Don’t Leave Conversion and Usability for Last

It used to be an easy target to warn against only thinking about search engine friendliness after a site was built, every few weeks another “seo expert” would come out and tell stories of entirely built sites that had to be re-engineered to allow spiders the best possible access to its content. And while, at least in my little corner of the web world, that lesson has been learned and is starting to sound redundant and obvious, those who refuse to learn from past mistakes will repeat them.

These days I’m finding it very common that things like conversion and usability based on real user testing and analytics data are only being thought of after a site is built. Often highly arbitrary “best practices” guidelines are followed (or not) during an entirely aesthetically-driven design process, that leads to a pretty looking site that has a huge bounce rate and horrible conversions. Then 6 months or a year later an analyst is called in and clicktracks is expected to save the day.

Some common reasons justifying this I’ve heard are “user testing is too expensive” (sure, but its less expensive than doing a free redesign for the client because their site looks nifty, but doesn’t make them any money), or that only after a site is live do you have “real” data. Thats true only in the narrowest analytics sense of the word, qualitative user testing is certainly possible with 5 to 8 subjects before a site is live, and if even that is too much to ask, someone with knowledge of usability and conversion enhancement should be involved in early in the design process, not just graphic designers.

Jakob Nielson’s most recent alertbox columm touches on this a little:

Having a good designer doesn’t eliminate the need for a systematic usability process. Risk reduction and quality improvement both require user testing and other usability methods.

Designers are just that, designers, not user experience or interaction specialist, and certainly not target users.

And on a side note, I’m curious, what would you guys call an “average” homepage bounce rate?

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PPC for a Non-Profit

It seems my recent interest in PPC stuff has borne fruit and I’ve begun volunteering to help out with a really cool non-profit‘s PPC account. Not just any PPC account though, Google has given a grant to the organization in the form of a 1000$ (yes, thats correct a thousand dollars) a day (a day!) in clicks.
The group, My World, takes African students on educational trips to places like Mount Kilimanjaro and the goal of the advertising is to raise funds to send these students on potentially life changing expeditions.

My World’s project grew out of our collective experiences in Peace Corps, Tanzania, which exposed us to the great need for alternative strategies of education to supplement the standard methods, as well as the great promise that existing local resources had in filling that need. By supplementing traditional classroom education with experiential learning, we can very effectively make abstract concepts concrete, while offering disadvantaged students a once in a lifetime opportunity.

As teachers, we took our students across the country to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. The ten students, some of whom had never before traveled more than 15 km from their homes, saw, among other things, their first elephants and giraffes, their first city, and even their first snow, high on the slopes of Kilimanjaro.

My initial strategy for this campaign is two-fold:

  • Raise awareness about this organization among people looking for information obliquely related to My World, but who may not know that something like this exists
  • Send a lot of varied traffic through the site to analyze the behavior and performance of different types of visitors on the site

So my keyword list is comprised of several buckets of thematically related keywords. There is an Africa bucket, a social issues bucket, a charity and donations bucket and an adventure tourism bucket.

My goals for the account are eventually to get the average cost per click to $0.25 and get the average donation to 50$.

This promises to be very interesting so I’ll post more on it as the project progresses.

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7 Chunks are Better Than 10

A while back I mentioned the cognitive science behind chunking and studies that show that 7 chunks of data is easier for humans to process. Then I asserted that information scenting means that articles with indications they’re chunked would do better on sites like digg. I was speculating that this is why “Top 10”-type posts work so well.
And now, study done by Russ Jones backs that up. He counted up how many “top 12”, “top 11”, “top 10” etc, lists that made it to the front page of digg, and what number comes out on top with a 59% success rate? 7. (to be fair, his data set seems a little small, especially for non-10 numbers)

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Dave has a Blog

When I said the other day I generally keep my nose out of PPC things its because of this guy. His name is Dave and I work with him. He does PPC (I’m organic FTW 4 lyfe). So after much prodding and many cubicle assaults I’ve coerced him into blogging.
And here’s his first post, a little caveat emptor to yahoo PPC customers about their billing processes. Go over, say hi, and don’t be too nice.

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PPC Ad Line Lengths and Clickthrough Rates

I generally keep my nose out of the pay-per-click arena, but PPC does present some great opportunities to do statistical analysis of user behavior. I recently got my hands on a list of about 6,000 adwords ads complete with impression and click through numbers, so I started writing scripts to see if I could find some patterns and the first place I looked was line length.
In an adwords ad you have 4 lines, a title, a first line, a second line and a display URL, the title can only be 25 characters long, but the 2 following lines can be up to 35. Below are graphs of the clickthrough rates for ads where a specific line was a specific length (with a linear trend line plotted as a bold black line), first up is the title:


Here we see that as an ad’s title gets longer, the average CTR in our data set got lower (as long as its more than 8 characters long).


The first line under the title however shows an opposite trend, the longer this line the higher the CTR rates in our data set. There does appear to be a sweet spot between 25 and 31 characters where the ad performs the best.


In our data set however the length of the second line appears to have very little correlation with the performance of the ad.


The length of the display URL also seems to have a very low correlation to CTR.

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Social Technographics and Cross-Segment Appeal

Forrester Research recently released a report, that I’ve been lucky enough to read, entitled Social Technographics that profiles adult US web users and their level of engagement with social media:

“Site features can also influence participation profiles. Not all Social Computing/Web 2.0 sites are created the same — the profiles for MySpace.com and YouTube differ significantly, given the activities available on those sites.”

The report describes 6 levels of web users who engage in social media activities, they’re described as a ladder of increasing involvement, starting with spectators and ending with creators. According to the report, myspace is more popular with the joiner segment and while youtube is more popular with spectators.
This means that sites that wish to engage social media users must have features that speak directly to each segment. In this way, those users who are just testing the web 2.0 waters and are still on the lower rungs will have a low barrier to entry and those users at the top will be able to interact with your site on a level of sophistication of their choosing.
For the creators, you should make your story or message easy to repost on their blog or remix or re-create however they want. This means a Creative Commons license and actively asking readers to show you what they can do with your content.
Critics like to review and comment, so make sure your site has at least someplace for these users to post comments. A ratings system will also help engage these users.
Collectors use RSS and tags, so make sure your site has an RSS feed for updated content and the reader-specific chicklets are in place. You may also want to think about including visible tags links to places like technorati or flickr, to suggest possible tags for your content when these collectors repost it. You can also setup special tags so that viewers can track posts to various social sites that refer to your site.
To attract and engage the joiner profile, message boards or other social networking features can be invaluable. This type of functionality requires a large investment in setup and maintenance so they may not be feasible for every creative. Instead you may want to try to add widgets or other portable content that can be integrated into your user’s existing social networking profiles.
The lowest level of social media users in this report are the spectators, those users that read blogs, watch videos and listen to podcasts. These people love content and media, so give them your message in every possible media, video, audio, and written.

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