Marketing Strategy and Innovation Blog

Marissa Mayer of Google: Speed Good, AJAX Not So Good

John Battelle reported Thursday on Marissa Mayer’s talk at the Web 2.0 conference held in San Francisco this week. Mayer shared some very fascinating findings regarding the usability and user experience design of Google’s search results pages. In short, the study found that users preferred speedy page loads to a greater number of results per page and to “highly interactive ajax features”. Although users reported that they preferred more results per page, their expressed desires diverged from their actual interactions. Google’s analysts found that search results pages with 30 results per page rather than the standard 10 per page resulted in lower search traffic and decreased ad revenue by 20 percent.

This is significant in three ways.

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Web Site Users as Patrons

At Montparnas, we often think of ‘users’ as ‘patrons’ to stress the fact that users of most web sites are either active or prospective customers or contribute to the web site’s financial state in some way. It is critical to acknowledge this fact, because unlike users of desktop applications or physical products, web site users tend to be more immediately tied to revenue and costs, and as such, optimizing web sites means much more than making them usable; it also means increasing their value through optimizing things such as marketing strategy, acquisition and retention rates, and user participation as well as reducing costs.

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Researching Concepts with Comics According to Mark Wehner, Yahoo! Inc.

Two weeks ago, I attended a talk given by Mark Wehner of Yahoo! Inc. at a BayCHI event in Mountain View. At first glance many may balk at the idea of conducting research through mere drawings, but having heard and seen the impact this tool can make, I am now a huge enthusiast for this exploratory process. I am writing this article in the hopes that more companies and user experience designers investigate this technique to see how it can enhance their own product research.

This article summarizes the key concepts behind researching with comics as presented in the talk along with some other considerations around this technique.

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Google Web Optimizer Launches

On Wednesday Google unveiled a brilliant new tool, the Web Optimizer, at this year’s E-Metrics Summit. It puts the power of multivariate testing on an array of web metrics in an elegant and simple-to-use online tool. What was once a tedious process involving capturing web statistics, downloading log files, importing them in a statistics package, and performing complicated regression analysis has now been made simpler. Users will be able to more easily test multiple versions of a page and the effectiveness of individual elements on those pages to determine which combinations result in the highest conversions.

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What Is User Experience Design

User experience design can sometimes be a slippery term. With all the other often used terms that float around in its realm in the technology and web space: interaction design, information architecture, human computer interaction, human factors engineering, usability, and user interface design. People often end up asking “what is the difference between all these fields and which one do I need?” This article examines the term and field of user experience to plainly extrapolate its meaning and connect the dots with these other fields.

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Forget Minimalist Web Design: Cluttered Pages Aren’t that Bad

Some time ago iVillage commissioned Dynamic Logic to study the effect of page clutter on the effectiveness of advertising on the iVillage web site. The study strove to discern what effect, if any, ‘online clutter’ (defined as the number of text, image, and advertising elements on a page) had on the brand value score (aggregate of the purchase intent generated, brand favorability, brand awareness, message association, and brand attributes) of the actual on-page advertising.

The research was developed and carried out by Dynamic Logic, OgilvyOne, and Jupiter Media Metrix. While some of the results from the study were expected, many were astounding:

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Key Findings in Accessibility Law Infringements

An accessibility study conducted last month (via UK’s Webuser magazine) reveals that “not one of the UK’s top 30 retail websites meets the minimum requirements for website accessibility.” These retailers include the likes of Amazon, Dell, Expedia, Apple, PC World and British Airways. See the full list.

Some of the findings include:

  • 23 websites had search forms, navigational links or advertising banners that failed to work without Javascript;
  • Just two sites, Apple Computer and John Lewis, of the 30 tested, provided appropriate text descriptions for all images which helps people who are blind or partially sighted understand the purpose of visual content;
  • 29 websites did not use shortcut links to help people with serious physical impairments navigate through a page.

This finding follows a recent ruling on a lawsuit against, which has woken up American e-commerce sites. Perhaps we are beginning to take heed on a global scale. These findings, though seemingly discouraging, should provide renewed hope for the disabled community in that the matter is finally getting the attention that it deserves. This new revelation should provide some impetus for change toward greater equality on the web.

For more details on UK’s accessibility laws, visit the Disability Rights Commission website.

Aesthetic Web Design Hates Empirical Analysis

There seems to be a great riff these days between design and analysis. Usually the argument from the aestheticians seems to be self-preserving rather than logical. In many ill-conceived articles and posts, these authors even go so far as to question the scientific method and the unequivocally powerful field of statistical inference. To me, these arguments are plain provincial. On the other hand, the analytically inclined camp also fails to appreciate the potential and relevance of informed graphic design.

Most websites are meant to create revenue for the owner, whether directly through sales or indirectly through product promotion and brand building. It is difficult to find a web site that does not derive some kind of financial benefit for the owner. (There are of course some, but small by proportion.)

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The Contextual GUI published an article yesterday about the coming and recent changes in graphical user interfaces by Robert Mitchell. The article highlights advancements which are meant to simplify the user experience based on context, whether it be technological (device used) or operational (item selected). Such advancements include voice commands for mobile devices such as PDA’s, customized layouts for different screen sizes, and menus which change based on the item being edited. The latter, most notably comes from Microsoft’s own Office applications which are renown for their feature-richness and consequently overloaded menu items. As Mitchell reports, the traditional drop-down menus will be replaced by a contextual ribbon bar in Office 2007. Therefore, if you are editing the table of contents, the menu associated with this feature would appear. This echoes the manner in which the traditional ‘picture toolbar’ now appears when editting an image.

Beyond contextual menu items, the GUI will also begin to account for screen resolutions in an even more substantial way than we are currently familiar. For the web, the need to adjust layouts to match screen resolutions has been a fundamental principle which has been tackled with elastic and fluid layouts. The desktop GUI is now set to take this principle yet another step forward to accommodate even more real estate; Mitchell states:

Tomorrow’s GUIs will adapt to bigger screens and multiple displays by rearranging the desktop and relegating different content to primary and secondary displays. Larger display acreage could also push gesture-based input devices such as touch screens, digitizing pads and the stylus into the mainstream.

Although the idea is a simple one: to adjust to a user’s perspective and technology, with the variety of devices and plethora of features in modern-day applications, this small target is an ever-changing one. Mitchell’s article presents great promise for enhanced usability for our most pervasive devices as our GUIs begin to catch up with other advancements in the field.

Designing Web Sites for Market Segments

One of the most pervasive design shortcomings of web sites is neglecting entire market segments–a mistake that can have very costly consequences. This article provides the basis for an effective method to correct this and improve overall conversions.

Principal Market Segmentation for Web Sites

There are many different ways to divide a company’s market into segments; the most effective partitioning for web site design hinges on the conversion likelihood of the prospective customers. It is a matrix of a user’s commitment to buy a product or service and that user’s perception of the company selling that product or service.

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