Category Archives: web usability

Photos that don’t work on the web


Web usability god Jakob Nielsen, whose own website looks like junk until you realize he’s cleverly pulling you in, has posted results from eye-tracking studies that show what not to do with photos on your website. Guess what? Purely decorative, big, splashy images don’t do a thing for users, who move their eyes around them. Specific images carrying information, say, photos of your executive team or detailed shots of products that people are actually seeking, score big. Nielsen concludes, “Sadly, many websites are still more obsessed with showing off than with getting to the point.” So go on, get to your point.

Via Jordan Julien.

BooneOakley gives it up to YouTube

Here’s a web strategy: Get rid of your web site and instead create content users can pass along to others. David Armano suggested this a few days ago, and now ad shop BooneOakley has gone and ditched their site in favor of a YouTube video. It’s an interesting move, recognizing that online users are growing more comfortable watching video, getting a snippet they want, and then tossing it to friends or colleagues.

After all, we can’t embed another agency’s web site into our own agency’s blog, but dammit if we haven’t stuck BooneOakley in here. Clever. Via Darryl Ohrt.

Nokia N97 shape-shifting design: The new threat to Google

Google, Nokia’s new cell phone design may not want you. And the iPhone hasn’t been too friendly either.

Back in April we wrote in BusinessWeek that Google had a visual inventory problem with cell phones — tiny screens have little room for ads — but now we notice a deeper challenge. The various points of entry and user interfaces for cell phones continue to fragment and show no signs of slowing down. The oh-so-sexy Nokia N97 phone, in the video above, is a perfect example of yet one more handset with a radically new interface design. Google ads will certainly appear on this phone; trouble is, the phone’s users may never see them.

Why? Google is built to serve up ads on a common web interface, the window you know as a web browser. But new cell phone designs are making single “web browsers” obsolete. The iPhone, for example, allows consumers to download scores of applications (mini software programs that launch at the touch of a button) that connect users online without going through a web portal. Variations of Twitter and Facebook and text messaging and video and photo sharing and blogging all bring someone online, far away from a Google ad.

And the trouble of multiple entry points to the web is compounded with evolving standards for the interface. Just watch the Nokia video above, and you can guess other handset makers are trying to out-ooooh you with a new graphic design next year. Google is trying to counter all this interface fragmentation by getting in the mobile software game, and today just expanded Adwords to the iPhone, but the verdict is out over whether Google will create the standard portal.

We think Google can’t win this, even with its billions, because the design of tiny communication tools is still in too much flux. For any communication to be efficient — including advertising — there needs to be a common platform, or ecosystem, that supports it. Google won the Web 1.0 search engine race because it pitched its excellent service, finding stuff online, on a common browser window that all consumers were comfortable with. Future marketers may look back at the 1990s and 2000s fondly, recalling the day when there was one portal to the internet called the web browser. That old common ecosystem is dying, and the new mobile one is a wild jungle with many pathways and few billboards in sight.

New York Times welcomes you — to meet some crappy sponsors


Silly New York Times. We signed up at its web site again recently, after a mild internet browser mishap wiped out our cookies and we forgot a few passwords. NYT asks new readers to punch in some useful data, such as your job title and household income, before giving free access to its reports. So, as we entered the hallowed walls of all the news that’s fit to print, we were greeted with … a butt-ugly AOL-circa 1997 Special Offers for You! page inviting us to get medical hair restoration, no-cost diabetic supplies, and a cheap vacation in Branson, Missouri.

What is NYT smoking? Imagine if your business sold intelligence as a product, and an affluent, educated, 40something new customer walked in your front door. Would your first greeting to the new customer be, hey, see you’re in the demo for thinning hair, how about some potion to cover up that bald spot!

This smells like business silos, folks. The same idiocy that gets American Express to insert ads for cheap steak knives in its bills to affluent business customers (some doofus at the AmEx billing center figures she can make a few bucks for her org unit) encourages some ad guy to sell crap on the NYT welcome page. No one is thinking about the overall customer experience, or the incredible harm to the overall brand when a crass touchpoint leaves a bad taste in the customer’s mouth. Some sub-silo at nytimes.com is making money, and no one is looking at the big picture.

The sad thing is this first touchpoint is a wonderful opportunity to pull the new reader in. Explain some cool NYT features. Offer a simple dial that allows the reader to customize the news home page. Provide a free trial offer for a home print subscription. Mention the latest NYT awards, or introduce the hippest NYT bloggers. So many ways to engage and start building loyalty … without a Disney vacation planning DVD.

Our free offer to NYT: Find that welcome-page marketing manager and fire him.

ESPN’s new idea: Web simplicity


Pity the people who run ESPN.com. They’ve created one of the most popular web sites in the world, getting traffic from 1.36% of all internet users, and must serve up content on far-ranging sports and Russian tennis players daily. This is why the main ESPN site has evolved into a bit of a monster, with 197 links in its nav bars and drop-down menus before you reach the content.

(We really counted.)

So what a breath of fresh air to see the new ESPNthemag.com site. It’s structured like a blog, with a vertical string of stories and rich media that tell users where to go first. The fresh microsite was designed by Sarkissian Mason in about six months, building upon the 10-year anniversary of the print ESPN The Magazine — meant to attract workers taking lunchtime breaks to quickly surf sports news.

Note. To. Design. Team. Minimize the burden of choice.

Web lead forms from Hillary and Obama and Mitt, oh my…


The top U.S. candidates for president offer interesting case studies in how to convert web visitors to buyers (or voters). Many marketers advertise online, but then make mistakes in the first web page that consumers see. Do you have a lead form? If you do, are you asking for too much information, or too little?

We scanned the PPC campaigns on Google for Hillary, Edwards, Obama, McCain, Rudy and Romney, who spend millions on internet marketing, and the results are in. Best-in-class web design seems to be four simple lead data fields: first name, last name, email, and ZIP Code. Here’s how the candidates shake out.


Prize for leanest lead form: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, tied. Both ask for just first and last name, email address, and ZIP (presumably so they know when to pester you as your state’s primary comes up on the calendar). Barack gets points off for forcing you to fill in information before hitting his web content; Hillary kindly lets you skip the form if you’re just a Republican doing enemy reconn. Also, Hillary uses the much more understandable “submit” button vs. Barack’s “join us” button. Clarity is so important to encourage action on the web, while obscuring the call to action with copy like “join us” may depress response. If you don’t believe us, CLICK HERE.


Prize for the best one-two punch: John McCain. McCain’s site asks for just your email (top right), but is followed by a second page asking you to complete 39 data fields. Talk about aggressive — he wants your street address and if you’re interested in a religious affinity group. We’d donate, but our fingers are scared.


Prize for cleverest friend-get-a-friend: John Edwards. Edwards asks just for your email and ZIP, but — aha, the catch! — then when you hit his site, he also asks you for the names of your friends and their emails. This is a clever tactic overlooked by many marketers. Hey, if we’re divulging our personal information, what the hell, let’s turn in our friends, too.


Price for most confusing web lead form: Rudy Giuliani. Hit Rudy’s page, and you get three choices; you can join, you can donate, or you can subscribe. We’re not sure what the difference is between joining and subscribing, so hit the back button.


Prize for ignoring potential voters and donors: Mitt Romney. You’d think a former BCG and Bain consultant would know better, but Mitt’s web site gives it all away for free without even trying to identify you. Strategic? Or skipped opportunity? Mitt does get points for tailoring the home page to the current state holding a primary. Points off for more obscure button terminology like “join team Mitt” and “Florida HQ.” We have no idea what those mean, so we ain’t clicking there. Web lead forms are buried inside, and Mitt will take credit card numbers, too.


Prize for most personal response: The new Middle East policy blog from U.S. President George W. Bush. He’s not running for a new term, and we’re not sure he really wrote these answers. But the vibe is so personal, we have to give W. some credit. As George says, it’s been a long trip, but we’re gonna miss his charm.

Dear Jakob Nielsen, why are we hiding good web sites?


If you’re not aggressively using search engine marketing (paid ads on Google, Yahoo, and other engines) to help customers find you online, here are five reasons to consider it for the new year. (Tx to usability guru Jakob Nielsen for inspiration, although he prefers to focus on web design.)

1. There are more than a billion users on the internet. Nielsen notes that if your web site attracts fewer than 10 million users, you’re missing 99% of your potential audience.
2. Most users start at search engines. For example, 66% of U.S. consumers searching for healthcare information online begin at a search engine, not a specific site.
3. Nielsen’s usability studies found that 60% of initial page views were deep within a web site, not the home page … meaning users landed from search engines or direct links from other sites to specific information.
4. Most sites attract one-time users. A site has only a 12% probability of being revisited. So you’re better off casting a net on search engines for new visitors rather than trying to make current ones stick.
5. Google made $4.2 billion in revenue in the third quarter of 2007. No one makes that kind of cash unless their service works.

Start yourself here. Or get professional help here.