Posts Tagged best practice
Q. Should I have a “Welcome” message on my website homepage?
Not any more. It was fine in the early days of the web, but web users are more sophisticated now. For a business or organisation it’s out-of-fashion, looks a bit unprofessional, and is a distraction for your customers who’ve come to your site to do or get something.
In fact, research indicates people don’t even bother reading such statements anymore, so you’re wasting valuable webpage real estate, that you could be using to sell products or your message.
Better to find out what goals your website visitors have – why they visit the site, what they want to get done or find, not what you want to tell them. Then make sure they can achieve that goal quickly and easily.
The exception would be if your business has a strong or well-known personality fronting it, and your opening is that person speaking. Just be aware few will read it, so keep it short and put the person’s name and photo near it.
You better be pretty sure of yourself though, because even Steve Jobs didn’t have his mug and a welcome statement on the Apple website – he featured his products.
The same goes for statements about the history or development of your company, even if your business is a hundred years old and very well known. Put those in the “About us”.
Links to more reading:
In my work as a user experience consultant I’m often asked to review sites that customers are concerned about. One classic cause for concern is that a site for some mysterious reason is so far down the Google search results that it might as well not exist. There’s a whole industry of charlatanism around ‘search engine optimisation’ – the alleged science of improving a site’s rankings.
I don’t claim to understand how Google ‘really works’, but I know a few things. The contents of headings and the initial paragraphs of body text is very important. Google’s search tools will analyse these to identify keywords to assists in ranking sites, and they’ll become aware if terms are repeated too often. My best advice is to carefully craft these words especially on your homepage, to reflect what you site is really about and at whom it is aimed.
So why do some sites do especially badly at this? I saw a classic example of this recently in a site I was asked to review. This had been designed by some ‘Flash Harrys’ in the corporate branding game, and it certainly smelled like a pile of money. At first glance the homepage content looked pretty good, the keywords I was looking for were all there. Then I performed a simple check – I put my cursor on the page and tried to select some text from the first paragraph. No go – nothing – nada – nyet, Kapitan…
Why could I not select the text? It wasn’t text at all, it was a picture of some text. Not the same thing at all, Veronica.
Google’s software endlessly trawls the internet reading text and following hyperlinks between sites. If it’s not actually a hyperlink, or formatted text, Google’s digital elves can’t read it – so it may as well NOT BE THERE.
My clients had paid good money for a site where all the principal content pages looked like pages of relevant text but were in fact images of text. As far as Google was concerned it was a site without content, and that was why it was ranking very low on the search results.
So my hot tip for evaluating your own website is – if it looks like it has a lot of unusual formatting overlaying text and images, logos and other branding devices – check that the written content really is text, and that there really is a heading at the top.
Try my cursor-selecting trick, or click ‘View > Page source’ in the browser window, if you can’t read the page content anywhere in the page source code, chances are it isn’t text at all. And in that case your site is ‘search engine sub-optimal’ – and if that worries you, you need to get it fixed – and fast.
Because increasingly – if your business can’t be found on the net, it can’t be found at all.
I’ve recently completed a review of a prototype e-commerce site for a corporate client. Every time I do a job like this I learn something new about the silly stuff web developers do because they think about system and interface design more than they do about user needs.
This time I picked up a couple of classics which I’d like to share with you, because they establish some key rules of user centred design. Things you don’t want to try at home with your own shiny new site.
Number one – where should you put the user registration page?
Now this one sounds totally obvious, but so I don’t sound like a total smarty who’s never locked his keys in the car, I should point out I’d had about six sessions evaluating the site before I twigged to this issue.
One of the key tasks of this site is the user log-in. Retailers seeking to order from the site need to log-in to access the e-commerce functions. Now there were some problems with the design and location of the Retailer log-in link, which I duly dealt with. Then I suddenly thought – what if you don’t have a log-in, how do you apply for one?
I had a look round, and realised I couldn’t see an application form anywhere – but I was darn sure I had seen one at some point. So I checked every pixel of the Homepage and the Contact us page – nothing at all. I checked a few other possible but less likely spots. Grrrrr! Nothing. Then I had an idea – I clicked the Retailer log-in link, which took me to a page where I could enter my log-in to open a shopping cart. And there was the application form. I knew I’d seen it somewhere, and here it was – in the last place in the site that I thought to look…
Go on, you do the maths.
It’s an invitation to register as a user, and it’s in the last place I (a representative user) had looked. Not the second place, or the third… the last place. So it’s a serious usability issue. It made me feel stupid… and web users really hate that.
Why did I feel stupid? Because the registration form was behind the link you click to log in. Who clicks that? Only users with log-ins, actually. So the very people who have no reason to click this link (users who don’t yet have a log-in) are the very ones who must somehow guess that this is the thing they must do. Furthermore – it’s accessible only by that one link in the top navigation. It’s a page you’ll never get to from any other page, or from a text link, or by using the search function (read on to find why you can’t search for it).
So take a deep breath and repeat after me: “if you want users to register for a log-in, make the link really obvious”.
The Homepage is a good spot for this, because lots of folks go there; and so is Contact us, because it makes sense on a semantic level – requesting a log-in is a kind of contact initiated by your users. So that’s where they’ll look.
Number two – when is a search box not a search box?
This is another classic that shows how web designers can get tricked by their knowledge of a site’s back end. Users never make decisions based on back end knowledge, because many of them don’t know where the back end is, they just see graphic interfaces, and to them that’s what sites are.
It’s not dumb, it’s human. We understand what we see in the light of our experience – our mental schema. If users’ experience doesn’t include how interfaces and databases interact, then as far as users are concerned, that interaction doesn’t happen.
This is illustrated by what happened when I tried to use the Search box on the B2B site I’m talking about. I was looking of that pesky log-in registration form, and I tried searching for a few key words, such as ‘registration’ and ‘log-in’ (all the different spellings, actually: login, log in, log-in…). I was mystified, no results at all, did this darn thing even work? Now that’s a usability issue of sorts, if the thing’s actually busted… But then I had an idea, and I searched for a key product category, and – bingo!
This search box was a blank text box, with the heading ‘Search’ written on the left side, and a nice clear button on the left labelled ‘Go’ (I personally prefer omitting that heading and putting ‘Search’ on the button: but whatever, I was just trying to start the engine on the pesky heap by this point, I didn’t care so much what kind of tyres she had).
But what I’d realised was indeed a usability issue, and it was related to that heading by the box.
This one wasn’t a real search box at all, not one that used a search engine to interrogate the text contents of the web pages. No, this was a ‘Product search’ box, one that only interrogates the database of products that sits behind the site and underpins all the e-commerce functionality.
Calling it ‘Search’ tricked me into thinking I could use it to look for page content like annual reports, or directors’ names. The developers all knew it was actually a database search, because they built the blasted thing – so from their perspective, it didn’t need an explanatory label – ‘everyone’ knew what it was.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
The site’s users absolutely needed to be told this, so they could use the search to achieve their goals quickly and easily. Otherwise they were going to waste time like I did, and either eventually realise their ‘mistake’, and feel like a bunch of Homer Simpsons told to take their pick in a roomful of shovels – or they were going to ring or email customer support (perhaps in their hundreds, if all went well with the site launch) and report that the Search was broken.
And that will cost money, and then it won’t be the customers whacking their foreheads and grunting ‘Doh!’ It’ll be the web developers who are doing that – the ones who knew what kind of search it was in the first place.
What are the basic steps to great online experience for your customers?
Like writing a letter, or having a one-on-one meeting, the internet is just another means of communication. This is a basic fact that we often lose sight of in all the hoopla.
So – all online experiences are about communication between two parties, you and your customers.
In order to make this work there are a few basic first steps to settle, before we start getting too technical. The goal is to create a win/win interaction, in which each party achieves their primary objectives – you communicate your message, and the customer gets the information, the service or the product that they require
First, define and rank your business objectives. What are you trying to achieve with your online presence? Increased subscriptions, more sales leads, cutting delivery costs…?
While you may have lots of business objectives, it’s critical to identify your primary objective – otherwise it’s easy to lose focus and let secondary desires get in the way of your primary mission. This can happen where more than one person or team is trying to drive the process. At the end of the day, your success will be measured on your ability to deliver on the primary objective.
Second, get a clear understanding of what you users need and want. Then consider what you can do to help your users achieve both their goals and yours?
Create simple scenarios involving your company and its customers. Identify potential solutions that solve the key problems outlined in the scenarios. For instance, your primary objective is to inform customers about new products, and you discover the main decision driver for the customer is price. Ensure that new products are grouped in one place, clearly linked from the homepage, and price information is situated at the top of every product window. If the price appears at the start of every product page, it is more likely to appear in search result summaries as well.
Finally, use your primary objective as the decision-making filter: Does the information, the technology and the design presented in your site help you achieve your primary objective – or not?
A frequent conflict is the desire to collect as much information about the visitor as possible. Many sites unwittingly make this the dominant impression for customers, often by making it impossible for them to ask the simplest question without giving you a comprehensive set of personal data. While you may want to know more about your prospects, your prospect may not be ready to share that information with you. So how do you decide between the two desires?
If your primary goal is to increase sales and customer satisfaction, e.g. then the answer is simple: Do whatever will help you achieve that goal – and that typically means removing anything that reduces your conversion rates, such as filling out lengthy forms. If your customers realise that you have what fulfils their needs, they’ll voluntarily give you the information you need when you give them the chance. The key thing is to make it seem in their interests, rather than yours.
If you get these basic communication issues straight, both your customers and you will get what you want from your website. Every one of these little successful interactions will go on to build the bigger business success we all need.
All companies want their customers to love them, and most companies expect those customers to learn about them from their websites. So why don’t more companies design websites that place customer experience at the heart of the design process?
Van Duyne, Landay and Hong, in their book The Design of Sites, have identified nine design ‘myths’ that get in the way of doing just that. These are false arguments which are often advanced as reasons why we don’t all need to make the effort to design websites for our customers.
The truth is, if we don’t all make that effort, we are all wasting our time and money even having a website – and we’re asking all our customers to waste their time visiting it. But the counter-arguments in favour of making the customer-design effort are simple.
Myth 1: ‘Good design is just common sense’.
Yeah, right. If that were true, pretty well all sites would be well designed, whereas our experience strongly suggests otherwise. This myth leads us to think that we all know what everyone needs and wants. Wrong. Knowing this about your customers comes from research, not lazy assumptions.
Myth 2: ‘Only experts create good designs’.
Once again, many rubbish sites are designed by ‘experts’. The question is – experts at what? Anyone can learn to understand audience requirements and implement them in a web interface – if they understand why and how to do it!
Myth 3: ‘Web interfaces can be redesigned just before the site goes live’.
Well, no, actually. The key to good interface design is knowing what features your customers need and want, and how they will use them. If your site isn’t built with the right features as its ‘skeleton’, no amount of shifting the deckchairs will stop the ship from going down with all hands.
Myth 4: ‘Good design is costly and takes too long’.
The trade off is spending a little up front in audience research and development, versus spending a lot later on in help desk calls, returned merchandise and web maintenance and costly redesigns. You’ll also be spared designing functions you don’t really need to support tasks that real customers don’t value. The relevant proverb is ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.
Myth 5: ‘Good design is just cool graphics’.
Every good site must look good and by doing this show its customers that their experience of the site is valued, but this is not enough. The site must also support customers’ needs, must communicate the information they seek and give a context in which to carry out their tasks. This isn’t done with ‘cool graphics’.
Myth 6: ‘Web guidelines will guide you to good designs’.
Guidelines will help get the detail of the design right, but they can only address the way the design is implemented. Guidelines will not tell you what features to implement, what structure to use, nor the flow between pages – this comes only from understanding your customers and their needs.
Myth 7: ‘Customers can get out of trouble with a Guide or Help’.
As a last resort, if your customers know that what they want is in your site and nowhere else, they may persist in difficulty long enough to use the documentation you have provided. But if you expect them to have to use these things, they will desert your site in numbers and at speed – web users expect intuitive sites that explain themselves clearly and simply. A site that needs a book to explain itself is not a good one.
Myth 8: ‘Market research tells us all we need about customer needs’.
Of course market research is helpful, especially to discover customer attitudes and intentions – but more important than what they say is what they do. If you ask 50 customers what features your site needs you’ll sink under the combined weight of their laundry lists. If you observe five customers actually using your site, you’ll know right away what they really value in terms of content and functions.
Myth 9: ‘Quality assurance teams make sure websites work’.
Site functionality is important, broken links and search functions will impede use of the site. But software testing is purely driven by technology concerns, not customer satisfaction. A fully-operational function that no one actually needs is not a measure of success, it is a waste of time and money. ‘Just because it ain’t broke, don’t mean that folk can actually use it’.
These ‘myths’ are often advanced as reasons why user-testing and customer-focussed evaluations are a waste of resources. These counter-arguments make short work of the ‘nay-sayers’ – and show why putting your customers at the centre of the site design process is so essential to your business success.