There are things you don’t know about your customers. It’s not you, it’s them. But you need to figure it out. Here are some hard lessons I’ve learned over the years – they apply to usability, pet peeves and other fun stuff. Learn these and you’ll have more, happier customers/visitors/readers/fans:
1. Reading onscreen is hard, for everyone
The most basic principle of usability: It’s hard for folks to read online. Much harder than reading in print. Remember this. Burn it into your brain. Small typefaces, weird page layouts and odd color schemes may seem great, but they’re bound to hurt your business in the long run.
2. They like short paragraphs.
Oldest rule of marketing, from way back when we printed on paper and used mail and stuff: Write no more than 4-5 lines in a paragraph. Read My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising (Advertising Age Classics Library) to learn just how little the rules have changed.
3. They like short lines
Reading onscreen is hard. The typical person can best read 10-20 words per line. No more. If you’re using microscopic fonts to fit every word possible on a line, change your ways.
4. They like wide line spacing and nice margins
Also know as ‘leading’, wide line spacing makes text easier to read. Margins shorten the lines so that you get fewer words per line (see above).
Folks actually read faster when line spacing is really tight, but they retain and comprehend less. A fantastic piece of research by the University of Wichita proves it.
5. They like dark text on a light background
We are trained to read dark text on a light background. It’s what we’re used to. So this:
The quick brown fox sprayed the lazy dog with mace.
Is easier to read than this:
The quick brown fox sprayed the lazy dog with mace.
The dark background really jumps out at you, but make it into a whole page and it starts to give you a headache.
Do you hate your audience? No? Then go with dark text on a light background.
6. They don’t mind scrolling up-and-down
With those nifty mouse wheels, folks stopped getting unhappy about scrolling – it’s no longer a usability issue, unless you create a 5000 word page or some silliness. You don’t have to make a home page, or any other page of your web site, fit in a single window. Long pages are OK!
7. Lists make their lives easier
You can write a list in a paragraph, so that colors look like red, green, blue.
Or, you can write a list in a list, so that colors look like:
Your audience wants the latter.
8. They browse in an F-shape
Read Jacob Nielsen’s excellent article about the f-shape browsing pattern: Click here.
Put the most important stuff in the critical points of that F-shape, and you’ll get better results.
9. They can’t remember your web address
Seriously. No one ever remembers a web address. Oh, sure, if you’re ‘nike.com’ or ‘cnn.com’, they do. But if you’re ‘portentinteractive.com’ or ‘conversationmarketing.com’, good luck with that.
Give people plenty of ways to subscribe, bookmark or otherwise remember you. And reserve different permutations on your web address, to protect your brand.
10. They don’t want to log in
Don’t make them log in to check out. Let ’em just click ‘check out’. By all means, give them the option to save their information and create an account. At the end of the checkout process. At that point, the warm fuzzy feeling any consumer gets from burning hard-earned cash is enough to get them to trust you.
11. They don’t even want to think they have to log in
I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, fine, I’ll just put a login form on the left, and then put a tiny little button on the right that says you can check in as a guest.”
Tells me, the customer, “You are not part of our exclusive club. Click ‘continue’ and buy, but you are a loser.”
In all seriousness, customers don’t trust the internet. Never mind that they’re 10x more likely to get their credit card stolen in a restaurant. They see the web as a massive interconnected den of thieves. If you even imply you’re going to save their information, their trust is lost. Don’t do it.
12. They don’t even want a tiny hint or implication that at some point in the future they might have to log in
Just let them check out. For the love of all that’s holy and good in the universe. Can we just drop it?
13. They don’t want an ‘experience’
In the immortal words of Jakob Nielsen: “Most people just want to get in, get it and get out.”
Adding dynamic “web 2.0 stuff” (shudder) just because the other guy has it is foolish. Anything that makes me click twice instead of once is going to impress me the first time, and then alienate me after that. Examples include:
- Drag-and-drop shopping carts. Clicking is easier.
- Home page preloads. Clicking ‘skip intro’ is still extra work.
- Fly-in, fly-out or slow fade-in, fade-out effects for product zoom images and such. Every time you do that, you make the customer wait. Why?
Don’t take my word for it. Look at the web site of one of the ultimate design companies: Apple.com. See any special effects?
14. They do want your newsletter
Hard to believe after all the spam hysteria, but a sizable chunk of your audience still wants to receive a newsletter. So make it easy for them to find it.
I was one of the worst offenders in this department. On our corporate site, we had a little e-mail icon, buried 1/3 of the way down the page, for our newsletter signup.
We made a very simple change, adding a signup form on every page next to the icon, and we’ve seen a lift in signups just a week later:
15. They don’t care how clever you are
If you can say “Ian Lurie arrested in drunken rampage”, just say it. Don’t say “Pugnacious Portent Prez Pegged by Police”. The former tells me what’s going on. The latter is funny but unhelpful.
16. They aren’t enticed by mystery
Your online audience is enticed by clarity, a cool product, a great story and such. They’re not enticed by the mystery of it all.
So a headline like “Great abs!” isn’t as helpful as “10 exercises to get great abs”. And “All Wired Up” is utterly worthless compared to “Wired Magazine Has A Great Year”.
17. They get lost a lot
It’s easy for a site visitor to get lost. A broken link here, a missing button there, and wham, they’re frustrated and confused.
Have a user-friendly 404 error page, a good onsite search tool and really clear navigation. Then review the onsite search data and the 404 errors, and see what they tell you about what your customers want but aren’t getting.
18. They aren’t using cell phones. Yet.
If you do business in North America, chances are your customers aren’t browsing your site using a cell phone. Even this blog, which has more than its share of geek visitors, gets few mobile views:
Plan for mobile, by all means. Learn how to create a mobile style sheet. But don’t derail an entire project, or increase the cost 100%, just to be mobile-compatible.
19. They don’t search for your name
Your audience doesn’t know who you are. They aren’t searching for your name. They’re searching based on a question, and they’ll find you if you can pose the right answer. So, while ranking #1 for your company name is great, it probably won’t help your bottom line.
20. They still use Internet Explorer
Not everyone understands that Firefox is the Risen Savior just yet. Most of your audience is probably using Internet Explorer:
And a lot of them are still using (choke) Internet Explorer 6:
Design, develop and plan accordingly.
21. They’re buying nice monitors (and computers)
On the other hand, most of your audience is upgrading their computer’s graphics capabilities. You can safely design a page that’s 900 pixels wide:
Be sure to check your own site stats before you make a change.
22. They need to want
People buy what they want, not what they need. We all need car insurance. We all want iPhones or other shiny things.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t get the same happy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I consider my next car insurance payment as when I contemplate a new HTC Hero.
We can bemoan this, or go with it. Customers need to want. A truly great marketer explains why they want what they need.
I am borrowing the needs and wants principle from some brilliant marketer whose name I cannot find or recall. I’m not smart enough to come up with it on my own.
Here’s the thing…
This list always gets longer. Look at your analytics report. Learn from the way your audience responds to what you change on your site. Use your brain, and never stop questioning why things are happening the way they’re happening.
And feel free to add to this list, below.
Other stuff to do
- Follow me on Twitter
- Don’t forget to chose content KPIs.
- Work on your marketing copywriting.
- Compare Social Media Attribution Window Platforms.