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Simplify, or your users will do it for you

March 1, 2020
📓 Article

We used to run a rotating carousel on the front page of our .com site. Rotating carousels are very useful for solving political disputes about who gets real estate on the front page, but not for much else.

One day I tested to see what percentage of clicks landed on each banner. The results were extremely unbalanced. Over 90% of clicks were on the first banner, then a few percent on the next, and a very small number on the third. Few visitors even saw past the first banner, much less the subsequent ones.

Users come to your site to perform a very specific task. (I suppose you might work at Amazon or something like that where someone could conceivably just be browsing, but for most sites, someone will be there do something in particular.). That includes searching for information.

They develop blindness to anything that isn’t on the way to completing that task. If it’s information, your users are following information scent. If it’s a specific action, they’re looking for whatever pieces they need to be get that task done. “Don’t make me think” is the advice, and it’s really good advice, because users need to be shown very specifically want to do in order to get what they want.

In doing so, what you’ve built and what users see are two completely different things.

For many of your users, the advanced features in your app just don’t exist, because they’re not relevant to the task at hand. Similarly, on your website, some of the calls to action and some of your copy just isn’t there, because it’s ignored or, in the case of banner blindness, not even seen in the first place.

And some of the best A/B testing results I’ve gotten have been the result of simplifying, to remove obstacles to what users are trying to do or learn:

  • Remove text from some onboarding emails, add bulleted lists instead of paragraphs where appropriate, and repeat the call to action: 30% increase in clicks

  • Change “Our software, hosted on the infrastructure of your choice” to “One-click setup”, and remove a diagram: 50% increase in clicks

  • Make the next step on a page sticky, so that it always occupies the same position in the sidebar even as the user scrolls down the article: 500% increase in clicks

  • Remove the menu bar from our landing pages: 20% increase in successful form completions

In example (2), we decided not to talk about a salient feature of the product. That’s OK. It didn’t exist for the user, anyway. They simplified it in their mind. We can re-introduce it later when it’s appropriate for the task at hand.

You have to simplify, or else your user will do it for you. The major risk in letting the user do the work is that they’ll simplify it wrong, because they don’t understand it. In simplifying, they may even end up with nothing.

Instead, do your user the service of removing anything that’s not completely necessary for the task at hand.

Content expiration

February 17, 2020
📓 Article

It’s easy to think that content is a one-time thing. You write a blog post, and it’s done. Or you create a whitepaper or give a webinar, and you’re done. But it’s much more accurate to think of your content as something you’re saying in an ongoing conversation.

That’s great, because it means that you can:

  • Promote old content, including linking to it from your new content.
  • Consider using old content as a template for your new content.
  • Update what you have instead of creating something new.

It also means that you’re regularly auditing your old content to see if it’s still correct, relevant, and on-brand. And you’re updating calls to action on your old content so that they point to the most relevant current offers.

Of course, that’s what you should be doing with as much content as you can, starting with your best. But what about that page you created for an event that’s already passed, or a webinar that covers an old version of your software?

As usual, it’s all about intent. What was your visitor trying to achieve when they visited this page? How can you best help them achieve that, given the content you have, and given the resources if you have if you can’t update everything?

1) It’s a blog post or presentation relating to an earlier version of your product. Your visitor might be looking for something related to that version. So don’t just take it down. Leave it up, but add a banner pointing to new content.

2) It’s a listing for an event that has already passed. Maybe your visitor is looking for the content from that event; can you put a link to it on that page (or even better, add it directly to that page)? If not, they have some interest in attending an event, presumably. Can you 404 the page but tell the visitor where your upcoming events are?

3) It’s information that is not outdated, but is off-brand, or uses old messaging. It’s surprising that this page still comes up on search. Does it make sense to revise this page? If not, can you pick the page on your site that’s closest to that content, and forward the visitor there?

If all else fails, 404 it, but provide site search on your 404 page. 404s don’t hurt you in search. And track that information, since it can be a useful way of seeing what content visitors want that you don’t have.

Young warrior

February 17, 2015
📓 Article

Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave instructions for the battle.

The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful.

The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?”

Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.”

Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?”

Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me.

But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

– Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are