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.

The post Healthcare.gov: User Experience Design Update appeared first on Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog.

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.

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

Internet Marketing and Web Design: The Truth is Out There

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

Just 20 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 1st 2014 Internet Marketing, Usability

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

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

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

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

Bad website

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

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

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

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

Yucky website

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

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

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

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

Really bad website

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

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

And a Promise That You Ship Free.

Merry Christmas!

From your favorite web site usability analyst.

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

December 24th 2013 Design, Usability

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Nesbitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buzz Lightyear

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

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

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

December 18th 2013 blogging, Marketing, SEO, Usability

Demystifying Viewing Patterns

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

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

Viewing patterns

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

The F-pattern

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

Image source: www.nngroup.com

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

The Gutenberg Diagram

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

Image source: www.vanseodesign.com

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

The Z-pattern

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

Image source: www.vanseodesign.com

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

Other viewing patterns

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

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

Structure and hierarchy

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

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

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

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

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

Similarities

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

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

So, now what?

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

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

Eyetracking

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

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

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

December 4th 2013 Usability

Healthcare.gov and its Mysterious Homepage

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


Usability and the “Abilities”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you guess why?

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

November 27th 2013 Usability

Healthcare.gov: The $174 Million Website Flop

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

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


Troubles with the Back End

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

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

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


Steps to Confusion

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

Calls to action on homepage

Healthcare.gov homepage

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

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

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

Step 2

Step Two to Apply

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

New step two

The improved step two.

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

Step 3

The old step three

This is how they fixed this issue.

Step 3 revised

New step three

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

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

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

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

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

November 20th 2013 Usability