Monthly Archives: November 2009

The BEST way to do usability testing

My friend Matt knows the best way to add usability testing to application development – do usability testing early (and often) – unfortunately he (and many other application development companies) can’t always do it.

Matt’s a business development guy for a software development company – not only is he good at application business development, he’s also a really nice guy.

Matt is up in Chicago right now freezing his tail off, demonstrating a new application to his customers and getting feedback from them.  Unfortunately, Matt couldn’t add usability early in this project because budgets, timelines and deliverables were already contracted before he met me and thought about adding usability to this project.  Next time Matt!

Anyway, Matt wanted to include usability testing as part of the development process, knowing this would make for a more usable application and provide his clients with a better application.  The problem however is the application development process for his application is almost complete.  All the design and usability decisions have already been made, coding is done, and it’s a bit too late to make significant usability changes now.

The best usability means starting usability testing early

Matt and other smart developers know that adding usability testing very early, like at the beginning of the development process is the best way to go.

There are 2 major advantages to adding usability early:

  1. Lowest Cost – Adding usability at the beginning of application development is the lowest cost way of performing usability testing and optimization.  At the early conceptual stage, card sorts, wireframe tests, reverse card sorts and user research can be conducted easily, with minimal tools (like paper and pencil even) but with maximum data.

  2. Obtaining user feedback about information architecture, labeling, navigation and layout is super easy at the stage.  And it’s amazingly low cost, the only real costs involved are time spent considering alternatives, time spent asking users usability questions, and time spent re-drawing an information architecture, wireframes or cards for a card sort.

  3. Highest Influence – Conducting usability testing early in the design stage enables developers to have access to information that can dramatically influence the design of the application.  User feedback early in development will uncover any potential major issues with information architecture, because users can provide feedback about their mental map of how a process should flow.

  4. Being able to make major changes to an information architecture to better suit your end-user needs at this stage is as easy as re-drawing an information architecture document, but as significant as saving an application from major usability issues and massive wasted coding time near the end of the project.  It also saves the large amount of time and resources necessary to make changes to the application after it has gone live – to “fix” usability problems post-launch.  It’s far more efficient to catch usability issues prior to coding, rather than after coding.

    Obtaining direct user feedback as the software development life cycle advances means making continual small but significant optimizations to the application.

    Consider Matt on his airplane flight from Boston to Chicago – it’s far easier for his plane to make small course corrections as it travels on its path, vs one major course correction near the end of its journey.  Likewise, it’s far easier, but more significant, to make small application changes based on end-user feedback from usability testing throughout development process, vs at the end.

This chart that I had used in my Overview of Usability presentation I think summarizes pretty well why starting early with usability makes the biggest impact.

Usability and its impact on design
Usability and its impact on design

What am I saying here?

Your best usability impact on an application comes early in the process, while your ability to make changes is great, and the cost to make those changes is minimal.

Don’t wait for your application to be coded before you think about adding some usability testing.  Your best method of adding usability testing is at the very start of the project.

For my buddy Matt and his Chicago clients I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best.  For you and your applications you now know the best way to add usability to your development process.

For more information about the best way of adding usability testing to your application development process just contact me.  I’m a nice guy, and I really know my usability stuff, just ask Matt!

The 3 Pillars of Successful Web Sites

There are three pillars that comprise the foundation of any successful web site, including your web site.  For your web site to be effective it must perform well before the visit (at the awareness stage), during the visit (the evaluation phase) and during the finding, ordering or buying phase (the action phase).

I call these the 3 Pillars of Success, take any one of these three pillars away and your website will not perform to its full potential:

The 3 Pillars of Web Site Success

To be successful, your web site must be:

  1. Findable – SEO, paid advertising, links, quality content
  2. Trustable – Persuasion, emotion and trust
  3. Usable – Usability, web metrics

1. Findable – SEO, Paid Advertising, Links, Quality Content:

For your web site to be effective, it must be Findable.  This includes using search engine optimization best practices to ensure the site can be found and indexed by search engines.  This is a critical and often overlooked component of web site success.

“If Google can’t find your site, your site does not exist.”

SEO guru Bruce Clay and Susan Esparza wrote an excellent book detailing how to perform search engine optimization: Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.  Applying search engine optimization best practices means your web site is easy for search engines to find, index and qualify from a quality standpoint.

Being findable also includes paid advertising with tools such as email, SEM, using Pay Per Click or Pay for Performance online advertising media, impression based ads and related online marketing tools such as affiliate networks and social media conversations.  Traditional advertising also applies, including radio, TV, direct mail and more.

Another component of being Findable is using a good quality linking strategy and set of tactics.  Remember that the web (internet) is exactly like a spider web, in that spiders use interlinked threads to create the structure of their web, and to enable navigating quickly and efficiently to any area in the web they need to go.

So too the internet uses connected threads of information to link similar topics and concepts.  The links to your site on the internet is the structure and the navigation system, which in this case is used by all of your web site visitors, including the all-important search engines.  The more high-quality links to your web site, the more Findable you are.

Finally, the last, but perhaps most important element of being Findable is having high quality content on your web site.  Your site must be worthy of being found, which means it must provide high-quality information that is helpful and useful.

Don’t underestimate the power of other web sites (even competitors!) linking or pointing to your high quality content as a powerful mechanism for your web site being found.

Findable tools:

  • SEO – Easy for search engines to find & navigate
  • SEM – Advertising where your prospects are
  • Paid Media – Pay for performance including affiliates
  • Social Media – Connected conversations
  • Links – Highways to your site
  • High-quality Unique Content – Worthy of being found

2. Trustable- Using Persuasion, Emotion and Trust to Influence Behavior

Once you have web site visitors, you must influence them to take action, this is the Trustable component.  To influence your visitor’s decisions and get them to commit (order, buy, contact you, whatever your web site success metric is) they must trust you and your web site.

By utilizing the science of persuasion to optimize the content, graphics, positioning and related elements of your web site, you will be influencing your web site visitor’s behavior.  Done well, this makes your site more Trustable, believable and will influence more of your visitors to take more actions.

Human Factors International calls this PET; for Persuasion, Emotion and Trust and offers persuasive techniques courses to teach you how to design using persuasive methods.

Trustable and the Psychology of Persuasion

A leading expert in the field of Persuasion and how to influence people is Robert Cialdini, former Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.

Cialdini’s study of psychology and how influence is used to change human behavior resulted in a popular book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”

In essence, his research defined 6 elements of influence that can be manipulated to persuade and influence people’s behavior.  Using these elements on your web site effectively will enable you to influence your web site visitor’s behavior, resulting in more actions and thus more web site profit.

Trustable Tools – Cialdini’s 6 elements of persuasion and influence:

  1. Reciprocity – People have a tendency to return a favor.  If I scratch your back, you’ll scratch my back, or as in LinkedIn, if I give you a recommendation you’ll most likely give me one.
  2. Commitment and Consistency – When a person commits, either in written or audio form, he or she will be far more likely to follow-through with their commitment.  Once we commit, we seek to fulfill that commitment (some call it honor) because failing to do so causes us cognitive dissonance, which is when our actions do not match our desired goal.  As an example, agreeing to quit smoking is a commitment which if later broken, causes us ill feelings about ourselves (cognitive dissonance).
  3. Social Proof – All of us are to a certain extent followers, if you see people around you suddenly start running in one direction, it’s highly likely you’ll start running too.  Amazon uses social proof very effectively with their “People who bought this item also bought.”
  4. Authority – Authority figures such as police or firemen are obeyed because you have built-in authority following tendencies.  Even when you may know an order is wrong, or goes against your beliefs, you are likely to follow the order consider the disaster that was Enron as an example of following authority figures.
  5. Liking – The odds are your friends can easily influence you to do things that a stranger or acquaintance could not do.  Pyramid marketing schemes like Amway are founded on this principle; that your friend can influence you and a group of others to buy products that a stranger at your door could never do.
  6. Scarcity – Limited time offers, limited quantities or other forms of scarcity have a tendency to cause you to take action.  An example of this being the special sales that occur for only a few hours early in the morning the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S., causing large numbers of shoppers to stand in lines waiting for stores to open at unlikely times like 4 or 5 AM, something they would normally never do.

3. Usable – Applying usability and metrics analysis

Once Trust and a desire for action have been instilled in your web site visitor, the 3rd pillar, Usability comes into play.  Usability means making the tasks of finding things, ordering or buying on your web site as easy and simple as possible.

You must apply usability best practices to make it as easy and fast as possible to take action, and complete the transaction or ordering or purchasing with no errors or confusion.  Usability best practices are applied at this point to make sure task flows have minimal problems.

Usability testing of the order flow is crucial, anything that interferes or causes user confusion must be eliminated, else abandonments and lost sales.  Usability testing of the rest of the site is also important, if your web site visitors have trouble getting to the order flow, there is no order flow.

The usability author Steve Krug wrote a book that defines the goal, Dont Make Me Think.

Put simply, make it brain-dead simple for your web site visitors to accomplish their tasks, especially the tasks of ordering or buying from your web site.

Web metrics is the other tool that is required to find and address any usability issues.  Tracking critical KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) as well as funnel abandonments, time-on-task, error rates and related performance indicators will point to places of poor or under-performing  tasks.

An excellent source for information about metrics and analysis is Avinash Kaushik, Web Analytics: An Hour a Day.  But just tracking is not enough, the analysis of the metrics must lead to follow-up actions, otherwise there’s no point in tracking the metrics.  And this leads us into my next point:

A final note – Testing

In no event should you consider the above 3 pillars to be one-time only events.  It is critical that on-going testing be conducted, including methods such as A/B testing and multivariate testing to try new ways to make it easier for your web site visitors to become customers.

An excellent resource for further information about A/B and multivariate testing is Bryan Eisenberg’s Always Be Testing: The Complete Guide to Google Website Optimizer which although focused on Google’s A/B tool can be applied to any web site tool for testing purposes.

Conclusion – 3 Pillars of Successful Web sites

For your web site to be successful, it must have the 3 pillars, and must do these better than the competition.  To be successful, your web site must be:

  1. Findable – SEO, paid advertising, links, quality content
  2. Trustable – Persuasion, emotion and trust
  3. Usable – Usability, web metrics

The continuous process of evaluating, testing and optimizing these 3 pillars is what separates the successful (and profitable) web sites from the unsuccessful web sites.

For more information about the 3 pillars of web site success, or for an evaluation of your web site’s 3 pillars, just contact me.  As a consultant I’m glad to help you increase your web site profits by evaluating and recommending improvements to your 3 pillars.

3 100

Sometimes good usability decisions end up causing a bad user experience, case in point, Verizon

Jessica Lipnack had a user experience problem, she needed to get her User ID and Password to access her Verizon small business account online. Shouldn’t be a big deal, right?

Unfortunately for Jessica and the other Verizon small business customers, there’s a few user experience problems with the current customer service system that cause a major user experience issue.


And before I go on, let me give you my definition of usability and user experience.  In my mind, “usability” equals getting a task done, for example, can the user complete a task of using a password reset tool, yes or no?  “User experience” means the holistic experience a user has that encompasses entering a web site, finding information, synthesizing the information, conducting one or more tasks, and finally leaving, with an overall feeling of satisfaction (or not!) with the experience.

Now back to our tale of good usability going bad:

Jessica received a confusing Verizon customer service email with instructions on resetting a password from a  Verizon customer service representative which Jessica posted on her blog. You should read the whole thing (it’s not long, but it is confusing) to get the gist of all the bad user experience, I’ll just wait here and sip my coffee while you go over there and read it.

OK, back? I’ll quote a couple of interesting snippets:

“I have confirmed your user ID via a  separate secure email you confirmed you received. Though the user ID will display in all capital letters, both the user ID and password must be entered in lower case.”

Umm, what?

This I believe points to a case where a good usability decision was made by Verizon, that had a negative user experience repercussion.  Here’s why I’m thinking that is the case:

I’ve worked at major corporations like Prudential Insurance, Marsh & McLennan and WellPoint for many, many, many years, and I’ve been to tens of thousands of meetings about user experience aspects of online customer experience.  Never, NEVER, in a single meeting have I ever heard anyone ever say:

“So team, how can we confuse and piss-off our customers today?  Ideas?  Bob, get that doughnut out of your mouth and help us out here, okay?”

That never, ever happened.

Instead, meetings involve trying to get customers to their data.  So why did Verizon decide to send a User ID in all caps, even though the user MUST enter it all lower case?

Probably somewhere along the way a decision was reached based on system needs, yes, the data would be available, good for usability, but unfortunately for the end user experience the user would see all caps – bad for user experience.

But wait!  There’s more!  Another rather confusing snippet from Jessica’s email:

“Do not click the ‘Business’ tab, but instead, in the ‘Manage Your Account’ section in the upper right hand corner, do not select ‘My Business Account’ but select ‘Small Business Phone’. Otherwise you will be directed to the Verizon Wireless website, where your user ID and password for our site will not work. Do not change the default in ‘I want to…”

Oy Vey!

Always consider the entire user experience

Folks, what would happen if the CEO for Verizon, a nice guy named Ivan, received this email with all the: “Do Not, DO NOT, DO NOT!” An email of instructions with “Do not” all over it clearly shines a spotlight on a user experience that has significant problems.  Ivan I’m guessing would ask (yell at) his team to consider the entire user experience when making usability decisions.

Again, I’m confident the Verizon team is a bunch of smart, dedicated folks that want to help their customers out.  I know that for a fact because their E-Commerce team recently won an award for online customer service excellence.

No doubt the Verizon Small Business team made a series of good usability decisions, to enable their customers to have access to the information they want.  The problem is those series of good usability decisions were not consider in the overall context of the holistic user experience.

I’ve seen this time and time again, business units inside a company make usability tweaks so users can get access to pieces of data – but the holistic user experience suffers because added together, all the usability work-arounds and tweaks make for a bad user experience.  As is clearly demonstrated above.

What am i saying here?

When making usability decisions, always go back and review the ENTIRE user experience.

This includes something as obvious as a customer needing to get a User ID and Password in a small business section of a web site.  Consider the ramifications of the individual usability decisions in the larger context of the entire user experience.  By doing so, you’ll expose the “do nots” and realize that sometimes, a good usability decision can go bad, and lead to a bad user experience.

Considering the entire user experience when making your usability decisions will help all the Jessicas of the customer experience world have a better and more satisfying experience.

World Usability Day, Nov 12, 2009

Today is November 12, 2009 which means it’s officially World Usability Day. In honor of World Usability Day, the theme of which is “Designing for a Sustainable World” consider how you might make a small contribution to the cause.

From a design standpoint, making things more usable, more efficient, provides a way to promote sustainability. From a human standpoint, doing something to promote sustainability, like recycling bottles and cans at your office, riding a bike to work, or turning a few lights off that are not needed can help. Letting more people know about World Usability Day, and the importance of making the things we use more usable is another excellent way to promote sustainability.

And the World Usability Day site is also promoting sustainability. On the website you can order a free LED light (you just pay shipping and handling) to replace an energy inefficient filament bulb with an LED bulb. The supply is limited to 1,000 free LEDs, so hurry. Just use the WUD2009 promo code on checkout. That’s another small way you can help promote a sustainable world.

For more information about World Usability Day you can read my recent interview with World Usability Day found Elizabeth Rosenzweig.

Spread the word about World Usability Day, and do just one small thing to promote sustainability. Put together, our little small things can grow into a mountain of big things that help our world, and each other!