Tag Archives: usability

Are You Losing Money Due to Poor UX? Fix These Nine Mistakes and Profit

What are the features that define user-friendly navigation, efficient checkouts and streamlined product filters? How can we make e-commerce websites more effective by using user experience (UX) design to increase conversions? Here are the key e-commerce elements that can benefit from better UX design: Responsiveness The most important – and obvious – thing in user experience design is to remember that you are always designing for the user, not yourself. The user journey through your e-commerce website starts with your website visitors using a device to get there. It is essential to understand what devices your users will be using…

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Are You Losing Money Due to Poor UX? Fix These Nine Mistakes and Profit

Win More Conversions from Impulse Buyers | 4 Ways for eCommerce Enterprises

In-store is a clear winner compared to online when it comes to impulse buying, as established by a 2016 Creditcard.com survey. Does that mean that there is a dead end to encashing impulse buys online?  No.

Recent tests conducted at User Interface Engineering show that impulse purchases represent almost 40% of all the money spent on e-commerce sites. For eCommerce enterprises, it is rather the right time to innovate and evolve to ramp up sales from impulse buying. The first step, however, is to understand the user who is to be targeted for impulse buying.

Whether you are an established eCommerce enterprise or an aspiring one, the following practices can help you convert more impulse buyers:

Leverage Social Commerce

Social media promises a positive outlook for e-commerce enterprises when it comes to impulse buying. Major social media platforms such as Instagram have rolled out nifty new buttons that let users buy what they like, as soon as they see it online.

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James Quarles, Instagram’s global head of business and brand development, analogizes an eCommerce website to something of a digital store window, a place to potentially win a sale when customers are in “discovery phase of finding something and not probably even deliberately looking for it.” Therefore, social commerce is, in a way, the answer to instantly gratify the consumer as soon as he realizes the want to buy something, regardless of the buying phase.

Pinterest launched buyable pins for the iOS and Android devices. Major retailers such as Macy’s and Nordstorm are early adopters of this move.

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eMarketer, in its talks with Michael Yamartino (head of eCommerce, Pinterest) found out that since buyable pins are a mobile product, people might just make impulse purchases while browsing social sites on mobile.

Another interesting aspect of social media driving sales has been highlighted by Yotpo. According to its study, reviews as a social proof lead to higher conversion rates on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Such reviews and recommendations are likely to push suggestive impulse.

Social reviews and Suggestive Impulse

In context to the impact of user-generated content on impulse purchases, Instagram has played a major role. Nordstorm is again one brand that has taken to Instagram for leveraging its impact on sales.

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Cognize Human Psychology

The Wall Street Journal lists reasons shared by professor Kit Yarrow at Golden Gate University, about who makes impulse buys:

  • People who are emotionally tapped-out because of family or work demands.
  • Inexperienced shoppers who tend to be swayed more by the stimulation overload they experience when they’re shopping. This makes them vulnerable to sales messaging and special offers.
  • People who are unable to express their anger. They typically have high standards of niceness or they’re simply overlooked by others. Impulse purchasing is often fueled by the anger that needs an outlet and the craving for relief.

All three reasons listed above reflect human psychology, and this is where the opportunity for eCommerce enterprises lies. The rule of persuasion is one such psychological trait that can be leveraged. 

To validate the rule of persuasion and increasing ‘clicks’, Dr. B J Fogg, psychologist at the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab says that three things must be present: motivation, ability and an effective trigger.

Fear of missing out or the scarcity principle establishes the motivation for purchase. Creating scarcity is one tactic that eCommerce enterprises have been using to their advantage to get improve as well as quicken purchases. A post on Marketing Profs lists four ways that the scarcity principle can be used to push impulse purchases. Take a look at the following points talked about in their post:

  1. Create “open” and “closed” periods for ongoing offers.
  2. Create limited production runs.
  3. Provide benefits to early adopters.
  4. Don’t record webinars (this point is for SaaS).

Thom O’Leary, President, Fixer Group Consulting says, “Use countdown timers (on site or in emails) for increasing impulse buys.  Timing is everything, and no one wants to miss an opportunity. Customers have an easier time making a quick decision when they see time ticking away.  As email services and technology improves, it’s simple to add dynamic countdown timers to emails and on-site content, increasing urgency and making the decision to buy on impulse rather than making a well-considered decision.”

Seasonal sales, a technique that Ann Taylor and a number of other eCommerce players use, also create a sense of urgency in customers.  Promotional schemes such as ‘Thanksgiving Sale’ fetch more sales from impulse seasonal shopping.

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You can also apply the persuasion principle by providing users with free shipping when they have made just enough purchases online to win it. Coupling this with product recommendations can help them buy a little over and above the free shipping threshold.

Explore Newer, Smarter Technology

If you are thinking about going mobile, and there is every reason that you must, it would be reassuring to know that mobile commerce is a major contributor to impulse shopping. Consumers are spending more of their time browsing apps on phones. The on-the-go use that mobile phones offer make it one of the most obvious technologies to engage users:

Push Notifications

Not all your consumers would be aware about the discount running on your website. And, even if they do, they might not remember. Sending them a can provide the nudge that they need. The eBay app sends out push notifications to its users, informing  them about the start or end of any auction. That is how ebay combines technology with the persuasion principle to get more people to buy without much preparation.

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Internet of Things

Adding to the scope of conversions from impulse buys is the emergence of Internet of Things (IoT). The Amazon dash button has taken IoT to a higher level. This button allows its users to order from Amazon whenever their inventory/items need to be restocked, without signing in.

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Focus on Ease of Use and  Online Experiences

Earlier, we have already discussed how mobile commerce is tapping into the impulse of consumers. If you combine the ease of use of mobile technology with trustworthy payment solutions, you can delight your customers with frictionless online shopping experiences. Mobile technology optimization can further increase conversions for your business, as it did for Your Tea. They used VWO’s IDEACT services for a full redesign of the product pages. Structured Conversion Optimization got YourTea a 28% boost in revenue.

For the sake of simplicity though, let’s split ease of navigation and online experiences into two points.

Website navigation, should also be designed with ‘ease of use’ in mind. For a quick read, check these 22 Principles Of Good Website Navigation and Usability.

Although designing is the first step, how do you know that this design in fact is effective? This is when A/B testing comes into play. Set up two different variations of a navigation menu to find out which one scores better. You can also read this VWO post about 8 Ways to Refine eCommerce Site Search and Navigation for quick product finds. For making it easy for users to find products on discounts, eCommerce enterprises can also use approaches such as allocating sections such as ‘Deals on Discount’ or ‘New in Store’ to their home page.

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Conclusion

With an increase in touchpoints, the opportunities for converting impulse buys from online shoppers are growing each day. What eCommerce enterprises can do best is to leverage on each opportunity area that we have listed in this post, and innovate.

Have anything else to add? Drop in a line in the comments section.

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Win More Conversions from Impulse Buyers | 4 Ways for eCommerce Enterprises

Looking Back: One Year Of Microsoft Edge (Videos)


In 2015, Microsoft launched its first new browser in 20 years: Microsoft Edge. After 8 months, it’s on a great trajectory but we’re just getting started. Join us to learn about the progress we’ve made, feedback we’ve heard, and a whirlwind tour of improvements coming soon.

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This video is from Microsoft Edge Web Summit, a free conference organized and staffed by the engineers building Microsoft Edge and Chakra. You can find a full day of technical talks covering the EdgeHTML rendering engine, the open-source Chakra JavaScript engine, and developer tools. You can hear what’s next for the web platform that powers Windows 10, straight from the engineers who build it, and you can get an inside look at powerful techniques and new tools to make your life as a developer just a little bit easier.

The post Looking Back: One Year Of Microsoft Edge (Videos) appeared first on Smashing Magazine.

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Looking Back: One Year Of Microsoft Edge (Videos)

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[VIDEO] The Landing Page Sessions: Marketing Campaigns Deconstructed

There are so many things to keep track of when designing a landing page. Is the goal clear? Is the page mobile responsive? Have you optimized the copywriting, testimonials, UX and design? How’s your attention ratio?

With all that responsibility comes a lot on uncertainty. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sounding board? How about the guy who’s seen more landing pages than anyone else on the planet?

With our new series The Landing Pages Sessions, we made that happen for 12 lucky marketers; we deconstructed their marketing campaigns so you can learn from their mistakes.

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The Landing Page Sessions are 15-20 minute videos analyzing real-world marketing campaigns from start to finish. In each episode, Unbounce co-founder Oli Gardner dissects a campaign landing page along with the ad or email that drove traffic to it.

He gives his feedback on what he thinks could improve conversions, offers A/B testing inspiration, then actually implements those changes in the Unbounce builder so you can get the full picture of the optimized page.

And because we like you so much, we’re dropping the first three episodes today. (After this week, we’ll be releasing an episode every Friday.)

Episode 1: Five Hot Seconds

Powder White, a booking service for ski holidays, wants to collect leads by sending email traffic to a landing page. Unfortunately, this goal is lost in a mix of competing CTAs, unclear copy and disappearing form fields. Oli tries to right the ship with a five-second test in UsabilityHub and some quick copy edits in Unbounce.

Episode 2: A Moment of Clarity

NRG Edge is a social network for oil and gas professionals…or is it? Oli isn’t sure at first. “Tabloidy” headlines, bloated copy and generic business speak get in the way of clearly communicating the value. Can an “Unbounce style” makeover bring a needed dose of clarity?

Episode 3: Message Match… Where Art Thou?

Photosocial is driving Facebook traffic to a landing page for its 12-month mentorship program. In this episode, Oli discusses message match vs. design match, how “conversion context” varies between inbound channels, and how to make your testimonials believable. Oh yeah, and how soon is too soon to say “welcome”?

Happy learning!

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[VIDEO] The Landing Page Sessions: Marketing Campaigns Deconstructed

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Flat Design for Epic Conversions

Flat design is easily one of the most popular buzzwords in the current UI/UX space.

Especially in the last few years, flat design has been pushed into mainstream. Even the biggest companies are now following this design approach.

So what’s the reason for its increasing popularity? Simply put, it works!

Flat design can drastically improve user experience on websites and apps.  And this, in turn, can effect a higher number of conversions.

This post will introduce you to Flat design, and the advantages it can offer.

Here we go.

What is Flat Design?

It is a design approach that involves creating minimalistic two-dimensional (flat) illustrations for web and mobile interfaces.

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Flat design gets rid of unnecessary styling, and elements that give an illusion of three dimensions (such as gradients, textures, and drop shadows). This is in contrast to skeumorphism, another design practice, which involves creating designs that resemble real-life objects.

Flat design is all about crisp shapes, (both) sober and bright colors, and scalable illustrations. Even the fonts used in flat design are sans-serif.

Issues with Flat Design

In its early days, flat design was related too closely to minimalism and mobile-first design. While both these attributes contribute heavily to a successful flat design, they cannot be the only aspect in a flat design.

An example could be found with Windows 8 released by Microsoft. Metro design of Windows 8, considered by some as the pioneer of flat design, had some inherent flaws with it.

The NN Group conducted a usability test on Windows 8, and found out that users had difficulty in identifying actionable objects on its interface.

Windows 8 Flat design

Regarding the OS interface (as seen in the above picture), the study says:

“Where can you click? Everything looks flat, and in fact ‘Change PC settings’ looks more like the label for the icon group than a clickable command. As a result, many users in our testing didn’t click this command when they were trying to access one of the features it hides.”

Windows 8 Flat design
Additionally, the Windows 8 interface was biased towards mobile users. The big colorful rectangular tiles looked sweet on a mobile device. The interface was well-suited for finger gestures on a touch-screen. However, the same tiles on a big desktop monitor looked clumsy. Its usability with a mouse was in question, as well.

Flat Design 2.0

Fixing the usability issues associated with it, flat design has evolved over time. It has moved on from being absolute-flat to semi-flat.

Though the approach of Flat 2.0 is still flat, it employs layers, contrast, and subtle shadows to give a hint of depth in an interface.

Here’s an example:

Flat Design 2.0

Now that we are familiar with what Flat design is, let’s look at how it actually helps websites win over users.

#1 Flat Design Improves Readability

One of the cornerstones of flat design is readability.

Flat design allows users to view and understand website content with ease, regardless of whether they do it on desktops or mobile devices.

It replaces complex images with simplified (minimalistic) icons and vectors. Flat icons and their accompanying text make it easy for users to grasp any concept.

Moreover, flat design emphasizes on clear typography and sans-serif fonts. The text background, too, normally comprises of a single contrasting color.

In a flat design, content is the focus. Tweet: 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Flat Design for Epic Conversions. Read more at https://vwo.com/blog/flat-design-increases-conversions

The below screenshot from profoundgrid.com shows how flat design succeeds at improving readability. The flat icons and text easily illustrates the features offered by the website.

Profound Grid - Flat design

With flat design, educating users becomes a breeze. And once users know about a product/service better, the chances of them converting increases, too.

#2 Free of Distractions

Flat design is all about minimalization.

A flat design lacks embellishments or decorative elements that don’t provide value to users. The aim is to steer users’ attention towards the prime content of a website.

Looking at the Profound Grid example above, we observe that the design is free of distractions. The attention of users only goes where the website wants it to go.

This design feature is often referred to as white space.

White space is an integral part of flat design. Tweet: 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Flat Design for Epic Conversions. Read more at https://vwo.com/blog/flat-design-increases-conversions

Let’s take another example from GetWalnut.com.

Walnut website - flat design

Walnut is an expense managing mobile app for individuals. On its website, Walnut is clearly able to display their key differentiators using white space. Surrounded by ample white space, the flat icons and text are able to grab users’ attention, convincing them to try out the app.

Flat design makes it easy to prioritize and highlight content. Tweet: 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Flat Design for Epic Conversions. Read more at https://vwo.com/blog/flat-design-increases-conversions

Related Post: JellyTelly Found their Navigation Elements Were a Distraction, Are You Making the Same Mistake?

#3 Decreases Page-load Time

Slow loading websites and apps are irritating to use; users bounce away.

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When you cannot cut on the content that you need to show to your users, and you still have to keep your website fast, you can either go for low-resolution images and graphics, or use flat design. Flat design seems like an obvious choice here.

Compared to websites that use heavy images and graphics, flat design loads much faster. With the absence of gradients, dark shadows, and other skeuomorphic elements in flat design, the page-load time of a website decreases. Mobile apps, too, perform faster in the same way.

Even from a developer’s perspective, flat design works quicker. It can shorten the code by 30 percent, leading to a lighter CSS stylesheet — further reducing the page-load time.

Moving further. A fast loading website affects the bottom-line of a business. It can actually help increase conversions and revenue for websites.

Fast loading websites can effect a higher number of conversions. Tweet: 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Flat Design for Epic Conversions. Read more at https://vwo.com/blog/flat-design-increases-conversions

Here’s an elaborate read on Why Decreasing Page Load Time Can Drastically Increase Conversions.

#4 The SEO Advantage

The load-time of a website plays an important role in determining the website’s ranking on search engine result pages. Page loading speed is one of the top factors in SEO for websites.

Since flat design decreases load time for websites, it in turn helps websites with search engine rankings.

Graphic-heavy slow websites, in contrast to websites with flat design, receives negative scores from search engines.

Flat design can actually help websites in SEO. Tweet: 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Flat Design for Epic Conversions. Read more at https://vwo.com/blog/flat-design-increases-conversions

With a greater chance of appearing on top of SERPs, flat design websites can tap high-intent users on search engines. Normally, high-intent users are more inclined to make conversions.

Add-on: Apparently, Google is testing a new feature on its SERP that labels websites as “slow” if they have a high load-time.

Take a look at the below screenshot (taken from a Google Plus user).

Google SERP labeling "Slow" websites

#5 Up-to-date Look

Web users form an impression about a website in about 50 milliseconds!

It means when users have spent only 0.05 seconds on a website, they decide whether they like the website or not.

So how does this work? Users can’t possibly go through the content of a site in such a short span.

They judge a website based on its look and feel. Users visit a website, look at its design/UI, and form an opinion about the website.

Flat design can help websites in shaping a favorable first impression on their visitors. Flat design represents a modern design approach. When users visit a website or an app, the modern (even futuristic) look and feel of flat design influences them positively.

More on this.

Flat Design Meme

Flat design is the arguably the biggest design trend at this moment. The giants in the web and mobile industry such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc., have accepted flat design with open arms. Users can take this as a cue, and set flat design as a benchmark for all the websites they visit.

Conclusion

Flat design is the design trend prevailing across web and mobile space, presently. Though best known for improving user experience, flat design has various other benefits to offer: better readability, reduced page-load time, seo advantage, etc. We’ve seen industry giants incorporating flat design and tapping those benefits.

If these benefits make sense to you and your business, (only then) you too should consider branding your website or app with flat design.

The post 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Flat Design for Epic Conversions appeared first on VWO Blog.

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5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Flat Design for Epic Conversions

The 5 Skills Every Content Marketer Must Have [PODCAST]

content-marketer-skills

Jobs in print media may be drying up, but content marketing has created thousands of jobs for writers.

On this new playing field, what exactly does it take to set yourself apart from the army of other content marketers?

According to Demian Farnworth of Copyblogger, it takes great determination, a healthy dose of usability knowledge…

…and a whole lot of caffeine.

In this episode of the Call to Action podcast, Demian breaks down the anatomy of a successful web writer.

You’ll learn:

  • Why any compelling piece of content needs to begin with thorough research.
  • The difference (and similarities) between web writers, content marketers and copywriters.
  • Why having a working knowledge of SEO is no longer optional.

Listen to the podcast

Listen on iTunes.
Prefer Stitcher? We got your back.

Mentioned in the podcast

Read the transcript

In this episode: Dan Levy, Unbounce’s Content Strategist, interviews Demian Farnworth of Copyblogger.

Stephanie Saretsky: Jobs in print may be drying up, but the demand for writers on the web is booming due to the success of the content marketing industry. But what does it take to truly make a splash in the web writing world?

Determination. SEO knowledge… and a whole lot of caffeine.

Unbounce’s Dan Levy spoke with Copyblogger’s Demian Farnworth about his concept of the web writer’s anatomy – the parts that make up a successful web writer and how to pick a well rounded writer out of the crowd when hiring.  Plus, they discuss how to tackle that dear old friend, writer’s block.

Dan Levy: All right. Well, before we get into the anatomy of a modern web writer, we should probably address what exactly you mean by web writer. We know what copywriting is and there’s lots of talk about content marketers. But are you thinking about something specific when you talk about a web writer?

Demian Farnworth: I think everyone who writes on the web is a web writer. And so I make the distinction because I grew up in my career online and actually about six or seven years in, I went and did print for a while. I did both, but I went and did print, and I noticed that the people who were bred in the school of print did things differently. It seemed like a lot of what we were doing online was bleeding into what was being done in print. So, yeah, really the distinction I’m making is a person who is focused on writing for the web.

Dan Levy: That’s interesting. So you actually started online and then went into print – that’s unusual.

Demian Farnworth: Yes. And I make that distinction because like someone who writes in print strictly, which I think is a dying breed, but wouldn’t need to know a lot about SEO or maybe something about usability but that’s in some sense kind of out of their control because of the constrictions on real estate in the print world. But SEO, they would never use that.

Dan Levy: Fair enough, yeah. How did you find that the online world was bleeding into the print world?

Demian Farnworth: Well, in the sense of brevity and headlines we lean towards more sensational provocative headlines online vs. print even though I think that’s been through the print world. It’s always been in there but I think as people saw how it worked and influenced the way people read online that people in the print world began to take notice and say things like that need to change. It’s in the way we write and how we write and mainly being brevity.

Dan Levy: Interesting.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah, I actually worked for a traditional publishing company for a little bit, and I found that – it was a magazine company – and there’s a big tradition in magazines of having kind of like colorful and like maybe undriven titles and stuff.

Dan Levy: Yep.

Demian Farnworth: And in this case I actually found thinking about things like SEO and being super clear and leading with the benefits – I’m using keywords even if they didn’t think of them as keywords that people were searching for – just that mentality was trickling its way into print as well so.

Dan Levy: That’s a great point yeah, right, instead of benefit laden and what’s the actual article about and the lead-in paragraph being well written.

Demian Farnworth: Totally. Well, I mean, that’s the first characteristic that you see a modern web writer should have is an average understanding of SEO.

Dan Levy: I was wondering why only average do you think, when search engines are so fundamental to how content gets discovered these days?

Demian Farnworth: Yeah, that’s a great question. So two things really. So when I say average understanding, I mean you need to know like how search engines work, and you need to know how people use them, they go on, they’re searching, and then like what is it exactly Google does to deliver those actual pages and not these other pages. So having an understanding of page rank and just the keywords that are used and how those are used in ranking pages and links. When you’re thinking through I always try to start with the customer. Start with the reader, you know, the end user, like how are they coming to what you’re writing for so you have to know that. But I only say average because really like we live in a world now where CMS, content management systems, do most of the SEO work for us, behind the scenes, where you can just drop in the title tags.

But a lot of the code is already enhanced for you, it’s clean already for you, and really what you have to worry about as a writer is just “am I using the right keywords?” because really ultimately it only comes down to writing for people, and that’s what Google’s been telling us all along. When you write for humans, you’re actually doing us a favor. We’re gonna love that kind of content, and that really kind of came home to me when Google released Panda, and in that sort of mix of things they were turning out these blog posts. One of my favorite blog posts that they shared was this one where they it says “here’s what you needed to worry about with Panda. Think like a Google engineer and here are some of the questions.” There were 21 questions that they asked, and I was like that’s the framework… that’s all you really need to know about SEO.

Are you sort of solving these things? Are you answering their questions or are you giving original in-depth research? Are you presenting a trustworthy persona with what you’re doing? Is this well edited and it’s not sloppy and it’s proofing. It’s a lot of these basic things, and that’s always what I thought about. SEO is complicated, and yet when it comes to huge sites there is a lot of backend work and you need people who are – that’s their profession to take care of that stuff. But I think from a writer all you really need to know is that sort of fundamental of what Google is looking for.

Dan Levy: Yeah, you don’t have to know how the sausage is made, you just have to know the intent I guess behind making that sausage or who that sausage is for… if I’m gonna belabor the metaphor.

Demian Farnworth: You also see that web writers need to have an average understanding of usability when you talk about things like white space.

Dan Levy: We talked about the importance of a white space before with regards to stuff like landing pages, but why do you think this design principle is something writers should think about as well?

Demian Farnworth: I think because when you are publishing something online you’re presenting it in a way because it’s always about getting people to read what you wrote. So you want to draw people, invite people in, so when they see a lock of text for instance, and I’m like okay that’s just not very inviting. And I always talk about do you want people to kind scrabble down the page. So using a latter metaphor instead of you using short paragraphs, short sentences, that sort of thing, there’s more white space there than there is actually text. I think that just the looks are sort of aesthetic beautiful at the same time too because it’s just simple and it’s elegant, especially and particularly if you’re fighting and you run a large site. And there are ads all around you; you have to compete with that, so I think about usability.

When I write stuff I write it on my own blog, and I will hit preview. I’m always hitting preview to see “okay how did that certain turn out?” even though this is gonna go on a different website. I’m always looking like “so how is that going to look on the page?” because I think at the same time and maybe this is just me, but to me writing is an art and not just the craft of writing yourself but the way it appears on the page, and is it appearing inviting? Is there for every three sentence long paragraph, how many one-word paragraphs do you have that just allows that, so people can just kind of tumble down the page.

Dan Levy: Yeah, I mean there’s definitely a rhythm to it that’s like an auditory thing but it’s also a visual thing.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah, two books or just like sort of fundamentals is the usability thing for me and one of them was Ginny Reddish’s Cutting the Words. Jacob Nielson was saying this back then too was that whatever you write for the web what you think should go on there if it’s in the print word, cut it in half, and so it’s like that thought of “okay well so I need to say things a lot more.” In some ways the web gives us real estate and it seems to be kind of infinite in a sense. If so, we’re not really forced to write in compression, but I think if you want to write well online you need to write within compression. So giving yourself – in fact, okay I can say this in a thousand words. What could I say in 100 words, and that’s in my mind usability.

Dan Levy: Let’s talk a little bit about copywriting. That’s a topic that I know that you are known for in particular. You say that web writers need to have an outstanding grasp of not just an average grasp but an outstanding grasp of. You write in your post that copywriting begins with empathy for your customer.

Demian Farnworth: Uh-huh.

Dan Levy: What do you mean by that?

Demian Farnworth: They’re the end users and that’s who you’re writing for, so when you’re writing you have to understand what is it they really want because we all have great ideas. But is it actually something meaningful or useful or entertaining or educational for that person on the other end. So like looking at your audience. Understand what do they want, and copywriting for me, that’s the lesson that I’ve always learned from my mentors and from the books that I’ve read is just like know your audience, know your consumer inside out. Because then you could use their language. You can use authentic language that resonates with them. The other thing about copywriting too that’s so important and it’s a sense of writing to persuade from your headlines to the first sentence and to the end. Because we talk about copywriting is the difference between that and just sort of your average writing. You’re looking for a reaction.

You’re looking to get people to perform some sort of action, and so having that thought of not only do I need to get attention, but I also need to create a desire throughout that. So what is it that makes my consumer tick, so that’s the empathy part, and then finally how can I then write in such a way to get them to perform this particular action. I think that mindset changes. Copywriting helps change that mindset of I’m just getting out there and saying something to getting out there and saying something very persuasive.

Dan Levy: Yeah. It also actually now that I think of it, it relates back to what we were talking about with search, which is putting ourselves into the mind of the person who might be looking for this content.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah.

Dan Levy: In the search world I think they call it user intent but what we’re talking about is empathy.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Dan Levy: Well, the next web writing organ that you zero in on if we’re gonna go with the anatomy analogy is storytelling, and storytelling has become something of a buzz word in the last few years. But what does being a great storyteller really mean from your perspective?

Demian Farnworth: That’s a good question. So, yeah as you said it’s really kind of the hot topic lately, but it’s always been with us, and we are born to tell and to hear and to want to hear stories. And I think the thing about stories, and again, this goes back to user intent and thinking about the customer. But what’s the most entertaining way that you can “preach” at them but not make somebody feel like you’re preaching at them. So that’s the lesson for storytelling because it’s that essence of being able to open up even if you’re going to teach somebody something as sort of kind of technical like SEO or usability.

I think opening up with a good story maybe even trying to weave that metaphor through it helps people not only get them onboard, but could help them stay onboard, I think too people like, whether it’s a personal story or just a made up story, people just generally enjoy hearing stories, and that’s just what really kind of good journalism is really all about. I think we have a lot to learn as copywriters and sort of marketers and stuff like that is like what we can learn from journalists, the stories they tell, and everything doesn’t have to be sort of bare bones educational pieces of content. But it can actually be a story because I also think too like the stories that you tell help because we do also live in this world where it’s like marketery writers, it’s like companies are allowing writers to be their own brand, and that’s why they hire them because they bring them on.

And so in the story you tell you have to sort of help carve that image of who you are because we’re always online and we’re always kind of sculpting our image in a certain way through the stories that we tell. It just helps communicate particularly complicated issues a lot better.

Dan Levy: Yeah, I guess that’s sort of where copywriting becomes content marketing is when you bring in storytelling and journalism and more of a narrative to it than just getting across whatever selling your product and pushing people towards action in the clearest way possible.

Demian Farnworth: Right. I think too with content marketing really is about educating and obtaining and forming, but really this is not a hard sell. So we have space to tell stories and not every blog post that we publish needs to be some sort of hard hitting advanced technique. It could be like just what happened in the office today some daily piece like that. But the consumers come back for the content, and so when you think aloud and show your human side of yourself through stories, you can accomplish that.

Dan Levy: Any examples come to mind of brands or content marketers that are great storytellers?

Demian Farnworth: Great storytellers, well, I think Airbnb – I mean this is a borrowed story it was a ball and chain that they did, but they told a great story. That was a story that’s not necessarily pushing Airbnb; it’s just showing the unique connections that can be made. But again it’s about creating that brand awareness, and my favorite example is this content marketing company that actually sells a product – Red Bull – because they turn out all this content for extreme athletes, and oh by way, they also sell a high energy caffeine drink.

Dan Levy: Right. So they do like a job with that stuff.

Demian Farnworth: Right, yeah, I mean I’m sure there are people out there that think of them as publishers or a media brand just as much as an energy drink.

Dan Levy: Exactly. One trait that I was especially happy to see included in your list for all web writers to have is research skills. I guess you can sum that up as everything that needs to take place before you actually start writing, right?

Demian Farnworth: Exactly.

Dan Levy: Data and surveys and actually speaking to experts in your field. Let’s say I’m looking to hire a writer for my team, how can I evaluate whether she or he brings those skills to the table?

Demian Farnworth: That’s a good question. I think the best way that I would probably handle that is to say pre-interview or whatever is just tell them: hey listen here’s my hypothesis. Go out and find me the answers to that or go out and find the research for that, and so just to demonstrate whether they can do it or not. Because like you said it is really about preparation. I think too the part that I like about the research is that demystifies in a lot of ways in what we as writers do because people think like “I can never think like that where did he come up with these ideas?” It starts with a hypothesis, right? It starts with an idea, a hunch I have like if I think if X then maybe Y.

But then I have to go out there and find the research or find answers or find experts and stuff like that, and then allow that hypothesis to be changed or confirmed by that particular research. And then once you have all that information then you can sit down and write the article because it’s, you’ve probably experienced this before, so much easier if you over-prepared than to sit down and just sort of gush out like what you’re trying to say.

Dan Levy: Oh yeah for sure. I feel like this is one of these characteristics that is probably in short of supply out there right now.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah. It’s unfortunate because we have this high demand for content, and then really aggressive publishing schedules and so the amount of research you get it might be like three inches deep, but it’s like a thousand miles wide and it’s like okay. That’s one of the things that I really keyed on with Google when they rolled out that in-depth feature for their search that’s because they were saying we want original in-depth research. We want stuff that goes deep, like ten percent of the market kind of wants that stuff so.

Dan Levy: And it doesn’t just mean linking to whatever comes up first in the search results.

Demian Farnworth: Right.

Dan Levy: Like it’s not enough to just link, you have to actually look into those sources and see if they’re credible, and try to also do some original reporting ourselves.

Demian Farnworth: Exactly, exactly. Yeah. And that’s why I love it because it’s like it starts leading you down trails because it’s really what you’re ultimately after. I mean the last thing you want to do is have a hunch, do research, pull it together, and then rewrite what everybody else has rewritten on. It’s like you said, it’s coming up with an original kind of angle and theory and hypothesis and communicating that like “well this is my commentary and this is why I think it’s wrong.” Because that’s what people want. They want, like you said, original and people with conviction too with a little bit of backbone who say “here’s why I believe this.” And that’s what I tell writers all the time: “listen you may have a bad idea, but if you can defend it I think people are gonna take you seriously.”

Dan Levy: One thing I was surprised to see on your list was average caffeine appreciation as an essential part of the web writer’s anatomy. I can’t tell if that one was tongue and cheek or if you think that caffeine really is essential to the writing process.

Demian Farnworth: It is tongue and cheek but I think that it’s essential to the writing process. That was actually our editor she recommended that of course it needs credit. I think there is a stereotype that writers are caffeine consumers, but we could have just as easily put booze on that list. We chose to go with the more PC route.

Dan Levy: Fair enough yeah. I think you had a quote in there though that your best ideas come out of booze, but when it comes to actually executing them that’s when you want to turn to caffeine.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah. There’s actually research. There was an article I forgot where it was published, but yeah the headline was Write Drunk – well, that’s actually Hemingway, Write Drunk but Edit with Caffeine or something like that. I think that’s how it was because of the idea being that all inhibitions should be out the door when you’re writing the rough draft. But then you should then invite that critic back inside when you sit down and be on point, and I think caffeine in some ways helps some people to be really on point when they’re doing the editing process where you actually make your money. You don’t want drunk people driving heavy machinery.

Dan Levy: That’s right. This brings us to the last aspect of the web writer’s anatomy that you zero in on, which is an above average combative work ethic.

Demian Farnworth: Uh-huh.

Dan Levy: What do you mean by combative? That word surprised me.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah. I always think of what I do for a living is like it’s hard work because the metaphor I always use is people seem to have this idea of writing which is you write when the muse inspires you, you know, when the lightning strikes. So it’s like no not really. It’s like plumbers don’t get like plumber’s block and electricians don’t –

Dan Levy: Plumber’s block is something else I think.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah, right. That didn’t come out right. But speakers don’t get talking block or whatever, so there’s this tendency to when you walk to creativity’s door it’s like knock and nobody answers and you kick the damn door in and you make yourself at home and you’ve got the refrigerator and you do everything you can because there’s so many things. I think writing is it feels to me at least in some sense like you can find every excuse not to write. So the other combative part about it is that when you’re dealing with a lot of editing and stuff it’s like there’s the tendency you want to give up, and there’s a lot of self-doubt. So the metaphor really comes from – there’s a scene in the documentary It Might Get Loud with Jack White, it’s Jack White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page, and there’s a scene where Jack White is talking to the younger Jack White.

He’s telling the younger Jack White he’s like “you have to fight the guitar”, and then he said “you have to win.” I love that metaphor because it’s like sort of vacant lot advice you give to your little brother, but it’s not just like “you have to fight”. No, you need to come out of this alive, and I think that’s true. I don’t know about you, but writing for me has been one of persistence because it can be lonely and it can be hard. It’s like you have to really just kind of think like militant about what you do, so that’s where the combative comes from.

Dan Levy: Yeah. Man I need to see that documentary it sounds cool.

Demian Farnworth: It’s a great one. It is really neat.

Dan Levy: I guess it also relates back to what you were saying about you should have an opinion and be willing to defend it.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah, exactly. And I think that’s hard too like Joan Didion, what they said about her is like she’s this very petite small woman, but when she writes she’s very aggressive and she’s very combative and she’s not afraid, sort of like she becomes a tiger behind her words and stuff like that. I like that and I think for a lot of people like the writers they become alive behind the laptop and actually have a voice. So people get heard when they’re combative – I don’t mean combative in that sense of like you’re a jerk, but you’re willing to say, like Joanna Wiebe said, something of consequence, say something of consequence that makes people pay attention and actually take you serious.

Dan Levy: So any last words of advice for someone looking to break into the field of web writing?

Demian Farnworth: I read books. I read a lot of books about copywriting. I read a lot of books about writing in general. A great place to start would be Stephen King’s book on writing. If you’re interested it’s part autobiography, but it’s part of advice and I think it’s been one of those books that really kind of helped me just demystify the act of writing and just realize that it’s a craft and it’s just a discipline just like any other discipline. You just have to dive in and work towards, you know. Like the confidence that I have now I didn’t have 16 years ago, but that’s because I sat down and just started doing the hard work.

Dan Levy: For sure. How about any words of advice for companies who are maybe looking to add a writer, maybe a combative writer, maybe an introspective writer who is not used to working in a team, and adding that to the marketing team?

Demian Farnworth: So how do they find those people?

Dan Levy: How do they find them or any maybe words of advice for working with them.

Demian Farnworth: For working with them, yeah, great. I love it when employers, clients like that respect your discipline meaning like they recognize okay the reason I’m hiring you is because of what you do, and I’m fortunate at Copyblogger that Brian’s always been like hey I need a series on this. And that’s all the instruction he gives to me, and I’m turned loose to go do how I see fit. So those are the higher level, top level writers, but then if you have a writer who’s just coming in on their own, they may need more direction, they may need more encouragement, and sort of correction, which I think correction and feedback is always, always so good. But to encourage those people to write, give them direction, and give them feedback on what they’re doing.

Dan Levy: That’s really good advice. Like any other team member that you might manage whether there’s someone who likes a lot of autonomy or someone that likes direction.

Demian Farnworth: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Dan Levy: Very cool. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat, Demian, this was great.

Demian Farnworth: Thank you so much for having me, Dan, I loved it.

Stephanie Saretsky: That was Demian Farnworth, Chief Content Writer at Copyblogger. Be sure to check out his podcast, Rough Draft, in the iTunes store.

That’s your call to action, thanks for listening.

Transcript by GMR Transcription.


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The 5 Skills Every Content Marketer Must Have [PODCAST]

[Infographic] The Anatomy of a Perfect Checkout Page

So you’ve spent time, money and effort creating your online shop. Your landing page is engaging, your product descriptions are tempting and your product photos are spot on. You have a steady stream of traffic coming to your site – but are your sales figures matching up?

If not, it might be time to optimize your checkout process.

Your checkout process is that last hurdle that turns visitors into customers, so it’s crucial to get it right. According to the Baymard Institute, 68.83% of online shopping carts are abandoned. That’s a huge missed opportunity that could potentially be recovered.

So what makes the perfect checkout page?

Perfection varies according to your product and audience. Imagine buying a high-end designer item versus buying office stationery. You’ll want to dwell over one purchase while pay using a one-click button for the other. No two eCommerce websites are alike, and so no two checkout processes should be either.

The only way to find your own version of ‘perfection’ is to continuously test to see what works. It’s imperative to explore the possibilities in a planned way – with A/B testing.

You simply create an alternative version of  your checkout page and compare it against the original to see which produces the best results. The benefit of testing is that you get data that tells you which version works better before committing to any major changes. A/B tests can be as simple as changing a few words to altering the entire layout.

Here are some ideas to get started:

Test for Checkout Page Usability

  • Is the information ordered logically?
  • Are instructions on forms clear?
  • Are there any distractions?
  • Is the text big enough?

Test for Psychological Triggers on Checkout Page

  • Are there visual cues of security?
  • Is the progress bar obvious enough?
  • Are the images large enough?
  • Does the colour scheme work?

VWO’s repository of over 150 case studies is a good starting point for those who want to see what others are testing. But every retailer is different – so look at your own findings and data to see what you should try.

Fine-tuning the checkout process takes time and experimentation. Get it right and you’ll end up with happy customers who will be coming back for more. Get it wrong and your tests will only point you in the right direction.

We’ve put together this handy infographic that pinpoints the key elements to a successful checkout page which can help when planning your testing process. Don’t rely on luck and guesses – test, plan and strategically experiment with your process to ensure your sales match up with your web traffic.

Click to get the full image ecommerce_infographic

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[Infographic] The Anatomy of a Perfect Checkout Page

Designing For Explicit Choice

If you’re a UX designer, you’ve probably designed a lot of forms and web (or app) pages in which the user needs to choose between options. And as a designer, you’re likely familiar with best practices for designing forms. Certainly, much has been written and discussed about this topic. So, you probably know all about how best to label and position form fields and so on for optimal usability.

But have you thought about how the design of a form affects the user’s decision-making? Have you ever considered to what extent the design itself affects the choices people make? As always in design, there are a variety of ways to design a form or web page.

For example, let’s say you’re designing a system in which the user needs to indicate whether they would like to sign up for a particular preventive medical procedure, like a flu shot. You could design the form in a number of ways. For example, you could provide a checkbox where the user either opts in or out. Alternatively, you could design it so that the user is required to explicitly choose between two options (via radio buttons).

Examples of these two approaches are shown below:

01-radio-buttons-opt

Would it matter which way you design it? Would the user make the same choice regardless of which design they encounter? Or could the user potentially be led to make a different choice merely as a result of how the choice is presented or designed?

The Power Of Defaults

One key difference between these two designs is that the checkbox requires a default state. That is, upon display, the checkbox will appear either checked or unchecked, as opposed to the radio buttons, which do not require a default selection. In the second example, even if the user does nothing, a “choice” has already been made, via the default.

A robust body of research1 has shown that when a default choice is offered, most people do not deviate from it. For example, if the box is checked by default, many don’t uncheck it (and vice versa). Making an explicit decision requires effort, after all. Time, thought and consideration are often required to determine the best choice. It turns out that people are remarkably sensitive (and averse) to the amount of effort that making a choice demands.

People are also remarkably sensitive to any possibility of incurring a “loss” that might then subsequently trigger feelings of regret. Especially when one is unsure how to choose, not making a choice (by simply accepting the default) feels better than actively making a choice that might end up being the “wrong” choice. Because people often have an unrealistic expectation that they will have more time in the future to make a more informed decision, procrastination also works2 in favor of acceptance of the default. Deviating from the default requires an explicit action, which people delay in taking. In many ways, defaults make decisions feel easier and less risky.

Designing For An Explicit Choice

The judicious use of defaults, then, has proven to be a key driver in the choices that people ultimately end up with, in large part because many people simply go with the default option. But one problem with passive decision-making3 is that it’s less likely to engender the kind of committed follow-up that is often essential to implementation of the decision, such as in the earlier example of the flu shot. Wouldn’t those who actively decide to opt for a flu shot be more apt to actually get one than those who passively accept the default?

Might there be a way to design for explicit decision-making that encourages people to feel better about actively making a choice? With this question in mind, researchers conducted a study to test how the design for an explicit choice might affect decision outcomes. Specifically, they were interested in comparing the outcomes of two approaches to obtaining an explicit choice from users regarding enrollment in a 401(k) plan (an employer-sponsored retirement plan), as shown below.

Example 1 provides two options:

  • “I want to enroll in a 401(k) plan.”
  • “I don’t want to enroll in a 401(k) plan.”

Example 2 also provides two options:

  • “I want to enroll in a 401(k) plan and take advantage of the employer match.”
  • “I don’t want to enroll in a 401(k) plan and don’t want to take advantage of the employer match.”

Would actual choice outcomes be influenced by which design users interacted with? In example 1, the two choices are weighted equally. That is, if the user doesn’t have a specific or compelling reason to choose one over the other, chances are that they may feel conflicted about which one to choose. Neither necessarily feels better or worse than the other. Example 2, on the other hand, is explicit about what the user will potentially gain or give up as a result of choosing an option.

Results of the research study4 show that enrollment in a program increased when options were “enhanced” with explicit mention of the implications of each choice, and levels of commitment and participation in the program also increased. But why would the wording of example 2 make such a difference in people’s choice? From a design perspective, stating what seems obvious about the implications of each option might seem unnecessary.

But it turns out that, because people are generally unlikely to seek out information to inform their decision, the additional wording makes a difference. Proactively seeking out information is work, after all, and research consistently reveals people’s considerable sensitivity to and avoidance of almost any amount of effort. Because of this, providing information within the options themselves can have a powerful impact on decision outcomes.

Aversion To Potential Loss

For many people who are not enrolled in a 401(k) plan, maintaining the status quo of being unenrolled doesn’t seem to incur any negative emotion, risk or “loss.” Life seems to roll on normally when one is not enrolled. Most people are aware, however, that participation in a 401(k) plan involves regular contributions to the plan — money that is no longer available for daily household expenses or other regular uses. And inherent to the act of investing is the potential for market downturns and losses incurred over the course of an investment. For these reasons, taking the step of enrolling in the plan (and potentially losing one’s investment) might feel a lot riskier than maintaining the status quo by not enrolling.

But when the costs associated with maintaining the status quo (for example, by remaining unenrolled in the plan) are made apparent and are framed as a loss (for example, loss of the employer match), then the decision to enroll in the plan feels more compelling and motivating. People are much more motivated by ways to avoid loss than to realize gains.

Consider what might happen if example 2 were framed differently:

  • “I want to enroll in a 401(k) plan.”
  • “I don’t want to enroll in a 401(k) plan and don’t want to take advantage of the employer match.”

Framing the options in this way does not remind users that they have something to gain by enrolling, only that they have something to lose by not enrolling. I suspect that users would still feel strongly motivated to enroll, simply because people give disproportionately greater weight to loss than to gain.

Real-World Examples

Research has demonstrated the power of design in enhancing explicit choices, but what about examples from the real world? One example we can look to is the US pharmaceutical company CVS/caremark5, which enjoyed greater rates of enrollment for its automatic prescription-refilling program when users were required to choose between two options:

  • “I prefer to order my own refills.”
  • “I want to enroll in the ReadyFill@Mail (automatic prescription refill program).”

The first option reminds users that not enrolling for the auto-refill program incurs a cost — the cost of having to do the work of ordering one’s own refills. It turns out that 21.9% of users decided to enroll in the program with this design of explicit choices, compared to only 12.3% of those who encountered an opt-in design. And customers who encountered the explicit choice also ended up filling more prescriptions than those in the opt-in design. It seems that preference for the program was actually enhanced once people made a commitment to joining.

Examples From The Retail World

Enhanced explicit choice is effective because it reminds people what they will gain or lose as a result of making a certain choice. Some online shopping websites are leveraging the power of such “reminders.”

Moissanite6 is one such example. After a short time on its website, the user is presented with a modal requesting their email address in exchange for a 10% discount on their next purchase. Providing one’s email address, of course, incurs the “cost” of potentially getting unwanted email, etc. But at the bottom of the modal is a reminder of the cost of not signing up: “No thanks, I prefer paying full price.” Paying full price, of course, implies loss because the user could instead be enjoying a discounted price.

03-moissanite-opt7

Consider another example, Bauble Box8, which takes this concept a step further. After a short time on the website, the user is presented with the following modal, offering a 15% discount on one’s first purchase in exchange for an email address.

02-baublebox-opt9

Noteworthy is the fact that there is no obvious way to close this box — for example, no “X” or “Close” (which would normally be located in the upper-right corner). To dismiss the box, the user must click the “Continue as guest” link towards the bottom of the box. And it might not be immediately apparent that this is a link.

The design seems to leverage these usability issues by forcing the user to hunt around for a way to dismiss the box, until they finally discover the “Continue as guest” link. Although this design risks user frustration, it nevertheless forces more time and attention towards the content of the box than users would ordinarily spend, increasing the likelihood that they will also notice the parenthetical text under the link, “(Without my 15% off coupon!)”

This design raises some interesting questions about how users perceive the experience and, consequently, whether this is a website they want to give their business to. To what extent might user frustration with the (intentional) usability issues adversely affect their perception of the company and the brand? At what point does the design cross the line to the dark side? These are important considerations, especially for companies that want to establish long-term relationships with their customers built on trust and delight.

Final Thoughts

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article. We’ve seen that defaults are powerful because they provide a way for users to passively decide, thereby easing the difficulty and effort associated with decision-making. But we also know that, for a variety of reasons, providing a default option is not always appropriate. Sometimes, it’s better for users to make an explicit choice — especially when they are more likely to follow through with a decision and be more committed to taking action on it.

A primary lesson from this article is that merely reminding people what they stand to gain or lose as a result of making a particular choice can have a powerful impact on how they choose. And depending on the type of decision, how they choose can have significant implications for their lives. We’ve seen, too, that designing for explicit choice can manifest itself in different ways, depending on the subject matter and context of the experience.

It’s imperative to understand that the design matters. UX design professionals have a responsibility to understand how design itself influences — and sometimes even drives — user perception and behavior and, therefore, decision outcomes. To this end, the decisions we make as designers matter.

(cc, al, il)

Front page image credits: Innovative Techniques To Simplify Sign-Ups and Log-Ins10.

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/rzeckhau/SQBDM.pdf
  2. 2 http://people.duke.edu/~dandan/Papers/PI/deadlines.pdf
  3. 3 http://psp.sagepub.com/content/22/2/133.short
  4. 4 http://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/sds/docs/loewenstein/EnhancedActiveChoice.pdf
  5. 5 https://www.caremark.com/wps/portal
  6. 6 http://www.moissanite.com/
  7. 7 http://www.moissanite.com/
  8. 8 http://baublebox.com/
  9. 9 http://baublebox.com/
  10. 10 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/05/05/innovative-techniques-to-simplify-signups-and-logins/

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Designing For Explicit Choice

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12 Must-Read Tips on Web Usability

Making your site work for users is the key to achieving your conversion goals.

That means looking after the principles of web usability: availability and accessibility, clarity, learnability, credibility and relevancy. Here are 12 tips from recent articles on web usability to help you nail this important conversion tactic.


Read 12 Must-Read Tips on Web Usability, by @SHurleyHall
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Web usability tips

Image: Pixabay

1. Tweak Everything

In How Website Usability Affects Conversion – 7 Real-Life Examples Sezgin Hergül of TechWyse shares seven case studies highlighting the impact of user personas, navigation structure, goal completion and more on usability and conversions.

Key takeaway: Test continuously while implementing CRO tweaks to keep your site useful for users while gaining maximum conversions

2. Identify Your Audience, Improve Design

Kim Krause Berg highlights How to Increase Web Site Conversions with Persuasive Design. This presentation makes the link between the items that users are looking for (credible information, accessibility and so on) and designing your site to avoid confusion. It shows the importance of identifying your audience, giving examples of how less usable sites can decrease conversions.

Key takeaway: SEO and usability work together to create persuasive design that works for users AND conversion goals.

3. Keep it Simple

Usability: Do you want the data or the conversion?, asks John Hewitt, explaining that many companies ask for a lot of information, because they want the data, but that can make the site less user-friendly and turn people off. He gives the example of people who visit a restaurant site and just want a coupon, rather than having to fill in multiple information fields.

Key takeaway: Sometimes less is more; decide which information is really important and just ask for that.

4. Know Your Devices

mobile ux

Image: Pixabay

In Smartphones vs. Tablets: Forrester Reveals the Differences, Sarah Etter of Monetate points out the difference between the two types of devices. She points out that tablets convert at more than twice the rate of smartphones, and there are differences in where and when people use each kind of device. User experience optimization that doesn’t take account of platform differences won’t just annoy readers, but will reduce conversions.

Key takeaway: “Companies should work to deliver device-specific experiences to visitors in order to maximize the likelihood that they will purchase.”

5. Think Long Term

In Conversion Optimization vs User Experience Optimization, Google’s Cemal Buyukgokcesu explains the danger of doing short term conversion optimization rather than looking after user experience (UX). A UX-focused approach makes your site more sustainable over the long term. Users look for efficient and effortless experiences, otherwise they go elsewhere, he says.

Key takeaway: Users are powerful, so optimize user experience first.

6. Test to Fix Mobile UX

In Why Doesn’t Mobile Convert?, User Testing presents theories about poor mobile conversions and shows how these match up against the results of its testing. Findings include the fact that mobile user experience can be poor and that some conversions just aren’t tracked, even if they happen. The article gives 10 tips on how to improve mobile user experience and conversions.

Key takeaway: Don’t rely on assumptions; use testing to optimize mobile UX and improve conversions.

7. Find Usability Errors to Improve SEO

In How Site Usability Affects SEO, Mercedes Rodriguez of Simpleview talks about what the people who use your site expect when they visit it.  She says people have hardcoded beliefs about website behavior and if your site doesn’t deliver, you may pay the price in terms of high bounce rate and poor reputation. She suggests you pay attention to analytics and use heat mapping (CrazyEgg agrees) to identify potential usability trouble spots.

Key takeaway: Create your site for users and use SEO to make it more visible; targeting SEO alone won’t be enough.

8. Make Your Site Accessible

Related to that, Vanessa Petersen discusses 3 Ways to Improve Usability for Better SEO on Web Usability Talk. She highlights the fact that making sites accessible can increase audience reach and prominence in search results. That’s why looking after content and site architecture (key usability issues) as well as building trust via links and social signals (key SEO metrics) can help your web presence overall.

Key takeaway: Use the usability best practices in this article to improve SEO and increase conversions as a result.

9. Ask the Right Questions

Web usability questions

Image: Pixabay

Claudia of Pixel77 outlines 10 Easy Steps to Test the Usability of Your Website. The article shows the importance of web usability testing  and says asking the right questions, knowing the audience, basing your tests on actual user behavior, customizing tasks, using user interviews and other techniques can help you get an overview of your site’s usability.

Key takeaway: Get testing right and you will create a web experience that users enjoy and want to return to or share with others.

10. Write it Right

On Business2Community, Chris Glithero asks What’s the Link Between Exceptional Copywriting and Good Usability? He says copywriting can help improve usability by creating descriptive titles and sub-headers, breaking up paragraphs, making content scannable and more.

Key takeaway: Interesting, accurate and clear writing improve site usability and accessibility.

11. Test on a Budget

Do Your Own Usability Testing — in 5 Smart (Cheap!) Steps advises Chris Nodder  on Lynda.com. Chris shows how to find real users of your site , give them a task that really tests usability, figure out what you need to fix and track the results.

Key takeaway: Usability testing improves customer satisfaction so it pays to invest in it.

12. Use Responsive Design

Check out How Hanson Dodge Creative Proved Their Design Is Successful With UsabilityTools. This case study tracks the change from a website with serious usability problems to one with a responsive design. The new design also incorporated menu changes. User testing focused on usage scenarios and assigned tasks, looking at ease of completion and time to complete. The test results proved that the concept worked and informed some final design tweaks.

Key takeaway: User testing resulted in helping the client’s customers to find specialized products via improved navigation and menu labeling.

These tips provide a good starting point for measuring the impact of usability on conversions. Here are a few usability testing tools you can use. And don’t forget, assume nothing, as this tongue-in-cheek post from Peep Laja of ConversionXL suggests.

What are you doing to test and improve web usability for better conversions?

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Sharon Hurley Hall.

The post 12 Must-Read Tips on Web Usability appeared first on The Daily Egg.

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12 Must-Read Tips on Web Usability

The Current State Of E-Commerce Filtering

When done right, filters enable users to narrow down a website’s selection of thousands of products to only those few items that match their particular needs and interests. Yet, despite it being a central aspect of the user’s e-commerce product browsing, most websites offer a lacklustre filtering experience. In fact, our 2015 benchmark reveals that only 16% of major e-commerce websites offer a reasonably good filtering experience.

Given the importance of filtering, we — the entire team at the Baymard Institute — spent the last nine months researching how users browse, filter and evaluate products in e-commerce product lists. We examined both search- and category-based product lists. At the core of this research was a large-scale usability study testing 19 leading e-commerce websites with real end users, following the think-aloud protocol.

Despite testing multi-million dollar websites, the test subjects ran into more than 700 usability problems related to product lists, filtering and sorting. All of these issues have been analyzed and distilled into 93 concise guidelines on product list usability, 35 of which are specific to filtering availability, design and logic.

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We subsequently benchmarked 50 major US e-commerce websites across these 93 guidelines to rank the websites and learn how major e-commerce websites design and implement their filtering and sorting features. This has led to a benchmark database with more than 4,500 benchmark data points on e-commerce product list design and performance, of which 1,750 are specific to the filtering experience. (You can view the websites’ rankings and implementations in the publicly available part of the product lists and filtering3 benchmark database).

In this article we’ll take a closer look at some of the research findings related to the users’ filtering experience. More specifically, we’ll delve into the following insights:

  1. Only 16% of major e-commerce websites provide users with a reasonably good filtering experience. This is often due to a lack of important filtering options, but from the benchmark data it’s clear that poor filtering logic and interfaces are also causal issues.
  2. 42% of top e-commerce websites lack category-specific filter types for several of their core product categories.
  3. 20% of top e-commerce websites lack thematic filters, despite selling products with obvious thematic attributes (season, style, etc).
  4. Of those websites that deal with compatibility-dependent products, 32% lack compatibility filters (for example, selling smartphone cases without a filter for device type or size).
  5. Testing showed that 10+ filtering values require truncation — yet 32% of websites either have insufficient truncation design, causing users to overlook the truncated values (6%) or use what testing found to be even more troublesome, inline scrollable areas (24%).
  6. Only 16% of websites actively promote important filters on top of the product list (a prerequisite when relying more on filters than on categories).
  7. Filtering performance varies greatly by industry, with electronics and apparel websites generally suffering from insufficient filters (for each of their unique contexts), while hardware websites and mass merchants take the lead in the filtering game.

In this article we’ll walk through each of these seven filtering insights, showing you the usability test findings, examining the benchmark data and presenting best practice examples for creating a good e-commerce filtering experience.

1. Only 16% Of Websites Provide A Good Filtering Experience

When done right, filters enable users to see only the products that match their individual needs and interests, such as products of a particular type or style or with certain features or attributes. For example, a user might want to see all products in the “jackets” category for “men” (gender filter), for the “winter” season (thematic filter) and available in the color “black” and size “M” (variation filter). It’s the e-commerce equivalent of walking into a physical store and asking a salesperson for “a black, men’s, winter jacket in size medium.”

However, a prerequisite to these wonderful powers of filtering is having a vast range of filters available for the user to drill into the particular features and product aspects that are important to them and their particular interests. Most e-commerce websites already fall short here. However, a good filtering experience requires the necessarily filters not only to be present, but to be presented in a way that’s easy for the user to grasp and interact with and whose logic follows user expectations.

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Benchmarking the 50 top-grossing US e-commerce websites across the 93 product list guidelines identified in the usability study revealed generally mediocre performance. Analyzing the 1,750 performance scores specific to filtering availability, filtering logic and filtering interfaces reveals that:

  • 34% of websites have a poor filtering experience, severely limiting their users’ ability to browse products — even when they have the most basic of product requirements;
  • 50% of websites offer a passable filtering experience — by no means good and with several areas that could be improved;
  • only 16% of websites provide a good filtering experience, with sufficient filtering types available, a balanced filtering design and a filtering logic that aligns well with user expectations (although, even among these few good websites, most still have room for refinement).

In sections 2, 3 and 4 in this article, we’ll walk through the test findings for three of the core filtering types that typically cause issues: category-specific filters, compatibility filters and thematic filters — because 60% of major e-commerce websites lack one or more of these.

During testing, the filtering logic and filtering user interface often led to a poor experience, even on websites that have invested resources in product tagging (i.e. filter availability). Users need to be able to locate and apply relevant filtering values and to make their desired filtering combinations in order to draw value from a website’s filters. Yet a notable 40% of test subjects were at some point during testing unable to find a website’s filtering options — despite actively looking for them. This is critical, considering that unnoticed filters are — to the user — effectively the same as nonexistent filters. In section 5 and 6, then, we’ll walk through two filtering design patterns that proved effective at solving some of these user interface issues.

2. 42% Lack Category-Specific Filter Types

Most of the time, users are interested in filtering a product list across category-specific attributes, and not just the website-wide attributes (such as brand, price, user ratings, etc.). An example would be filtering a list of cameras by camera-specific attributes, such as megapixels, zoom level and lens mount — attributes that aren’t particularly meaningful for other types of electronics, such as TVs.

For example, sleeping bags would need a temperature rating filter, while furniture would need a color filter, and hard drives a capacity filter, and so on. A massive 42% of top e-commerce websites lack such category-specific filtering types for several of their core product verticals.

A good rule of thumb is that any product specification that is important enough to be shown in a product list item should also be available as a filter. Moreover, by virtue of displaying the information in front of the user, the website is reminding the user that that specification is important (or, in the case of users new to the domain, teaching them that it is). The very display of the specification, then, encourages users to filter by it.

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Notice how Williams-Sonoma7 displays the capacity of its food processors (measured in cups) — reminding users that this is an important metric — but then offers no way to filter the food processors by capacity. (View large version8)

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Gilt1910 states the material for most jacket types, but without a materials filter. Users who are interested in wool jackets would have to go through all 295 jackets. (View large version11)

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Staples3213 lists the printing speed of the majority of its printers but does not allow users to filter its 2409 printers by printing speed. (View large version14)

During testing, when users encountered websites that lack basic category-specific filtering, they would give up because they realized they would have to manually locate the items they want by browsing a generic product list containing hundreds of items (for example, to find jackets made of wool, food processors with capacities greater than 14 cups, etc.). Users often took quite a while to fully grasp that a website doesn’t offer such filters, with most simply assuming that “It must be there somewhere,” and not believing that the website could neglect such basics — and being forced to look through hundreds of products.

When a product list is a set of search results, faceted search should present the user with the best-matching product-specific filters, without the user having to specify a category. We touched on our test findings and the topic of faceted search (and how only 40% of top websites offer this) in section 6 in “The Current State of E-Commerce Search15.”

Key Takeaway

Always ensure that each category has a unique set of filters specific to the type of product. At a minimum, the product specifications included in the list items will need to be available as filters as well, but a wider array of filters will nearly always be needed.

3. 20% Lack Thematic Filters

Thematic browsing patterns are quite common in physical retail stores, where any sales assistant would be able to help visitors with common requests, such as “a casual shirt,” “a spring jacket,” “a high-end pocket camera” or “an LED TV with good value for the money.” However, this is no easy task on most e-commerce websites.

While TVs, cameras, jackets and shirts can all be easily located on most e-commerce websites, viewing products that match a certain “theme” can be nearly impossible. Despite such thematic attributes often being both common and central aspects of the user’s purchasing decision, our benchmarking revealed that 20% of top e-commerce websites still lack thematic filters (although support for it has grown to 66%, up from 48% since our last study and benchmarking of e-commerce search16).

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“I’m too impatient for this kind of thing. They would have lost me. If there were multiple pages, I would never have gotten through it,” one subject explained as he looked for a jacket for the spring season on Gilt1910. “Normally you can choose between winter jackets, spring jackets or the type of jacket.” He ended up abandoning the website.

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“I’d look at these to see what the style is like. And then I’d think, ‘Ayhh, these are all ugly.’ So, I go up again, to see if I can sort a little [filter, ed.], by ‘style’ or something,” one subject explained while she looked for a way to filter by style. With only a “pillow type” filter available on Pottery Barn, she had few options to try and ended up applying a random pillow type to see where that would take her — hardly a reliable way for users to find relevant items on a website.

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Macy’s5923 offers a thematic “style” filter, which ended up being used by 60% of test subjects. Above, one subject is seen applying a “Coat Style: Casual” filter. (View large version24)

Without thematic filtering options, viewing only the products of interest to them was often unreasonably time-consuming for users. This was especially the case when it came to actually selecting which item(s) to purchase, because the relevant products would be randomly scattered across a product list. During testing, a lack of thematic filters often led to website abandonment because the subjects prematurely concluded either that the store didn’t carry the type of product they wanted (for example, spring jackets) or, more often, that finding the few relevant items that might be hidden somewhere in a vast product list would be nearly impossible. On websites that do have thematic filters, the filters had very high usage rates, often above 50%.

The easiest way to technically implement thematic filters is by manually tagging products or groups of products. Typical examples of thematic types are style (casual, romantic, modern), season (spring, holiday), usage conditions (outdoors, underwater) and purchase-selection parameters (cheapest, value for money, high end). Some types are well suited to manual tagging (for example, style and season will often be both fast and accurate for a human to tag), whereas other filters require extensive domain knowledge to manually tag (for example, value for money).

Key Takeaway

Identify and offer key thematic filters unique to the website and product-type context. These will often need to be category-specific (see section 2). Common omissions are style, usage context and purchase-selection parameters.

4. 32% Lack Compatibility Filters

Some products are compatibility-dependent — that is, a product’s relevance is determined entirely by its compatibility with another product that the user already owns or plans on buying. Typical compatibility-dependent products are accessories (for example, a case for a laptop that has to fit), products used in conjunction with other products (an audio system that needs to plug into a TV and media players), spare parts (a laptop adapter that needs to have a charger tip and power rating that matches the user’s laptop) and consumables (ink that has to fit an exact printer model).

Finding a spare adapter for a laptop or buying a camera and matching case might sound like trivial tasks, but it turned out to be extremely difficult for our test subjects, who had a completion rate of only 35%. This means that 65% had to give up or, worse, ended up purchasing a product that they believed was compatible but was in fact not.

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“Oh my gosh, I wouldn’t do this — not on a website which is this difficult to navigate. I would go to a camera store with my camera and find a case that fits. I wouldn’t go about looking into all of these options,” one subject explained while trying to find a camera bag and realizing there was no way to narrow the list of 253 bags by size. The subject elaborated, “I’d need to go back and forth between this and the camera to compare the dimensions. And then it also has to look nice.”

No matter how enticing the price, how great the specifications, how perfect the customer reviews pronounce the product to be or how appealing the product’s design, the end user will not be interested if the product is incompatible. This could be a dealbreaker, regardless of the product’s other attributes. This makes compatibility filters one of the most important filtering types (for compatibility-dependent product types only, of course). Giving users access to a list of products that are compatible with the item they already own is vital, then.

Despite compatibility filters being a prerequisite for finding and purchasing compatible items, 32% of websites that sell compatibility-dependent products have no compatibility filters.

While most websites have a “brand” filter, tests showed that this is completely inadequate as the only type of compatibility filter. First, brands often have multiple series or products with different compatibility aspects. For example, all Lenovo adapters will not fit all Lenovo laptops; so, simply applying a filter for “Lenovo” would not give the user a list of all products compatible with their particular Lenovo laptop. Secondly, for several compatibility dependencies, third-party products are a major consideration. For example, a “manufacturer” or “brand” filter would not provide the user with a full list of matching sleeves for their MacBook laptop.

Key Takeaway

Any product category that contains compatibility-dependent products (accessories, integrated systems, spare parts, consumables, etc.) will need a compatibility filter. This will often be a filter that allows the user to specify their model name and number, but it could also be a filter for a more generic specification, such as for size, capacity or power.

(See sections 4 and 6 of “An E-Commerce Study: Guidelines for Better Navigation and Categories27” for more on compatibility-dependent products, including a discussion of complete interlinking to compatible products on product pages.)

5. 10+ Filtering Values Require Truncation, Yet 32% Do It Poorly

We tested three dominant patterns for displaying lists of 10+ filtering values:

  1. displaying all filtering values in one long list,
  2. using inline scrollable areas,
  3. truncating the filtering values.

All three methods caused severe usability issues. The first two performed the worst, while truncation proved to be the best performing of the three methods — but only as long as it was implemented with great attention to details of the user interface. Before diving into the details required to achieve a well-performing truncation design, let’s briefly present the core problems with the first two methods.

A. Displaying All Filtering Values

The problem observed with displaying all filtering values in one long list is that it makes it impossible for the user to get an overview of the different filtering types available.

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Displaying all filtering values in one long list makes it difficult for users to get an overview of the other filtering types. Here, L.L. Bean5729 is being viewed on a 900-pixel-tall display (minus the browser and OS chrome). (View large version30)

During testing, users would see, for example, a brand filter with one to three screens of brand filtering values within — making it impossible to get an overview of the additional filter types offered below. The majority of test subjects completely overlooked the additional filter types below the long list of filtering values and were generally overwhelmed by the long filtering sidebar stretching two screens or more. On a positive note, our product list and filtering benchmark shows that only a small fraction (2%) of major e-commerce websites currently use this pattern.

B. Using Inline Scrollable Areas

Some lists of filtering values are given their own scrollable area (i.e. the area can be scrolled independent of the rest of the page), causing several interaction problems for the majority of test subjects, as well as conceptual challenges for a smaller group of subjects.

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Inline scrollable areas, as seen here on Staples3213, caused multiple interaction problems for test subjects, both conceptual and interaction-wise. (View large version33)

Implementing inline scrollable areas is far more common — 24% of major e-commerce websites use this pattern. It did not, however, turn out to perform any better, because it comes with a host of problems on its own. The most significant problems (which are also difficult to solve) are the following:

  1. Scrolling within scrolling (i.e. nested scrolling panes) turned out to be not a particularly easy concept for users to grasp. The inline scrollable area would be placed within the larger scrollable area of the web page — requiring the user to understand the difference in order to avoid problems.
  2. Users who wanted to apply a filter could not get an overview of all filtering options because the scrollable area was constrained in height. The usability problem, thus, shifted from not getting an overview of filtering types to not getting an overview of filtering values within each type.
  3. Inline scrollable areas often caused “scroll-hijacking,” whereby the user would scroll the web page when they wanted to scroll the filtering list, or vice versa. The user had to be constantly aware of their mouse cursor’s position whenever they wanted to scroll. In other words, a dominant page-browsing pattern on the web, vertical page scrolling, would be hijacked. (On touch devices, wide inline scrollable areas can trap the user, making it almost impossible to scroll the page instead of the inline scroll area.)

(If you want to further explore the problems of inline scrollable areas, we examine the findings in depth elsewhere34.)

C. Truncating Filtering Values

The last pattern we tested turned out to perform better than the other two. Truncation has the benefit of giving users an overview of the different filtering types. This is important because a lack of one often caused our subjects to make poor filtering selections simply because they were inclined to interact with the filtering values that were first in the very long list of filters. The other main benefit of truncation is that, when users find a filter type of interest, they also have the option of getting a full overview of filtering values within that type (by clicking the truncation link). Truncation, therefore, combines the benefits of the other two methods.

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Truncated filtering values gives users an overview of both the filtering types available — as seen here on REI36 — and all available values within a type (when the truncation link is clicked). (View large version37)

However, the superior performance of truncation was observed only when the risk of users overlooking the truncation link was actively addressed in the interface. In fact, on the tested websites where the truncation link wasn’t sufficiently distinct, it performed (at least) as poorly as the two other patterns, because some users assumed that the truncated list showed all available filtering values. Currently, benchmarking shows that only 6% of major e-commerce websites have a truncation link that is inadequately designed. While that’s not many, it would still be worthwhile to touch on some of the implementations of truncation that testing showed to be effective:

  • Depending on the design of the filter, up to 10 filtering values can be displayed before the additional values are truncated. On websites that display too few values before truncating — for example, fewer than 6 values — users would often be confused by the reason for the truncation. When more than 10 values were displayed, the subjects’ overview of the filtering types began to drop rapidly. (These numbers were not found to be hard limits, but depended on the design of the filter and the number of filtering types available.)
  • Before truncation sets in, the filtering values should be listed in order of popularity, not alphabetically or by number of matches. Users will often scan for the name of a specific filter value, rather than the name of a filter type. For example, they will scan a page of laptop chargers for a “Lenovo” filter, rather than for a filter type named “compatible with.” Consequently, the untruncated values are “representatives” of the filtering type and should therefore be the options that users are most likely to recognize when glancing at the page.
  • The truncation link should be clearly styled, distinguishing it as an interactive element different from the filtering values right above it. Important clues include the following: using the website’s default link styling (color and/or underlining), using spatial indicators such as a plus sign (+) or arrow icon, indicating the number of matches in the link’s name (“View 23 more”), indenting differently than the filtering values (i.e. breaking the vertical alignment), and visually fading the last value in the truncated list.
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Northern Tool41 lists brand filters by popularity when the list is truncated (promoting the most recognizable values). When expanded, the values are listed alphabetically to give predictability. (View large version42)

More test findings on proper truncation design are explored further in this article.

Key Takeaway

Truncate long lists of filtering values (10+), rather than displaying all values or using inline scrollable areas. To ensure that users notice the truncation, display up to 10 values before triggering the truncation, display default values that users are most likely to recognize (i.e. the most popular), and style the truncation link to set it apart from the filtering values.

6. Only 16% Actively Promote Important Filters

Some categories have certain filters that are highly important and beneficial for the user to consider. However, displaying these merely as traditional filters in a filtering sidebar runs the risk of users either overlooking these options or not understanding the importance of making a selection.

Generally, during testing of e-commerce websites, we observed that users view categories as something the website suggests they select, whereas the traditional filtering sidebar options are perceived by most users as being purely optional. Following the principles of persuasive design, most websites, therefore, have a number of categories that need to promote certain filters or filter combinations. Luckily, a clear pattern emerged during testing for how websites can effectively promote a single set of highly important filters — although implementation requires a number of filtering design details to be in place.

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When test subjects searched Amazon6144, certain scopes would have highly relevant filters promoted atop the product list. This promotion nudged the test subjects towards more informed filtering decisions, instead of browsing overly broad product lists. Besides being promoted atop the product list, the filter values are kept intact in the filtering sidebar (an important detail). (View large version45)

For example, if a user navigates to a “movies” category, a highly important filter type to consider would be “format,” with filtering values such as “DVD,” “Bluray” and “digital download” as the types that would be important to most users’ process of selecting a product.

Another example would be a “digital cameras” category, where “camera type” would be a highly important filter to consider, with filtering values such as “point and shoot,” “DSLR,” “mirrorless” and “bridge.”

Promoting a limited and select number of filtering values makes sense only if the vast majority of users either have an interest in or would benefit significantly from applying them. Because a promoted filter encourages users to apply it, use the technique intelligently and sparingly, and avoid luring users into overly narrow filtered lists. For example, don’t simply use the technique website-wide for whatever is the most popular filter in each category. In practice, you will often need to manually curate those categories that have a structure that warrant the use of promoted filters.

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Walmart47 takes the technique one step further and promotes a mix of laptop-size and input-type filters that align well with key purchasing parameters for users looking to buy a laptop. (View large version48)

Promoted filters don’t necessarily all need to be of the same type. They could simply be a combination of the most important product filters that users can apply before spending further time investigating the actual product list. Indeed, promoted filters could even apply multiple filters at once to provide the user with a shortcut to popular filter combinations.

Two additional implementation details to consider:

  1. Keep the promoted filtering values in the filtering sidebar, too (i.e. in addition to the “promotion” placement). Because users are trained that a filtering sidebar contains all available filters, the promoted filter must be represented in the filtering sidebar as well, since some users will look for the filtering value there.
  2. Never promote filters using banner-like graphics. A few of the websites we tested had promoted filters that were visually boxed. This caused some of subjects to completely overlook them, even when the boxes contained the very filter type they were looking for — all due to banner blindness.

Key Takeaway

For select categories where an initial filtering selection would be relevant and would benefit the vast majority of users, consider promoting those few filtering values above the product list (for example, using buttons, text links or thumbnails).

7. Filtering Performance Varies Greatly By Industry

If we look at filtering performance within the major e-commerce industries, we see that performance varies greatly. Below, the seven most dominant e-commerce industries have been plotted as stacked bar charts. The row “acceptable performance” is for reference and depicts the threshold for an “acceptable” (but not good) filtering performance — a minimum based on the typical issues that test subjects encountered. Note that the performance difference takes the industry into account; for example, an apparel website needs fewer filters than an electronics website due to the type of products it carries and, therefore, needs a less advanced design for its filters to achieve a higher score.

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Despite having the lowest barrier to provide a good filtering experience, apparel websites notably have the worst performance of all industries for filtering, due to an unfortunate combination of inadequate filtering options and poor filtering interfaces. The subpar filtering interfaces are likely due to a deliberate prioritization of aesthetics over a clear and informative interface (a case of false simplicity51). Despite dealing with a product type that requires only a limited number of filtering types (compared to other industries), many apparel websites lack even basic filtering options, such as for product material and user ratings.

Sports and hobby websites suffer from poor filtering performance as well. While part of the reason is a prioritization of simple website aesthetics, similar to the apparel industry, another cause may be the mix of visual- and spec-driven product verticals in the industry. Many products on these websites tend to be fairly visual (toys, outdoor goods, sports equipment, hobby equipment), yet many also have two to three technical attributes that could completely invalidate themselves if they don’t match the user’s criteria, such as performance, weight and age. Consequently, users will have more complex filtering needs for sports and hobby products than they typically do for regular apparel websites.

The electronics and office industry has historically been one of those e-commerce industries that offer users a broad variety of filters, simply because finding many products would otherwise be nearly impossible for users. When looking closer at the lacklustre filtering performance in electronics and office, the problem is often poor filtering logic and interfaces. Particularly common flaws include the following: allowing only one filtering value to be selected at a time, no user-defined ranges for numeric filters, and a lack of explanation of industry jargon. Despite a generally high number of filter types being offered on several electronics and office websites, the products’ technical nature — several attributes of which are vital to the user’s purchasing decision — still result in a lack of compatibility filters (see section 4 of this article) and a lack of category-specific filtering types (see section 2).

Home and hardware websites offer decent filtering performance. This aligns well with the technical nature of the industry, and the score can be explained by a historical focus on offering sufficient filters (in particular, compatibility filters), which enables users to find the particular washing machine or cordless drill that meets their specific criteria. However, poor product data and a widespread lack of structured product specifications hold back filtering performance.

Health and beauty websites have decent filtering performance as well. In fairness, health and beauty products have fewer key product attributes (quantity being an exception), which means the websites can get away with much simpler filters than ones with highly spec-driven products. E-commerce websites in other industries, therefore, should not model their filtering experience on health and beauty websites because their filtering needs are likely different.

Mass merchants have vast and diverse product catalogs that have strict requirements for product data structures, processing and categorization — all things that can be incredibly difficult to get right. Combine that with a mixed catalog of highly spec-driven and visual product types, and mass merchants have the most complex filtering needs. Yet, it is clear that most mass merchants are aware of these challenges and have made very active efforts to resolve them, often through advanced filtering logic and data post-processing. This leads to a broad variety of filters being offered (including category-specific ones), which is one of the main reasons mass merchant websites achieve the best filtering performance — even taking their users’ more complex filtering requirements into account.

Improving E-Commerce Filtering

Overall, the filtering performance of the websites we benchmarked is passable at best. When it comes to filtering, the majority of even the top e-commerce websites come up short compared to physical retail, where a customer request such as “a light casual spring jacket in size medium” or “a rugged case for this digital camera” isn’t out of the ordinary.

Some websites do actively focus on filtering and spend resources on product tagging. For those websites, many of the lingering filter-related usability issues have to do with aligning user expectations and website implementation (specifically, filtering design and logic). Filtering thus represents an opportunity to vastly improve the return on investment that most large e-commerce vendors have already made in product tagging and data collection.

Filtering on e-commerce websites is a major topic that obviously cannot be fully explored in a single article. However, the filtering insights covered in this article hopefully lay the foundation for understanding the current state of e-commerce filtering and for creating a good filtering experience:

  1. While mediocre filtering performance is often due to a lack of important filtering options, benchmarking also reveals that filtering logic and filtering interfaces cause severe problems for users. When looking at the users’ entire filtering experience, only 16% of the top 50 US e-commerce websites offer a good experience, while 50% offer a passable filtering experience, and 34% have a poor filtering experience, without filters for users’ most basic product preferences.
  2. To ensure filtering availability, always ensure that each category has a unique set of filters specific to the type of products it contains. At a minimum, the product specifications included in the list items will need to be available as filters as well, but a wider array of filters will nearly always be needed. Currently, 42% of the top e-commerce websites lack category-specific filter types for several of their core product verticals.
  3. Identify and offer key thematic filters unique to the website and product-type context. These will often need to be category-specific, and common omissions are a lack of style, usage context or purchase selection parameters. Currently, 20% lack thematic filters.
  4. Any product category that contains compatibility-dependent products (accessories, integrated systems, spare parts, consumables, etc.) will need a compatibility filter. This is often a filter that allows the user to specify a model name and number, but it could also be a filter for a more generic specification, such as a filter for size, capacity or power. Currently, 32% of websites that sell compatibility-dependent products lack compatibility filters.
  5. Long lists of filtering values (10+) should be truncated rather than be displayed in full (as 2% do) or use inline scrollable areas (24%). To ensure that users notice the truncation, do a few things: display up to 10 values before the truncation sets in; make sure the default displayed values are the values that users are most likely to recognize (i.e. the most popular); and style the truncation link itself to set it apart from the filtering values.
  6. For select categories where an initial filtering selection would be relevant and would benefit the vast majority of users, consider promoting those few filtering values above the product list (for example, using buttons, text links or thumbnails). Currently, only 16% actively promote highly important filters on top of the product list.
  7. Filtering performance varies greatly by industry, and the key players in your industry might not be a good source of inspiration. Even when adjusted for the different levels of filtering needs, websites in the apparel, electronics and sports industries are significantly behind in the filtering experience offered by mass merchant and hardware websites.
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If you want to further explore the filtering implementation and performance of the 50 benchmarked websites, you can do so in the interactive version of the product lists and filtering benchmark database54. (Note that the benchmark database also covers e-commerce product lists and list item design — areas we’ll cover in a separate follow-up article.) You may want to start out by exploring some of the few websites that offer a good filtering experience:

You can find all 93 filtering and product list guidelines in our report “Product Lists and Filtering63” (not free).

(vf, il, al)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/1-product-lists-large-preview-opt.png
  2. 2 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/1-product-lists-large-preview-opt.png
  3. 3 http://baymard.com/ecommerce-product-lists/benchmark/site-reviews
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The Current State Of E-Commerce Filtering