Archive for June, 2008

Axure 5.0 vs. 4.0

I just installed the latest version of Axure this morning. Without taking the time to read “what’s new” or anything, so far I’ve noticed a few things:

  1. The color palette has increased tremendously. While it’s nice to have more options, now I’m not sure which colors I was using on my screens … how do I find them in this big maze of colors?
  2. The “generate prototype” function appears to go slower than with the previous version. The current project I’m working on is getting REALLY big, so that might have something to do with it., but it really seems to be taking a long time, and I can’t do anything in Axure while it’s generating.
  3. The pages I’m working on are now tabs with an individual “X” on each tab to close it. That’s nice because it follows convention, except that now I have to move my mouse from tab to tab to close several tabs, whereas before I could just keep clicking the same “X”. It took me a few minutes to find the “Close all” option (click on the downward-facing arrow on the left-hand side of the tabs), but I’m very glad that it’s there!

Other than that, it looks pretty much the same … we’ll see what else I discover as I keep working with it.


Google and Usability Testing

Why is usability testing so critical?

FutureNow posted an insightful entry about the Google homepage–what makes it so successful? There is one item on this page that was critical to its success. The answer may surprise you … and it was discovered via usability testing.

google homepage original

Read the article, then let me know if you guessed what was the most critical thing on the original Google homepage?

If Google had not been so adamant about usability testing, our world would be a much different place today.


Ten Tips to Increase Conversion Rates

I’ve been gathering little tidbits of advice for e-commerce store owners. Here’s the 20-minute version on how to up the effectiveness of your e-store …

  1. Design for ROI. That means spend some time working on the design of product pages, shopping cart, and checkout process. Read a book on designing for ROI. Watch your web site metrics. Look for dropoff points and fix them. And test, test, test. Usability testing is invaluable for discovering issues in your design before they’re implemented.
  2. Product Image from Overstock.comShow total costs early in the process. As Linda pointed out yesterday, users don’t like surprises when it comes to cost, and with prices of everything going up, they’re becoming very cost-conscious. Offering free shipping is probably the best bet for reducing FUDDs.
  3. Price products competitively. Oh, and tell users what a good deal they’re getting by clearly showing what this item goes for at other stores. Use the information you gathered in your competitive analysis! does this very effectively (although if you dig a little, you will discover that they disavow any knowledge of whether this item is offered at the “compare at” price anywhere.)
  4. Provide helpful product information. Some users need a little information, some need a lot. The amount you need to offer depends on the product, too. A computer warrants a lot more information than a rug. Use the concept of progressive unfoldment to reveal detail–don’t overwhelm the user with all of it all at once, but make sure you provide enough to answer all the user’s questions.
    • Quality product photos are critical! It’s best to offer multiple photos, at different angles. Make sure you have enlarged versions of each photo, so the user can see the product well enough to determine if they want it or not.
    • Good product descriptions set you apart from the competition and give the user an picture of what it’s like to use this product. Linda Bustos and Holly Buchanon offer some excellent advice on how to write better product descriptions.
    • Product details are important to answer the customer’s questions (before they leave your site seeking answers elsewhere). Try to think of all the questions the most inquisitive customer could ever think of and answer them on your site.
    • Customer reviews are very effective in increasing conversion rates. People care what other everyday folks think of this product. Reviews also generate more every-day language search terms for your site.
    • Show availability. Is the item in stock? Nothing’s more frustrating to a customer than trying to buy something that’s not available.
  5. Make things findable. Users are coming to your site looking for something; help them find it FAST.
    • This goes for your products–use categories that users relate to. There’s a great technique called card-sorting to help you figure out what categories make sense to your users.
    • If your store offers a lot of items, you also need a good search tool. Again, Overstock wins in this category. They can refine a product search like nobody else.
    • Make your Add to Cart buttons stand out. These buttons should be clear beacons, calling to the user to take action. Making them big is good–especially because some users do have trouble with the mouse (or whatever other crazy input device they’re attempting to wield).
    • Put the shopping cart where users expect to see it (in the upper right hand portion of the screen)–and make it clearly recognizable. Many stores now offer a mouseover view of the cart contents that’s really handy.
  6. If you plan to sell outside the US, Internationalize. That’s one word to describe a whole area of usability research, but make sure you:
    • Allow for international addresses. Don’t require the “state” field (which is typically a dropdown list of US states). You’re (possibly unintentionally) banning users from Canada and every other country in the world from purchasing from you online.
    • Put the price in the visitor’s currency. If you don’t, you’re forcing your user to do math. (Remember the first rule of usability: Don’t make me think!)
    • Do translation right. Translation is not to be taken lightly–to be done right, you need someone who speaks the language to at least edit your translation. Don’t try to automate translation; it’s too easy to screw up when you’re dealing with another culture.
    • Skip that annoying “select your country” page by geo-locating your users automatically. Never make the user do work that you can easily do for them. Once you know their country, you can present your prices and addresses in their country’s format–stores that really do it well use an entirely different layout and style to accommodate for differences in cultural preferences.
  7. Offer several payment options. Some users like credit cards–others want to pay by check. Some are impulsive and want to worry about the charges later. Some prefer to pay it off over time. Offering users different ways to pay is a good way to increase conversion.
  8. If you offer product suggestions for upselling, do it while the user is shopping. Offering product suggestions at checkout can decrease conversion rates–but at checkout, it’s okay to let the user jump back to the store to add something to the cart if they forgot something. You want to make the checkout process as streamlined as possible, free of distractions, while still offering navigation back to the store.
  9. Provide service after the sale. E-mail the customer order updates to let them know when their package has shipped, and give them a link to track their package. Most shipping companies have APIs that you can integrate to, so the entire process can be automated. You can also e-mail them and ask how you did–short surveys are okay, especially if are designed well and if they give the customer a chance to rant. (ALWAYS, ALWAYS let the customer rant! Provide a “Comments” box at the end of the survey. This is excellent feedback for you, and a great way for users to unload whatever’s been bothering them.) If they do rant about something, address it! Wells Fargo responded personally to a comment I made in a customer service survey I took, which took them up a big notch in my respect for (and loyalty to) them.
  10. Communicate with your customers.
    1. Opt-in e-mail lists are good if you really are going to send your customers coupons and special offers, but don’t send them e-mail too often. I signed up for an opt-in list with Famous Footwear and I swear I get e-mail from them every day and will be opting OUT of that list very soon. Do they think I’m out buying shoes every day? Dunn Brothers Coffee does it much better–I get e-mail from them about once a month. Enough to remind me to come back (like I needed reminding!), but they’re not cluttering my inbox.
    2. Blogs are also good for business. They drive up your hits on search engines and form an informal but informational link between you and your customers (and potential customers).  Elastic Path Software offers an excellent white paper on why blogs are good for business.

So that’s my list of tips. What are the top tips on your list? Are there tips I should add? Subtract? Got any good evidence to back these up? I have some data (didn’t want to make this TOO long), but I’m always looking for more!

What’s a FUDD?

Okay, I have to admit I hadn’t heard this little acronym before this morning–had you? It’s nice that we have Linda at Get Elastic to help steer us straight. 

FUDDs are actually plural and they are:

  • Fears
  • Uncertainties
  • Doubts
  • Deal breakers 

… that get in the way of consumers making purchases. Linda Bustos points out in her blog entry how FUDDs get in the way of online purchases, and how very key the placement and style of the message is. Usability plays a huge factor in reducing FUDDs.

I found these statistics really interesting: Linda pointed out in her blog entry that PayPal and ComScore recently conducted a study on shopping cart abandonment and discovered customers’ top reasons (for shopping cart abandoment were:

  • Shipping charges too high – 43% 
  • Total cost of purchase more expensive than anticipated – 36%
  • Wanted to comparison shop at other Web sites before making a purchase – 27%
  • Could not contact customer support to answer questions – 16%
  • Forgot usernames and passwords for store accounts – 14%

Shipping charges too high–hmmm. Yeah, customers don’t like surprises at the end, and online shipping charges is one reason I hear people state almost every time they tell me why they don’t buy online. (Why they don’t realize that they are in reality paying shipping every time they buy something, I don’t know … the cost of shipping is a reality and if it’s not tacked on at the end, then it’s built into the price. But I digress …)

Suffice it to say, customers want to know what the purchase is going to cost them, and they want to know it up front, so hidden shipping charges are BAD. They make the customer think, which violates the number one law of usability: Don’t make me think!

So even worse are hidden “free shipping” messages. That means the merchant had the right idea, but it got lost in the delivery. At Get Elastic, Linda shows how several different stores handled the “free shipping” message.

If you’re offering free shipping, you better make sure customers know it at the critical point when they might actually add an item to their cart, and then again at the beginning of checkout. Customers need assurances every step of the way to overcome those FUDDs–and keep them on your site.

Because if you can’t relieve their FUDDs, they’ll find someone who will.