Why Product & Marketing Need To Be One Team (Part 2)

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How many times have you researched the competition only to discover that a huge driver for their marketing is their awesome product? It’s happened to me more times than I can count.

You need to pull together rather than separately for optimal results. (Cornell Rowing Team  by Chris Waits)

You need to pull together for optimal results. (Cornell Rowing Team by Chris Waits)

The fundamental lesson to take away from this is that you must integrate the product and marketing teams. There are many reasons to do so, including:

  • What we saw in part 1 of this series, namely that Facebook is becoming a search engine for personal, trusted recommendations. By integrating product and marketing, you maximize the amount and enthusiasm of the word of mouth referrals you get.
  • Both product and marketing are based on the same input - the question, “what do customers need?” – so you combine the R&D with marketing to provide the most efficient and effective ouput – your answer in the form of product and marketing).
  • If you don’t combine the two, you’re likely to end up contradictory messages such as where the sales team promises more than the product can deliver. You then overpromise and under-deliver, a highly recommended way to ruin your reputation and avoid repeat sales.
  • Getting more sales, because the marketing team understands the customer’s perspective as well as the product developers. This results in better copy, hero images and conversion rates. If you’re relying on a sales force, this still holds true as the ability to see the lead’s perspective enables the salesperson to offer more relatable benefits and case studies.

For the purposes of this article, the product team is what others call the operations team, a more common name in service industries like hospitality or telecoms. The product team also includes customer service and support, since these are obviously part of how your customer experiences the product/service your company offer. So too any other team that affects the customer experience – they also need to be integrated into one with the marketing team.

Here are some examples of cases where product has driven marketing… and vice versa.

  1. An IMN client’s competitors were increasingly selling the digital form of the product, while the analog form was fighting super-cheap competitors. (I hope to write a post about this “Chinafication” of our product and service marketplaces in the future, addressing the result of these dramatically cheaper (in price and quality) goods and services that have invaded our markets.) We could give all the link building and SEO advice in the world, but if this client doesn’t evolve their product line, their business will eventually shrink painfully due to loss of market share and margin. We told them as much. (In fact, I could list this point twice since very similar patterns happened in two disparate markets.)
  2. Another IMN client had pages for products he no longer carried because they were discontinued by the manufacturer, a risk from the perspective of Google’s quality-user-experience algorithms. Again, the solution involved changes to the product line that dovetailed with changes to the site and business operations/strategy.
  3. One of my very first clients in SEO was a hotel. They had some negative reviews online to do with maintenance problems. I informed them of that and they said the problem was fixed, so I was able to respond accordingly online. Conversely, this hotel’s great customer service and location (the product, i.e. unique value proposition) earned it links from people who had visited in the past.
  4. Toy commercials are a primary market research tool for toy makers (pic via Youtube)

    Toy commercials are a primary market research tool for toy makers (pic via Youtube)

    A company selling their own SAAS for IT was competing against a company that offered a free SAAS. (The latter company sold services, integration, support and consulting around their product.) Guess who had gotten radically better links in huge numbers? The free SAAS company had links from some of the biggest tech sites and brands in the world, such as Mozilla.

  5. Mobile apps obviously require mobile marketing.
  6. Seth Godin, in his book Meatball Sundae, cites the toy industry as having a big conference in February to watch ads for new toys. The toys with the most compelling ads are the toys that then get made and sold at Christmas.
  7. Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Workweek also advises trying to sell your product first, and only creating it if the sales effort succeeds. This is a rapid way to validate/invalidate unique value propositions as well as angles of framing it. Note that doing this for a brand new category of product is very risky, because you may develop a solution to a problem that no one has (or you may not know who has the problem, nor find out before you go bankrupt). This approach works best for industries where an existing demand exists and the new product is more of an iteration on previous toys than something completely new in itself. E.g. Tickle Me Elmo is an iteration on teddy bears… not so risky.
  8. In the book The Knack, by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham, there’s a case cited of a fishmonger who explains that he’s really in the lending business. He extends credit to restaurants in the form of fish, and gets paid when they have better weeks/it’s high season. Fish on credit is a fundamentally different product (including different pricing) than fish paid for immediately.
  9. A friend of mine selling a high-priced, high-quality product to SMBs similarly realized that allowing them to pay in installements was the key to unlocking their purses. He’s also making in-kind loans, combining sales technique (overcoming price objection) with product development (he’s selling them product on credit, like the fishmonger).
  10. In an IMN competitive analysis, we found that some competitors had a key advantage in that they gave customers more information. This greater empowerment was a very unique selling point, attracting both customers and press … we encouraged our customer to replicate and improve on this information sharing.
  11. A linkbait brainstorming report helped us realize that an industry was getting a bad reputation online for negative impact on third parties. We suggested ways they could partner with those parties to prevent negative impacts, and mitigate them when they happened. This involved product development suggestions involving motivating buyer and seller to behave better towards the third parties.
  12. Also in that report, we gave branding guidance to another client that would make them a dramatic change catalyst in their market. By talking about how members of their target audience were doing wonderful things, and associating their brand with ads touting these positive stories, they could become not just a company but a beloved icon of their audience. This would give them massive market share, and make it exponentially harder for competitors to take market share when people would feel such strongly positive emotions towards this company.

So if I’m suggesting merging product and marketing, the natural question is – how do you go about doing this integration? That’s a never-ending process, but you can get started by reading and implementing The E-Myth Revisited as well as Running Lean. To similar effect, the Customer Development Labs blog is fantastic and I recommend subscribing. My brother-in-law pointed out these Michael Gerber (E-Myth author) videos on Youtube, as well.

Michael Gerber, author of the E-Myth revisited

Michael Gerber, author of the E-Myth revisited, is THE guru of systematizing your business and many of his ideas lead to the conclusion that you should integrate product and marketing. This conclusion is explicitly obvious in Ash Maurya’s book Running Lean, about the lean startup method to product creation and marketing. Video on Youtube

I’ll write more about integrating the two teams in my next post for the IMN blog. The point of the above references is that you need systems to do market research, and what you find out will inform your product development and marketing development How so? These systems will help you to find out:

  • What problems the audience faces,
  • Who the various segments of that audience are,
  • How you’re going to reach the audience,
  • Why your solution matches the audience (i.e. what benefits are you selling – what’s your product).

Subscribe to the IMN blog so you see my next posts on the topic of combining the product and marketing teams.

The post Why Product & Marketing Need To Be One Team (Part 2) appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

Internet Marketing and Web Design: The Truth is Out There

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For two decades the Internet has captivated us by providing a common method of sharing and delivering information and within those 20 years the world grew by over a billion people.

Just 20 years.

On October 12, 1999, the world’s population had reached 6 billion. I was already five years into my web design and search engine optimization career by then. The scope of my efforts rested largely in getting web pages ranked on the top 10 search engines and countless directories by moving specific words around on pages in the hopes that somebody out there was searching for them.

The X filesA mere dozen years later, on October 31, 2011, the world grew by another billion people. That’s another billion mobile customers, students doing research papers, Kindle and Nook book readers, bargain shoppers, bloggers and HULU TV watchers. By 2011 I was already a decade into usability web design and focused on what terms and keyword phrases targeted groups of people use to search for sites on the Internet.

By 2002 my work was referred to as “Holistic Usability and SEO” because I considered my worth as a consultant to be aligned with my personal perspective on people. We all deserve to get the truth. Back in the mid-1980’s I attended a workshop on subliminal messages in advertising, which at the time was a blown out of proportion big deal. I would happily examine ice cubes in alcohol ads looking for the word “SEX”. To me, hiding words like “SEX” in the source code of web pages was no different. Both subliminal advertising and keyword stuffing proved to be entirely worthless marketing tricks.

In the year 2000, two situations changed my thinking regarding online marketing and started me on the road to “people on purpose” web design and marketing. The first was learning that the gigantic Internet darling company I was employed by at that time had a search engine optimization department whose work was largely tracking all the results from slipping money to all the search engines to get the top search engine results for the websites we were building. This was before PPC, Inktomi and other pay for rank systems now in play. I understood then why cloaking was so in demand, as there was no other way to compete with companies that were literally paying for the top spots behind the cover of silence and handshakes.

The second smack on the head was realizing I was designing to make project managers happy, who in turn were answering the demands of stakeholders, who clearly had no freaking idea what they wanted or how it should be done. It’s a sad situation that exists today, as evidenced by the Healthcare.gov disaster. I desperately and intuitively needed to build websites that worked for the people intended to use them. Fortunately, a wise department head realized this and set me on the path to learn and work in usability, human factors and software testing.

The ability to emphasize with web site visitors arriving from various search queries is not a sense most website developers havbigstock_The_Truth_Just_Ahead_Green_Ro_11944751e. Concern about who uses websites and how they interact with them is not something marketers fuss over either. The truth is that everyone looking for web pages asks questions in unique ways, using different terms, various computer devices, are old, young, in between, angry, scared, calm, sleepy, drunk, colorblind, wears glasses, has a physical limitation, hand tremors, short attention span, are in a crowded room, driving, walking, running, teaching, circling the planet, or shopping for a Tesla.

The truth is, we design and market to a tiny fraction of 7 billion potential web site users.

We are only a decade away from reaching 8 billion people on Earth. How ready will your company be to build and market websites to them?

The post Internet Marketing and Web Design: The Truth is Out There appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

January 1st 2014 Internet Marketing, Usability

On A Page of Your Website, Your Server Sent to Me

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On the homepage of your website, the server sent to me:
A Promise That You Ship Free.

On page two of your website, the server sent to me:
Two 404’s
And a Promise That You Ship Free.

On page three of your website, the server sent to me:
Three Minutes Load Time
Two 404’s
And a Promise That You Ship Free.

Bad website

On page four of your website, the server sent to me:
Four Calls to Action
Three Minutes Load Time
Two 404’s
And a Promise That You Ship Free.

One page five of your website, the server sent to me:
FIVE BROKEN LINKS!

Four Calls to Action
Three Minutes Load Time
Two 404’s
And a Promise That You Ship Free.

On page six of your website, the server sent to me:
Six Missing Alt Tags
FIVE BROKEN LINKS!
Four Calls to Action
Three Minutes Load Time
Two 404’s
And a Promise That You Ship Free.

Yucky website

On page seven of your website, the server sent to me:
Seven Image Sliders
Six Missing Alt Tags
FIVE BROKEN LINKS!
Four Calls to Action
Three Minutes Load Time
Two 404’s
And a Promise That You Ship Free.

On page eight of your website, the server sent to me:
Eight Spots for AdSense
Seven Image Sliders
Six Missing Alt Tags
FIVE BROKEN LINKS!
Four Calls to Action
Three Minutes Load Time
Two 404’s
And a Promise That You Ship Free.

On page nine of your website, the server sent to me:
Nine CSS Errors
Eight Spots for AdSense
Seven Image Sliders
Six Missing Alt Tags
FIVE BROKEN LINKS!
Four Calls to Action
Three Minutes Load Time
Two 404’s
And a Promise That You Ship Free.

On page ten of your website, the server sent to me:
Ten Hidden Keywords
Nine CSS Errors
Eight Spots for AdSense
Seven Image Sliders
Six Missing Alt Tags
FIVE BROKEN LINKS!
Four Calls to Action
Three Minutes Load Time
Two 404’s
And a Promise That You Ship Free.

Really bad website

On page eleven of your website, the server sent to me:
Eleven Error Messages
Ten Hidden Keywords
Nine CSS Errors
Eight Spots for AdSense
Seven Image Sliders
Six Missing Alt Tags
FIVE BROKEN LINKS!
Four Calls to Action
Three Minutes Load Time
Two 404’s
And a Promise That You Ship Free.

On page twelve of your website, the server sent to me:
12 Calls to Action
Eleven Error Messages
Ten Hidden Keywords
Nine CSS Errors
Eight Spots for AdSense
Seven Image Sliders
Six Missing Alt Tags
FIVE BROKEN LINKS!
Four Calls to Action
Three Minutes Load Time
Two 404’s

And a Promise That You Ship Free.

Merry Christmas!

From your favorite web site usability analyst.

The post On A Page of Your Website, Your Server Sent to Me appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

December 24th 2013 Design, Usability

Kim Krause Berg Predicts 2014 The Year of Buzz (Lightyear)

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It seems like yesterday when my idea of fun was making client websites move up and down Alta Vista search results after a  code change and page refresh.

December is known for many things, like holidays, days off, fourth quarter taxes and snow.  For we web folks, it’s also a time to analyze and review the consistent and twisted Google roller coaster algorithms and every word Matt Cutts delivered to his search engine marketing flock. This is the time where we review the past and ponder the future, make predictions and check those from last year to see who won or lost.

This year I decided to make some predictions of my own.  Since nobody predicted Jill Whalen would ever retire from her search engine optimization career, I feel safe in jumping in with mine just to see if my Zen Mom visionary skills are razor sharp.

Mrs. Nesbitt

The Year of Buzz or Mrs. Nesbitt? Which hat are you?

1. I predict that PubCon will FINALLY have a regional seminar in Philadelphia or a surrounding suburb so I can drive there and save money on flights.

2. The backlash against Google will continue to develop into an underground movement of defectors.  I don’t believe these fed-up folks will run to Bing or Yahoo!.  Rather, they will rally around a new search engine being built in the underground caverns of Mt. Shasta with the help of alien technology donated by Star People who have been watching this whole thing and laughing at us.

3. WordPress has had its heyday. New blogging platforms that are easier to use are already here. Why? We got greedy, okay? WordPress was for bloggers, not enterprise content management systems with bells and whistles and widgets for layouts. So yeah. Bloggers are back! Remember them? The story-tellers from 14 years ago are going to make a huge comeback. Which reminds me of the time years ago when I found the blog of some New York gigolo who had trouble with his girlfriend, who apparently screamed louder than any of his clients. I love stories like that!

4. You know I’m going to say it so I’ll just get it done and out of the way so we can move on. Usability will be even more important that ever! Why? Because “users” who use websites are people. People have brains with neurons and need information. People have credit cards and PayPal and need to buy stuff. Search engine bots have neither.

5. “She’s breaking up, Captain” My sense is that we’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired of the constant onslaught of privacy invasion, hacking, spam and all the uglies that turned website ownership and sharing our lives on Facebook a real kick in the pants. I predict we are going to hide. This is a true disaster.

6. You laugh. But think about it. We who own, use, build or market websites are like the toys in Toy Story who just want to be loved. Our intentions are to please our customers, readers, clients and friends with our day to day humanbeingness. We never asked for our information to be stolen or sold. We certainly never gave permission to be tracked, traced, spied on and stalked by every engine, cookie, bot and remote viewer out there. I predict we will “play dead” until we feel safe and we won’t feel that way until things change with the Internet. We will pick and choose who we play with, however.

Buzz Lightyear

7. “To infinity and beyond.” I foresee 2014 as The Year of Buzz and The Year of Mrs. Nesbitt. When we develop new spaces where we feel safe or fortify existing ones, we will fly. Online communities are making a tremendous return for the simple reason that people are tribal in nature. SEOChat, Cre8asiteforums and Webmasterworld are thriving because there are no ads plastered everywhere and distractions out the gazoo. Blogs that are simple are returning to an audience that just wants to read. I predict new vertical communities and websites with less noise, more substance, and a keen and swift army of folks protecting the property from invasive online marketing tactics, hackers, etc. Meanwhile, the drunken Buzz Lightyear’s among you all will wear your pretty aprons, call yourselves Mrs. Nesbitt and serve up the same old website crap. Snap out of it!

8. Who will retire next? I have a gut feeling about a famous Boykin dude who, after building the largest Internet Marketing company on the planet, with the added sense to include usability and conversions design and testing to the mountain of services, announces he is dead, records messages in music videos backwards, moves to a private island he loving names “Apple” and re-writes the lyrics to “Let it Be” while watching the waves on the beach with his new Google Glasses. Wait. I have him confused with Paul, or John. Silly me.

The post Kim Krause Berg Predicts 2014 The Year of Buzz (Lightyear) appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

December 18th 2013 blogging, Marketing, SEO, Usability

Demystifying Viewing Patterns

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Lately I’ve been intrigued by something called the ‘viewing pattern’ of people. This is a pattern in which people view, in this case, websites. There are really a lot of ideas about this out there. Now I’m wondering: is there one right pattern? In other words: is there one pattern we should follow when designing our product and landing pages?

Before I fully dive into the subject, let me say I’m aware that these kinds of patterns are subject to culture and education. Most probably the patterns are also vastly different for languages that are read from right to left. And of course, it could be that it’s different for men and women as well.

Viewing patterns

As I said, there are numerous patterns patterns out there. I will go into what I think are the most important ones here.

The F-pattern

As the name already infers, the F-pattern suggests that people’s viewing pattern is similar to the shape of an F:

Image source: www.nngroup.com

Users will view the top content of a page horizontally first. After this their view will go down the page, and they’ll view another part horizontally. However, this area of horizontal viewing will usually be smaller than the top viewing area. Users will end up just ‘scanning’ the left side of the page’s content (best shown in the middle screenshot).

The Gutenberg Diagram

The Gutenberg Diagram suggests that people are subject to a ‘reading gravity’ that goes directly from the top left of a page to the bottom right:

Image source: www.vanseodesign.com

Users will start at the top left of a page, and end at the bottom right of a page. However, they don’t do this by viewing everything: the Gutenberg Diagram suggests that users go there in a straight line. And to make things more complicated, the ‘Axis of Orientation’ is from left to right, making the top right area more likely to be noticed, and thus Strong, than the bottom left.

The Z-pattern

Like the F-pattern, the name of the Z-pattern already gives away its meaning. It suggests that people view a website’s content in the shape of a Z. The pattern is also known as the inverted S-pattern:

Image source: www.vanseodesign.com

This viewing pattern is already close to a more engaged reading path. People viewing a website like this will see every part of the website. The start and the end points are the same as in the Gutenberg Diagram, but the top right and bottom left will not be disregarded as easily.

Other viewing patterns

There are several others, but for the sake of keeping this post readable, I’ll only mention them. They all have great similarities with one of the patterns explained above.

There’s the Golden Triangle Pattern, which is very similar to the F-pattern. And there’s the Zig Zag Pattern, which is basically just a lot of Z-patterns underneath each other. This is usually a viewing pattern for the most engaged form of reading: people searching for something specific.

Structure and hierarchy

As I said, there are a lot of patterns and a lot of ideas of how people are viewing websites. But what can we learn from all of them?

I’m inclined to believe that people’s viewing is dictated by the structure and hierarchy of the page they’re viewing, as well as personal preference. Pan et al. (2004) concluded the same in their research, saying:

“The present research confirmed previous work in that individual characteristics of the viewer as well as the stimuli both contribute to viewers’ eye movement behavior.”

So viewing patterns could mean something when people would be viewing a website with a lack of hierarchy, but as soon as you add focus and hierarchy to your website, people will start following that hierarchy. Djamasbi, Siegel & Tullis (2011), Granka, Hembrooke & Gay (2006) and Habuchi, Takeuchi & Kitajima (2006) all concluded similar findings.

What I mean by ‘structure’ is made clear by all the ‘viewing heatmaps’ I’ve seen regarding the F-pattern. A lot of these studies have focused on search result pages, which are already content heavy on the left side. So people will obviously view the left side of those pages more. However, if you add a ‘heavy’ or large object, whether textual or visual, to the right side, people’s viewing will almost certainly be drawn to that. So, how you’ve structured the design of your page will direct how people view your page.

Similarities

I’ve not even mentioned the fact that all these patterns are, in their basis, very similar. So similar, in fact, that UX Movement reviewed the Gutenberg Diagram, while showing a viewing direction which is clearly a Z-pattern.

The patterns have all been given their own name, but you can’t hide the fact that all of them start in the top left. And from the top left they move to the right. This is either the top right or bottom right. We shouldn’t need research to know that, because most people in the western world read from left to right.

So, now what?

My advice to you is to bring a clear structure to your pages, with a clear hierarchy. Don’t be distracted too much by viewing patterns, and definitely do not read too much into them.

The best way to go is probably to have some people, who are representative to your website’s visitors, work their way around your website. This will give you far more insight than patterns and/or studies like the ones mentioned above.

Eyetracking

Having said that, we are still intrigued by these eyetracking studies, even though we’re not big fans of viewing patterns. Other areas in eyetracking are very interesting to pursue. So much in fact, that we’re planning to buy some eyetrackers ourselves and doing an independent study.

What’s your view on these things? Let us know in the comments!

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

December 4th 2013 Usability

Healthcare.gov and its Mysterious Homepage

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The Healthcare.gov website should be easy to use without frustration.  Its guests should want to use it and feel satisfied with their experience.  Here’s more feedback on the homepage.


Usability and the “Abilities”

Even now, usability is kicked under the rug as a last resort in web design and marketing.  A poorly designed web page will not sell products, convey good customer service or make a good impression on your brand.  What should it include?

  • Findability – Choose terms that people use to research your site and search for it.  Navigation and link labels must describe where visitors land when clicked.  Navigation always communicates “sense of place”.  Create a logical information architecture that supports site navigation.
  • Understandability - Make sure all tasks are easy to find. Answer questions on the page rather than a FAQ. Include user instructions.
  • Accessibility – Test color contrasts, use alt attributes, andfollow WCAG 2.0 Accessibility compliance standards.
  • Usability – Avoid distractions like animation, make it obvious where links are and create consistent page layouts.
  • Searchability – Design to make it easy to find stuff, conduct tasks and create landing pages that meet the expectations of search terms.
  • Readability – Content is written in a natural conversational style with shorter sentences and paragraphs.

Applying the above to the homepage for the Healthcare.gov website, how did it perform?


Healtcare.gov homepage
1. “All Topics” is a link label that describes nothing useful and certainly doesn’t motivate us to click there.  What happens there?  What topics? For who?  It would be more helpful if it were better defined and split into two categories instead of a one size fits all link.  For example, a link for “About Health Insurance Marketplace” or “What is the Healthcare Marketplace?”  and another global navigation link for “Health Insurance Basics” or “Learn About Health Insurance”.
All topics menu
2. Why does the search field say “search” and so does the button?  Why force screen reading software like JAWS to read it out loud as “search” “search”?  There are many ways to change this.   Some sites fill in the field with “enter keywords” or leave it empty.  If the search is for an entire website, the field can indicate “Site Search” inside and the button label changed to “Go”.

3.  The screenshot shows what the homepage appears like without images.  The first paragraph of text is the notice about when the site will be down for maintenance.  This should give organic SEO folks the willies.

For understandability, the lack of text makes the homepage a mysterious game of “What The Heck Is This?”.  From what visitors are able to figure out, there are four ways to get health insurance, with two buttons.  You do the math.  Can you figure out what the site is about with images removed?  Is there enough information to make decisions on where to go next?
4 Ways
Redundant information, especially on the top half of the homepage, is wasted real estate.  Sometimes icons and certain images do not explain their purpose, as in the case above.  Two of the four ways to get Marketplace Coverage are already provided by call to action buttons with labels.  Is this a contest to see which converts better, the links with labels versus the mystery circles?  The two remaining circles are for chess board pieces and a to do list.  Or not.  They don’t offer us any clues.

I listened to several pages with JAWS to get an idea for how special needs guests experience the site.  I don’t know how they can stand it.  They listen to redundant information, repeat alt attributes and are provided with the same lack of decision making information.

For sighted visitors, the footer presents no indication for what are links or headings.

Footer links
The “Top Content” box does not explain what top content is or how it is chosen. Do we click on something?  What is the incentive to do so?
Top content box
Web designers are not automatically skilled in usability design.  Some are graphic designers with great skills for visuals but not for user experience.  Most web designers and developers are not trained in accessibility compliance or the benefits of meeting basics like color contrasts, alt attributes and readable text.  Advanced design includes marketing elements for conversions.

 The difference between a successful site and one that fails is in testing.

This innocent box for a newsletter passed the testing process performed by the companies that built the Healthcare.gov web site.
Newsletter sign up
It would not have passed a usability audit performed by Internet Marketing Ninjas.

Can you guess why?

The post Healthcare.gov and its Mysterious Homepage appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

November 27th 2013 Usability

Healthcare.gov: The $174 Million Website Flop

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It pains me to think there are people who design, build, and push out a website like Healthcare.gov that is a national disgrace and were paid well for it.

I know firsthand how contractors get away with billing state, local and federal government projects exaggerated fees and yet none of the people I’ve worked with on government sites would have delivered the nightmare that Healthcare.gov is.


Troubles with the Back End

Most of the attention and alarm is due to the backend performance side and the poorly designed application user interface. What this means is that the equipment used to support the web site failed to handle the job. So for example, when the news came out that it was time to fill out the forms to meet a specific deadline, the servers weren’t prepared for the enormous volume of people arriving to use the site. The result is pages don’t load or they take too long, people lose patience and leave.

Did they do performance testing? If this was done, somebody up the management food chain ignored their data. Sadly, this is not uncommon.

The performance of the software application side combines both the functional and user interface areas. Functional testing is sometimes referred to as software QA engineering and testing and it’s a very detail oriented, painstaking process. Its purpose is to make sure every action performed by a site user works smoothly and no errors appear. The user interface is tested along with functionality. The main goal is to be sure everyone understands how to use a form or online application. A poorly designed form creates more user errors, frustration, and page abandonment.


Steps to Confusion

While Congress spends more taxpayers’ money finding out what went wrong with Healthcare.gov, people are still trying to use it.  Let’s take a look at their experience.

Calls to action on homepage

Healthcare.gov homepage

I asked an audience in a recent talk which link they would choose to start the process.  The majority chose the big green “Apply Online” call to action button.  That is, until I pointed out the navigation link to “Get Insurance”.  Both links take visitors to the exact same page.

  • Did the designers not trust their own design so they needed to place alternative paths for an identical task?
  • Usability guidelines recommend being consistent with link labels.  A text version to “Apply Online” would have been preferred over “Get Insurance” so that it is understood in seconds this is the same task rather than two separate tasks.

The screenshot below used to be step two after clicking on “Apply Now”.  As you can see, nobody was going anywere anytime soon.

Step 2

Step Two to Apply

They have since changed it so that step two in the online application process looks like this for step two.

New step two

The improved step two.

If you scroll past the hoopla above the page fold, you get to apply online again or better yet, push the funky “Apply by Phone” button.
Repeated calls to action
Step three used to look like this.  The pre-selection process should have started on the homepage to provide a personalized task from the start.  By step 3, visitors still have not made any progress and have been offered little in the way of decision making assistance.

Step 3

The old step three

This is how they fixed this issue.

Step 3 revised

New step three

Wait.  We are at step three, which is really step one.  Or not, because according to these instructions, they will need to ask some questions needed to set up your account first and then you can apply online “move along to the Marketplace application”.

  • What in the name of spotted cows do those images mean?
  • Why does the call to action button repeat the heading?  Lazy.
  • Centered text is a known readability problem.
  • Seriously.  By now, do you TRUST this “Get Started” button?
  • Would it have been so difficult to use images of humans on this page?
  • WHAT BASIC QUESTIONS?  Do we need to go find any specific information that may be required by the application?
  • Where did they put the header with global navigation on the pre-registration page?

Clearly there was no user testing done before the website went live.  What are we expected to do with this?
Apply by phone button
I’d love to see members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sit in front of Healthcare.gov on a computer, pretend to be a regular citizen making $40,000 a year or less, with at least a High School diploma or GED, and accessing the site from a public library.

As you can see, changes to the user interface are being applied. However, they continue to produce poor quality work. If any usability testing is being performed, whomever is doing it has no idea what they are doing.

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November 20th 2013 Usability

SEO and Usability = Purposeful Website Design

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For nearly two decades a disconnect between search engine marketing and user friendly web design created a wedge between two industries that have similar goals.

They both want people to come to the websites they work on.

Understandably, for the search engine optimization camp, it was enough to keep up with the roller coaster search engine ride to get pages indexed, ranked high, drawing in traffic and be out there pounding the pavement seeking links.

The usability industry sat back on their ergonomic chairs staring into their megaton computer monitors attacking missed brackets in source code, fiddling with various layouts that meet stakeholder requirements and testing their designs with people. It has not been their job to market the sites they were worked on.

Today with Google swearing, with their fingers crossed behind its back, that rank is all about quality websites, the whole party moved to the people-pleasing side of design and marketing. This is all well and good but despite all the nurturing being done by search engines to get the web pages they want to be productive members of the search engine server community, I see a lot of room for improvement.

Online marketers can duke it out all they wish to find new ways to produce the kind of web pages that will please search engines. I know they will miss the things I see. And this is because what I see is partly due to my training, but mostly because I’m human with feelings, opinions, and attitude. I also have no time to deal with annoying page designs, like endlessly scrolling pages, sliders, text I can’t see or read, figuring out mystery links and tackling confusing navigation.  All the usability studies indicate you and I agree.  Or, just stare at your bounce rate in Google Analytics and bribe the data fairies.


Purposeful Design is People on Purpose Design

This means respecting the people who are intended to use your website. Purposeful design means communicating trust. Typically trust and authority are easy to show off when you have expertise, a skilled staff, are easy to contact and have worked on creating a reputable brand. However, you can lose someone in the blink of an eye if your web design allows a change that ticks off your customers.

For example:
Forever 21 is a clothing store my daughter and I both enjoy because we like the clothes and their prices. She’s had “stuff from Forever 21” on her Christmas and birthday lists for years. She’s now 23 years old.  When I visited their website recently I found something strange.
Healthcare.gov homepage
The categories are either a mystery, such as “21st St” and “Love 21”, but they really offended me when I saw their categories for “men” and “girls”. In my world, a girl is quite young and by the time she reaches 16 to 18 years old, she’s a young woman. Beyond that, she’s a full-fledged woman, able to bear children, vote, support a family, have a job and figure out how to pay for her “woman” clothes.

Curious, I decided to see how the site is optimized and what the search results show. Sure enough, they market to women.
search results
The Healthcare.gov website is far too badly bungled to go into here. It does not function. This we know. Every news station has had a field day with the case of the poorly built site that cost taxpayers millions to build and doesn’t work.

Unless you work in website development, software QA testing, or project management, you can’t know what really happens. Websites are pushed when they are not tested and ready because the persons given the power to decide have no idea whatsoever what they are doing.

In other words, had it been me at the wheel, the Healthcare.gov would never have seen the light of day until it was actually built and tested out completely. The homepage would not pass my usability audit. Remember respect for the people? The Healthcare.gov site has to sell health insurance to an American public who resist change. It has to:

  • Establish trust
  • Establish authority
  • Explain the site’s purpose
  • Provide specific tasks for different user types
  • Answer the most popular questions right away or at last point to the answers

It has to do all of those things in a few seconds and above the page fold. Below are some of my quick grabs from the homepage.
health

  • Who is the “log in” for? Patients, healthcare companies, medical professionals?
  • Which call to action prompt is the correct to choose? “Get insurance” or “Apply Online”?
  • Why would you click a button to make a phone call? (An unusual task, so user instructions would help to understand what will happen.)
  • What are we applying for? What is the “Marketplace”? Where is the information we need to understand what the site is for and if we need it? Why are good questions found in “All Topics” rather than key questions being addressed on the homepage?

What’s happened is the site offers no guidance with the design. In fact, if you click on the “Apply Now”, it takes a few more clicks of the same call to action button before you get to a form to fill out. A more intuitive design would start the selection and decision making process immediately.

I had many questions for the site that I did not find answers for. I needed to return several times and still hit dead ends. This is due to not having done user persona research before designing the site. They needed to understand our needs, fears, time constraints and most vital concerns. They needed to persuade us to trust them. They should have watched all kinds of people use the web site to see where it would fail.

Remember the divide between website design and marketing?

If there was ever a time to accept that SEO and Usability skill sets work together in today’s Internet world, it is now.

The post SEO and Usability = Purposeful Website Design appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

November 7th 2013 SEO, Usability

What Google’s Machine Learning Can’t Know About Us

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Google has its eye on the future as being the only destination for getting and delivering information as accurately as possible to whomever wants it, with whatever device they use.

Their techniques are invasive, as in collecting personal information on us every time we use one of their products, to creative, as in Google Glass. “Machine learning”, as Matt Cutts calls it, interests me as a human learner. What do I have to teach search engine bots and man-made boxes stuffed with circuit boards, cables and artificial brains that convert my actions and activities into mathematical data that form my user persona?

How can I translate who I am to machines whose only job is to follow me around the Web to see what I like?

Perhaps Google is asking too much.

Site Abandonment

If machines want to know the reasons I leave a website, how do I tell them? In this example, I like to shop at this store at our local shopping mall with my daughter because we both like their clothing and prices. I know where my part of the store is and she has her section. We are both women and yet their website navigation does not target women. It provides categories for men and girls.

There are other reasons why I might not stay on this site. I call them “mystery links”. What happens if I click on “21st St” or “Love 21”? Google’s machines will eventually figure out if I click mystery links, jump around and either leave or do something constructive but they can’t read my mind to understand that I dislike being referred to as a “girl”.
Forever 21

Trends and Fads

Many years before sliders and carousels took up all or most of the top half of web site homepages, I worked on a website that sold Teepee’s and Yurts. I’ll never forget the pictures they displayed. The Yurt shot was taken at night time and the inside was lit up. The effect was stunning. Teepee images showed interiors with colors, lighting and angles that made me want to run out and get one.

Whenever an image appeared it was sized to allow room for content nearby and a simple call to action. And, they were static shots at first. Later they could be changed if you refreshed your browser. Today, the fad would be to stick them into a slider that changes automatically with no way to pause it to stop and take in the scene. Today’s user experience is rushed. We’re not allowed to savor the moment and in fact, most people jump over sliders to get to the content sections below. Tree

What would hold our interest? How can you increase the time on your web pages? When you do, Google will be curious about what kept your visitors there. Search engines request  marketers and site owners to write quality content and be an authority, but they don’t explain how to connect to your site visitors on a human to human level.

This, for me, goes beyond text, terminology, language, link labels, alt attributes and blog posts. All of these are tools in the marketing pile but firstly, they can be manipulated for search engine results and secondly, unless your content is poetry, your visitors are not likely to be motivated. We all know we are supposed to “click here”, “buy now” and “log in” and we know which websites we can quickly scan through and purchase from.

Is there something else we can teach search engine machines about our behavior, likes, loves, what moves us, what makes us follow or disengage?

Let’s use me as the “searcher persona”. I have an above average curiosity about everything so in my case, the machines have a difficult time understanding my preferences for topics because I explore all of them. Providing accurate information to my search queries is no easy task.

    • I’m attracted to details.

Railings

  • I miss the obvious.
  • I marvel at how things work.
  • I sense unseen energy.

None of those things really translates into something useful for search engines or user experience design unless time is taken to explore how I might respond to the web pages I visit and there is a way to truly understand my actions while there.

Another way of looking at this is when we optimize title tags by adding a trigger statement like “Free shipping” to lure the click from SERPS. Searchers may explore promotion but click off because the page is confusing or they were not motivated to take any action.

Usability audits explore the causes of page abandonment but like Google’s machines, we are also left to ponder why our pages don’t convert because every single human being who lands has their unique personality, character traits, belief systems, and even sense of beauty.

We wrestle with self-worth, bad days, sad news, and fears. This means that not every search engine query is going to deliver the exact type of information we need when we may most need it. For example, on a day when I’m feeling low, I won’t care if Victoria’s Secret has a 50% sale going on. I would care if they could show they had something to make me look awesome in my size.
Parking garage at Hoover Dam

If you truly want to be an authority site, focus on the experience of being human.

Your inspiration is everywhere.


All photos taken by Kim Krause Berg at Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon, Copyright October 2013

The post What Google’s Machine Learning Can’t Know About Us appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

October 30th 2013 Google, Usability

Growing Trend in Internet Marketers Investing in Website Usability Site Reviews

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At somewhere around 1:30 am in the Hard Rock Hotel bar on Day Two of the PubCon Vegas conference a man approached me to express his thanks that I was there.

Earlier on Tuesday afternoon I gave a talk on website usability and persuasive design techniques. The only conferences I speak at are Internet and search engine marketing conferences because my career began in SEO in the mid-1990. I understand the work and have enough interest, an industry related forum called Cre8asiteforums and small local work projects to keep me glued to the latest tools, technology and SEO. My friends are Internet marketers.

By the year 2001 my career path veered off into user interface engineering and later, online software application QA functional and usability testing. The company I worked picked me out of a group of an all-male team of user interface engineers and mentored me in Human Factors, while encouraging me to learn everything possible on usability so I could create our in-house methodology for usability testing. They said I had the eye for user experience design. I was fortunate to be noticed for a skill I wasn’t consciously aware I had, but management saw it.

It didn’t take long for me to see the immense power of creating understandable web pages, forms and online software applications while also optimizing for search engines. In those days, Alta Vista, Hot Bot, Yahoo!, and many other search engines, plus countless directories, made optimizing a competitive venture. All the money and focus was on ranking in the top 25 results and getting a high PR score. With Alta Vista, you could change a word in a title tag or in the body text, wait a few minutes and then refresh your browser to see you web page move up or down in search results.

When Google galloped into the scene, the rules changed. Not only were natural and non-natural search engine optimization techniques growing critically in importance, Google also demanded something the other search engines were not.

Google wanted their searchers to land on the best websites for their keyword queries. The only way to accomplish that goal successfully and consistently is to design a website that works for everyone who uses it.


Finally

Typically when I deliver a talk on website usability and user experience at a search engine marketing conference I’m lucky to attract an audience of about 20 people. Of that, I watch 1/3 leave before I’m done. Those who remain are truly interested in understanding how to make websites that people love and want to use. These are the folks who finally understand what I realized a dozen years ago. Marketing a broken, ugly or poorly conceived website is a gigantic waste of money.

At this PubCon, the session attendance wasn’t full but it was still impressive. My long-time friend and client when I was a private consultant, Christine Churchill of Key Relevance, may have been the reason. Christine went first. She’s well known, a pioneer in the industry and her talk was on tools, which is a wildly popular topic for SEO’s. She praised my work and notably my ability to be fully empathic about the users’ experience. She should know. She’s seen many of my website audits.

Despite what may be my best talk to date so far, I still watched about 7 people leave during my part of the session. Whenever this happens I wonder what their expectations were. After my talk my manager was ecstatic. I did well as a presenter but I had no idea if I had helped anyone.

If website usability and persuasive design aren’t part of the overall Internet marketing strategy, the bulk of the conversions work falls on the marketer. Should they be given, or own, a website that is not properly designed and built, nothing the marketer does is going to “stick” for long.

The man at the bar expressed being grateful that an Internet marketing conference included my work. His company struggles with promoting a website that has failed to convert. They don’t know where to get help.


Raising Awareness

I love what I do. I’m an advocate for everyone who visits your website, rather than a cheerleader for stakeholders. My job is take the stakeholders vision, requirements and attachment to things nobody cares about other than them, and turn that list into a website that delivers exactly what their target users expect in an experience that leaves a positive impression so they will return again and tell their friends about your company.

The funny thing about what I do is so obvious, but it seems to be taking a very, very long time to get website owners to understand that search engines don’t have credit cards to make purchases from their websites. Google doesn’t need your fancy new tools. Yahoo! isn’t researching your next car purchase or comparing auto dealerships. Bing isn’t comparing tablets and smartphones. None of the PPC ads you create and invest in are doing your holiday shopping for you. And sadly, no search engine or directory is going to book your trip to the Bahamas for you.

Every product, service, activity, task, and item of information your website provides must be conceived of, designed and built for your specific users. Your designers need to know as much about what’s inside the minds of your visitors just as much as your Internet marketers do. It’s still accepted practice to invest in budgets into promoting the brand rather than building a website that works once your prospects arrive.

During the question and answer part of the PubCon talk a man asked how to convince his CEO to invest in website usability and persuasive design. I suggest asking them to sit down in front of a computer, assign them a task and watch what happens. Ask them where the “number one money maker” is located on the homepage. Assign them a task. Remove all the images and ask your CEO to find a product or service. Finally, ask your decision makers to conduct tasks on their mobile devices.

Once they get over the shock and realize they are spending enormous money on PPC ads that lead to landing pages with high bounce rates, or the social buzz is to avoid your site because it can’t be trusted or used with confidence, or they see the data showing all that new glorious traffic isn’t converting, the ball is in your court.

Get a website usability review or persuasive design audit. Hire the best team of experts to make recommendations, design mockups, test that forms are not defective, etc. Be sure those experts know the other parts of the entire conversions plan, from making sure the URLS are healthy, links are innocent, content is mastered, compliance guidelines and standards are met and project managers know how to fit together each piece of the site design and marketing.

Tell your favorite Internet Marketing conference organizers that you want to invest in a holistic approach to design and marketing. With any luck, I’ll see you there.

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October 23rd 2013 Design, Usability