virtual shopping and the 3D world present new challenges for listing product information and sharing this information via different channels. 3D product images are clearly the first milestone, and maybe in a few years there will be product content for the other senses as well – like scents, virtual touch and feel and sound.

When product information and its foundation management are done right, it is easier to share information and refine this information toward new technologies and distribution channels. If you feel like your company’s Product Information Management needs to be improved, do contact us!

More information:
Manager, Customer Relations
Katri Koskentalo
040 167 8971
katri.koskentalo@canter.fi

Read also “Product information and buying”!

Product Information and Buying

This summer, our company will move to a new location. The renovation has just started, and I hope we’ll be in a shining new office that has been designed according to our needs. I’ll certainly write more about the new premises in our blog at a later time.

I have participated in the design of the new office, dealing with everything from the layout plan to cabling. During this process, I have learned about dozens of products and services that were new to me. As examples, I could mention glass walls, acoustic solutions, teamwork products, wall drawing boards, furniture, and AV technology, which all have become more familiar to me. Not everything has been a walk in the park.

In particular, companies that do B2B trading, product information availability varies greatly. Be it an online store, a website, or a product catalog, many businesses seem to assume that the customer will ask or know what they are looking for. With many products, even the basic data isn’t shown properly. This is my list of information I want to see when I’m looking for products:

  • Price: If the price or service is customizable, information on the effect on price
  • Availability or delivery time
  • Product properties: Technical specifications, dimensions, etc.
  • Product description: Where and what type of use the product is suitable for, e.g., consumer vs. office product
  • Images: If the product is related to interior decoration, illustrations in different environments
  • Services: What services are related to or available for the product: g., design, installation, transport, etc.
  • Where to ask, who to contact for details: For many products, I would have been a sure customer if the product page had had readily accessible information on which expert I can contact when in doubt
  • Reviews: What other customers are saying of this product

There’s been a lot of talk about how B2B trading is changing, and clients that are used to consumer online stores are expecting rock solid purchase and service experience also when buying online. The world definitely isn’t finished in this aspect. Products that don’t have complete information don’t sell. Fortunately, there are already some positive exceptions that stand out from the crowd. As for myself, I’ll do my business where the product information is extensive and up-to-date, and in this case the price isn’t always the decisive factor.

Read more about our solutions for product information management.

Product Information Management in Excel

I regularly visit clients to advise them on product information management and publishing automation. It may be a client who is just planning to obtain a PIM system, and it may be an experienced one with fine-tuned processes. Quite often when I am doing a consulting or training call, they ask me,

What is the usual way for solving product information management?

My usual response is showing them a picture:

tuotetiedonhallinta_excel_english

But there is a truth to the joke. Too often product information management issues have been solved with several parallel and overlapping Excel files. Sometimes the process has not been thought out or no one knows of anything better.

Excel is excellent in many places. Even our PIM product allows for mass updating product data or retrieving product information for refining or running reports on it using Excel files. Excel can be used as a CRM system, a BI tool etc. Excel is also certain to be the most used PIM system. It is easy to understand why Excel would be chosen as the tool: it is inexpensive, and the data model is flexible and familiar to many. It is also relatively easy to use it to transfer information to other systems.

However, Excel is not for everything. As a centralised product database is rarely works even to an adequate degree. Here are some reasons why:

Information security How is it ensured that the product data master has been backed up? Are backups made of the Excel files? Does the entire company’s product information travel around the world in a single user’s laptop? If a user makes local changes, is the workstation backed up? If the user accidentally deletes an entire worksheet, what happens? Are modifications logged? Can it be traced who modified what and when?

Data model
Although it is possible to model a variety of information types in an Excel file, how easily will it support:

  • modelling the different data models of different products (and guiding data entry accordingly)
  • defining inter-product relations and links
  • adding and managing product images and attachments
  • managing categories, groups and classifications

It is also industrious to build different rules and logic sets in Excel. How is it specified that some element is required?

Multi-user support
How does an Excel file support multiple people using it concurrently? Is the information required by different roles in different files? How is the information kept up-to-date? Is the latest information always available in the shared workbook or do users have a local copy of the files?

Images
How are product-related images managed in an Excel PIM solution? Probably in a separate shared folder? How are suitable versions made of the images for different channels? Automation, even in the simplest of tasks, will become difficult or impossible.

Searchability
How easy is it to find the products in Excel? If the data model is the slightest bit complex, information has probably been distributed across several files. If there are dozens or hundreds of thousands of products and each has a couple hundred attributes, you will end up with dozens of millions of cells in Excel. Not very excellent.

Integrations
How easy is it to create genuine system integration between Excel and an online store? A modern PIM system provides interfaces that Excel users can only dream of. For example, a JSON-based REST interface provides marvellous opportunities for easy system integration.

Usability
Is the Excel user interface developed for efficient product information maintenance? Hardly.

Channels
In the world of PIM, we talk of channels. This means how product information is used in different sales and marketing channels. How easy is it, for example, to get information from Excel to electronic channels or automated material printing processes?

Contact us, and we’ll tell you more about a real solution for product information management.

Distributed or centralised product information management?

Often when a client is about to commence product information management rollout, we discuss the model of management and the processes used for it. There is no universal, correct answer to this question. Naturally, there is a vast range of options for the process, but here we will make the division into centralised and distributed management.

In the centralised model, product information is entered into the system by a few employees who specialise in this task. They receive product information from other actors in the organisation, such as product managers, buyers or the marketing department, and then refine that information as needed before it is entered into the system.

In the distributed model, the maintenance tasks have been distributed among several people across the organisation. In this way, a single person will not spend that long carrying out the task but, on the other hand, consistency may be compromised. Should the product descriptions sound like your company? The product information refining process is closely related to the ERP product process, and thus it is worth thinking of these two as a whole.

In addition, note the following:

  • are there country-specific variations in the assortment or products?
  • how has the translation process been managed?
  • quantity and quality of product information to be saved:how much and what type of data is collected for the products?
  • where, in what format and in how “finished” a state is product information obtained:how much is there a need to modify the data before entry into the system?
  • what differences are there between product groups in the data to be refined?
  • what are the desired and possible organisation methods of information management?
  • information supply chain management (ISCM) and authority relationships
  • how often is the product assortment updated, new products introduced, old ones updated or deleted?

Which model would work better for you? The choice is partly influence by the competence and existing roles of the personnel. Will product information be available from vendors or manufacturers or will it be mostly produced by you? In many cases, there are different responsibilities for different product data. For example, a product manager is responsible for the technical data of a product while the marketing people are responsible for the images. The marketing texts may be a shared responsibility. Making process choice can be a strategic or tactical decision. What is the goal? Are you seeking long-term benefits and differentiation or efficiency in the beginning?

Whichever your company chooses, we are the supplier that will walk with you all the way, from the beginning. We will support you, help you and together with you find the model that best suits your needs.

Are you interested? Ask for more:
Janne Costiander
janne.costiander@canter.fi
+358 50 552 1054

 

 

Software Companies and Work Culture Changes

In Finland there is much talk about raising the retirement age, unemployment, changing work culture and how our society can be brought back on the growth path and how economic challenges can be resolved. There is enough material here to write numerous blog posts, but for now I will focus on the changing work culture and on some solutions to bringing our society back on the growth path.

Working life and work culture have changed significantly in the past 15 years or so, during which I have been full-time employed. Gradually organizations and leadership theories have changed direction and now encourage more conversation and working in groups and sharing decisions and responsibilities with those in the organization that are experts and there is also a strong desire to keep organizational structures as low as possible. All of these trends are obvious at Canter and they have brought many improvements to the way that this company operates. Regardless of one’s role in the company, all matters are discussed and resolved together in such a way that everybody is clear about the plans and the role that they play and their own duties. Motivation is strong when one gets to participate in considering choices and in making decisions and in enjoying the results of the work together as a team. In an open and conversational work culture it is also very important to pay attention to individual differences and to offer sufficient support and direction to those who are not as active or extroverted.  At Canter it is possible for any employee to go and have a talk even with the CEO. This creates a positive workplace atmosphere, a collaborative work effort and everybody pulling together to reach goals. Everybody here is working as a team and not just for the sake of ”production”.

The changes in work culture also reflect in customer service and sales. As recently as 10 years ago, many software companies tried to keep all of their own information very secret and told their customers and partners only what was deemed necessary and most sales consisted of cold calls and meetings with clientele to introduce the product or services. Nowadays many software companies, like Canter, have opted for rather open collaboration with their clientele and partners. This means that in example, much information is offered in regard to the products and interfaces, which many parties can benefit from and product and service development needs and directions are openly discussed with the clientele. In sales more emphasis is put on marketing and electronic channels in order to identify the potential clientele that has true need for and interest in the products and services offered. Conversations about how these clients can be served best will follow the initial contact. Also clientele behavior has changed much over the years. Previously it was typical for a client to ask for what they needed from the provider, but there was no real collaboration. Nowadays clients will actively collaborate with providers. They participate in making choices collaboratively and ask about alternatives openly and participate in planning on how to best achieve the desired results together with the provider. The work culture will see much change in the coming years, for example, with the ever increasing field of telecommuting and the clientele involving more providers and service providers in their own business development and software companies offering products and services more than ever before to their partners and for the benefit of other parties who bring in clientele. We will all win when we collaborate and share information more openly.

Petri Lehmus
Account Executive
Canter Oy

Our Future Experts

Here at Canter we believe in working in the spirit of cooperation, having open dialogue and supporting the future career paths of all of our team members. We aim at helping our current talented experts grow and find their own future paths because things go well when everybody is clear about their own direction and also supports the growth of the company and the service we provide to our great customers. Competition for experts is growing more heated every day and for years we have supported the young inexperienced future experts in their efforts to enter the workforce and to grow with us in building powerful work experiences and in developing their own career paths.

Canter_osaajat

At the beginning of this year I received a great opportunity to participate as a volunteer with the Finnish Mentors (Suomen Mentorit) in order to help our future experts enter the workforce and find their own paths. Although I did have some previous experience with working life related mentoring, this was the first time ever that I had a chance to mentor freshly college graduated youth full of enthusiasm, talent and potential. Mentoring is a bit similar to active participation in the modern work culture in the fact that whether one is mentoring a new graduate seeking for their own professional direction or an already seasoned professional, it is the mentor’s duty to help the seekers find the direction they want to be headed toward in their careers and to empower the talent to make their own choices in regard to their own future. Many times in working life it is the superiors of an expert who decide their career path without talking with the expert and this often leads to weakened motivation on the part of the expert as well as diminished work performance and huge loss of human potential. Fortunately there are already many businesses, like Canter, that encourage the expert’s own choices regarding their career path.

Mentoring is one way to help future experts enter into the workforce. The future of our country is in the youth and it is of utmost importance that those with more experience offer their assistance to these beginners and challenge them to think about the direction that they want their careers to take and support the youth with their own visions and expertise so that the young do not choose a career path full of pitfalls. It is perfectly clear that once a young person finds the right path for them, they are more motivated and achieve better results and give their personal best to support the development and economic growth of our country.

Besides all the larger improvements and developments needed in our society, every single one of us within the workforce can help and support the youth by, in example, having conversations with them and by sharing our own visions and experiences with them. This will help our youth in becoming our future experts and will ensure our society’s ability to compete successfully in the international marketplaces.

Petri Lehmus
Account Executive
Canter Oy