Yesterday I added a little something to my blog post that likely went unnoticed. It’s a habit I’ve gotten into and is something I’ve begun to share with clients when I review their web sites. I decided to point it out and tell you more about it.

I had referred readers to a link labeled “The Art and Science of User Experience at Google” and prefaced the link with a sentence that explained the link was about a video presentation. One common usability issue that frequently comes up are links that go to PDF’s, files, videos, FLASH or podcasts, with no warning beforehand. If we don’t have the technology to handle the browser request, we’re left with a non-functioning task. Sometimes a computer will lock up, especially in cases where an older version of a plug-in has not been upgraded.

I realized my readers might not click the link, believing it would immediately launch a video. Since I knew this wasn’t the case, I added a note for them, saying “(The page is static. You can then choose to view the video.)” This informs my readers. It gives them a choice in this task. Above all, it creates user confidence.

Every time we click a link we have in our mind an expectation for what will happen next. The link label, if descriptive, will give a hint. My link to the Google presentation did not offer a fair clue and I don’t like doing that.

User Instructions

An area where thinking ahead like this benefits your site visitors is shopping carts and online applications. Certain routine tasks are taken for granted by web site owners, such as requiring phone numbers. Perhaps their web site analysis is showing frequent error messages triggered by customers ignoring this field, or entering bogus phone numbers to get the form to work. The data shows an issue, but doesn’t provide the reasons for it.

Research into usability case studies shows that some basic behaviors are commonplace. One of them is trust. Another is confidence. Pages, navigation, content and links that don’t provide a hint of trust or enable user confidence risk task incompletion. In the case of applications, the risk is form abandonment.

I’m finding more and more larger ecommerce companies have figured out the value to their customers in establishing communication during all tasks. This means that next to a phone number field they will add a small note saying, “We need it for your credit card purchase” or “Check the box below that best describes when we can call you.” The latter one acknowledges they know you, the customer, don’t enjoy handing over private information, but if you choose to, the company will honor your choice in call back time.

Another way to create confidence is to indicate how many pages a form will be and how long it might take to complete it. Surveys are notorious for not warning us how long they are. Shopping carts sometimes seem designed as one-way roads. A simple statement that says, “Don’t worry. You can change your choices later” is an excellent way to communicate that you appreciate their time and want to make the process painless and easy.

For shopping carts that require registration before permitting customers to add to the cart, it helps to convey the reasons why you do this. State them in a way that clearly shows it’s a consumer benefit. For example, if you hold onto their information with a cookie, this lets them go off, do price comparisons, and return to their selections on your site. Pre-registration is less of an issue when the thought process and value to the customer is clear.

Communicate Value

There’s another hidden benefit to strolling beside your online visitor as they move about your web site. It’s part of your job to constantly remind customers how what you offer is something of value to them. This is not the same as listing product benefits.

The value proposition can be things like how much time they’ll save if they use your product. How will their hair look after using it? How much money can you save them? What do your customers get and do you understand why these things are important to them?

If you do understand how your offer, solution, information or service will enhance something for your customer and you’ve convinced them, than you also want to help them convince their friends. This could be hard to do if what you offer is more expensive than your competitor.

This is where your guidance and careful care during their web site experience pays off for you. Some people will be more than happy to pay extra for items found on sites that work better for them. If a site sells a product for less, but is broken, difficult to use, confusing, frustrating, or not accessible, your lower price is not offering any benefit unless your customer loves a challenge.

Convey your total and complete devotion to customer service by being one step ahead of your site visitors. Ease their minds. Offer choices. Be pleasant.

If your visitors don’t need extra instructions, they’ll scan right past them (but intuitively acknowledge your extra concern.)

For those that do rely on written help, your patient guidance and interest in their experience with your web pages will pay off for you in the long run because they will gladly refer the company that just made their day.

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Kim Krause Berg’s long background in web design, SEO and usability includes software application functional and user interface testing, accessibility, information architecture and persuasive design. She shared her passion for Usability and SEO through her site and private consulting at Cre8pc for 17 years. Kim founded Cre8asiteforums in 1998. In the fall of 2012 she sold her forums to Internet Marketing Ninjas and retired from private consulting to join their Executive Management team where she continues her work in usability testing, customer experience and conversions design.

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American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T)

Information Architecture Institute

Usability Professionals Association (UPA)