Steve Martin

Designer, Thinker, Student of Human Behavior

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Filtering by Tag: web usability

The Usability Virus

When Solomon said "With much wisdom comes much sorrow" I know he wasn't exactly talking about website usability, but wow, was he right. Website usability is like a virus. You go along for most of your life, happily (or not) clicking through websites, finding (or not) the stuff you're looking for, never really thinking about the usability of the sites you encounter every day. Sure, some websites are hard to use, but you think "it's probably just me" or you simply click back to Google and go to the next site, hoping you can figure it out this time.

Then someone comes along and, in their most helpful and innocent voice, teaches you all about "Usability" (with a capital "U"). They explain that, no, it's NOT just you - these offending sites should know better or at least should do something about it. They even show you how easy it would have been for these sites to be tested to find problems, and how easy and cheap that really could be!

Now you're in trouble. You've got the virus, and there is no cure.

Basic symptoms include:

  • inability to visit a website without silently critiquing its usability issues
  • complaining (often loudly to those in the room with you) about how "HORRIBLE 'Brand X's' website is, although they've OBVIOUSLY spent tens of thousands of $$'s on it!!"
  • emailing examples of bad websites to the person who gave you the virus in the first place
  • lying awake at night worrying about the usability of your OWN website, and if others with the virus are secretly laughing at you

Advanced symptoms:

  • a voice in the back of your mind telling you that you can't rest until all existing usability problems have been remedied
  • your obsession with "Usability" bleeds over into the "real" world, and you start to stay things like, "The button on that coffee maker is REALLY not in the right place. Where's that customer service number?!"
  • your spouse tells you to "get over it" and "just change the stinking diaper and quit griping", etc.

So yes, Solomon, the more you know about Usability, the more annoyed you're going to be with the web. But do not fear: Together we, the infected, can make the world a happier and more usable place to be. We shall overcome!!

SEO Rankings does NOT = Sales

Last year a local tree service, Fort Collins Tree Care, came to me with a problem:

  • Their website was #1 in Google for EVERY keyword they wanted
  • They were getting almost ZERO leads from this #1-ranked site

Shouldn't a #1 Google-ranked site be getting them some serious sales? Isn't SEO rankings what it's ALL about? Well, NO!

It was obvious from looking at the site that it needed an updated design (at the least), but that wasn't going to be enough. FC Tree Care's main goal was to get people to submit their information for an estimate which they could follow up on. Period.  So along with a redesign of their site, I developed the information architecture and conducted user testing to figure out in which direction we should go.

So using what we'd I'd learned through user research and developing an intuitive site flow, the site was redesigned.

The day the site launched, they started getting 2-3 requests for estimate per DAY, and now, 4 months later, they're STILL getting that many. It's become a vital part of their sales process, and their job estimator works almost exclusively on web requests.

The effectiveness of this site - or any site for that matter - isn't due to fancy graphic design (the design is nice, but nothing super special) - it's due to taking the business objectives, finding out what users wanted, and crafting the site around that desired experience.

Website Usability - Why & How to DIY

Last night I had the honor of speaking to the Fort Collins Internet Pros group about Web usability - what, why, and how to do it yourself. It was a packed house, and I think a fun time was had by all (everyone especially liked the flames in my Keynote presentation :) ) - oh, and everyone learned a lot!  I had a lot of requests in person, via Twitter, and email to put my slides up somewhere for all to see - so here you go!

FYI - This is a Quicktime video exported from Keynote. You can click on the video itself to advance the slides. If it doesn't act right, wait a bit for the whole thing to load (it's about 15MB total) and you'll be good to go.

[quicktime]http://www.clevercubed.com/wp-content/uploads/Website_Usability_Web.mov[/quicktime]

Should you want to download the FULL RESOLUTION of the slides in all their fiery glory, click here to download (42MB total)

I'd love to hear what everyone thought about the presentation - leave a comment!!

200% increase? What?!

Lest you question the importance/validity of user testing, listen to this: I was recently listening to the Boagworld podcast (great podcast, by the way) and they mentioned a conversation that one of the guys had with Jason Fried (of 37 Signals fame).  37 Signals has a whole range of online services, all of which have a "Free" option and/or a "xx Days Free Trial" option.  They decided to do some A/B user testing (sounds more like 'multivariate' testing, actually), and discovered something astonishing:  Changing the text on their call-to-action button from "Free Trial" to "See Plans & Pricing" increased sales by 200%!!

Wow!!  Conventional wisdom says that throwing the word "Free" out there is going to get a LOT more action than saying ANYTHING about pricing, but I guess not.  Apparently, people were a bit scared off by the "Free Trial" terminology, thinking that they'd be somehow roped in to something they couldn't get out of (however unfounded those fears might be).  But, if you just ask people to look at the pricing, etc., it pulls them one step closer to understanding it all and feeling more comfortable with signing up.

So, there ya go.  Another example of how conventional wisdom is NOT web wisdom.  Be sure to do multivariate/A-B/user testing on your sites - even if you THINK they're humming along just fine.  You never know what you might have missed.