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.

The post Healthcare.gov: The $174 Million Website Flop appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

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

Say Yes To The UX: A Website Reality Show

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If website usability site audits were conducted on TV with an audience, host and emotional site owner, I would be famous for breaking bad news and crushing dreams.

reality showsHowever, by the end of the show my guests would be gushing and crying tears of joy because my recommendations turned their websites upside down and into money making, traffic busy, socially buzzed brands.


First, the Pain

The most memorable learning experiences are those where you are forced to release everything you thought you knew for sure and replace it with new thinking. This is what makes reality shows so popular. Each episode is designed to reprogram a person by a series of tests or guidance from someone who knows more than they do. The best characters to watch are the most stubborn and set in their ways.

In my show, “Say Yes to the UX”, the first harsh moments of truth come quickly and easily because I know where to look. The show’s guest will proudly boot up a computer to show me their website. The audience is hushed with anticipation.


Shock Value

shocked audienceReality shows thrive on their shock value. In front of the TV audience I find all the problems with the poor guest’s beloved website.

  • I’m looking at your homepage and still don’t understand what you do. (This means the terms used don’t make sense to me, or there is no text.)
  • Where is the main task on the page? (This means the page is cluttered and likely has a slider or carousel on it.)
  • Which call to action is your money maker? Ditto on the above. (None of the links or tasks appear to stand out in importance.)
  • I can’t see it. (This means the text is gray colored or worse, gray against a colored background. It may also indicate poor font sizes and color contrast.)

The longer I spend on the site, the more feedback I have because I’m attempting to use it while also knowing what the latest standards and compliance guidelines are for user experience and persuasive web design.

The audience is laughing at my confusion and mistakes, which are not my fault but due to the bad design. The site owner is not permitted to tell me anything or help in any way because in real life, site owners are not sitting next to each of us explaining how to use their website.

Half way through the show’s episode I tally up my list of recommendations for instant site repairs or if the site is in serious trouble, several episodes may be necessary to design a new site with mockups and a priority list of recommendations. Some shows may be special events where audience members are invited to conduct tasks on the site while the cameras roll. We would even invite the audience to bring up the site’s URL on their mobile devices to get more examples of how it renders.

Since by now the site owner is embarrassed or taking in the feedback with an open mind, I deliver suggestions from my arsenal of solutions to help improve conversions, increase return traffic, create brand and promote the best user experience.


The Gain or Not?

When we return, the audience is different and the timeline is several months from the first half of the show. I review clips of our first show and point out the critical areas of my guest’s website where the audience roared and the site owner wanted to crawl into a cave.

Then we take a look at the new site.

What happens next is typical of every website audit. The recommendations are followed or they are ignored. Data analysis will show the gains and where they are, and expose the areas that were not repaired. I never know how the show will end.

The best situation is when site owners implement the design changes and presents the results. They are thrilled and humbled. Many of them admit they never thought website usability mattered and so their budget went to search engine marketing.

I nod knowingly. I already know better. Search engines don’t buy your products or hire your services. They can help send people to your site but what happens after that is dependent on the user experience once searchers land there.


Avoid the Burn

Most of you would never submit to a public web site review or live user testing on a TV reality show unless you knew in advance your site rocked and the experience would benefit your brand. The question is….are you absolutely sure your website is ready for all your visitors? Can it be used by all computer devices? Can special needs persons and customers with eye sight problems use your site with ease?

Survive reality show

Can you prove to me that your website is ready?
Every website has usability problems. There are fads like gray text and flat design that wreak havoc on user experience. At Internet Marketing Ninjas, clients typically want a focus on the marketing strategies. We know better. Your financial investment and results matter to us, which is why we provide an expert team to review your website design.

We are discreet and rooting for your success. Wouldn’t it be a relief to know for sure if your website is really working as well as you want it to?


Learn more:

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October 16th 2013 Usability

Website User Experience Design and Google’s New Hummingbird Algorithm

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Google’s new algorithm, Hummingbird, is so named to represent a new “fast and precise” searcher experience. Is it a coincidence that website visitors wish this too in the form of user experience?

Google and Bing want to provide a good quality experience for each individual who types words into their search engine. To achieve this they need to know what you want and there’s the rub. We can’t be depended on to know what we want and we are not very good at asking for that thing we think we want.

Leaf stuck in concrete.

User experience varies depending on how we perceive the information presented to us.

Search engines have learned how to get most of us from point A to point B, even if it takes several ways to get us there. They’ve tried different placement opportunities on their pages, paid and natural, plus images. For years the way to get a web site to appear high in search engine results largely depended on how well words on pages were presented.

Everything I just wrote could be said about website usability and user experience design.


The SEO and UX Connection

Although I’ve been writing about and putting into practice how SEO and usability are kissing cousins, it has just been in the last two years that it has dawned on the people in charge of websites that their attention should be on search engines and user experience. For most site owners, all that’s ever mattered are choosing the most popular keywords and making landing pages for them. This limited thinking has made search engines wealthy but the same can’t be said for most businesses who depend on the Internet for their survival.

Search engines know inexperienced website owners and online marketers believe that if they have the right content worded in various ways that sooner or later a search result will click into place, or a PPC ad will appear or someone will follow the scent of their advertising programs and visit the site.

More importantly, search engines know that simply crawling the Web looking for new websites to provide for search results doesn’t help them generate revenue. The new algorithm, Hummingbird, is listening to all the ways people search from their various devices, including speaking into a cell phone and asking it a question. We type one and two words that we hope will convey exactly what we want into a search field. Search engine marketers track those search terms and content writers compose entire pages of text using the words that come up the most often in keyword analysis. The emphasis and over-use of keyword dependent text caused Google to put up a defense system known as Panda and Penguin.

We search differently based on what we use, whether we key into a web site search field or speak into a mobile device. When we speak, we tend to form sentences, like “Who sells local produce?”, “Local restaurants that use locally grown ingredients,” or “Find organic stores in my town.” Google’s Hummingbird algorithm is intended to respond to both one and two word search phrases and verbally spoken sentences with the same zest and understanding of what we really want.

For user experience design, the golden rule is to provide enough information in less than 5 seconds that answers these questions:

  1. Is this the correct place I was looking for?
  2. Does it have what I want, how I want it?
  3. Where do I start, to get that thing I want?

Knowing this user behavior, search engines have been trying to help searchers by providing the very web sites that answer those questions. They track how long searchers remained on the site, what pages they chose, when they left, if they completed a task or if they “bounced” off. They also follow our referrals, recommendations, ratings and reviews that we leave about.

Usability and SEO have been tied together ever since websites were born. There has been an odd disconnect between the two sides, like two families who are at war with each other and each believes they have the true methods to achieve online success. One family is attached to their ugly website that’s been pushed up the search engine mountain by hook or by crook. The other invests in the website experience which includes organic SEO and conversions design.

Even software application developers know that what they build has to please their end users because if their product doesn’t function as expected, or better, people will walk away with a negative experience and tell others. Bad use experiences lead to more expensive Internet marketing strategies.

The Hummingbird algorithm is a step forward for Google in their mission to deliver search results that make an instant, correct, useful connection. Your efforts at building user friendly websites that everyone can use, including special needs people, enables Google to place your site first.

Take advantage of these changes by designing your landing pages, homepage and entire website for the conversions you want, whether sales, providing information, quotes, subscriptions, registrations, online bookings, etc. How visitors respond and feel about your website matters more than ever in getting ranked well in search engines.

Not sure what to do to attract Hummingbird to your website? Ask for a usability and persuasive design site audit performed by IMN. We have the expertise and specialize in combining user experience design with organic SEO, plus you get the options of all the other top Internet marketing services.

To reach the top of search results and remain there, you will have to catch Hummingbird’s attention and earn its loyalty.

Let’s start.

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October 9th 2013 Google, SEO, Usability