4 Ways To Make Your Website More User Friendly

‘Keep it simple, stupid’ is old advice but it never dates. Here are four pieces of research that show the importance of keeping your website simple. Consider them when you’re designing a website or checking the quality of a website designer.

‘Keep it simple, stupid’ is old advice but it never dates. Here are four pieces of research that show the importance of keeping your website simple. Consider them when you’re designing a website or checking the quality of a website designer.

  1. The Norman Nielsen Group, who know more abour website usability than anybody on the planet, have found that 79% of users scan an unfamiliar page. Therefore the key elements of the site and the reasons to stay must be instantly obvious. It must conform to design conventions as many users will not take the time to try to understand an innovative design.
  2. Specifically on the text, the Norman Nielsen Group found that the use of bullets, subheadings and highlighted words to break up the text led to a 47% increase in usability, because it made the text easier to scan. So, whatever you do, avoid avoid large blocks of text.
  3. Staying with the words, write your copy in a neutral manner. There’s a 27% increase in usability if objective rather than promotional sales language is used. So avoid offputting words like ‘fantastic’ and ‘wonderful’ and stick to the facts.
  4. People are spending more time accessing the internet on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets than on desktops and laptops. According to OfCom research earlier this year, 57% of people in the UK use one to access internet. Research by Nielsen in the USA supports this. They found adults spend 34 hours per month accessing internet on smartphone as opposed to 27 hours on pc. The lesson is that your site must be responsive to different devices. More than that, you should actually start with the smartphone and tablet designs and work your way up to the PC version. A lot of designers won’t like this because they love creating a design on their big Apple Mac screens. It’s no bad thing that the use of mobile devices is driving us to make websites simpler and easier to use.



What Matisse Didn’t Cut Out

The best work is not the first work, as Henri Matisse’s constant revision of his cut-outs demonstrates

The Snail, a cutout by Matisse
Matisse Cut Outs at The Tate

One of the many fascinating aspects of the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibtion, which is at the Tate Modern until 7 September is the insight into how he worked.

Matisse first used cut out shapes as a way of trying out different compositions until he found the one he would ultimately paint. Eventually they became art in themselves but the technique remained the same. Even when he was old and frail, he would direct his assistants to move and re-pin cut-outs until he was finally happy with the relationship of the shapes and colours.

On one canvas, featuring perhaps a dozen cut-outs, researchers counted over a thousand pin marks. The lesson for all of us is that you can’t expect to get it right the first time. All great authors revise their work. So don’t expect your copy or press release or website design to be right at the first attempt. Go back to it. Try writing it again without reference to the original. Read it out loud. Let someone else read it to you. The best work is not the first work.

The author of this blog is Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.


Log In Or Bog Off

You just want to buy a ticket so why do websites insist that you register first? It’s anti-customer and it loses business.

Come to my chamber, fair maid. Certainly, sire, but first you must register.
Come to my chamber, fair maid.
Certainly, sire, but first you must register.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s transfer of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies to the Aldwych was always going to be a hot ticket. So when they went on sale I was there on the RSC website at 10am hovering over the Enter button. The plucky little site did its best but it was obvious that despite shutting every other facility down on the server except ticket buying, it wasn’t coping with the demand.

So I turned to the mighty Ticketmaster. Servers that are built to cope with Madonna at the O2 clearly have no

problem handling a three month theatre run. However my joy at finding tickets for the soon turned to frustration when Ticketmaster asked me to log in before I could buy them. Now I can just about remember my login details for sites I visit regularly like my bank or email accounts but Ticketmaster?

Register Or Go Away

And it’s not just them- Delfont Mackintosh, National Theatre, virtually every site I’ve bought tickets from expects me to remember a login name and password. Now Ticketmaster may well be the number one site in their own eyes but I have news for them and all the other sites like them, I am a regular theatregoer and yet I don’t use your site more than once or twice a year. Amazingly I cannot remember the login details for every site I use.

I know I could ask my computer to memorise the login details or use the same ones for every site but this doesn’t seem best practice in these days when computer security is constantly under threat.

Why do websites make you log in to buy?

So, apart from an inflated sense of their own importance in their customers’ worlds, why do websites insist that you log in to make a purchase? The answer is, I suspect, that it’s helpful to them. They can track your buying habits, analyse the data, improve their marketing. They might also claim it helps you because you don’t have to fill in your details again. Some sites will even offer to store your credit card details but, when major banks have customer information stolen from them, do you really trust the security of any smaller business’ computer?

A site like Ticketmaster might argue that registration is a weapon against ticket touts but I imagine such people would simply register a new email address every time. That’s what I did and I just wanted four tickets for myself.

What’s The Customer Friendly Answer?

The starting point for a commercial website should be the high street shop. If someone bought across the counter, would they need to register? (Would they for that matter have to sign a 30 page agreement to terms and conditions, but that’s another story.) The customer friendly solution for Ticketmaster and all retailers is to offer the option of a Guest checkout.

Even worse are sites that won’t let you in at all unless you register. This is the behaviour of a site that just wants your information and is tricking you into registering even though there is nothing worth seeing once you’ve entered. The Nielsen Norman Group who specialise in the analysis of website use said recently, ‘We rarely have seen users more annoyed than when they come across a login wall.’ If your site asks visitors to register to see it or to buy from it, check how many people abandon their visit or their basket at the point they are required to register. Then ask yourself why you need them to register and whether it’s worth annoying so many people. If you have a reason that satisfies you, I guarantee it won’t be because you want to build good relations with your customers.

By the way, I saw there was a new quick test to see if one had early signs of Alzheimers. First question, what is today’s date? I had no idea. No wonder I can’t remember login details.

How To Get Your Theatre Audience To Go Online

A theatre manager friend of mine told me he would like to get more people to use his theatre’s website. There are a number of reasons why this is a good idea. You can communicate a lot more information on a website and the more people know about a product the easier it is for them to make a decision. You can clinch the sale there and then without the customer needing to pick up a phone or visit a box office. You can track what they are interested in. And if they book online, you save all that box office staff time.

What I’m not sure about is whether you can save money on print if people are using the website. It seems logical and it’s certainly what managers would like to do in these difficult times but research does show that an awful lot of people still need a piece of paper to stimulate their initial interest. Not to do with websites but I think the real digital saving is getting people to accept emails rather than letters.

So, how do we get people to use the website? First, make it easy to find. I’ve done quite a bit of PR for touring shows and I’ve been shocked at how many times council owned venues’ websites are hidden within a local government site or how many use a name that is different to the one people know it by. Assuming the address is what the customer would expect, you still need to rank highly in search engines. So, first, make sure your website is search engine optimised. It would be nice to think Google and the like would automatically recognise that you are the number one theatre in your area and indeed there is every chance that if someone types in your theatre’s name and location, your website will come up. But you may share your name with other theatres or people may type in much vaguer search words. So, you need to use all the methods we’ve discussed before that ensure your theatre’s name, location and the simple word ‘theatre’ combined with your location are picked up by search engines.

Second, make it easy to use. If you know me, you’ll know I have a thing about designers who get carried away with their creativity. We all know branding is important and the appearance of your website needs to impress your visitors but, come on, you couldn’t get a more simple site than Google’s and it’s the world’s number one. Okay, you’re a theatre and you need to look a bit showbiz but make sure your home page gets straight to the point. ‘This is what’s on now’- ‘this is what’s coming soon’- and a quick download.

It’s the same with navigation. Of course, your designers are bored with the same old tabs and left hand column list of page names. But your customers aren’t. That’s what they understand and they just want to get to the information.

Ideally you’ll have a mobile version of your website available since at least 20% of your visitors will be on their smartphone and find your traditional desktop version difficult to view.

So, you’ve told them about the production and you’ve shown them photos and a video. They want to buy. What’s this? They’re going to have to pay a booking fee! Why? If you want people to book online, you cannot charge them more than they would pay if they phoned up or called in at the box office. Fact. For goodness sake, the internet is where they’re used to finding things cheaper.

All right, let’s look at other ways to get your audience to go online. You need to collect email addresses. Whenever someone buys a ticket, ask for their email address (you don’t need permission to email someone whose bought something from you).  When someone visits your theatre, get their email address- bribe them with a free drink or something but just imagine how much that small investment may yield.

Make sure that all your communications- season brochure, fliers, letters, emails, even business letters- include your website address or a link directly to the show you’re promoting. Always include a QR barcode. These are the square barcodes you increasingly see in advertisements. When you point your smartphone at one (with the right app), it goes straight to your website. They’re catching on (and they’re free) so use them.

You also need a presence on social networks. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest may not yield huge amounts of business but people who are interested enough in your theatre to follow it are worth nurturing, so post wisely and give your followers news and links to your website. And YouTube- a bigger search engine than Google- is essential. Create a channel and post all available video footage. The rules about search engine optimisation apply.

A few more things about website content. If you provide links on your website to other sites, e.g. a show producer or a sponsor, don’t lose your visitor: make sure any links open in a new page, so your site remains open and available. Make sure your site has all the useful information about how to find the venue, where to eat or stay nearby, what the auditorium looks like, parking, seating plans. If people want this information, don’t fill you precious brochure with it, direct people to your website. Finally, make your website a place where audiences can rate, comment on and discuss your theatre and its products- even if the postings are critical, it gets people to engage with your theatre online


Simple Advice On Website Design

Writing web copy

I have three seconds to convince you to read this article.  That’s the… Oh, you’ve gone.  I was going to say, that’s the average time someone spends on a website before deciding whether to stay or leave.

Your website is probably the biggest marketing tool you have.  Here are a few basic rules your website must follow to succeed.

1. Appearance doesn’t matter as much as usability.  Think of the Google website. Appearance matters, once your site is usable, because people judge your professionalism and reliability by the quality of the design.

So, look good but Don’t Be Different. People need to be able to find what they’re looking for and if your site doesn’t have the same layout as every other site, say your Content list isn’t along the top or down the left side, they get confused.

Other ways to make your site easy to ‘navigate’ are having a ‘previous page’ or ‘back’ button and being able to click back to the home page using a link on the logo.  And no pop ups. We all hate pop ups because they Visit my website thelewisexperience.co.uk  make us lose track; many of us block them.

2. Highlight important information with strong simple colours.  Black, white, red, blue, etc. Use space around important stuff to attract attention.

3. Speed is of the essence.  Web users are an impatient lot.  No watching paint dry or waiting for kettles to boil for them.  Unless the user has high speed broadband, clever graphics and big photos make a site slow to download. There’s no room for art for art’s sake, every image should mean something.

Users don’t like having to click more than three times to get to what they want.  Don’t have a Home Page that requires you to click to ‘enter’ the site and don’t have too many stages in the buying process.  If you have an e-commerce website, the ‘buy’ button must be prominent on every page including the home page- and the phone number as well.

Keep each page simple.  Most people give the page a quick scan. One clear topic per page, if possible, means the visitor doesn’t have to make choices about what to read.  Even the Home Page should emphasise no more than four main tasks- the things visitors are most likely to want to do.

4. Your site must be easy to read. Not everyone has perfect vision or the latest 20 inch widescreen monitor. Allow users to re-size the type to a bigger size. It must also be ‘liquid’ so that it will adjust on a low resolution old style screen, rather than cutting off the right-hand side.

Make sure the text contrasts with the background.  Your older (richer) visitors will really appreciate this. Google, Yahoo, Amazon, BBC all prefer a white background- and they should know.

5. Make your site interactive.  Give visitors the chance to comment or ask questions, or even to talk to each other.  A site which welcomes comments adds credibility to the company’s wares.

6. Don’t think anyone can write the words.  The web requires a special way of writing: information-carrying words, actionable phrases, keywords, lean prose.  Research shows that changing ordinary text to web-orientated text can double website usability.  For example, ‘The Hills Are Alive’ is a fine headline for a mailing or brochure but ‘The Sound Of Music’ is what works on a web page.  Unless you’re an expert, pay an editor to go over all your text and rewrite it for the web. On the other hand, if you do have writing skills, take a look at my 7 Tips For Writing Web Copy.

7. Research why people are visiting your website. They may want to know what’s on, prices, how to find you, what your show’s about, how to buy a ticket or simply ‘who are you?’.  The Home Page should let people know they’ve come to the right place and offer a few samples.  (‘Welcome to Anytown’s largest theatre where you can find out information about forthcoming shows, about the venue and buy tickets online’).

Test!  Observe half a dozen people using your site- where they get stuck, where they go wrong.  And employ the analysis tools that are often available from website software or servers or from Google Analytics to find out the pattern of visitors’ usage.  Use this information to improve your visitors’ experience.

For your homework, check out sites like useit.com and thesitewizard.com or Jakob Nielsen’s book Designing Web Usability.