Imagine you are setting up shop on a street in your neighborhood, and wherever you look, another shop is selling the same products and services. This is what it is like for businesses on the web. How can you stand out from the crowd?
As a small business owner, you may be familiar with federal, state and local regulations when setting up your office or store and preparing for staff and customers that includes Americans with Disabilities (ADA) requirements, but did you know accessibility ADA also applies to your website?
In a park anywhere where there are trees is a tree I’ll call Tree. One day Tree thought how nice it might be to check its data to study its performance as a tree.
So it counted up its branches and leaves to see how many it had. Every season, year after year, Tree tracked its leaves and branches. It learned that during winter when it slept, its branches were bare. In spring, every branch lit up in a burst of color as it flowered and swayed in gentle breezes until each flower became a new leaf. Tree counted its flowers and how many became a leaf. And year after year, Tree grew taller and expanded its roots deeper into the earth.
Tree watched its performance as a tree and felt proud of its numbers of branches and leaves. It paid no mind to actually doing anything productive with the data. It was satisfied to simply be Tree and make no adjustments that might enhance the experience of being Tree or standing out in the forest where there are trees.
Also in the park that is anywhere there are trees is a tree I’ll call Oak. Every year that Oak celebrated its birthday with a new ring, it would rejoice in its blessing at being an Oak. It too grew taller and its branches spread out in all directions. Oak monitored its growth the same way that Tree did, counting branches and leaves and measuring its growth.
As was typical for the park that is anywhere there are trees, people came to visit.
When the children saw Oak, they would run fast and leap up into its branches, climbing higher and higher. Couples would arrive on very hot days, bringing a blanket and picnic lunch of sandwiches and wine. Walkers and runners stopped for rest and shade at Oak’s side and sometimes a human would spontaneously wrap their arms around its large trunk and whisper thanks for its majesty and beauty.
Years passed. Oak grew, but also lost limbs during storms and sometimes it withered a bit from drought, but still the humans came to visit. Tree was a good tree that withstood the same weather conditions. It would count the number of birds who visited, but none would stay to build a nest. Sometimes a human would walk up to Tree and admire it and Tree would add that visit to its collection of data, but would do no more.
Oak was less interested in vanity metrics. Some years humans in work clothes would arrive in the park to trim its branches. And still the children came to climb. Birds and squirrels found safety and sustenance with Oak and made it their own community. Humans would take out their cellphones to get pictures with Oak in the background. Oak was always fascinated by these interactions and wondered what it could do to bring them all more joy? Based on data and observations, Oak decided it wanted to do something more.
After a time, Oak collected enough data that helped it create something new based on how it was being used by one specific set of users — humans. It had listened to their words as they spoke on their picnic blankets and knew what made them sad, afraid, and happy or at peace. Oak discovered that children begged to return for more visits. So, based on that observation, Oak devised a way to test a theory which was that providing something humans desired would attract more visits.
And so Oak, being wise and of the earth, created a new, very strong larger branch that extended over the nearby creek. It took some time, but one day a family came to visit the park and they brought their children, a used rubber tire and rope which they attached to Oak’s very strong new branch. Oak watched in delight as the years continued to pass and every summer humans came to swing over the creek from its very strong branch to jump into the creek and swim. Day after day, year after year, Oak hosted humans and wildlife with such joy that it eventually no longer counted its branches and leaves or monitored its performance. The test proved Oak’s theory that providing something humans wanted or needed to improve their experience would increase visits.
Meanwhile, Tree continued to count its leaves and branches and grow taller. But it was rarely noticed by people because Tree didn’t care about what they did, why they might stick round longer or even if they left. Tree didn’t want to be useful and didn’t measure how long any human or wildlife stayed around. It gathered facts, but didn’t ask questions. Whenever people came to the park and passed Tree by, it didn’t think to ask why that might be. All that mattered to Tree was how many branches and leaves it had and that it continued to grow taller.
For Oak, its metrics had to be actionable and help it make better decisions. Oak watched the activity around it, who used it and how it engaged with its users. It looked for more opportunities for growth and patterns of use. From that it learned it was loved, recommended and shared.
And for Tree, its quarterly evaluations didn’t change because it didn’t bother to look past the data and into what it could do to make improvements or create desire.
I hope you enjoyed this simple introduction to data analytics, evaluating results and making decisions to improve usability and conversions.
Perhaps you will one day stand out in your forest of competition.
If you rely on tools to test your website or application, you may never find what confused your users.
Automated tools can show where problems are found within the code. Tools can look for specific pages and provide insights into how long users remain on a page and where they go next. However, they don’t have any idea why humans make the choices they do.
SEO tools, page speed tools, mobile emulation software, and accessibility testing tools are not programmed to know what to do on a bad day when the car breaks down on the way to work and the driver must search for a local automotive service business. If you’re the owner of an automotive service station website, you need more than a website brochure to generate a satisfying user experience.
Somewhere in the data of that website is an out of town salesperson who one day stood in the pouring rain on the side of a busy road popping the hood of their rental car, only to find a serious problem. They become frustrated, upset at being late for an appointment, start digging for the rental car paperwork and dialing up places for help in an unfamiliar town.
What does that look like in your data?
Do you see that story? Can you tell from the data whether your website had what that person needed? Did they have trouble locating a phone number? Did the pages load quickly? Could they read the content? Was your website the one designed to help the person who needed help in an emergency? Was there enough information provided for that person to remember your business name when they clicked away by accident because they were in a stressful situation?
In life, the only things we can be sure will certainly happen are death, taxes and website and software performance pain points.
When putting together a plan for developing a website or application, the user experience is often left out. I know this because I’m hired after projects are launched to figure out why they’re not meeting business, performance or conversions expectations. Their data from Google Analytics are a horror movie. Stakeholders are bug eyed crazy, seeking someone to blame. Most certainly they will not find fault with the marketing department. They will blame the SEO who didn’t get it ranked correctly, or the programmer who didn’t code it to load fast enough. Or the user interface designer who didn’t make it accessible. Anything but what was needed the most before it met the public.
An untested design will not generate revenue.
Looking at it another way, when we want to buy a new car or blender or lawn mower, we typically will research it first. We compare products, read reviews, look for consumer reports data and check for safety ratings. In other words, we’re more willing to choose a tested and customer-valued product.
So why do we expect website visitors to use untested websites?
What is a Pain Point?
We experience them every time we go on the web in search of something we want. Say, for example, that you and a friend want to search for and join a local yoga or fitness center, so you can be workout buddies. If you were to ask your friend to describe their web journey, you might share similar habits and follow similar steps but what positively bothers you may not annoy them. What you consider broken or confusing may not be broken or confusing for them.
We do have an idea, however, for what drives users crazy because there are people studying how we use websites, search engines, software and hardware. Patterns appear. User testing provides personalized feedback. Planned experiments gather data that is later analyzed for case studies.
Some design fads, for instance, cause us to become angry because they prevent us from completing a task. That’s a pain point. After a while, enough data is collected from user and usability testing to finally convince the design world that what they believe is a creative design element is infuriating to users.
For example, gray colored text on blue colored background or light gray text anywhere, especially in a small font size, is a fad and a pain point because the gray color prevents many users from seeing the content they need.
Another pain point is redundant links on a page that go to the same page, but the link text is changed to be optimized for SEO reasons or because the designer has no faith that anyone will click on the first link to the page, so they pop it in again and again. Forcing users to go in circles is a pain point.
The mobile menu hamburger symbol could be considered a pain point for some people because it contains no useful content and must be activated to get to the site’s navigation. People are lazy. For years we had only to glance at the desktop header to figure out what the site offered and how to find what we need within it.
One example of a pain point that can depend on the user’s experience with technology and computer devices is a link that opens a new window when clicked. On a mobile device, new windows are something that requires learning how the OS handles that event and then remembering how to use it and then figuring out how to get back to the previous page without accidentally clicking the wrong window. Or some version of this. New windows sometimes present an entirely new page layout or take users off-site or are closed by accident. Some users just hate them.
A common pain point is a poorly structured information architecture with navigation that does not contain breadcrumb navigation. That breadcrumb navigation is the most valuable content on a webpage because it shows the user where they are within the house, the room they came from, and how to get back to the main dining hall. Not providing directions in a clearly visible area is a pain point.
Forms that are not designed for mobile transactions, complicated apps that throw errors when really the fault is the app’s design, not the user’s confusion, sliders and videos set to run automatically and hidden links that must be activated with a mouse to be seen are pain points. Touch screens and voice search are part of the user experience but may not be included in testing before launch.
Playing UX Detective
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned from usability testing is to put myself in the role of users. As a detective in search of clues, I play many roles. I create characters and perform tasks based on the company’s business requirements and target market data, and interact with each page, form or application while in character, just like an actor would.
I need to know my characters. This requires a great deal of research into user behavior, human factors, and neuroscience. I comb through research papers and studies to get the most updated findings looking for ways to learn how people think, purchase, search, read, share, subscribe, and what they consider pain points.
Manual testing methodologies like content mapping, journey mapping, user testing, and cognitive walkthroughs dig up facts and findings that may be analyzed along with data gathered from other resources and tools.
Performance pain points tend to be hidden or don’t appear until activated by people. When we see and understand web site pain points we can make repairs and enhancements to the user experience based on real situations and user stories.
Take the time to listen and watch and add those observations to your data. Keep testing and tracking the results. Signs of healing will appear in your data, increased sales and improved conversions.
First published in Search News Central in March 2018.
It’s Friday night in a small town somewhere on earth. A website walks into a crowded pub, strolls over to the bar, orders a glass of water and doesn’t say hello to anyone. Another website, sitting two stools down, takes one last gulp of its dark beer, shares one last laugh with the dude sitting to his left and leaves his business card on the bar.
Which website is going to complete its first conversion? Which website will leave an instant impression? Which website has a business plan? Of these websites, which brand will be remembered?
Maybe the first website was at the wrong venue. Perhaps a yoga retreat was a better fit. If I was to guess, Website with Water didn’t think it had to talk to anyone because its digital marketing company pays for links management and keyword rank in search engines. It was assured revenue, so it can sip water, or herbal tea and just wait for the money to come pouring in.
Website with Dark Beer has been around and knows that if it wants to survive year after year, there can be no missed opportunities. Not only that, every tweak of a search algorithm, operating system or design practice can mean a sudden, severe dip in traffic, conversions and rank.
The beer drinking website knows how to meet the needs of its tribe because it knows them well. Even better, it knows exactly who that tribe is, what it desires, what it buys and values and how to make every tribe member happy. It invests a great deal of time and money addressing customer experience concerns.
If this website is not how your website handles life on the web, we need to talk.
The Days of Cheap Websites Are Over
Is your website struggling, despite your online marketing efforts? Have you noticed people are not staying on your web pages long enough to do what you want to do?
It’s easy to blame the link builders, content writers, keyword research and analysis and finally, the design of the website itself for its failure to thrive on the Web.
Next, you blamed search engine algorithms, spam comments, trolls, negative customer stories and the so-called “black hat” strategies performed by your competitors.
Website owners will look for any reason to avoid facing the truth. They hired the wrong people. They didn’t ask the correct questions. They had hoped that a cheaper solution would save them gobs of money and be easy to implement. A web site’s failure to thrive is the direct result of poor planning. It’s what happens when corners are cut and someone listened to a song and dance about programs with cheap, unskilled labor for hire.
A holistically built website is expensive.
If Your Business Success Depends on the Internet
Websites and web apps are woven into our daily lives. Like our pets, our web sites, apps, emails and social media sites go with us to get ice cream in the pickup truck, sleep next to us on the pillow, make noises when activated with voice commands and need a doctor when they get sick.
Your web site customers respond to websites the same way we respond to pets and people the first time we meet them. This is the most basic truth about website ownership that nearly every website owner fails to understand or prepare for.
The language, essence, message and intent of a website has to be understood by everyone and when it’s not, the experiences for you and your site visitors suffers.
Every breed of dog or cat is different. Every target market is different. If you ask people what they believe the most common traits are for golden retrievers are, you will get responses from people who have had one and from those who never have. This is what companies do too. They don’t know who their target market is but make guesses and assumptions anyway.
Every user is unique. If you don’t respect this core truth, you will not get them to do that thing you want them to do. Sure, you can create batches of designs for segments of your target users that you choose to pay the most devotion to. This is what most companies do. They are particular. They are not afraid to exclude people. Or worse, they don’t know they are excluding anyone.
Your visitors react to your online information with human senses few designers and developers stop to consider. They haven’t been taught to design for much beyond text and images backed by source code that needs to work on servers and browsers. Website visitors arrive with user experience baggage. They arrive after years or a few minutes of browsing, feeling frustrated and impatient and now your site is fighting them tooth and nail too with that big form draped over your content begging them to give you something before they know you. This tactic is obnoxious. But marketers swear by it.
Not the dark beer website.
Dark Beer Website listens to people. It observes behaviors. Collects data. It tests. And it tests again. And it hires people who know when it’s time to test again, for what and why. It hires experienced staff with the proper training and skills. They have a business requirement that reads, “Design for humans with feelings.” They design for disabilities, emotional responses, character traits, people who want and people who can. It’s willing to pay more for web builders with expertise because in the long run, the final result is that it looks and acts exquisitely dapper out in public because of that investment.
Dark Beer Website will not make assumptions. If it sells a product for people, it knows that there is a target customer and a customer that just hasn’t had the pleasure of shaking hands with them yet. Avoid assumptions. Change your perceptions of people. Think outside the box. Create experiences people will remember. Reduce clutter. Say hello to everyone. They may be your next customer, subscriber, fan, friend or referral.