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I've been thoroughly enjoying webword.com [webword.com], a site with a lot of fascinating articles and links about usability, color, information architecture, navigation and page design.
The resources page [webword.com] has a particular wonderful bunch of links about internationalizing a site. With the International market growing so very rapidly, none of us can ignore these realities.
One of the best things I did for a client in 2000 was taking a framed site into flat pages. The pageviews per unique DOUBLED, the sales TRIPLED -- and the client went from unprofitable to profitable. Usability is mighty important.
You can do usability testing within your means, as long as the client undertands that the dollars spent may be the most important dollars in the budget. And after all, what good is traffic if the visitors don't "stick" around?
One of my clients has a pool of 5 beta testers and about 30 who do follow-up testing later on -- after the pages go live. They get paid with discounts. Both groups have pushed me to find simpler interfaces in lots of ways. Not always simpler on my end, but certainly simpler for the visitor.
We do the beta testing on a separate domain where we keep the SEs away with robots.txt. After we work out the primary issues with the core 5, we release the new stuff to the general traffic and follow-up testing on the main site. This is proving to be a very beneficial scheme.
"Girlzilla, Inc. ran an independent study proving the effectiveness of Macromedia's Top 10 Usability Tips for Flash Web Sites."
hmmm, looks to me like it "proves" that for a Flash site to be user friendly it needs to be as close to static HTML as possible.
I hate Flash
On a related note, sometimes I think we are actually lucky to go through a period of designing for small bandwidth. If we had ultra-wide broadband from day one, the web might have had to go through a Dark Age of usability. "Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink"
ps - great tip, Minnapple. I'd like to add that deframing can help increase incoming links, too.
Naturally, they gave it a UI that took me quite a while to figure out. The download is horrendously slow. Nonetheless, I started reading it via Mozilla a few months back and all went more or less OK.
Then they converted the navigation to Flash, too. That's where things started to go *really* wrong. When I open an installment with NN4, it crashes during the download. When I visit the site with a Mozilla nightly, it crashes during Flash detection. When I try it with NS6, it works, but I often have to manually edit the URL because the Flash detection sends me to the "please install Flash" page. I don't use AOL, but their page has a warning that it doesn't work with the (IE-based) AOL software either.
I guess that demonstrates why Marvel's had financial difficulties the last few years (decades?).
KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).
The business of a website is a product of two numbers:number_visitors x conversion_rate
So to double your business, you can double one number, or you can double the other number. Considering that conversion rates typically run around 1%, that's where I would invest first.
Contrary to this advice, Internet start-ups typically spend 300 times as much money on advertising as they spend on usability. As a result, many of these new sites will fail to keep their users and will not grow into long-term successes. VCs should question the budget allocation of their portfolio companies and refuse to waste money on sites that don't have a thorough usability process in place.
This situation parallels the marketing split between acquisition and retention marketing. So much is spent on new customer acquisition, when retention marketing gives a much better ROI, and those happy return customers just naturally do viral marketing.
Why are the numbers so unconvincing to so many businesses? I think improving usability and conversion on a website, or increasing customer retention in any business, is somehow not seen to be as glitzy or glamorous. They require a true service mind-set, putting someone else's needs first.
Acquisition marketing is more about being self centered, beat on your chest and crow about yourself.
This also relates to benefits vs. features. Benefits make much better marketing communications, but people tend to crow about features.
End of sermon.