Trespassing on Private Property….

I ignored the cruiser lights flashing behind me.

I knew why the cop was trying to pull me over but I was more interested in PR’ing the hill.  According to my Garmin I was 33 seconds ahead of my previous best time and I wanted to keep that.  It’s not often you see a blue moon.

He could wait another 2.5 minutes.

And if he couldn’t, he could get out of his damn car and chase me.  That would certainly make me run faster.

About thirty seconds later, he put the sirens on.

Not even 6 o’clock in the morning and he’s got the sirens blaring.  Luckily there were no neighbors.

I kept pounding away and glanced quickly at my watch.  I was now about 48 seconds ahead.

Ha!  The song Disrespectful randomly came on my iPod.  So appropriate.

I kept chugging away.  If the guy really wanted me to pull over he should have pulled ahead of me.  He was in the car, and I was on foot so it’s not like that move would have been all that tough.  Not to mention I’m not exactly FloJo.

I heard a muffled voice calling out over some loudspeaker thing to stop IMMEDIATELY.  For the love of all things holy, this is where my tax dollars go to?

I got to the fence – my finishing point – and stopped.  I hit the button on my watch to seal in my best-time-yet and started walking around – huffing and puffing – in a circle.

The cop got out of his car – and saddled on over.  “You’ll be deaf before you’re 30 with that music on so loud.”

Before I am 30?  Apparently he needs his vision checked.  I am hardly 20-something, I thought.

Officer Friendly went on.  “You know why I’m pulling you over?”

I wanted to say “Because you have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning?” but I bit my tongue and instead said nothing.

“You are trespassing on private property.”

Last week, I pissed off my sister-in-law, Homeland Security and some VERY VOCAL jackass at what will likely be the future Circuit City.  This week it’s a small-town cop with nothing better to do.  Reason #1235 I could never be a public servant in a small town – I’d have to go where the action is – investigating a grisly murder, not a faux-runner on a private estate.

I thought about taking him to the place where they used to grow pot plants on the property – and still do – all these years later – but instead I just smiled, remembering all the cough-illegal-cough things we used to do here and how much fun it was back in the day.

I had taken my headphones out of my ears but I hadn’t turned the music off so it was blaring at my knees.   After hearing what was playing, I realized why he thought I was fresh out of college.  My running playlist wasn’t exactly sophisticated.

“You are trespassing on private property.”   He repeated this time a bit more emphatically.  “And I will need to ticket you.”

The whole situation reminded me of watching people shop online.

When people hit lead forms and checkouts, they just want to do what they need to do and then get the Hell out.  They don’t want to pull over for anything – or anyone.  Period.

Our brains are designed for survival – to keep us alive – and lead forms and checkouts are still a little dicey in most of our heads.  You can debate this all you want but you know in your heart that we evolved to figure out what deep, dark caves not to go into and what poisonous flowers to avoid, we didn’t really evolve to figure out how to fill out forms.

So when people go online, they do just what I did with the cop – they ignore all the blaring blue lights, the sirens and the bullhorn calls of “Miss, you need to pull over.”

At some point, they get stuck – or stopped – and then it’s over.   But it’s on their terms.  Not anybody else’s.

How do you make it easier for your barreling-straight-ahead user?  Here are twelve proven things you can do:

Put the phone number (and other alternative methods to contact you) all over the place.  Don’t bury it.  No, I don’t care that Amazon doesn’t have a phone number.  You are not Amazon and you can’t afford to lose a quarter to a third of your leads/sales.  Make sure your contact information is at the top of the pages, the bottom and most importantly, in the righthand column of all forms/checkout.

Ask for the email address first.  You’re going to lose people.  It’s a fact.  People shouldn’t be shopping for Vibrams while at work.  (Hell, some people think you shouldn’t be shopping for Vibrams at all.)  When the phone rings or the boss comes in and they close the browser and pretend they’re working on a spreadsheet, you’re history.  Unless you have the email address.  Then you can email them.

Don’t ask any irrelevant questions.  I know you want to find out where they heard from you but the user?  She could not care less.  She also doesn’t want to tell you how many hours a week she spends in the garden or what her purchasing authority is.  You want to know those things, you should ask after you’ve gotten the order (on a confirmation page or in an email) or through profiling.

Make forms quick and easy to fill out.   Make them look like they are one screen.  Use lots of big action directives.  (Make sure there is one action directive on every view.)  Put the fields in vertical order.  Use temperature bars if you have more than one page.  If you know something (like the user’s email address), consider prefilling it.  You know the drill.

Lose or reduce the navigation.   If you’re an ecommerce company, chances are you shouldn’t have any navigation in the checkout.  You can (and should) test this but the majority of time, navigation is a distraction and hurts you.

Speaking of distractions, eliminate steps and/or pages that may take the user off course.  Your goal is to get a lead/order.  If you’re an ecommerce company, you may not need a View Cart page.  (Some do, some don’t, so you should test it, especially if you only sell 1-2 items per order.)  If you’re capturing inquiries, don’t put a bunch of superfluous information on the pages and stay the Hell away from Capchas.  If you have a problem with SPAM, figure it out.  Don’t make the user do your dirty work.

Use pop-ups on exit.  They’re leaving anyway.  You may as well give it one last college try.  (Hint: you should use entrance pop-ups for collecting email addresses, too.)

Make abandoned programs – for lead forms and for shopping carts – part of the program.  (There’s a lot more on abandoned carts here.)

Consider instigated chat.   It works.

Keep your cookies open indefinitely.  They’ll thank you when they come back and see that you’ve recognized them.

Minimize the legalese and disclaimers.  I don’t need to know what will happen if I order 25 of your product if I am only ordering 1.  I also don’t need to know how you handle international inquiries if you and I are both in the US.

Make the process as fast as possible.    A lot of times, companies have performance issues on things like search and checkout.  Sadly, these are the WORST places to have hang-ups.  Put more power to the areas where your users are giving you data/information.  And if you’re not good at this, use server calls (or similar techniques.)

Bottom line: if you wouldn’t bet your house on the value of something, don’t ask for it and don’t do it.

 

 

P.S. About the ticket, I’ll save the rest of the story for later.  Right now, I need to put down my phone and deal with TSA.  I guess we know what next week’s post will be about.  Heh.

 

Worst Practices: Verizon iPhone Sign-Up Page

From a user’s perspective, there are a lot of things wrong with this page: the headline isn’t clear; the sign-up button is far too small; there is no alternate contact information and the field alignment is screwy on some browsers.

The biggest problem?  That’s easy.  The radio buttons.  They are prefilled with colors (green and black) and it’s not easy to tell what’s what.  Did I click it?…  Did I not click it?…  Is that my answer?…  Is that the answer I’m supposed to give?…  Those are just some of the thoughts that will go through a typical user’s head when they ask themselves “Have I seen it? Have I never seen it?

Will folks who really want to have the first Verizon iPhones power through this form no matter what?  Absolutely.  Is this a good way to set up YOUR forms?  Absolutely NOT.  Remember, just because a company is BIG doesn’t mean that they know what they are doing.  (Hello Nordstrom and Mercedes.)

Interested in learning more about optimizing your web site forms?  Click here now for an excellent post on Six Revisions by Raphael Caixeta.

How Many Windows Are In Your House?

How many windows are in your house?

I’ll wait while you figure it out.

You’re back?

Ok.

So, how did you count?

Did you go through room by room and count the windows?

You did, right?

That’s because the old brain (aka the brain that buys) is most comfortable when it’s in the visual mode.  It’s happiest – and most successful – there.

We SEO our sites till the cows come home so that we can be ranked #1 in Google.  We forget that the user who is coming from Google doesn’t see words, it only see pictures.

That’s an issue.

Every page on your website that doesn’t have pictures/graphics/visuals is a dead-end, meaning that the user is NINE TIMES more likely to leave on that page or immediately on one of the two subsequent pages. 

This is applicable for every website – whether it’s a blog or a powerhouse ecommerce site.

That means this message is for you.

"I've Never Had To Tell a Black Man He Is Black."

Gen Jones writes: “I am a huge fan of yours but my boss hates you. We went to your seminar a couple weeks ago. She walked in late and heard you say ‘I’ve never had to tell a black man he was black.’ She felt that was completely racist and walked out the door and said I should never waste our money on listening to you again. She is white and I am black. I only wish she heard what you had to say afterwards because it was so valuable, especially for us. Anyway, can you recap what you said on your blog so I can give it to HER boss? I’d really appreciate it.  I don’t know if you remember me but we are the ones who sell plus-sized clothing.”

First, thank you for being a HUGE fan.  And yes, I mean that sincerely.  I know I am an acquired taste.

Second, yes, I remember you and your boss.  As I recall, she stormed out rather dramatically.  It’s difficult when people come see me speak and don’t get me from the very beginning because I am very easy to take out of context.  But yes, I will restate what I said here because it IS indeed important.

One of the first clients I had on my own was a third-generation, family-owned company that sold all sorts of Jewish stuff — menorahs, dreidels, hamsa plaques and so on.  The company had a gorgeous 200+ page catalog and a website that was equally well-designed yet bringing in “nary an order.”  The father (who spent far more time on the golf course than working in his business) had seen me speak and invited me to come in and do a full-blown web critique.  One of his three sons was in charge of the website (we’ll call him the Golden Boy for reasons soon to be explained) and had spent a small fortune developing it.  The other two brothers thought the internet was going to be about as popular as the CB radio and wanted the father to put an end to it.  So, although I was there under the premise of giving them ideas to improve the website, two-thirds of the team hated me before I even set foot in the door.  (This, by the way, was an indication of my future in consulting.)

To make a long story short, the morning part of the meeting went exceptionally well.  There was a lot of evidence that the website would be a raging success so the “Golden Boy” was happy (read: smug), the other two brothers were starting to see the light (although they were not convinced that it was not a freight train coming directly at them, they knew that something bright was coming) and the father was happy to have peace in the kingdom again so he could play golf.

All was well until we started talking about web creative. 

One of the thirds, er, brothers, asked me what I thought of the pictures on the site and I responded something along the lines of “I am glad you asked as I was going to get to that after the break.  You sell Jewish stuff to Jewish people, why are all your photographs of blonde Aryans anyway?”

COMPLETE AND TOTAL SILENCE.   Not even a damn cricket chirp like you hear on TV.

There were fourteen people in that room and all at once, every SINGLE person looked down except the father and Golden Boy.  He gave me the most evil “mean as dirt” look I’d ever had in my life.

About three hours (read: twenty seconds) later, the father smiled.  “Golden Boy’s wife is our photographer.  She is a blonde —-”

Golden Boy interrupted and went on a tirade, most of which had to do with him being the first one to every marry a gentile, that not all Catholics were evil and so on and so forth.  The entire conversation was VERY heated and you couldn’t see any of the non-family staff as they were busy hiding under the conference table or rapidly excusing themselves to go to the bathroom.

As much as I wanted to jump into the discussion and give my two cents on Israel, the West Bank, war, and all things political,  I also wanted to leave in one piece so I said something along the lines of “look, I didn’t mean to offend anyone, I know more than a few blonde Jews.  I just don’t think that your catalog or your website represents a typical Jew.” (Yes, I realize “typical” was the wrong word choice but it was the right sentiment at the time.)

After Golden Boy (you know, the guy who three hours before had thought I walked on water) accused me of being more vile than Hitler, the father calmly smiled and said “I have never had to tell a black man he is black.  We all know who we are.”

And you know what? We do.

Gingers know they are red-heads. 

People who are over 7′ know they are exceptionally tall and folks under 3′ know they are short.  (And yes, I have friends in both categories.)

You never need to tell a morbidly obese person that they are overweight.  From personal experience, I can assure you, we all know where we stand on the Scale of Skinny.

*****

When I recanted that story at the conference, Jennifer (the woman who asked the question above) and her boss attended, it was in response to a woman whose site I was critiquing.  They sell hair care products for black women.  When I asked her who her target market was, she told me “100% black women.”  I asked her why over half her models were white.  She said because her boss (who was Hispanic) felt that if they didn’t show white models, they’d be perceived as discriminatory.  She also said that the women I was saying were “white” were actually “kinda-sorta-a-little-bit-mixed.”  Whatever the hell that means.  The only thing I know about black hair is from my black friends and NEWSFLASH: it’s not at all like mine, that’s why they have products designed for it, as well as stylists who specialize in it. 

Jennifer’s company sells plus-sized clothing to women who can’t find clothes at stores like Lane Bryant, which means that they are OVER a size 26, I believe.  Looking at their photos, their models are, on average, a size 10-12.  That’s less than half the size.  Her boss (whom I have spoken with since and do NOT enjoy one iota) says she feels that they need “more petite” models to give people “hope” for what they aspire to be.   Frankly, that’s downright offensive and I am so glad she walked out of my seminar because if she’d stayed, I’d probably have smacked her!

I don’t care who you are selling to — whether it’s the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker — your website needs pictures of those people.  If you want to have a bunch of pin-up girls because you’re one of those “sex sells” people, that’s cool too but please include “real” pictures as well.

1. Unless YOU are YOUR typical customer, the site should NOT be designed for you (or to impress YOUR wife, mother, brother in internet marketing, etc.) It should be designed for YOUR USER.  In other words, if you sell to welders, light pink and baby green may not be the best color choices.  Is that stereotypical?  Hell, yes.  Deal. With. It.

2. The more pictures the better.  The AAUS (active average user session) tends to be at least 10% higher on sites that have a lot of photos of people — basically because when we see other people’s eyes, we stay longer.  The more you stay, the more you pay. 

3. In your checkout (or lead forms, if that better applies), use a photo of someone your typical user would give their money to.  (No, not the person they’d pay for a lap dance.)   A Wilford Brimley/Santa Claus like person.

4. Use a combination of staged and action shots.  Action shots especially work for B2B and HEP (hobbyist, enthusiast, passionata) sites.

5. The visuals rules also apply to copy.  If your average customer doesn’t sound like something out of Masterpiece Theatre, you shouldn’t write to him using language only found in Othello. 

6. Politically correct doesn’t mean EXCLUDING your current customers in favor of INCLUDING those who are not your customers.  If you don’t respect the people you sell to, find another job.  Period.  End of story.

 

Footnote: A couple days ago, I was at Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C. with my friend Lucy (name changed to protect the guilty).  She was jonesing for a chili dog and she had heard they made THE best.  The menu on the wall said “black owned” and everyone who was working there at the time was black.  I said to the guys behind the counter “if I said white-owned, I’d be accused of being a neo-Nazi.”  My friend practically ran out the door, she was so mortified.  The place was jam-packed and every guest in there was black with the exception of one table of four white construction workers.  They were all as equally horrified as Lucy. (Yes, I am loud.  EVERYONE heard me.) Funny thing is that ONLY the white people were shocked and appalled.  I got more than one comment about my vanilla, er, milkshake during my visit but it was all in fun.  I get that race is a serious issue and I am a lot of things but a bigot is not one of them.  Many businesses are struggling these days because they spend too much time pontificating their navels and not focusing on what’s really important.  If you’re selling sumac to Arab chefs, a photo of Rachel Ray just ain’t gonna cut it.  Bottom line: my chance of being a Playboy Centerfold next month?  LESS THAN NONE.   We all know who we are.

 

Why Epiphanies Never Occur To Couch Potatoes

CouchPotatoI am staying at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.

Normally, I like the chain.  If nothing else, it’s good for increasing my VERY LOW blood pressure.  (Yes, I know it is difficult to believe.)

I will never, and I mean NEVER, understand how the Hampton Inn can give you a free hot breakfast, free cookies at night, free Internet access, free parking and a free pass to the fitness center and these chi-chi-la-la hotels all feel they need to charge you an extra $10-$50 per amenity – on top of their already exorbitant prices. But that’s another rampage, er, post.

Anyway, yesterday I tried running outside. What a train wreck that was! Not only did I get lost – after an almost-ten mile run – but I got “pulled over” by the police for running in a “private neighborhood.”

Getting stopped by the authorities happens to me quite a bit. Someday, I simply must tell you the story about rollerblading in Peterborough, NH, where I almost got a ticket or imprisoned. (I’m honestly not sure which way it would have gone. He had a very big belt buckle.) You would have thought I’d committed a quadruple homicide in the land of Live Free or Die, Just Don’t Skate!

So today, I figured it would be safest to stay inside. Plus, it’s pouring (read: flooding) and sweet girls like me have a tendency to melt. (Yes, I am sure a Wicked Witch of the West analogy would be more appropriate here….)

After doing my weights and my run in the hotel fitness center, I chugged down more than my fair share of the wretched WOD (Water of the Day — cucumber lemon or something equally atrocious) and hopped into the elevator. A woman was already there, standing smack-dab in front of the ONE working panel. (How come the elevators in the Hampton Inn always seem to work?)

“Six, please.”

I said politely.

The woman didn’t move one chinchilla-draped muscle.

“Would you please push six?”

I asked again in the nicest possible way.

The woman still didn’t move. Instead, she looked me up and down with a glare so cold it would freeze even Hillary. If I had known where the stairs were I would have bolted, although if truth be told I would have had to figure out how to open the doors first and I was lacking any thoughts besides murder. Would strangling the Ice Queen with my iPod cord be a public service or would I end up in jail?

“Please, if you can’t push six, would you at least move so I can push it?”

“Ten.”

She barked.

“Excuse me?”

I said.

“You….. You…. You, little girl, you push 10 and you push it RIGHT NOW.”

At first, I thought there might be something wrong with her. I mean really – I hardly qualify as little. But she was waving her bony, rock-candy ensconced hands in my face with such fervor, I knew she was completely capable of pushing the buttons herself.

It’s times like this when I think of my personal Yoda, Mark Amtower (for whom the 7-second delay on TV was invented). Amtower (@amtower on Twitter), as he’s so affectionately called, is the author of a book entitled “Why Epiphanies Never Occur to Couch Potatoes“. (www.epiphanybook.com) He has a “law” that says to never take s*&t from anything that breathes. He has another one that says you should never do anything that you can’t tell your Mom about. So there I was…. stuck in the elevator… with Cruella de Vil, wondering how I could whack this wench without a Soprano and not upset my slightly-to-the-left-of-the-salad-fork mother.

Then I had an epiphany. This is EXACTLY what people do on the Internet. I see it all the time in our usability sessions. They just sit there… waiting for the next action to somehow miraculously happen – for a genie to pop out of their Bud bottle.

They find a product they like and never put it in their cart, choosing instead to abandon.

They “view their cart” and never hit the checkout button.

They get to the checkout and can’t be bothered to type in their e-mail address to move past the first page or Step 1 on the temperature bar.

They take one look at a lead/inquiry form and find it so overwhelming, they give up and leave.

It’s astonishing – mind-boggling, in fact. But it happens.
Fortunately, I have several Asian factories working diligently to develop little personal elves that come with your computer to complete routine tasks – like pushing buttons and filling out names. But for now, please consider some of my sure-fire tips below to get people to click on your site.

P.S. As for the chiquita in the elevator, I’d like to say my maturity kicked in – but alas, I had used up my weekly allowance on Officer Not-Very-Friendly the day before. So instead, I just reached over her and pushed six. Not TEN but SIX.

When we got there, I resisted the temptation to hit every button but 10 as I walked out, leaving the Princess of Darkness in the elevator alone to rot. She may still be there. One can only hope…

Speaking of which, I told Mark Amtower about this story and he said “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there, does it make a sound? If the San Andreas fault decides to remove Beverly Hills from the continental US, would anyone besides Joan and Melissa Rivers really notice?”

8 Tips For Making Them Click….

1. Use BIG buttons
The bigger the better. (A good rule of thumb is to ask your designer to triple whatever they think is big.)

2. The more, the merrier
Make sure that you have at least one “click here now” or “buy now” button on every view. Not every page, but every view. No, it doesn’t look pretty but it works like gangbusters.

3. Ask only relevant questions
Remember, relevance is in the user’s mind, not yours, so ask only the questions that you absolutely, positively, 200% need answered to get an order or an inquiry. Save the other stuff for later — after the confirmation or a follow-up e-mail survey, for example. Questions like “Where did you hear about us?” and “What is your catalog code?” (unless they are getting a deal because of it), have been proven over and over to irritate users, making them delay or abandon their orders.

4. Use temperature bars
Granted, they look tacky but they work. Any (and every!) time, you have more than one step (meaning more than one page of stuff to go through), put a temperature bar on the top so that the user has a gauge for what it will take to finish the process.

5. Showcase a PC (perpetual cart) in every view you possibly can
Put PC’s in the upper right-hand corner, the right-hand column and the bottom corner. If you aren’t selling anything and don’t need a perpetual cart, use a perpetual inquiry box for signing up for your free e-mail/newsletter, asking for a quote, registering for a podcast or webinar, and so on. It keeps the user focused on what they’re supposed to do on your site.

6. Be clear
If I click on Catalog Quick Order, do I get a catalog or do I order from my catalog? “Ordering from a catalog? Click here now!” is so much clearer especially when you put a picture of a catalog nearby.

7. Use timed pop-ups or live help
I haven’t always been the biggest fan of live help because most of it is done so poorly, but if you do it well, consider “hovering.” Hovering is the process where you watch how long people are spending on a particular page (it works incredibly well in cart and search functions.) If you sense that they are struggling, you start a dialogue with them in a friendly, non-big-brother way. If you don’t have live chat, use a “Can We Help?” pop-up.

8. Display your phone number at least 100 times per page
Ok, so I pulled the 100 number out of my hat but I figure if I say “100″, you might do it 10 – which is just about the right number. If you offer click-to-call, you still need to include your phone number.

Dead Ends: Web Pages Without Pictures


Kerry Wall says: “My colleague just came back from your seminar in AZ and informed us that we Havelock too many split-ends on our site. Huh?”

Kerry, “huh” is right. 
Not sure exactly what a split-end is from a web perspective but I do know that I spent some time discussing “dead ends.” Considering your colleague’s, er, fanciful attention span (read: that of a flea) and your site, I think she was probably referring to DEAD ENDS.
Users see things in pictures, not in text.  So, when your page doesn’t have any sort of photo, graphic, or visual, it’s a dead-end.
SEO’s (THEY ALL MUST DIE!) often destroy websites, like yours, by adding pages and pages of random, non-sensical text; linking to everything under the sun; taking away all the navigation because they say it’s not useful (to whom?  Rat finks.); and committing other such atrocities.    
If you have a good SEO (one of the three on the planet), their strategies will work TO BRING IN TRAFFIC.
Unfortunately, the boatloads of traffic don’t necessarily equate to anything but, well, traffic.
If you want sales — you know, MONEY – your site needs to have just the right balance of all the stuff your SEO wants AND more important (yes, I said MORE important), all the stuff that the user wants.
What does that mean exactly?

  • Users see things as views, not as pages. So, when you’re SELLING* something, EVERY view needs its own picture/graphic AS WELL AS the relevant next action buttons. (Yes, buttons NOT just links.)
  • After the first page of your site, the user typically looks down the middle of the page to make their decisions.  It’s critical to have photos/graphics in this area.
  • If you have an ecommerce site, multiple visuals really do make quite a bit of difference.  Look at an eBags product page for a good example of how to use multiple visuals.  (By the way, the whole zoom-in-zoom-out thing does not count as a multiple visual.)  If you don’t have an ecommerce site, do you still need pictures?  I am afraid so.  (Yes, I know.  It’s not easy.)

By the way, feed that girl a cookie.  She might be a little nicer if she actually ate this novel thing called FOOD every so often.
* Everyone SELLS something online.  Even if you are collecting e-mail addresses, getting someone to sign-up for a podcast, or gathering information for a quote/RFP.  The reason why it’s all SELLING is because there is a market value to every transaction that occurs online.  If you want my e-mail address, you have to give me something of value in return.  Even if no money changes hands, it’s still a “sale” from the user’s perspective.