The last few weeks have been full of work on the Web side of things as we try to make the Take Control site more coherent, easier to use, and helpful to people who would prefer to order via phone or fax.
Take Control Web Site Redesigned — As we gear up for the eventual release of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, we realized that our Web site desperately needed to be redesigned. In the early days, we had only a few ebooks, so a main page that listed them, and individual pages for each book, were totally appropriate. But as we increased our title count and added a variety of support pages, the usability of the site started to suffer. Some pages (like the home page and individual book pages) had too much information, and other pages (like all the support pages) forced users to figure out what sort of problem they were having and pick the right page. Plus, we’d added the Take Control News page without having a good way of integrating it with the rest of the site.
So, in rethinking the Take Control site, we focused the home page on providing a brief explanation of Take Control, showing off just our most recent titles, and offering links to recent news items. A persistent navigation bar at the top of the page provides links to the other three main pages: Catalog, News, and FAQ. The catalog page takes over as the complete listing of all our ebooks, translations, print books, and bundle offers. For ebooks and translations, the catalog also now makes it possible to add multiple items to the cart at once. (This doesn’t work with bundles because each bundle has a different coupon code, and an order can have only one coupon code, and it doesn’t work with print books, since they go through the Amazon cart.) The FAQ page brings together all our previous support pages with a unified table of contents at the top and a contact form at the bottom.
The pages for each ebook have changed considerably as well. They’d grown organically, as Web pages are wont to do, and much of the information on them was irrelevant or available in other places. After much consideration, we pared the pages down so they contained a left column that contained ordering controls, and a right column that described the book. At the bottom of the right column were three narrower columns containing just the facts about the book, the author bio, and a list of book reviews. Most notably, we removed the Table of Contents and Introduction sections from the page, since they made it extremely long and were available in their native form in the sample PDF, which also helps people get a feel for what makes a Take Control ebook better than 99 percent of the PDFs out on the Internet.
Behind the scenes, I utilized CSS heavily, much more so than before, and I also started relying on Web Crossing to include commonly repeated elements so changes can be made in a single place. The entire experience, particularly the CSS, required a huge learning curve, since I’d never worked with CSS before. CSS is tremendously attractive, but there are still implementation gaps and quirks; in particular, I came to dislike Internet Explorer on both Mac and Windows in entirely new ways because Internet Explorer tends to deal with CSS differently than all other browsers, requiring unsightly hacks to work around the differences. In a few places, I just threw up my hands and fell back to using HTML tables to position elements on the pages.
Finally, we have switched to the new domain of www.takecontrolbooks.com, which is clear and accurate, if a tad longer than ideal (takecontrol.com is in use for margarine). We shied away from www.takecontrolebooks.com because the extra E just made the words difficult to parse visually, and of course, we also have print versions of some of our books. All our old URLs should still work; the new domain is being handled via behind-the-scenes redirects in Web Crossing.
So give the site a look, and let me know if there’s anything you find confusing or difficult to use.
Phone and Fax Ordering Now Available — To help people who are uncomfortable ordering on the Web, or who have problems with our Web ordering process for whatever reason, we’ve enabled phone and fax orders via eSellerate. Basically, if you want to order over the phone, you find the SKU (stock keeping unit – a standard term for identifying products in retailing) ID codes for the ebooks you want on our Phone Order page, then you call eSellerate and relay the order information and payment details. Once the operator processes the order, you’ll receive an email receipt with download information. Placing an order via fax involves filling in the Fax Order page, then printing it and writing in the remaining information (quantity, subtotal, total, date, and your signature) before faxing it to eSellerate. Again, you’ll receive download information back via email. All the details you need are on our Phone Order and Fax Order pages.
One more thing. To take advantage of a coupon (which is how all the bundle discounts work), you’ll need to start the order on the Web, just so you can get to the first page of the shopping cart. Then copy the coupon code from that page and either read it to the operator or write it on your fax order form. eSellerate will take it into account when placing the order.