Posts Tagged ‘product search’

Finding construction products online: how do we make it easier?

30/08/2012

In this video, social strategist Su Butcher talks to architect Matt Franklin of mbf DESIGN about how he used ESI.info to find a balustrade product for a specific project:

Finding construction products online can be a challenge for architects. There is certainly no shortage of information: trawling Google for the most common building product phrases will return massive amounts of data. But the chances are you will end up with a trawl-full of irrelevant information mixed in with the things you were actually looking for, and sifting through it all can be incredibly time-consuming.

Add to that the fact that manufacturers’ own websites range in quality and structure from the excellent to the downright appalling, and that you have to keep navigating backwards and forwards between websites in an attempt to compare similar products side-by-side.

Whilst it’s good to have a variety to choose from, sometimes all you want is to arrive quickly at a sensible shortlist of relevant products. Too much choice, and information presented in non-standard ways, can be a hindrance. So how do we take the pain out of construction product searches?

A dedicated website can make this process so much easier. You can search, compare and select products using filters that are specific to that product type. You can contact multiple manufacturers in one go, asking for quotes or further information. You can save products into project folders and share them with your team.

Why not register for free with ESI.info and use the site as a handy tool next time you set out to trawl for construction products?

I’d love to hear about how you usually search for building products online. How does it work for you? What do you find frustrating? How could it be made easier? Comment on this blog, or join the discussion on Twitter (hashtag #ESIinfoTV)!

If you’re a manufacturer or supplier of construction products and you want to get listed on ESI.info, follow this link or give us a ring on 01786 407000!

How to choose safety glass

09/07/2012

Specifying the right type of safety glass for your project can be of vital importance. The Standard Patent Glazing Company is an expert in the field: founded in 1902, the company specialises in the design, manufacture and installation of patent glazing systems for contracts anywhere in the UK. Darren Lister provides this useful guide:

Toughened Safety Glass (Safety Class Rating A)

Toughened safety glass (sometimes called tempered glass) is produced by heating annealed glass to approximately 620ºC, at which point it begins to soften. The surfaces of this heated glass are then cooled rapidly. The technique creates a state of high compression in the outer surfaces of the glass and, as a result – although most other characteristics remain unchanged – the bending strength is increased by a factor of up to five times that of annealed glass.
When broken, the toughened glass fractures into small pieces (called dice). As these particles do not have the sharp edges and dagger points of broken annealed glass, it is generally regarded as a safety glass. While these dice may cause minor cuts, it is very difficult to cause a severe injury with them, provided the fragments are small enough.
Toughened safety glass must be cut to size and have any other processing (such as edge polishing or hole drilling) completed before toughening, because attempts to “work” the glass after toughening will cause it to shatter.
All toughened glass has the highest Safety Rating available, which is Class A to British Standard 6206.

Laminated Safety Glass (Safety Class Rating A or B)

Laminated glass consists of one or more panes of glass attached to and separated from each other by means of interlayer materials. Laminated glass is usually made from annealed glass, although it can also be manufactured using toughened, heat-strengthened or wired glass. It is no stronger than the glass it is made from and cracks as easily. However, when laminated glass breaks, the glass fragments tend to adhere to the interlayer material. Although the glass itself may be annealed glass, on breaking, any sharp cutting edges are not generally exposed. The performance of the glass depends very much on the type of interlayer, and there are many different types. The most common interlayer is PVB (polyvinylbutyral) sheet, which usually sticks to the glass very well and produces a high-energy absorbing interlayer of uniform thickness.

  • 6.4mm thick laminated glass obtains a Class B safety rating to BS 6206.
  • 6.8mm thick laminated glass obtains a Class A safety rating to BS 6206.
  • All laminated glass with a PVB interlayer at least 0.8mm thick obtain a Class A safety rating to BS 6206.

Wired Safety Glass (Safety Class Rating C)

This is a product which has been regarded as a safety glass for many, many years. The wires in wired glass tend to hold the glass together when it is cracked. They perform this function admirably when used in roof glazing and, most particularly, in providing fire resistance, but up until recently most of the wired glass products on the market were not classifiable as safety glass to BS 6206. Wired glass is now supplied with thicker and stronger wires to obtain a safety Class C rating to BS 6206.

View The Standard Patent Glazing Company’s beautiful photo gallery of completed work here.

Clay and concrete tile roofing: free design guides

07/06/2012

1. Concrete roof tiles guidance

I have come across some interesting design guides on Forticrete‘s website, free to download.

Re-roofing in a conservation area: Hardrow Glade concrete tiles at Friers Court, Wentworth, South Yorkshire

Forticrete is part of the Concrete Tile Manufacturer’s Association (CTMA) and therefore has access to a number of useful data sheets on various topics relating to the construction of roofs.

The association represents the interests of its members – Forticrete, Cemex, Monier, Marley Eternit and Sandtoft – who collectively produce an estimated 95% of concrete roof tiles in the UK.

The association supports the Roofing Industry Alliance, whose main aim is to increase the quality and reliability of roof construction.

Documents are available on the following topics:

  • Changes in rafter pitch
  • Dry fix ridges
  • Eaves detailing
  • Mortar bedded hips
  • Mortar bedded ridges
  • Party wall junctions
  • Side abutment detailing
  • Top edge abutment detailing
  • Valley detailing (parts 1–3)
  • Vent tiles and pipes
  • Verge detailing (parts 1 & 2)
  • Surevent: condensation control in roofs

2. Clay roof tiles guidance

The Clay Roof Tile Council has a technical library full of similar information. The CRTC collectively represents over 90% of UK clay roof tile production. Its members are Dreadnought, Marley Eternit, Keymer, Redland and Sandtoft.

Sandtoft Heritage Service clay roof tiles at the Reform Club, London

The Clay Roof Tile Council’s online library covers information on topics including:

  • Repair and maintenance
  • Design specification
  • Material specifications
  • Health and safety
  • Handmade technologies
  • Machine made technologies
  • Wind uplift calculations
  • Quality control
  • …and a very handy little glossary of terms.

Selecting and specifying roof tiles

On ESI.info, you can find, compare and select roof tiles in concrete, clay, slate, natural stone, fibre cement and zinc. You can also find timber shingles and shakes.

Search results can be filtered using parameters like roof pitch, tile type, manufacturing process, installation method and product accreditation. Why not have a go – and tell me whether you found the site easy to use?

Esprit d’escalier: the wit and symbolism of the staircase

04/05/2012

What is it that fascinates us so much about staircases? More symbolically rich than any other building element, the staircase gives rise to a multitude of associations.

The staircase is a place of fleeting conversations, chance meetings, contrived accidents, secret assignations, ghostly encounters, lost opportunities for witty responses, and a symbol of lofty ambition.

It can be a descent into the underworld (‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’) or a Jacob’s ladder leading into heaven.

Do you dream about going up or down stairs? It could mean that you are coming to a decision on a complicated issue… The bottom of the stairs represents your current reality; the top landing is the conclusion for which you strive.

Any budding guitarist, of course, will attempt to learn the inevitable ‘Stairway to Heaven’ intro. (The bane of many a music store.)

There is even a page on Pinterest entirely dedicated to ‘Wonderful stairways and staircases‘.

For photographers, staircases are a constant source of inspiration. When viewed from above or below, the stairway takes on a purely graphic, geometric quality – like an abstract pattern rather than a physical object.

Out of self-indulgence, I thought I would share with you some of my favourite images of stairs and steps – below.

In the meantime – if you need to find, compare and select staircases, balustrades and handrails, ESI.info is a good place to start:

Google Panda: the effect on your web searches

06/05/2011

Are you familiar with Google’s new Panda algorithm? Recently introduced, it has changed the way Google responds when architects and other specifiers search for products and services. Intended to weed out low-quality websites from search results, it has also had a knock-on effect on websites that provide genuinely useful services to web users.

This is the time to make sure your website contains unique, relevant content – making it a destination site in itself. John Macrae, Head of Sales for our parent site ESI.info, explains how.

Eats shoots & leaves: the Panda algorithm (Stéfan on Flickr)

There are a lot of ‘directory’ sites. Many of them simply aggregate information that is already widely available, present it in a directory format (with varying degrees of practical information for the user), slap on a form of user interface and hope to attract traffic via search engine optimisation.

In most instances, they generate revenue by acting as a source of web traffic to companies that pay to have web links prominent on the site.

Google has quite rightly seen that many of these sites serve little useful purpose to web browsers. The proliferation of these sites can clog up search results pages and mean that original suppliers’ sites that deliver good relevant content are being pushed off the first few results pages.

It seems wholly beneficial to web browsers that Google has introduced a new algorithm to help people ‘find more high-quality sites in search’. This algorithm has been labelled Google Panda and is aimed at dealing with sites that aggregate information.

The algorithm has certainly reduced the ranking of some poor directories, but it also has hit sites that provide a more sophisticated service to users. Google will continue to refine their algorithm because it understands that some good sites will have been affected, and that a blanket approach simply can’t deliver their desired outcome. Still, the genuinely useful directory sites must act themselves to avoid being de-ranked by Google.

Directory sites need to update their image (Brenda Starr on Flickr)

There is no doubt that ‘directory’ sites must re-evaluate their quality. The poorest of sites will have a mountain to climb in order to pass muster according to Google’s ‘quality’ algorithm: they will have to invest heavily in order to develop unique content, change their business model, and come up with a new raison d’etre to present to their advertisers.  In the meantime they’ll have to spend on Google Adwords to have any tangible search engine presence!

Fighting the panda (Kudumomo on Flickr)

In the context of directory sites, quality will involve:

1. Unique content
Unique content on a directory site is tricky to achieve, since the site collates information on products that are already written about on a manufacturer’s site. However, the directory site does not have to simply regurgitate existing web content. Unique directory content can be achieved by presenting products from a 3rd party perspective, in order to deliver the pertinent information free of ‘corporate speak’. Web users want clear and easily digestible information, ideally presented from an independent viewpoint.

The directory can also ensure that its content is presented in a consistent style that will make information about similar products from different companies easily comparable.

Truly unique content will only come from editorial input.  This requires the ‘directory’ to have an editorial resource that genuinely understands the industry and its products and services, and can then generate meaningful content – for example, overviews of products that help users gain a clear understanding of the options, technologies and applications.

Manufacturers can also play a role in providing additional unique content if the site can become a forum for publishing technical articles and white papers; good quality, educational content.

(Google’s own guidelines recommend that web designers ‘create a useful, information-rich site and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content’.)

2. User functionality
Google delivers relevant search results. The user then has to explore those results on their own – going through results from different companies, different websites, all with different ways of presenting information – there’s no further guidance or help from the search engine.

A high-quality directory site can help the user interrogate the marketplace:

  • Search refinements: sub-setting results according to a combination of relevant parameters (size, weight, materials, cost, accreditation etc).
  • Product comparison: similar products summarised side-by-side on a web page can be invaluable to users looking to arrive quickly at the information that’s right for them.
  • Management of information: users should be able to store and manage relevant information, organising this information efficiently for future reference.
  • Tools to help users take ‘next actions’: providing the user with efficient communication channels to suppliers, whether contacting them individually or many at a time.

3. Taxonomy
A mass of quality content is only useful if it is organised in a logical and clear taxonomy. This organisation requires a huge amount of discipline and a deep understanding of the nature of the content. It is essential to deliver a more sophisticated search-and-refine functionality that benefits users. Investment in skilled personnel and suitable software is the only way to get a taxonomy right.

Has Google thrown the baby out with the bathwater?

Some very good directories (that are already highly regarded by their users) have been affected by Google’s new algorithm – albeit less so than poorer directories. Google will refine their algorithm over time, but even the best directories will be forced to reassess their quality.

This might lead to a new generation of ‘directory’ sites. Those with vision – and sufficient intelligence and resource to deliver the quality required – will prosper. With better directories appearing prominently in relevant search results, the web user will ultimately benefit.

Better directories will also negate the search results issue in the longer term, because if a directory site is good enough it will become a primary web destination, i.e. the object of the search rather than a spin-off of the search.

This might especially be the case where a directory serves a specific market, for example the construction industry. Here, a directory can focus its attention on satisfying the needs of a particular type of user, and market itself to a clearly defined user group.

Search, compare and select: ESI.info

What about ESI.info?

Here at ESI we’ve known all along that web users want quality. The old mantra ‘Content is King’ continues to resonate true. Our challenge is to continue to develop original content, user tools and functionality so as to cement our place as a focus for suppliers and buyers within our marketplace.

Our site is a valuable resource for the industries we operate in; it is much more than a ‘directory’. We will work with Google’s algorithms because we want our site to be seen on the right search pages, but we are fully engaged with our own target users, developing our relationship with the right people so as to become a primary internet destination for them.

It is this close relationship and understanding of the market, along with a growing market awareness of our site’s quality content and functionality, that will generate traffic for our site and achieve our objective of connecting users with the right information as efficiently as possible.