Dear Developer: Building a Website Isn’t Good Enough, It Has To Be Marketable, Too

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by Stoney deGeyter

Dear Web Developer,

Let me start off by saying that I am simply amazed at your skills and abilities. The fact that you can take what appears to be random strings of letters, numbers and other strange keyboard characters and turn them into a great looking website is, quite simply, an amazing feat. I can’t do what you do, and I’m glad there are people like you who can.

And that’s why I’m writing this letter to you. I need you. As a web marketer, I can’t do my job without you. Without you there would be no website to market, and I wouldn’t be able to market my client’s site effectively without incorporating your skills and expertise. So, thank you for being there for me.

I do need to tell you something, and I hope you understand where I’m coming from. I just want us work together to deliver the best results for our clients. The truth is, I’m frustrated.

Sometimes it seems you know how to do your job, but you don’t understand why you’re doing it. Sure, someone paid you some money, told you what they want, and you figured out all the cool things the site is going to do. And you might have even talked to the client to get a better understanding of their needs so you can design, develop and program the site to do everything they want. But again, do you know why they want that?

I do. As a web marketer, it’s my job to understand and help the client fulfill the “why” part of the website. We don’t just want the client to have a solution, we want the solution to help them achieve their goals. And believe me, the goals are not always what the client says they are.

In truth, the client wants to succeed. They want their website to bring in business. Some of the websites you create are designed to do a job, but nobody thought about how that job is best achieved. The site functions “properly” but not necessarily in the best way possible.

See, a great-looking car can be great for transportation, but it does no good if you don’t get a driver behind the wheel to use the car for its intended purpose. A car can look sharp on the outside, but what’s under the hood and inside the cabin matters just as much. Driver experience is about much more than getting from point A to point B. (Heck, you could do that on a segway.) Design and functionality must come together to make the car marketable.

This is what I would like from the websites you create. Don’t just make websites that are pretty and functional; the marketability of the website must be a priority as well.

That means thinking about things that, perhaps, you hadn’t given much thought to in the past.

If you would permit me an indulgence, may I make a few suggestions?

  • Start with keyword research. Keyword research isn’t your job–you’re a designer and programmer. No problem. I’m a keyword researcher, so get me (or the SEO of the client’s choice) involved in this. I cannot stress how important this is to the process of developing a site correctly. Keywords provide the foundation for understanding what searchers are looking for on Google and Bing. It also then tells us how the site should be built to meet the searcher’s needs and expectations.
  • Organize the navigational architecture. You’re not just developing a home page and an internal page. You’re developing an entire marketing vehicle. This means you have to understand how the entire site will come together. The keyword research you did is helpful to ensuring you have a navigation that meets searchers needs and helps them find the information they need quickly. Again, this isn’t something you have to do. I’m happy to help, just ask.
  • Know what is needed on each page. There is more to the site than content. You really need to understand what goes on every page, or particular pages, before you begin your incredible design work. Sit down with both the client and the SEO to figure out what is required. Navigation? Check. Social symbols? Check. Calls to action? Check. I could go on, but there are hundreds of things that may or may not be necessary in different areas of the site. Jot them all down so you can make sure these make it into your design.
  • Develop wire frames. Before you jump into the design, take a step back and wire frame out all the elements. This is critical because I’m sure you’ll find that different pages or sections of the site will have different needs. No need to start doing design work before we know everyone is comfortable with the placement of all the elements. Just draw these out in a very simple format. Labeled boxes that show where each element will be placed is simple enough. But include as many boxes as is needed to be sure each page section is included. Also be sure to develop as many wire frames as needed for different pages or sections of the site, such as home page, standard internal pages, about us page, contact us page, blog home, blog posts, etc. Now, with the client’s approval of the wire frames you’re ready to start designing!
  • Produce a gray scale comp. Strange, right? I’m sure you think of this as something that’s only needed for brand or logo design, but they can be helpful here, too. I’ve seen clients throw out an entire design because they thought they didn’t like it. It turned out, they just didn’t like how the colors worked; the design was fine with a little tweaking. Gray scale comps, based on the previously approved wire frame, allow the client to see if the wire frame layout really works, without the interference that color can sometimes cause. Again, do this for every different type of page to ensure there will be no re-design surprises later.
  • Produce a color comp. With an approved gray scale design, you can now colorize the comp. By this time, if there are any objections, you’ll know that it’s just a color issue, not a layout or design issues. Simply changing the colors around can make a big difference and you can sail through approval, moving on to the coding and development stage. Again, do this for each of the different types of pages that you created wire frames for. Side note: Be sure your comps show how headings (h1-3 at a minimum) will look on the page, as well as visited and non-visited textual hyperlinks, navigational mouse-overs and active pages.

Those last two items don’t really have anything to do with SEO, but they are important. I can help you with the wire frame to ensure that everything we’re going to need to market the site is in a good place. I don’t claim to be a designer by any means, but remember, our goals are the same: to produce a website that lets the client achieve their business goals.

I have a few thoughts for you as well as you move the site from the design stage to the development phase. Unless the site is designed to be marketable, when the client comes to us later, we are very likely going to have to tell them they will need to spend even more money fixing the site they just just paid you to build. In my experience, that doesn’t go over very well, but it’s impossible for us to do our job otherwise.

But don’t worry, I’ll give you a few pointers so that doesn’t happen. You’ll come out looking like a hero, not just when you deliver the site, but a year later when the SEO campaign cost half as much and was twice as effective!

  • Pay attention to URLs. You may not know this, and by looking at some of the sites you created you don’t, but URLs are very important to SEO and social marketing. URLs with lots of parameters can create a whole host of problems, giving the SEO a whole lot more work to ensure only the right URLs get indexed and the wrong one’s don’t. That’s OK, it’s just part of the job, but a lot of this frustration for both the SEO and the client can be eliminated simply by making sure the site is developed using search friendly URLs. Just ask, I’ll let you know what they should look like. But please, don’t leave it to me. Once a site goes live, changing URLs is a mess. And since I’m not a programmer, I might not be able to do it easily, which means it will cost the client more money to have the old URLs redirected properly. It’s better to just do it right from the beginning.
  • Use proper Hx hierarchy. Forget everything they taught you in design school about how to code Hx tags into the site. Hx tags are not for segmenting sections of the site, they are for segmenting sections of the content! The logo should not be an h1, navigational elements should not be an h2 and product links should not be an h3. Please get that out of your head. If you absolutely need to use heading tags for the design architecture, then stick to h4-6. Leave h1-3 for content. Oh, and be sure to program the uppermost page heading as the h1!
  • Give us editing capabilities. SEO is about making the site more search and user friendly. This means we need to be able to edit things to incorporate keywords and calls to actions. Be sure you program this capability into the site. Don’t force product links to be the product name without the ability to customize. And page headings titles, breadcrumbs, ALT tags and navigation links should not pull from the same source. Each of these needs to be independently customizable. If it’s content, it needs to be editable from the rest. Make sure that’s built in.
  • Know what links should and should not be spidered by the search engines. Most links should be spidered by the search engines, but some absolutely should not. It’s a bit complicated to know the difference, but let’s say that navigation links that go to content and product pages should all be spiderable. Links to your shopping cart and social sites should be unspiderable. The search engines have no interest in adding products to or viewing the shopping cart, nor do they want to socialize my pages. Making these links unspiderable is a big help.

There are probably a few things I left out, but that’ll do for now. I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job. In fact, I want what is best for the client.

I’m no more a designer than you are an SEO. We know a bit about each others’ jobs, but ultimately we each have our areas of expertise. Let’s take advantage of that. After all, we have the same client, and our job is to help them achieve their business goals. It’s time we worked on the same team to make sure the client gets everything that they need, not just visually and programmatically, but also with the site’s ability to be marketed properly as well.

Thanks for hearing me out. All of this might require some additional work on your part, but we both know it’s worth every penny to blow a client away with an exceptional website! Let’s work together to make that happen.

Sincerely,

Stoney

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

Website Usability Tips for How People Use the Web

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by Mike Fleming

Last time I shared here,
I established that a major problem affecting your site performance is
that (because you designed or contributed to or commissioned and
approved the site) YOU don’t have to think when YOU use the site because
YOU know what everything means, how everything is supposed to work,
where everything is located and where every click is supposed to go.
Your visitors are left to interpret things that you already know the
interpretation for.

A second major problem affecting your site
performance is that you designed it for people who use the web in a
similar fashion to how a straight-A student would study for a final
exam; mulling over every last detail of information presented for fear
that a question will be on the test regarding information skipped over. I don’t have exact numbers, but the amount of people that use the web in this way is–close to none.

Final Exam.jpg

Instead,
users typically scan pages looking only for the information that is
relevant to the specific task at hand while blocking everything else
out. During their scan, they many times don’t even pick the best option
for their task (could it be your fault?), but pick the first option that
seems like it’s what they’re looking for. After all, a benefit of the
web is supposed to be the speed and ease with which you can get things
done, right? If your choice to complete the task was wrong, you can
simply hit the back button and start scanning for the next best option.

No, web users aren’t studying your pages for an exam.
They’re scurrying to complete their task. Therefore, your job isn’t
just to provide all the information they need to do so, but to provide
it in a way that makes it quicker and easier for a scurry-er to process
and move forward.

In his book Don’t Make Me Think,
usability expert Steve Krug gives five important website usability
actions you can perform to help make it a better environment for the
scurry-ers that are using it…

1. Create a Clear Visual Hierarchy

Instead of making your visitors figure out the importance and the relationships between things on your page/site, you need to use design principles to communicate
these things. For example, more important things are bigger, bolder, in
a more prominent spot on the page, etc. Things that are look related.
Things that aren’t related have visual cues (like whitespace) that
communicate they’re not related.

This helps the scurry-er to be able to
process all of the information on the page without having to “figure it
out,” allowing the scurry-er to scurry (because that’s what they do!)
instead of study the page.

Take a look at the site below. By the looks
of it, they are communicating that something NEW! is the most important
thing on the page with their use of text size and color scheme. In
second place is whatever is being promoted by the lightning (which is
animated on the site btw).

Just an FYI to the marketing department for
this site: If the majority of your visitors aren’t coming to your site
to get your new catalog, you might consider some changes to your visual
hierarchy.

 

Dwyer Homepage.png

Usability Tip: Use design principles to communicate a clear visual hierarchy [tweet this]

2. Take Advantage of Website Usability Conventions

In all media, there are certain ways of doing things that become standard over time (they’re called conventions). Why? Because they work.
Because they become standard, users come to expect that every outlet
(website in our case) is going to use them.

Since they expect it, they
are likely to be frustrated if the convention is broken. The site logo
is at the top-left of the page. The section navigation is at the left.
The search box is at the top-right, and so on. The temptation for
designers is to get cute and try something different in an effort to set
themselves apart as all creative and artsy and innovative.

Really, we
love their spirit and encourage them to do so–except when it comes to
conventions. Here, you get cute at your own risk. You’ve got to be
absolutely positive you have a better solution before breaking a
convention. The site above puts the search box to the left, undoubtedly
causing some people to assume there isn’t a way to search on the site.

Usability Tip: Use website conventions (standard placements) to your advantage. [tweet this]

3. Break Pages Up into Clearly Defined Areas

Website
usability is at its best when users aren’t asking questions about what
things are and where they would go if they clicked something. When a
site visually separates elements of a page in ways that make sense,
users are able to scurry to the place that applies to them and get on
with their task quickly, which is exactly what they want to do. This
misalignment of the elements in the main part of the page above causes
mental fatigue and confusion.

Usability Tip: Avoid mental fatigue & confusion by breaking pages into clearly defined areas. [tweet this]

4. Make What’s Clickable Obvious

Again,
the goal of the scurry-er is to get to the next step quickly and
efficiently. Therefore, links and buttons should look like–wait for
it–links and buttons! For the web page above, notice the “digital
catalog” graphic at the very top of the page. Am I supposed to click on
that to get the catalog? If I can click on it, is that going to take me
to another page, or will I instantly begin downloading the catalog?
There are too many questions in my head.

Usability Tip: Links and buttons should look like links and buttons. Make what’s clickable obvious. [tweet this]

5. Minimize Noise

You
know that feeling you get when the radio station isn’t quite coming in
perfectly clear? Yeah, you might put up with it for a bit because you
really like the song. But, eventually you can’t take it anymore and
change the station. This can happen on your site if there’s simply too
much going on.

The temptation is to make the user aware of every
possible thing available to them and how important each thing is at
that. The problem is that once you cross a certain threshold, the user
will just want to “change the station.” You’ve got to be careful with the amount and the intensity of what you display
so that the user experience on the site is nice and clear.

For the last
time, look at the above site. Are we trying to help the user accomplish
their task, or blast them with as many advertisements about our great
stuff as we can fit in one space?! Also, how is the user supposed to
discern the importance of things when everything is promoted as being
important?!

Usability Tip: Be careful with the amount and intensity of what you display–minimize noise. [tweet this]

Bonus Tip:
Notice how you have no idea what this site sells since I covered their
brand name in the upper left corner with a black bar. (Actually, the
brand name really wouldn’t clue you in either.) That’s all bad!

By
applying these five simple website usability principles, I’m confident
you’ll be surprised at how many things you’ve never noticed that are
affecting your site performance. I’m also confident that you’ll start
getting ideas for improvement instantaneously.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

March 11th 2014 Usability

How to Avoid Unscrupulous Web Design and SEO Service Providers

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Small businesses that want a website are at a severe disadvantage when seeking a credible company capable of designing an optimized, persuasive online presence.

Quote

As a strong supporter of buying from local businesses, I’m well aware there is a lack of skilled local web service providers.  This frustrates small business owners who want a website and wish to hire a local company to do the work.   A small business wanting a website may be an book author who blogs for many well-known online publishers, a small restaurant catering to the local area, churches, towns and municipalities, school districts, lawyers, health and wellness centers, hair salons, artists, home improvement contractors, real estate offices, small town shops, and horseback riding stables.  These are places of business or individuals who are not backed by corporations.  Many of them have strained budgets, are non-profit, or startup ventures.

In other words, they are easily taken advantage of.  If you own a small business and are unhappy with your present web site services, or are new and considering having a website built, let’s arm you with knowledge, requirements and a plan.


Why Am I Paying So Much?

I’m asked the following statements from local business owners who have already hired a company to build their website and promote it search engines.

  1. I’m paying too much money.
  2. I don’t understand what I’m paying for.
  3. I’m paying XXX and not seeing results.

The most commonly outrageous stories I’m told come from the search engine optimization realm of services.  Small businesses unwittingly are coerced into paying enormous sums of money for services they do not understand.  They are not informed of the risks, nor are they aware that certain methods can lead to penalties in search engines.  I have seen brief Word documents with a history of the months bounce rates and popular pages delivered for several thousand dollars per month.

A home business opportunity with a well-known corporate presence provides its franchise members an offer to “submit” their sites to Alta Vista and other search engines for a monthly fee.  We all receive unsolicited email offers for SEO services by companies that are clueless and reckless with their online marketing practices.  They prey on small businesses.

  • You are paying too much because you being taken advantage of by people and companies using out of date practices who know you don’t know what the current, proper search engine marketing practices are.
  • You are paying for methods that are more likely to get your web site penalized in search engines.  You are paying for services that are not being performed.  You are paying for out of date practices performed by unskilled people.  You are paying for analytics and data you can get yourself for free.
  • You are not seeing results because there is no plan.  Your service provider may not have asked you for Key Performance Indicators (KPI), your competitors, your quarterly goals and your top business requirements for your web site.  You are paying for keyword data from Google that is no longer provided, but they are not going to tell you that.

My Website Is Not Working the Way I Hoped

The most common reaction to a poor rank, low conversions, high bounce rates and skimpy traffic is to throw more money towards search engine marketing rather than evaluating the site’s usability.  Small businesses may accept whatever web design they get, especially if it looks attractive.  Their monthly budget is more likely tied to marketing rather than design maintenance, content updates and split testing.

Small businesses are not guided to test their sites because the company they hired to build it has no idea how to perform usability audits or split testing.  Even web design companies who are stronger on the design side and weaker on SEO do not know how to build persuasive websites.  They may not have the skills for meeting accessibility standards, which is a specialized skill and yet extremely valuable to conversions.  It’s far too easy to put up a WordPress, Joomla or Drupal based website with a Responsive design for mobile devices and call it a day.

To illustrate to a friend why their website was performing badly in search engines and with their intended site visitors, I did what I always do first when I look at a web site.  I removed the images.

Homepage – Top

Top of page

This is what the top of the homepage looks like.  There is no optimized text for search engines to work with.  There is no navigation for screen readers or anyone not loading images.  The image-based design tells its story for human eyes.  Calls to action are called “click here” and “learn more”.

Homepage – Bottom

Homepage bottom

There is not a single instance on their homepage where their company name is provided in text format.  The content is written from the perspective of them, rather than what they provide their clients.  There are no alt attributes behind the images, no conversions funnels and there is no organic SEO work performed (although they are charged for it.)

Even with the images displayed, I could tell there was no plan for this website.  Sadly, it was a redesign and no better than the original.  The company that built it does not have designers trained in usability, user experience, accessibility, information architecture and conversions design.  They do claim to be SEO’s.

At Internet Marketing Ninjas, we strongly encourage every client to let us perform a website usability and persuasive design site audit, even when they appear to be only interested in the variety of expert Internet marketing services we provide.  There has never been a website audited that has not needed improvements to their design to increase conversions, user experience and accessibility standards.  If this is the case for our corporate clients, you might well imagine the situation for small businesses and individuals who simply want a website that ranks well and is user friendly.

In the following weeks I’m going to arm you with information.  You will know what you need, what to request, and how to plan for your website’s future.

You should never be charged for poor quality work simply because you don’t know what to look for.  When you hire a company to build, maintain and market your website, you expect that for the fees you are charged, the appropriate work is performed.  Whether you are a sole proprietor or business with a small staff, you deserve the same opportunities for success as your larger counterparts who may have more money and resources.

They don’t always have a plan either.

Let’s show them how it is done, shall we?

The post How to Avoid Unscrupulous Web Design and SEO Service Providers appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

March 5th 2014 Online Marketing, SEO, Usability

Site reviews: new setup, new pricing!

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site reviewsToday we’ll be releasing a renewed setup for our site reviews.

For the past year, we have been limiting the slots for our site review orders to a fixed number per week. The demand for the service is overwhelming, and we would like to thank all customers for the trust you have in our expertise. And for the great responses you gave us after receiving the reviews:

Yoast, I have to say, that this was one of the best thousand bucks I’ve spent in IT – ever. What a phenomenal amount of insight and advise you’ve given us. Thanks, and I’m sure we’ll use you again on future projects.
Henry Meyne, CTO of Hoozon

We are very keen on serving you quality information that will help you improve your website, both for visitors and Google.

Over the last number of months, we realized that customers want to know everything. Not just what’s wrong, but also all that is right. We’ve had a number of responses saying ‘have you checked this or that?’. That is why we decided to open up the entire scope of things we check during a review.

Quick Review

We have set up a huge list of over 200 checks we perform for a review, and have written clear and to-the-point right and wrong chapters per check.

This means we will be able to do a more time-efficient review for your website, in which it will be very clear what we have checked and what areas need attention, in our expert opinion. Note that while the chapters in this checklist are templates, our team of experts will manually go over your website to see what’s right and wrong.

The Yoast Website Review team, from left to right: Michiel, Joost and Thijs. Annelieke is not on this picture - yet.

The reason for still doing this manually is simple: automatic checks should only be done when you are absolutely right that the check result is correct. We check the things that we feel are important for improving your website, and your rankings or user experience along with that.

WordPress websites

Yes. We do around 30 extra checks for WordPress websites. Simply because we know WordPress, publish a lot of plugins that will help you improve your website and know a lot of plugins that actually work. And of course we will also check the use and settings of the WordPress SEO plugin as well. This all as a free bonus, just because you are running WordPress.

More information about our Quick Reviews and ordering here!

Shop Review

Since e-commerce websites have more specified issues to take in account for SEO and user experience, we added quite a few extra checks (50+) in our e-commerce checklist.

These checks include specific URL structure and for instance have an extra focus on duplicate content. Conversion is also a larger part of these checks than in the regular checklist. Of course there also are a number of extra, valuable pages on e-commerce sites like product pages.

It will not be as extensive as our Conversion Review, but will give you some great insights on usual suspects for your website.

More information about our Shop Reviews and ordering here!

Full Review

We will also be offering an improved version of our current review: the Full Review. We will take more time to do that review and test more aspects of your website. We’ll be digging into SearchMetrics data much more and will not only be checking your website itself (as it was), but will be looking into for instance your link profile as well.

We will also ask for Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools access, for instance to check crawl errors and to see how your main landing pages compare to your preferred keywords.

More information about our Full Reviews and ordering here!

This is a major change

We hope this setup will allow our review team to help more customers, by reviewing a website in a more time efficient way. With all the Yoast knowledge we also share on this website and more.

One more thing

There is one more change. As the vast majority of our clients is from abroad (not from The Netherlands), and the euro-dollar exchange rate is more steady than it has been over the last two years, we have decided to switch back to US dollars for the reviews. As we had already done for our plugins.

Find out more or order your review now!

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

February 28th 2014 SEO, Usability, wordpress

Leroy the Sales Guy and Lessons on Use Experience

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Yesterday I purchased new office furniture from Leroy the long haired, caffeinated sales guy who reminded me of the value of excellent customer service.

DeskThe furniture store was gigantic and a bit unorganized, so that if you stood at the entrance long enough you could piece together in your mind where the kitchen tables end and office furniture begins.  An advertisement for a huge 80% off sale over the weekend drew in a crowd, but the building is so large there was room to spare.

I was not sure about Leroy at first.  While my husband and I browsed the desks, hutches, bookcases, and credenzas, I could see various salesmen answering customer questions or strolling around looking for a confused customer.  There was nothing to help distinguish salesmen from customers other than a clipboard and pen.  Tall, lanky Leroy looked like he had just unloaded an 18 wheeler, had not combed his hair in a week, and his lined face had seen its share of living.

The closer I became to making a decision, the more often I looked up a few times to see if a salesman was nearby.  Leroy was scurrying around helping someone else.  Finally, my husband went in search of someone.  I saw Leroy whiz by out of the corner of an eye.  I made a turn, circling the desk I chose, and one blink later Leroy was standing in front of me, offering to help.

I asked him if they had the desk in stock.  He immediately knew the answer, which was yes.

I asked him if I could order now but have it delivered in about 6 weeks when my new office can be moved into.  He said yes, this wasn’t a problem.

He then returned to his other customer.  My husband came back alone, but I told him I had found someone.  We looked some more, made decisions and as if reading my mind, Leroy leapt to my side again, ready to check to see if I had made a decision.  I had.


Leroy Lessons

I was fascinated by Leroy the sales guy who looked like a truck driver.

So often I explain to clients that their websites must be attractive to make a good impression and they must have an intimate understanding of their target customers so they can create the perfect conversion paths and sales funnels.  Here I was standing in a mammoth store, on a cement floor, surrounded by furniture arranged in rows, with a sales guy who was likely wishing he had Sunday off and looked like he needed a good meal and haircut.  Appearance and layout, I was reminded, may just be secondary to excellent customer service and even more, a pleasant user experience.

Leroy and I did the customer-who-changes-her-mind and salesman-keeps-up dance for about 10 minutes.  He was jolly, no pressure and Zen-like with his uncanny attentiveness.

“You want one of those, two of the black one, this one and one of this?” he’d call out to me in a loud voice.

I’d change the pieces and amounts.  He could tell me, from memory, how many were in stock. He never pushed or tried to lead me to a higher priced alternative.

“Tell me again, this one, this one, two of that one?” he’d ask as he pounced from piece, to tickets with the numbers he needed, to the cash register, clipboard, and back to me again.  Never once did he rush me.  “Take your time!” he’d call out, and he’d help someone else and then zip back to me again.  If I had a question, I could simply call over to him as he was always close by and he’d answer right away.

Woman thinking about moneyWhen I finally chose my office set and a sweet writing desk for another room, Leroy started the process of entering my information.

“How do you spell that?”  “What’s the zip code?”  “Have you been here before?”  Whenever there was a reason to not know the answer right away, he’d say, “That’s okay, we can always go back and fix it later.”

He was clearly a pro at this.  I watched him enter my information into the computer, check it and double check it, and remind us several times that if anything changed, we had time still to update the information and even add more furniture before the delivery date.  To me, as a usability analyst who tests websites and shopping carts, this reminded me of all the times I find missing user instructions.  When can we make changes during the shopping cart process?  Can we review before printing?

Leroy also knew if an item was in stock or not.  This is something many of us have experienced during online shopping, especially with sale items.  We follow the promotion, get to the page, start to place our order and then learn it is no longer in stock.  Leroy saved me time simply because he just knew.

He reviewed every item by walking over to it with me, to be sure he had the correct numbers entered. I took pictures of the items on my cell phone, sat on the chairs, opened and closed drawers, and played with the pull out writing table.  Whenever Leroy ran to help someone, I had a few moments to simply dream about working in my office.

In other words, I had time to experience the products.  Web design hasn’t fully grasped how to emulate this human need to include emotion, dreams, contemplation and just quiet thinking about the products we see in online stores.  For our customer experience online, we are lucky to see an image that may expand in size, show various angles and views and allow close-ups.  The same writing desk I chose in the store would need a video on a website to display the nooks and crannies, hidden holes for wires, the table that pulls out to be larger for more writing room,  the various drawers with different openings and to communicate the look and feel of the desk experience. Leroy never hovered about.  Rather, he let me take my time so I could experience the products, while always being close by to answer any questions.

So much advice, from me and others, focuses on calls to action, layout, where to place content, appearance and more in an effort to create a good user experience that will translate into a productive, memorable customer experience. All of us are bombarded with advertisements and requests for our personal information before gaining entrance to some websites.

I would gladly trade all the website nonsense for a shopping experience with a sales guy like Leroy, who may not have looked all cleaned up and business-like, but he sold me $2000 worth of furniture and made the entire experience fast, painless, relaxing, smooth, and fun.

How many websites can claim this about their user experience?

The post Leroy the Sales Guy and Lessons on Use Experience appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

February 26th 2014 Usability

Healthcare.gov: User Experience Design Update

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With a March 31 deadline looming for open enrollment, the broken Healthcare.gov web site is still a disaster. 

Let’s see how that 90 million dollar contract is working out.

My favorite call to action was the “Apply by Phone” button used in the original homepage.

Original homepage

Original homepage.

Next is the new homepage, with images removed as a test for organic SEO, and meeting WCAG 2.0 and Section 508 accessibility standards.  What is the name of this website?  It doesn’t indicate the domain, or a site name.  If you didn’t know the URL, what search terms would be used to find this website?

There are still two ways to “get insurance”.  This was the same mystery task as the original version, in which visitors guess which call to action to choose.  Does “Get Insurance” get them started or let them enroll or help them search, or does this top user task start with “Apply Now?”

Where is site name

What is the name of the website? Where do we start?

The bottom of the homepage is text-based with lots of redundant information, as if to imply there is nothing much to put here.  The blog posts are on the topic of the deadline.  So are the “49 days left to enroll” and the, um, “31”.  Meanwhile, even down here in the below-the-page-fold basement of the homepage, there is no site name to be found, although there are a few hints.

I find it hard to understand why this section of the homepage is not used to help funnel different types of user groups inside the site. The headings don’t motivate anyone to explore or take action.  Wow. “Top Content”.  That excites me.  And really.  How about those videos?  There is no persuasive design person in all of Accenture to fix this?

Bottom of homepage

Does any of this content motivate you?

I did find the site name by the way.  It’s “Health Insurance Marketplace”, according to this page, https://www.healthcare.gov/archive/, which also needs an update since it still claims that October 1, 2013 is the deadline for enrollment.  For 90 million, fixing existing content should be easy to do.


What Do You Want to Do First?

They still don’t understand why people come to this site and who they are.  The target market for ObamaCare is not the middle or upper class.  The plans are no cheaper than shopping and comparing health plans from ehealthinsurance.com/.  I compared the two.  Guess which one is easier to use?  The difference is that lower income people may qualify for tax credits using the ObamaCare.

Lower income people, young people and the uninsured are the target users.  None of them are identified on the homepage and guided to where they may find the information that fits their needs.

As before, I found where to start on the homepage is still an issue because the calls to action are not well defined.

For example, if you click on Individuals and Families, you arrive here.

Individuals and Family Funnel

Where does this link take us? What happens here?

Several millions later and they have not repaired this page.  Before you apply, logically it makes sense to search for what’s available. You can also click a button to call. (Love that one.)  If you are an individual, perhaps your needs are different than a family of six.  Where is the user path for single people?  Everyone is funneled into the same corral.

If you like the new big button on the homepage, you may start there first.

See Plans button

It doesn’t matter who you are, everyone starts here. However, with this task, you are asked questions to help narrow down your search.  What a shame the button or any descriptive text doesn’t mention that.    Any company worth its salt in user experience design knows that people follow tasks they understand and which meets their specific needs.

I did try and find health insurance plans for a variety of needs and the functionality remains broken.  No matter how many times I entered information, such as the state and the type of coverage, the site forgets it if I start over for a new search.

Not intuitive.

Not intuitive.

Its okay to keep personal details secure such as name, address and income but some of the basic sort criteria could be retained to shorten comparison shopping times.

The site does not handle more than one function at a time.  For example, you can only look for health or dental insurance, but not both at the same time.

h8

For those of us who do website design focused on usability, user experience, persuasive design, and build functional Internet software applications far more complicated than Healthcare.gov’s site, awarding a  $90 million, one-year contract to fix a broken site is impossible to understand.

This page makes no sense.

h2

This page can be found in a wide variety of ways, creating a sense of getting the run around.

Navigation

Site has poor navigation.

There are so many companies with usability experts and software application developers who could save the website for a fraction of the cost.  What a shame they were never asked to help.

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February 12th 2014 Usability

Behind Conversions Testing is a Real Person (Do You Know What They Want?)

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Putting two images of page layouts in front of an audience to ask them to choose which one converted best is both entertaining and frustrating.

I was reminded of this again at a recent PubCon , where images for testing were put up and the audience was asked to guess which one converted better. I loathe these moments because as a usability analyst, I know that what I think might convert best is not the point. In addition, my magical powers don’t make me miraculously know what targeted users might choose.

You may think it’s easy to guess for pages that compare one with a big call to action button and one with a big text link call to action. No-brainer right? A big “Buy Now” or “Sign Up Today” button begs to be used and is easy to find, but if you are a special needs individual using assistive technology to interact with web sites, the text links are just fine. If the big juicy button shares space with other strong calls to action, all bets are off for the simple reason that visual distractions are an issue for many people.

At the conference I guessed correctly on the first one, wrong on the second one and abstained from the third one because I was done playing the game. The one I got “wrong” was two images of a shopping cart process page. One page layout provided additional information for confidence building in a box on the right side of the items placed into the cart, such as shipping information, warranties, accepted payment methods. The other page for comparison had just the items and no additional information before leading to the next step in the cart, which I assumed was to start the shipping address and payment sections.

The page that provided no additional information got more conversions. I chose the page that offered additional information because I know helping customers feel confident during the purchase path helps to keep them on track.


Older couple with laptopWhat We Don’t Know

The information we were not provided before being asked to choose which page converted better includes:

  • Who is the target market?
  • Are they younger, older, male or female, professional or consumer, regular or new customers?
  • Why are they here?
  • Did they arrive after receiving a coupon code in an email? Are they return customers who already know about the shipping deals and what payment methods are accepted? Was the process we were shown from a logged in user or non-logged in?
  • What information was provided earlier in the sales funnel?

Since the page that did not include any user instructions or additional supportive content was the “winner” in their conversions test, I wanted to know if the information they removed was offered earlier. For all we knew, the product pages and homepage, as well as the footer, had the information needed to feel confident about making purchases so that in the step we were shown, the simple “let’s do this now” layout is perfect.


Generic User Testing

As a testing tool, many companies pay for user testing that gives them 5 random people who are asked to review pages. For free, the data collected gives a basic pass or fail overview. The pages either sucked or not.

For free and some imagination, you can also go out in search of your existing customers, online or in person, and get feedback on a redesign. For free, using imagination, and seeing an opportunity to illustrate your exceptional customer service and to increase brand reputation, you could set up a kiosk in a mall and get feedback from new prospects, existing customers, network with curious people and call in a local TV station to showcase how you care so much about your customers’ online experience, you literally went out and looked for them.

Okay. That idea might not be free but what’s a kiosk rental worth to you?

User testing should be performed by the people you are designing your website for. Your grandparents may get lost using it, or your cousin Sam may not know what a “cloud” is. You need as much information on your target site visitors as possible to perform valid user testing so that you can choose tests that fit your site’s specific requirements.

For example, if you know your web site provides information to a group of people who have very little time for research, are easily distracted and wear reading or prescription glasses, you can be prepared with valid testing plans that meet their specific needs.


Tasks Testing

The shopping cart page choices we were shown at the conference did not include where they appeared during the task. To me, this is the most critical part of any conversions testing.

Had we been asked to truly get involved with split testing the two shopping cart pages we were shown, I would have looked at how users arrive to this point and inspect what they are shown next. I had so many questions about the example we were shown that I was angry and had trouble focusing on the rest of the talk. I was likely the only usability analyst in the audience however.


Device Testing

One of the questions I had was how the two pages rendered in mobile devices. Good mobile design removes distractions. Tasks are simplified. The reasons why someone would place an order from their mobile device may be different than those sitting at their desktop computer. Many people do just about everything with their cell phones and tablets. The environments are different. A small mobile device used on a fast moving train packed with noisy people and the passenger in the middle bumping into you is far different than casually browsing for products from a quiet office.


Product pageThe Whole Picture

I have the same qualms about Which Test Won. The examples are great for providing new ideas but the mistake is believing that what worked for one company’s conversions may not provide the same lift for your web site. In fact, the same shopping cart page test shown to us at the conference was performed on another website and the results were the total opposite. In that case, the page with extra support information increased conversions.

Web site reviews are a much needed and sadly overlooked part of site ownership. At that same conference an audience member during my talk argued that underlined links are old school and ugly. The page I was using to illustrate a point about calls to action showed products listed on a products page that showed no way of knowing what to click on to get to the actual product item page.

Later, the conference attendee and I continued the conversation and at best I think I got him to see that there are so many types of people using websites that we must pay attention to who we are targeting. Everyone recognizes underlined text as a link. Everyone recognizes beveled edges to be something they can push, like a button. Flat design removed the buttons and creative folks removed the underlines. So now all web users must learn where designers are hiding click paths and sales funnels are growing into a true mystery.


Conversions for Who

The underlying theme of all the talks at Pubcon Austin was conversions. From the marketing perspective, the uber-critical component to making nice with search engines is by providing quality content to your site visitors. To do this, in a “keywords not provided” [Google] world means looking for new ways of understanding what your site visitors want, and how they found your site.

Yet, even if you select the very best keywords, make landing pages for them and choose navigation link labels that incorporate action words with keywords, you still face the usability factor. Until you know more about who uses your web site, who they refer to it, who is not using your site, and how to increase traffic by making it accessible to more people, your conversions will just be lazily floating on a raft in a cool, blue swimming pool with a drink in one hand and reading a good book in the other.

The post Behind Conversions Testing is a Real Person (Do You Know What They Want?) appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

February 5th 2014 Usability

Flat or Big and Juicy?

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While the SEO industry cries foul at Matt Cutts’ latest onslaught against guest posts, the UX industry is all a flutter over flat web design.

If you read posts from web designers, they absolutely love flat design.  There is also a new strange rock on Mars resembling a jelly donut.  Both are odd.


Why Flat?

The point of flat design is to make content adaptable for desktop and mobile use by choosing minimalist design.  Designers like it because it allows for more creative use of vibrant colors and typography.  Gone is 3D design, which means the removal of beveled buttons, drop shadows, embossing, gradient, feathered edges, etc.  Content is strictly 2D, living on the same plane.

Understanding where to go on a web page is communicated by the layout and hierarchy of content.  For mobile and application design, flat takes up less space.  Flat design makes better use of font styles for communicating a certain look and feel, and there is a severe downplay on wordy text.

On touch screen devices, flat design works well.  It’s easy to see the big colorful boxes and fit a finger tap on them.


People Don’t Like Flat

As with any new fad, overkill happens.  Windows 8 is now installed on all new PC’s, even if you have no interest in touch screen use.

Last August, Jakob Nielsen wrote this about flat design:

Flat design and improperly rescaled design are the main threats to tablet usability, followed by poor gestures and workflow.

A recent survey of Cre8asiteforums members shows that not everyone is happy with flat design.


Boring

I don’t like flat design. It’s flat (which I realize is just repeating the name, but I say it again because flat implies “blah”), it’s bland, it’s boring, and it’s usually kinda ugly.


Where to go next?

Flat design is a problem because, for me, it’s too difficult to figure out what the active parts of a design are: buttons, links, etc., are all blended too fine, and they’re hard to discern.


The world is not an Apple

I think the biggest problem flat design has going forward is that most designers are not of Apple level ability. And minimalism is so difficult because there is so little. Simple does not equate with easy.


Pushing buttons is fun

I want clickables with signals.  I like links to be underlined and buttons to have a degree of buttonyness. I like buttons that look like buttons.


Do You Miss Big and Juicy?

Flat design for mobile applications succeed because they are simple.  Does this translate to all web site design?  The emphasis is on visual presentation.  We no longer can look for underlined text and feel confident it is a link.  Page scrolling has grown in acceptance, both vertical and horizontal.  This means less clicking to new pages and more time on the page getting the information we want.

  1. Are you a flat design cheerleader and if so, how come?
  2. Is this a fad?
  3. Do you miss 3D, pushy things?

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January 22nd 2014 Usability

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.

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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