These things happen.
No matter how good the search engine, it’s not a mind reader. Only you know exactly what’s most relevant for your particular purposes.
Goggle Instant Previews helps boost the relevance of click-throughs
It would be nice to only click-through to webpages that meet your needs, and apparently Google thinks so, too. That’s why it rolled out Instant Previews, which gives you a sneak peek of your search results.
You’ve likely seen the preview tool; it’s a magnifying glass that appears next to title links in Google search results. Click on the magnifying glass, and presto, you get a graphical representation of that webpage while you’re still viewing search results. With some webpages the preview may also highlight text items relating to your search terms. Between the visual sneak peek and those text highlights, you can quickly compare all your search results to help determine which ones are best for you.
Here’s an example of results for the search query “best restaurants in Philadelphia” where I’ve highlighted the Instant Previews icon:
If you click on the magnifying glass next to the link for Le Bec Fin, you see the homepage to its website, with an announcement about the menu, plus a quote from a food critic.
FYI, Google decides if text appears in a preview. In this case, it’s a kudo from a food writer, which makes for a nice plug that can influence your decision on whether or not to visit this fancy French eatery. Right away, you have a positive impression.
Now, suppose you want to preview the other sites. Well, then your results vary. Take a look at what comes up when you preview Morimoto:
Not much to go by there. That’s because the site is built with Flash, which Instant Previews does not currently support. It doesn’t read Java applets or Silverlight, either.
Any areas Instant Previews can’t read on a website appear blank. If it can’t read any of your site, it looks like Morimoto’s. Then you’ll miss out on any potential benefit that comes from Instant Previews. And you may even forfeit business to an enterprise with a website that renders properly in preview.
Think about it: If you have several choices, and you’re deciding which to pick based solely on what you can glean from the web, and one choice instantly offers a better presentation, don’t you think you might favor the place that gives you the most confidence from the start?
Give your website an Instant Previews check-up
Google claims Instant Previews will “match your query with an index of the entire web, identify the relevant parts of each webpage, stitch them together and serve the resulting preview completely customized to your search—usually in under one-tenth of a second.”
That’s darn fast. Any website takes longer than one-tenth of a second to load. Once you get into the habit of previewing, you’re likely to keep at it. I use previews a lot, and I am surely not alone in this regard.
Which means, if you have a website, you need to pay attention to how it renders in Google Instant Previews. And not just the homepage, but all of the pages, because people can enter your site in any number of ways when coming through a search engine.
In fact, check it right now. See if there are any problems. If so, you should consider making changes to your site’s code so that it can play well with previews. Anything that diminishes your search result can hurt your click-through rate.
Can Instant Previews affect your site’s search rank?
I first found out about the potential for problems with Google Instant Previews from an article by my Twitter pal, internet marketing and SEO consultant, Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe). In his post, Google Instant Previews — Great Functionality or a Signal Back to the Mothership, Glenn suggests that Google might even use previews for its own purposes. He writes:
“It’s hard to ignore the fact that instant previews can send a powerful signal back to Google about the relevancy of the search results. For example, if a page is ranking near the top of the search results, but really shouldn’t (because it’s spammy, the page owner gamed Google’s algorithm to get there, etc.), then Google could start to identify these pages via monitoring low click-through rate via instant previews. For example, imagine a page with 175K impressions in organic search, with 3500 instant preview triggers, but no click-through. That very well could raise a red flag to Google.”
If Google does wind up utilizing Instant Previews as yet another way to determine relevance for certain keywords, that’s just one more reason to be sure your site is up to preview snuff.
More information on Google Instant Previews
For website owners:
Google has a FAQ about instant previews that can help you understand how it works and how you can adjust your website so that it renders properly in preview mode.
For the general web user:
Google provides a good explanation of instant previews, including a short video, on its official blog.
Have you used Google Instant Previews? Has it changed the way you search the web? Please share your thoughts and comments.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
This is a guest post by Ruben Reyes, President of Lyquix, Inc. a Philadelphia-based IT and web development company. Ruben works hard to help prevent poorly designed websites from ever seeing the light of day and I’m pleased he was kind enough to write this article outlining six important usability tips. Read up and learn from someone who deals with these types of matters on a daily basis.
This is the first thing you should acknowledge and embrace. Usually, designers, marketing managers, and business owners make design decisions based on their own taste and browsing style. The end result is a website that works well for the person that made the decisions but not necessarily for the audience at large.
The answer is testing. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or make it super scientific. Just find people that have absolutely no interest in your project, like your neighbor who doesn’t understand what your company does, or your aunt. If they look at your website and they don’t get it, you’ve got a sign that it is not evident enough. Ask questions about what people think and LISTEN, don’t be defensive or try to explain. Ask them to perform some simple task; like find out who is the Operations Manager, or how long has the company been in business or what is the phone number, and OBSERVE if the process is smooth or cumbersome.
2. Understand How Users Behave
Users don’t like to read. When presented with a crowded page, or a long article, people just scan it quickly looking for that tiny piece of information or the next link.
Users won’t even scan the whole page: as they read through text they are evaluating if a particular sentence or link seems good enough, and take it. What this means is that people don’t make optimal choices, they just pick the first “good enough” option they find along the way. So if there is a better option a few lines after one that is just “good enough,” they are not going to get to the better option (at least not on the first try).
Users don’t understand how things work or are intended to be used. They just stick to whatever works for them. When I said that they don’t like to read, that includes instructions. You might be surprised how people use your website in ways you never intended it. Have you seen people that type the address of a website in the Google or Yahoo search box? Or that double-click on links? Or that make 10 clicks to get to a page that they can reach in one click?
3. Make Things Obvious
Have you been to a website looking for the company office address and find a link that says “Global Presence”? It makes you wonder if that is the page you are looking for. When something is obvious you don’t have to think to understand it and decide if that is what you want or not. The more people have to think to understand your website, the higher the energy, frustration and time required for them. The principle is simple: if something is difficult to use people will avoid using it.
For this reason you should avoid using fancy terms to denote simple things. Avoid acronyms, especially the ones created by your company. Avoid technical terms that people outside of your profession will not understand. Make buttons look like buttons, and links look like links.
4. Visually Prioritize and Organize
In some cases you need to have pages with lots of information and options. Usually that’s the case for the Home page since it is the entry point of your website. Here is where a GOOD graphic designer can help. Use graphic elements to ensure that there are clear priorities: what is the most important, what is navigation, what is secondary information. Font size, colors, images and movement are tools that can be used to draw the attention of the user to an area of the page. But be aware: you don’t want to get too creative – after so many years people have grown accustomed to expect certain things to be placed in specific locations or look in certain ways. If you put your menu on the right and start underlining text just to be original you will confuse visitors.
5. Avoid Unnecessary Words
If users only scan, don’t want to think, don’t make optimal choices and have very little tolerance to anything that seems difficult or time consuming, then why would you present them with long and useless copy? Avoid unnecessary words in each sentence, avoid unnecessary sentences in each paragraph. Eliminate all the flashy and self-congratulatory language and get straight to the point.
Websites can be an ocean of pages and information. Unlike in the physical world, we cannot associate things that are located right or left, or 1 mile down the road. However, it is still possible to organize your website in a way that makes sense to the user and enables them to draw a mental map of connections that they can use to navigate easily.
For every single page, make sure that users can easily understand where they are standing. Show the title of the page, highlight in what section you are located, make links to parent pages or the sequence of pages you followed to get there (breadcrumbs), and of course, have links to related pages.
If you want to learn more about usability, here are some great resources:
Designing Web Usability, by Jakob Nielsen
AlertBox, www.useit.com/alertbox/, a newsletter on web usability by Jakob Nielsen
So what do you think of Ruben’s top 6 usability tips? Do you have tips of your own to share? Comments welcome.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
It happens all the time. Why struggle through a disorganized mess when it’s easy to hop off and head to another destination that offers the same services?
Just like in real life, clutter on the web presents lack of focus. What’s less obvious is how a visually appealing website can suffer from the same problem.
Hidden problems with hierarchy
Visual confusion occurs when too many elements on a page carry the same weight visually. There’s no clear starting point, or hierarchy. So a visitor’s eyes dart about the page and more or less fight to figure out where to land first.
In another situation, your company name, tagline and main navigation are positioned atop your homepage; where you want users to see it right away; yet this isn’t necessarily how someone experiences the page. If, for example, your logo and main navigation are muted in design as compared to a right-hand sidebar sporting an array of eye-catching graphics, the visitor’s focus is pulled to those jazzier images. Their eyes glance over the top of the page such that it may not even register. Your main message is instantly diluted.
Good-looking design does not guarantee optimum user experience
It’s like when you go into a furniture store and see a chair that’s sharp and stylish yet is uncomfortable to sit in. You pass it up and search for something that both looks and feels right.
Your website can be much the same when form trumps function. A bugaboo here is that a nicely laid-out page does not immediately present itself as problematic — it looks fine to the naked eye.
That’s where usability testing comes in. The testing reveals hidden problems that hinder your site from working at peak level.
A costly step to overlook
It perplexes me how a business can launch a website without first seeing how the site is perceived and used by target audiences. This type of testing is an undervalued and overlooked step to website success.
Meanwhile, the same company takes pains to put a lot of effort into search engine optimization of keywords, tags and other elements of coding. So great; you figure out how to rank high in search results, only to misguide those eyeballs when they reach your lovely site.
Repeat after me: Usability testing is not a luxury
There are companies that specialize in user experience. Depending on the depth and purpose of your site you may want to fork out the dough to bring in an expert. Many web developers offer this service, too. I advise at least going the latter route. Particularly when you’ve got lots of forms an/or e-commerce going on, it can be money well spent.
If purse strings don’t allow paying for usability testing, take matters into your own hands. It need not be a costly complex process.
And to prove it, my next post will offer tips on how you can conduct usability testing for low or no cost. Stay tuned.
Have you, too, noticed web sites that look good but lack focus? Do you think more sites can benefit from usability testing? Comments welcome.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
What’s the difference between a good website and a great one?
It can be a fine line, but one you want to cross.
Recently, when discussing this very topic, I used ballet as a point of comparison.
Yes, ballet can relate to website strategy. Here’s how:
Earlier this year I went to a show by BalletX, a Philadelphia-based company. I’ve seen this ensemble a number of times and generally enjoy the performance. This one had an extra spark, much of it fired by a guy named Matthew Prescott.
Matthew was a guest artist and, wow, did he shine.
Not that Matthew was a showy dancer. He just had a wonderfully natural ease of movement combined with superb technical ability.
Now, everyone who dances with BalletX is a high-end professional. Still, Matthew stuck out like a beacon. He was exciting to watch.
No matter what, make it look easy
Matthew showed off his wide smile throughout the program, even when lifting a ballerina high above his head. And sure, she was a flyweight, but really; raising a grown-up body, no matter how light, is tough to do with grace and a grin.
Also, Matthew was keenly attuned not only to the dancers he maneuvered about, but to the audience as well. Everything he did outwardly communicated, “I’m doing this for you.”
So, what does this have to do with strategic web communications?
How to make your website shine (without being showy)
You can have an attractive website with well-written content and that surely goes a long way. But when you’re outstanding it makes a big difference. That’s how you get from good to great.
Here are ballet-inspired pointers for making a website soar:
- Shine without being showy. Resist the temptation to have lots of bells and whistles. Unless you are an actual purveyor of bells and whistles, these are distractions rather than attractions.
- Even if your service or product is difficult to execute, make it seem easy to accomplish. Your instinct may be to show all the effort, but the customer just wants to know you’re a real pro. Of course, if you’re in a technical industry, certain customers will want detailed information on your process. It’s fine to have this available. But don’t make it a focal point on the homepage. Drop it down a couple tiers. The best first impression is of your exceptional value proposition. Convey this in clear compelling fashion.
- Your site must operate flawlessly from a technical standpoint. All actions need to execute smoothly and without delay of process. On the web, performance (not patience) is the preferred virtue.
- Every aspect of your site — design, navigation, text, functionality, search engine optimization — must focus on your audience. Your organization does not exist to serve itself and neither should your website.
- Deni Kasrel
What do YOU think of these tips to make a website soar above the rest? Can you think of other aspects that make the difference between a good website and a great one? Share your thoughts. Comments welcome.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )