“The best thing that you can do for your business is build an online presence”
“An online presence is vital for the success of small businesses”
“Small business owners hear these phrases and buzzwords constantly when looking to grow their business. They understand how vital online advertising is in this day and age. Gone, are the days where ads in local newspapers or door to door flier delivery would cut it for marketing purposes. Whether it is creating brand awareness or increase their ROI, small business owners must be vigilant in keeping their products relevant in the cyberspace. They understand its importance, but how would they start if they are not the most tech savvy users? What about the business owners that don’t know what keywords are and how to set up budgets on ad platforms? Is there an easier way to allow small business owners to manage their online advertisements on multiple platforms? I believe that Advance could be a product to start answering those questions.
The Problem TLDR - Online ad platforms require users to comfortable with general ad practices. For users that are either unable to setup their campaigns or simply do not have the time, the only other viable option is to hire employees for the task or marketing firms. Some small business cannot afford to do so.
Currently small businesses and startups primarily use online advertisements to create awareness for their product and to increase sales for their products. According to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, 90% of owners say that “online advertising has provided my business with an affordable option to launch and grow my business” and 86% agree that the method is “important to my business survival and growth”. There is no doubt that the tool is an important one, but as a designer and problem solver I wanted to delve into this practice a bit more.
I remembered a middle aged immigrant woman, selling a variety of homemade sauces next to a food truck my brother and I frequent in Philadelphia. Her products are delicious, they went great with the other foods offered at nearby food trucks or whatever we prepared at home. She seemed quite popular with the university students on campus, and when I asked my brother for some insight into a project idea for a portfolio piece, he immediately said I should do design something that would help her expand her business. Some way to help her get her products online so that she could expand her customer base beyond the university’s campus.
That conversation reminded me of a similar circumstance I faced with my parent’s small business. They run a non-franchise learning center and they needed help setting up an online presence. At the time we were new to the world of Facebook and Google ads. I, being a child of the social media/internet boom, obviously picked it up quicker than they did and was able to navigate the interface of each platform than they were. After some demonstrations they continued with it for a few weeks, but stopped since then, saying that it was too much of a hassle and that their time could be better spent elsewhere.
From these conversations, I was able to envision a customer base that is in dire need of a solution for their specific pain points. I believe that there are more than a few small business owners and entrepreneurs that are deprived of online advertising as a marketing tool because of lack of knowledge, expertise, and/or sufficient funds to hire someone to do it for them. I decided that I would test my hypothesis and based on user driven data, find out what sort of solution I may derive for them
I immediately began picturing an app of some sort that would have three primary functions. One, to help educate users in the practices of online advertising; Two, advise users on which platforms they should choose to advertise based on their needs; Three, help users manage their online marketing campaigns with the use of some sort of easily digestible dashboard.
Still, as good UX process dictates, it is best to hear from potential users and figure out their pain points and experiences before mapping out features. I decided to release surveys to business owners via pollfish and conduct some user interviews via contacts in my network.
The first step was to understand how current small business owners approach online advertising. I was looking for my first affirmation to the hypothesis, is there really a need among small business owners to start learning how to use online advertising platforms? As a self funded project, I was only able to afford 100 responses on a survey i launched via Pollfish. The respondents were only allowed to complete they survey if they owned a small business or startup. The following are some key insights that I found from the responses -
73% of respondents said that they'd prefer managing their business from their mobile but 85% of respondents said that they actually use a PC or Mac
Of the respondents that do not set up ad campaigns, 86% of them agreed that learning how to set up online ads is worth their time
About 90% of respondents did not use a product or services that would help manage their ad campaigns
The top choices for platforms used are Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube
⅔ of respondents manage online ads themselves for their business
42% of respondents said that they have a general idea of how to post online ads but could be better at it, with 5% saying that they don’t know how effective it is and 1% saying I don’t know how they really work
Based on these responses and a few interviews I did, I learned a few key things that would help me build this application.
Along with potential user research, it would be important to understand how current users of online ad platforms interface with them. This was achieved by setting up test ads on the major platforms right up until the actual payment.
Google Ads is probably the easiest to navigate for new users. The process is similar to the other platforms but the Ui for the potential advertiser is easy to understand and works smoothly. The only pain point I see here would be the keywords. There is no guidance from Google as to how many keywords should be selected by the user for the most effective ad campaign.
Facebook Ads expects the user to know what he or she is doing. There are alot of advertising industry terms thrown at the user in forms of fields to fill out or options to select. They have an in depth help section, but it is wordy and may not be accessible to a newbie.
Twitter Ads uses ‘Ad Groups’ it is similar to setting up audience demographics with Google or Facebook, but it may not be overly clear to the newbie user. A help section is lacking and the only assistance provided is with a handful of tooltips.
The user personas for this application are all small business owners as the product would be geared towards them. The Pollfish survey helped me formulate the types of users where as the user interviews I conducted helped me flesh out their specifics.
There are more than a few social media platforms out there that offer advertising to their users. The app should be able to give users an idea of what to expect when setting up an ad campaign on their platform. Will they need a page set up of the platform? Do they have visual content ready? What kind of demographics use this platform? A quick view of each platform should also be followed with a sort of third party reviewed pros and cons list of the platform when it comes to advertising.
The application should allow the user to manage their ad campaigns at a quick glance. They should be able to see how much they are currently spending, their budget, and their clicks/impressions.There should also be an alert system that will notify users about significant insights, including higher daily averages, higher/lower impressions. The user should also have a record of all current and past campaigns so that they may compare them.
Users should be able to keep up with changes in advertising platforms as well as be able to access learning modules that can guide them through setting up campaigns. Extra modules should be available to help users learn common practices and strategies to perfect their ad campaigns.
The market research I performed on all the ad platforms gave me a working template of the features I and most users would like to see on this application. So I skipped the post-its and went straight into information architecture. The initial web I designed allowed me to brainstorm as well, and then I refined it down to the larger image below.
Disclaimer - The gifs below have some washed up color due to recording software and you might not be able to see all elements in a wireframe. If you would like to test out the prototype yourself please click here.
Instead of reinventing the wheel when it comes to online ad creation. I decided to offer a user a step by step guide for each platform. The user can navigate the platform’s ad UI with a mobile companion. Advance will inform the user of every screen and field that they will interact with.
The user will no longer have to switch from platform to platform to track their running ad campaigns. The dashboard provides a quick view carousel of the current campaigns and were the user to choose any one of them, they will be able to view relevant information about the ads as well as any insights on demographics that they have yielded.
AdVance will provide users continuing education in creating and managing their online ads. The dashboard will include the most recent lesson as well as featured lessons that the user might find helpful. The search function allows the user to find lessons by keyword, or they may choose to go to all the lessons and select one by topic. The lessons are in a card format for easy reading and progress is recorded by a small tracker widget.
With a few user testing sessions, a few design themes emerged. Testing is still underway and this page will be updated with further changes made to the application.
A number of users did not find just how much information was displayed on the dashboard because they did not immediately scroll down. So I reduced the number of notifications shown and brought the resume learning module up. This way the user will know that there is more displayed the further they scroll
The about platform section was simply too wordy for users. Users that read the information said that they were glad it was there but could get lost in the sheer amount of paragraphs. This was remedied by adding a see more button as well as making the pro’s and con’s sections expandable should the user wish to view it.