By Charlie Claxton
VP of Creative Strategy, Produxs
I can think of few audiences more reliably self-centered than website visitors. People have infinite great choices about where they spend their time online these days, and I can think of very few situations in life where the demanding “What about me?” question is asked so quickly.
If the answer is not glaringly, immediately obvious, web visitors will jump ship. Their attention span is short and their supply of patience is even shorter if you don’t deliver according to their expectations… not delivering on the “what about me” is even shorter.
So what about these visitors? Are you selling them a product or an experience? How much do you know about your audience?
No ‘one-size-fits-all’ fix
Many who are responsible for delivering online experiences are looking for an easy formula for increasing conversions – “Top 10” lists” or “5 Steps to Higher Conversion!”
The truth is, there is no magic potion or Top 5/Top 10 checklist that works for every company’s goals. There are things that have worked for certain companies, but given the likelihood that your audience and/or offering is different, implementing other companies’ plans to avoid doing your own research doesn’t make much sense.
‘Must-have’ is in the eye of the user.
We recently ran a usability study on a large, publicly traded company’s website.
For participants who chose not to interact with the videos on the site, we asked a specific question to prompt conversations about the videos. More than three-quarters of the participants said they had no interest in viewing the videos.
This flew in the face of the enthusiastic claims we often see about videos‘ effectiveness – such as “a consumer who views a product video is up to 144% more likely to add that product to her cart than a consumer who watches no video” (as stated by internetRetailer.com).
We looked at the analytics data the company had compiled about how users engage with videos on their site, and we found that not all videos had stellar results.
Though all the videos were on message and placed appropriately on the site, the few videos that people engaged with more were in parts of the site where visitors were open to the time investment required for viewing the video, in this case those related to the company’s community responsibility. I often see videos included in the Top 10 lists of “must-haves for conversion,” but what we found with this company’s website is a reminder that seeing something on a list doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for your site – and further emphasizes why it’s important to know your audience.
The Mighty Persona
A key (though often overlooked) element of any design engagement is the development of different “personas” to describe the people you expect to engage with your website.
We typically use the following framework made popular by Pruitt and Adlin (2006), who said it best: “Personas are … compelling because they put a personal human face on otherwise abstract data about customers.”
- Contextual Inquiries
Developed by Hugh Beyer and Karen Holtzblatt, this involves having fluid and flexible interactions with the intended users in the environment where you intend for your product to be used. This is a great way to understand how your user performs typical tasks and find out what their needs are. In this situation, we are typically looking for what users are actually doing (as opposed to what they report that they do) and why they did it certain ways. We then use this insight to produce Affinity Diagrams (used for finding relationships when organizing ideas and data) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affinity_diagram).
- Card Sorting Exercises
These are quick, reliable and inexpensive ways to provide high-level information on how you should structure the information on your website.
There are two types of card sorts –open and closed. In both cases, participates are provided a stack of cards and asked to clump them together in categories.
For open card sorts, the participant names the category, which provides insights into how they classify card groupings.
For closed card sorts, the category names are provided. In this approach, your goal is to gauge whether the audience agrees with the category names you’ve chosen – specifically with the category names’ ability to effectively communicate its contents. Though card sorts provide insights into the overall structure of information and give suggestions for menus/navigation and even taxonomies (classification of concepts), they will not provide you with final site structure.
We like to include one final element in the narrative parts of our personas – known cognitive biases that we believe each persona would react to. There are many cognitive biases, such as “anchoring effect” in which individuals focus on a piece of information when making a decision, even if the information is unrelated. With the “halo effect” your impression of a person affects your judgment of their character. Forer effect describes the phenomenon in which individuals feel that content is specifically tailored for them, even though the information is actually vague and general in nature. Given the amount of cognition that takes place at the subconscious level (95 percent), tapping into these cognitive biases can really help round out the story that will drive our design.
Well-researched, fleshed-out personas give you a strong foundation for providing users with immediate answers to that “What about me?” question.
Given the importance of how you address the “What about me?” part of your online experience, getting to know your audience is much more important than blindly applying tips on conversions from Top [insert number here] lists of “must-haves.”
About the Author
As the leader of Produxs’ creative strategy, Charlie’s ability to define, design and deliver stellar interactive experiences for end-user consumer products and corporate audiences has brought him opportunities to lead successful design efforts for companies such as Expedia, Amazon, Boeing, and Microsoft.
The Puget Sound Business Journal honored Charlie as one of Seattle’s 2012 “40 Under 40.” He was chosen from a field of over 400 nominees for this award recognizing individuals “under the age of 40 who [are] center stage in our business community, working hard to drive the economy and demonstrating dynamic leadership.”
Charlie has a master’s degree in technical communication from the University of Washington School of Engineering and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.
See Charlie Live!
Join Charlie in his session on “Creating Habitual Experiences – The Ultimate Conversion” at Conversion Conference Chicago 2013, June 11-13 (that’s next week!). See the full agenda and register today!