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Targeted traffic plus improved UX equals success?

The upcoming drupalcamp Bristol’s lineup of speakers is impressive to say the least. On the plan for Friday is Jon Smith, Head of Digital at YHA England & Wales and bringing 20 years of tech and digital experience to the stage.

We took the opportunity to ask Jon a few questions about his career journey so far, his approaches and about his upcoming session.


ADLIB: In a nutshell, what has been your career journey so far, leading you to where you are right now?

Jon Smith: My early career focussed largely on Cisco networks in the late 90’s and 2000’s working for Royal Mail and BT, but in my spare time I enjoyed teaching myself how to build basic web pages in Notepad with hand coded HTML.

As the Opensource community developed I stopped bothering so much with coding (I’d probably reached my limit to be honest!), and focussed more on the idea of using the Internet to sell products.

In 2006 I started my first business retailing pet products online – starting the company with just £50. I sold the business a few years later and after a short break living in Sweden, I eventually I realised I wanted to work in eCommerce as a full time career. I was appointed Website Manager at Hubaco Group, managing the websites of Terra Nova Equipment, Your School Uniform and others. Charged with finding a new web agency to help build a new platform and several websites, to help drive awareness, traffic and revenues for the various brands within the Group, I enjoyed a great deal of success in this role.

Following this, I took the opportunity to become Head Of eCommerce at YHA. The first 2 years focussed mainly on turning around the fortunes of the failing accommodation booking eCommerce site. After managing to reverse the decline in online revenues in the first year, I lead the team which then doubled sales in just over 2 years.

As confidence grew in our small but growing team, I was then offered the role of Head of Digital at YHA, which gave me more scope to consider YHA’s wider digital landscape, developing the long term strategy for not only websites, but mobile apps, in-hostel digital technologies and much more. We’re still very much at the beginning of this exciting journey, but I’m pleased to say, we have the support of the Exec and Board of our new 3 year strategy, which Microserve will play a core part in helping us to deliver.

ADLIB: We heard of your mantra for online growth. Sounds simple: “more targeted traffic + improved UX = success!” – could you explain this approach a bit further?

Jon Smith: Yes sure. I think way too many people try to over-complicate eCommerce, with smoke and mirrors and a plethora of unnecessary acronyms and concepts. It shouldn’t be that complex.

Sure there are some fairly detailed specialist areas you could choose to focus on, such as affiliate marketing, programmatic display, and so on, which can get quite complicated when you get really involved in the full detail. But really, there’s no need, particularly at the start of fixing any eCommerce site. Just like the basics of running a successful bricks and mortar store are to ensure you get the right people through the doors and make the shop layout as easy as possible for them to find what they want and buy it – the same is true for eCommerce. Build a solid strategy for targeting online users who are likely to desire your product, and then make the site as friction-less and pleasurable to use as possible to convert as many users into customers as you can. It really is that simple – more targeted traffic and a better website!

ADLIB: You are currently leading the digital transformation of YHA England & Wales. Within businesses, what are your top tips for approaches on how to build a compelling case to get internal buy in to putting ‘digital first’?

Jon Smith: Internal buy-in is paramount for large organisations to move forward with any kind of transformation, not just digital. But often, digital transformation has been seen as particularly difficult. I suspect it’s because traditionally many large organisations Senior Exec teams at the top, making the big strategic direction decisions, are not digital natives. They’re likely to have the traditional view that IT Departments are something for internalise; a utility and a cost centre.

It’s probably taken a while for the worlds of the commercial departments like marketing, sales, product development etc. to become merged with the traditional IT teams – and for individuals to become multi-skilled in all these disciplines to truly understand the possibilities of digital to transform business fortunes.

In my opinion therefore, it’s key to ensure there’s someone in any large organisation, trusted by Senior Execs, who not only gets technology, but who also understands how it could and should be utilised to enable business (digital) transformation.

I was recently at an event where I guy from IBM was speaking, and he summed it up really well, recommending that Execs should “find their own Steve Jobs within their organisation and listen to them!”. I suppose I’d like to think that’s what I’m aiming to be in some way for YHA. Opening the mind so as not to consider digital as something that just belongs in the IT department, but rather something which spreads across the whole of business. To be used not only as a lever to create efficiency internally, but more importantly to engage more effectively with our future customers to deliver products and service to meet their ever growing digital expectations – better, faster and cheaper. In terms of tips – I can only advise how I’ve managed to do this so far. Do your research (competitors, technologies and future trends), then when pitching the new ideas and digital strategy to the organisation, don’t talk about the technology, focus instead on the impact of the customer experience!

ADLIB: And finally, what will your drupalcamp Bristol session be about? Can you share a little bit, just to give an idea?

Jon Smith: The session I’ll be delivering at drupalcamp, alongside David from Microserve, will focus largely on the process YHA took to start our new 3 years digital plan, starting with YHA’s new websites and platform for future customer facing digital services. In particular, how we wanted to build a hybrid client-agency model delivery team. I’ll share some of the areas which have worked well, and some lessons learned along the way.

Thank you Jon for sharing!


drupalcamp Bristol 2017, the largest gathering of Drupal experts in the Southwest is on from 30th June to 2nd July 2017. Tickets and more info are available via the event website.