Don’t Make Me Think

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug (2nd Edition)

Book Review by Jason Robinson

Summary: Designing sites for usability can increase the Return-On-Investment for any website, and how users actually use your website may be dramatically different than how you think they use it.

Don’t Make Me Think is a substantial book, not because it is a long book (by contrast, it is short and concise) but because it offers fundamental guidance and experienced perspective on common problems that web producers will encounter, and how different members of the team will view the problem in contrast to what users (generally speaking) see. Steve Krug’s background is extensive, but suffice it to say he has not only been developing websites for years, but he has run many usability studies for clients, and offers this book as your map to understanding usability and how to navigate it through the political waters of your web design projects.

The book runs the gamut, starting out with how web site visitors generally muddle their way through a web site. Then he moves into topics such as designing web pages for scanning (bullets and short summaries belong on the home page, not long paragraphs of text), and how to constructively guide visitors through the process of finding what they are looking for, even if they start on the wrong page (think inbound links from a search engine). From here, he discusses fundamental navigation elements and proper placement and making sure they get the attention deserved through use of size, placement, and coloring.

Starting with Chapter 8, Steve starts in on the dealing with usability as the political football it often is, and how to deal with arguments between the designers and the developers, with the idea being to present usability as a fundamental aspect of the site and not as an afterthought. The book then goes into anecdotal examples of how one can run usability study for very little (to no) money, and still get 80% of the effect of running a many-thousand dollar study by a third party.

Steve summarizes the whole point of usability with the idea that people come to your site with a certain amount of trust and anticipation, and for every mistake you make with usability, that amount goes down, until they finally leave the site. This is sometimes a hard concept for people to grasp, and yet it is pervasive across all demographics, and this section should be read aloud to a team who is working on a product sales site, as it willeffect the bottom line.

The rest of the book offers guidance on improving usability through different web tools and CSS, with additional resources and further reading. The sample letters to your boss Steve provides in the back of the book are more than fun, they could potentially help some people out there who are having a hard time convincing management that usability should not take a back seat to aesthetics.

I wish every designer and developer would read this book, it would make design meetings so much easier.


Conversion Rates & Web Advertising


I saw this article, in the news, which is about a company suing Google, Overture, and others over click-fraud. In the article, the company states “Lane’s said ads are often clicked only to generate a bigger bill for advertisers, not by someone truly seeking more information.” One could come to that conclusion when running a web advertising campaign and seeing ZERO results. Another conclusion that could be reached is that the site has such poor conversion capabilities, that the site may never get a real customer. If I were Googe et al., I would seriously consider getting usability and e-Commerce experts to look at the deficiencies in the site and see if the second conclusion is more likely (statistcally speaking).

Wide and Deep

Conversions on the web are never cut-and-dry, just like direct mailer promotions. Even the best turn-key systems need refinement and some experimentation to yeild the best results. Often, defining what really constitutes a conversion can lead to interesting avenues of exploration for increasing conversions, because there is more to go after. Consider that not all visitors to your site are in a buying mood. Would you rather have them just leave the site, or perhaps leave their email address or other contact information? An “add me to your news list” is one way to squeeze more blood from the conversion turnip. There are many other examples of broadening the horizon. A good place to start is looking at competition, and then scanning the various books about e-commerce design to build a list. Prioritize this list against what you understand your visitor””s needs to be. When in doubt, setup a survey!

Usability & Functionality

I was recently drilling down into a product sales web site that was developed by another company, and discovered that the usability was leaving much to be desired. To add insult to injury for the random customer, the shopping cart was broken, and the checkout process what really basic and did not recover well when I went back and forth. We were already working with the owners of the site to give it a total make-over, and I asked for all of the web logs. After running some extensive analysis, the raw unique-to-conversions was 0.02% averaged over six months. Once the site is up and running on an e-commerce engine that actually works, it will be telling to see the difference in conversion rates. More: In MagicLamp Networks Newsletter Volume 4, we looked at how poorly designed sites can make web advertising a bust.

Why Usability Effects The Bottom Line

It is important to understand that the core strategy for most websites can be summarized as a formula, where

Visitors * Conversion Percentage * Order Price = Revenue

This could be translated to sites that are intended to produce leads.

Usability dramatically effects the conversion percentage of a site. Therefore, proper planning and design of the navigation and usage models are important to the bottom line of a website.

Consider the following example:
A designer decides to be “bleeding edge” and put all of the menus for navigation of the web site under a single, unlabled, dot. Visitors come to the site, can’t find anything, and leave. Never make your visitor have to learn how to navigate your website.

Vol 4: Turning Traffic into Dollars

In the previous articles addressing Search Engine Optimization and Web Advertising Campaigns (CPC Campaigns), we discussed overall strategies for bringing traffic to your website and a step-by-step list on how to get your site ready for search engines. In this article, we look at something just as important: understanding if your site is ready for paid advertising and CPC campaigns.

A common tactic to address slow web sales is to pay for advertising on various web networks (Google or Overture being the most pervasive). This, however, may not be the right “first thing” to actually do. To understand why, let’s look at a simple formula that describes web sales:

Traffic to the Site * Visitor Conversion To Customer * Average Order = Web Revenue

What does each part of the formula mean?

“Traffic to the Site” is just what it sounds like: if you have 1000 unique visitors (in web reporting this is known as Unique IP Addresses) coming to your site each month, then you can plug “1000” into that part of the formula. This number is not equitable with “Hits” or “Page Views” as these are not representative of actual people coming to your site, only how many pages are being viewed.

“Visitor Conversion To Customer” means the percentage at which your site converts a new, random, unique visitor into an actual, buying customer. If you have 100 people coming to your site in a month, and only one places an order, your conversion percentage is 1%. Conversion percentages for web sites vary dramatically, with most sites shooting for 2-5%.

“Average Order” is simply the averaged total (or subtotal) of web orders placed. If a site is selling widgets for $19.95, and the average order is for 2 widgets, then the average order subtotal would be $39.85.

So, what does all of this mean? We all learned in math that anything that is multiplied by zero is still zero. Applying this to the above formula shows that increasing web traffic to your site could still lead to a ZERO. If your conversion percentage is 0% (or something lower than 1%), paying for traffic into your site is a bad investment.

When does paying for traffic become worthwhile? This is dependent on your profit margins (or cost of goods), conversion percentage, and average web orders. To illustrate this, let’s start with the above example of selling widgets, with two widgets being sold for each order and assume the profit margin is 50%. That means for every order, $19.95 is profit. We also need a conversion percentage, let’s say 5%. This would mean for every 1000 visitors, 50 people actually buy something from you, for a total profit of $997.00. If the key words and phrases you want to advertise with cost you more than $997 per 1000 visitors, then you need to get the order average OR the conversion percentage up, in order to justify the advertising cost. If the cost of those 1000 visitors is lower than $997, then the potential exists for this to be a lucrative opportunity. Clearly, this is a simple analysis, and each business will have to modify the formula to match their business.

What do you do if your conversion percentage is lower than 1%, or you need to get your conversion percentage higher? The short answer is: find out why visitors are not buying. We understand, this is easier said than done. Your best bet in getting started is with customers you already have. Ask them what they liked and disliked about your site. Do not fall into the trap of jumping on the obvious answers or the first answer to come to you. Often times, there are multiple reasons why your conversion percentage is lower than it could be. The web reports your site generates automatically can also give you insight into why visitors are not buying, but analysis of these reports usually requires an experienced person who knows how to interpret the numbers.

Here is a short list of common issues we see, that once fixed, led to higher conversion percentages:

1. Hard-to-use or unintuitive web site navigation
2. Low quality product pictures
3. Product descriptions meaningless or too short
4. Splash page for the front page
5. Heavy use of graphics makes pages download too slow
6. Shopping experience confusing or too many distractions

All of these can be summarized as: your website does not meet visitor’s expectations. Figure out what their expectations are, change the site to meet their expectations, and watch your website grow!