This Is The Site That Never Ends

We always have a choice. We can make decisions. We can leave the pack.

There is a children’s song called This Is The Song That Never Ends, and it doesn’t. You can sing it for as long as you wish to, long past the point where you even know why are still singing it. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.

Amazon is like that song. In fact, it’s the Crown of the web kingdom. Once we started using it, we couldn’t stop. Web designers, intrigued by this phenomena, tried to copy the user interface, hoping that they too could create a website to mesmerize their users.

“This is the song that never ends
Yes it goes on and on my friend
Some people started singing it
Not knowing what it was
But people kept singing it just because”

I watched puppeteer, Shari Lewis, with my children because I loved Lamb Chop’s Sing-Along, Play-Along show on PBS. She and her puppet, Lamb Chop, would close the show with the song that never ends. Another puppet, Charlie Horse, would return when the kids stopped singing the song and attempt to sing the song again and each time he tried Shari would put her hand over his mouth and order him to “go away”. Charlie Horse would leave, slamming the door in protest.

Singing the song was an extraordinary way to teach children lessons on how to make a decision. In a group setting, they might wait until someone else makes the choice to stop singing the song that never ends and then decide to stop when that someone decided. Maybe a child would figure out that they could be the leader, and they decide for the group. Others respond by giggling and daring each other to keep singing no matter what or be the person who ends the game. The person who stops the fun is at risk of being labeled mean. Or, they are the smart one. Perhaps there is another song that would be fun to sing too, or a new game. There is a Charlie Horse in each of us too. When we can’t have something we want, we protest.

Lamp Chop and Charlie Horse are what we call “mental models”. Shari knew her target audience. As website designers, it’s your job to know your users. The more you know about their behavior, the more accurately you can design a website they never want to leave.

Build It For Those Who Want to Come

In the 90’s we would say, “Build it and they will come”, and we got away with that because in those days if you put up a website and were the first person or only company to produce one, everyone came to see it. They used it because there was no competitor. That didn’t last long. But that mind set remains. If your job is to sell web design services, you know that the prevailing argument against your proposal is how it could possibly cost that much to just put up a website.

I recently experienced this at a meeting where I was challenged by someone younger who seemed to think he knew more than I did about web design. I was grilled for two hours and at the end of the meeting, I not only had the project, I also earned the respect of each stakeholder. I knew how to build for their target market. I understood the technology they needed to bring their 8-year-old HTML site up to today’s standards for all computer devices and browsers. They needed to meet accessibility standards and were thrilled that I knew how to do that. Despite my success, I know that educating them on the responsibilities of website ownership is going to be met with confusion.

The way websites work is that you want the song to never end.

Using Amazon’s website again as one example, they never cease testing. They need to know how to satisfy their users and more importantly, how to persuade disgruntled customers to keep coming back. In a Pinky and the Brain (TV cartoon) kind of way, they got so good at this that the company is taking over the world. Google did the same thing. To the general public, Google is the only possible way to find answers to questions. It matters less that their privacy is invaded by Google products and the ongoing assimilation of software that makes it next to impossible to ever leave because we grew dependent on it.

There are other search engines available that are free, don’t track your every click and deliver good results. There are countless websites that sell the same products that Amazon does and apps to inform us who has the better deal. In other words, we always have a choice. We can make decisions. We can leave the pack. What did these companies do to make us stay anyway?

Facebook is a website property where the never-ending-user is easy for us to see. It’s been around for years and years and become part our daily lives. It is a massive ongoing study in human computer behavior that looks at social relationships, ethics, culture, habits, desire, and information sharing. Even when Facebook is caught with its pants down for privacy hacking or fake news, it prevails. It is the daily routine that never ends. Unless, of course, someone chooses to stop using it.

Whenever someone announces they are leaving Facebook, sometimes the comments are similar to Charlie Horse’s refusal to accept that choice. The decision to leave or be on a website less often is everyone’s right and yet there may be anger, push back, and confusion. Member abandonment behavior is studied by Facebook for the same reasons that Google and Amazon analyze what we do on their website properties. Because they need advertising revenue, they need us to never leave. To keep us singing their song, they have to find ways to make us happy and hold our interest.

How To Capture the Never-Ending User

Facebook learned the hard way that trust matters. Even so, millions of people stick around even when their personal information is handed out like M&M candy to any company with their hand held out. We have no idea how to stop using websites we grew fond of. From a business requirements perspective, this is the sweet spot. This is what all the talk about website conversions is about.

Getting into the brains of your target market takes time, but you can start with creating trust right from the start.

Sure, there are privacy policies, terms and conditions, GDPR statements and accessibility statements to include. But there is so much more. There are gobs and gobs of details that you can add to your website to establish that you, or your company, are trustworthy, authentic and credible. Integrity is another area that is overlooked by companies with websites. Who do you serve? Who do you not serve? Is this clear to site visitors?

Who Do You Serve?

Who do you serve? Who do you not serve?

Every website should be designed as though each visitor is a guest. This is no easy achievement but it’s not impossible. It requires constant attention to the website’s performance, analyzing traffic and search data, regular functional and user testing, professional site audits to flush out issues, and studying how people are interacting with your site, company, products and services. A testimonial, rating, comments, and product feedback are truly helpful for the ego and promotion, but the measure of success is hooking your site visitors and having that ongoing relationship that “goes on and on, my friend”.

It was the website that never ends.

Some people started using it
Not knowing what it was
But people kept on using it because ….

Originally published in Medium, Jun 21, 2018

This Is The Site That Never Ends
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