4 Sure-Fire Ways To Spot The Idiots On Your Web Site

Yesterday, as I was barreling through the drugstore, a woman blocked me in the vitamins/supplements aisle.
“How many of these do I need to take a day?” she yapped.  “I didn’t bring my glasses and the print is too small.”
I looked at the bottle.
The print may indeed have been too small on the back of the bottle but it was clear as day on the front and it said…  Wait for it… 
“Seven.” I replied as I ducked underneath her T-spread arms and whipped past her.
“Seven?  Really?  That’s not a very good value.  I guess the metabolism boost costs extra.”  She lamented with a great big sigh.  (And no, I have no idea how the metabolism boost related and I wasn’t about to ask.)
I turned my head to watch her hesitantly put the bottle back on the shelf.
For a minute, I thought about leaving her there stranded but then I felt bad.  It wasn’t her fault that her parents hadn’t been forcibly sterilized.
“I was joking.” I said half-heartedly.  “The vitamins are called One A Day and their selling point is that you only need to take one small vitamin a day.”
“Oh, that’s fantastic!  Just what I wanted to hear!  They are Buy One Get One FREE right now, you know?” She yammered enthusiastically as she happily placed two bottles in her little red basket.  “Thanks for your help.  Next time I promise I will remember my glasses!” 
In real life, there are a lot of people who go into the dollar store and ask what the price is of every item.  Sadly, in the online world, there seem to be even more wackadoodles.
Here are four things you can do to find them (the 3 French Fries short of a Happy Meal folks, that is) – so you can help them.
1. Look at your exit pages.  I’ve talked ad nauseam about exit pages — in fact, they seem to be one of the few things I am interested in blogging about.  Reason being: they are one of the things that you must look at and most people don’t because they’re not very sexy.  Your exit pages list tells you where the majority of people are leaving.  It’s your best weapon for dusting the seats of the Titanic.
2. After you’ve identified your exit pages, look at the most popular ones.  Then check out how much time the user is spending on them before they exit.  If the user is spending more than 30 seconds on an average page, they may need help.  (Instigated chat works wonders here.) 
3. Look at your bounce rate.  Many consultants dismiss bounce rate as not valuable because they don’t know how to correct it.  (You won’t get money for things you don’t know how to fix.)  There are two primary reasons why people leave immediately from your site — (1) they shouldn’t have been there in the first place (bad traffic) or (2) there’s a disconnect that happens in the user’s brain wherein they literally do not know what to do next.  (I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post.)  Have a high bounce rate?  Consider using catfishes or sidewinders on entrance.  Look at pop-unders and midis on exit.  If you get a lot of direct/no referrer traffic, look at directing them to a different page.  (This is one of the best tips you’ll ever get.)  
4. Look at what words people are using in your text search.  If your navigation sucks, there will be a lot of dependence on text search.  (There’s more on this here.)
Users often need a little help.  As your site’s zookeeper, it’s your job to provide it.
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  1. says

    Hi Amy,

    Glad to see that you are blogging. I’d add a number 5 – talk to your call center to see if people are complaining about the website. The ones who have online challenges often place desperation calls.

    It’s important to remember that, as zookeeper, you have to check the grounds on a regular basis. It’s been my experience that when you make something idiot-proof, a better idiot always comes along.

  2. says

    Hi Debra -

    #5 is an excellent idea! I always recommend to our clients that they have a special 1-800# for web calls to track compliments & complaints about the site. Tracking those things is definitely a must! Thanks for the addition.

    As for better idiot, I will refrain from comment. Unfortunately, someone who reads this did not like “forcibly sterilized” and she asked all of her closest friends (read: folks who were obviously born without a humor gene) to send me missile-mails. And people wonder why I don’t blog more often!

    Thanks again.

  3. says

    You know me. I assume you don’t think I’m an idiot. But I placed two online orders yesterday on two different sites and I had to call for customer support both times. If I couldn’t have gotten human help I would have abandoned both orders. One related to getting to a page and not being allowed to move forward to close the sale (Amazon.com). But there was no clue why I wasn’t allowed to move on. On the other, I assumed the gift card option would be at the end of the process and did not see it on an earlier page. Then I get to the end and there’s no place to add a gift card. So it’s important for you to know that those of us who get stuck on ecommerce sites come in all shapes and sizes and all levels of intelligence.

  4. says

    Hi Susan -

    You are definitely NOT an idiot and because of your comment I am seriously considering bringing back either my Web Sites That Suck or Worst Practices newsletter/presentation (in the form of a blog this time.)

    The gift card thing is a big issue for a lot of e-commerce sites. Very few folks do it well.

    I am curious — did either of them have live chat or instigated chat? You said you called but I am wondering if they had either/both.

    Thanks for commenting. It was good to hear from you!

    • says

      I was in a hurry to get the purchasing process over. I don’t recall an online chat option on either. But if it was there it didn’t pop out at me and say “here’s help if you need it.”

    • Sappho Charney says

      Does anyone really use Live Chat? I always picture my feeble message (“I can’t seem to get the cursor to turn into a hand so I can click on that red button”) posting to some screen viewed by a bunch of sarcastic, eye-rolling 20-somethings. And while I’ve never heard of instigated chat, its use law enforcement vocabulary (do I really want to be the “instigator,” even of a chat?) is chilling.

      That said, I love this post and, as a big dummy when it comes to online ordering, I’m just grateful you didn’t use any of my experiences to illustrate your case . . . or, if you did, thank you for concealing my identity so well that even I didn’t recognize it!

      • says

        Hi Sappho –

        You were definitely concealed! Just kidding. Sort of.

        Thanks for chiming in. Yes, lots of people use live chat — it depends on your audience as to what percentage of your folks will take advantage of it but it’s a great conversion tool. Instigated chat is where the company starts the discussion with you (as opposed to you clicking the button to initiate the discussion with them.)

        As for the 20 year old kids laughing at you? Not. So. Much. Most agents manage several conversations at once — they barely have time to take a sip of water — definitely not a second to spare for mocking. At least not during work hours!

  5. Mike McCormick says

    Hi Amy,
    I happily admit I’m a total idiot at ordering online. I probably abandon ship 50% of the time even when I really want something. Most common problem is that some sites ask for my password as soon as I enter my email address. I need the password, apparently, because I’d bought something from them during the Clinton administration. They don’t have a “how the hell do I know?” box to click or “could I just please pretend to be a totally new customer?” box.
    Vague wording confuses me, too. For instance, I don’t know if this is a followup comment or just a comment. It is if I’m following up on your blog and it isn’t if I should be following up my own comment, this one. (Now my head hurts.) Anyway, I’m clicking the followup box below no matter what. Regards, Mike McC

  6. Mike McCormick says

    Forgot to check the damned box. See? I am an idiot. Mike

  7. says

    Hi Amy,

    I’m with the idiot above me here, Mike. I would use one email address and one of my cat’s names as a password…but many places I shop INSIST on a number and a certain number of letters.

    Makes me crazy. I even went to Amex Rewards the other day and spent 15 minutes trying to remember my “cat with some number password”.

    Many websites have a button for “forgot your password”. That’s good. But, I have a zillion different email addresses from our old company name and this one…so I waste another 20 minutes.

    There are some airports now where you can pay to go through an express line. I’d pay if I could have a universal email address and password that was encrypted somehow.

    Don’t even get me started with Amazon. They somehow don’t remember that I bought Pepper’s Kindle thing there, and hundreds of books. The shopping cart is not user friendly….ya da da da da.

    Anyway, nice to see you blogging again.

    • says

      Dear Socialist Mike and Lois:

      Neither of you are idiots. Well, maybe Lois is a little bit of an idiot for telling everyone what her passwords are (we all know the names of her damn cats for goodness sake!)

      If the folks behind the web sites were paying attention to you, they’d know how to help you. Password fixes are easy and shopping cart stuff actually makes money!

      Thank you both for weighing in. If you didn’t read and comment on this blog, I’d lose half my response!

  8. Grace Dunklee Cohen says

    GREAT post, Amy! Oh yeah, I spent my formative years in retail – that’s where I only half-jokingly say “I got my MBA on the street”. This situation is worse than you report, Amy. People are genuinely CLUELESS. I used to post sale signs (at eye level) on the door, and throughout my stores and inevitably, people would dispute the SALE price every day-saying I was undercharging them (really!). Consumers mean well–but they don’t often instinctively know where to look, what to look for, what the right questions are or even what questions to ask in the first place. WE, as GOOD (and ETHICAL!) marketers, need to LEAD them in the right direction. And we should never lose sight of our responsibility – or we will lose our effectiveness and our relevancy.

  9. says

    If your story were true – which I am going to assume it isn’t – that’s quite irresponsible. If subject of your story took you at your word, your snyde comment could have caused some major damage. 7 pills a day? Here’s a bit of information for you to marinate on:

    Vitamin A : If overused, it can create birth defects, liver damage, bone deformities, and/or hair loss.

    Vitamin D: Excess amounts can lead to kidney stones/damage, internal bleeding, and weak bones.

    Vitamin, C: Excessive vitamin C is the main cause of gastrointestinal problems.

    Now I understand this post isn’t about vitamins, however it is quite telling.

    As an internet marketing professional – I am surprised at the amount of positive comments by your readers. As a human, I am turned off by your sarcasm. Being flip is a skill that many do not possess. When it works, it works well. When it doesn’t, it’s just spiteful.

    Writing snarky posts about ‘ignorant’ people certainly doesn’t make you or your services sound appealing. A controversial blog post should inspire controversy and cause people to delve further into the site. This post is causing me to leave your site and remember your name, which in this case is not good for you.

    Leave the negativity to Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh. And the next time someone is holding you up on your busy day – try saying “excuse me” and walking around them. And try not to let your manners overshadow your message.


    As everyone knows: the dollar store doesn’t just sell things for a dollar, and it’s rare that something in retail doesn’t have a price tag. An overused joke touted as fact is very Fox News, and the scary thing about Fox News is that some people think its real.

    • Monique Trulson says

      Why are you surprised by the number of positive comments by Amy’s readers? Her advice is sound and based on years of in-depth, hands on experience, which you apparently realize, given that your own comments only disparage her writing style, and not her knowledge. And her knowledge is exactly why people come to her in the first place, and will continue to do so. Thank goodness for the internet, where if one blog is not written in a way that clicks with you, you can find another.

      Amy, we’re using live chat on our site, but I haven’t moved to the instigated chat quite yet. Interestingly enough, we find that most people use it for customer support type questions – following up on invoices, order information, etc, rather than for help on the website. Previously we had put the chat only on certain pages, like on the search results pages that came back with zero results – but after going through the transcripts and realizing that the service was fulfilling a need different than we expected, we moved it to all pages instead.

    • says

      If you had read the entire post, you would have noticed that Amy told the lady that she was joking and explained that she only needed one a day. In your commentary you noted “as a human, I am turned off by your sarcasm.” That’s understandable and completely acceptable. Not everyone shares the same sense of humor.

      Leaving a passionate, negative comment while hiding behind a combat shotgun moniker is harder to understand and seems cowardly. An open debate should be just that.

      I agree with Monique’s question as to why you are surprised by the number of positive comments on Amy’s blog. Amy leaves everything better than she finds it, including the lady in the drugstore.

      If you are turned off by her writing, don’t visit her blog. If you are interested in an open debate, identify yourself and make your points.

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