Eric Enge and Kim Krause Berg talk about Usability and SEO
Podcast Date: October 12, 2007
The following is a written transcript of the October 12, 2007 podcast between Kim Krause Berg and Eric Enge:
Eric Enge: Hi, I am Eric Enge, the President of Stone Temple Consulting; you can see our website at www.stonetemple.com. We are here today with Kim Krause Berg, the owner of the well known Cre8pc Blog, and the Cre8 site forms. We plan to talk today about a variety of issues with usability and SEO, and you can see the Cre8pc Blog website at www.cre8pc.com/blog. How are you doing today, Kim?
Kim Krause Berg: Very good, thank you and you?
Eric Enge: I am doing great as well. Hey, when we talked the other day, one of the things that you indicated that you were really interested in is the emotional side of usability. Can you help the listeners understand what you mean by that and talk about it a little bit?
Kim Krause Berg: Sure, I can. I will give you an example of a cancer information site. There are various users or people who come visit this site, and the design has to take into consideration the emotional state of the site visitor. If it's a family member who has just found out that a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, they might not be thinking as clearly, and their hand is not steady, so using the mouse just becomes a little bit more difficult. It's an interesting thing to watch people in different emotional states using a website. And, there are some studies being done on this, and I just find the whole thing really fascinating, because we design for ourselves personally and forget that there are different kinds of people including cultural differences visiting our sites, and how do you address that in the design?
Eric Enge: Right, so another related example would be people who are vision impaired, and what you do to help them navigate a site.
Kim Krause Berg: Exactly. And, another one is senior citizens who are healthy as anything, but certain things begin to slow down, and the connection between the brain and the hands begins to change. This is just the normal course of growing older. For example I watched my father using Google Maps and this is the vibrant 70 year old very smart guy, and he really struggled with it. I was very surprised, but it was just a little slower thinking, and with Google Maps the page is trying to communicate to him a lot of information for him to take in. I am sure that they didn't do a whole lot of user testing on the senior citizen population when they built it. So, it's eye opening to watch people use the applications and websites that we use everyday.
Eric Enge: Yeah, it's makes it a very interesting challenge when you are designing a website that has what you hope to be a very broad audience appeal, because there are so many different types of needs that you need to attend to.
Kim Krause Berg: You don't want it to be generic and boring either, there is always the fear that well okay, if you have to meet the needs of so many people that rules out 90% of the fun stuff.
You have to find a balance, and you really have to know who is coming to use the website, and what the alternatives are. There are things that you can do, it just takes more time, so learn what they are and apply them.
Eric Enge: Right. So, if we go back to the emotional state for a moment, the cancer site example, what are the kinds of things the site should do to try to address that?
Kim Krause Berg: More white space, bigger buttons, clear user instructions, and categories, separate sections for family members versus patient versus healthcare provider, don't throw it all there all at once, because when you are looking for information and you are upset, and you've got all these words facing you, it's intimidating, unless it is presented in such a way that it's easy to understand. In some cases it's not, and you just become so overwhelmed that it could possibly add to the emotional state that you are already in. Sometimes, because there are so many options in the search results, if we just flip in through health oriented sites, we tend to go to the ones where it's easier to read their column, or the colors are more pleasing. There might be human faces that are friendly that help us calm down. A page with just a bunch of words isn't going to have the same effect on us as.
Eric Enge: Right. You might also have a preference for site with pastel colors rather than bright sharp colors.
Kim Krause Berg: Right. The American Cancer Society does this a lot, they have a lot of microsites, and they purposely tone down all the different categories of all those different sites that they offer. They do use a lot of white space, and careful usage of color, careful usage of images whether it's photos, or drawings, and small amounts of information at a time. They try really hard not to overwhelm, because they do so many things, fund raisings, benefits, information, all kinds of things. If they presented it all at once, it would just be overwhelming and confusing, so they break it down.
Eric Enge: Right. That's a good example, and it's the right kind of thing to do for that audience.
Kim Krause Berg: Right. They even break it down by states, I believe which just shows me that they really know who their visitors are, and they can target things all the way down to a local level.
Eric Enge: Right. What are some examples of things that people do with websites that are just really bad usability things to do?
Kim Krause Berg: Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is poor navigation, or one way navigation, where the momentum just goes just forward. There is no way to go backwards, and there is no way to go side-to-side. Good navigation structures help with the forward, backward, side-to-side motion, and this begins at the information architect stage where they are laying things out. It's a lot easier to go to from point A to point B to point C, but if you've got sublevels and you need to start connecting them, there is some thought that needs to go into that. And, if it's not carried through the navigation, people get lost. So, that's the first thing and it's one of the most common.
Eric Enge: Right. One example that was brought up to me by Jacob Nielsen was this notion that he had clicked on something, it brought up a dialog box, and he had to enter some data but there was no okay button.
Kim Krause Berg: Right. I have seen that too.
Eric Enge: Right. The thing that was bad about that is actually it was updating the data on the fly as soon as you entered it, so you didn't have to hit okay, but of course the user doesn't know that. So, they don't know when they are done which is a very frustrating thing.
Kim Krause Berg: Which, that not knowing if you are done is another common usability mistake; for example when you are filling out an application or going through a shopping cart, sometimes, or maybe filling out a newspaper or newsletter subscription, there is no confirmation or signal that you are done. You are left hanging, they don't tell you where to go next, they don't, the whole process just stops.
Eric Enge: Right. So, you might complete your shopping cart transaction and find you are staring at the homepage, and you didn't get anything that said we will notify you when it's shipped.
Kim Krause Berg: Exactly. Another one is not notifying you in time to print, if you have reached the last stage, you have been kicked out of the site, and you didn't have time to print anything for a physical record of what just happened, or they don't tell you that they are going to follow up with an email. Now, all of this stuff is just common, but it adds up. Somebody going through a site like this and they are buying a product and they run into these situations, are less likely to come back and are less likely to refer that site to somebody else, which is why these tiny little usability things that seem so small, are huge when taken together.
Eric Enge: Right, yeah. It seems to me that one of the big things that people need to consider in usability is when you start designing a website it's not the same as you have a blank canvas and you're an artist and you are going to create a new original picture and you can do anything you want.
Kim Krause Berg: Right.
Eric Enge: In fact you are looking at is a situation where the users have being conditioned by the design of hundreds or thousands of websites that they have looked at to expect certain things in certain areas on the screen. And, that brings up one of my favorite subtopics which is the designers out there who try to create a completely new style of user interface, which doesn't follow any of those conventions. It maybe beautiful, it may even be better, but it seems to me that it doesn't matter; it's just still really bad usability.
Kim Krause Berg: That's a tough one, while you were talking I was thinking about blogs. Once they are used to a certain way that a blog page looks with content on the left, ads to the right, sidebars with all the miscellaneous stuff, nobody even tries to do anything different, and that's the whole niche right there. Nobody is trying anything different or if they do, they do very little. You can try things; this is where user testing comes in. There is no law that says you can't put navigation on the right hand side just because everybody else is putting it on the left.
Or global navigation at the top; people can figure it out if it's done the right way with good link labels that are understandable, and positioning of things. People will figure out what it is you are trying to communicate to them, so if you have navigation on the right hand side in a box, if the box has a purpose nobody complains about that, because they understand as soon as they look at it, what they are supposed to do there. I think the biggest problem with any change no matter what the heck it is, is not understanding why it's there and what it's for. But, if you communicate its purpose people are like "oh, okay cool, I can do that", that we'll even scroll down long pages as long as we understand why we are going there; so a lot of it is just communication.
I am learning how to do that, it isn't that you can't make these changes. You can put a logo in the center, you put it to the right, you can put it to down further left and have a bunch of content, and link the categories above, and then put the logo there. There are all kinds of things that you can do taking into consideration who is coming to visit that site. I think young people are into the Jazzy and they will accept things and changes maybe a little bit more then other people. I hate to say older people, because I am old, but some of us have been just so conditioned, whereas younger people are so getting used to the whole internet, and computers, and things; they are more open-minded.
Eric Enge: Yes, indeed. I also find it interesting what eye tracking studies have suggested about how quickly people make decisions on a webpage. And, to use the word emotion in a different way, they seem to have almost an emotional response to the experience of the page, and does that tell us something from usability perspective as well?
Kim Krause Berg: Their eyes are going to whatever it is that they understand first. That is where their eyes are going to go, if they make some sort of a connection whether it's informational, emotional, mental, any of those things. I do that going through search result pages, and if a description is chunky and I can't even get a full sense in the search results, I am more likely to skip that website and go further down till I get to a description that's logical and speaks to me even if that site is lower down on the page. Everybody says you've got to be at the top of the search results pages. But, if you are not making any sense while you are sitting there, there are people like me who are just going to keep on going and probably make a connection.
Eric Enge: That's a strong argument for a good meta description tag if there ever was one.
Kim Krause Berg: Yeah, well even some of the search engines mess up the meta description. They grab information from different content on the page. They are throwing it all together and messing it all up, and so you start looking for other things that are also one on the page as well as some of the separate manual results starting to come in really handy instances like what I just described, where I am just not making that connection, not finding exactly what it is that I am looking for. Because, it's not clearly thought out to me what it is that they are offering.
Eric Enge: Right. So, clearly there is a role for user testing and doing things prior to a site launch and ongoing testing as things go along with the website. Can you talk about these a little bit?
Kim Krause Berg: Yes. Obviously user testing is good before, during, and after. A lot of people say well, how can I do user testing before I have even built anything? But, they can look at case studies, they can get an idea in general what certain user behaviors are, and then take that into consideration in their design. As they are going through the alpha and even into the beta stage, they can be showing it to potential customers, or potential users outside of the development team. The people who are looking at that everyday are not the people who should be testing the site.
Even just asking basic questions is helpful, you don't have to ask anything specific to the site if you don't have enough content on there, but you can ask questions like does this color look good to you, because colorblind people are looking at something completely different. I have been in situations where the UI designers are going merrily along, and then you find out that one of them was colorblind, and you weren't even all talking in the same language while you were building the site.
So, it's an ongoing, never ending process, and then when you get to the end and you have ruled something out, that's when the fun really begins and you can experiment with data that's starting to comeback from your analysis. And, you can do A/B split-testing, you can change link labels; you can change words to see which ones actually moved people through the site better.
Eric Enge: That's a one of the great tools for ongoing activity that you mentioned, A/B, or multivariate testing, and just being able to test different scenarios and see what the responses are.
Kim Krause Berg: Right. I don't even have to make a big deal out of it; regular users are cool with that. If you just change a couple of words or here and there, they are probably not even going to notice, but you'll notice if you are checking the data and see what happens.
Eric Enge: Right, indeed. What about survey solutions, things where you do actual surveys of visitors to your site? What are your thoughts on using them?
Kim Krause Berg: I am all for it, the problem is avoiding being invasive. I refer to Amazon a lot as an example of how they implement the survey process. They will survey you after you've bought. I buy used books a lot from them, I never pay full price if I don't have to. And, they'll tell you that they are going to follow up with a survey, so Amazon has an idea of how well that third party business treated you. And, all it is when you get it in the email is a rating; it's not even a real survey.
But, they just say can you rate this person, and there is a quick 5.0 scale; you rate them and you are done. I will respond to those, because I know from experience that they are not hassling me, they are not asking me pages and pages of questions. I think it's kind of interesting that they don't actually pursue and start asking different questions like was I satisfied? There is a place to leave comments if you want to; there are instances where you definitely want more information if you are providing a customer service.
Eric Enge: Right, yeah. I mean one of the interesting things about what they have done is that it's just a single trivial to answer question. So, for me it's so painless that their success rate in getting people to respond must be pretty high.
Kim Krause Berg: Right. The other thing that they do is they do not ask you anything until after that sale is complete. A lot of websites will popup their survey before you leave their website including how do you rate your experiences with us. Well, if you have just purchased something from themů
Eric Enge: You don't know yet.
Kim Krause Berg: Yes exactly, you don't even know, you haven't even gotten it yet. Amazon is really smart by not asking you anything about that experience until they know you have the product, because they are following every move of those packages. They follow up after they know you've gotten it, then they send through the email and they say "hey, how was it, how did this go?" Then, you can give them a qualified answer.
It's really important I think for any customer feedback to time it right, and make it easy, and really non-invasive.
Eric Enge: Right. So, what are the right kinds of questions to ask and how do you structure them to be effective?
Kim Krause Berg: I used to work for a survey company, and the first rule was never more than three at a time. Anything more than that is too overwhelming. And, what they did was ratings, dissatisfied to satisfied ranging from 0 to 5 points. It was easier for them to measure and correlate the data that way, that's pretty sophisticated for the general website, or mom or pop or small business site. Something as simple as just emailing them, did you find what you were looking for, just one question, or asking them like a satisfaction type of question, customer satisfaction question; at least it gives you something to work with.
A lot of sites don't have forms, or even an email contact, or an easy way to contact them in the event that you just went through this whole experience, and you absolutely positively hated it. You will never come back and talk to these people again, or do business with them, but there is no way to let them know. And, meanwhile the website is carrying on business as usual and not having any idea that there is a problem. It's a matter of finding the right way to get the feedback, and also enabling feedback in the first place.
Eric Enge: Indeed. I think the relationship implications of just asking if they have found everything they are looking for are significant. I know when I am out shopping in a Whole Foods store, it's not uncommon to have someone when you are checking out ask that question, "did you find everything you are looking for?" And, if the answer is no, they actually want to get the answer and this just creates a different relationship between the store and the customer.
Kim Krause Berg: Right. And, if somebody is dissatisfied then the clerk at the register can direct them to someone to talk to, I have often thought it was kind of silly for the poor, especially young people in a lot of these stores to be asking that question, what if there is a complaint, and they've got to line a mile long. Some of them won't even ask the question, because they're just scared. If their customer says no, you've got to be ready with a way to direct them to get help. And, it's the same thing online; we can use the physical world a lot and translate that into how we do business online. If you are going to ask the question, then you need to be able to put him in contact with the customer service rep if you have one, and make that easy. A lot of sites don't have any persons' name, nobody that you could talk to, whereas in store you can walk right up to somebody, you know where the service desk is, and there are people behind there and you can talk to them, it's very easy. It's really hard to do that online.
Eric Enge: Yes, indeed. It takes some thought about how you structure that, because the downside of all this as we talked about is the potential for being invasive. That's what was so neat about the Amazon solution. It makes it really easy, if you don't want to be bothered with it, you just delete it.
Kim Krause Berg: Right. It's because I actually tried one and found out that it was painless that I was like okay, fine. I don't mind doing this as long as it's a painless click. They seem to be acknowledging a respect for our time, and that's another thing that's really helpful to communicate to website users to say you understand that they don't have a million hours in the day.
You want information from them, how do you get it without interfering in their day, making it a pleasant experience for them. And, sure a lot of websites are really starting to figure this out, and then there are lot many who don't or don't care. It just hasn't even crossed their minds to even look at it that way.
Eric Enge: Right. It's like you are communicating some very basic things like respect and concern.
Kim Krause Berg: Right. And, if you want to increase conversion, you want to show really, really good customer service every step of the way. And, I want to add that you are never going to be perfect the moment you roll out a site. It's an ongoing process; I am always looking at my usability site. I am looking at it and going "oh, my God I am so confused". If I am, then I know that my visitors are; and I am not the right person to be looking at it. But, it's an ongoing process and what worked three months ago might not be working now because technology and user habits are constantly changing.
Eric Enge: Right. So, the key then is test to the degree you can before you launch, test while you are launching, and keep testing after you are launched. Because, there are so many things that can change what's going on, it could be seasonal, it could be just major change in the way people think or even minor changes in the way people think that are affecting you.
Kim Krause Berg: Right. And, if it's a global site, consider the cultural. I wish I had more data myself on how people from other countries do tasks, how they read, or Eye-Tracking studies. I was in the airport, coming back from the San Jose Conference, and I was watching an Asian man reading a book and it was the coolest thing as he was reading it backwards.
From the backwards to forwards, and he was just going right along and I was marveling at that, and taking and translating that to my world, the website world, and I so badly wanted to ask him how he looks at websites? But, I was afraid if he didn't understand English, I would be doomed. It was just a great example about how we are all using the same things but in different ways.
Eric Enge: Yes, indeed. Well, it's a fascinating challenge and one that I think webmasters need to take into consideration, because usability can ultimately drive your conversion rate, and causes significant gains in your getting visitors to the places that you want to get them to.
Kim Krause Berg: Not to mention that it fortifies any SEO effort, if you are paying someone to market your site, you really want that site to rock.
Eric Enge: Right. Ultimately it's not useful to bring someone to your site, if you do a poor job in converting them.
Kim Krause Berg: Right, exactly.
Eric Enge: Well, great. Thanks for joining us today, Kim.
Kim Krause Berg: Thank you, thanks for the chance to talk about usability and SEO.
About the Author
Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: http://www.stonetemple.com.