Friday, August 21, 2009
As a freelance Web content writer, you would think I would be the first person to say that content is king and agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. And for many sites, I believe this to be true.
Fundamentally, as a Web professional, I know that users come to Web sites to get something; be it a piece of information, an item or a sense of community. Getting there is part of that journey. If a Web site makes it difficult to get there, or cumbersome, or plain annoying, then users will jump way in the other direction to go find that something someplace else.
Recently a friend asked for some help locating a specialist at a hospital. I went to the hospital’s Web site and looked under their button “Find an Expert”. I found a long database driven list of physicians’ names, but only their names (last name first). Because I was looking for a lymphoma expert, I could not feed enough information to the Web site to get a list of lymphoma experts because this Web site DID NOT LIST THEIR DOCTORS according to their specialty.
This is what is known in my profession as stopping the conversation- dead in its tracks. This is how the conversation sounded in my head while I was doing the search for my friend:
Ahava: I need to find a lymphoma expert at Hospital X.
Web site: Here is a list of our experts.
Ahava: Ok, I need to find a lymphoma expert.
Web site: Here is a list of our experts in alphabetical order. They are all doctors.
Ahava: But how do I find the lymphoma experts? Do I have to search through each doctor? Isn’t there a way to ask what kind of specialist each of your experts are?
Web site: No.
Ahava: Well my friend needs a lymphoma expert. And I’m not searching through 84 doctors to find the medical oncologists. Should I go to another hospital?
Web site: This is our list of experts. In alphabetical order, just to make it easier.
Ahava: Ok, I’m going to use search. I’m typing in lymphoma experts.
Web site: Here are a lot of useless pages that will not help you.
Can you imagine if this was an ecommerce site? Let’s say you were looking to buy a pair of pants on line.
User: I wear a size 8. Do these pants come in an 8?
Web site: These pants come in yellow, green and blue.
User: I like green. I need to find a size 8. These pants come in medium and large. Is medium the 8 or large? Where is the sizing chart?
Web site: These are the measurements for large. These are the measurements for small. In a convenient table.
Does anyone honestly think the user will pull out their measuring tape and measure themselves (!) to see if their size 8 is a medium or a large? NO! They are going to a different site to find those pants, or they are not buying from your Web site.
Content is incredibly important. But there are rules:
1. Display the content in ways that are easily understandable
2. Anticipate a user’s possible questions
3. Give them different options on how to arrive at the answers
If you do not follow these rules,you’ve stopped the conversation. It’s like checkmate in chess. Doesn’t matter who’s king- if he’s boxed in, he can’t protect the kingdom.
That’s why content writers who understand the importance of the principles of usability, as well as how users USE the Web, are so critical to the success of a site. These writers or advanced Web profssionals understand how to craft content that will satisfy the user. They are thinking on the two levels necessary to publish great content: what the questions might be and how to display them in the best way to make the sale and win the game.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Have you ever looked over the shoulder at someone who is trying to find something on the Web? Well I have (I actually get paid to do it) and it seems that like a baby following a typical development: tripoding, sitting up, lunging, crawling, cruising, walking, most people pretty much search the same way, in the same order.
Scenes from a usability study:
1. Furiously mouse over any links as they search for their trigger words (called minesweeping) (Shout out to Jared Spool for the terminology)
2. Clicking furiously everywhere, and hitting the back button till they find what they want
3. Stare at the screen, hoping for the answer to magically appear
As a Web writer, what concerns me about this behavior is that I really want my users to find the pages that I spend a lot of time writing; namely what I call content found!!!! pages (Cue the trumpet music). What usually happens is that users can’t find those pages, because there are too many other words on those inbetweenish pages between the home page and the content found page. Those inbetweenish pages (the ones you spend too much time on, trying to figure out where to go) should really be gallery pages, lists of links. Those pages should be about getting users where they need to go--the content found pages--rather than opportunities for companies to talk about, yet again, how amazing they are.
For example, let’s say a user wants to learn more about how to apply for a car loan (we need a new car). The navigation looks like this:
• Car loans
• Boat loans
• About Us
• Federal lending practices
Most users would probably select car loans, right? But that page is a long list of different car loans available, with some marketing material stuffed up top about how great is it to get a car loan from this bank.
Don't stop the conversation
In theory this works. But as Ginny Reddish says “Find marketing moments when the site visitor is ready- DON’T STOP THE CONVERSATION.” By stuffing the marketing information at the top of the inbetweenish page (what should just be a gallery page of links, titled with Car loans and a short blurb describing each one so the user can make an educated guess before actually committing to the click), the user has to wade through all that “aren’t we fabulous” before they can get to the content found!!!(trumpets) page they really want to read.
Won't search save us? (When are we going to give that one up?)
Some devil’s advocates (who are these people anyway?) may argue that people find those content found pages on search anyway and just click on the search result in Google/Bing/Yahoo to find the relevant page. But I would argue that some people actually do (gasp!) start at the homepage of a Website. In fact, 50% of users use search and 50% use navigation. If half of my anything is going to be wading through all that marketingease, I better make it good and relevant. Put it on the content found!!!! (trumpets) page, where the user is interested in that part of the conversation.
“Oh, so those are the four different types of car loans? And there’s a handy calculator on the right there to figure out each one? Cool. How do I get in touch with this bank?”