Task-based Latency Tolerance for Web Browsing and Applications

Some research for client work prompted me to write this up and I wanted to share it.

Modern web browsing incorporates at least two distinct interaction paradigms, information-seeking browsing and navigation, (where the dominant interface element is the text or image link) and interactions where the user is performing a specific action via a web application (where the dominant interface elements resemble desktop applications, buttons, drop-down boxes and the like).
User latency tolerance and quality of service perception based on that latency varies greatly between the two types of functionality. Research indicates user tolerance is based on ?conceptual models of how the system works? and many users expect that merely requesting a possibly cached page or otherwise static content though navigational link-clicking (or using their browser?s back button) will yield sub-second response times. Additional delays in these types of actions will reduce the user?s quality of service perception.
On the other hand, research also indicates that if users ?see a glimpse of what seems like a web-application they make assumptions that make you think they are treating your web-app like a desktop app. This means that more traditional user-interface response guidelines apply. For decades studies have shown that ten seconds is ?about the limit for keeping the user?s attention focused on the dialogue… so they should be given feedback indicating when the computer expects to be done.? This feed back is ideally presented by warning the user before the action is taken, by showing a percent-done indicator during the waiting time and giving the user a way to escape the delay, such as a cancel button. Data also indicates that users are less tolerant of longer latencies later in their interaction sessions.

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Inertia, Friction and Conversion

With a paradigm from this article in my mind, I set to work on a project recently. An old ecommerce site, great domain name, huge natural traffic can’t seem to convert a reasonable percentage of its visitors into customers. They’re currently converting around 0.2% of their readers into customers.
Is User Intent Being Met?
Normally, the first place I look when trying to solve problems like this is at the source of the traffic, in most cases its search keywords. When we’re dealing with paid search traffic (like adwords) I look at what the user was searching for, what the ad said and what page they landed on and I ask if the user’s desire and intent was being met. This is the really low hanging fruit, changing up (or eliminating) keyword spend ussually ends up perventing a lot of money from being wasted. In this case however, the traffic was coming from natural SERP listings, on totally relevant keywords and most vistors are landing on the homepage so that end of the sales funnel seems ok.
Is There Enough Inertia?
The next place to look is if the site is selling to its visitors well. Is the site actively presenting the product benefits? In this case the site was not. Product pages were full of big, unbroken blocks of text, option selection functionality was presented before any persuasive copy, product images were lackluster and the entire site felt amatuerish. Fixing these things will create more excitement, more inertia, in the user to actually overcome some hassle or friction in the buying process.
Is There Too Much Friction?
Now a look at the traditional usability things to grease the sales funnel. Reducing friction is reducing the amount of work or hassle the potential customer has to overcome before a sale is made. Things like excessive information demands, confusing functionality, and mislabeled buttons come into play here. In this case the site is full of these things. Recommendations have been made, so now we wait for them to be implimented to see if that 0.2% conversion rate goes up.

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Trend Spotting With Search

Trend watching, cool hunting, call it whatever you want, but the point is to develop a crystal ball which will let you look into the future of a market or culture and divine emergent motions. What’s cool and what’s going to be cool.
It’s pretty trendy right now, everyone’s talking about it, you can hire trendscouts, websites are sprouting up everywhere, and Google just released a trend tracking tool, so you can track and compare historical search volume of specific keywords. But how do you find new things, stuff you don’t even know about yet?
Here’s one way:
When you’re first intrigued about something where do you go to find more? Yes, just like everyone else these days, you Google it, or Yahoo it, or whatever your search engine of choice happens to be. So emergent but popular trends often appear in search traffic data well before they’re on everyone’s radar, and the best way to find these fast growing new search terms is WordTracker’s Short Term Top 1000. I’ve been using this a lot recently to find stuff, and it’s worked very well. It skews towards the myspace/teeny bopper demo a bit, but isn’t that where the cool is anyways? Its easy to find just-about-to-blow musicians and entertainment trends, and playing with the rest of the WordTracker tools can reveal up-and-comming coolness in other markets with a little finagling.
There are plenty of other ways to keep your finger on trends in specific niches and I’ll give away some of the tricks I’ve picked up, most of which are common sense, in the next few days.

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