What do your users say about you?

Do you really know what your end-users say about you, or more importantly your product or service? It can be hard to comply with end-user standards, and many organizations struggle to provide a digital experience their users find functional and enjoyable. That’s where user experience comes in.

Photo Credit: juhansonin

Photo Credit: juhansonin

So what is User Experience?

User experience (UX) is the field where digital products are optimized to suit the needs of end-users. To put this in concrete terms, imagine you’ve purchasing headphones online at Best Buy. Was finding the headphones you wanted simple, with language that you recognized? If you searched for them, did the search respond to intuitive keywords? If something did go wrong, was it easy to recover and get back on track? When you reached the check-out, was it clear what you had to do, and was all the information that you wanted (like shipping costs and tax) easily accessible? UX is about making all those pieces fit together to create an experience that is painless, quick, and effortless for the target users.

Where UX came from

Today, user experience usually refers exclusively to the digital world. However, it actually has a rich history. The forerunners of modern UX emerged in the 1900s. Henry Ford was one of the pioneers, trying to maximize human efficiency in his factories. These early efforts of user experience were accelerated by WWII, where scientists first started optimizing experiences for people. These efforts are referred to human factors and ergonomics, and were in part driven by the complexity of aircraft dashboards, the first time people had to display complex information quickly and efficiently. Today, these fields are alive and well, although human factors tend to refer more to academia than the private sector.

Fast forward to the 1970s and 80s and UX as we know it started to emerge at Xerox PARC (like everything else digital). Donald Norman, either while at PARC or later at Apple (depending on who you consult) coined the term ‘user experience’, and UX really hit its stride.

What User Experience Designers Do

In general, user experience design can be divided into two categories: research and design.

Research is when user experience designers actually talk to end-users to inform how a digital product is going to take shape. Design is when they take all that research and create an experience. This includes:

  • Information Architecture: what information goes where
  • Nomenclature: what everything is labelled
  • Error Recovery: what happens when things go wrong
  • User Flows: how the end-user progresses through a series of tasks, like buying a pair of headphones

Design

Design deliverables have traditionally taken the form of wireframes as the end product. These are essentially blueprints of what the actual website or app will look like, and are built in programmes like OmniGraffle and MS Visio. Recently though, there’s been a major push towards interactive prototypes: an actual working ‘first draft’ of your final product, that lets users as well as stakeholders interact with and get a clearer idea of what the final product will be. Historically, organizations have shied away from interactive prototypes because of the cost of building them. However, improvements in coding mean there are now programmes like Twitter’s Bootstrap and InVision that produce prototypes with working code. That is, code that can be used later in development. It seems like interactive prototypes with usable, working code are the next step for user experience designers.

Research Techniques

There are a huge range of research techniques available to UX designers, with new ones evolving all the time. But the classic user experience research techniques are generally qualitative research methods based on observing the behaviour of end-users.

Card Sorting

Card sorting is the quickest form of user testing. It’s used to test information architecture and nomenclature early on and inform later iterations.

The process: UX designers give a pile of cards with terms and keywords written on them to users. The users are asked to sort them into categories that seem most logical to them. These can be pre-determined or completely self-made. In our headphone example, the piles might be something like ‘electronics’, ‘appliances’ and ‘home entertainment’ with participants sorting terms like ‘headphones’ and ‘KitchenAid Mixer’. Based on the results, designers can tweak what goes where before they build a site or app.

Usability Testing

Usability Testing is the hallmark research of user experience designers. It can be done at the start of a redesign project, to find out what needs to be changed, at the end of a project, validating design decisions or highlighting any last-minute tweaks, or during a project, on a working interactive prototype. There are two major kinds of usability testing – in person, and remote, and they both have the same process. In-person testing is done in a formal, market-research setting, often with stakeholders on the other side of a one-way mirror observing. Remote, on the other hand, is done online. It can be moderated or unmoderated: either UX designers will join over web conferencing software and facilitate the users live, or user testing software automatically prompts users through a series of tasks and records it, for review and analysis later on.

The Process: The user is given a series of tasks to work through, either through a UX designer facilitating or through automatic prompts. A UX designer records any points of friction or where the user struggled. In our headphone example, a user might be asked to locate headphones, and then asked to proceed to check-out, with the UX designer recording and pain-points throughout, like ‘user struggled to find search bar.’ This form of testing can reveal deep-rooted structural problems, but can also quick fixes that can turn a mediocre experience into a great one.

This is only a sample of the potential research techniques. Other standard ones include paper prototype testing, contextual inquiry, and focus groups, as well as more technical ones like eye tracking and click maps.

It’s absolutely possible to create a positive user experience without a UX designer. But the benefit of testing actual people and designing based on that research is a far more effective approach to building digital products that are simple, functional, and a joy to use.

Do Consumers really Care about Your Press Coverage [STUDY]?

We conducted a study using Google Consumer Surveys to better understand how average American consumers perceive what is considered by most online marketers to be a key trust factor for websites to embrace – social proof.

unnamedMore specifically how supposed coverage on big name publications (such as the example to your right) impacts consumer thoughts and behavior.

1) How familiar are you with this kind of “as seen on” banner?

Participants were shown a banner similar to the one you see above and asked to rate how familiar they were with a design element of this kind.

Interestingly there was an overwhelming amount of familiarity with the banners; approximately 65.2% rated their familiarity as 6/10 or more.

However, the numbers suggest that women were far more familiar with this type of social proof compared to men.

More research is certainly required to confirm this but the results arguably seem to indicate that women pay more attention to this type of social proof. One explanation for this familiarity is that perhaps women tend to be more thorough in their online browsing; taking care to ensure validity of information and security of their personal information compared with men.

2) How inclined are you to believe the coverage claims that people/businesses make on their websites?

Overall people were inclined to believe the claims that were made as 57.9% said they would be inclined to believe this element of social proof. There was however clear skepticism on the part of the consumer as to whether those claiming to have been featured in these places were telling the truth and we’ve broken it down by region below:

3) Do you find yourself more trusting of websites that highlight their press coverage?

The Southern states once again proving themselves to be less trusting than their fellow countrymen with fewer individuals stating that it would have a positive impact on how much they trust a website.  

4)  How important (on a scale of 1-5) are press mentions in determining where you spend your money online?

It would seem that consumers actually rate the importance of social proof like press mentions as quite low when they are making decisions as to where to shop online. Arguably this doesn’t diminish their importance to online marketers and website owners however because whilst we asked if it impacted on their decision where to shop online, that doesn’t mean to say an “as featured on” banner doesn’t assist conversion once the consumer has made their decision on where to buy from. So as to say bragging about your press coverage is more reassurance than a point of difference to a consumer.

5) How do you feel when you see an “as featured on” banner?

Conclusion

This study was conducted with 170 participants, whilst this group did offer a high level of demographic diversity it is important to remember that the following conclusions are based on what is still a very small sample.

  • Highlighting press coverage is a “deal closer” rather than a “door opener” – Social proof such as “as featured on” banners do enhance the levels of trust a consumer has in your website although arguably it won’t be a deciding factor when it comes to which online shop they buy from. This arguably indicates the importance of featuring your social proof further down the funnel rather than using it like a UVP (unique value proposition) versus your competitors.
  • It’s not to be ignored – The high level of familiarity with “as featured on” style banners suggests that consumers most certainly aren’t ignoring them.
  • The relatively significant level of distrust of brands/people when it comes to where they’ve actually featured would suggest that when constructing a “as featured on” banner, it is important to:
    • Only ever highlight absolutely genuine coverage – there is a tendency amongst marketers to infer that a publication covered something that was perhaps more of a passing mention or even an advertisement.
    • Consider carefully the publications you choose to highlight – some of this distrust may stem from the fact that consumers see the usual suspects such as Forbes, MSN, WSJ on a regular basis and assume that all these brands can’t possibly have been featured legitimately in these same places.
    • Be smart about the coverage you highlight – It is worthwhile determining which publications your target market have the closest affinity to and respect for. Our open-ended questions revealed a distrust for some publications listed at random in the example banners and a lack of recognition/affinity for others.
  • Study your target market and adjust your approach accordingly – Consider characteristics of your target market (if your customers are mainly one gender, or if you serve specific regions of the US) when determining how prominent you make social proof elements such as an “as featured on” banner.

10 Elements of a Trustworthy Page

Pillars_of_the_web

The average person has only a few seconds to determine if you are the kind of site he or she would like to make an association with (in the form of a link).

The Missouri University of Science and Technology completed a study which revealed that an online visitor forms an opinion about your brand within two-tenths of a second of landing on your page.

Many consider “trust” to only be an important consideration for eCommerce business but irrespective of whether you consider your website to be transactional, it still needs to project trustworthiness in order to sell you, promote your cause, generate offline inquiries or achieve whatever goal you’ve set. Not to mention if you want it to generate links from authority sites.

Before we dig into the factors we consider to be essential, let’s define what we mean by “Trust”:

“Trust in any object can be measured by the willingness of visitors to interact with it in some way. When the object is a web page, that means not just looking at the page, but believing the information presented, or acting on it.”

SOURCE: Trustworthiness of Websites; AudienceDialogue, 2006.

Here are 11 key factors to developing a page (and a website) that people trust:

#1 – Legal

It is so easy to get bogged down in all the legislation that website operators should be aware of but if we just focus on the basics, the things that potential linkers will want to see.

  • Full disclosures – ethics are very important to many people who control authority pages. If they are considering linking to you, they want to know you aren’t going to abuse their citation down the line. Common disclosures may be conflicts of interest or if you are an affiliate for a product (see this website about affiliate disclosures).
  • Have a privacy policy – You can generate your own privacy policy here, will the average user read it? Probably not. But you don’t see many legitimate websites without one.
  • Have an email policy – state very clearly what you do with any emails you collect, again, potential linkers want to feel reassured that you aren’t going to be scamming or spamming people
  • Delivery and returns – If you’re in eCommerce make sure users can clearly see what your delivery and returns policy is. In this instance we’re not targeting customers with these pages but if someone is considering linking to you then they need to know you aren’t ripping people off.

#2 – Contact information

It is natural for humans to want to interact therefore many of us visit websites expecting to be able to use them like a portal to be able to speak with a person (either by locating a phone number or physical address) or starting up a live chat. Having contact details readily available wherever a user lands on your website will ensure it is quick and easy to start a conversation with your business which leads to a better impression and a higher level of trust.

A lack of contact details to many consumers says you have something to hide or you’re hiding from existing customers because they are unhappy.

#3 – Balanced monetization

We’ve probably all visited websites that are over-monetized. You get a roadblock on the way in to the site, bombarded with banners throughout your time on the site and then hounded by popups when you try to leave.

Nothing erodes trust like desperate monetization. If we leave aside the fact that unless your business is pageviews you’re probably selling yourself short by having advertising on your site at all, advertising can be a real trust destroyer to the potential linker.

  • If it hampers the user experience – they might not get to see all the other elements of trust you’ve optimized.
  • Do you control the types of ads your users see? – a slightly fruity ad could kill the deal.
  • It screams commercial page – it is painfully obvious that if you run advertising then your organization in some way depends on pageviews, and most specialist webmasters aren’t all that interested in furthering your goals of getting AdSense clicks, they want to provide value to their users.

There is nothing wrong with monetization or operating a ‘for profit’ website but do review #10 below for additional information on demonstrating a reason for existence beyond profits.

#4 – Design really does matter

When I personally look at a website that isn’t particularly attractive or one that looks dated I often wonder if this business is in fact just so established and busy (because they are fantastic at what they do) that they haven’t updated their website.

That being said, 99.9999% of the population are not like me, they haven’t become somewhat jaded by seeing “behind the curtain” of the internet (working in online marketing). As humans we are hardwired to like and trust beautiful people and the same applies to websites.

Stanford found that 46% of consumers assessed a site’s trustworthiness at least in part by the overall visual appeal.

#5 – Spelling and Grammar

The BBC found one instance where correcting the spelling on a page caused revenue to double. How about losing a million dollar deal because of a typo? In fact, there is even talk that Google is judging you based on spelling.

We know you know that spelling is important when it comes to interacting with customers but it is also vitally important when it comes to conveying trustworthiness to potential linkers.

Specialist webmasters, librarians and the like, who are evaluating your website, deciding whether to link or not will take a very dim view of incorrect spelling or grammar.

#6 – Credibility through coverage

Prominent logos of leading, popular websites such as Mashable, WSJ and the like are commonplace in most website headers these days. In fact there is a tongue in cheek tool that can generate your very own set of logos. Could we argue that these things have diminished the value of including coverage in the furniture of your website?

There are no studies to support this but there are certain things you can do to boost the levels of trust:

  • Limit logos to only the most prominent of publications and think carefully about which websites your target audience would find most impressive.
  • Link through to a page about the coverage or even better the coverage itself.
  • Focus only on legitimate coverage – a banner ad placed through Sitescout that makes an appearance on Forbes doesn’t count!

#7 – Show links to reputable organizations

(I wonder how you could go about securing these links?)

If one of your articles or tools has been recommended by a Government department or you are a preferred local supplier (and therefore listed on your city’s website) then the world needs to hear about it.

In this sense, links very often lead to more links. Whilst you won’t get the “viral effect” you’d typically see from coverage on a very popular site, securing a placement on an authority website can often compound your site’s ability to secure further links of this kind in the future.

#8 – Visibility of author (and their credentials)

It is so easy for just about anyone to publish content online these days and consumers are becoming far savvier (some would argue the opposite) at determining the legitimacy and provenance of said content.

One key way to elicit trust from a visitor is to stand behind the articles that you publish. This is particularly important if you have formal credentials to tell the world about.

Sophisticated searchers and webmasters will quickly evaluate a page by looking at the person who wrote it, have they heard of them? If not, have they heard of something that they’ve done (speaking gigs), a publication that has featured them (see #6 above) or the school they got their degree from?

Transferred trust may be the only shot you get when it comes to making a first impression on someone evaluating your website for the purposes of linking to you.

#9 – Site speed

The speed your page loads is important; it is a signal to Google, it impacts your bottom line and it impacts on trust in the following ways:

  • Users may wonder what is going on in the background to make it load to slowly – shady scripts, cookies or tracking applications perhaps?
  • A long wait time can lead to frustration, negative brand experience and lower trust levels in the future
  • Big brands don’t settle for slow load times, consumers therefore assume that anything less than instant and your website is operated in a less professional manner and potentially less worthy of being trusted.

#10 – Reason for existence

This final point is quite an expansive one but it is also something that is often overlooked. We hear it all the time from clients that they cannot get links from trusted pages in their niche because sites like local Government offices just don’t link to commercial entities. That may be true some of the time but more likely the webmaster just isn’t interested in linking because your website demonstrates little more than a desire to make money.

We’ve secured countless links to commercial organizations so it isn’t the ‘for profit’ part that is the problem, it’s how that is presented. Ultimately, you are likely to elicit a higher degree of trust in your organization if you can demonstrate a reason for existence beyond lining your own pockets.

  • Making your mission statement useful in the first place and secondly abundantly clear to all visitors.
  • Perhaps you have a free tool that is really useful and needs to be shown off?
  • Maybe you have a non-profit side to your business or support local charities.

There are so many things you can do if you can go the extra mile to demonstrate your organization is so much more than a vehicle for capitalism.

80% of consumers say that being able to trust information on a given website is important to them so there has never been a better time to evaluate just how trustworthy you think your website is.

Authority vs Popularity

A website can be an authority and be popular, equally it can be popular without being a real authority. The example Matt Cutts gives in the video above is that of an adult site, they tend to be quite popular but aren’t considered a real authority because of the lack of people linking to them.

This video arguably confirms our long held belief at TrustedPages.org that if Google categorizes sites in this way (authority vs popularity) when it comes to organizing the SERPs then there is a very good chance that they adopt a similar stance when it comes to evaluating backlink profiles.

We firmly believe you need both types of links (authority and popular) in order to be successful and highly visible online – diversity is the essence of a strong link profile. However our focus is on acquiring the highly trusted, authority links (rather than domains that are necessarily popular) because these are the real challenge for many businesses. Coverage for a reputable site with decent content is quite easy to garner from a popular site but convincing a true authority site that you are worthy of being in the same neighborhood? Much more difficult.