News and a Greater Attention Span

There was an interesting article I found the other day regarding the reading habits of users.  The study compared the reading habits of how people read online versus reading information from traditional media like newspapers.  When users found something of interest to them they tend to read word for word.  This contradicts with the popular web usability notion that users are more apt to skim.  “The EyeTrack07 survey by the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism school, found online readers read 77 percent of what they chose to read while broadsheet newspaper readers read an average of 62 percent, and tabloid readers about 57 percent.” (Goldsmith)

Questions and Bullets
The article supports the traditional usability recommendation to break information into easier to digest chunks and make the information interesting. “People paid more attention to items written in a question and answer format or as lists, and preferred documentary news photographs to staged or studio pictures.” (Goldsmith) Thought provoking questions are a great way to hook the users into your content.

Online Versus Offline

The study also points out some key points of focus being different for online versus offline readers.  In newspapers the readers focused on large headlines and photos. When a reader was on a web site their initial focus was on navigation and story teasers.

What's the Impact?
It will be interested to see how some of the gurus in the usability industry react to the findings. A number of findings reemphasize what current web usability already supports, but there are some counterpoints.  You still need to give the user a good reason to click on an article.  Users aren’t apt to read anything that doesn’t hold their interest or is poorly written either online or offline.

*Source: Web news readers have greater attention span: study

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Do You Make These Costly Web Site Mistakes?

On occasion we can do things that make our web site harder to use.  In Mark Pearrow’s The Usability Handbook, he outlines some commons causes that adversely impact web site usability. What starts as a small usability issue can grow into a larger problem. Most web sites can be successful without being completely usable.  Yet, the piling up of small usability problems can have a negative impact a web site’s performance and bottom line.  Are you making any of the following common mistakes?

Getting too Technical
When you’re in the technology industry it is very easy to get caught up in the "latest and greatest." Many Web developers and site owners focus too much on technological "bells and whistles." It might be an interactive calendar that is packed with features that nobody understands how to use. Technology tends to get complex. It is imperative to know your web site user and design for them. If you want great examples go and check out Google or Yahoo. Both companies have amazing technology behind them, yet use a very simple facade. Keep things as simple as possible and focus on making the user experience as painless as possible.

“Someone” Centric Web Design
Geeks speak techno terms and humans speak human.  Graphic designers are highly creative, yet their design might be above the user’s understanding (artsy-fartsy).  If Geeks and Graphic Designers don’t design for the user your web site can quickly leave the user dazed and confused.  Users aren’t going to embrace confusing or difficult to use web sites. This happens when a company tries to present information in corporate terms.  Bring it to the user’s level. Create a web site that focuses on the user’s ego in both verbiage and design.

Not By Chance
Usable web sites don’t happen by chance.  They are usually a result of a well thought design combined with a smart web strategy.  Too many companies approach their web site with the “if you build it, they will come” attitude.  The most successful web sites embrace an Edisonian approach.  Successful web sites are always testing and evaluating their progress.  The web is not a fire and forget environment. You must always seek to understand and evolve, or else you will never be successful online.

Decision Makers
There are too many times when the wrong people within a company are making crucial decisions about a web site. Yes, this even includes upper management. Ego can quickly destroy any web site. The number one decision maker regarding web site policy is the web site user. Get into your user's psyche. You can also learn a great deal from looking at you web stats. I cannot think of one successful web site that isn't catering to the user.

Poor web usability doesn’t happen because of just one thing.  It is the combination of small things that add up.  Keep the issues in check to ensure your site is usable.

Source: Pearrow, Mark. The Web Site Usability Handbook.

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Keeping Your Web Site Simple . . .

Technology tends to complicate things.  This is especially true online.  With all the technology available it is difficult to know where to start.  Anyone with a web site should strive to keep things as simple as possible for the user.

Web Navigation
Consider how web navigation has evolved. Originally it was just a simple HTML link.  Developers then transitioned from HTML to Javascript image rollovers.  Javascript wasn’t about to be outdone by Flash navigation and all the bells and whistles that followed.  Thankfully the web is coming back around to being simple.  Developers are realizing that users seek out simple over being cool.  Many web sites are reverting back to simple CSS navigation.  Simple navigation is easy for users to understand and also helps with search optimization efforts.

A KISS Mentality
The old adage “Keep It Simple Stupid” is great advice when it comes to all aspects of creating web pages.  Users will always choose the simplest route.  Provided a web site could be trusted and provides you what you were looking for, where would you spent your money?

  1. A web site that is complex and difficult to use.
  2. A web site that is simple and to the point.

Always put yourself in the user’s frame of mind.  Is there something that you can do on your web site to make it easier to use or understand?

Simple usability questions to ask:

  • Can the users easily understand the web site in under 15 seconds?
  • Is the navigation easy to use and intuitive?
  • Do the pictures and photographs match the context of the web site?
  • Does the navigation placement and function stay constant throughout the site?
  • If you have an online store, is the checkout process short and streamlined?
  • Can users easily determine what’s clickable on each page?
  • Is the user provided easy to find and reliable contact information?

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Web Usability ISN'T . . .

If you ask ten different people the same question, you’re most likely going to get ten distinct answers.  Even among the experts it is difficult to get a straightforward definition or explanation of web site usability. Instead of concentrating on defining what web usability “is,” we’ll look at what web usability “is not.”  Two critical components for any web site are accessibility and marketing.  Each is unique and distinctly different than usability.  It is important to know the differences and how each aspect is ultimately important to any web site.

Accessibility
In Mark Pearrow’s Web Site Usability Handbook, he makes several distinctions about what isn’t web usability.  One of the most common misconceptions is viewing usability and accessibility as the same thing.  Accessibility specifically concentrates on making a web site available to as many people as possible.  People with disabilities are an important focus of web accessibility.  Web accessibility allows people with disabilities such as hearing or visual impairment to access a web sites.  Web standards and technology are used to compensate for people's disabilities. Accessibility also delves into the challenges of delivering a web site over a variety of devices.  You can access web sites from PDA's, Smart phones, Laptops, etc. Accessibility ensures that users can get to a web site regardless of the type of device they're using.

Marketability
Pearrow also points out that “usability is not marketing research.” Online Marketing focuses creating awareness and interest for a product, service, or web site. Usability focuses on making sure that the product, service, or web site is easy to use.  A marketing centric approach might try to guide users along a predefined online path or compel them to purchase something.  Usability ensures that regardless of whatever path a user takes, they’ll find the information easily. 

Accessibility and Marketing are both important to online success.  Yet they shouldn’t be confused with usability, which focuses on making something easy to use and understand.

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Focus Groups versus Usability Testing

This post is for my friend Peter who feels so passionate about focus groups.  Steve Krug makes some excellent points in Don’t Make Me Think regarding the differences between focus groups and a usability test. There are a number of people in the business world that confuse focus groups and usability testing.  Each discipline has its own unique approach, but the type of information collected and methodology are different. 

Focus Groups
Mr. Krug points out that focus groups are “a group process, and much of its value comes from participants reacting to each other’s opinions.” In a previous post, Beware! Dominant Users and Focus Groups, the dangers of a dominate user are briefly explored. This is in contrast to a usability test in which testing is usually conducted one on one. Krug believes focus groups are beneficial in obtaining quick feedback. This involves a better understanding of user needs, wants, likes and dislikes. I believe that focus groups are also great for brainstorming ideas.  An argument is made against focus groups in regards to determining if a web site is easy to use and what requires improvements. This is where usability testing comes into play.

Usability Testing
Usability testing concentrates on making sure a web site is functions properly and where to make improvements.  Krug argues focus groups “won’t tell you whether people can actually use your site.” This is best accomplished with usability testing. The one on one usability testing can help you refine how individual people interact with a web site.  Individual people won’t have their opinions modified by what someone else might think.  That’s the beauty of one on one test.  Users usually don’t surf the Internet in groups.  Individual usability tests also all you to concentrate on finite tasks and details.

Both focus groups and usability testing provide you with valuable information.  Use each accordingly and wisely.

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Where's the Web Site Link? ( I'm confused . . . )

How many times have you clicked on something thinking it was a link?

Focus_dir I ran across the article pictured to the right today.  The article about falling ice from the CN Tower in Toronto easily prompts one to watch the related video.  At the end of the short article the reader is prompted to “Click on the video icon to see the ice falling.”  My first natural inclination is to click on the picture to the right of the article.  I quickly found out that this isn’t the link for the video.      

One challenge is that I’ve trained myself to ignore advertising on the screen.  Many users have learned to tune out anything that looks like advertising, including things that aren't advertising. In this case the video icon is directed above the advertising block on the right.  Did I completely miss the link because it was right above advertising?  Two things made finding the video link difficult: informational relationships and linking to the most logical piece of information.

Informational Relationships
If you’re presenting information on a page to the user keep related items grouped together.  It seems logical enough, yet web developers break from this simple standard all the time.  Think in terms of informational relationships. In the case of the CN Tower article having the video link immediately after would have made the most sense.

Making It Linkable
If it looks like a link and it should be a link, make it linkable.  When designing web sites it is very easy to detach form a typical user’s behaviors.  Sometimes a link is put into a page without giving much thought to how a user might interpret the link.  Always look at links from the user’s perspective.

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Don’t Pollute Your Web Site

Advertising is an important aspect for most web sites.  If a web site has decent traffic it can drive additional revenue from advertising.  Some web sites base a significant part of their online business model around online advertising.  If there wasn’t online advertising revenue some web sites wouldn’t exist.  The challenge becomes delivering advertising without interfering with content delivery. Remember that the primary reason users are coming to your web site is for content.  Users are not visiting your web site for advertising.  Are you polluting your web site with excessive advertising?

Sticking it to Ads
There was an article published years ago citing user reactions to excessive advertising.  Some users became so annoyed with advertising that they put stick it notes on their monitor to cover up annoying ads.  An important advertising fundamental from a usability stand point is balancing content and advertising.  Make sure that online advertising doesn’t diminish the content you're trying to present.  It is less of a matter of "how much is too much?" versus "Is the advertising getting in the way of delivering quality content?"

High Quality Content

Cnn_ad_cap Focus on keeping the dominate page element the content.  Advertising shouldn’t get in the user’s way when it comes to getting through web site. Web sites that keep the advertising layout consistent site wide are good examples to follow.  Many of the larger new organizations follow this model. There are predefined areas that are reserved as advertising space. Many of the larger portals have gone so far as to label the areas as advertising.

Matching Ads with Site Content
Be vigilant about the advertising you have on your web site.   Does the advertising match the context and theme of a site web?  Users are less apt to get annoyed with advertising if it’s at least related to the subject matter found on a web site or article.  Also be careful to ensure that site content isn't confused with advertising.  Users have modified their surfing habits to ignore anything that looks like advertising. Is there something on your web site that a user might confuse with advertising?

When it comes to advertising and usability, make sure the advertising isn't clouding the message.  Keep the focus on content.

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Web Usability ISN’T Buzzworthy

Usability is a concept that every web user embraces. Who doesn't like an easy to use web site?  Combine an easy to use web site with some smart Internet marketing fundamentals and most companies have a decent chance of being successful online.  The problem is that the term usability confuses many people. 

Why Isn't Web Usability Buzzworthy? 

Unless you’re in the technology or web industry it is doubtful that many people can comprehend “web usability.”  When someone asks me “what do you do?” I reply with “web usability consultant.”  Their response is either “what?!?” or “I’ve never heard of that before.” Those words are almost instantaneously followed by a look of confusion.  After a brief explanation, some people might understand the basic premise of usability consulting.  Ask ten different people inside the web industry to define web usability and you'll get ten different explanations. I’d argue that in order to be buzzworthy people need to at least understand the basic term.

Then There Is Being Blunt
Here is the ironic part. If the description is diluted down to “I help companies make sure their web site doesn’t suck,” (an ode to Vincent Flanders) people know exactly what you’re talking about.  Is it professional? Absolutely not!  Do people instantaneously understand what you are talking about? Yes.  There are other words and explanation that someone could use to describe web usability, but it seems like the blunt approach is the most effective.  The blunt description is easily understood by upper level management to the casual web user.    

The problem of a good buzzword is problematic in other Internet segments. “Linkbait” is a term that many people in the SEO industry are trying to change.  Linkbaiting involves compelling people to provide a backlink to a web site or certain web page.  Unfortunately the term sounds like something bad or nefarious.   

The term concept of usability is great, but the term is far from sleek or catchy.  If people don’t easily understand the term “usability” how is anyone suppose to buy into the benefits of usability?

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Are You Opting-In Above the Fold?

Tamar Weinberg over at Techipedia posted an interesting question, “Should the Subscribe Button be Above the Fold?”  In her post she asks two important questions:

“I am curious to know whether the placement of the “subscribe” button on the top of the page has actually yielded more conversions than if it was in the middle of the page. I’d also be curious to know whether people fall victim to searching in the wrong textbox or if I am the only zombie to do such a silly thing.”

Email Subscription (Opt-In) Above the Fold
I would argue that there is enough room above the fold to give proper attention to both a search box and an email subscription opt-in.  Screen resolutions are going up and users are getting bigger monitors.  Web designers are getting more work space.  At the same time, just because there is more room doesn’t mean you need to abuse it.  Don’t forget about the importance of white space.

Subscription Placement
In terms of placement of a subscription box, I’ve read several recommendations on placing the subscription box into the upper right corner above the fold.  Offer the user good information and try to tempt them with great information.  From a usability standpoint one could argue that an opt-in box isn’t supporting good usability.  The Internet Marketer would probably take the stand that people who aren’t interested in additional information won’t enter an email address.  I’m torn between usability and marketing in this case.

There are a number of web sites that make use of adding a subscription text link to the end of each post.  If the author delivers quality content to the user, the web site owner might be more successful with asking for personal information after a good post.

Confusing Search and Subscription Boxes
Though I can’t recall falling victim to filling in a subscribe box with a search query it does bring up an interesting point.  The question should force any web designer to carefully think out the placement and presentation of search and subscription entry boxes.  Make sure your user won’t get confused by either selection.  Sometimes it's easy to take such simple things for granted.

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Testing Web Usability and Not Leading Your Questions

Have you ever been asked a leading question?  It’s one of those questions that are phrased a certain way to get a certain response out of you.  The last place you want a leading question to show up is during a usability study.

If you are facilitator usability test of your web site or another web site make sure you aren’t leading the test user.  Leading is very easy to do.  Leading comes as a result of asking a question that already contains bias.  The question, “don’t you think the navigation is difficult to use?” is an example of a leading question.  Another example of a leading question: “Don’t you think that background color is inappropriate?”  Biased questions can have a negative impact on collecting good data.  You can skew the test user’s opinion either intentionally or unintentionally.  The end result is that your usability testing data and trends become inaccurate. 

How Do You Prevent Asking Leading Questions?
It is all about how you frame your questions. Always think ahead before you ask your questions. Make sure you aren’t loading the questions with any sort of bias.  The usability test facilitator should be as highly objective. 

Stay away from leading questions you can answer with a “Yes” or “No.”

  • Do you like this color? 
  • Isn’t that a great picture?
  • Don’t you think the navigation is difficult to use?

Ask questions that require the user to think or interact with the page to find and answer: 

  • What are you’re likes and dislikes on this page?
  • What services does company X offer?
  • How would you go about contacting company X?

Follow The Feedback
In some cases you can turn the user’s feedback into a follow up question.  If a test user indicates that something on a web page is difficult to use, ask them for additional feedback. Like and dislike questions are a great way to bride into additional questions.

Give Them a Scenario
Use scenarios to examine the usability of a given page or web site. Have the test user move through the site with a predefined goal.  One scenario can be having a test user try to use an online calendar to find specific information.  Get the test user lost in the site and have them navigate back to the home page.  Think of simple scenarios to test the usability of the web site.

If you can keep your questions and scenarios highly objective you’ll get better data.  Better data will assist you in creating an easier to user web site.

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Why Test A Company Web Site Outside The Office?

Have you ever tried to get a consensus on something amongst various departments in a company or small business?  A number of companies that create their own web sites utilize internal usability testing for reviewing their site.  They pool their testing users directly from the company.  The information collected can become a liability to the company.

Different Viewpoints
In Steve Krug’s, Don’t Make Me Think, he illustrates the various viewpoints different departments can have on a web site.  Many graphic designers skew their desires toward visual design.  Web programmers can be very application driven.  Then bring in management and you have yet another viewpoint.  Pretty soon you have a multitude of ideas fighting for attention.  The web site gets pulled in every possible direction with each new opinion.  In many cases, the end result is that the user gets left out.

Why test with users outside your organization?

Web usability testing should be highly objective. You need to start with identifying users that fall inside a web site’s demographics.  If you are looking for participants to conduct a usability test look outside of your organization.  Users outside of your organization are less likely to have organizational bias.  Look towards people who aren’t in the Internet at the professional level.  It is very easy for one web developer to find faults in another web developer’s work.

Leverage the Testing Data
The data collected by testing with users outside of the organization is great for leveraging inside an organization.  If there is an internal company dispute over something on the web site outside user testing might help in identifying a solution. The data and presentation is based on user opinion. Users are the people who are going to be using a web site on a daily basis.

In several years of usability testing the feedback from outside user testing has been extraordinary. It has prevented more than a few embarrassing moments.  This includes small things like grammar and spelling mistakes.  It’s the small things that can prove to be embarrassing online. Use testing to make sure you're putting your best foot forward.

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Web Usability - ALERT! Dominant Users and Focus Groups

There I was … sitting in a room full of decision makers for a web site review meeting.  The review meeting was the culmination of months of work. On one side of the table was our development team and on the other side of the table the client’s team.  The review was conducted one page at a time in order to be meticulous and not miss anything.  After a few minutes of reviewing the site there was a distinct change in atmosphere.  The senior representative of the client’s team started making a series of comments and suggestions regarding the web site.  His subordinates acknowledged almost every single remark he made with a nod of agreement or vocalized their support.  He could have said anything and the client’s team would have accepted the suggestion without question or comment.  I sat there in disbelief as one bad suggestion followed another.  Most of the client’s suggestions were the complete opposite of good web design.  The suggestions that were implemented diluted the quality of the web site.  It was my first experience with a dominate user focus group.

Using Focus Groups
There are a number of people in the Internet development industry who make use of focus groups.  One specific use of focus groups is for web usability testing.  The above scenario is a perfect example of a dominate user focus group. It involves user testing of a web site, not idea generation.  In the scenario one person’s opinion influences or overshadows everyone else in the group.  Dominate users can have a negative impact on collecting good data and thus diminish the impact of the testing group.

One on One Testing
Focus groups for usability testing can be highly effective if you abide by one simple suggestion, break up the group.  When testing a web site make use of individual testing sessions. Sit down with your test user and go through a web site one on one. It is more time consuming, but the data you collect is significantly better. Users are much more likely to voice their opinion in an individual scenario as opposed to a group. 

How many times have you been reluctant to ask a “silly” question in a group or make a suggestion?  That reluctance changes when you get people one on one. It takes a little additional time to get test users to open up.  For all the usability tests I’ve conducted, I have yet to come across someone who has been reluctant to open up.  When users do open up you usually can’t take notes fast enough.  The feedback collected will be significantly better.

If you are considering doing a small usability test on your web site stay away from focus groups in the traditional sense. Use individual sessions to collect your data.  It is more time consuming, but the quality of data collected increases significantly.

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Are Your Online Forms Usable?

It is difficult to go online and not come across an online form. From short to long, online forms are everywhere.  My most recent experience required me to fill out a long form just to watch a video clip.  Where is the justification in taking five minutes to fill out an online form to watch a two minute news video clip?  Before using forms on a web site spend some time thinking through the process from a user’s vantage. 

Questions you should ask yourself:

  • Is the form easy to use?
  • Has the form been tested?
  • Am I building enough trust to compel someone to fill out my form?

Ease of Use
Keep online forms short and easy to use.  Shopping carts are a perfect example.  Users abandon shopping carts because of poor usability factors.  Check your web log data to make sure people aren’t bouncing out during checkout.  Shopping cart forms can be too long or cumbersome for users.  Always think from a user’s perspective. Let the user know if the item is actually in stock before filling out any information.  Use an indicator bar on each page to show checkout progress.  Disclose shipping options up front.  Users can be quickly turned off by high shipping rates.  Make the checkout process as painless as possible.  If it isn’t a shopping cart keep the form short and too the point. Only ask for minimal information, name and email.  Asking for more without user trust is very difficult.

Test Your Forms
Always test online forms with your user base.  Take a few people from your demographic and have them go through your online form.  Take note of where users are encountering usability problems and make applicable corrections. The benefit of usable forms speaks for itself.  More users will fill out more forms if they’re usable.

Build Trust
A number of web sites are now requesting you to fill out personal information to watch video or listen to audio.  Trust and credibility are large factors in determining if users enter their personal information.  Most people are reluctant to enter any personal information.  Can users really be blamed? Everyone has felt the effects of SPAM.  SPAM is beyond annoying and a waste of time.  The user needs a very good reason to give up personal information.  One of the easiest ways to overcome this hurdle is with a privacy statement and promise not to SPAM.  Let people know exactly why you need their information.

The bottom line on forms is this: build enough trust with the user to have them fill out an online form.  When you’ve established the user’s trust, make it an easy process to collect their information.  The Internet is an interactive medium, keep that interactivity usable.

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Point, Click, and Follow - Usability

After a plethora of usability studies you start to pick up on some of the finer details. Each day there are great technologies that emerge and make usability testing increasingly more accurate. It isn't always easy to make something simple, especially on the Internet.  One tremendously helpful piece of technology is eye tracking software. The software produces overlays of individual web pages indicating which areas get the most attention. Check the Importance of Organic Search post for an example of a heat map. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the budget to utilize high end eye tracking equipment to improve the usability of a web site. There is a simple alternative.

Usability Eye Tracking Done Inexpensively
The underappreciated mouse can give you great information about what the user is thinking. It is
analogous with body language.  You can learn a lot from watching the user's mouse actions.  Where is the cursor going on the screen and what is it doing?  The mouse pointer is an on screen discovery tool.  If a user is unsure of something they'll usually hover over an on page element (links, images, and other interactive elements).  Take note of user mouse pointer behavior.

Try it Out
Sit down with a friend or family member and take them through a web site of your choice. Watch their mouse pointer behavior. If a user gets confused about navigation they’ll roll the mouse over areas on the page to see if they’re clickable. Mouse pointer movements go up during active interactions and navigating. Users will point and click on various areas of the page to discover interactive elements.

One exception to the tracking is when the user is reading or skimming information on the page. If a user is reading the cursor is usually at the side of the page.

If you do sit down with a user and test your site, encourage them to vocalize their experience. You’ll find that they use the mouse to point to various elements are important or confusing. Make note of their feedback.

When taking someone through a simple usability test, always note the simple things. You can learn a lot from simple things in life.

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Why Think Globally?

When thinking of user demographics how often do we think globally?  A quick look into an established web site’s log files can provide you with a tremendous amount of information.  A web site allows anyone to push the confines of geography.  Anyone in the world can become a potential customer.  Knowing that the Earth is a global market place is quintessential to almost every web site.

Where to Start
The first place to start is with a frame of reference.  We’re all creatures of habit. If a familiar market place is local in nature we tend to think locally.  The easiest way to start thinking globally is to put yourself into a foreigner’s frame of reference.  Assume that a particular person reads your (web site, email, brochure, sales letter) and is fluent in the language used.  Do they know your location?

One client sends out an electronic newsletter on a regular basis. One particular newsletter was for a workshop announcement.  An interested participant responded from out of state wishing to participate not knowing the workshop was being held locally.  Always make sure to include details such as full address, plus telephone numbers with area codes and country codes.

Geographic Search Engine Optimization
The same methodology can be applied for search.  Ask yourself, are you listed properly in a geographical context?  I reside in Rochester, New York.  If an Internet user were to enter the search phrase: “Rochester Restaurant,” is that person searching for a “Restaurant” in “Rochester,” New York, Minnesota, New Hampshire, or United Kingdom?

The Internet gets new people every day.  Presenting the user with finer details can help you better focus your message and marketing efforts.  Remember your users could be coming from anywhere in the world.  Plan accordingly.

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The Internet and User Demographics

Users are an essential ingredient to any online venture.  Without users web sites have no means of survival.  Concentrating on just any user won’t suffice.  Web site users need to be qualified.  What makes a qualified user?  Qualified users are those who fit into the profile of your Internet User Demographic and have an affinity for what you have to offer. Each web site will have different demographics.  Knowing your user demographics is an important part of facilitating web site success. If you know what a majority of users want it is easier to provide for them.  It also helps you keep your marketing more focused.  More focused marketing can help reduce wasted advertising budget.  The Internet is brutally simple with respect to demographics. Web Sites that don’t provide for their users won’t survive.  Do you know your user?

User Demographics and Psychographics
Start looking at traditional demographic factors such as age, gender, education, etc.  Who are the people using your web site or purchasing your product or service?  Fill in the blank for each variable. When considering user demographics you should also take into account psychographics.  User psychographics refer to the values, attitudes, and various interests of the user.  The combination of demographics and psychographics should allow for a decent understanding of a web site’s target audience.  All efforts on the web site need to focus on the target user. From a marketing standpoint there is little value in targeting a market that lacks an affinity for what is being offered. 

Use "In the Can" Demographics
In many industries the user demographic has already been identified.  A quick glance at an industry guide or trade publication should provide you with the necessary information.  Look at the advertisements and articles. Take a visit to the library and see if they might have some information.  If the product or service is new there might not be a predefined demographic. If so, is there a closely related field that can provide a demographic starting point?  If you can’t find any information you have to do your own research.

Who's Our Demographic?
You can determine a demographic by using your existing web site.  Log files and online surveys are great resources to better understand a web site’s demographics.  They contain potential data for building a sketch of your web site demographic.

Analyze Log Files
Web site log files can be a gold mine of demographic details.  Data such as referrals and keywords used in search can help paint a better picture of your user. Look where users to your site are being referred from. Send off a simple email to the referring site owner asking for demographic information.  Make sure you are cordial in the request and explain why you are seeking the information.  You might be able to form a strategic partnership with other web sites.  Do the keywords in your log files give you any additional hint?  Certain phrases might point to one gender or another. E.g. “hot pink ipod.”

Conduct an Online Survey
If there are only a few people visiting a web site that might be enough to conduct an online survey.  Ask simple questions in the survey based around standard demographics (age, gender, education, income, etc.) Include some psychographic questions (general interest, values, and attitudes.)  Surveys should be short and sweet. 

Build Your Web Site For the Target Audience

Any web site should be built and presented for the benefit of the user.  Too many companies try to put their interest in front of that of the user.  Don’t make the same mistake.   If you have good target data on your users and adhere to their needs you're a step ahead of most people.  Always concentrate on the user.

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The Shift in Internet User Demographics

For the longest time people believed that the Internet was a playground for the young. “Older people don’t use the Internet.”  It was too difficult for them to understand or they’re computer averse. Times are changing. One of the emerging Internet user markets belongs to older Internet users. As people age the older demographic of Internet users will be supplemented by the generation of users who grew up online.  Are older users part of your demographic?

The Silver User Demographic
Senior_computer A recent article from the UK's Telegraph titled "Surfing Net is Top Pastime for Elderly" illustrates the shift in Internet user demographics. This is an important trend that every web site owner should understand. Many companies currently focus on creating their online experience around younger Internet users. Lots of bells and whistles that can task saturate even the most adept surfers. They rarely take into consideration the “silver surfers” of the world.

According to the Telegraph’s article 41% of retirees said using the web was one of their favorite activities.  Internet usage exceeded their time for gardening, walking, and other hobbies. Of those surveyed, 40% also indicated that they shop online regularly. Are you aware of the demographic and psychographic profiles of your users?   

The article also identifies some of the particular online activities for older users. Emailing and searching are some of the top activities. This incidentally mirrors some of the activities of younger users.  The older demographic of users will open up brand new markets and online opportunities.

Small Simple Changes
My experience with older surfers reemphasizes the need for web sites with better usability. If you identify part of your demographic as older Internet users make sure you take the time to accommodate their needs. Things like small type and complex navigation turn off older users. Even if you make some simple usability changes to your web site, your users will be appreciative. I cannot recall the last time someone complained about a web site being too easy to use.

There are inherent challenges when it comes to accommodating for a number of different demographics. Some web sites don’t have enough older users to justify changing their approach. Take MySpace into consideration. Almost everything is geared toward young surfers. Ultimately it comes down to knowing your online demographics and making the necessary changes.

As times passes you will have more users who are older. Make sure you accommodate for their needs.

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Merging Web Usability and Online Marketing

Did anyone else find the Superbowl commercials boring yesterday?  There wasn't anything really memorable.  In previous years I recall people chatting about the Superbowl commercials for at least a day or two afterward. It seemed like the commercials didn't connect with as many people. Yet, the commercials did get me thinking about the relationship of usability and marketing.   The most successful ads are those that are simple to understand and connect with the audience.  You should use the same methodology with your web site.

Usability and Marketing
A few years ago I really didn't consider Usability and Marketing related fields.  Several people would always ask me if our firm did any marketing. We didn't. For the longest time I believed that usability focused on making things easy to use and marketing concentrated on promoting products.  Regardless of some of the similarities, I always grouped the usability and marketing into two different categories. Over the last few years I've started to change my perspective.  Through people like Ken McCarthy, Seth Godin, and Joe Vitale my feelings in regards to online marketing changed.  Business people should view the Internet as a permission based direct marketing channel. Part of the success of marketing focuses on targeting the right market and testing with that market. 

Web Usability Marketing
Today I see online marketing and usability having a synergenic relationship.  Each discipline takes from the other and enhances the other. Companies who understand and utilize the merge of usability and online marketing are going to be more successful online.  Well thought out and tested marketing can drive people to your web site and promote conversions.  Web usability can be leveraged to ensure that your web site is easy to access, clear, and concise.  The two elements are essential for a successful web site.

Rooted in the Past

The history of direct marketing hasn't changed much in decades.  There was a book in the library, published in 1936, by John Caples that covered many of the techniques marketing firms use today.  Aside from the medium used, the fundamental marketing principals have undergone little change. You still utilize the simple techniques like a compelling headline and well written copy that relates to your audience.  Unfortunately many companies refuse to follow some of the the most basic marketing and advertising tenants.

Usability starts to intersect marketing when you get to the process of testing your ads and copy.  The method of split testing was used to find the best ads.  Today we use some of the same principles to conduct usability testing.  Always try to test different combinations with your users and see what works better with your web site and your ads.   Companies have a very difficult time letting go of their ego and focusing on their audience.  Your focus needs to be on the user/consumer. This is a fundamental of usability testing and good marketing. 

It can be anything from an individual ad or marketing piece to an entire web site.  Concentrate on delivering a message that is targeted to a certain audience and easy to understand.  The process involves using usability principals and traditional direct marketing techniques.  Your message should be believable and easy to quantify.

Both Usability and Marketing are so important to your online success.  Make sure you explore ways to integrate both with your web site.

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Cashing in On Online Speed

This post is a small side note to "The User Attention Span" post.  The "Attention Span" post briefly discusses how users want their information faster than ever. If you cannot load your web site quickly users will find alternatives. Your web site load time can also translate into dollar signs either positive or negative.

Money and Load Time
Lee Dodd had an interesting comment from a user on the relationship of speed to revenue. "It’s only been a few days, but I’ve already noticed an increase in traffic, page views, and ad revenue. What does that mean? Simple: Slow Servers = Less Traffic, or more importantly, Faster Servers = More Money“. It is true that search engines and end users DO NOT like slow loading sites."  Is your web site performance hindering your online revenue potential?

One place you don't want to have an extra load time is with your shopping cart solution.  There are already a number of factors that increase shopping cart abandonment.  Don't give your users another reason to abandon your cart.

Determining Page Size 
This past week someone asked me if there was an easy way to determine page load times. During some perusing of the Internet I found a link on Lee Todd's Blog that gives you size and web site load time information.  The utility allows you to enter multiple domains at one time.  This allows you to do a simple compare and contrast between your site and other web sites of your choosing.

Users like web sites that are quick and to the point.  The quicker you load your web site, the faster you have an opportunity to make money. Make every effort possible to decrease your page load times.

Additional Resources:

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Fundamentals of Successful Web Sites and Sound

Marketing and Usability
Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting to a small audience on "The Fundamentals of Successful Web Sites." It was nice being able to get out of the technical web world and focus again on fundamentals.  In today's world it is very easy to get caught up in all the "bells and whistles" the web has to offer.  The smartest thing anyone can do online is keep it simple.   My presentation concentrated on Marketing and Usability.

If anyone is interested in notes from the presentation click below:
Fundamentals of Successful Web Sites  (.pdf)

On Sound
During the presentation a gentleman asked me a great question regarding sound on a web page.  In today's multimedia driven Internet sound is becoming an important part of the online experience. Web site sound can be great or get annoying depending on the user.   

One particular experience rings in my head.  It was late at night and I was surfing through some airshow web sites.  Next thing I know there are fighter jets screaming over my head.  My speakers were turned all the way up from earlier in the day.  I neglected to turn them down after listening to some music.  I've heard the same frightening/embarrassing story from other users.

Set Your Default to OFF

If you are going to load sound on a web page make the default setting OFF.  You'll notice that many companies do this with advertising.  They know how easy it is to annoy users and decide to take a careful route.  Don't annoy your users with forcing by audio on them.

Give Users the Choice
Don't load sound files automatically when the site is loading.  Give users the option click and listen to a recording or audio track.  Your users enjoy being in the "drivers seat" for their online experience.  Another problem with automatically loading sound or music is that you'll get repetition each time someone comes to a page.  This happens frequently on home pages that automatically load sound.  Each time you go back to the home page the same music or sounds start to play over and over again. That's sure to turn off your users.

Sound is great online, just use it wisely.  Let people have the option of what they hear and when they hear it.

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