While my official mission for attending the Search Engine Strategies Conference in Chicago was to report on sessions for Search Engine Roundtable, truth is, I was personally on another one. I wanted to gauge the interest by the SEO/M community in user centered design that includes accessibility, usability and conversions practices.
Unless you work in or travel with the Human Factors industry, getting accurate information on user centered design, or what is sometimes referred to as user experience design, may be a chore. Not only that, there are opinions and theories out the gazoo on usability practices and testing techniques.
Just as in SEO-land, where practices and methodology differs from person to person, and company to company, the same is held true for the usability industry. There are leaders in the field we may look up to and we choose whom we’re comfortable with. I tend to seek out new data and findings because we’re working with humans, after all. They evolve, learn, adapt and change and so, therefore, do our web designs and marketing efforts.
I stopped updating those two sections because of a site redesign. In the meantime, there are other strong contenders for mining backup data and making sure your design practices are current, in demand, and still applicable.
One such resource is the UI Design Newsletter, produced by Human Factors International. In the issue I’ve linked to, you need only to scan it to pick up on some fresh gems such as:
“When assessing Web accessibility under four conditions (Expert Review, Screen Reader using JAWS, Automated Testing via “Bobby”, and Remote Testing by blind users) those using Screen Readers found the most issues, while Automated Testing found the least number of accessibility issues. (Mankoff, Fait, and Tran, 2005)”
The one below is of special interest to me because I’m from the tail-end of the “baby boomer” generation and don’t feel or look a day over my real age. (Suffice it to say that being an older woman has its perks. Just sayin’…)
“Be careful to avoid stereotypes about older adults when designing Web sites, especially since the population of older adults is increasing in the U.S., along with their online usage. (O’Hara, 2004)”
“Online shopping behavior is influenced by the shoppers’ trust and economic condition, which vary by country. Online shoppers outside the U.S. will account for over half of online purchases by the end of the decade. (Mahmood, Bagchi, and Ford, 2004)”
Trust, Credibility and User Personas
The online security and trust issue is huge. I think it’s fascinating to carry on dialog with site owners who appear unaware that they have online competitors, many of whom have an established brand and credibility.
How can a site owner not take their site visitor satisfaction seriously? How is this not a priority?
While at SES, I got into a conversation with a well-known search engine marketer who, like me, developed a nose for the user behavior side, as well as the search engine side, of design. She’s a speaker at SES. She’s got an exceptionally critical eye for details. She hob nobs with the Human Factors industry guru’s. And yet she’s not a fan of user persona’s and applying them to usability testing.
I am. She and I agree that user personas run a high risk of being stereotypical and if not created properly, aren’t going to be much help. I have my own way of applying the “storytelling” user persona in my work that I find is well accepted. I create and apply my user persona and task as an educational device for the client to get them thinking about their site visitor and the environment they may be in while using the website.
As I explained to her, however, I’ve also been saddled with a stack of user personas that were professionally developed with demographic data and the information was ignored by the web development team.
How do you decide what to do?
So what do you do if you want to apply good usability to your web site property? Who has the correct methodology? What heuristics are the best ones to incorporate?
If you’re not in a position to hire a usability company or user centered trained web designer, there’s a wealth of basic information from credible resources to help you create a set of guidelines for your site.
Hold two things in front of you, like a flashlight. One is your goals. Why do you have a website on the Internet? What do you expect to gain from it?
The other guiding factor is your site visitor and their mission (which is not always your’s!) They have at least one task to perform. Knowing in advance common tasks that you feel your site visitors want to do when they arrive on a page is key to your conversion rates. Don’t let them arrive and run wildly around the playroom looking for Mr. Potato Head. Don’t tease them with playground equipment that require a manual to use.
When they get familiar with your online place, show them something they didn’t originally come to find or do.
And, finally, strive to keep learning how to make your site better. Apply the data you gather from your favorite usability resources and your server stats analysis as they pertain to your business, functional and site visitor requirements.
What works for your website may not work for someone else’s. That’s what user centered design is all about.