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6 Ways to Keep My Daughter From Crying: A lesson in internet marketing

When I take my child to use your web site, it had damned well better work. My daughter just got a Rescue Pet. They’re adorable little stuffed puppies. They come with a code you can use at www.myepets.com to log in, groom your pet, furnish a little house for it, etc..

The fun stopped there. The myepets.com web site is a catastrophe. After 30 minutes of futility, I had to give up, and it’s all their fault. But try explaining that to your 5 year old. So, here are 6 ways you can not make my daughter (or other customers) cry:

1. Test your site’s speed

Make sure your site loads in less than, oh, three minutes. I tested it with a stopwatch, and the ePets site was that slow. Not just for the home page, either – every page on the site loaded that slowly.

And don’t whine to me about unexpected server loads, either. You’re messing with my little girl here. I don’t care if five hundred rabid dogs are ripping the wires out of every server you own. You’d better have a backup plan

myepets.com showed me this worthless message at least four or five times:
What the hell does this mean?

Are you kidding me?

The fix: Test your servers and your code. Make sure they can withstand at least 3x the current load. If they can’t, start considering what you’ll do when 40,000 Christmas shoppers show up at your electronic doorstep.

2. Make it easy for me

When the site finally loaded, I couldn’t figure out how to register Morgan’s pet. I looked all over the home page, and finally saw ‘Become a Member’ in the top navigation. I clicked it, and it brought me here:

I'm baffled

There aren’t any clear instructions on becoming a member?!

The fix:
Have a clear link on this page to become a member.

3. Make it easy for me

After a moment grinding my teeth, I went back to the home page. My son found the actual signup link before I did:

Well-hidden signup link

That’s an awfully well-hidden link.

The fix: People tend to browse a page in an ‘F’ shape, starting at the upper-left-hand corner, and sweeping across the page twice. Put the ‘New to MyePets?’ button at the upper-left, or the upper-right. Make it stand out.

4. No, really, make it easy for me

The ‘New to MyePets?’ graphic looks like a button, but it’s not one. You have to click on ‘Fetch’ to actually get anywhere.

I’ve got a squirmy 5-year-old next to me, and a fidgety 7-year-old jumping up and down on the couch. It’s hard to click an area that small, and it’s not necessary to make me do it.

The fix: Make the entire button clickable – not just the word ‘Fetch’.

5. Use a preloader, correctly

We finally found our way to the signup page. Morgan was feeling a bit happier. When we clicked to name the pet, though, this is what we saw:

Oooh, pantomime!

After a little research (with my daughter getting madder by the second), I realized that the site’s slow load time let the Flash images load without the text. About 30 seconds later, the text appeared: “I need a name” in the thought bubble, and ‘OK’ in the circle.

By then, though, we’d clicked 3-4 times trying to figure out what to do.

The fix: Make sure your preloader shows a happy little progress bar, or frolicking puppies, or whatever else, until everything I need has loaded. That avoids a lot of confusion.

6. Test your code

We finally signed up, got Spotty all set and adopted, and then went to play with our new virtual pet.

But the site prompted us to sign up again.

We did.

And the site prompted us to sign up again.

I tried a new browser, cleared all cookies, etc. etc..

And the site… prompted us to sign up again.

Clearly, something’s broken. And I’ll bet I’m not the first person to have found it.

The fix: Test your code. Thoroughly. On all major platforms and browsers. That includes Windows, OS X, Internet Explorer 5, 6 and 7, FireFox, Safari, and whatever else springs to mind.

Attention, and patience, are short

My daughter is actually a very patient 5-year-old. Which puts her on par with the average consumer.

She and I both lost are patience. Maybe the site’s fixed now. Doesn’t matter. We won’t be back.

Harsh? It’s reality. In internet marketing, how your site works, and how easy it is to use, are as much part of your brand as the pretty colors and cute puppies. Quality assurance has to be part of your strategy, not an afterthought. So does usability. So does infrastructure.

So keep my daughter – and me – happy. Make sure your site is easy, stable and fast.

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/ianlurie.

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  1. I can only imagine the massive amount of kids toy websites slammed by holiday traffic that suffer from similar problems. It seems ridiculous to me that this site didn’t go through rigorous enough testing to prevent this problem.

  2. Ah, you should of bought her Webkinz. That site seems to work prefectly. None of the girls here have ever asked for help, except for when Firefox crashes on my Mac.*
    I’m astonished by the play value of some of these kid’s sites. For the price of purchasing one or two toys I’ve seen a seven and ten year old spend hours and hours on line with Webkinz, and they never seem to tire of it.
    * Well, they may not ask for help, but they sure know how to shout “Stupid Firefox!”

  3. Just picked up a myepets for my son in January 2008. We found the exact same usabillity and log in problems that you described! This website is a disaster and i feel like i have been lied to by the toy manufacturer. Fraud!!! GO TO WEBKINZ WORLD!!!! At http://www.webkinz.com At least it works and is kid friendly!

  4. I purchased this toy for my son in mid-Nov 2007 and still have yet to get the darn thing registered. I have dial-up (we’re out in farm country) and after hours haven’t loaded the home page. Good grief!!

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