Cascading Website Improvement

Here is an easy to implement process for making quick improvements to your website that have a large impact in terms of the number of visitors they benefit and your bottom line in one month.

Identify the top 10 pages on your site in terms of number of page views. Go through each page and identify one change you could make to each that would improve the experience for the user. Some things to consider:

  • What is the most important next action we want people to take on this page? How can we make it more clear or easy to do?
  • What extraneous content or interface can we remove from this page to make the core purpose more clear?
  • Use live visualization tools to see where actual users seem to be having problems on those pages.

You are looking for low-hanging fruit in this exercise. Identify one change you can make in the next business day to put the improvement into action. Capture other ideas that require more effort and use those when considering longer term projects.

Now make that one change. Repeat for the next 9 days.

Next, identify your top 10 pages in terms of the revenue they generate for your organization. Look for easy changes you can make to those pages to enhance the earning potential with your visitors. Use the same processes as above.

If you do this you’ll have made 20 improvements throughout the site for your most visited and highest earning pages. Not bad!

Quoted about using data to grow your e-commerce revenue

I was quoted last week in the E-Commerce News about how to use data to grow your e-commerce revenue. One of my favorite topics! Here is an excerpt from Having Your Data and Using It Too:

“The best online sellers know their own data like the back of their hand and use it every day to improve their e-commerce performance,” Gammel said, adding that it is important to identify a few key metrics. “Only use metrics that enable you to make decisions about how to improve your marketing and conversion to sales online.”

Too Many Chefs in the Home Page

This post on Fast Company, which features purported inside scoop on how the American Airlines home page is managed, tells an all too common story.

The post features a hypothetical redesign of the home page that dramatically simplifies and focuses the page from the hash that it is currently. An anonymous staff person from American commented on how their decentralized team of over 200 people who work on the site are simply incapable of creating a design like that due to their structure and processes.

Here’s the problem at American and many other organizations with overcrowded, ineffective home pages: they have decentralized the ownership and management of a centralized interface. In effect, no one owns this one page, so any design has to be the product of compromise and consensus.

Home pages benefit from benevolent dictators who make sure this critical entry point to their site (yes, home pages still matter even with Google driving people past them) is focused on achieving tangible outcomes that matter the most.

Massive teams and committees simply cannot muster the discipline required to create a focused and effective home page.

Jared Spool and The $300 Million Button

Great story from Jared Spool this week: The $300 Million Button.

It’s hard to imagine a form that could be simpler: two fields, two buttons, and one link. Yet, it turns out this form was preventing customers from purchasing products from a major e-commerce site, to the tune of $300,000,000 a year. What was even worse: the designers of the site had no clue there was even a problem.

The button? Register.

I personally worked with an association where we made a similar change to an e-commerce process that resulted in a six figure improvement in revenue. Some small changes can have a big impact!

Only 75% of Our Customers Can Open Our Front Door

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? However, that’s exactly what can happen with a poorly designed web site login. The login is often the gateway to most of the value that a site offers, yet it often receives scant attention from designers and developers when it is created.

Here are a few things you can do to review and improve your login:

  • Use it a few times! Don’t apply a saved username and password in your browser. Login manually as your first time or infrequently visitors do. This alone can reveal a lot of issues that you can fix.
  • Observe some people using the login. Have your mother or grandfather try it.
  • Analyze your web traffic and see if you are losing a lot of people at the login stage.
  • Talk to people in your call center or anyone who fields customer complaints about the web site. I guarantee they will if your login is not working well for your visitors.

Once you identify any problems, immediately meet with your web team to determine what needs to be changed and make it happen. Commit to getting in done in no more than one week.

Make sure your virtual front door is appealing and easy to open.

Implications of Ecommerce Sales Slowing Down

The New York Times has had a couple of stories recently about ecommerce sales slowing down along with everything else. Here is a blog post from the Times on this. They are still growing but at a much slower pace.

There are some implications here for anyone who makes direct sales via their web site. The primary one is that the usability of your online store is more important now than ever. When times are good, it’s easy to ignore some loss of sales due to challenging interfaces. When numbers are no longer growing or even contracting, however, you can’t afford to lose anyone who wants to give you money.

Here are a few things to look for:

  • Review your web traffic reports and conversion rates. Identify any steps in your processes that tend to lose people.
  • Personally observe several people completing transactions on your site and note any areas where they get confused or slow down.
  • Have an expert mystery shop your store and identify where you can improve. (I can help you with this, by the way!)
  • Talk to your call center staff and see what issues they hear about from customers who call them.

Once you have identified some improvements, drop everything until they are done. Otherwise they are less likely to be implemented. I’ve seen instances where a single small change had a 6-figure impact on revenue.

Finding the Biggest Bang for Your Usability Buck

Most people acknowledge that usability is a critical factor in the success of a page, application or entire web site. Poor usability will drive away users and limit the results you can achieve.

However, how can you best determine where to start with your usability efforts? Here is an easy way to triage your opportunities and identify those with the best chance for high impact.

Identify which processes or transactions on your site are repeated the most frequently and ideally result in the greatest value for the web site publisher.

You want high frequency so that you are targeting the most (or most active) users of your site.

You want a cumulatively high value of all those actions in order to focus on those that create the most value for your organization.

A process that happens a million times a month and is worth, on average, 10 cents to the publisher is cumulatively worth $100,000. A minor usability improvement to that process which adds a penny or two to the average value has a big impact. You get the idea.

The best usability improvements are not necessarily the most brilliant or unique; they are those that generate the most value. A high value usability improvement could be a simple as adjusting a confusing label.

What are the highest volume and highest cumulative value processes on your site? Focus on making incremental usability improvements there in order to be a usability superstar.

Disolving Usability Problems

A lot of usability work focuses on solving interface problems, making it easier for users to achieve a certain outcome or complete a task. This can involve user observations, iterative design changes, traffic analysis and other tools in pursuit of improvement. It is often not cheap in terms of time and effort, let alone when outside help is brought in.

A solved usability problem is one where both the user and the publisher get precisely what they want from the interaction. The user has an efficient and pleasant experience and the publisher gets the user to complete a desired task. All is well in the world.

A resolved usability problem is one in which a reasonable compromise is reached that is good enough but requires that either the user or publisher (or both in some cases) give up something. For example, the user experience might still have some rough spots but the value of the transaction doesn’t warrant further investment or outside factors impose it.

However, something a lot of people fail to consider is if the interface in question can be completely eliminated instead of ‘fixed’. Instead of solving the problem, can you dissolve the need for this interface completely? Sometimes making a few changes to the larger system of which the interface is a single element can completely eliminate the need for the interface.

This isn’t an option all the time, obviously, but the only way to know is to consider the larger context of the problem at hand. Simply focusing on individual interfaces is inadequate.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Value

Every web site embodies both extrinsic and intrinsic value to its visitors.

Extrinsic value is the value of achieving a particular goal or outcome. It might include buying something, finding information or connecting to a colleague.

Intrinsic value is the value given by the experience of achieving the extrinsic goal.

One implication? Among extrinsically equal options for a desired outcome, that with the highest intrinsic value will be chosen more often. This is where usability goes from a nice-to-have feature to a crucial competitive advantage.

Another implication? People will jump through painful hoops if the extrinsic value of the goal is high enough and not available elsewhere. However, if you’ve read Innovators Dilemma, you know that such a high extrinsic value is very hard to maintain over time. Paying attention to intrinsic value protects your overall value while you have the luxury of a big lead.

A final implication? Intrinsic value isn’t worth a hill of beans if your site has no extrinsic value to begin with.

Why Business Intelligence is Often Stupid

Business intelligence (or BI) has been all the rage for the last couple of years. It is a central topic in ASAE’s Tech conference later this month, with many sessions focused on how to extract data from your systems and present them in shiny dashboard interfaces. There is a problem though:

Many business intelligence tools are plain stupid.

All the dials, speedometers, bar graphs, and status icons in the world won’t help you if you do not first ground your efforts in what data you need to make sound decision in pursuit of your business outcomes. A lot of vendors and consultants out there gloss over these critical issues in pursuit of the BI sale.

Take dashboards, for example. The concept is that a single screen will give you all the data you need to make quick decisions, just like you can with a car dashboard. The problem is, most businesses and organizations don’t have to make a decision in a split second like you do when driving an automobile. Auto dashboards are optimized to give the driver critical feedback in a glance lasting less than a second.

When is the last time you had to make a decision of major import to the organization from your desk in less than a second? It just doesn’t happen.

Yet, a lot of business intelligence dashboard tools look just like the dashboard of a car. It is a literal interpretation that ruins a somewhat valuable idea.

So, what to do?

You have to start with the objectives you are trying to achieve. What process are you putting into place to achieve an objective? What are the measurable steps within that process? What data sources do you need to tap into to generate those measures? How will you use that data to make decisions?

Once you have answered all those questions you should be able to identify what measures you should monitor and how often. If one or more of them matter on a daily basis, a dashboard interface might make a lot of sense for presentation of the data. If not, a simple report will probably meet your needs and save you the time, effort and expense of developing a dashboard you don’t need.

That is being intelligent about your business data.

By the way, I will be presenting a session with Wes Trochlil at the ASAE Technology Conference titled: “Getting Intelligent About Business Intelligence: Finding the Value Behind the Hype.” If you only go to one BI session, I suggest you make it ours.