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December 07, 2007

Clinics Track: Site Clinic: SES Chicago 07

By Brian Cosgrove

Clinics Track: Site Clinic: SES Chicago 07
The Moderator, Kevin Heisler introduces Shari Thurow and Matt Bailey.  Matt Baily is the President of SiteLogic and Shari is director of Omni Marketing Interactive and writer of Search Engine Visibility.

While the analysis touches seach engine concepts, it was focused heavily on usability concepts and conversion.

Herroom.com (Ecommerce Site Analysis)

The first site presented is Herroom.com.  An ecommerce site that sells intimate apparrel for women.  A mistake by Matt Bailey brings up Herrroom.com, a made for adsense parked page.  Once that mistake is corrected, the analysis begins.

Shari begins by telling the audience to quicly identify and articulate three calls to action.  This is the basis on which to make the usability decisions.

Wizards:

Since relevancy corresponds to size.  Shari mentions that it would be useful to only show results that fit a cookie-stored size criteria.  She highlights that it's helpful to have wizards to assist people in finding the right size for Bras (as they have done) or other size/fit specific apparel.  An audience member mentions Zafu.com as an example of a site that does this well.

Pogo Sticking:

By starting at a product page, Shari introduces the concept of pogo sticking.  Pogo Sticking is bounching back and forth between a higher level page to find related items.  She mentions that this should be avoided to improve conversion and decrease user frustration.

The main method of fixing this is cross-linking.  Cross-linking, an information architecture concept, means that alternative items are presented to the user if the item that they are looking at is not-quite-right.  It prevents the idea of an orphaned page.  An orphaned page is both a problem for SEO and for users who must resort to pogo-sticking via the back button.

Cross-selling differs from up-selling in that it presents alternatives within the same category rather than items which are bought together.  Matt mentions that up-selling should generally happen once the item has been placed in the cart.

Link identification:

Shari mentions that links should *look* clickable.  Herroom.com would likely not pass a Visual affordance test (a type of usability test) because users would not quickly know what is, and is not a link.  The main navigation, in particular needs a better color or look.

The buy button should be embossed or bezzeled with a dropshadow to add prominance since it is the main site objective.

In the category pages, the list of bulletpoints does not appear to be a list of links.  Both it's location and it's appearence make it difficult to identify as an important navigational element.

Matt suggests no more than 7 links should be in a list under a heading.  By using headings within long lists, users will more easily read all links relevant to their search.

Conversion:

Shari says to design the page around the first action that is required.  If setting a size is a prerequisite for buying, than color, focus should be pushed in that direction. 

She mentions that you should choose color first.  Matt suggests that you number your actions to make it clear to users.

More Navigation:

Again, avoid Foraging, Berry picking, or Pogo Sticking types of navigation.

Make sure that the site can pass a Visual afforance test, and an Expectancy test.  Shari says that the Cross Linking in Herroom.com is substandard and more usability elements should be address.

MSS-Software.com (B2B Site Analysis)

MSS Software is a B2B site that sells or rents Barcode equipment for a number of uses such as inventory management.  They target businesses and government of all sizes who have barcode needs.

The calls to action are customer calls (sales leads), sales, and offering awareness (Find Product category that applies to their needs).

The presentation of the site is currently sales-oriented more than support.  The panalists suggest that some content should be support oriented.

Screen Realestate:

The first construtive point is that there is poor allocation of screen realestate. 

Consistency:

The site is not consistent in style, font, or navigation. This makes it difficult to know if you're on the homepage.  "There's no sense of place".

Navigation is an important element and this problem relates to the aformentioned Pogo Sticking concept: you shouldn't make people use the back button to get around.

Color:

Red is one of those colors that draws attention.  If you've got too much red, you'll find that it overwhelms users.  Red can mean different things depending on the context so it's a tricky color to use.  Shari says that you should almost never use "blood red".

  • In business, red means lose money.
  • In engineering, red means stop.
  • In design red is beautiful or passionate.

Gray, on the otherhand, means not available any more.  Gray shouldn't be a navigation color.

Shari says that this site needs an entire color scheme redo.

Sitemap:

On the topic of sitemaps, you should use annotation and categories.  Don't create categories for topics which do not have extra pages.  Make the links visible: 11-13 pixels.  This site actually had an image sitemap which is bad for both users and for search engines since they cannot navigate the links.
Importantly, the sitemap should not be a "Sea of blue" which makes it look like free-for-all links (This was not a problem for this site).

Downloads pages:

The title Downloads needs context and keywords.  Users should not have to ask "Downloads for what?".

Remember, downloads are link-bait so the downloads page should be addressed as such.  Shari recommends that the downloads have their own paragraphs describing them.

jmls.edu (Academic/Information site)

John Marshall Law School has the following calls to action: Fill out an application online, Fill out a form for more information, Find other contact information.

Color, Links, Consistency:

This site has the same issues with red as mss-software.com.  There isn't enough contrast between red and black do links in the paragraph do not stand out enough.  Deeper in the site, links become blue underlines and there is completely different navigation.  The credibility of the law school suffers to users because of this lack of consistency.  Shari states that eyes naturally go to warm colors.

In focus groups, people said privacy policy, organization, and content were the most important signs of quality; but in actual testing, those same people responded better to quality font, layout, topagraphy, and color scheme.

Matt says the site should use a stylesheet so that all link styles are defined by one command.  Shari says she uses both tables & CSS in her design, not just CSS.

Navigation:

Noone navigates by A-Z.  Matt says navigation should be like a car dashboard: consistent, reliable, and intuitive.

If you don't bulletpoint or separate navigational links, it is not obvious that they're separate.

In the deeper part of the site, shari approved of the idea of primary navigation on the top and a secondary navigation on the side.  A problem arrises, however, since there are identicle links in the navigation and they point to the same content at different URLs.  This causes duplicate content problems for search and navigation difficulties for users.  Shari recommends Card Sorting, Reverse Card Sorting, and Prototyping to rebuild the taxonomy of the site.  A robots exclusion file would remediate some of the damage of the duplicate content issue (but not neccessarily consolidate all of the links).

Flash:

Flash should entice people to do something.  In particular, motion can either attract or distract and on the homepage, the motion distracts.

Abbreviations:

Shari mentions that some prospective students may not know what a JD Degree is.

RSS:

When there are RSS feed links, Matt says that you need to tell users what the feed is about and why the user might want to subscribe to it near the button so that users might actually use it. This goes for other opt-ins such as email newsletters as well.

Awards:

When awards are displayed in a poorly designed site, Shari says that users ask:
"What bonehead gave you an award?"  Awards are not purposeful to selling what you've got and become unneccessary distractions, especially if the customers do not know who that award is from.

Indexing:
The number of pages in the sites index is based on your link development.  That needs to be done to ensure that the site has it's best chances of ranking.

The clinic was finished with a standing ovation (albeit prompted by Kevin) since the recommendations were generally considered very helpful to the audience.

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